Footnotes, Endnotes, Bibliography: What Does it all Mean?

Filed in Ask the Editor by on September 27, 2013 0 Comments

 Footnotes, Endnotes, Bibliography.  Xulon PressIf you ask me, the most painstaking part of writing anything is the documentation of sources. It’s such tedious work, but do we even know why we do it? “Ethics, copyright laws and courtesy to readers require authors to identify sources of direct quotations or paraphrases and of any facts or opinions not generally known or easily checked,” says the Chicago Manual of Style (pg. 655). Now, we know why we provide sources for the quoted material in our books, but there are still two questions left to be answered: which system should be used and what’s the difference between footnotes, endnotes and a bibliography?

To answer the first question, it would probably be nice to give you a few examples of other citation systems right? If you had to write any papers in college or an academic setting, you’re probably very familiar with the Modern Language Association (MLA) style. It’s taught in most high schools as the way to write research papers and continues into college. Then, there is the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style), which is used by newspapers and the entire news industry in the United States. A few others are the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychological Association (APA). These are used in their respected fields. The style guide we use here at Xulon Press is the Chicago Manual of Style, which is also affectionately referred to by most editors as the CMOS.

Chicago style is the industry standard for book publishing. Not only does it explain how the industry works and all the parts that lead up to a finished book, but it helps writers write better and it helps editors edit consistently. It’s pretty much the end all, be all for the publishing industry. So, which one works for you? It all depends on what you’re writing. For most books, the Chicago Manual of Style is the best choice. If, however, you’re writing a medical book of sorts, it’s probably best to refer to the AMA.

Now, to answer the second question: which source documentation is right for you? To do this, lets break down what each one is and why they may or may not be right for you. We’ll start with footnotes. These types of source notes appear at the foot of a page. A superscript number is used in the text that matches its note at the bottom of the same page. Footnotes are used mainly in scholarly works like academic journals and textbooks. It works best when the notes amplify the reading or if immediate knowledge in regards to the sources are essential to the reader. Footnotes can be a bit intimidating to a reader, so use with caution.

Next comes endnotes; they usually appear at the end of an article, in a book, at the end of a chapter or more commonly, at the back of the book. They are more commonly used since they are less intimidating than footnotes, but there are still rules to follow. A superscript number is still used within the text to notate that more information is associated with the quotation, fact or paraphrase. The endnote section should actually be labeled “Notes” and the group of notes to each chapter should be introduced by a subheading that provides the chapter number, title or both (CMOS, pg. 673).

Last, but certainly not least is the documentation that makes most writers cringe and maybe even avoid quoting anyone in their book. The bibliography can be intimidating to an author simply because there are a lot of parts involved. This source documentation is most commonly taught in school using the MLA format. There are a lot of pieces associated with this type of sourcing information, but it serves a number of purposes. “A full biography that includes all the sources cited in the text, in addition to providing an overview of the sources and therefore an indication of the scope of an author’s research, can serve as a convenient key,” which can be more convenient for readers to find the exact document the writer pulled information from (CMOS, pg. 684). All sources should be included in the bibliography: books, articles, dissertations, interviews and are alphabetically arranged in a single list by the last names of the author(s). I promise, it’s not as hard as it appears.

So, now how do you pick the right documentation for your book? First, you rule out footnotes if your book is not high-level academia writing or a textbook. After that, you decide how much work you want to put into citing your sources. The only truly wrong answer is to use all of them in one book. Also, if you end up using footnotes or endnotes, be sure the superscript numbers in your text match to the actual note. I’ve seen plenty of notes that were mismatched due to revisions, so it’s always wise to go back and do a final check!


About the Author ()

Erika Bennett has been a freelance editor for nearly half a decade. Before joining the Xulon team in 2010, she worked with several first time authors who wanted to test the waters of self-publishing. Her aim is to make sure great books find their way into readers' hands.

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