Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. We publish books in the water and mining industries. Authors list many references, and we’re finding that in-text citations are becoming more and more excessive. For example, one simple sentence lists seven sources, which seems unreasonable. One chapter is 158 pages long, of which 49 pages are references. Do publishers set some kind of limits on the quantity of citations? Of course it is necessary to avoid plagiarism, but 49 pages of citations seems to be too much! How would you suggest we address this with our authors?

A. It’s the job of the acquiring editor to assess the source citations in a book or article (or send the manuscript out to experts who can assess them), and if they are excessive, it’s his or her job to work with the writer to bring them under control. Our own books vary dramatically, ranging from almost no notes or bibliography entries to tons of them. It wouldn’t be right to set a limit, however, because writers must be free to document their work fully. Unless you’re publishing books with no oversight or development, someone must be in charge of judging the quality of each book, and this person should decide whether the source citations are really necessary.