Project Resources: How To Write An Effective MLA-Formatted Annotated Bibliography

Project Resources: How To Write An Effective MLA-Formatted Annotated Bibliography

Project Resources: How To Write An Effective MLA-Formatted Annotated Bibliography

This guide is provided for the benefit of Modern Language students at Finger Lakes Community College. However, the counsel here is probably good enough to satisfy most other academic endeavors. Enjoy!

Wait… Didn’t I already write an MLA-formatted bibliography?

Yes, you probably did by now. If not, I’d go back and do that first.

So what the heck is an “MLA-formatted annotated bibliography”?

Here’s Purdue University’s Definition (via Purdue’s OWL)

A bibliography is a list of sources (books, journals, Web sites, periodicals, etc.) one has used for researching a topic. Bibliographies are sometimes called “References” or “Works Cited” depending on the style format you are using. A bibliography usually just includes the bibliographic information (i.e., the author, title, publisher, etc.).

An annotation is a summary and/or evaluation. Therefore, an annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources.

Answer the question: Why is this source a good source for me?

Why is this important?

The whole purpose of annotated bibliography is to help you remember the information that is contained in each source. If you’re working on a project with only a few sources, then it’s not so bad. However, major projects and papers can have hundreds of sources. An annotated bibliography becomes a lifesaver. Best to learn it now!

To learn about your topic: Writing an annotated bibliography is excellent preparation for a research project. Just collecting sources for a bibliography is useful, but when you have to write annotations for each source, you’re forced to read each source more carefully. You begin to read more critically instead of just collecting information. At the professional level, annotated bibliographies allow you to see what has been done in the literature and where your own research or scholarship can fit. To help you formulate a thesis: Every good research paper is an argument. The purpose of research is to state and support a thesis. So a very important part of research is developing a thesis that is debatable, interesting, and current. Writing an annotated bibliography can help you gain a good perspective on what is being said about your topic. By reading and responding to a variety of sources on a topic, you’ll start to see what the issues are, what people are arguing about, and you’ll then be able to develop your own point of view.

To help other researchers: Extensive and scholarly annotated bibliographies are sometimes published. They provide a comprehensive overview of everything important that has been and is being said about that topic. You may not ever get your annotated bibliography published, but as a researcher, you might want to look for one that has been published about your topic.

So, what am I supposed to do?

Here are the kinds of things you should “annotate” from your sources. A good annotated bibliography should really try and do as much of this as possible. Definitely MORE than a few sentences…

Summarize: Some annotations merely summarize the source. What are the main arguments? What is the point of this book or article? What topics are covered? If someone asked what this article/book is about, what would you say? The length of your annotations will determine how detailed your summary is.

Assess: After summarizing a source, it may be helpful to evaluate it. Is it a useful source? How does it compare with other sources in your bibliography? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? What is the goal of this source?

Reflect: Once you’ve summarized and assessed a source, you need to ask how it fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How does it help you shape your argument? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?

Try asking major “interrogatives” in order to extract annotations.


What does a solid MLA-formatted annotated source look like?:

Sample MLA Annotation provided by Purdue University OWL.

Note how the source is still cited in MLA format. But now contains the additional annotation underneath.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. Print.

Lamott’s book offers honest advice on the nature of a writing life, complete with its insecurities and failures. Taking a humorous approach to the realities of being a writer, the chapters in Lamott’s book are wry and anecdotal and offer advice on everything from plot development to jealousy, from perfectionism to struggling with one’s own internal critic. In the process, Lamott includes writing exercises designed to be both productive and fun.
Lamott offers sane advice for those struggling with the anxieties of writing, but her main project seems to be offering the reader a reality check regarding writing, publishing, and struggling with one’s own imperfect humanity in the process. Rather than a practical handbook to producing and/or publishing, this text is indispensable because of its honest perspective, its down-to-earth humor, and its encouraging approach.

Chapters in this text could easily be included in the curriculum for a writing class. Several of the chapters in Part 1 address the writing process and would serve to generate discussion on students’ own drafting and revising processes. Some of the writing exercises would also be appropriate for generating classroom writing exercises. Students should find Lamott’s style both engaging and enjoyable.

Here is another example of an annotated source from a language student at FLCC:

De Dillmont, Thérèse. The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 1996. Print.

De Dillmont’s book is a compilation of different forms of needlework – from sewing and knitting, to weaving and embroidery. Divided into specific needlework categories, each section includes a brief history of that particular art, as well as tools and detailed diagrams of stitch formation.

For someone wanting to learn the basics of a certain needle art, this book is a valuable resource. The diagrams are comprehensive and simplistic. The directions are easy to understand. Each segment starts with the easiest concept and builds in complexity.

Since I knew nothing about the nut and bolts of lace making, this book was an extremely useful tool. With it, I was able to explore different types of lace and, once I chose the form, was able to teach myself basic stitches.

Here is another example of an annotated source from a different language student at FLCC:

Osborne, Harold, ed. The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts. Elyhouse, London, England: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975. Print.

This source is reference guide to all things art. Each section begins with a definition of that particular type of art. In the lace section, there are detailed descriptions of what lace looks like in each of its unique forms (i.e. bobbin, net, needle, embroidered, etc.). The Companion to the Decorative Arts also traces the history of the subject the reader is researching.

Outlining the development and evolution of an art form – what and who influenced it through the years – deepens the reader’s appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in making it. This book adds perspective and dimension to the art form.

For this project, I was astounded by how, in history, politics and personal ambition pushed lace making into an uber-competitive art form affordable to only the most affluent.

Online MLA Citation Guides / Resources

If you’re going to be in college for a while, writing a lot of papers, I’d study up on these. They can be a lifesaver.

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
The best-of-the-best for learning how to write and cite stuff!

The Write Place @ FLCC (Research and Writing Center)
Our in-house writing tutors!