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Copy of How to Conduct a Literature Review: What is an Annotated Bibliography?

Based on the Guide created by Michae Pearce at the Univ of Alabama

Literature Review vs. Annotated Bibliography

Literature reviews and annotated bibliographies may appear similar in nature, but in fact, they vary greatly in two very important areas: purpose and format.

Differences in Purpose:

Literature Review: A literature review works to do two main things. The first is to provide a case for continuing research into a particular subject or idea by giving an overview of source materials you have discovered on a subject or idea. The second is to demonstrate how your research will fit into the the larger discipline of study by noting discipline knowledge gaps and contextulizing questions for the betterment of the discipline. Literature reviews tend to have a stated or implied thesis as well.

Annotated Bibliography: An annotated bibliography is basically an alphabetically arranged list of references that consists of citations and a brief summary and critique of each of the source materials. The element of critiquing appears to give literature reviews and annotated bibliographies their apparent similarities but in truth this is where they greatly differ. An annotated bibliography normally critiques the quality of the source material  while literature reviews concentrate on the value of the source material in its ability to answer a particular question or support an argument.  

Differences in Format:

Literature Review: A literature review is a formally written prose document very similar to journal articles.  Many literature reviews are incorporated directly into scholarly source material as part of the formal research process. The literature review is typically a required component of dissertations and theses.

Annotated Bibliography: An annotated bibliography is a formal list of citations with annotations or short descriptions and critiques of particular source materials. Annotated bibliographies act as a precursor to a literature review as an organizational tool.

How to write an annotated blbiography

An annotated bibliography is...

  • a list of citations to books, articles, and documents
  • in an appropriate style format  i.e.,APA, Chicago Manual of Style, etc.
  • with brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraphs -- the annotations (or abstracts).

The annotations inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources; they expose the author's point of view, clarity and appropriateness of expression, and authority.



  • First, locate books, articles, reports, etc.  Use library databases like ERIC,  Education Source  or Google Scholar.  Get help on this at   
  • Select those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.
  • Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.
  • Write  (do not copy the abstract from the database) a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that:

o    evaluate the authority or background of the author,

o    comment on the intended audience,

o    compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or

o    explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.

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.

An annotated bibliography is an original work created by you. Don't copy the annotation from the book introduction or jacket.  Write it yourself. Copying is plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty.



Example of Annotated Bibliographies entries (in APA format)

Goldschneider, F. K., Waite, L. J., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among  young adults. American Sociological Review, 51, 541-554.

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.

Graybosch, A., Scott, G.M. & Garrison, S. (1998).The Philosophy Student Writer's Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Designed to serve as either as a writing guide or as a primary textbook for teaching philosophy through writing, the Manual is an excellent resource for students new to philosophy. Like other books in this area, the Manual contains sections on grammar, writing strategies, introductory informal logic and the different types of writing encountered in various areas of philosophy. Of particular note, however, is the section on conducting research in philosophy. The research strategies and sources of information described there are very much up-to-date, including not only directories and periodical indexes, but also research institutes, interest groups and Internet resources.


Examples of What Your Bibliography Should Not Look Like:

Marieb, Elaine N. (1992).Human Anatomy and Physiology Redwood City, CA: The Benjamin/ Cummings Co.

  • I use this book to get the basic information about arthritis, it was very informative.

Keefe FJ., (1996) Pain in Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 24,279-290

  • I got all the facts about exercising with arthritis and the different types of exercise.