Reference Preference

“Oh yeah, says who?”
That’s the playground equivalent of “can you verify your source?”

Citing references is a standard for non-fiction, research papers, schoolwork, articles, biographies, and more. It not only shows you’ve done your investigating, but that you have the integrity to give credit where credit is due. This is especially necessary in academia. Let’s say Book A was written by Doctor A 100 years ago. In 1980, Professor B argues and discusses the findings in Book A, and writes his own Book B. Ever since, Professor B’s colleagues, agreeing or disputing his findings, continue to publish reviews in academic journals C-G. Eventually, in 2011, Graduate Student H needs to finish her dissertation and now has an immense pile of… sources… through which to shovel. Every time she uses information directly gleaned from one of these sources, it is her responsibility to acknowledge that prior work.

Citing a source has (optimistically) been ingrained in our writing minds since primary school. If you can’t recall, do your research. There are many variations of providing the same information, et als and whatnots. The internet is full of guides. Some of my favorites:

Duke University Libraries
Associated Press Stylebook
Purdue OWL 

Our friend Grad Student H could use this basic example:

Aaaay, Doctor A. The Typhoid Terror. Zee Street Publishing House, 1906

What about when writing fiction? You’re making things up, right? Not always.

Storylines can coincide with truthful, historical events. In these cases you have a few options. Let’s say you are writing a love story about a research assistant and patient of the actual Doctor A mentioned above. You can assume the knowledge of the historical timeline is what initially drew in your readers, and you can assume your readers also know you weren’t standing in a room eavesdropping on Doctor A and his assistant. So citation is not necessary. Creative license is one of the magical components of writing!

But if you want to include a real lecture Doctor A gave at a university 100 years ago, whether verbatim or not, it is respectful to make notation of when, where, and to whom he spoke. More importantly, it is responsible of you to credit the lecture documentation. This can be done in recognition (aka: Acknowledgements or Forward page) at the beginning of your book:

Gracious gratitude to my wonderful friend Bert Bertelson for countless hours spent in dusty basements copying the words of Doctor A Aaaay from aged personal journals. And to my editor, Michelle, thank you for continually reminding me the proper use of pronouns. *

You can also accomplish this informally, in a notes (aka: Afterward) page at the end of your book, simply stating:

Doctor A Aaay
Why typhoid is terrible
Lecture delivered February 20, 1908
At the University of Alphabets to the Assembly of Gastroenterologists

Don’t forget, with the life you are writing for your characters, you are granting them power to inform your readers. The assistant could make a passive citation in a dialogue with his typhoid patient lover.

“Darling, Doctor A has done numerous case studies in the infirmary at the University of Alphabets. Women your age had a mere 75% likelihood of intestinal hemorrhaging by the third week. There is hope, my love.” **

Ultimately, as the author, the reference preference is yours. Just remember you may not be creating had another author not written before you. Cite that author. Someday, you’ll be glad you were given the same respect.

* Ok… you can leave out that last part.
** By the way, totally made up all of those stats. DO NOT DO THIS if you ever hope to be published.