How to Use Notes and Bibliographies

The next item on the Nonfiction Editing Checklist has to do with citing your sources:

Footnotes, endnotes, blind notes, and reference lists have been used appropriately and are formatted correctly.

The Chicago Manual of Style offers several options for citing your sources. The first of these is the least formal, and the last is the most formal:

  • In-text citations
  • Notes with bibliography
  • Author-date references with list

The more scholarly your audience, or the more technical your work, the more likely it is you will need one of the latter two systems.

Books
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In-text Citations

If you are writing for the general market, this method will probably be sufficient, especially if you are only quoting a few sources. You can introduce the source first and then the quote, working the whole into a single sentence.

In his book Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark advises writers to “get the name of the dog.”

If you wish to provide a full citation, you can add the bibliographic information at the end of the quotation.

In his book Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark advises writers to “get the name of the dog” ([New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006], 72).

Notice that the period moves from after the word dog to after the citation. This kind of precision is not normally found in books written for the general market—it’s reserved for more scholarly works.

You can also use a brief citation or parenthetical citation if you use a block quotation. The first is less scholarly and the second more so. Note that in a block quotation, the quotation marks are omitted and the period remains with the final word of the sentence instead of moving to after the citation.

Get the name of the dog.—Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools
Or
Get the name of the dog. (Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools [New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006], 72)

If you want more details about this system, head to the reference desk of your local library and read CMOS Chapter 13, from 13.62 to 13.70 (pages 643–647).

Notes with bibliography

If you are citing many sources and want your citations to be unobtrusive, you can use footnotes or endnotes. These are superscripted numbers that refer to a place where the reader can get the full citation. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of a page. Endnotes are placed at the end of the book if there are many citations in each chapter, or if each chapter has a different author, endnotes may be placed at the end of each chapter. Most publishers prefer endnotes at the back of the book as they keep the notes out of the reader’s way and make page layouts easier.

The endnote will contain the names of the authors, the title of the book, and its publication data, as well as the page number or numbers relevant to the citation. Here’s the example given in CMOS at 14.14:

1. Newton N. Minow and Craig L. LaMay, Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 24–25.

The bibliography is helpful but not required. If you use a bibliography, the full publication data will appear there, so you can use a shortened citation in the note:

8. Minow and LaMay, Presidential Debates, 138.

The format for the bibliography entry differs slightly from that of the note, notably in that the name of the first author is listed surname first, since a bibliography is alphabetical by author.

Minow, Newton N., and Craig L. LaMay. Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

If you only cite a few sources in each chapter, you may use blind notes. In this case, there would be no superscripted number in the text. The notes section in the back would instead give a more general idea of what the citation relates to:

The quotations on page 24 and 25 are from Newton N. Minow and Craig L. LaMay, Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

The Purdue Online Writing Lab offers an overview of the Chicago notes and bibliography system, which it calls NB. Details about this system are in CMOS Chapter 14. I don’t advocate for writers buying a copy of this book, since it’s pricey and provides more information than most writers need. But if in your career you expect to write many books for a scholarly audience, you might want to consider buying a copy or subscribing to The Chicago Manual of Style Online.

More about bibliographies, reference lists, and how to use the author-date system next time.

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1 Comment

  1. […] time, in our discussion about endnotes, I mentioned that a bibliography is helpful but not required. The reason it’s not required is […]

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