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Annotated Bibliography Research Methodology

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography provides a brief account of the available research on a given topic. It is a list of research sources that includes concise descriptions and evaluations of each source.

The annotation usually contains a brief summary of content and a short analysis or evaluation. Depending on your assignment you may be asked to reflect, summarise, critique, evaluate or analyse the source.

An annotated bibliography may be a component of a larger project or it may be a stand-alone assignment. While an annotation can be as brief as one sentence, the standard annotated bibliography consists of a citation followed by a short paragraph. An example is provided below.

Please note: the advice in this guide is general. We strongly recommend that you also follow your assignment instructions and seek clarification from your lecturer/tutor if needed.

Purpose of an annotated bibliography

Depending on your specific assignment, an annotated bibliography might:

  • review the literature of a particular subject;
  • demonstrate the quality and depth of reading that you have done;
  • exemplify the scope of sources available—such as journals, books, web sites and magazine articles;
  • highlight sources that may be of interest to other readers and researchers;
  • explore and organise sources for further research.

When set as an assignment, an annotated bibliography allows you to get acquainted with the material available on a particular topic.

Questions to consider

You need to consider carefully the texts that you select for your annotated bibliography. Keep the following questions in mind to help clarify your choices.

  1. What topic/ problem am I investigating?
  2. What question(s) am I exploring? Identify the aim of your literature research.
  3. What kind of material am I looking at and why? Am I looking for journal articles, reports, policies or primary historical data?
  4. Am I being judicious in my selection of texts? Does each text relate to my research topic and assignment requirements?
  5. What are the essential or key texts on my topic? Am I finding them? Are the sources valuable or often referred to in other texts?

Which writing style should I use in the annotations?

  • Each annotation should be concise. Do not write too much—remember, you are writing a summary, not an essay. Annotations should not extend beyond one paragraph unless otherwise stipulated in your assignment guidelines. As this is not an extended piece of writing, only mention significant and relevant details.
  • Any information apparent in the title of the text or journal can be omitted from the annotation.
  • Background materials and references to previous work by the same author usually are not included. As you are addressing one text at a time, there is no need to cross reference or use in-text citations to support your annotation.
  • Unless otherwise stipulated, you should write in full sentences using academic vocabulary.

What does an annotated bibliography look like?

An annotated bibliography starts with the bibliographic details of a source (the citation) followed by a brief annotation.

As with a normal reference list or bibliography, an annotated bibliography is usually arranged alphabetically according to the author’s last name. An annotated bibliography summary should be about 100 - 200 words per citation—check with your lecturer/tutor as this may vary between faculties and assessments. Please also check with your lecturer about the elements each annotation should include.

Contents of an annotated bibliography

An annotation may contain all or part of the following elements depending on the word limit and the content of the sources you are examining.

  • Provide the full bibliographic citation
  • Indicate the background of the author(s)
  • Indicate the content or scope of the text
  • Outline the main argument
  • Indicate the intended audience
  • Identify the research methods (if applicable)
  • Identify any conclusions made by the author/s
  • Discuss the reliability of the text
  • Highlight any special features of the text that were unique or helpful (charts, graphs etc.)
  • Discuss the relevance or usefulness of the text for your research
  • Point out in what way the text relates to themes or concepts in your course
  • State the strengths and limitations of the text
  • Present your view or reaction to the text

Sample annotation 

The citation goes first and is followed by the annotation. Make sure that you follow your faculty’s preferred citation style. The summary needs to be concise (please note the following example is entirely fictitious).

In the sample annotation below, each element is numbered (see Key).

(1) Trevor, C.O., Lansford, B. and Black, J.W., 2004, ‘Employee turnover and job performance: monitoring the influences of salary growth and promotion’, Journal of Armchair Psychology, vol 113, no.1, pp. 56-64.

(2) In this article Trevor et al. review the influences of pay and job opportunities in respect to job performance, turnover rates and employee motivation.(3) The authors use data gained through organisational surveys of blue-chip companies in Vancouver, Canada to try to identify the main causes of employee turnover and whether it is linked to salary growth.(4) Their research focuses on assessing a range of pay structures such as pay for performance and organisational reward schemes.(5) The article is useful to my research topic, as Trevor et al. suggest that there are numerous reasons for employee turnover and variances in employee motivation and performance.(6) The main limitation of the article is that the survey sample was restricted to mid-level management,(7) thus the authors indicate that further, more extensive, research needs to be undertaken to develop a more in-depth understanding of employee turnover and job performance.(8) This article will not form the basis of my research; however it will be useful supplementary information for my research on pay structures.

Key

(1) Citation

(2) Introduction 

(3) Aims & Research methods

(4) Scope

(5) Usefulness (to your research/ to a particular topic)

(6) Limitations

(7) Conclusions

(8) Reflection (explain how this work illuminates your topic or how it will fit in with your research)

What is an annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography or annotated bib is a bibliography (a list of books or other works) that includes descriptive and evaluative comments about the sources cited in your paper. These comments are also known as annotations.

How do I format my annotated bibliography?

An annotated bibliography entry consists of two components: the Citation and the Annotation.

Citation

The citation should be formatted in the bibliographic style that your professor has requested for the assignment. Some common citation styles include APA, MLA, and Chicago. For more information, see the Style Guides page.

Annotation

Generally, an annotation is approximately 100-300 words in length (one paragraph). However, your professor may have different expectations so it is recommended that you clarify the assignment guidelines.

An annotation may include the following information:

  • A brief summary of the source
  • The source’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Its conclusions
  • Why the source is relevant in your field of study
  • Its relationships to other studies in the field
  • An evaluation of the research methodology (if applicable)
  • Information about the author’s background
  • Your personal conclusions about the source

MLA style format (8th ed.)

Hanging Indents are required for citations in the bibliography, as shown below. That is, the first line of the citation starts at the left margin, and subsequent lines are indented 4 spaces.  The bibliography is double-spaced, both within the citation and between them.

Lozier, J. D., et al. "Predicting the Distribution of Sasquatch in Western North America: Anything Goes with

Ecological Niche Modelling." Journal of Biogeography, vol. 36, no.9, 2009, pp. 1623-1627. JSTOR,

http://www.jstor.org/stable/40305930.

APA style format

Hanging Indents are required for citations in the bibliography, as shown below. That is, the first line of the citation starts at the left margin, and subsequent lines of the citation are indented 4 spaces. The annotation is indented 2 additional spaces, as a block.

D’Elia, G., Jorgensen, C., Woelfel, J., & Rodger, E. J. (2002). The impact of the Internet on public library use: An analysis of the current

consumer market for library and Internet services. Journal of the American Society forInformation Science and Technology

53(10), 808-820. doi:10.1002/asi.10102

In this study, the researchers examined if the Internet had affected public library usage in the United States. This study is

distinct because its researchers surveyed library nonusers as well as users. The major finding was that 75.2% of people

who used the Internet also used the public library. However, the researchers surveyed only 3000 individuals in a population

of millions; therefore, these results may not be statistically significant. However, this study is relevant because it provides

future researchers with a methodology for determining the impact of the Internet on public library usage.

Additional resources

Annotated bibliographies
From Purdue OWL

Writing an annotated bibliography
From Concordia University

How to prepare an annotated bibliography
From Cornell University

Writing an annotated bibliography
From University of Toronto

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