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Christianity and World Religions: Annotatated Bibliographies

A guide that serves as a brief introduction to several world religions. It is intended to whet your appetite for further study and to help you understand the religious beliefs of others in today's global society.

Credit for this page

This page is based on one created by Owen E. Williams, UMC Library Director, University of Minnesota--Crookston Library

What is an Annotated Bibliography?

A bibliography is a list of works (books, articles, films, etc.) on a particular topic. Annotated bibliographies tell more about the work you are citing. An annotation can both describe and evaluate a source.An annotated bibliography includes a paragraph following each citation that summarizes the work. An annotation can help the reader determine the value of each work on the topic and the contribution it might make to his own research. Two common types of annotated bibliographies are descriptive and critical.An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.

Write an annotated bibliography

Write an Annotated Bibliography


A bibliography is usually thought of as an alphabetical listing of books at the end of a written work (book, book chapter, or article), to which the author referred during the research and writing process. In addition to books, bibliographies can include sources such as articles, reports, interviews, or even non-print resources like Web sites, video or audio recordings. Because they may include such varied resources, bibliographies are also referred to as 'references', 'works cited' or 'works consulted' (the latter can include those titles that merely contributed to research, but were not specifically cited in text). The standard bibliography details the citation information of the consulted sources: author(s), date of publication, title, and publisher's name and location (and for articles: journal title, volume, issue and page numbers). The primary function of bibliographic citations is to assist the reader in finding the sources used in the writing of a work.

To these basic citations, the annotated bibliography adds descriptive and evaluative comments (i.e., an annotation), assessing the nature and value of the cited works. The addition of commentary provides the future reader or researcher essential critical information and a foundation for further research.

While an annotation can be as short as one sentence, the average entry in an annotated bibliography consists of a work's citation information followed by a short paragraph of three to six sentences, roughly 150 words in length. Similar to the literature review except for the shorter length of its entries, the annotated bibliography is compiled by:

  • Considering scope: what types of sources (books, articles, primary documents, Web sites, non-print materials) will be included? how many (a sampling or a comprehensive list)? (Your instructor may set these guidelines)
  • Conducting a search for the sources and retrieving them
  • Evaluating retrieved sources by reading them and noting your findings and impressions
  • Once a final group of sources has been selected, giving full citation data (according to the bibliographic style [e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA] prescribed by your instructor) and writing an annotation for each source; do not list a source more than once

Annotations begin on the line following the citation data and may be composed with complete sentences or as verb phrases (the cited work being understood as the subject)—again at the discretion of the instructor. The annotation should include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Explanation of the main purpose and scope of the cited work
  • Brief description of the work's format and content
  • Theoretical basis and currency of the author's argument
  • Author's intellectual/academic credentials
  • Work's intended audience
  • Value and significance of the work as a contribution to the subject under consideration
  • Possible shortcomings or bias in the work
  • Any significant special features of the work (e.g., glossary, appendices, particularly good index)
  • Your own brief impression of the work

Although these are many of the same features included in a literature review, the emphasis of bibliographic annotation should be on brevity.

Further information on writing annotated bibliographies may be found in:

Harner, J.L., On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography.New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2000.  Call number: UST-OSF Reference Z1001.H33 2000.

Writing an Annotated Bibliography -- Still more

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

What is an annotated bibliography?

This is an organized list of sources (references cited), such as books, journals, newspapers, magazines, Web Pages, etc., each of which is followed by an annotation or description of each item. 

"Writing Annotated Bibliographies" by Allison Ikeda

Annotated bibliographies provide basic bibliographical information in a standard style of documentation, as in a regular bibliography or works cited page; the only difference is that each citation is annotated with a brief statement about the text. This statement can range in length from a sentence or two to a full paragraph, but it always contains a description or summary of the text, and it often includes an assessment of its use, value, and/or significance. 

The standard documentation style such as MLA, APA, or Chicago’s most often set by your field, so check with your department to find out which one you should use. The purpose of the annotations determines their length and focus. Some assignments specify what kind of information needs to be provided, as well as how long and detailed the statements should be. However, if you are not given explicit directions about purpose and detail, consider the following:


For whom is this text intended?


What could this information be used for?


Why is this text important? What does or could it add to discussions in your field?


Does this text offer a particularly intelligent and complex argument, a useful update to earlier editions, or an exceptionally clear, detailed, or comprehensive treatment of its subject? Why or why not?


Is this an original source, an accurate testimony, a well-researched and logical argument, etc.?


Does this text use or is it influenced by particular theory? What are its underlying assumptions? What methodology does it use?

You can’t, and probably shouldn’t, take all of these things into consideration for each statement, but the above list can give you a better idea of how the purpose of the annotated bibliography as a whole will structure each individual citation.

Annotations may consist of all or part of the following list of items, depending on the purpose of the bibliography:

  • describe the content (focus) of the item
  • describe the usefulness of the item
  • discuss any limitations that the item may have, e.g. grade level, timeliness etc.
  • describe what audience the item is intended for
  • evaluate the methods (research) used in the item
  • evaluate the reliability of the item
  • discuss the author’s background
  • discuss any conclusions the author(s) may have made
  • describe your reaction to the item  

What is the purpose of an annotated bibliography?

Depending on the assignment the annotated bibliography may serve a number of purposes. Including but not limited to:

  • a review of the literature on a particular subject
  • illustrate the quality of research that you have done
  • provide examples of the types of sources available
  • describe other items on a topic that may be of interest to the reader
  • explore the subject for further research 

How is an annotation different than an abstract?

Abstracts are typically descriptive summaries of academic articles or other scholarly publications. Annotations are descriptive and also critical. Annotations are more likely to offer a point of view and not just describe an item.  Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they expose the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority.

What does an annotated bibliography look like?

You write and arrange the bibliographic entries (citations) just as you would any other bibliography. This is usually arranged alphabetically by the first word, which is typically the author’s last name. Your instructor may have their own style that they prefer that you use and there are a number of crib sheets (both on the Internet and in print form) with the popular styles, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, CBE, etc. The annotation may then immediately follow the bibliographic information or may skip one or two lines depending on the style manual that is used. Remember to be brief and include only directly significant information and write in an efficient manner.

How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography


Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.

Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.

Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.  CRITICALLY APPRAISING THE BOOK, ARTICLE, OR DOCUMENT



This citation is based on MLA Guide. For the most up-to-date examples, however, be sure to consult latest version of manual using UST Citation Guide Hyperlink above.

Waite, Linda J., Frances Kobrin Goldscheider, and Christina Witsberger. "Nonfamily Living and the
Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review 51.4 (1986): 541-554. Print.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

What the annotation includes

What the annotation includes

Generally, annotations should be no more than 150 words (or 4-6 sentences long). They should be concise and well-written. Depending on your assignment, annotations may include some or all of the following information:

  • Main focus or purpose of the work
  • Intended audience for the work
  • Usefulness or relevance to your research topic (or why it did not meet your expectations)
  • Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  • Background and credibility of the author
  • Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  • Conclusions or observations reached by you

What Is Included in a Critical Annotation?

A critical annotation includes value judgments or comments on the effectiveness of the work. In this context, critical means evaluative and may include both positive and negative comments. A critical annotation may contain the information found in a descriptive annotation and discuss some of the following features:

  • The importance of the work’s contribution to the literature of the subject
  • The author’s bias or tone
  • The author’s qualifications for writing the work
  • The accuracy of the information in the source
  • Limitations or significant omissions
  • The work’s contribution to the literature of the subject
  • Comparison with other works on the topic

What Is Included in a Descriptive Annotation?

A descriptive annotation may summarize:

  • The main purpose or idea of the work
  • The contents of the work
  • The author’s conclusions
  • The intended audience
  • The author’s research methods
  • Special features of the work such as illustrations, maps, tables, etc.