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Do I need citations when...

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I got asked to provide samples to a book packager for some work-for-hire. I haven't written non-fiction for children before, but I just finished reading the posts here and Fiona's articles, etc. Tomorrow I am going to the library to look at some books for the age group (grades 3-8).

I am planning to write an article on raising guide dog puppies. I have raised several guide dog puppies for the blind and trained others. My question is this: If I could write the entire article from my own expertise do I need to cite sources?

Thanks a lot for any help!
#1 - June 22, 2008, 02:03 PM

I've wondered the same, and I think that I may have even asked this question a long time ago on this board. 

What I've been doing is mentioning this information specifically in my cover letter.  I say something along the lines of "the info. presented in this book/article is based on my own experiences raising giant Ugandan goldfish"...

I have also listed my own observation journal on my bibliography page.  If you keep a journal or any records at all of your experiences, then list it there.  You are the expert in this situation, after all.  If you had interviewed another expert, you would have listed it there, so it makes sense to list yourself there, too.  I always list other sources, though, to show that I've verified my own experiences and observations for accuracy.

That's my take on it, but perhaps others will weigh in on this a bit more.

#2 - June 22, 2008, 02:11 PM


" my cover letter.  I say something along the lines of "the info. presented in this book/article is based on my own experiences raising..."

" I have also listed my own observation journal on my bibliography page. ...[snip]...I always list other sources, though, to show that I've verified my own experiences and observations for accuracy."

Well said, Buglady5.  :yup  That's what I do, too.

When I rely on the expertise of others, I always use more than one source, so when drawing on my own expertise, I apply the same rule and use additional sources to corroborate my firsthand experiences.  I also have an expert review the finished manuscript for accuracy. Normally (when the author isn't drawing from his/her own experiences) information comes from several independent sources, making the author a bit of a gatekeeper, but if the author is the sole source of information, that check-and-balance is missing. Verifying your experiences is important.

Good luck with the proposal!
#3 - June 22, 2008, 03:14 PM


I know this is an old thread, but maybe someone can help me ...

For non-fiction, are sources absolutely necessary to include with a manuscript? What if you've written on a topic you know a lot about? I've written a NF story about an animal. I've read all kinds of sources over many years on this animal, but I didn't really use anything specific to write this story -- just memory. Do I HAVE to include some official source, even if I wrote from memory?
#4 - May 08, 2009, 07:35 AM

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Hi Rena,
The answer is -- it depends. If you are sending it to a rigorous publication, then yes, you need to share your sources. If you are sending it to a less rigorous one, then you may be able to get by without. But you should know you are getting by. The higher professional standard will always be to show your sources and even have the ms checked by an expert. The problem is that many of us remember wrong, or remember what was written correctly but discover it was written wrong. (50 years ago, writers about whales wouldn't have mentioned that whales sing. they didn't know. You could have an otherwise credible book about whales that skipped that fact altogether)

So if you cannot go back to your sources, it might be good to find an expert to double check your ms before you send it out.

good luck.
#5 - May 08, 2009, 09:14 AM
How Things Work (Publications International, 2006)
Bugs & Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter (Boyds Mill Press, 2010)
Touch the Earth (NASA, 2009)

I echo what Amy says.

I've written nonfiction for children's magazines, as well as for books like encyclopedias and other kinds of reference works intended for the teen and adult readership. I check each fact and typically footnote the source(s), though the footnotes don't make it into the manuscript that the editor sees unless the publication asks for them. I always provide a bibliography, and have used the most current sources available to me. I do this even when writing about subjects from my postgraduate studies that I know frontways and back.

This makes it much easier to handle any questions or revision requests by the editor. For example, I had written an article about a South American historical topic for an encyclopedia. The publisher (not my direct editor) did not think that a term mentioned in the article "sounded right." I went back to the source, determined that it was correct. However, because the publisher would not be happy with that answer, I dug around in other publications (using information found in the first source) and discovered an alternative term, which I provided along with a citation demonstrating that it was authentic to the period. This would have been more difficult if I didn't have a citation (including a page number) for the original source in an earlier draft of the article.
#6 - May 08, 2009, 02:17 PM

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Having written many National Register of Historic Places Nominations; which I know are not the same as non-fiction children's books.  I will throw in my two cents.  Often the building we nominated had to be put into perspective, not only of building in the area it stood in, but in the state and sometimes the United States.  This often took a little research. 

National Register nominations do not need footnotes, etc.  But if you make a statement such as it is one of the few Rosenwald schools to have tin ceilings, you needed to show where you found this information.  Thus showing you did not pull it out of the air.  (Rosenwald schools are schools built in the South by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company for African-American children). 

So in my opinion, even if you have raised puppies to be service dogs, you need to include the standard guides that you follow.  It can be citations if you wish or it can be an Additional Reading list. 

I think anytime non-fiction is written there needs to be a list of books used in your writing. 

In historical fiction, I always think that there needs to be a statement about what parts of your story are based on fact and what parts are fiction.  Where the reader can find more information about the time period they are reading.   JMO

#7 - May 08, 2009, 03:01 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt


If you're writing something super simple for preschoolers that contains the simplest common knowledge, e.g "Frogs jump. Frogs swim. Frogs catch flies." etc., then no, you don't need to supply sources, and relying on common knowledge is fine. But for anything more than that, you really should have a variety of sources. 

Whether you keep them in your files or submit them with the article is a separate question. For example, I've written for some mag editors so often, I don't submit a bibliography anymore...they know I use reliable sources and can back up everything I've written...the bibiography is there if they ask (they never do), and I'm always happy to answer any questions they have about content.  However, if submitting to a publication for which you've never written before, including a bibliography is a good sales tool, and could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection.

Memory isn't reliable. 

If I were you, I'd go and find sources for the info in the article and create a supporting bibliography before submitting.
#8 - May 09, 2009, 11:40 AM


Thank you everyone! Your replies have been a big help!
#9 - May 11, 2009, 12:13 PM


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