On Editing Footnotes

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2012-01-27

I fell in love with the footnote when I was an undergraduate in Montreal. I was learning to write academic essays: first in English literature and then in history. On my first attempt at composing a footnote, I sat down with my portable typewriter and a copy of Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. It was November 7, 1972. I know this because I inscribed my name and the date on the inside cover of the book, which I have held onto all these years.

Turabian was at one time the official publications and dissertations secretary for the University of Chicago. The slim volume was somewhat of a mini-version of The Chicago Manual of Style, and it was written precisely for students like me.
After figuring out how to place the footnote at the bottom of the typed page (a challenge in itself), I followed her instructions to assemble the information:  the author’s full name, the title as it appears on the book, the publisher with city and year. She pointed out the importance of underlining the title, because typewriters did not have the italic function. Here is one of her examples:
Arthur C. Kirsch, Dryden’s Heroic Drama (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 15.
This was the basic entry. She also provided step-by-step instructions for edited and translated volumes and provided this example:
Helmut Thielicke, Man in God’s World, trans. and ed. by John W. Doberstein (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 43.
There were also instructions on journal references, multi-volume works, plays and poems, encyclopedia references—all of which opened the door to the fascinating world of styling footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies for accuracy and consistency.
From Turabian’s Manual to The Chicago Manual of Style
It would be many years later when I was completing my MA in history and embarking on my editing career that I was introduced to The Chicago Manual of Style. I remember carrying the hefty volume around with me on the subways of Toronto as I studied the sections on editing bibliographies and footnotes. The examples by then included italicized titles in the footnote and bibliography entries:
                Emery Blackfoot, Chance Encounters (Boston: Serendipity Press, 1987).
                Blackfoot, Emery. Chance Encounters. Boston: Serendipity Press, 1987.
Over the years, Chicago has taught me how to edit the most complex of note citations and bibliographies. It has taught me how to edit titles within article titles, or titles ending with question marks, along with works by multiple authors or editors and translators; it has taught me the art of citing journals and government documents, as well as books with multiple volumes and those in various reprints.
No matter how complex or detailed, I can find an answer in Chicago and apply that information to the most challenging of footnotes. 
It is true what they say: Kate Turabian inspired generations of students, and dare I say editors, to compose flawless citations.
Thank you, Kate Turabian.