Mastering Annotated Bibliographies

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

This annotated bibliography infographic gives the steps to creating comprehensive annotations that jumpstart your writing.
Annotated Bibliography Infographic

The first days of grad school are filled with excitement. You’re meeting new cohort mates, talking with the very researchers who inspired you to continue your schooling, and looking towards a future where you’ll be making a difference with your newly minted degree.

Then it hits you.

The wall of reading.

Each week you’re reading at least one hundred pages, sometimes per class, to keep abreast of the knowledge your professors are asking you to synthesize and critique. You might have a ton of pdfs saved on your computer. You might be taking notes on your laptop or in a notebook to get all of the information, but it might also feel like your work is getting away from you. You could even feel on top of things right up until it’s time to write a paper. At that point you may feel like your notes are a little disorganized.

There has to be a way to manage all of the notes from these readings, right?


If you’re having trouble wrangling pdfs or your reading notes, a comprehensive annotated bibliography could be a saving grace for you. An annotated bibliography can help you memorize authors, the key takeaways from their work, and your critical responses to that work all while helping you organize quotes and citations.

The fact is, if you begin an annotated bibliography on Day 1 of graduate school, it will be easy to remember and reference citations when it comes time to write articles, do your qualifying exams, and, the biggie, to finish your dissertation. Think of the annotated bibliography as a personal library you can dive into anytime you need it.

A lot of researchers use Endnote as a resource to organize their citations. There are a number of good videos on Youtube and on university sites, like RMIT, that can help you get started with using the program, if that’s what you prefer.

If you’re like me and you need to condense abstracts to soundbites, copy quotes accurately to avoid plagiarism, and respond to sources as you’re reading, please check out the Annotated Bibliography format I’ve posted below. You can use this format in conjunction with Endnote’s research notes field. Here’s a quick tutorial about how to use the research notes field with Endnote and Microsoft Word if you want to do that.

Personally, I put all of my citations in Google docs so I can access my citations no matter what computer I am on. That way I can write on the go with my IPad, when I use my desktop, if I’m in the garden on my husband’s laptop, or if I’m using on campus computers. I’m also extremely paranoid about losing my work on a computer, so I always do all of my work in the cloud first and back-up the final work on my hard drive.

Creating an entry for your annotated bibliography is easy- you can complete it as you read. To get started, follow the steps below as an initial framework for your entries. Once you get into the flow of writing annotations, you will probably develop your own criteria for entries that fit your research needs.

Steps to Create an Annotated Bibliography

1. Write the full Citation.

If you’re not using Endnote to write citations, make sure you write the entire citation down at the beginning of your bibliography entry. There are a couple of reasons why you should write out the entire citation in the format that is correct for your discipline. First, typing out the citation will help you memorize the author's name, title of the text and date of publication quickly because the act of typing will help you encode that information into your long term memory. Second, having the full citation ready will allow you to quickly copy and paste it into your writing. Also, copy the link to the text if there is one so you can revisit the article via hyperlink. This will help you to avoid downloading pdfs to your computer. Once you have the complete citations, you can use them to keep your annotations in a loose alphabetical order as well. Generally, I just put new entries where they belong alphabetically in the bibliography as I work.

2. Write a brief summary of the entire work.

Please note, I did not say copy and paste the abstract. Instead, write a brief summary in your own words to help your mind learn what’s in the article and why that information is important to your research goals. This will help you when you need to defend an idea and cite on the spot. If you write out a summary in your own words, you will have already reduced supporting evidence to soundbites for yourself, so it will be easy to convey those sound-bites to other people when the time comes. And trust me, that time will come.

3. Copy and paste the article’s most salient quotes with page numbers.

Here’s where you copy and paste from the article to your heart’s content. Remember to enclose the quote with quotation marks and put the page number within the quotation in the correct format to remind yourself the quote is someone else’s words.

Once you’ve selected good quotes, write your critical response to or ideas about those quotes underneath them. Highlight your responses to the quote using your favorite color so you can remember that text is your idea.

When responding you might want to consider the following:

  • How does this answer or doesn’t answer my research question?

  • Why is this piece awesome, marginal or awful?

  • How does this article position itself in the field?

  • How is this piece or the authors regarded in the field?

  • How is this article in conversation with other research you’ve read?

  • Are you viewing the work through a particular lens (Feminism? Critical race theory? Economic theory? A psychosocial approach?)

  • Does this piece bring up ideas that you haven’t considered?

  • Does it confirm some ideas you’ve formulated?

  • Does the article spark questions for you? If so, what are those questions?

4. Define words for yourself.

Defining terms for yourself is critical because the researcher’s definition may not be intuitive or the standard definition. Defining terms is also important because it is important to understand what a word means and the weight it carries within your own discipline. Once you know the definition of a term in light of your discipline, it will be easy for you to incorporate the lexicon of your discipline into your writing and your spoken rhetoric. Integration of lexicon is one hallmark of a student’s progression from the novice to an expert, so make sure you work on this piece. If you have trouble memorizing terms, check back next week to view my blog entry on memorizing vocabulary.

5. Create paraphrases of chapters if you’re reading a book.

To cut down on quotes, you may want to write your critical response to each section using the questions above, then pick out the most important quotes from each chapter. That way, if you need to revisit a book, you can immediately go to the chapter that is most helpful for you, which cuts down on time.

An Annotation Example

Below is a quick annotation I created for a book I’m writing with a friend on teaching children under five to read. Please note, I put my name on the comments so my collaborator could determine which notes were from the books and which notes were my own thoughts in the Google Doc. Also, there aren’t a lot of quotes in this example because we’re using this bibliography as a foundation for the lessons we’re writing, so we don’t have to cite as much. I think the absence of quotes in this entry speaks to how your format can evolve based on your project needs.

Neuman, S. Roskos, K. Access to Print to Children in Poverty:Differential Effects of Adult Mediation and Literacy Based Play Settings on Environmental and Functional Print Tasks. American Education Research Journal, March 1, 1993.

  • Children who play with adults in literacy enriched, child directed, “office” type of environments could read and comprehend the usage of different text items faster than the children in the other groups

Kenya - An obvious outcome, in my opinion. The adults are adept at guiding a child's play, even when that play is "child directed,” through conversations and subtle behaviors. That guidance would lead to the introduction of text in an environment like this. That introduction is much quicker than a child’s random discovery of a textual item.

  • In the play group there was one interacting adult and one monitoring adult.

Kenya- This is a good finding because the sample population was 98% African American and 2% Hispanic! Play works for children of color- that’s why all the other school interventions haven’t worked!

  • The school wanted parent involvement, so the researchers made parent volunteers parent/teachers who conducted the literacy play or observation in the pretend office set-up.

Kenya - It seems though in order to create diversity of play, the teacher/parent would want to change the play environment to be other environments in the world, to maintain novelty and increase linguistic dexterity. For example, the play/learning room could be a zoo for a month, where the child reads different placards for each animal and a map. Then at the end of the month, the family could go to the zoo and do it for real!- This is a killer lesson for sure.

Special hints for Annotated Bibliographies

If you like to be hyper organized, create different annotated bibliographies based on each of research topics by using creating documents. For example, I have bibliographies for college level composition pedagogies for diverse students, online course delivery, play based early literacy pedagogies, citizen building in diverse social studies classes, and artificial intelligence's impact on society. Whenever I am ready to write on one of these topics, I can write off the top of my head because I already know what's in my annotations. I can quickly give a synopsis of the article without plagiarizing because I can copy my summary. If I need direct quotes I can copy paste because they are in my annotation. And citing is a breeze because it ….is in my annotation. In short, putting all this information down in your bibliography front loads the work so you don't really have to return to the article or book further down the road if you don’t want to. So I encourage you to put a lot of thought into these annotations.

What I love about annotated bibliographies is if you have a reading partner or writing collaborator, you can follow the same format, read different articles and share all of your annotations in one document, which will, at minimum, be double the amount of content you would have learned if you worked alone. Using this format can be helpful if you have a reading partner or group for a class that has a heavy amount of reading. If your whole group follows the format, you can cut down on independent study time and focus more on presenting articles to each other, debating the merits of each argument and figuring out how to use the article in your own research.

Please let me know if this strategy works for you in the comments below. Until next week, happy researching!

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