Friday, July 24, 2009

Editing Tip #5: Citing Sources

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2009

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


Whenever a book, article, poem, drama, song, database, or illustration appears in tangible form, it is automatically covered by copyright, regardless of whether the work is published or registered with the copyright office. You cannot use another person’s material (or any portion thereof) publicly without the copyright owner's express permission except under two circumstances: fair use and public domain.


"Fair Use" allows limited reprinting of copyrighted material under certain conditions. This is mainly determined by how the work is used, how much of the work is used, and how the use affects the potential sales of the original work. If you have brief quotes from a few published works in your manuscript, and your quotations will not negatively affect the sales of those books, you probably do not need to obtain permission. However, if you have lengthy quotations, or the quoted material is the vast majority of your work, or the comments you make about that material could be harmful to the author's profits from that book, you need to secure written permission from the copyright holder.

This is your job, not the publisher's. Most publishing agreements stipulate that any fees to be paid for quoting copyrighted material are the author's responsibility. Authors are expected to send the publisher all permissions that have been received; these permissions will be filed with the publishing contract.

Other than private in-home listening and playing, Fair Use of music is extremely limited. You can refer to the title of a song, but cannot reprint the music or lyrics (unless it's in the public domain).


When a copyright expires, the owner no longer has exclusive rights. Some authors and composers relinquish their copyright and give their material to the public, either during their lifetime or at their death. It is the author's responsibility to obtain proof that quoted material is in the public domain.

You may use public domain material only if you have a legitimate source of proof (e.g., a tangible original or copy of the work with a copyright date old enough to be in the public domain).


Whether or not the use of others' material requires permission, whenever you quote or paraphrase the idea of another person, you must provide a proper citation for the source in a bibliography or footnote. This not only gives credit to the original author, it enables a reader to locate the source of your quote. Providing references lends credibility to your work. If you do not give credit to the work of others, you are committing plagiarism. Therefore, you should provide full citations to all sources you use, including:

Internet sources
Scripture verses
government documents
nonprint media (videotapes, audiotapes, pictures, and images)

NOTE: Commonly known facts, available in numerous sources, do not need to be enclosed in quotation marks or given a source citation unless the wording is taken directly from another work. (For example, "Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865" does not need a footnote.)


NOTE: It is an infringement of copyright law to reproduce this
publication, in part or in whole, without the express permission of the
author. To request permission, please e-mail



Kathy Ide has been writing for publication since 1988. She has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. She is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for aspiring writers, established authors, commercial book publishers, subsidy publishers, and magazines. Her services include proofreading, copyediting, substantive/content editing, coauthoring, ghostwriting, and mentoring/coaching. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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