9.5 Keeping Track of Your Sources and Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Johannah White and Robin Jeffrey

Keeping Track of Your Sources

Throughout the process of research, it is easy to get lost in a sea of information. Here are some tips and tools that you can use throughout the stages of your research process to keep sources organized.

Always keep a working digital bibliography of the sources that you are considering or using. If you construct your Works Cited as you go along, you will save yourself a lot of time and effort.

As you find articles, keep them! Here are some options that you can store articles that you find:

  1. Import sources that you may want to use to Zotero, a free software tool that you can download to store, cite, and organize potential sources. Or if you are not interested in Zotero, you can try to…
  2. Create a Google Doc or a Word file to keep track of the sources that you want to read. Copy and paste the full citation (many databases, like Academic Search Complete, can create a Works Cited reference for you). Or, if you are using a source that you found via Google Scholar, copy and paste the URL of the source (it will need to be cited properly by author name, article title, source, etc. if you use it in a paper).
  3. If you are searching in Academic Search Complete or any EBSCO database, use the Create a “Folder” feature found at the top right-hand side of your screen, to save the search results that look interesting.
    Before you leave your search session, DON’T FORGET to email yourself the citations of articles you have saved. Most often, the full text will accompany the citation. When you do this, you will have the option to choose what citation style you would like to use. If you close your web page before sending the citations, your saved articles will be gone.
  4. Print. If you have read the abstract of an article and you are fairly sure it will be useful, go ahead and print it out. You may want to have a folder dedicated to your research project where you keep print outs of all the articles you plan to use. You will end up saving yourself time if you add the Works Cited info in with all of your other sources.

Components of an Annotated Bibliography

An annotation often offers a summary of a source that you intend to use for a research project as well as some assessment of the source’s relevance to your project or quality and credibility. Here are the key components of a typical annotation:

Works Cited Reference

You will provide the full bibliographic reference for the source: author, title, source title, and other required information depending on the type of source. This will be formatted just as it would be in a typical Works Cited.

Summary of the Source

  • After the works cited reference, begin to discuss the source. Begin with a summary of the source.
  • At the very beginning of your summary, mention the title of the text you are summarizing, the name of the author, and the central point or argument of the text. Describe the key sections of the text and their corresponding main points. Try to avoid focusing on details; a summary covers the essential points.
  • Use signal phrases to refer to the author(s)
  • Always maintain a neutral tone and use the third-person point of view and present tense (i.e., Tompkins asserts…).
  • Keep the focus of the summary on the text, not on what you think of it, and try to put as much of the summary as you can in your own words. If you must use exact phrases from the source that you are summarizing, you must quote and cite them.
  • Check your Annotated Bibliography assignment sheet for additional content requirements. Instructors often require more than a simple summary of each source. Do you need to go beyond summarizing each source? Do you need to evaluate the source’s credibility or relevance? Do you need to offer an explanation of how you plan to integrate the source in your paper? Do you need to point out similarities or differences with other sources in the annotated bibliography? Any (or all) of those things may be required in an annotated bibliography, depending on how or if your instructor has designed this assignment as part of a larger research project. 


Annotated bibliographies require formatting, which is different depending on what type of style guide you must adhere to: MLA, APA, CMS, etc. Be sure to check the formatting and style guidelines (resources abound online, including visual models) for your annotated bibliography assignment.

The Annotated Bibliography Samples page on the Purdue OWL offers examples of general formatting guidelines for both an MLA and an APA Annotated Bibliography.

Attribution: This page contains material from “About Writing: A Guide” by Robin Jeffrey, OpenOregon Educational Resources, Higher Education Coordination Commission: Office of Community Colleges and Workforce Development is licensed under CC BY 4.0. Additional content written by Johannah White for the LOUIS OER Dual Enrollment course development program to create “English Composition II” and has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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9.5 Keeping Track of Your Sources and Writing an Annotated Bibliography Copyright © 2022 by Johannah White and Robin Jeffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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