Tuesday, August 20, 2019

8 Things Every Writer Should Know About Using Footnotes

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowel

Who loves to write but finds documentation a bit challenging? 

Hey, I’m raising my hand here. However, because I do love to introduce my readers to other wise people, I will probably forever be tracking down quotes and their citations. As I’m working on final edits for my 15thnon-fiction book, I am yet again polishing up all the documentation. My biggest word of advice is do not wait until you’ve written the entire book in order to start looking up your footnote information. Do the hard work from the very beginning and that will make the entire process run smoothly. 

8 Tips for Non-fiction Citations
  1. As you are reading, online surfing, and researching, be sure to record citations for every possible collection of words you might use in future writings. Believe me, you will be glad you did!
  2. There are many quotes from famous people which have made it into common use. However, it is your job as an author to track down the verity of such words. Also, your publisher will want a citation from the primary source, not just other people quoting it on their blog, Goodreads, or Wikipedia.
  3. Be aware that if you mention someone’s name and what they said in a conversation, you may be responsible to email them that part of your manuscript and get permission from them for it to be published.
  4. Remember that ‘fair use’ can vary depending on how long the entire work is from which you are quoting. If you are quoting a large amount of words from a short article, that may not constitute ‘fair use’ though the same amount of words might work if it were from a full-length book. Your publisher will guide you on all matters of ‘fair use.’
  5. Hang on to the books you have used for research at least until final edits are firm. Sometimes the author will be asked to submit photos of the actual quote showing the page number, the cover page, and the copyright page. If you borrow or use library books, take these photos before you return them, just in case. 
  6. Do you want to quote a poem or a portion of a poem? In most cases, you will need to pay for that privilege and often it is the author, not the publisher who must cover this. I was more than happy to pay to use Amy Carmichael’s poetry in many of my own books. 
  7. Lyrics to songs are often financially prohibitive, so you may want to summarize the main idea of favorite verses in your own words. Often hymn lyrics are in public domain, and can be used without payment.
  8. Go over all your citations several times before you submit your manuscript to your publisher. Yes, your editors will also be meticulous in evaluating your work, but you are a professional and must always present well-documented projects. 

I hope this will prove helpful in all your writing endeavors. Keep reading. Keep writing. Just make sure to always give credit to the original author of shared words.

8 Things Every Writer Should Know About Using Footnotes from @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

For Writers: those Pesky Footnotes - tips from @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping you Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the author of 13 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning Dwelling Places (2017 Christian Retailing BEST Award for Devotional)Ordinary Graces  (2018 Selah Finalist), Live These Words, and Refresh! Lucinda, a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs for The Write Conversation, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Blog and (in)courage. Whether co-directing  “reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,”  pouring into young mamas, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.EncouragingWords.net/ 
Follow Lucinda on Twitter: @LucindaSMcDowel


  1. Thank you Ms. Lucinda. Great tips. This one's a "keeper." God's blessings ma'am.

  2. Great article, Lucinda. #5 was a new one for me! It sounds like a great idea to take a photo of the resource and keep it on file.

  3. Very helpful information, Lucinda. Thanks!