Dealing with references and author-date citations: Advice for authors

June 15, 2022

Sue Littleford, from Apt Words in the UK, has some great advice for authors when preparing citations and references, prior to sending the document to your copyeditor. By following her steps in this PDF (https://aptwords.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Avoiding-copyeditor-queries-part-1-references.pdf) you’ll save time and money, and save a lot of frustration and queries from your copyeditor!

As an example, I recently edited a 400p document, which had about 10p of references (about 2.5% of the total pages). Just formatting the reference list alone to conform to the corporate style took me well over 4 hours, plus a similar amount of time to verify that the reference information was correct (checking authors, dates, journal titles, volume/issue and page numbers, URLs etc.). Those 10p took more than 10% of my time—time I charge for by the hour. Checking and formatting references is tedious work, and I’d rather forgo the extra dollars than have to deal with a messy one. If authors, who are familiar with what they’re writing and the sources they’ve used, got those citations/refs in good shape before handing the document to the copyeditor, I for one would be very happy!

Hint: Sue suggests printing out the reference list for checking against the citations. I don’t do that when I’m copyediting—instead, I copy the refs list into a new document, highlight the lot, and put it on my other monitor. As I find each citation, I check there’s an entry for it and if so, remove the highlight for that one. Those with highlights remaining have not been cited, but I do a quick search of the document just to make sure. (Details of my method: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/editing-terms-and-citations-in-long-documents/)

[Links last checked June 2022]


  1. Sue Littleford’s advice is great! I’ve often spent a lot of time proofing footnotes and other references – it was time-consuming, and there was always a lot of inconsistency. An option could be for document authors to use a reference manager, such as Zotero (https://www.zotero.org/) (even if the checker just has edit access to the web-based version of the reference library for the publication) – this is probably not much use though unless it is done beforehand… If it is though, inconsistencies for entries could be fixed up and the document updated, rather than manually updating entries.

  2. I agree, David, but I’ve also seen refs lists where the author made mistakes in the data entry, which got reflected in the automation program. From my experience, the reality is that the main corporations and government departments I work for won’t pay for network licences for all their authors (and there can be hundreds, perhaps thousands of authors who need it) AND pay for training on using them. Which means manual ref lists get created and the cost of doing that over and over from the authoring and editing end never seems to be accounted for compared to the cost of network licences and central databases. Paul Beverley has created the CitationAlyse macro for Word, which can help somewhat if you’re using an author-date system (thanks to one of my readers who emailed me to let me know about this macro).

    The macro is here: https://www.wordmacrotools.com/macros/C/CitationAlyse.txt

    And the instructions for using it are on p10 in this PDF: https://www.wordmacrotools.com/pdfs/18_Other_tools.pdf


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