Skip to Main Content

History: Annotated Bibliographies

A guide to History resources in the Cressman Library.

Annotated Bibliography

In some of your history courses, a professor may ask you to submit an annotated bibliography: a list of sources that you intend to use for your paper, accompanied by descriptions of those sources. We have created a guide and resources to help in the construction of an annotated bibliography. The examples used here follow the Chicago Manual of Style.

Finding Sources

The first step in building an annotated bibliography is finding sources. The tabs for books, databases, journals, etc. can help you start researching so that you can find reputable sources for your bibliography.

As you find sources, make note of the relevant citation information.

Ask Your Librarian

Visit the Information Services desk at the library for friendly face-to-face reference assistance. We can help you locate the resources you need and teach you how to use the research tools at your disposal.

Phone: (610) 606-4666 ext. 3536


Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Step 1: Construct Your Citation

Using the information from your sources and the resources for the Chicago Manual of Style found in this Guide, construct a bibliographic entry for each of your proposed sources. 

Step 2: Compose Your Annotation

An annotation is a description of the source. This might be a simple summary of its contents, or an assessment of its value, or a discussion of how you plan to use the source, or a combination of all three of these. As you compose the annotation, consider:

  • What is this source about? Is it a primary source?
  • Who is the author? Are they an authority on the subject?
  • What is the source trying to accomplish? Is it informative, or persuasive?
  • Does this source have any apparent bias, or does it seem objective?
  • Are there any gaps or other flaws in the source? (These are as important to acknowledge in a source as its merits)
  • How does this relate to the purpose of your paper? Will this support one of your points? Is this an opposing perspective that you will refute?
  • How does the source relate to other sources you're listing? Will it fill in a gap? Provide a different perspective?

An annotation does not have to answer all of these questions, but it should provide anyone reading it with enough information to understand your reasoning for including said source. Consider which questions are most relevant based on your individual topic as well as the specific content and planned usage of each source.

Step 3: Organize Your Bibliography

Per Chicago guidelines, bibliographies should be organized in alphabetical order. As you create citations and annotations for each of your sources, make sure that you are listing them alphabetically.


Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry

Hale, Edward E., and Edward E. Hale, Jr. Franklin in France. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887.

Covering the period from Franklin's first visit to France in 1767 to the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Hale and Hale supplement their descriptions of events with Franklin's own words, taken from letters and other writings. The printing of this volume marks the first time many of the letters were published, as the authors explain in their preface. This makes for a unique combination, as reading it offers not only firsthand discussions of events by Franklin himself, but analyses from historians a century after.


Annotated Bibliography FAQs

Why annotations?

Anyone can make a list of sources. Annotations give insight, showing not only that you've familiarized yourself with the sources, but that you're already considering how they'll be used in the context of your paper.

How long are annotations?

Annotations should provide a thorough picture of your source. Aim for two paragraphs of about 4-5 sentences each. The exact length can vary, however; always check with your professor if you're unsure!

Do I have to read entire sources for this?

Sometimes that's the case, but article abstracts, introductions, conclusions, and tables of contents can help you get an idea of a source's content and relevance to your paper without needing to read pages and pages. Use those to help you compose annotations.

Isn't an abstract basically an annotation?

While they are similar in length and scope, don't just copy and paste abstracts for your annotations. These need to be in your own words, and should clearly relate to the paper you're planning to write. 

Am I committing to using these sources in my paper?

Not necessarily. Think of an annotated bibliography as a research plan. As you write the paper, that plan might change. Sources that seemed essential might become less important or even irrelevant, and you may find yourself in need of additional research down the line. An annotated bibliography is not set in stone.

 Chat with a librarian