annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography is “a list of citations related to a particular topic or theme that include a brief descriptive and/or evaluative summary” (Hamer 2000, cited in USC Library 2016).

An evaluative/critical/analytical annotated bibliography entry consists of two elements:

  1. a full reference in the appropriate academic style
  2. your own critical summary of the source’s relevant main argument / evidence / findings (~150-300 words)

When writing annotations for sources in your bibliography, ask yourself the following questions.

  • How are the author’s arguments, evidence or conclusions relevant to your investigation of the topic?
  • How do the research findings help you make new connections or suggest new ways of understanding your problem?
  • Are you interested in the way the author uses a theoretical framework or a key concept?
  • Are you interested in the methodology or the way the author frames the research questions?
  • Does the source refer to and analyze a particular body of evidence that you want to cite?
  • What limitations does the source have [timeliness, validity, reliability, authority, etc.]?
  • How does this source compare / relate to other sources on this topic?

Example Annotation
In the example entry below, note that

  • the example annotation is different from the original source abstract below it – it includes less detail about methods, as well as specific findings, conclusions and recommendations from the rest of the paper, and only the arguments and details relevant to the researcher’s own project
  • the underlined phrases distinguish the summaries of the relevant source ideas from the researcher’s own analysis, and identify key sections of the source (methods, findings, conclusions, recommendations, etc.)
  • the blue sentences are arguments that the student has developed through critical analysis and evaluation of the source, and can be used in the final research paper
  • there is no descriptive “metadiscourse” about what the researcher will do with the source (“I will use the statistics from the source to do x in paragraph y,” etc.).
  • the example entry is around 300 words long – a maximum for such an entry is probably 350 words.
  • everything except the first line of the reference beginning with the author’s name is slightly inset, as in any other reference list

Granitz, Neil, and Dana Loewy. “Applying Ethical Theories: Interpreting and Responding to Student Plagiarism.” Journal of Business Ethics 72, no. 3 (May 1, 2007): 293–306. doi:10.1007/s10551-006-9171-9

This study draws on a content analysis of university disciplinary records to decide which of a range of ethical theories students appeal to when asked to justify their plagiarism. Granitz and Loewy find that students appealed to deontology (“I didn’t realize I had a duty not to”), utilitarianism (“it helped me but did not hurt anyone else”), rational self-interest (“it was a fair exchange of effort for grades”), Machiavellianism (“It is only a problem if you are caught”), cultural relativism (“It is OK in my culture”), or situational ethics (“circumstances made it necessary in this case”). The researchers conclude that by far the most common justification was deontology (41.7%), that is, an appeal to ignorance of the rule that certain forms of plagiarism must be avoided, as well as situational (19.9%) and Machiavellian ethics (18.4%)(299). As a solution, the authors recommend stressing contract honor, explicitly teaching proper citation and documentation techniques, instructors acting as role models, avoiding standardized or overly general assignments, and using anti-plagiarism software.

The authors suggest emphasizing contract honor and “inequitable exchange for the original author” (301) as a response to students’ appeals to self interest. This seems unpersuasive, however, as student work is unlikely to be exchanged for money in the marketplace, and the legal and financial rights to the work will probably already have been appropriated from the original creator by a large multinational publisher (Gusterson 2012). The contractual exchanges affected by plagiarism are more likely those with student peers and collaborators, the contracted “ghost” writer, the instructor, and the institution. The authors also mention a strong correlation between student plagiarism and later professional misconduct and fraudulent business practices (301). This suggests that such cheating is worth addressing for purposes of social utility, as it is related to a preference for unequal exchange among leaders in organizations and institutions.

Original Source Abstract

Given the tremendous proliferation of student plagiarism involving the Internet, the purpose of this study is to determine which theory of ethical reasoning students invoke when defending their transgressions: deontology, utilitarianism, rational self-interest, Machiavellianism, cultural relativism, or situational ethics. Understanding which theory of ethical reasoning students employ is critical, as preemptive steps can be taken by faculty to counteract this reasoning and prevent plagiarism. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that unethical behavior in school can lead to unethical behavior in business; therefore, correcting unethical behavior in school can have a positive impact on organizational ethics. To meet this objective, a content analysis was conducted on the written records of students formally charged with plagiarizing at a large West Coast university. Each case was classified according to the primary ethical reasoning that the student used to justify plagiarism. Results indicate that students predominately invoke deontology, situational ethics, and Machiavellianism. Based on these findings, specific recommendations are offered to curb plagiarism. (Granitz & Loewy 2007, 293)


  • You will have to include an annotated bibliography as part of your research proposal for ENG 102
  • Creating an annotated bibliography can help you with the following key research paper skills:
    • Keep detailed records of the sources you have read
    • Evaluate sources for their logical and empirical strengths and weaknesses and their reputability
    • Analyze sources for their relevance / usefulness / applicability to your research topic
    • Begin to synthesize the arguments / information / evidence from the sources into a response to your research question(s)
  • Annotated bibliographies in books may also be descriptive or summative to introduce a general reader to a given field. This is not the way we are using them in the ENG 102 research proposal, as we are more interested in how the sources can be used in your own research.
  • You can use bibliographic management software to generate annotated bibliographies – write your summary and analysis in the “abstract” field and choose an annotated output style (guide for RefWorks:
  • Your research proposal and annotations will be uploaded to turnitin – so don’t plagiarize the abstract of the source!


USC Libraries. 2016. “Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Annotated Bibliography.” March 12. Accessed March 14 2016.