Annotated Bibliographies

Many instructors require annotated bibliographies as a piece of the writing process for major research projects in college classes. If you have been asked to write an annotated bib, this handout will show you how to write one to make sure you’re including everything you need.

The rules and guidelines outlined and described in this handout are very general, so make sure you know what your instructor’s specific instructions are (such as if they are asking for MLA or APA style) and amend your approach accordingly.

General Formatting

Annotated bibliographies are generally a simple collection of sources that includes: a) the full citation in the appropriate style, b) a brief summary of the source’s contents, c) justification as to why the source is credible, and d) a description of the source’s utility in your writing project.

Here’s an example of a single annotated source so you can see the basic structure. We’ve used APA style for this one.

Catmull, E. (2008). How Pixar fosters collective creativity. Harvard Business Review, 86(9), 64-73. Retrieved from

In this article, the Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios shares his success story in how the film production company built a legacy upon an attitude of collaboration and shared storytelling. After first using Toy Story 2 as an anecdote for how good creativity requires good talent, extrapolating the point that it is worth the wait (and also quite a bit of pain and suffering) to result in a good creative product, Catmull then details some of the tenets adopted by Pixar Animation Studios that led to its reputation of excellence. One method was creating miniature “think tanks” made up of various creative people to develop stories for future films. Another was to trust the process and not suffer creatively by worrying about the risks. The Pixar team also learned early on to check their egos at the door, and willingly and happily accept constructive criticism; in doing so, they enhanced their problem solving ability and engendered a stronger community of storytellers. They also trust and embrace technology and experiment with how it can complement their team’s creative process and products. This text’s credibility as a peer-reviewed article published by an academic journal lends my project credibility as well. It will prove very useful in discussing Pixar’s success as a creative company compared to the rest of Hollywood’s mode of creative recycling. I can easily delineate methods that work to pose a solution that should fix this broken mentality and lead to more creativity and imagination in the U.S. film industry.

Below, we cover the different parts of a good annotated bibliography entry, along with some tips to help you make sure you are writing the best possible summary of the article and explanation of its utility in your upcoming project.

Parts of an Annotated Bibliography Entry

The structure of a typical annotation entry consists of four major parts built into a single paragraph:

  1. A citation of the text in the appropriate citation style
  2. A summary of the text’s argument an major evidence
  3. A justification of the text’s credibility and/or appropriateness
  4. A description of how the text will be used in your project

Below we will break down each of these steps so that you can easily write them for your own annotated bibliography entries in the future.

1. Citation

The citation for your text needs to be in the appropriate style required by your instructor. Here’s an example in MLA style:

Sideways. “How Pixar Uses Music to Make You Cry.” YouTube, 30 July 2016,

2. Summary

The summary you write will depend on what kind of text you’re using. If you have a peer-reviewed research study, they have a particular structure that you can map out with a cheat sheet, and count on each time you write your annotations. If you have a regular, argumentative essay, you will likely still have a structure you can follow, but a cheat sheet will be harder to come by.

What’s most important to note regarding the summary piece of your annotation is that you need to write it out yourself. You should not quote directly from the text. Doing so will result in violations of academic integrity (see our handout for more information). Here’s an example:

This YouTube video posits that Pixar’s success in making their viewers cry during pivotal emotional scenes in their films is due to their use of contrast between the events on screen and the quality of their score. Scenes that are sad matched with music that is happy and just tinged with a bit of sadness precipitates the highest emotional reaction. Success also stems from threading a melody throughout a film in key themed moments to build the audience’s response to that music. The author goes on to use examples from Monsters Inc., Up, Toy Story, and others to prove this theory in action. Lastly, the video shows an ineffective scene from Big Hero 6 that did not engender the probably intended sad reaction, and plays music from Finding Nemo over it to explain why the film was not as successful and to show viewers that with just a bit of tweaking of the score, the appropriate emotional response can be manipulated out of the film.

3. Justification

Once you’ve summarized the text, you can then work on justifying how and why it is credible and appropriate for you to use. If your major writing assignment requires academic sources, then proving that your text is one of those is vital. Noting that it comes from a peer-reviewed academic journal is key, as is noting the author’s credibility and/or any major accomplishments. If the text is not academic, and your major writing assignment doesn’t require academic sources, then you should probably still note how and why it is trustworthy. Here’s an example:

While this YouTube video is not an academic source, they are not required for this assignment. The author makes credible points by backing them up with evidence from Pixar films and letting his viewers hear the score in different iterations of the same melody. He takes his time explaining that music’s emotional quality does not stem from just major or minor keys, as that is a learned response to sound, which shows he is inclusive of different culture’s musical experiences. While he doesn’t cite any sources, he does show a lot of knowledge of musical composition and the purpose of score in film, which builds his credibility.

4. Description

The last piece of your annotation is a description of how you plan to use the text in your project. Specifically noting what pieces you will use as evidence and how it will help you make your argument will convince your instructor that you are on the right track and have a substantial plan for tackling your drafts of your major writing assignment. Here’s an example:

I plan to use this video to explain Pixar’s success as a film production company. Not only have they produced quality stories, but they have also paired their stories with amazingly effective scores that pinpoint particular emotions and force their audiences to feel them. I can cite the examples the YouTube video uses, and with the formula the author provides regarding a key melody threaded throughout a film in key moments, I might be able to find some examples of my own to build my argument even more.