Help, citations are killing me!

Help, citations are killing me!

January 13, 2022 By Erin Brenner Resources

Citations can be the bane of a copyeditor’s existence. Whether one author writes them or multiple authors do, copyeditors are often left to fill in blanks and apply a style where none exists.

Theoretically, writers are responsible for writing complete, properly formatted citations. Editors should only have to do a light edit, querying any missing information. Among other items, your citation checklist should include:

However, I’ve yet to hear that this happens anywhere. It’s more typical for copyeditors to have to do a lot of cleanup and a lot of research to find missing information. As a result, editing citations can take as long, if not longer, than editing the rest of the text.

There are a few ways to make the work easier.


Someone needs to choose a style so the citations will be consistent. This is especially important in multi-author works. If you can make the decision, do. Otherwise, make a recommendation to the decision maker. Lean toward what’s easiest to apply or most appropriate for the topic and readers.

For example, if there’s a trend among your authors, such as most of them using the American Psychological Association’s (APA) style, choosing APA would lessen your work. If you’re editing a medical journal, the American Medical Association’s style would be appropriate.


Citations are all about formatting precision, which software is very good at. Anything you can automate in the process will speed your editing pace.

If you’re able to coach your writers into using Word’s tools, you might have an easier time editing citations:

Macros can help by fixing formatting on many citations at once, saving you a lot of time. The Editorium’s NoteStripper will strip out, change, or add formatting and can be purchased on its own or as part of a package of macros. Tech guru, Adrienne Montgomerie, shares her passion for NoteStripper in this review.

Citation websites can help format individual citations according to a select style. MIT Libraries has a helpful review of EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley. Also check out Bibme and EasyBib.


Because editing citations can take longer than editing the main text and writers strongly resist creating them correctly the first time, hiring an editor to work on citations while you work on the main copy can make the difference in hitting deadlines. Students or new editors can be good choices: they’re recently trained in tools and styles, and working for you can give them some much-needed editing experience.

This article was originally posted to on 1/6/17.

Header photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash.

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