Annotated Bibliographies

Many professors ask you to write annotated bibliographies – bibliographic information about your primary sources and a short description of each – as preparation for writing a paper. Often, these bibliographies are no more than a page or two in length, but they are important because they force you to get your teeth into the source material and they give your professor the opportunity to comment on your use of sources and suggest some that you may have overlooked.


Style for Annotated Bibliographies

When you write an annotated bibliography for a course or in preparation for a thesis advisor, consider that the professionalism of the product is a direct reflection of the quality of the paper that will result. Therefore, be stylistically conscientious, following these tips:

  • Begin by listing complete bibliographic information (author, year, source name, publisher, etc.) just as you would on the References page at the end of a paper.
  • Provide a sentence or two describing the contents of the source.
  • Summarize the various relevant topic areas that the source discusses.
  • Avoid vague phrasing and empty sentences. Weed out any generic sentences such as "This source is very useful because it has tons of really good information".
  • Use present tense and future tense verbs to facilitate the immediacy of the information and the actual future use of sources.
  • Discuss the exact way that you will use the source (e.g., for background information, data, graphics, as a bibliographic tool).
  • Carefully judge the value of the source, considering, for example, its level of detail, bias, or the timeliness of its data.
  • Note if the source's text or bibliography will lead you to other sources.
  • Comment on anything that you find especially noteworthy about a source – is it controversial? definitive? political? new?
  • Format the annotated bibliography so that each description is clearly associated with the proper source.


Sample Annotated Bibliography

"The Geography of American Graveyards" 

by John Lerner

1) Jordan, Terry G. (1982). Texas Graveyards, A Cultural Legacy. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Jordan offers an in-depth look at the hows and whys of Texas graveyards. He divides vernacular burial sites into three categories: Mexican, German, and "Southern folk cemeteries". His physical descriptions of cemetery layout, inscriptions, grave markers, and the like are very detailed.

 2) Meyer, Richard E., ed. (1989). Cemeteries and Gravemarkers, Voices of American Culture. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press.

Meyer's book is a compilation of works concerning such topics as regional epitaphs, origins of Southern cemeteries, the Afro-American section of a Rhode Island burial ground, and the use of bronze in memorials. 

3) Sloane, David Charles (1991). The Last Great Necessity, Cemeteries in American History. Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sloane's work will serve as my primary source of information. He has written a history of American cemeteries in a cultural context concentrating on significant trends in their development. Sloane's "Notes" section will allow for easy access to other sources.

4) Weed, Howard Evarts (1912). Modern Park Cemeteries. Chicago: R.J. Haight.

Weed was a landscape architect and his work concentrates on how a cemetery should look. Weed offers detailed descriptions of the physical layout of pre-20th century cemeteries.

5) Zelinsky, Wilbur (1994). "Gathering Places for America's Dead", The Professional Geographer. 46:1, 29-38.

Zelinsky's article is an intriguing analysis of the spatial patterns of American cemeteries. He calculates and maps the number of cemeteries by county across the country. He then seeks answers as to why there is such a fluctuation in the number per square mile from one place to the next. Zelinsky's bibliography led me to Sloane's work.

Source: Joe Schall,
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Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2021, 1:54 PM