Preparing an Annotated Bibliography
(printable version here

by Joe Essid, Writing Center Director, with the help of Eng. 383 students, Fall 2013

Faculty may ask students to document and critique their research process as part of a grade; at first glance, this seems like dry and dull busy-work, until the documentation helps later by saving time and avoiding errors; one way of adding value to research involves annotating sources found. That is where an annotation comes in handy: when writing up the project, it saves time to have a brief record of all the sources reviewed.

A good annotation sums up not just the content but also a few of the author's major claims. Note how this works in an example from my first-year seminar.

Bartle, Richard A. Designing Virtual Worlds. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2004.

Bartle considers what steps designers of games and virtual worlds must make to attract and retain various types of players Bartle describes and how these categories of gamers differ from other game-designers' descriptions of them.

The author also gives an unbiased account of the steps needed to understand how theorists and designers describe the process of "immersion" essential to good game-design. The author notes, carefully, how immersion keeps various player-types involved and interested in a simulation. Two concepts will prove most useful here: the definition of immersion and the clear explanations of how different players engage in gameplay.

Note the three parts of citation, summary, and perceived usefulness. Purdue University's page on annotated bibliographies calls the final part a place to "reflect" on the source's value.

Skidmore's guide to writing annotated bibliographies points out that annotations can be either "selective" or "comprehensive" in the subject matter that they cover. Selective annotated bibliographies focus solely on the details that are best for the topic at hand. Comprehensive annotated bibliographies identify a more broad range of information available on the subject.

The note about bias and possible counterarguments to a source's claims can also be made in the final section of the entry. Then the writer can decide which work best as evidence, which add counterpoints, and which provide additional resources for the curious reader (including the professor who will grade the work!).

If only for the writer's own use, the usefulness section should include notes about dead ends. These occur in research, but a seemingly pointless source may later prove valuable, as the research continues.

Further advice:

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Checked & proofread, summer 2019, by Joe Essid