document briefly explains how and when historians should use citations
in their writing. It focuses on when an author needs to provide
background information in a footnote or endnote. For guidance on
stylistic matters such as use of italics and underlining, it points
authors to other guides.
Reasons for Footnotes
History is written by a process of argument. A good argument puts forward a point of view that is well grounded: it has evidence
to support it. Unlike practitioners of other fields such as engineering
or the natural sciences, historians pose questions that rarely have
definitive answers or solutions. The emphasis in history is on an
analysis of past events using a variety of historical evidence. Because
much of the historian's task is interpretative, there are strict
requirements regarding the correct citation of sources. Scholars use
footnotes and/or endnotes for a variety of reasons including:
- To make it clear to the reader which views are yours and which are the views of other writers;
- To allow you to acknowledge your intellectual debts to others if you decide to accept their views or information;
direct the reader by the most efficient signposts to the place where
the information you have provided can be checked and verified or where
further useful information is.
Correspondingly, there are a number of situations where you MUST cite your sources.
- Direct quotations
- Any material that has been paraphrased from an outside source
reference to arguments or facts (i.e. budget figures, technical
specifications) that have been garnered from an outside source
There are also circumstances in which you SHOULD footnote
- To provide the reader with a guide to the sources used in the formation of the author's original argument
provide the reader with a guide to sources that offer further
information on ideas or arguments summarized in the author's text
- To offer the reader further details or discussion beyond what could be reasonably included in the main text.
- If information is not common knowledge to the average lay reader.
Number of Notes
- If there is more than one sentence in a single paragraph that requires a footnote you may consolidate these by putting multiple sources in a single note and the end of the paragraph. If you choose to do this, you MUST arrange
the sources in the footnote to correspond to the appropriate sentences
in your text. You must also explain any potential ambiguities about
which source refers to what information within the paragraph.
- You should NEVER use one footnote to refer to material in more than a single paragraph of text .
for each paragraph, you should ask yourself the following question:
What primary and/or secondary sources did I use in the creation of this
it is acceptable to cite electronic sources (emails, Web sites, online
journals, online databases, etc.), if it is at all possible we would
prefer to have the reference to the original material that was used in
the creation of the electronic document.
- When referencing
a Web site, it is imperative that the author include the date that the
site was accessed online in the citation. In addition, the author needs
to print out the electronic document for inclusion in the appropriate
Historical Reference Collection. These precautionary steps ensure that
if an ephemeral Web site disappears later, there will still be a record
of the content material.
- Please do NOT cite on-line encyclopedias such as Wikipedia for several reasons. First,
Wikiipedia does not list the author or creator of the information. Second, its content changes frequently. Third, encyclopedias usually contain factual information. (If you don't know certain facts, it's obviously fine to look them anywhere you choose, but facts typically do NOT need to be footnoted).
- As a stylistic matter, you may use either footnotes or endnotes, but we usually prefer footnotes.
- Primary Sources from the NASA Center and Headquarters history reference collection should specifically include the file folder name and number and be cited in the following format:
Name, Title of Document, Folder/File Name, Folder/File Number, NASA
Center (Headquarters, Dryden, etc.) Historical Reference Collection,
Location (Washington, DC, etc.)
- By using citations properly, authors avoid the serious offense of plagiarism. There is an excellent
guide to avoiding plagiarism that was prepared at Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University ("Virginia Tech") as part of its
graduate student honor code. This guide includes some examples of
plagiarism that may surprise some writers. The guide is very accessible
and relevant to scholarly historical work, such as that which the NASA
History Division produces so we highly recommend this.
- More information about historical argumentation is at http://history.nasa.gov/thinking/hist-2.html on the Web.
these steps are designed so that if anyone, including the author, has
any doubts or questions about the origin of a particular piece of
source material, he or she could simply look it up!
Bonni Cermak and Jennifer Troxell, Authors
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org