How to Write an Annotated Bibliography
An annotation is a brief summary or description (usually 100 to 200 words) of a publication (article, book, Web site, movie, etc.). Its purpose is to give the potential reader/viewer/listener an accurate idea of the contents of the publication so that the reader can judge whether the publication is appropriate to the reader’s interests. Note that the reader can be yourself: keeping an annotated list of sources you have consulted can help you later in your research when you are trying to remember what you read where.
Annotations can be descriptive or evaluative:
- descriptive annotation: summarizes the content of the publication, pointing out key topics, significant features, intended audience, etc.
- evaluative annotation: in addition to a description, offers a brief critical assessment of the publication, assessing its relevance, accuracy, reliability, or usefulness for a particular audience or purpose.
In addition to the complete bibliographical information (author, title, publisher and date, etc), an entry in an annotated bibliography should include at least some of the following:
- Author: Authority, experience, or qualifications of the author.
- Purpose: Why did the author write this?
- Scope: Breadth or depth of coverage, topics included, etc.
- Audience: For whom was it written (general public, subject specialists, students…)?
- Viewpoint: What is the author’s perspective or approach (school of thought, etc.)? Do you detect an unacknowledged bias, or find any undefended assumptions?
- Sources: Does the author cite other sources, and if so, what types? Is it based on the author’s own research? Is it personal opinion? …
- Conclusion: What does the author conclude. Is the conclusion justified by the work?
- Features: Any significant extras, e.g. visual aids (charts, maps, etc.), reprints of source documents, an annotated bibliography?
- Comparison: How does it relate to other works on the topic: does it agree or disagree with another author or a particular school of thought; are there other works which would support or dispute it?
- A brief annotation, taken from From David Chalmers’ “Contemporary Philosophy of Mind: An Annotated Bibliography,” available online at http://www.u.arizona.edu/~chalmers/biblio.html:
Foss, J. E. 1989. On the logic of what it is like to be a conscious subject. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 67:305-320.
A Super Neuroscientist will know how we describe and think about experience, so will know as much as a Super Sympathist. One doesn't have to imagine to know what it's like. With remarks on bat experience.
[Note: this annotation presumes a familiarity with the subject. The terms "Super Neuroscientist" and "Super Sympathist" are unexplained, and it is assumed that the reader will know what they mean. And the note "With remarks on bat experience" is assumed to trigger a recognition of Thomas Nagel's famous article (well, famous in philosophy circles, anyway) "What is it like to be a bat?" That is fine if your readers are familiar with the subject. But if you cannot reasonably expect your intended audience to pick up on such things, you should explain what they mean.]
- A longer annotation, distilled and combined from a few annotations and reviews:
Searle, John R. Intentionality, an essay in the philosophy of mind. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
In previous books (Speech Acts  and Expression and Meaning ), Searle introduced the ideas behind speech acts and started to extend them to ‘intentionality’, by which he means the property of certain states of mind in virtue of which they are directed towards objects or states of affairs in the world. In this book, he extends that work to philosophy of mind. Searle rejects a simple physicalistic or linguistic picture of the mind. He locates intentional states within a network, and against a background of non-intentional states. In the course of expounding his general theory of their nature, he is led to give his own accounts of perception, action, causation, conventional linguistic meaning, indexicals and proper names. Searle thinks of himself as swimming against the current, and much of his argument is negative. Nevertheless the gist is everywhere positive: his book is full of novel suggestions in familiar areas, and all the commitments are clearly spelled out. This book will extend our ability to make sense of intentional states and will, it is to be hoped, render out-of-date some still-held theories about the mind. This very clearly written book can be read with profit by philosophers and their students, both undergraduate and graduate level.
[Note: in addition to outlining the content of the book itself and providing a general evaluation, it places the book in the context of Searle's other work and of the field in general. It does not, but could, include a more specific list and evaluation of Searle's conclusions in the book, though that would make it long for an annotated bibliography.]