Documentation, part 5:
Here's what to do:
1) Write your paper as you normally would, being careful to document (footnote) all of your facts carefully. Remember always to include page numbers in your footnotes. You will, of course, NOT use footnotes when the ideas are your own--for example, when stating the results of your own careful analysis of theory, facts, or a work of art relating to your topic. Put these first footnotes in BLACK text.
2) When you're done, look critically at your documentation. Which footnotes strike you as documenting "common knowledge"--the sort of thing that a person familiar with your topic would know? These footnotes that you've identified are candidates for being placed in the "common knowledge" category, and--ultimately, but not right away--omitted from the final version of your paper.
3) Double-check these facts that you judge to be candidates for the category of common knowledge, looking for two other solid sources that say the same thing. At this point, it's OK to use a textbook or a reference work, such as Oxford Art Online.
4) You'll now have a rather colorful draft of your paper. Some of your footnotes will include triple citations--the first in black, the second in blue, and the third in red. Be sure to end this draft of your paper with a bibliography that includes the sources you used to nail down facts that are common knowledge. In this bibliography you may want to identify sources you used for common knowledge only by changing the color of the text of their bibliographic entries, perhaps putting these entries in red text. Now your common knowledge sources will be easy for you to spot--which is important as you will consider removing some of these works from the bibliography of the final draft of your paper.
© Jan Mainzer