*originally posted spring 2017, updated 2019
Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of tracking and citing sources, it's important to understand the legal and reputational risks you face as an author, particularly if you write nonfiction.
Related: Jill Abramson: Ex-New York Times editor accused of plagiarism; 'I Fell Short': Jill Abramson Responds To Charges Of Plagiarism, Inaccuracies; What the Jill Abramson book scandal tells us about publishing’s fact-checking problem
What follows is an explanation of how to track and cite your sources per Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), which is the publishing industry's style guide. Citing sources per CMS does not release you from legal obligations you may have or necessarily reduce liability. I highly recommend that you consult with an attorney who specializes in copyright law and read these articles by attorney Brad Frazer.
Properly citing your sources is not only ethical, it enhances your reader’s experience. The purpose of citations is to give credit where credit is due and allow readers to test assertions and interpretations against their original sources.
You and/or your editor may choose from one of several citation options (see videos below for more information), but it’s your responsibility to track and provide to your editor or publisher all the necessary information to cite your sources according to publishing industry standards.
I designed this post and my Citation Tracking Spreadsheet to keep you organized during the writing process. (Email me with "Citation Tracking Spreadsheet Request" in the subject line, and I'll send you a copy.)
Include enough information in your manuscript for us to be able to match your reference to the citation information on your spreadsheet.
For example, when you quote, paraphrase, or refer to the work (written or otherwise) of another person or organization, you may simply put the author’s last name or name of the website in parentheses and add the required information to the spreadsheet. That will allow your editor to properly format the citations.
NOTE: You must cite the original source of a quote or idea. (Video: The Importance of Citing Original Sources)
The image below is an example of how one might appear in the body of your manuscript. Note that the image has a name and source information, so your editor can properly identify it and connect its citation information in the notes section and in the bibliography found in the back matter of the book and an in-text citation (Pixabay, Happy Puppy).
This is how the citation should* appear in the bibliography.
Pixabay. Wow_Pho. CC0 Public Domain. Accessed 19 March 2017. https://pixabay.com/en/dog-cute-pet-715545/
*NOTE: If you look at page 7 of OWL’s Citation Chart, you’ll notice that my citation doesn’t match the CMS example.
Tracking sources from the beginning streamlines the writing and editing process, can help when it comes time to request permission to use copyrighted material, helps you look like a professional, and adds value for your readers.