Improvements in DNA sequencing technologies portend a new era in virology and could possibly lead to a giant leap in our understanding of viral evolution and ecology. Yet, as viral genome sequences begin to fill the world's biological databases, it is critically important to recognize that the scientific promise of this era is dependent on consistent and comprehensive genome annotation. With this in mind, the NCBI Genome Annotation Workshop recently hosted a study group tasked with developing sequence, function, and metadata annotation standards for viral genomes. This report describes the issues involved in viral genome annotation and reviews policy recommendations presented at the NCBI Annotation Workshop. © 2010 by the authors.