The Instruction and Outreach Department manages and coordinates library research instruction for students, faculty and staff through course-related workshops, outreach activities, personal consultations, research guides and other instructional materials.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Citation and Conversation

A few months ago in our sister blog Library Hacks, Emily Daly highlighted the hazards faced by organizations like MLA and APA when updating citation styles. Faced with errors in the new edition which prompted a reprinting, the APA to their credit has launched a blog that explains some of the stickier points of citation. Recent posts there make an amazingly sensible suggestion that users can take “basic building blocks—namely, the generic elements that nearly all references in APA style contain” and use them to create citations for new kinds of information sources that might not be covered in a citation style manual.

What is so refreshing about this approach to citation is that it focuses our attention on why we cite. The building blocks of Who? What? When? Where? prompt us to think about how to represent the cited material in a way that allows others to understand our argument and easily locate the sources we used to construct it.

The post goes on to elaborate the citation elements: Who created this reference? When was this reference created? What is this reference called? Where does this reference come from (or, Where can my reader find this reference)?

In library instruction and writing courses, we often use Kenneth Burke’s metaphor of the unending conversation:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Don’t we want to document our understanding of, and participation in, the conversation by creating sensible, effective, efficient citations? Wouldn’t that allow us to focus our energy on thinking and writing rather than the minutiae of form?

1 comment:

  1. Diane, you missed an opportunity here for a Frank Capra reference: should have titled this post Why We Cite.