A book I have been reading1, has two (complimentary) recommendations for PhD students:

  • Add everything you read/encounter to your reference management system
  • Keep a annoteded bibliography of everything you read.

They argue that (as I read it):

  • If you looked at a resource and found it was bad, then having a note about how useless (and why) it was will save you looking at it again, if you encount it later.
  • If you look at something and find it is good, then you will want it later, and want to know why it is good.
  • If you look at something and find it off-topic, then later you might realise a highly novel crossover between the topics.
  • The pain/effort of ever trying to find something you've lost because you though you didn't note its full reference down apparently haunts the authors to this day. Indeed the authors describe a article they've been looking for for decades and suggest that if a reader finds it, they would appreciate the contact.

Right now my Annotaed bibliography contrained 16 references (I've been keeping it for a week.)

  • 13 to various papers in my topic area, or for the foundations that lead to it
  • 1 PhD thesis in my topic area, which as well as being good work is also a example of a thesis, that i could use for considering structure
  • 1 Article from another area that is explaining the need for manythings, including my topic, for their area
  • 1 blog post that while I might never cite, explains a concept from my area that I was having difficulties with better than anything else I have read.

My Anotations vary from:

  • 1 sentence summary of the papers topic
  • 1 sentence comparason to another paper
  • several paragraphs explaining the content
  • notes saying that I don't quiet get what the paper is saying.
  • note saying that "This paper looks like it would explain paper X's technique but does not. Don't look here for answers on X."
  • A see also note
  • Or a combination of the above.

Is this how Annotated Bibliography's work?

It seems for several papers putting more detail would be a waste of time (Particularly the ones I am annotating with "Don't read this for X"

1 Petre, M., & Rugg, G. (2010). The unwritten rules of PhD research. McGraw-Hill International.

  • 2
    Yes, as far as I'm aware. I'm not really sure why you're concerned, though. It's your personal note-taking system. If it helps you, then that's all that matters. To me, this question seems a little strange. There's not some normatively correct way to write notes for yourself.
    – Potato
    Apr 18, 2015 at 3:09

2 Answers 2


I think it is somewhat misrepresenting the concept to call it an "annotated bibliography". That term suggests something formal, organized according to a specific, prescribed structure, but really all you're doing is organizing the resources you've encountered along with any thoughts you may have on them. The resulting compilation of information is for your use only, and so you should organize it in whatever way you find most effective. I do suggest using a reference manager, since it takes a lot of the tedious work out of organizing your information, but if you honestly find a Bibtex file or note cards or stacks of paper on your desk to be better for you, by all means, go for it.

Whatever organization you use, it should have a few key features:

  • Starting from your notes on a paper (or other source), you should be able to easily retrieve the information needed to cite that paper.
  • And the other way around: starting from a paper's citation, you should be able to easily retrieve any notes you may have for that paper.
  • Notes should be searchable, meaning that if you remember making a note about some topic or idea, but you don't remember which reference it was attached to, you should be able to find it (the reference) without too much trouble. This probably limits you to some sort of digital database, unless you have a pretty good memory.
  • You should be able to access the full text of a paper that you've read, given the citation information. If your citation information is complete, this is satisfied by the ability to go on the internet and download the paper.

A bonus feature, not really essential, is the ability to share your notes on a paper with others. Some social reference managers enable doing this over the internet, or try to (assuming your collaborators also use the service), but it's more frequently accomplished by conversations in the hallway.

  • I am managing the BibTex file with JabRef, for reference. But JabRef is a (wonderfully) thin shell around BibTex. Apr 21, 2015 at 10:20

It is unclear whether you have satisfied requirements of an Annotated Bibliography just yet. Combining LaTeX with BibTeX should suffice to deliver upon anything that's missing. E.g., you can use command \bibentry of package bibentry to produce a citation, after which you can include your annotation. More concretely:


A & B ...


C ...

As it grows you might like to start categorising, e.g., pushing the above sections to subsections and wrapping inside \section{Cat A}. To make this more efficient from the offset, you could use macros. Including the raw BibTeX entry is perhaps useful, which can probably be achieved with package list­ings. You may end up with a rather valuable document, so design it to be public, even you may never make it so.

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