While covering this topic, we will start with Non-fiction and History. I will give you an idea of where you need to go and how much work it could easily be. Additionally, I will give you an idea of what sources you should use and where to find them.
Any Non-Fiction writer is educating the public about their purpose, and must proceed in such a manner that any member of his prospective audience can understand and participate in that educational process, because learning belongs to mankind as a whole.
What does that mean?
It means carefully target your audience, and, if you keep it simple, someone will get the idea!
Example: A Practical Guide to Collecting Civil War, my first published work, was meant to appeal to a “regular person,” by that I mean a person who is not a seller of antiques or an expert in history. The book was designed for people who are attracted to the artifacts and want to have something to keep (or maybe to show off).
And guess what? Someone got the idea! In December 2002, B. F. Cooling, in a book review for Civil War Courier,says: “His tales of the hunt will entice you in anecdotal fashion and mix nicely with his educational purpose—to have the reader recognize the value of items, research primary sources to know what you are finding and appreciate what your budget and desire really means for collecting. Mesker emphasizes collecting for fun and discretionary use of money - not investment - and this make genuine sense. There are a lot of dealer/collectors at Civil War hobby shows with tables of unmarketable, over priced stuff. Mesker prefers the thrill of finding items in the offbeat marketplace and seeks representative not necessarily top items. His illustrations show what can turn up and his sprightly writing style makes this little work a good preparation for the seemingly never-ending pursuit of Civil War artifacts.”
Note that no matter how “sprightly” your writing style, you have to be able to support your statements with well-researched historical, social, and generally recognized facts—facts fully documented with valid references. If Thomas Jefferson referenced a quote from George Washington in one of his writings, that would be as close as you could get to a primary source for George’s quote. Follow the history trail backward until NO earlier sources are available. For example, if you were trying to prove that Confederate Soldiers were discharged from service post Appomattox, an actual discharge would tell the tale and supply the proof. Then, use footnote, endnotes, a bibliography, etc. to cite your source. There are any number of bibliography format guides available for your use.
While researching the topics for The Practical Guide, I found that authors like Richard Taylor Hill, Francis Lord, and William A. Albaugh III all employed the technique of utilizing contemporary primary sources. These authors illustrated examples of items that were available, both commercially and from the government. For example, an item illustrated for sale in Harper’s is reproduced as an example in Francis Lord’s Encyclopedia, and William Albaugh uses city directories and period newspaper articles to identify his offerings.
The Time Life Civil War publications and the photos used in the “Jack” Davis publications carry Civil War artifact collecting to an exciting and enticing spirit of “got to get one.” Many dealers will point out that the item offered for sale is the same as the one pictured in, for example, Echoes of Glory, page xx. This does not mean you have the one in Echoes of Glory, or even the same thing. If you check the bibliographies of Civil War collecting publications, you will usually find that the items pictures or illustrated are from the same collection, or collector. That may be a reason to say, “All Civil War fifes look like the one in the Time Life Encyclopedia of Collectibles.” It is more accurate to say: the fife pictured in the several publications is the same fife, only. Please do not rewrite history because you were too tired to check your sources. Always remember that the avoidance of that very work will result in the future ignorance of all who come later.