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Writing Books/citing references question


QUESTION: I am in the process of writing a biography on the late actor Heath Ledger.  I am a little confused about how to cite the information I read from other sources.  For instance, is his place of birth, circumstances of death, acting roles, etc. considered public enough where I would not have to write to each individual source to gain permission to use the information that they written about?  

Thank you.  God bless.  


ANSWER: Dear Kandy,

Thank you for writing. You are right to err on the side of caution regarding this kind of thing, but anything that is considered within the realm of "public knowledge," such as a famous person's name, birthdate, place of birth, names of parents, siblings, children, wives, movies in which the person appeared, others associated with these movies, etc., do not need to be referenced.

Referencing comes into play when you begin either citing direct quotations from the person or one of his or her peers that are longer than a phrase or one sentence. This is where it gets a little more tricky in terms of intellectual property laws, etc., but text editors can help you with what exactly should be cited as references when you are ready to market the book.

So, with that in mind, it's always best to start citing nearly everything but the basic facts as you go along -- better to have too much information than not enough and then have to go back much later and dig up where you located it, etc.

I am glad you asked this question; it is very relevant to biography writing, which can (and has) placed some authors in jeopardy regarding slander, libel, etc. So in this case, it is definitely best to be overprepared!

I certainly hope this helps, and I wish you luck with this project.

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I just had a brainstorm for a chapter in the book.  If I were to do a critical analysis of a book, movie, whatever - without directly quoting from the source - do I have to obtain permission from the writer?  


Dear Kandy,

No, in this case, you're safe -- just look at all the critical reviews on or, etc., on everything from silent films to Shakespeare to Saul Bellow to the plays of Strindberg -- in this case, the page is wide open!

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin  

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Catherine Van Herrin


I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

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