Let’s Talk About Notes

No, no. I don’t mean passing notes. (Or margin notes; I’ve already talked about those.) You’ve probably called them footnotes—you see these mostly in scholarly works—or endnotes, which you’ll see (ahem) at the end of a text.

When do you need a note? That’s easy:

• if something or someone is being quoted*
• when statistics or other data are being mentioned

Wait—don’t get too worked up yet. *There’s a difference between quoting a well-known someone whose words have passed into the culture and quoting someone your readers may not know, whose work (a book, a speech) in which the quote appears is important context for the quote. We can talk about this more if you need clarification; in the meantime, here’s a not-unrelated post you may be interested in.

I’ve seen a lot of creative ways to do notes. Or, I should say, to avoid doing notes—some authors don’t like ’em and will do just about anything (“let’s just list my resources in the back matter!”) to avoid those tiny little numbers. One interesting way is to repeat the phrase in question in lieu of the number, followed by the traditional documentation. This takes up more space, though, and places the burden of wondering what’s been cited on the reader.

If you are writing something for a professional or scholarly journal, there may be professional standards you need to follow. I’m just here to talk about your standard, garden-variety note. And here’s the key: the most important thing is consistency. The Chicago Manual of Style offers a variety of ways to do notes, but in my discussions with publishers, they care most that all the information is there that needs to be there, and that they’re all done the same way.

So this is a nice, general template:


• Author’s Name, Name of Book (City: Publisher, Year Released).

• Author’s Name, “Name of Article,” Name of Periodical, date.


• “Title of Web Page,” Entity responsible for page, complete URL (accessed on date).

• “Title of Article, etc.” (press release), Entity, complete URL (accessed on date).

Quotes from SPEECHES

• Name of Speaker, in a speech given to Entity (a group like Congress, say, or for a particular occasion), at place (location or city or both) on date, available online at complete URL (accessed on date).

• Name of Speaker, as quoted in Name of Journalist, “Name of Article,” Name of Periodical, date.

Here are a few more points to keep in mind:

• None of this goes for scholarly writing, which needs to be documented to the nth degree. Refer to Chicago or to the style guide recommended by your university or professional group.

• Do dates like this: 13 March 2008—it eliminates a lot of commas and thus makes the entry cleaner.

• “Complete URL” means everything you need to take you directly to the material being quoted. So if the main Web page is www.whatever.com, but you need www.whatever.com/whatsis.htm/ to take you to the quoted material, that is the complete URL.

• Do not add http:\\ to the URL. It’s not needed, and takes up too much space.

• Regarding providing page numbers, they should be provided for books but it is not necessary for magazines. Do not use p. or pp.; just use the number, and put it as the very last item in the entry. As always, consistency is important: if you provide page numbers for most of the books, you need to provide for all the books … or just delete them all (although this is not preferred).

• If an article in a magazine or newspaper does not list a byline, you just start the note with the title of the article.

• When listing a publisher’s city, include the state or country if it is not a well-known city.

• Don’t neglect the punctuation; it’s very important.

Got it?

Tweet: This is a nice, general template for footnotes and endnotes.
Tweet: Here’s the key to endnotes: the most important thing is consistency.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , , , , | Bookmark the permalink | Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Legal Issues (An Update, Sort Of*) on 30 June, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    […] (“They Say It’s Easier to Ask for Forgiveness Than Permission”), and citing your sources (“Let’s Talk About Notes”)—but I haven’t written about many of the other sorts of things that might arise when we’re […]

  2. By Someone Is Wrong on the Internet!* (An Update) on 31 July, 2014 at 8:18 am

    […] ✱ when and how to use footnotes (“Let’s Talk About Notes”) […]