Annotated Bibliography

What Is It?

Creating an annotated bibliography lets your reader know what sources you used in the creation of your project. First, an annotated bibliography tells the reader how many sources you used and the quality and range of sources used in your research. It provides evidence of the many hours that you spent doing research in libraries, archives, classrooms, and on the internet. Second, the annotation informs the reader how you used your sources and why they were valuable to understanding your topic. An annotated bibliography is crucial to the NHD process because it shows judges the scope and depth of your research.Some key elements to consider when creating an annotated bibliography:


1. Your list should be titled “Annotated Bibliography.” Not "Bibliography," not "Works Cited". Put this title in the top center of your first page.

2. Divide your Annotated Bibliography into two sections, labeled "Primary Sources" and "Secondary Sources."

  • In each section, entries should be alphabetized by the first word excluding “A,” “An,” and “The.”

3. Other key formatting instructions:

  • Single-space each entry and skip one line between entries.
  • All source citations are tabbed 1/2 inch (one tab) after the first line.
  • URLs (web addresses) should NOT be hyperlinked.
Citing Sources
Writing Annotations
Quoting and Paraphrasing
Example Bibliography and Footnotes
Citing Sources

The Chicago Manual of Style is the style most commonly used by professional historians when they write and publish their work. Currently, the NHD Contest Rule Book allow citations in Chicago or MLA Style, but this resource focuses on Chicago Style.

As you complete your research, you should sort your research into primary and secondary sources. For complete definitions of primary and secondary sources, as well a complete set of the Contest Rules, go to

Building Your Annotated Bibliography

You should build your bibliography as you conduct your research. Simply put, if you wait until the end of your project, this task will be messy, confusing, and complicated. It is easy to forget sources, mix up one source with another, and make simple mistakes. Let us start by citing a simple source together.

When you start citing, you have two options available. Option one is to create a bibliography on your own. Option two is to use NoodleTools, a web-based program that will help you create a polished, accurate annotated bibliography and also keep track in note cards of the quotes and paraphrases and where you found them in your sources. Since it is saved on a server, you do not have to worry about a water bottle exploding in your backpack and your notes getting soaked—the materials are always there when you log into the computer or via your tablet.

Let’s say that I am researching the Panama Canal, and I found Edmund Morris’ book about President Theodore Roosevelt called Theodore Rex. While I will skim the book to get a sense of the author's purpose and argument, I want to use the Table of Contents or Index to focus in on the section that relates to my research. Using the index, I can jump to the section of the book where President Roosevelt is approached by Philippe Bunau-Varilla about a plan to get control of the canal that a French company began digging.

To cite a book, I need five key elements:

  • The name(s) of the author(s)
  • The complete title of the book
  • The city where it was published
  • The name of the company or university that published the book
  • The most recent copyright date of the book.

If I am doing this on my own, I would list it like this:

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.

Theodore Rex citation example

Citing Sources in NHD Historical Papers

When writing an NHD paper, you have two options on how to cite your sources. This section will address creating footnotes. Please note that it is also appropriate to use the parenthetical references described in the website section as well. Either is appropriate, but choose one way and be consistent with that method.

Most historians use footnotes when they write a paper, article, or book. Footnotes allow you to keep track of your sources without interrupting the flow of the paper. If my paper about Theodore Roosevelt and his foreign policy regarding Germany contains the text:

Roosevelt “has seen the crisis coming for eleven months.”[1] He feared that Germany might invade Venezuela if they did not pay off their debts.

Tip: Allow your word processor to insert the footnote for you. It will do it automatically, and if you insert one into the middle of the paper, it will automatically renumber it for you. You can find the “insert footnote” button in the reference section of the menu. If you need step-by-step directions, just go to the help menu and type in “insert footnotes.”

The FIRST time that I use this source (in this case it is a book) in a footnote, my full footnote would look like this (see footnote number one below). The footnote tells us the author, the title of the book, the basic publishing information, as well as the page (or range of pages) where my quote can be found. It is similar to your citation in your bibliography, but not exactly the same.

If you use this source again later in your paper, it is much easier. Assume that later in my paper I write the sentence:

Roosevelt knew that he had to take a strong stand and argued for “crude force” to keep the Germans out of Latin America.[2]

As you can see in footnote 2 below, I just need to include a shortened footnote with the author’s last name, the title of the book, and the page number or page range where I found my information.

See the next page for examples of how to footnote the most common types of sources that you will use in your NHD paper. NoodleTools will provide you with a full and shortened footnote for each source.

[1] Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 177.

[2] Morris, Theodore Rex, 178.

But what if I put it in my own words…do I have to cite it then? YES.

Paraphrasing is when you use your own words to convey someone else’s ideas.


Let’s use the Lusitania article as an example. It is perfectly appropriate to write in your paper that:
The Lusitania was hit by a German submarine at 2:33 pm, and the news of the sinking was published around the world. A fishing fleet was called to help rescue as many passengers as possible in the North Atlantic.[3]

Block Quotes

If you have a quote that is more than two lines across the page, then it should be converted to a block quote. Please note that this kind of quote should be used very infrequently, but it can be effective. A block quote should look like this:

The Constitution of the United States defined the weakness of the Articles of Confederation in the one-sentence preamble,

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.[4]

This sentence, memorized by many…

Block quotes are single-spaced, tabbed on one half inch from the left side of the page, and do not need quotation marks around them. They should always have a footnote at the end attributing the source. After the quote, continue typing using double-spacing.

Do I have to cite every sentence of my paper?

No, please don’t. Often you find that a series of sentences (or even an entire paragraph) is based on content from a single source. When that happens, signal to your reader that the following information came from a certain source and then cite it once at the end of the last sentence. Also note that your thesis statement and your arguments should be your original work, and should not be credited to another author.

What if all of the information, quotes and paraphrases, in one paragraph, comes from one source? How do I cite that?

Just cite once, at the end of the paragraph.

[3] “Liner Lusitania Sunk by German Submarine Fleet Rushes to Aid,” Washington Times, May 7, 1915.

[4] Constitution of the United States of America.

Citing Sources in Exhibits and Websites

When you cite in exhibits or websites, you do need to credit your sources, and brief citations do NOT count toward your word count. You just add the minimal amount of information that would allow the viewer to find the source in your annotated bibliography.

Print sources should be cited with the author, the title, and a date (when available.) An example would be:

“There is danger…they have still far to go. It is for the Woman’s Party to decide whether there is any way in which it can serve in the struggle which lies ahead to remove the remaining forms of woman’s subordination” (Alice Paul, The Suffragist, 1921)

If I chose to use this quote, then I would expect to find a citation that would show where this text came from (I might have found it in a book, on a website, or in an article) and where I might go if I wanted the full text of what Alice Paul had to say in 1921.

Visual Sources (photographs, art, maps, charts, graphs, etc.) are cited in a similar manner. You want to mention the content (who/what is in the picture), give a date if available, and where YOU found the image. Please note that Google and other search engines are NOT viable sources. Saying that you got your picture from Google is like saying that you got your quote from a library. Just like you need to tell us which book your quote came from in the library, you also need to tell us which website made this image available to you.

Alice Paul, 1918, Library of Congress
*This citation is REQUIRED and does NOT count toward the word limit.
Alice Paul was responsible for the campaign for women’s’ suffrage and the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment.
*This citation DOES count toward the word limit because it shows analysis and interpretation.
Citing Sources in Performances

When you are creating a performance or a documentary, you do not need to actively cite sources during your presentation, because it would disrupt the flow of your product.

There are times when you would want to make a reference to a source, especially when you are referencing primary source material. It would be relevant to mention in a performance, “I wrote a letter to King George demanding that my grievances be addressed….” A judge would then expect to find a letter or a series of letters that you found in your research and cited in your bibliography. There is no need to stop to verbally cite sources—if the judges have any questions, they can address that in the Q&A segment at the end of your performance.

Citing Sources in Documentaries

You are NOT required to cite images as they appear on the screen. You may add tags to the bottom of the screen to help an image or video clip make sense. For example, you might want to add a name of a speaker, or a relevant historical date during a particular video clip or still image.

At the end of the documentary, you should include a list of relevant audio and visual sources that you included in your documentary. This is not a repeat of your bibliography. Just name the major locations of your images. A typical list might include images from the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, NBC News, or the Holocaust Museum. Again, if the judges have a question about a particular visual or audio selection, they can address that in the Q&A segment at the end of your documentary.

Writing Annotations

Now we need to create an annotation to support that citation. Essentially, we are giving the reader a hint about what he or she could find in this source.

Three Components of a Good Annotation

1. It identifies what type of source this is (song, poem, book, website, journal article, diary entry, newspaper article, you get the drift….)

2. How was the source used?

3. How did the source help you understand your topic and create your project?

So for my book, my annotation would look something like this:

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

This biography of Theodore Roosevelt helped me understand the way in which Philippe Bunau Varilla was able to get President Roosevelt to recognize the revolutionary government of Panama. It also gave me details regarding the specific treaties signed between the two nations that gave the U.S. control of the canal zone.

Note that my annotation and citation are single-spaced, and all lines after the first line are tabbed in one-half (1/2) inch.

An annotation normally should be about 2-4 sentences long. Really long annotations generally do not impress people. Get to the point! Please understand that it is NOT the purpose of an annotation to summarize the book but to assess its value to your research. The NHD Contest Rule Book states that the annotations "must explain how the source was used and how it helped you understand your topic." Do not recount what the source said in detail.

Other details that you might want to include in an annotation

Classification of primary or secondary source
You should use the annotation to explain why you categorized a particular source as primary or secondary, only if that is likely to be controversial. Historians do sometimes disagree, and there is not always one right answer, so justify your choice to the NHD judges.

Secondary source that included primary material
You may also use the annotation to explain that a book or other secondary source included several documents, photographs, or other primary materials used for the project. But please note, this book is still a secondary source, and should be included in the secondary source section of your bibliography.


  • "This book included three letters between person X on the frontier and person Y in New England, which provided insight into the struggles and experiences of the settlers."
  • "This book provided four photos of settlers on the Great Plains and their homes, which were used on the exhibit."
Fuller explanation of credits for documentaries

You are supposed to give credit in a documentary for photos or other primary sources, but you can do this in a general way, such as by writing, "Photos from: National Archives, Ohio Historical Society, A Photographic History of the Civil War" in your credits. You then can use the annotation in the bibliography to provide more detailed information about the images that you found and HOW you used them in your documentary.

Should I list each photograph or document individually?

When you find a collection of photographs that you want to use, you only need to cite them once, as a group.

How many sources should I have for my annotated bibliography?

We cannot tell you a specific number of sources, as that will vary by the topic and by the resources to which you have reasonable access. For some topics, such as the Civil War or many twentieth century U.S. history topics, there are many sources available to you. For other topics, such as those in ancient history or non-U.S. history, far fewer sources may be available. The more good sources you have, the better, but do not pad your bibliography. Only list items that you actually use; if you looked at a source but it did not help you at all, do not include it. Remember, quality sources that you use well are more impressive than a large quantity of sources that you barely touched.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Whenever you are writing history in any form, you need to make decisions. It is fine to build your project off the research of others, but you need to give credit to the original author of the document or creator of the artifact. It is not fair to take someone else’s work and claim it as your own. In fact, this is plagiarism. There are some decisions that you need to make when you use someone else’s work or ideas.

Decision point 1: Should I use the author’s words or my own?

There are times when a quote is exactly what you need. Sometimes an author just says something perfectly, or sometimes you want to bring the words of King George IV, Mahatma Gandhi, Julius Caesar, Booker T. Washington, or Alice Paul right to the page. When this is the case, use a quotation. When you write a quotation, you want to make it clear who is speaking and where the quote begins and ends (that’s the purpose of the quotation marks).

Example: In his speech to Congress on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt declared to the American people that “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

As a general rule, you only want to quote when the quotation is perfect. Whenever possible, use a quote from a primary source over a quote from a secondary source. You want to give the people from the past the chance to have their say, but do not let their voices take over your paper.

What if there is a quotation inside of a document?

If you were researching the sinking of the Lusitania and you wanted to use this newspaper article, you would create a quote within a quote. You use quotation marks to cite what you got from the newspaper article, and single quotes to show the quote within the quote.

Example: It was made clear to the world what happened. The manager of the Cunard Line “received the following wireless from Old Head of Kinsale, at 5:49, ‘The Lusitania was sunk by a submarine at 2:33 this afternoon.’ ”

But what if I only want to use part of a quotation?

Using the same article as above, if I wanted to combine two sections of the quote, I would use an ellipse, which is three periods in a row.

“The steamer Lusitania…was either torpedoed or blown up by an infernal machine while off Old Head of Kinsale at 2:33 this afternoon.”

OK, so I found a written document, but it contains a spelling or grammatical error from the original author. What do I do?

That happens. When it does, use [sic]. This is a Latin phrase which means “thus it was written.” Basically, you’re acknowledging that there is a mistake in spelling or grammar, but that is the way the original source was written.

Decision Point 2: What if I can say it better?

Most of the time you can. This is called paraphrasing: when you take the ideas that you learned from a source but put them in your own words. Let’s use the Lusitania article as an example. It is perfectly appropriate to write in your paper:

The Lusitania was hit by a German submarine at 2:33 pm, and the news of the sinking was published around the world. A fishing fleet was called to help rescue as many passengers as possible in the North Atlantic.

This is great, but that information still needs to be credited. How do you do that? Well, it depends on the type of project you are creating. Visit Citing Sources to learn how.

Example Bibliography and Footnotes

Note to teachers: This guide is designed to condense the key elements of the Chicago Manual of Style to a format that can be understood by middle and high school students. The goal is to make this process as clear as possible. The sample citations are web-based so that they can be updated more frequently than any print resource could.

Noodle Tools

NHD teachers are eligible to sign up for special access to NoodleTools to use with their students for the purpose of National History Day projects. The NoodleTools online platform helps students to generate accurate bibliographies in accordance with NHD rules, evaluate sources, create and organize notecards, and archive copies of sources. Teacher mentors can view student work in progress and provide real-time feedback.