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Extended Essay: Create an Annotated Bibliography

A guide to the research and writing process required for students completing the IB Extended Essay.

Using an Annotated Bibliography

List on clipboard - Britannica ImageQuestAn annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value and relevance. You, the researcher, have to justify the choice of one source over another by answering questions like these:

  • What was in the source?
  • How was the source useful?
  • [and sometimes] How has the source changed your thinking?

It is excellent preparation for carrying out independent research.This page has information on using an annotated bibliography for your Extended Essay:

What Is an Annotated Bibliography - and Why Write it at the Beginning of Your Research?
How Can a Good Annotated Bibliography Help With My EE?
What Should an Annotation Include?
How Do I Write an Annotation?
What Do Sample Annotations Look Like?

For other resources, see:

What Is an Annotated Bibliography - and Why Write it at the Beginning of Your Research?

An annotated bibliography is a bibliography that includes a summary and/or evaluation of each of the sources. Each citation is followed by a brief note – or annotation – that describes various aspects of the source such as a summary, an evaluation of the content, and applicability to your topic.

Why should an annotated bibliography come at the BEGINNING of your research assignment?  A researcher can use an annotated bibliography to do a critical summary of each source: its importance, its strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which the source will fit into your research. When doing an annotated bibliography, researchers analyze and don't summarize.

How to Write an Annotated Bibliography. Narrated by Melissa Wehler, 2020. 
     YouTube, Accessed 4 Sept. 2021.

How Can a Good Annotated Bibliography Help Me With My EE?

The process is not just a matter of listing possible sources. It also requires you to think critically. Consider your sources in terms of:

  • what has already been written about their chosen topic and
  • how your own research will fit into this.

As you examine each source, you will need to identify the issues and different perspectives of others. This will help you to develop a reasoned argument.

Clock face of wall clock - Britannica ImageQuestA good annotated bibliography will:

  • allow you to keep track of your reading
  • encourage you to think critically about the sources you are using in relation to your research area
  • allow you, quite early on in the process, to become aware of possible concerns about using certain sources
  • help you determine whether a source is of use to you in your research
  • help you to justify your use of particular sources, both to your supervisor and to the IB examiner who will be reading your essay
  • help you with the planning of your research, and ultimately save you time
  • enable you to develop critical-thinking skills in selecting and evaluating source material.
TIP:  The annotated bibliography is a planning tool to help you manage your research and time. It must not be included in the EE as an appendix.

What Should an Annotation Include?

Books and papers - Britannica ImageQuestAn annotated bibliography consists of:

  • the bibliographic information
  • the annotations (a concise summary of the source).

The annotations will vary in length depending on whether you are writing a summary of the source or analyzing it.

A summary should include:        

  1. a concise summary of the content and theme(s) of the source
  2. a comment on the authority of the author
  3. a comment on the purpose of the source
  4. a comment on how this source might be useful.         

What Do Sample Annotations Look Like?

The following are examples of annotations in several IB disciplines.


Bibliographic information Avelino, J, Willocquet, L and Savary, S. 2004. “Effects of Crop Management Patterns on Coffee Rust Epidemics”. Plant Pathology. Vol 53, number 5. Pp 541–547.
Content/theme(s) How crop management systems can affect the spread of coffee rust epidemics. The role of mathematical modelling supported by data from the field is discussed and new approaches to managing the coffee crop are suggested.
Author’s authority The main author works at a government agricultural research station in Costa Rica and has published many articles in pest control, agriculture and mathematical modelling. Clearly a recognized scientific authority in the coffee-growing business.
Purpose To suggest novel ways of dealing with a major tropical agricultural disease through an integrated scientific approach.
  • Takes a balanced look at benefits and difficulties of using mathematical models to predict changes in complex ecological systems.
  • Considers the practical implications for the farmers who have to deal with the issues in the field.
  • Suggests scientifically considered interventions.


Bibliographic information Ehrenreich, B. 2001. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. New York, NY, USA. Henry Holt and Company.
Content/theme(s) Ehrenreich attempts to ascertain whether it is currently possible for an individual to live on a minimum wage in America. Taking jobs as a waitress, a maid in a cleaning service, and a Walmart sales employee, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow workers and her financial struggles in each situation.
Author’s authority Ehrenreich is an experienced journalist, author and political activist. She has been publishing since the 1970s and has been active in a number of different fields, such as finance, health care and feminism.
Purpose Ehrenreich gives a first-hand and critical insight into the everyday life of Americans at the “lower end” of the social spectrum, a world we don’t normally experience.

Extremely useful:

  • insight into America’s society as a whole
  • gives those examples and details
  • critical presentation from an outsider’s perspective
  • a good example of “embedded journalism”.    


Bibliographic information Gutman, R. 1993. A Witness to Genocide. New York, NY, USA. Macmillan.
Content/theme(s) Genocide and how it can be avoided, especially in the case of the Bosnian civil war.
Author’s authority Journalist and author. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, the George Polk Award for foreign reporting, the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting, and a special Human Rights in Media Award from the International League for Human Rights.
Purpose Collection of stories, accounts, articles of the Bosnian war.
Usefulness The source was useful in so far as it provided accounts of the Bosnian war and its aftermath. It is clearly an investigation into the causes of the civil war and genocide. It helped frame the conflict for me so that I could locate further articles and journal sources. The source was very informative as I try to understand the causes and consequences of genocide and why it occurs.

Social and cultural anthropology

Bibliographic information Bourgois, P. 1995. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York, NY, USA. Cambridge University Press.
Content/theme(s) Ethnographic study of social marginalization in East Harlem. A focus on the economics of exclusion and the realities of life for low-level drug dealers within a community.
Author’s authority Professor of anthropology who spent several years undertaking fieldwork with the community he was researching.
Purpose An ethnographic insight into the microeconomics of low-level drug dealing in an urban environment, paying particular attention to issues around the rise of poverty in urban areas, and the politics and economics of exclusion.
  • Insight and access to the life of a group of marginalized people—a difficult undertaking.
  • Insight into the ethnographic method in practice, in terms of the challenges, rewards and ethical considerations.
  • Critical look at the role of the observer and the need for reflexivity.

What Should the Annotation Include?

This video tutorial from Champlain College Library explains what an annotated bibliography is and what each annotation should include.  The short paragraphs describing each source on the list should summarize the source, evaluate it, and discuss how it would fit into your topic.

Champlain College Library, prod. What's an Annotated Bibliography? YouTube. 
     Champlain College Lib., 2 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2016. 

How Do I Write an Annotation?

The Cornell University Library has defined an annotated bibliography as: a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph. This means you are creating a paragraph that others may read to get a general idea of what your sources are about. The hardest part is being concise with your information. Annotations take practice but once you get the hang of it they are easy. Here are the steps to follow:
Step 1: Talk about the author. (1 sentence)
Is this a professor? Maybe this is a professional in the field? Or is this person a hobbyist? Tell the audience about the author in the first part of the annotation.

Step 2: Explain what the article is about. (1-3 sentences)
Tell the audience what is in the article. This is the most difficult part of the annotation because it requires you to be very succinct. Don’t rewrite the article; just write the base facts and important notes about the article here.

Step 3: Explain how this article illuminates your bibliography topic. (1-2 sentences)
What about this article makes it relevant to your topic? Why did you select it? What pertinent bit of information makes this article stand out among the others?

Step 4: Compare or contrast this work with another you have cited. (1-2 sentences)
How does this specific article relate to another article in your annotated bibliography? Do they agree or not? Why not? What makes them unique?


See the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University for Annotated Bibliography Samples.


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