Writing Evaluative Annotated Bibliographies

Dawn Atkinson

Chapter Overview

This chapter aims to help you understand what an annotated bibliography is and how this type of document can be used when planning assignments, conducting research, and evaluating sources. An annotated bibliography generally takes one of two forms: descriptive annotated bibliographies reference and briefly describe sources, while evaluative (or critical) annotated bibliographies reference, succinctly summarize, and evaluate resources. Regardless of form, an annotated bibliography may be incorporated into a longer text, such as a formal report, or be produced as a stand-alone piece to document research work—for example, to accompany an in-depth assignment like a researched argument essay. Either way, the sources listed on an annotated bibliography should center on a topic or focus; if the annotated bibliography documents research efforts related to an associated assignment, the focus will reflect the author’s thesis, research questions (questions that a study seeks to answer), or research objectives.

The remainder of this chapter addresses evaluative annotated bibliographies.


What, specifically, is an evaluative annotated bibliography?

An evaluative annotated bibliography focuses on an overarching topic by listing pertinent references and by providing sentences that discuss and assess the resources identified in those references. Place the reference for a source at the beginning of an annotated bibliography entry, and then craft sentences and paragraphs about the source that do some or all of the following in accordance with the specifications for the assignment.

  • Summarize the source’s main argument, main point, central themes, or key takeaways.
  • Evaluate the source; in other words, assess the source based on criteria. For example, what is your view of the source’s usefulness or relevance (in terms of research about a topic), accuracy, trustworthiness, timeliness, level of objectivity, or quality, and why do you hold that view? What methods did the author(s) of the source use to collect data, are they sound, and how did you draw that conclusion? How does the source compare with other publications listed on the annotated bibliography that address the same topic? You will need to read all the sources on your annotated bibliography before you can answer this last question.
  • Comment on how the source corresponds with your research aim. How does it fit with, support, or differ from your viewpoint? How has it expanded your thinking on a topic? How might you use the source when writing an associated assignment?

An annotation may also include information about an author’s credentials, the intended audience for a source, and the purpose of a text. Note that in technical and academic genres, authors oftentimes foreground the purposes of their works by indicating them early on, to help readers understand the overall direction of the writing. The purpose of a scholarly journal article, for instance, will typically be stated in its abstract, which is a summary of the article located after the publication’s title but before its introduction.

Why might you be asked to consider author credentials and date of publication when compiling sources for an annotated bibliography?


What does an evaluative annotated bibliography look like?

When constructing an annotated bibliography, follow your instructor’s directions about what information to include and how to format the document, and structure its references according to the style conventions specified. References in the following annotated bibliography entries adhere to APA style; the annotated bibliography as a whole also follows APA formatting conventions. The entries, which are adapted from McLaughlin (2020) as cited in Excelsior Online Writing Lab (2020, “Sample Annotated Bibliography”), feature combinations of the annotated bibliography information listed previously in this chapter and center on the topic of the transferability of writing skills, or applying knowledge and skills about writing gained in one context to another context—a practice that may advance a writer’s knowledge and skills. If you are asked to produce an annotated bibliography for a class, help readers navigate its contents by being consistent about the type of information you supply in each of its entries. In accordance with APA style, the references in the following sample are alphabetized by first author’s last name.

Transferability of Writing Skills: Annotated Bibliography

Boone, S., Biggs Chaney, S., Compton, J., Donahue, C., & Gocsik, K. (2012). Imagining a writing     and rhetoric program based on principles of knowledge “transfer”: Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Composition Forum, 26. http://compositionforum.com/issue/26/dartmouth.php

In this article, Boone et al. (2012) overview the writing program at Dartmouth College’s   Institute for Writing and Rhetoric to discuss an example of what a program based on      writing transfer research looks like. The authors trace the history of the program’s development, explain current curriculum and organization, and look at future directions for the program. Beginning with the idea that skills and knowledge do not all  transfer in the same way, program developers at Dartmouth set out to explore what kind of knowledge writing is and how this knowledge is transferred. By developing     curriculum and sequences of courses that foster reflection and connections to future courses and by encouraging faculty development, Dartmouth has established a thoughtfully constructed writing program that serves as a model for other such programs. The authors explore the state of research on the program and goals based on the results of their research.

This piece serves as a useful guide composed by writing program administrators and writing researchers who are interested in seeing how current studies of writing transfer can be applied to an operating program. The authors offer practical advice, include sample syllabi and curriculum, and honestly reflect on successes and struggles of the program. This article provides much-needed information for those interested in developing a writing program that aligns with transfer research.

Moore, J. (2012). Mapping the questions: The state of writing-related transfer research. Composition Forum, 26. http://compositionforum.com/issue/26/map-questions-transfer-research.php

Moore (2012) reviews the literature on writing skill transfer in this article as a starting point for who those who are interested in the research area and are already conversant in the language of rhetoric and composition studies. The author begins by discussing the history of research on writing skill transfer, describing issues related to    common definitions and multi-institutional studies. She also explores the goals and methods of recent investigations and, ultimately, calls for explorations of new areas pertinent to writing transfer research. In doing the latter, she raises important   questions about how students’ involvement in non-writing courses and non-academic activities may influence what they do when writing.

Moore’s article provides a helpful overview of studies in the field of writing skill transfer and establishes a jumping-off point for new investigations in the area. I can use information from the article in my term paper introduction to establish context for the reader before exploring different dimensions of writing skill transfer in the body of the piece.

Wardle, E. (2007). Understanding ‘transfer’ from FYC: Preliminary results of a longitudinal study. Writing Program Administration, 31(1-2), 65-85.  http://associationdatabase.co/archives/31n1-2/31n1-2wardle.pdf

In her report on a longitudinal study conducted at the University of Dayton, Wardle (2007) explores the transfer of writing skills from first-year college composition    courses. She begins by explaining that research is limited when it comes to transfer of   writing skills, even though transfer is seen as a key function of first-year writing     courses. The research that does exist indicates that the skills do not transfer well. With this in mind, Wardle established a curriculum designed to support writing transfer and followed students for two years after they had completed first-year composition. Her  research indicates that the skills from first-year writing did not transfer well, not because students were unable to make the transfer but because the writing assignments they encountered, along with a variety of other issues, made them feel there was no need to transfer the skills.

This longitudinal study is a foundational piece for writing program directors and   serves as a call for more research on writing skill transfer, particularly as it relates to first-year college writing courses. Consequently, lessons gleaned from this study continue to inform writing teachers, program directors, and researchers. In the article, Wardle cites her work with colleague Doug Downs. Together, Wardle and Downs are known as leaders in writing transfer research, which again speaks to the article’s  contribution as a trustworthy and influential piece of scholarship.

While the above sample focuses exclusively on the topic of writing skill transfer, an annotated bibliography that focuses on multiple topics related to a central theme may organize these under specific and informative headings to help readers distinguish one topic area from another. Additionally, if you are asked to produce an annotated bibliography as a stand-alone document, you may be required to provide an introduction to help set the context for the rest of the piece and to explain its purpose.

What are evaluative annotated bibliographies used for?

Because evaluative annotated bibliographies summarize, evaluate, and consider the relevance of sources, they can be used to narrow a research focus, to weigh up research in an area, and to document research findings. To illustrate, maybe you have been asked to compose an evaluative annotated bibliography on the way to producing a researched argument essay. Although you know which topic you want to write about in your essay, you are less clear about what the research says regarding this topic. After reading a book chapter and several journal, magazine, and newspaper articles on the topic, you begin drafting your annotated bibliography and notice that the sources discuss similar and opposing viewpoints and support these with various pieces of evidence. Although you were fairly certain of your perspective on the issue before you began the annotated bibliography assignment, you acknowledge that your view has expanded as a result of reading, writing about, and considering how the sources relate to your researched argument paper. Furthermore, by evaluating the sources for accuracy, quality, and relevance, you are also able to determine which ones best underpin your claims, as well as opposing claims. Thus, you are able to develop a focused thesis statement and supporting topic sentences for your essay that acknowledge the complexities of the topic. Furthermore, your annotated bibliography documents your research work for readers, communicating which sources you investigated for purposes of composing your researched argument and your evaluations of these sources.


Activity: Produce an Evaluative Annotated Bibliography Entry

Read Michael Bunn’s (2011) essay “How to Read Like a Writer,” which can be found at https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/writingspaces2/bunn–how-to-read.pdf. Bunn teaches in the University of Southern California’s Writing Program. After reading, reflect on the essay and its pertinence to your own reading and writing life by answering the four discussion questions on page 85 of the text. Be prepared to talk about your answers in class.

Once you have read, reflected on, and discussed the essay, produce an annotated bibliography entry for the source by following these steps.

Step 1: Write a complete, accurate APA reference list entry for the source.



Step 2: Answer the following questions.

  • What qualifications does the author have? Google him to discover additional information about his credentials beyond that already supplied.


  • Who is the intended audience for the source?


  • What the purpose of the source?


  • How do the audience and purpose influence how information is presented in the source?


  • What argument does the author make?


  • Is the argument convincing? Why or why not?


  • How does the source contribute to your own ideas about reading and writing or relate to other sources you have read about reading and writing?


Step 3: Use the notes you have made to draft an evaluative annotated bibliography entry for the Bunn (2011) text. Refer to the information and examples provided in this chapter for guidance.


Homework: Produce an Evaluative Annotated Bibliography

Identify a topic of inquiry you can explore via means of an annotated bibliography. Your instructor may assign you a topic or ask you to select one. Research the topic by locating and reading sources about it; a librarian can help you identify a focused list of sources. Afterwards, compose an evaluative annotated bibliography that references, summarizes, and evaluates the sources. Your instructor may also ask you to identify author credentials and the intended audience and purpose for each source. In addition, you may be asked to discuss how the sources relate to a larger research aim. Since the evaluative annotated bibliography is a stand-alone assignment, supply an introduction to help set the context for the rest of the piece and to explain its purpose.


After drafting your evaluative annotated bibliography, your instructor may ask you to assess it in relation to the rubric criteria outlined in Rinto (2013, p. 10) in order to refine its content. The rubric is provided here in adapted format for your reference.

Currency of Source Student does not identify the date the source was created/published Student identifies the date the source was created/published but does not use this information to determine if the source is appropriate for the research project Student identifies the date the source was created/published and uses this information to determine if the source is appropriate for the research project
Relevance of Source Student does not state how the source is useful for the research project Student states that the source is useful for the research project but does not explain why the source is relevant (for example, does it contain background information, lead to other useful sources, provide a specific type of evidence, or answer a research question) Student states that the source is useful for the research project and establishes the relationship between the source and the research topic, using specific examples from the source and placing them in the context of the project
Accuracy of Source Student does not discuss the correctness and trustworthiness of the information in the source Student discusses the source’s correctness and trustworthiness but takes the information presented at face value without considering the evidence for the information and how that information can be verified elsewhere Student discusses the source’s correctness and trustworthiness and addresses the quality of information it presents; student also considers the argument or evidence present in the source and how that information can be verified
Authority of Source Student does not identify the author, publisher, or organization for the source Student identifies the author, publisher, or organization for the source but does not use this information to determine if the source is appropriate for the research project Student identifies the author, publisher, or organization for the source and uses this information to determine if the source is appropriate for the research project

of Source

Student does not consider the purpose of the source Student discusses the purpose of the source but does not evaluate how this purpose affects the information in the source Student discusses the purpose of the source, identifies potential bias or conflict of interest, and justifies why the source is still credible for the research project


When refining your annotated bibliography, use the following handout, produced by the Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo (n.d.), to ensure you have used the words that and which correctly.

 Which vs That: Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses

Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses

Which and that both introduce clauses (groups of words) that provide more information but are not grammatically necessary to the sentence.

e.g., The daily special, which was poached salmon, cost a lot.
e.g., The dish that the sous-chef prepared turned out to be better than the daily special.

Using Restrictive Clauses: That

Use that when the information in the clause is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. It’s called a restrictive clause because it limits or affects the purpose of the sentence.

e.g., Suitcases that weigh more than 23kg must be checked.

that weigh more than 23 kg is necessary to the purpose of the sentence. If you removed this restrictive clause, it would imply that all suitcases must be checked, which isn’t what the author intends.

e.g., Drinks that have caffeine make it hard to fall asleep.

that have caffeine is also restrictive. If you take this part out, it suggests that all drinks make it hard to fall asleep.

Some writers will use which for a restrictive clause instead of that. This is technically fine, but if you are having any confusion about the distinctions between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, it is better to maintain a clear distinction between that and which, for clarity’s sake.

Using Non-Restrictive Clauses: Which

Use which when the information in the clause is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence. It might be helpful or interesting, but if you took it out, the sentence would still make sense.

e.g., The suitcase, which was stuffed with dirty clothes, didn’t fit in the overhead bin.

If which was removed:
e.g., The suitcase didn’t fit in the overhead bin.

e.g., Coffee and tea, which both have caffeine, are Canada’s favourite morning drinks.

If which was removed:
e.g., Coffee and tea are Canada’s favourite morning drinks.

Note that the non-restrictive which clause is set off by commas.

Use that without commas for a restrictive (necessary)
clause. That is required more often than which. Use which with commas for a non-restrictive (not necessary) clause.


Write in that (for restrictive clauses) or which (for non-restrictive clauses).

  1. The spoon __________ fell on the floor needed to be washed.
  2. The book __________ she wanted was on the top shelf.
  3. They used Post-It notes __________ come in various colours to organize the pages.
  4. For the hike I need shoes __________ are sturdy.
  5. For the hike I need sturdy shoes __________ are expensive.
  6. The first skyscraper we saw __________ was the biggest one on that street had 67 floors.
  7. The only elevator __________ went all the way to the top was out of service.
  8. The cord __________ charges this computer is missing.
  9. He provided us with a whole box of samples __________ we didn’t really need so we could make a decision.



Bunn, M. (2011). How to read like a writer. In C. Lowe, & P. Zemliansky (Eds.), Writing spaces: Readings on writing (Vol. 2, pp. 71-86). Parlor Press. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/writingspaces2/bunn–how-to-read.pdf

Excelsior Online Writing Lab. (2020). Annotated bibliographies. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://owl.excelsior.edu/research/annotated-bibliographies/

Rinto, E.E. (2013). Developing and applying an information literacy rubric to student annotated bibliographies. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 8(3), 5-18.  License: CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0https://doi.org/10.18438/B8559F

Writing Centre, University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Which vs that: Restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0. https://uwaterloo.ca/writing-and-communication-centre/sites/ca.writing-and-communication-centre/files/uploads/files/which_vs_that.pdf



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