[APG Public List] Footnoting research reports

Elizabeth eshown at comcast.net
Fri Apr 30 09:57:28 MDT 2010

Valerie wrote:

>I am trying to get my portfolio together to apply for certification. Can someone advise me as to whether or not to footnote my Research Report? Between the examples online and in Professional Genealogy and the BCG Standards Manual, I see a few footnoted and more not footnoted, but with a list of resources used. Is this just a matter of personal choice? Thanks for any advice.

Valerie, many research reports do include a master list of sources consulted; but a general list of sources cannot replace specific citations in support of each individual assertion or statement of “fact.”  All of the research reports at the BCG website, as well as in ProGen and in BCG’s Genealogical Standards Manual, follow this practice. Some writers accomplish this with footnotes, some with endnotes, some with in-text citations—often depending upon the type of writing or the complexity of the citation.


As with all types of narrative reports, essays, etc., documentation is heavily concentrated in the body of the report or the essay.  Commonly, both the introduction and the conclusion might not carry footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations because they are, by their nature, a summary of what is about to be said or what has just been said. In a research report, we often find one or two iterations of this:


1.       the “starting point data” at the beginning of a report. Here, as researchers, we briefly reiterate the data the client gave us to work from—in which case documentation might not exist at this point.  Or, in the case of ongoing reports for a client, we might summarize prior findings that are now used as “starting point data” for the new research segment.


2.       the brief “executive summary” that sometimes prefaces a research report.  Its purpose is to spotlight a few key points from a long report in which all findings and assertions are appropriately detailed and sourced. The “executive summary” in a research report serves the same function as the “abstract” that prefaces a well-documented academic thesis or dissertation---or the standard introductory paragraph(s) to a journal essay, wherein the author tells the reader what is to come.  Beyond that executive summary, however, the body of the report will present the documentation and other supporting details for all findings, including each point that the executive summary spotlighted.



My “Jeannot Mulon dit La Brun, f.m.c.” report at the BCG website illustrates both of these on page 1. Under “background” I provide the starting point data given by the client. Under “Key Findings,” I provide an executive summary. Both are brief, and neither of these are footnoted.  Pages 2 and 3 present a general discussion of the resources, problems in the use of the resources, and a list of all resources consulted in this project.  From that point on, the remaining 28 pages present the actual findings, using in-text citations and document abstracts to support a very analytical narrative.


Connie Lenzen’s  report sample at the website treats a very different type of project. It, too, begins with “background” and a “findings summary.”  She, too, provides a summary list of sources consulted. Her “Research Notes” section then uses a combination of in-text citations (when something could be referenced very briefly) and footnotes (when longer citations are needed).  


Bear in mind, too, that this summary list of sources is not just a matter of convenience or a quick reference tool. Very frequently, it include items that are not discussed at all in the “Findings” or “Research Notes” section of the report, simply because some of the sources we consult do not yield findings to discuss.


Obviously,  there is no one “cookie-cutter” model that every researcher is expected to follow.  The choice of format is yours to make. What is expected is that you include the essential components of a professional report and that your findings are source-cited so that your client can discern exactly where you found each piece of information and exactly the evidence on which you base your assertions and conclusions.




Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG

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