As a ghostwriter who has authored dozens of self-help books for both self-published authors and major New York publishing houses, one of the biggest questions that I and my clients must consider is how to credit quotes and research by third parties.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a book on heart health. In your book you want to back up your claims with evidence garnered by research studies. In the course of your research, you find a report in a health journal that concludes people who consume blueberries have fewer heart attacks. This is good news! To bring this information to your reader, you have three choices:
- You can write, “Researchers have found that eating blueberries lowers your risk of heart attack.” Legally, this is all you need to say. The problem is that it’s vague and unsubstantiated. What researchers? In India, China, or the United States? How many people were in the test sample? How long ago did this happen? A reference like this one is no better than what you find in internet articles, and not good enough for a credible book.
- You can write, “Researchers at Harvard University found that among a sample of fifty adults, eating blueberries lowered their risk of heart attack by ten percent.” It’s better, but you’re still not giving the reader enough information that will allow them to find the article or report for themselves.
- You can provide a footnote. For academic journals and articles, footnotes or endnotes are required. A footnote provides precise information about the article so that anyone can find it. The drawback to footnotes is that they can make your book look like an academic publication. If you’re writing in a folksy down-to-earth voice for a mass audience, you may not want footnotes.
- You can give more complete information in the text, so that the reader can find the article. You might say, “As researchers Ben Wong and others revealed in their 2015 article ‘The heart health benefits of blueberries,’ this delicious fruit can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by ten percent.” This is enough information so that the researchers are properly credited and anyone could verify the source. You can also add the publication, like this: (Jour Nat Hlth, vol 4, no 6, 345-349).
How about internet links? You can add them to footnotes, but remember that despite the popular conception that everything on the internet is there forever, this isn’t true. Pages disappear and links get broken. If you include the link, always give the date it was accessed (“Accessed 4 June 2019”). This will cover you in case the page vanishes.
- Thomas Hauck is a professional ghostwriter and book editor serving a wide range of clients from major publishers to emerging authors.