Sunday, March 11, 2007

Keeping Records: Papertrails and Bibliographies

By Trish Anderson Platinum Quality Author

You don't need to have completed a university degree to write a non-fiction article, book or historical novel. You do, however, need to know the basics of keeping records of your research. Yes, even when writing fiction. As Dan Brown can tell you, historical fiction can be taken to count with every fact. Rightly or wrongly, facts need to be accurate and sources quotable. Keeping a papertrail and bibliography will, hopefully, keep you on the right side of the track.


Simplicity in itself. Note down where you sourced your information and when [date everything]. As websites come and go with unpredictable regularity, file a copy, neatly labelled, of text sourced from the Internet. The papertrail is the precursor or back-up of the official bibliography. [Tip: when bookmarking websites, consider making them available offline. This way, should the page vanish overnight, you should still have a copy of the version you saved.]

In the case of books, journals, newspaper and hearsay, jot down the pertinent facts, such as book title, author, publisher and ISBN. For journals, record the volume and issue numbers, date published, publisher, and article author. Similar again for newspapers or any other written research. Record of hearsay will, of course, need the name of the person providing the information, date and location, plus, their relativity to the subject. Are they an expert in the subject field? Is their opinion subjective or objective? Are their comments off-the-cuff or supported by research, experience or yet more hearsay evidence?

Storing the papertrail is vitally important. Especially if you're the type of writer whose desk, handbag or coat pockets are stuffed with scraps of paper, sticky notes, ink-blotted serviettes and scribble-covered business cards. Get yourself a pocket-size notebook and pen, and keep it on your person [or in your handbag/briefcase] at all times. That's the mess cleared up. Next, keep an exercise or notebook on your desk or filed with your research notes, and copy your source details into it. If you have the room, invest in a filing cabinet, hanging files and manilla folders. The more organised you are with these notes the easier they are to find later.

You could do all the above on your computer, but data stored in this way is easier corrupted [on purpose or by accident] and easier lost. A papertrail may seem old-fashioned yet the evidence it holds can sink or swim anything from an academic study to a best-selling popular novel.


The end result of a good paper-trail is an easy to organise bibliography that saves you time and headaches in its creation. If you are writing or planning to write a non-fiction piece of any kind you will need a bibliography. Readers of your work will want to know where they can go for further information. More than this though, a bibliography offers proof that you actually did research! Check other bibliographies in your field of writing/research and with your potential publisher for tips on style. As with anything, style varies, and the more academic your work the more particular the requirements.

The basic bibliography style is alphabetical by author name followed by title, publisher and publishing date. You can categorise the list by chapter and/or reference chronology as well. Confirm requirements with your chosen style guide before you start.

If you have used references throughout your text, make sure you have these clearly listed in the bibliography along with all authors/editors, titles, publishers and publishing dates. You might also need such bits and pieces as chapter and page numbers and journal issue information. If you're in possession of a well-maintained papertrail, this won't be an issue.

Some authors also include notes that further specify evidence origin and reliability. Others will include appendices and beautifully tended indices. The need for these depends entirely on the subject, field of endeavour and detail-obsessiveness of the author.

Students from primary [elementary] school up are taught to provide bibliographies with many of their projects in order to combat plagiarism and make them aware of this valuable research tool early. By the time they reach university, theory has it, the need for bibliographies is ingrained into their psyche. I'm not entirely sure of the success of this, but the principal is sound.

In today's world of easy access information, readers not only want to read the truth, they'll take authors to count on any inaccuracies. Correct facts and transparent sources are no longer the backbone of non-fiction and academic work alone, but are also a solid avenue of support for the general fiction writer as well. As more people realise their writing ability, whether or not they have a university degree behind them, the importance of keeping records rises. As the internet widens its tentacles, so do the levels of disinformation. By keeping records accurately writers protect themselves and their readers from falsehood and clumsy mistakes, and provide a trail of checkable facts. A trail that is in demand by the general public, academia, literary world, and the judicial system!

Just ask Dan Brown!


Trish is an independent writer & researcher with desktop publishing, promotional material, content sourcing, location and information research, fiction critique and web group management skills tucked firmly into her workbelt. To find out about rates and other services, or to read more of her articles, visit Trish at or send an email to

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