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Annotated Bibliography: Writing

Guide contents

Fast facts

  • An annotated bibliography is a specific way to keep track of your ideas as you research.
  • It involves writing a brief summary, analysis and plan for each source you read.
  • This approach can help you think more strategically about how you use and synthesize sources.

What is an annotated bibliography?

The word annotated means to take notes, and a bibliography is a list of the things you’re reading.

Rather than reading in a rush and taking notes haphazardly, the annotated bibliography offers a disciplined method to manage sources you might incorporate into your writing. It contains one 'entry' per source you might use. Each entry is usually a single paragraph and comprises the following:

  • A summary of the article.
  • An analysis of the article.
  • A plan for how you will use the article.

How to do it

When you are researching, you will probably first scan through a number of articles and choose to keep a separate folder for the ones you find especially useful. When you begin reading through these chosen articles, open up a blank word processing document, or keep a notebook ready. Read through the text and highlight or annotate as you normally would. Then, when you are finished reading...

Record the article's bibliographic details

  • Check the style guide used in your subject area to ensure you take down all needed information (e.g. authors, journal title, volume/issue, and so on).

Write a summary of the article in your own words

  • What is the overall argument/purpose?
  • What research did they conduct?
  • What were their conclusions?

Write an analysis of the article in your own words

  • Was the argument flawed in any way?
  • Are there unanswered questions?
  • What makes the work valid?

Write a plan for how you will use the article in your own work

  • Will you use it to define a key term, demonstrate a disagreement amongst scholars, provide background information...?
  • Where would you mention the article in your essay?
  • What does it contribute to your argument?


View the annotated bibliography as a letter to your future self and write it accordingly. It does not need to be overly formal, but it should reflect your own thinking about the text.

If you want to truly get the most benefit, read many articles consecutively and write your annotated bibliography entries for each. As you keep reading and writing them you will be able to connect and compare the arguments in each article. That is the essential skill required for an effective Literature Review section in longer essays--like dissertations.

Make each entry as long or as short as you will need. Transcribing the best quotes from your sources will also make it easier to insert them into your final essay.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC ENTRY→ Lamott, A. (2005). Shitty First Drafts. In: P. Eschholz, A. Rosa and V. Clark, ed., Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers, 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, pp.93-96.

SUMMARY→ In this article, Lamott offers a confessional description of her writing process. When she writes, it is a really chaotic and frustrating event, but one that she accepts. The purpose of the article seems to be for young writers to relax a bit in the early stages of writing. If they feel too much pressure to be perfect, then they will freak out too much and not get to those later stages with much energy or attention left.

ANALYSIS→ Her article addresses the reader in a really engaging way, and she writes with a clarity of purpose that seems to fit with the younger students she is addressing. Lamott argues that, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” While I think this is important for students to read for its sense of relief, isn’t it also possible to have a specific place to start? The limitation of this text is probably that it should immediately be followed by some options for how to start in the best way for each student.

PLANNING→ In my essay on the writing process, I would use this in the section on the importance of writers to reflect on their own processes as a starting point to improving. I specifically like the quote above for discussing the need for some students to relax a bit in the early stages.


The three components of the annotated bibliography--summary, analysis, and planning--are designed to plant the seeds of later writing. Keeping track of ideas as you research will not only save time lost later in trying to recover them, but the freshness of the ideas will add depth and immediacy to the writing throughout the whole process.

This method can be adapted to your purposes and preferred organisation style. For example...

  • Would a fourth component like 'Connections to other articles' help you develop your ideas, or would that feel too cluttered?
  • Would colour-coding each component of the entry help you connect ideas?
  • What about using bold or italics to mark key terminology?
  • Make the method yours!