Documentation, part 6
The thorny issue of Common Knowledge
Why bother with colored footnotes??

Colored footnotes help to correct for your own human error, and (as far as possible) to eliminate embarrassing mistakes from your paper.

  • When you find and use use a source that's really helpful, it's only human nature to slide into assuming that what the author says is correct, and that other views may be safely ignored. By double checking your facts, you are pushing yourself to be objective, AND strengthening your paper. Remember that if a knowledgeable person reads your paper and finds obvious factual errors, he or she will assume that there are other errors that are not obvious--and will reject your work as unreliable.
  • You may find that the fact you've identified as potentially "common knowledge" is universally (or almost universally) acknowledged. Good finding. For now, leave your colored footnotes in place.
  • Or you may discover that there are different views on the fact that you're double checking. This ALSO is a good finding, as you will then modify your paper to reflect scholarly disagreement. You might simply say that the issue is a topic of lively discussion--with a footnote to document or give examples--OR you may find it wise to add a few sentences, or even a paragraph, in the main text of your paper to outline the main divergent views of the issue. Remember that the University of Chicago style lends itself to putting YOUR observations in the footnote, if you judge that a given observation is important to a serious reader, but doesn't really belong in the body of your paper. You will see examples of this in your reading.
  • If you decide to develop your topic in the future, having your complete documentation all in one place will save a lot of time.

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND that if your professor requires this method, taking a shortcut by fabricating the footnotes is a very serious form of plagiarism / academic dishonesty, because it is evidence of a delibrate effort to deceive. If discovered probably will earn you a failing grade for the semester--and may raise the question of whether you belong at your school or college.

There's at least one more step to take before preparing the final draft of your paper. But you may want to skip ahead briefly and see how you'll edit the completed colored footnote version of your paper before returning to a discussion of the reason for using colored footnotes.

© Jan Mainzer