For example, if I make the claim:

"there are experts in the field that think X is fascinating."

and if I insert a footnote source, like this:

"there are experts in the field that think this way[1]."

Footnote [1]: Author, Date, Title: X might be interesting, Publisher etc.

Would this be wrong? Or should I always cite the author even when I don't directly cite the work or any of its content, but use it only to substantiate a claim.

  • It seems to me that you are fully citing the author and the work. Is your question about whether you must mention the author and the work in the body of your document, vs identifying them only in the footnote? Or is it about whether you must quote some part of the work? Or something else? Jul 23 '17 at 1:09

Using footnotes to substantiate claims of fact by reference to published sources is a common and accepted practice. However, it is more common in academic work, or in popular works that pretend to academic rigor. In popular work it is not common to footnote every claim of fact, but if you say something new or controversial than it is more common to cite your sources explicitly in the text.

In fact, it has become quite common in the works of popular journalists like Malcolm Gladwell, not only to cite the source, but to tell the story of the research that discovered the fact being asserted. This kind of storytelling is interesting in itself (people love stories) and it helps fill out what would otherwise be no more than a sunday feature length piece to book length. It can also help to make the fact more memorable, if the reader gets not just the assertion of the fact but the whole story of the research that led up to the discovery of the fact.

  • So it's not wrong, but not fully recommended either? Jul 22 '17 at 19:32
  • 1
    It depends on your audience. Different works require different standards of proof.
    – user16226
    Jul 22 '17 at 19:40
  • It is a non-fiction book that reads quite a bit like an academic paper. It contains clear language for an audience that isn't well-versed in academics. Jul 22 '17 at 19:46
  • When I am reading non-fiction I will often assume that a particular assertion has some evidence behind it. However, particularly when the assertion is something I Jul 22 '17 at 20:01
  • My last book and my current one are similar: not strictly academic but citing research where appropriate. I generally mention the research and the author in the text and footnote the sources, but I don't footnote assertions of common facts that can be verified independently. Ultimately, though, it will up to your publisher to decide what level of citation they think is appropriate. It is usually best to have a publisher lined up for a non-fiction book before you begin writing so you can settle these issues up front.
    – user16226
    Jul 23 '17 at 2:27

When I am reading non-fiction I will often assume that a particular assertion has some evidence behind it. However, particularly when the assertion is something I have not thought of before, I want to see some sort of evidence for it.

I look to see whether there are footnotes or references within the text. Anything that leads me to think that the author of a text has external evidence to support his/her ideas is welcomed by me, whatever the form. Avoid being vague about who your source is and where he/she/it can be found.

I need to be able to find the source you quote if I am to trust you as a source.

  • But isn't what I do exactly what you would look for. If I assert something, and you find a link to a source backing up my claim, wouldn't that be what you seek? That is what I do, but what I'm asking is whether I should mention the author or the content when it's already clear that the content pertains to the subject. Jul 22 '17 at 22:20

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