Innovative Editing’s Writing Rule #7


Okay peeps, here’s Innovative Editing’s Writing Rule #7… Non-fiction writers have to cite everything they put down that isn't:

  • Their own original thoughts

  • Already common knowledge.

There are various ways of recording this information within a manuscript, from footnotes to endnotes to bibliographies and works cited pages. But no matter the method, you legally must give credit where credit’s due.

In a lot of ways, that means you’re pretty much going back to school, getting ready to hand in assignments to your teachers and professors.

Doesn’t sound like fun, I know. But you’re just going to have to suck it up, cupcake, because that’s part of being a non-fiction writer. And, despite that downside, being a non-fiction author is totally worth it. (Or so I would imagine.)

On the plus side, you don’t have to resort to those annoying in-text, parenthetical references you used to have to write down after every quote or referenced source. You do still have to give significant data to offer credit where credit’s due.

Now, I already touched on this topic twice earlier in the week. As a reminder, on Tuesday, I wrote this:

While I’ve never written a non-fiction work (I have, however, helped people write and publish them), I’ve still done a lot of citing for my historical fiction works, Maiden America and Designing America, as well as their not-yet-done sequel, Proving America.

Those stories follow fictional characters set during America’s earliest days as a nation. And in them, I meticulously document the true-to-life facts I weave into my narratives from historical figures to societal details to battle tactics used.

The end result is so well-cited that these books can actually double as curriculum. Really, really fun and fascinating curriculum, but curriculum nonetheless.

I mention all that again because I’m going to be using one of my research books for Proving America as an example of how to properly record sources in non-fiction.

Written by Steve Vogel, it’s titled Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner – The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation. And it’s really good. Like one of those books I mentioned on Monday, it’s historical non-fiction that reads a lot like historical fiction.

A review from The Washington Times even includes this note: “This well-researched and superbly written history has all the trappings of a good novel. There is great heroism, treacherous self-interest, cowardice intrigue…”

But since it’s still documenting actual facts and figures, and – and here’s the important part – purporting to be documenting actual facts and figures, it is, in fact, non-fiction. Which means it has to document itself from start to finish.

In complying with that requirement, here’s some of the citation-related pages you’ll find in this amazing, 422-page work:

  • List of Illustrations, which lists the source of every picture Steve Vogel uses in Through the Perlious Fight, plus the page he used it on

  • Notes, which lists the source of every quote he uses, plus the page he used it on

  • Selected Bibliography, which lists every book he references, plus the page he used it on.

There’s about three pages of the first, 77 pages of the second and 15 of the third.

Add that up, writers, and you’ve got almost 100 pages of documentation!

So the moral of this non-fiction story?

Make a note of every single source you use as you’re writing your work. Because, believe me, you’re going to need it later.

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