A Nonfiction Author’s Guide to Citation Notes and Bibliographies

by Sep 14, 2020Author Resources

A Nonfiction Author’s Guide to Citation Notes and Bibliographies

Planning to refer to studies, articles, books, websites, or other published works in your book? You’ll need to provide full bibliographic information for each of your references. Compiling this material can feel like a chore when your attention is focused on completing your manuscript, but it’s a good idea to make it a regular part of your writing practice. By keeping accurate, comprehensive notes while you write, you’ll save yourself stress and aggravation when it comes time to format your citation notes and bibliography.

Why cite your sources?

The reason your readers have picked up your book is to learn about the subject matter, and by sharing your sources, you direct them as to where you learned a fact, quote, or idea, and enable them to find out more context about that fact, quote, or idea.

Citations also give your work authority. It’s necessary to check the accuracy of the cited material and the suitability of how you’re using it to prove your argument/illustrate your ideas—not to mention you have a moral imperative to credit your sources.

What sources do you cite?

  • All direct quotations*
  • All tables, graphs, illustrations reproduced from another’s work
  • All facts and statistics (and sometimes conclusions) obtained from another’s work
  • You may decide to cite beyond the three categories listed above depending on the audience or the conventions of a certain subject area

*You must cite or provide in-line attribution (ie. explicit acknowledgement of the source of a quote or fact in the text) for all direct quotations. In-line attribution is a very common and acceptable form of citation, particularly for famous quotations. If you plan to repurpose longer passages of a previously published work, you may need to request permission from the copyright holder.

Widely known and easily verified facts do not need to be cited, nor do proverbs, idioms, and jokes (unless the joke is part of a comedian’s act).

How do you cite your sources?

One common approach is to put all references in a “Notes” section at the back of the book (called endnotes)—this is ideal if there are many notes per chapter. Another option is to put references that appear on a specific page at the bottom of that page (known as footnotes).

Examples of citation notes follow below. They include the same information as the entries in the bibliography (see below), but in a different format and with one additional, crucial piece of information for printed works: a page number or page range, which points readers to where exactly within the source material they can find the specific information being cited.


John Schwartz, Bicycle Days (New York: Summit Books, 1989), p.7.


Walter Blair, “Americanized Comic Braggarts,” Critical Inquiry 4, no. 2 (1977).

[article online]

Tanya Basu, “Why More Girls—and Women—Than Ever Are Now Being Diagnosed with ADHD,” New York, January 20, 2016, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/01/why-more-girls-are-being-diagnosed-with-adhd.html. Accessed April 10, 2017.

[blog entry]

Rhian Ellis and Ed Skoog. Ward Six (blog). http//wardsix.blogspot.com/.

[online encyclopedia]

Wikipedia, s.v. “Bullying,” last modified April 14, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying.

[online dictionary]

Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “romanticism,” https://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism.

[online media]

Trisha Prabhu, “Rethink before You Type,” TEDxTeen, October 2014, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkzwHuf6C2U.

What information goes into an entry in the bibliography?

When the source material is a book, gather and record:

  1. Author of book
  2. Title and subtitle
  3. Secondary responsibility people (editor, translator, illustrator, etc.)
  4. Edition (if it’s the first edition, don’t mention it)
  5. Publication information
    1. place
    2. publisher
    3. year

    Most of your book entries will look like this:

    Jones, Edward P. The Known World. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2003.

    If there is more than one author, invert the first author’s name only, e.g. Glazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman.

    When the source material is an article, gather and record:

    1. Author of part
    2. Title of part
    3. Title of serial
    4. Sponsoring body
    5. Edition (if it’s the first edition, don’t mention it)
    6. Issue designation (e.g., volume, season, year)
    7. Location of part within serial issue

    Your article entries will look like this:

    Kingston, Anne, “Could the Queen of Green be Mean?” Maclean’s. 29 October 2007, p. 22.

    Frechette, Louis. “Canada and the 1995 G7 Halifax Summit.” Canadian Foreign Policy. Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. Vol. 3, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 1–4.

    What is the difference between notes and a bibliography? Why is it important to include both?

    A note documents a specific quotation of text or the paraphrasing of ideas from a source. It is depicted with the use of a superscript number in the text and includes a page reference so that readers may find the exact location of the cited material in the source.

    A bibliography is a list of all the sources you either cited from or consulted during the research for your book. It presents a far more rounded picture of the research you have done. A good bibliography should contain the sources that you consulted but did not necessarily cite from during your research (though this, too, can be selective—you don’t have to list everything, just the ones that informed your research). It may also include books that are relevant to the subject matter of your book and that you think the reader should know about—or these can be included as a list called “recommended reading,” which would come after the bibliography.

    Many readers find it easier to locate a source in the bibliography. They may not remember where the note appeared in the book, but they may remember the author or the title of the book if it is mentioned in the text.

    For each note, there should be a corresponding entry in the bibliography. Bibliographic entries are listed alphabetically by author name and do not include page references.

    Now that you understand the necessity of citation notes and bibliographies, you can get into the practice of tracking your sources as you do your research. Proper formatting isn’t important at this point; your citation notes and bibliography can always be cleaned up during the copy editing stage. But by capturing this information early on, you’ll be doing yourself—and your editor—a big favor.

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