I've written a book and I'm juggling citation styles. I haven't put my bibliography together yet, but there are, I would estimate, at least 100 abstracts referenced from the National Library of Medicine, as well of a number of other sources. It's all written in OneNote (obviously not the final format) and presently I just have hyperlinks to the sources next to the respective paragraphs. There are few, if any, direct quotes from the sources.

Most of the book is creative nonfiction and I would prefer it if the citations were not distracting in nature. I'd like it if the citations were as minimal as possible (perhaps only in end notes or in the bibliography). In scientific research papers, I would use numbered superscript citations, but in this case I'm wondering if it's avoidable. Is there a style of citation that keeps the text from appearing like a scientific research paper? Maybe deferring the reader to the bibliography where page numbers/paragraphs are connected to their respective sources?


If this is not an academic publication and you are not bound by the more severe citation styles like APA or MLA, a common way to reduce distraction in popular non-fiction is to have no in-text references at all and append endnotes to the end of the text that are ordered "chronologically" and give page numbers and text snippets to identify what they relate to.

E.g. this text on page 216:

It has been shown that women are smart. So we must allow them to go to university.

can have an endnote something like this:

216 women are smart   Clever, W. (1753). Experiments on the Cleverness of Women. Birmingham: Clever Woman Press.

There are many variants of how to denote what text the citation refers to, like paragraph numbers, but the most common one I have seen is simply quoting the phrase.

This citation method assumes that certain textual markers (such as "it has been shown" or "we found") will signal to an informed reader that in academic publication such a claim is backed up with sources, so the reader can expect to find a source in the endnotes. This means that just as in an academic publication you have to be careful how you phrase your text and make no claims that you cannot back up.

How you style these endnotes (bold, intalics, spaces, etc.) is up to you or your book designer. I would mark up the actual sources according to one common – and relevant to your field – academic style (APA for Psychology, MLA for Language and Literature, etc.).

It is also up to you whether you prepend a short note to your text pointing out this citation style, or whether you let your readers leaf through your book and find the endnotes by themselves. I have seen both, and I think that educated readers will expect some notes and look for them without being told.


Regarding your question after a precedent of legitimacy

As I said, this style is common. I found it in many popular science books by eminent scholars, and actually do not currently remember an example that does not use this style.

The following illustrations are an example (the first page of text and the first page of the notes) from the book Willpower by psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, one of the most cited scientists alive.

These illustrations were downloaded from the publicly available Amazon.com "Look inside!" preview of this book and are provided here in the intent to educate and therefore fall under fair use.

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  • That sounds perfect. Do you find there is a precedent of legitimacy with this style? If so, do you think this post could be cited as a style source? – Daniel Mar 19 '15 at 7:57
  • Who do you want to legitimate your style for? Your teacher? Just show them this post or, better yet, a physical copy of a book that employs this style. Baumeister's book should be in most libraries. Your publisher? They will be familiar with this practice. – user5645 Mar 19 '15 at 9:14
  • I just want to legitimate the style for my readers. You are obviously much more well read than I am in such areas. Thank you for the reference to Baumeister's book. Also, I'm in stitches over other, more subtle parts of your post. Excellent. Thanks again. – Daniel Mar 19 '15 at 9:49
  • You don't need to legitimate your style for your readers. If it is a style that works for large publishers, it will work for you also. Would you write: "Dear reader, I set this book in Garamond, because it was recommended in this post on StackExchange ..."? No. You would not mention your design choices in your book at all. Similarly with the citation style. Good luck with your writing and publishing! – user5645 Mar 19 '15 at 10:51
  • This style is unfamiliar enough that you might give a couple of sentences explaining what you are doing and why. I've done that sort of thing in a couple of my books, like including an introductory paragraph to explain why I included "real life" examples of database concepts I'm trying to explain, or why I used a certain translation of the Bible for quotes. But for something like this, I wouldn't see a need to "defend" the choice against potential criticism. If a reader discounts the information in your book because they don't like your citation style, well, (a) that's just silly, and ... – Jay Mar 19 '15 at 13:49

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