Crediting sources: The author-date method

Crediting sources is an important element of writing.

In today’s post, I describe one method that’s common in the humanities. Chicago* calls it the author-date system.

Here is a quick overview. (Today’s examples are from a linguistic article I wrote about Tigrinya for the Journal of African Languages and Linguistics.)


The author-date method of crediting sources has two main components:

• A list of references at the back of the book (or at the end of the article), which gives the full reference details of the sources.

• Parenthetical notes in the text, which correspond to the relevant entries in the references by citing the author and date (and the page number(s) if needed).

For example, an entry in the references might read as follows:†

    Bossong, Georg. 1991. Differential object marking in Romance and beyond. In Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, Dieter Wanner and Douglas A. Kibbee (eds.), 69: 143-170. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publ. Co.

In the text a corresponding note might read:

    This phenomenon, known as differential object marking (DOM), is attested in about 300 genetically diverse languages (Bossong 1985, VIII).

Let’s get into the specifics regarding the format of both the references and the notes.

The reference list

• Title it “References” or “Works Cited” (not “Bibliography,” because a bibliography generally includes works not cited in the document).

• List all works referred to either in the text or in the footnotes.

• List only those works referred to in the document (whether in the text or in the footnotes).

• Invert the author’s (or editor’s) name and alphabetize the list by authors’ (and editors’) last names.‡

    Comrie, Bernard. 1981. Language universals and linguistic typology: Syntax and morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Givón, Talmy. 1978. Definiteness and referentiality. In Universals of Human Language, Joseph Greenberg (ed.), 4: 291-330. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Mason, John, ed. 1994. Tigrinya grammar. Lawrenceville, NJ: First Red Sea Press, Inc.

• Indicate the year of publication immediately following the author’s name.

    Comrie, Bernard. 1981. Language universals and linguistic typology: syntax and morphology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

• Separate the parts of the entry with periods (see examples above).

The notes

• In parentheses, give the author’s last name followed by the year of publication and, if required, a page number. A comma and space separate the year and the page number.

    Foundational to our study of DOM is the following observation from Comrie’s study of language universals (Comrie 1981, 121).

• If the name of the author is already mentioned in the sentence, it is not necessary to repeat it in the note.

    The paper will assess the contribution of Tigrinya to the universal tendencies of DOM as posited by Aissen (2003).

    This agrees with Aissen’s observation (2003, 436n3) that topicality is also relevant to DOM.

    Weldeyesus (2004, 6) claims that Tigrinya has a split pronoun system.

• With direct quotations, the note normally appears after the quotation and before a final punctuation mark.

    These findings contradict another claim by Weldeyesus, namely that “the two related object-marking phenomena always coexist” (Weldeyesus 2004, 10).

• If it sounds natural in the flow of the sentence, the note may be placed before the quotation.

    Mason (1994, 79) too states, “When it [nɨ-] is used, the verb will have a pronoun suffix that corresponds to the object.”

Final note for editors

If you’re editing a document that uses the author-date system, it’s very important to cross-check the notes and references. Here’s a checklist:

1) Check to make sure that each note (both in the text itself and in the footnotes) has a corresponding entry in the references.

Whenever I encounter a note, I highlight the corresponding entry in the references; by the time I’ve worked my way through the whole document, all references should be highlighted. I compile a list of any notes without corresponding entries in the references. I send this list to the author and ask him to supply the needed references.

2) Check to make sure that each entry in the references is referred to somewhere in the document, either in the text or in the footnotes.

Any references that are not highlighted after step (1) are in trouble. I ask the author what he wants to do: either remove these entries or, if he really wants to keep them, to make an explicit reference to them somewhere in the document.

3) While checking off the notes against the references, make sure that the note and the corresponding reference match exactly in the spelling of the author’s name and the date.

Again, note any discrepancies and question the author if necessary.


*Chicago=The Chicago Manual of Style

†The reference examples should be indented after the first line but unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to do that in this blog.

‡In a work by two or more authors, invert only the first author’s names: Waltke, Bruce K. and M. O’Connor (1990). An introduction to Biblical Hebrew syntax. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Discretion is advised when using this website.)

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