17 Notes and references

17.1 General principles

Publications of many kinds employ pointers within the main body of the text to refer the reader to explanatory or additional material either on the same page or elsewhere in the work. Academic publications in particular need an apparatus to provide references to support, and sometimes to clarify and amplify, what is said in the text. It is of course the responsibility of the author to ensure that the text is properly supported by appropriate sources, that the sources are correctly quoted or interpreted, and that the citations are accurate, complete, and follow an appropriate style. It is, however, the duty of the editor to ensure that the references in a work are presented in a clear and consistent manner. The reader may well see sloppy references as symptoms of generally careless scholarship.

The systems commonly adopted vary greatly between disciplines, and there may be considerable variation even within a single discipline, according to the preferences of particular publishers, editors, and authors. Furthermore, as in other aspects of editing, practice changes over time, and new styles may be taken up very unevenly. The most traditional system employs numbers, letters, or symbols as cues to direct the reader to notes which are printed either at the foot of the page to which they relate (footnotes) or in a group at the end of the text (endnotes). Alternatively, in what is known as the author–date or Harvard system, the cues may take the form of an author’s name and date of publication (or in the author–number or Vancouver system simply a reference number) within parentheses that enable the reader to identify the work in a list of full references at the end of the text. Various permutations are possible. In some ways life is made easier for both author and editor if a commonly recognized system is adopted, but agreed adaptation to the needs of a particular work can prove beneficial. What matters most is that the necessary information should be conveyed to the reader (of both print and electronic materials) clearly and economically.

The primary function of scholarly annotation is to identify for the reader the sources of what is said in text. This may be the location of a verbatim quotation or—just as important in an academic work—the basis for a statement by the author. Simple references of this kind can be accommodated by systems that use brief parenthetical references in the text to take the reader to a consolidated bibliography (see 17.3 and 17.4). Such references are particularly well suited to scientific publications, but they are also used in the social sciences and increasingly in the humanities. In the humanities it is normally notes that are the essential feature of the supporting apparatus. Notes are a convenient vehicle not only for complex bibliographical citations but also, for example, for acknowledgements, further discussion, supporting original text, and bibliographical surveys (see 17.2.1). Notes may be used in conjunction with a bibliography or more selective suggestions for further reading, or with a list of abbreviations of frequently cited sources (see 17.2.6).

Subscribe to remove ads and access premium resources

New Hart's Rules


Preface Editorial team Proofreading marks Glossary of printing and publishing terms