Research Process

38 Keeping Track of Your Sources and Writing an Annotated Bibliography

Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel

Keeping Track of Your Sources

Through 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.

As you find articles, keep them! Always keep a working digital annotated bibliography of the sources that you are considering or using. If you construct your Works Cited or Reference page as you go along, you will save yourself a lot of time.

Here are some ways that you can store articles that you find:

  • 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 into that document.  Or, if you are using a source that you found via an internet search, copy and paste the URL of the source into your document; just remember that if you use it in a paper it will need to be cited properly according to the style you are applying. Note: Many databases, like Academic Search Complete, will create a citation for you; however, you still need to ensure that the citation is correct, according to the style you are applying, before adding it to a final draft Works Cited or Reference page.
  • 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.
  • If you are searching in Academic Search Complete, create a “Folder” in Academic Search Complete to save the articles that look interesting.
  • Email hyperlinks of web sources to yourself. Note: This often seems like the easiest idea; however, be aware that if you email URLs of articles to yourself or anyone else those sources will not open if the recipient is not logged in to the database from which the URL was taken. Instead, email the citation to yourself so that you can go back and find the article later.
  • If you find an article that you are fairly sure 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 ensure the citation information is on the document before placing it in your folder or adding that citation information to a running document, where you are noting citations, before placing it in the folder.
  • Create a digital folder where you store downloaded PDFs or HTML versions of your sources. For this you can create a new folder on your desktop and rename it so that you know it is your research folder. When you find sources, download the PDF or HTML versions and place them in your research folder. But, again, it is best to go ahead and add the citation to your running citation document as you place these downloads into your research folder.


Writing 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 its quality and credibility. It might also include significant textual passages from the source that serve as evidence in that author’s argument, or an analysis paragraph.

The key components of a typical annotated bibliography include a citation, a summary, some analysis or listing of evidence employed by the author, and some discussion of how the source is relevant to your own research on a narrowed topic.


Citation for Works Cited or Reference Page

You will provide the full bibliographic citation for the source: author, title, source title, and other required information depending on the type of source and the style you employ. If using MLA style, this information will be formatted just as it would be in a typical Works Cited page.


Summary of the Source

After the citation, you will want to add a summary of the source. The following are tips for creating a summary:

  • 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; this is referred to as a “summary signal sentence” and it cues your audience to the fact that they are reading a summary paragraph. Describe the key sections of the text and their corresponding main points. Try to avoid focusing on details. Remember that a summary covers the essential points of an author’s argument.
  • Use signal phrases to refer to the author(s), in order to ensure you are crediting the author with their argument and not indicating that you have switched to your own argument on the topic.
  • Remember that a summary of another author’s argument is not the place where you make your own argument. Keep the focus of the summary on the text, not on what you think of it.
  •  Use the third-person point of view and present tense (i.e. Tompkins asserts… or The author maintains…).
  •  Try to put as most 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. But do not cite whole passages, as that is not a summary move. Remember that summary is you explaining in your own words what the author’s argument is.


Other Required Parts

Check the Annotated Bibliography assignment sheet for additional content requirements. Instructors often require more than a simple summary of each source. For example, you may be asked to explain the relevance of the source for your specific research, or include a list of evidence or analysis from the source. Any (or all) of these things might be required in an annotated bibliography, depending on how or if your instructor has designed this assignment as part of a larger research project. Therefore, before considering each annotation complete, be sure to ask yourself the following questions:

  • 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?
  • Do you need to provide a list of cited textual passages that serve as evidence in the author’s argument? Or do you need to write an analysis paragraph?



Annotated bibliographies require formatting, which is different depending on what type of style guide you must adhere to: MLA, APA, CMS, or IEEE, for instance. Be sure to check the formatting and style guidelines for your annotated bibliography assignment; this may be most helpful before you begin, as well as in the revision and editing stages, before considering your annotated bibliography project completed.


Links to Examples

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



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Keeping Track of Your Sources and Writing an Annotated Bibliography Copyright © 2021 by Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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