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How to Write an APA-Style Annotated Bibliography for Online Sources


Even accomplished writers who are familiar with the American Psychological Association style guide may find annotated bibliographies intimidating, due to uncertainty about the content and the extra work that the detailed document demands. However, the format of an APA annotated bibliography mirrors a standard reference list, and the extra material you need to generate for the annotations will likely be the least daunting content you have to write for a paper.

Citations and Annotations

There are two parts to every annotated bibliographic entry: the citation and the annotation. You are probably familiar with the citation component -- it's the reference that contains the identifying information for a source, such as the title, the author's name and the publication date. APA dictates clear step-by-step guidelines for crafting citations, making this step of an annotated entry a formulaic process that only requires you to arrange basic information in a precise order. An annotation will then follow each citation. Cornell University describes an annotation as “a brief . . . descriptive and evaluative paragraph,” the purpose of which is “to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy and quality of the sources cited.”

Citing Online Articles

Type the author's last name, a comma, a space, the author's first initial and a period. Leave a space and then in parentheses enter the publication date in year-month-day format. Spell out the month and insert a comma after the year, and if you cannot find month and day information, include only the year. Insert a period, and then type the title of the article in sentence case (only capitalize the first letter of the first word, proper nouns and the first word after a colon). Add a period and then enter the title of the periodical or journal in italicized title case. Place a comma at the end of the title and leave a space. Enter the volume number, followed by the issue number in parentheses and then a comma. Italicize the volume number but not the issue number. Leave a space and note the page range followed by a period. Finally, enter the DOI or URL for the source. If you cite a DOI, type "doi:" and then the number, without a space after the colon. For a URL, type the phrase “Retrieved from” before pasting the web address. Follow these examples:

McDivitt, J. (2013, June 3). Memories of Ed White and Gemini IV. American Astronauts, 4(2), 18-24. Retrieved from http://americanastronautmag.com/4/2/mcdivitt/

McDivitt, J. (2013, June 3). Memories of Ed White and Gemini IV. American Astronauts, 4(2), 18-24. doi:04.06031965

Citing Web Pages

Type the author’s last name, a comma, a space, the author’s first initial and a period. Make an open parenthesis. Enter the publication date in parentheses following the same format as an online article and then add a period. Enter the title of the web page in sentence case, then type the phrase “Retrieved from” and add the web address. For example:

McDivitt, J. (2013, June 3). Memories of Ed White and Gemini IV. Retrieved from http://americanastronauts.com/mcdivitt/geminiivanniversary/

What to Write in an Annotation

You can include three types of information in an annotation: a summary of the source, an evaluation of the source’s quality or a brief discussion about the source’s relevance to your paper. You may write about one of those topics in an annotation or all three, depending on your instructor’s preference. Cornell University recommends that annotations should be around 150 words. The most important thing to remember is that the annotation is merely your educated assessment of the source. You do not need to conduct extra research; simply write a few sentences describing the article or web page.

About the Author

Grace Riley has been a writer and photographer since 2005, with work appearing in magazines and newspapers such as the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette." She has also worked as a school teacher and in public relations and polling analysis for political campaigns. Riley holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in American studies, political science and history, all from the University of Arkansas.

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