Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review

Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review It can be quite confusing differentiating an annotated bibliography from a literature review. Both of them are important components of any research paper or thesis, they are comprehensive collections of important sources of information used for the write-up. However, they differ from each other based on structure, content, purpose, and length. […]

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Annotated Bibliography vs Literature Review

It can be quite confusing differentiating an annotated bibliography from a literature review. Both of them are important components of any research paper or thesis, they are comprehensive collections of important sources of information used for the write-up. However, they differ from each other based on structure, content, purpose, and length. This article discusses annotated bibliography vs literature review and the common mistakes students make when writing each of them. If you still struggle, or could not find the answers you need in after reading our guide, feel free to contact our reliable research paper tutors.

What Is A Literature Review?

A Literature review is a detailed search and survey on the existing knowledge matter on a certain topic during research or thesis writing. It involves finding out what is already known about a subject matter and systematically presenting this knowledge so that your audience can easily identify with this knowledge. It helps to identify the existing gaps in that topic and how your work will help fill out the gap. 

A literature review comprises four primary objectives:

  • Explores the published knowledge in your chosen study area. 
  • Analyzes all the information obtained and identifies the theories, points of view, and associated limitations. It also unearths the existing gaps the research will help address. 
  • It delivers the summary in a useful manner.

What Is an Annotated Bibliography?

A bibliography is a list that displays all the sources of information you used for your academic writing, be it a research paper or a thesis. Usually done in a stipulated style, including MLA, APA, or Chicago. 

An annotated bibliography is simply a short paragraph that describes a particular citation. It comprises 2 parts: the citation, followed by the annotation. The citation is the source of information cited in any of the styles above. However, the annotation is a short description of the source. It is usually done in a short paragraph of 100 to 300 words. The description may include why you chose that source, strengths or weaknesses, the source’s conclusion, amongst other things. 

Annotated Bibliography is important in research writing because it helps you have a standby list of your cited sources and a short description. You can quickly refer to anyone when the need arises without a thorough search.

Additionally, it provides readers with a readily available list of all the sources and a summary of the contents of those sources.

Annotated Bibliography vs. Literature Review-What Are The Differences?

Even though there are some similarities between the annotated bibliography and the literature review, there are sharp differences. In this section, I’ll take you through the differences between the two. 


An annotated bibliography is a list of all the references you used for your research writing and a summary of the content. It usually consists of the citation written in a particular style and an annotation, a concise paragraph of about 100 to 300 words.

On the other hand, a literature review is a systematic description of the existing knowledge and published works on a particular research topic of interest. It also includes the limitations of the existing works, the gaps, and what your research work will contribute in that regard.


They also differ based on the purpose they serve on a research paper  

The purposes of Annotated Bibliography include:

  • By critically evaluating the literature, It helps you learn more about the research topic. 
  • Summarizes the major issues and arguments in the research topic. 
  • Helps you find the differences in interpretations of the theories on that topic and the various critiques
  • Aids the development of your critical reading and analytical skills by causing a deeper engagement with all the different sources. 

The purposes of the Literature Review include:

  • Gives you the basic knowledge needed for the research topic. 
  • Helps to forestall duplication by giving credit to the researchers.
  • Identifies gaps, open questions, and conflicts in previous research work. 
  • It helps you identify connections between your research work and those of others.
  • It helps to bring out the need for your research


The length of an annotated bibliography varies depending on the number of cited sources. However, each annotation is between 100 to 300 words long. While a literature review length depends on the scale of the research. This can span between a few pages to as many as 20 pages.


 An annotated bibliography consists of a list of all the sources with the corresponding annotations separated from one another and organized alphabetically. Sources are only cited only once while a literature review is in the form of an expository essay topically describing the different sources. Sources can be used more than once.

Writing Process

The writing process of an annotated bibliography involves the following steps:

  • Literature search involves locating and recording all the sources which could be books, documents, periodicals, and even websites that contain useful information and ideas on your topic.
  • Review and examine – involves reviewing and examining all of the sources of information and then selecting those sources that give you a wide variety of perspectives on the research topic.
  • Cite – involves citing all the sources of information using an appropriate formal style. 
  • Annotation – involves writing a short annotation that summarizes the major concept and scope of the source

The writing process of a literature review comprises the following steps:

  • Problem formulation
  • Literature search – involves searching for suitable sources of information such as articles, books, or websites.
  • Data evaluation – involves evaluating the sources of information to be used. 
  • Analysis and interpretation – involves identifying the gaps and outlining the structure and finally, writing the literature review.


An annotated bibliography and literature review also differ based on context. The annotated bibliography contains a list of references called a citation. The references are cited using a formal style: APA, MLA, or Chicago. It also contains short paragraphs called annotations that summarize the references 

Contrarily, the literature review contains an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Firstly, the introduction usually contains the research question, the importance, and some background information about the research. The body usually contains your summation, commentaries, and evaluations about the sources. The conclusion summarizes all the major concepts in your literature review and also points out the gaps your research intends to fill 

Elements of ComparisonAnnotated BibliographyLiterature Review
Definitiona list of all the references you used for your research writing and a summary of the contenta systematic description of the existing knowledge and work on a particular research topic of interest
PurposeProvides an ordered list of references for additional readingProvides a summary of the research topic or problem
StructureAlphabetical lists and paragraphsExpository essay with paragraphs
Writing ProcessLiterature search review and examineCiteAnnotationProblem formulationLiterature search data evaluation analysis and interpretation
ContentList of references(citation)AnnotationsIntroductionBodyConclusion
Length100 – 200 wordsFew pages to as much as 20 pages

Common Mistakes Students Make In Annotated Bibliography

Essay Structure

One big mistake students make is arranging the citations wrongly which gives rise to a poor essay structure. The citations should be arranged in a particular order. That can either be alphabetically or chronologically. Therefore,if done this way, it makes your work easier and clearer to read and comprehend.

However, many students completely ignore this rule or forget it. Consequently, everything looks scattered and disorganized, which prevents proper focusing.

Take, for instance, you see three citations arranged in alphabetical order. You then assume that you will easily get other people’s work by the ABC method. However, the ensuing citations are then listed according to their date of publication. That makes it impossible to find what you are looking for. Therefore, you should beware of the possible problems that may arise and select an appropriate order.

Incorrect Citation And Referencing

When you carry out academic research, utilize dependable and verifiable data. These can be in the form of surveys, statistics, interviews, and others. You should cite your data correctly.

You should also cite all your sources of information. However, several students don’t know how to cite accurately. Consequently, your readers cannot make complete sense of your citations. Citing your sources incorrectly can cause a lot of complications, including losing all the marks.

The reason why this happens is that students don’t follow the instructions as regards the citation style. There are several styles of referencing, including APA, MLA, Chicago, Vancouver, Harvard, and others. All of them are unique and different from each other even though they may appear to be similar e.g. when referencing a memo. You should take time to learn them and also practice referencing different works. The more you practice, the better you become.

Derisory Content

This mistake is usually due to inadequate research by the students. They are too lazy to carry out in-depth and meticulous research. That leads to a paucity of content which can cause you marks.

Poor Organization

Commonly, instructors ask students are to rewrite their bibliographies because the references are poorly organized. There are many ways of organizing your references. You can organize based on the author, title, date of publication, and subject. So, should organize based on the instructions of your supervisor.


Sometimes, students make the mistake of writing annotations that are too long. Also, most educational institutions don’t allow annotations to exceed a paragraph, and marks are deducted if they make this mistake.

Common Mistakes In Literature Review Writing

Too Descriptive

Your literature review should not just be a mere summary of the works of other researchers but should also contain lapses in their methodology. You should criticize the work constructively, pointing out why you don’t completely agree with their conclusions. It could be that the sample size is insufficient or that measurements are unclear. You should find the gaps not covered by their work and address them.

Lack Of Quality Sources

When writing a literature review, you should make use of not less than ten scholarly sources for every 1,000 words. Your sources must be peer-reviewed sources published recently, usually in the last three years. Additionally, magazines, textbooks, newspapers, and blogs are inappropriate for use as references for literature reviews.

A By-article Structure 

You may be tempted to discuss an article per paragraph on many occasions. You should avoid this as most supervisors will mark you down for this. The correct thing to do is to compare and contrast at least three article findings in every paragraph.

No Link To The Research Question 

Sometimes, the literature review has no connection whatsoever with the research question. That shows a poor research process. Therefore, you should make good use of scholarly sources and analyze them critically. Also, discuss how the findings correlate with your research topic.

Un-grounded Statements

When you’re criticizing the research findings of other researchers, you should watch yourself so that you don’t become judgemental. You should back all your statements with references so that your audience will know that what you’re saying is not a personal opinion.

Is an annotated bibliography the same as a literarture review ?

No, they are not the same. A bibliography is simply the list of all the sources of information utilized for research work. It should include the name of the author, the title of the work, the publisher, the date of publication, and the page number if the source has multiple volumes). A type of bibliography is annotated. 

On the contrary, a Literature Review can be best described as an expository essay, consisting of an introduction, body, and conclusion that provides an overview of the previous research done about a particular topic.

Can you turn an annotated bibliography into a literature review?

Yes, you can convert an annotated bibliography into literature

1. Add a short second paragraph below every annotation. 

2. Then re-organize all the annotations so that they flow with each other and tell a story. That could be chronological(the story begins from the most recent one to the one that’s earliest, or from the earliest one to the one that’s most recent or you can group the stories in terms of how they relate with the sub-theme. Put another way, arrange all the annotations so that they are reasonable and make sense. 

3. Remove the citations that precede each annotation paragraph and the lines that separate them. Put all the references on the reference page and arrange them alphabetically. 

4. Then edit all the paragraphs to flow coherently and make sense, just like a literature review should. 

5. Include an abstract and add the cover page.

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