The Annotated Bibliography: Notations
by Johnie H. Scott, Assistant Professor
Pan African Studies Department - California State University, Northridge


The following has been prepared to guide students in preparing one of the more commonly demanded assignments in academic writing -- the annota- ted Bibliography or "annotation," as it is sometimes referred to. While the expectations of instructors may vary from course to course, there are nonetheless certain basic guidelines that annotations incorporate. It will be the "basics" that this brief document addresses. Any specific questions the student has beyond what is presented here should be addressed to the particular instructor.

The Annotated Bibliography

Annotate : "To furnish (a text) with critical commentary or explanatory notes."

For many academics, the annotation speaks to writing which has, at the bottom of each page or the end of the chapter, a series of notes which add to the information presented. Specifically, these notes will provide a background on the source material. The notes will indicate the full names and academic titles of the experts (read professors, authors, etcetera) cited in the text, the title(s) of the works cited, and some elaboration on that particular work, placing it in perspective with other commentary that might have been developed on the same subject matter (see page 4 from "The Rhetoric of Confrontation" by Robert L. Scott and Donald K. Smith as an example with one's attention drawn to the annotated notes in 8-point type located on the right-hand column).

Beyond such writing, however, one also finds the annotated Bibliography which typically follows the text. The Bibliography possesses certain classic features in that it is comprised of:

I. Books Related to Subject Matter

These will be books (to include magazines, journals, etcetera) either written or edited by experts in the field that are wholly devoted to the topic under discussion.

The work will be done by first indicating the author (or editor), the name of the publication, and then, in parenthesis, the city in which the publishing company is located, followed by a colon, then the name of the publishing house, and finally the year published. Further, this is always done in alphabetical order.

Example: The National Urban League, The State of Black America 1989 (New York: National Urban League, 1989).

Make certain that you enumerate each of the books cited in this section. Once you have identified the book, the next step is to provide a brief, one-paragraph summary that lists the highlights or major issues that are covered in the text for the reader(s). You may also want to provide brief, one-sentence biographical information about the author(s) such as where he/she teaches, in what department, at what faculty rank and in what specialty. It is this one paragraph summary of the book that is most crucial for any annotation.

II. Journal and Magazine Articles, Essays, Book Chapters

The work here consists of particular essays, reviews, articles, and chapters from selected publications on a topic. Again, the listing is done alphabetically by author, followed by the name of the particular article which is placed within quotation marks, followed by the name of the particular publication, the date and volume number, and the pages extant.


  1. W.E.B. DuBois, "The Waco Horror: A Report on a Lynching,"   from The Crisis, Vol. XII (July 1916), supplement, pp. 1-8.
  2. Robert L. Scott and Donald K. Smith, "The Rhetoric of Confrontation,"  from The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. LV, Number 1, February 1969, pp. 1-8.
  3. Alice Walker, "The Black Writer and the Southern Experience,"   from In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovitch, Publishers, 1983), pp. 15-21.

As with the section on boos, what is most important here is the summary of the work (article, journal, etcetera) that you give to your reader(s). The summary should be lucid, to-the-point, and must not ramble. It should be factual as welll, presetning the major points of the article. The reader(s) should be able to tell from your summary what the article does and decide on whether or not to follow up by reading the same.

III. Speeches, Manifestoes, and Declarations

Still another component of the annotated bibliography -- and one that is much-used in humanities and social sciences courses -- finds the citing of speeches (historic or contemporary), manifestoes, and formal declarations related to the subject matter under discussion. Irrespective of the material, you will again want to enumerate, place in alphabetical order by document title, provide the date of the particular item, and the source where applicable.


  1. "The Niagara Movement Declaration of Principles (1905)"   from Afro-American History: Primary Sources, Thomas Frazier, Editor (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), pp. 231-233;
  2. "The Task for the Future--A Program for 1919,"  Report of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the Years 1917 and 1918 (New York: 1919), pp. 76-80.

In preparing this section of your annotation, once again you want to provide the written summary of the speech, manifesto, or declaration for the audience. You should be able to tell by this point that preparing good, comprehensive annotations call for research and planning, reading, and carefully thinking through what you want to say about the work. You are also providing some evaluation of the work in question, so this calls for an informed judgment that only comes from having covered the material thoroughly.

IV. Filmographies, Discographies

Increasingly, one finds films and audio recordings that pertain directly to the subject matter being presented. In this instance, the careful scholar will want to include these as well. The listing of films would come under the category headed "Filmography" while the citing of recordings would be under the heading "Discography." One would again do so alphabetically by the title of the work, followed by the principals involved, the company that produced the work, and the year. This is a feature that appears more and more given the widespread utilization of mass communications technologies.


  1. A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Daniel Petrie and starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, and Diana Sands, 1961;
  2. Sounder, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, and Kevin Hooks, 1972; and
  3. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, written by Ernest Gaines and starring Cicely Tyson, 1974.

The annotated bibliography in this instance will also highlight the major features of the work(s) cited. That is, you will want to give some indication of what is covered in the work, how it is treated, how it was received by the (critical) public, how well the work did (or how poorly). In every single instance, you must prepare a brief, one paragraph summary of the work. In no instance do you want to go beyond two paragraphs on the work that you identify for your audience.

Return to the Summer Bridge Main Page or Back to the Top of this Page.