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Information Literacy Research Skill Building: What is an Annotation?

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.

What is an Annotation?

What is an Annotation?

  • Most of us are probably more familiar with seeing or writing “summaries” or “abstracts” of articles or information we find. Summaries or abstracts basically rehash the content of the material. Writing annotations, however, require a different approach.

    Annotations, on the other hand, look at the material a little more objectively. When writing an annotation, you should consider who wrote it and why. Consult the Elements of an Annotation below for more detail.

Elements of an Annotation

    1. Identification and qualifications of the author: Did a journalist, scientist, politician, professor, or a lay person write the material? What do you know about the person?
    2. Major thesis, theories and ideas: What is the basic idea the author is trying to convey? What is the message?
    3. Audience and level of reading difficulty: For whom is the article written? Does the author use simple language? Scientific language? A particular jargon or specialized terms?
    4. Bias or standpoint of the author in relation to his theme: Does the author have a particular axe to grind, point to make, or something to sell (even if it is an idea)? What does the author have to gain or lose?
    5. Relationship of the work to other works in the field: Compared to other things you have read about the topic, what does this particular source add to your knowledge? Why is it worthy of inclusion into your project? What purpose does it serve? (This means you have to have already read a number of other materials on the topic before you can accurately annotate something.)
    6. Conclusions, findings, results: What is your basic assessment of the article based on everything else you know?
    7. Special features. If the work is long enough (a book or extensive article) you may want to briefly explain how it is organized. If there are indexes, statistical tables, pictures, or a bibliography, your reader will want to know.
  • Annotations are short - not over 150 words. Because annotations are usually just a paragraph long, they need to be very succinct and to the point. You shouldn’t feel like you need to add “filler” information, especially if you cover all the annotation elements listed above. Annotations are also written in 3rd person.

Article Annotation Activity

  • After you read the annotation, see if you can identify which annotation elements correspond with the bold text you see in the text of the annotation.
  • Remember, there is no one correct to annotate an article, as long as most of the seven elements outlined above are addressed. When you evaluate an information source, pick out and make judgments about what you think is important based on how the item relates to your research.

Article Annotation

  • Annotation of “Tells of Vaccine to Stop Influenza.” New York Times. October 2, 1918. ProQuest Historical News York Times (1851-2003). Pg. 10:

    This primary source article was written at the time of the 1918 flu outbreak by a New York Times journalist. It is a basic, unbiased report of information the author received from the U.S. Army. As a NYT’s article, it was written for the public at a basic reading level, and accounts for the development of immunization against the Spanish Flu. This would have been spectacular news at this point in time. The article, it turns out, was not accurate, as no immunization against the flu was ever found. In the second paragraph, there is evidence that Army doctors reporting this information have an interest in consoling the American public from “undue alarm.” This comment by Dr. Copeland, Health Commissioner of New York City, supports the idea that there was great concern in keeping the public confident that the matter was under control – even when the worst of the pandemic was hitting America.

    ACTIVITY: Look at the text in bold in the annotation above. Try to match each phrase in bold font with one of the seven annotation elements listed on the front of this handout. There may be more than one answer for each phrase you see in bold.

Original Article

  • 1918 New York Times article about influenza vaccine
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