Years ago, one of my clients updated me on her publishing journey. She turned in her manuscript on deadline, so that was a huge relief.
Then her editor asked for one last piece she’d put off.
“Ann, it took me two full weeks to track down everything for my endnotes. Two weeks!”
This first-time author knew the editor would ask for endnotes, but she had not kept track of them as she wrote.
Putting Off the Inevitable
When words were flowing—forming chapters, shaping ideas—she didn’t want to lose momentum fiddling around with citations. So she decided to focus solely on the writing, trusting those endnotes would be easy to put together later.
After all, most of the books she mentioned in her text were stacked next to her, ready to access after submitting her manuscript. She could find the direct quotes online again in a few clicks, right?
“Please, Ann,” she said, “I’m begging you to tell all your clients to document their sources along the way. Waiting until the end was a nightmare.”
Save Time & Headaches
I’ve tried to convince the authors I coach to do just that: document all sources along the way.
More specifically, I recommend they create a citation at the moment they mention it in their draft. Or at the latest, create it before stepping away from that writing session. You think you’ll come back to it the next morning, but it’s easy to push it off until later…and later…and later.
Then your editor calls and you have to pull them together to submit a few days later.
Citations Are a Pain
It’s a pain to track these bits of information.
Author Joanna Russ writes, “I once asked a young dissertation writer whether her suddenly grayed hair was due to ill-health or personal tragedy; she answered It was the footnotes” (Russ, 137).
It’s tempting for authors to think of citations as a necessary evil, aging us, plaguing us.
Citations Are a Gift
But in reality they’re a gift to our readers. They can dig deeper into the topic we introduce by visiting the websites, books, and podcasts we mention.
Citations are also a gift to us.
Heaven knows we want to avoid accusations of plagiarism, adhere to copyright laws, and make good faith efforts to track down the origin of a quote or statistic.
I’m not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice, but giving credit where credit is due is a step in the right direction.
A good start is to include attribution for:
- direct quotes
- paraphrased quotes
- summarized ideas & info that aren’t common knowledge
- paraphrased ideas & info that aren’t common knowledge
- any idea, statistic, framework, or content you didn’t develop yourself
Create citations for any source: physical books, Kindle books, websites, interviews, podcasts, seminars, conferences, and more.
In doing so, you demonstrate you’re joining—even contributing to—the broader conversation on this topic.
Is Blog Post and Social Media Citation Overkill?
You may associate footnotes and endnotes with books and scholarly writing, but I hope you’ll join me in citing sources in your digital writing, as well: in blog posts, articles—even social media posts.
In years past, bloggers have generally taken a simpler approach, relying on linked text to credit sources. This minimized reader disruption and saved time.
Parenthetical citation or cumbersome in-text mentions with signal text slow the flow. You can see an example where I wrote “Author Joanna Russ writes…”
That phrasing signaled a source. Did it slow you down? Did it bother you?
Bloggers have generally viewed that style as clunky. Footnoting blog posts seemed over the top.
Vowing to Start Footnoting
I myself used to think it was over the top. In the early days of blogging no one else was adding footnotes, so I didn’t bother.
Until 2012, when I taught high school students a session about plagiarism. The more I prepared for the session, the more I realized I wasn’t following citation best practices in my own writing.
I wrote about it on my blog, vowing to do better.
In the comments of that post, readers chimed in with a wide range of reactions. Some applauded footnoting even in blog posts (especially teachers).
Others believed it would slow them down too much—they might not publish as often.
Still others saw my reasoning but felt footnotes or inline citations would disrupt the reader’s experience. In their opinion, the ease of hyperlinking text sufficed.
They leaned on leaving footnoting to the academics. Besides, newspapers and magazines follow AP Style, which doesn’t require footnotes. Why should a blogger bother with it?
When I started adding footnotes, the inconvenience did slow me down, just as those bloggers predicted. I regretted my vow. I backslid and returned to hyperlinking text to online sources.
Broken Links, Lost “Citations”
A recently installed plugin has been alerting me to broken links on my website, and I’m realizing links alone aren’t enough for proper attribution.
Over time, websites delete pages or close down altogether. New companies buy expired domains and publish unrelated content. Those links lead to a 404 page.
If I’d footnoted those articles, I could have preserved the source and demonstrated due diligence even if the actual link eventually turned into a dead end.
Now I’m returning to old articles and blog posts, seeing sentences like, “As I found in this article and this blog post, families are slowing down and…” The words “this” link out to articles that were live at the time of the writing but are unavailable today.
Thankfully the Internet Wayback Machine helps me locate the original sources to figure out what it said. From that information I can generate an alternative link and create a footnote.
But what a hassle!
I feel like my client who lost two weeks of her life tracking down endnotes for her book.
I feel like the suddenly grayed dissertation writer who told Joanna Russ It was the footnotes.
If only I had created citations as I published those pieces, I would have saved myself so much time and trouble.
And I would have given readers who stumble on the piece a decade later easy ways to dig into the topic.
Citations = Credibility
When I see others cite their sources, I view them as more credible because they reveal the writers on whose shoulders they stand.
Readers see us as more credible and ethical, too, when we clearly point to our sources.
While inconsistent, I’m trying to improve. By including my sources, my readers can trace back to the writers on whose shoulders I stand.
Whether you’re an author drafting your manuscript or a blogger writing weekly posts, I hope you’ll consider citing sources as a new best practice.
Don’t worry about doing it perfectly or updating years of existing posts. Just start with your next post and use apps that generate citations with the click of a button.
When you build it into your workflow, you’ll see it’s not such a hassle…and I hope you’ll find, in time, that it’s worth the effort.
How to Start Citing Sources
Not used to documenting sources and creating citations? You may wonder thing like:
What’s “fair use”?
What’s “common knowledge”?
How do I know when an idea is emerging from personal knowledge after years of living, reading, and learning, and when the idea should be credited to someone else?
What’s the difference between inline, in-text, and parenthetical citations?
When do I footnote and when do I create endnotes—and do I need one of those Works Cited pages I created in high school English class?
Do I use MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style formatting?
Learn a little bit each time you write. In time, you’ll feel more knowledgeable and confident.
And you can simplify the process using citation tools. Test some of these:
- Chegg Citation Generator
- Chegg Citation Machine (I’m not sure why they have two—test them to see which works best!)
- built-in citation features in Microsoft Word
- built-in citation features in Google Docs
- Chrome extensions like MyBib
Cite sources to serve your readers today—and yourself in the future.
If you plan to write a nonfiction book, you’ll probably search your blog posts and maybe even Instagram captions for stories, quotes, and ideas to include in that book.
Trust me, you’ll be so grateful for those footnotes!
Russ, Joanna. How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Univ. of Texas Press, 2005. (137)