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Annotated Bibliographies: Start Here

Tips and resources to get you started on that annotated bibliography!
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Why do an annotated bibliography?

Usually, the first time someone does an annotated bibliography, it's because it was an assignment for a class. Annotated bibliographies have an important place in the research process whether or not they were assigned, though. Gathering the resources you plan to use and making note of how you think they will be useful helps set you up to write a successful paper.


What is my research question?

Creating an annotated bibliography is a way to learn more about your research topic and to find out what other people have said about it.


How do I start?

If you are doing an annotated bibliography for an assignment, the first thing to do is carefully read the assignment.

You need to know:

  • How many resources are needed?
    • For undergraduate assignments, professors usually ask for three to six items.  Make sure you know how many items you are looking for. Make sure you know if there is a maximum number of items as well.
  • What kinds of resources are needed?
    • Articles? Books?  Book Chapters?  Web sites?  Videos?
    • If your professor does not specify, look carefully at any examples given.
  • Primary sources or secondary sources?
    • In HCC assignments, the phrase "primary sources" usually refers to historical documents made by people directly involved in a historical event.  Please ask your professor or a librarian if you are not sure what your professor means.
  • Do the resources need to be scholarly, peer-reviewed items?
    • Scholarly, peer-reviewed items can be found in library databases.
    • You can use special searches to tell the databases to look for only scholarly, peer-reviewed items.
    • Find out more about scholarly, peer-reviewed items by clicking this link.
    • These are also referred to as academic articles.  Look for the phrases "peer-reviewed" or "refereed."
  • Where should you get the resources?
    • Are you required to use the HCC library?
    • Are you required to use only books or only online resources?
    • Are you required to use the HCC library databases?
    • Can you use items from the free internet (i.e. a Google search)?
  • Does your professor want you to critique or analyze the source or just describe it?
    • ​Annotated bibliography assignments are usually evaluative / critical / analytical.
  • What citation style is required?


While you are searching the databases, keep your research question in mind.

Where do I find resources?

Try to start with a general HCC database like the ones listed below.  Start your search with a general keyword related to your topic.  For example, if your research question is "How does air pollution affect low-income people in Houston?", you might start with the keyphrases "air pollution," "low income," and "Houston."

If you are having trouble thinking of keywords, contact an HCC librarian through our chat service: Ask a Librarian. If we are not online, we will get back to you as soon as possible.

We have a complete list of all of our databases, which you can sort by Program, Subject, Format, or Vendor.


How do I choose my resources?

You don't have to read the entire article before you decide whether it will be useful.  Here are some decision points.  (A video walkthrough of the process is on the way.)

  • When you're looking at the search results page, you can immediately filter out everything that is NOT full-text.  (Full-text means the library has access to the entire article.)
  • You can immediately filter out everything that is too old (either in the parameters of the assignment or in your judgment.  Just keep in mind that scholarly publishing moves slowly.)
  • Now, scan the title.  Academic titles are usually wordy for a reason-- the authors want to be completely clear about their topic and methodology.  If nothing in the title looks relevant to your question, move on to the next article in the list.
  • If the title looks relevant to your question, click on it to get to a page with information about the article:
    • Author affiliations are here
    • You can click to a journal's page to make sure it's peer-reviewed
    • You will see subject terms.  Do any of the subject terms look related to your question?  If not, go back to the search results and scan the next title
  • If the subject terms look related, now read the abstract.  [If you're looking for academic, peer-reviewed articles, here is where you make sure the item is not an editorial, letter, or book review.  Those will appear in academic, peer-reviewed journals, but are NOT peer-reviewed.]
  • If the abstract looks good, save the article.  Email it to yourself using tools on the database page and download the .pdf if available. Copy and paste the correctly formatted citation into your working Works Cited page.  (NEVER count on remembering a title!). 
    • Some scholars prefer to read the first few paragraphs of the article and the last few paragraphs before saving the article. However, once you start reading any part of the article itself, you should save it and note it in order to avoid accidental plagiarism when you are writing later.
  • In the interest of efficiency, many scholars will save several articles after reading the abstracts, rather than stopping to read the articles right away.
  • If you look at a couple of pages of results and don't see anything that fits, try a different database.  After that, consult with a librarian!  We can help you think of search terms, troubleshoot searches, and help you look at your results. ( (Also, my contact information is on the "Home" page of this guide.)

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