What *really* matters when citing sources?

You may know that two major style manuals — APA and MLA — have released new editions in the last six or so months. And if you’re aware of that fact, you undoubtedly know that both editions contain inconsistencies in their examples and enough errors to require APA to post an 8-page list of corrections and then replace its first run copies with a second printing.

The new rules have driven confused and frustrated researchers to sources such as APA’s blog, which provides examples and attempts to explain the more complicated rules (check out the DOI/URL flowchart — yes, this rule requires a flowchart), or Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), which hosts APA and MLA resources that received 3.5 million and 2.5 million hits, respectively, during September and October alone, according to the coordinator of OWL.

It is evident from these stats alone that librarians and faculty have spent countless hours supporting the researchers and students who have spent even more time formatting manuscripts to meet the unbending rules of CSE, APA, MLA and enumerable others.

As Barbara Fister posits in her ACRLog post, is this time well spent? Is research somehow made more valid when its footnotes are perfectly formatted, its works cited page spaced just so? Have we spent so much time agonizing over comma placement and tracking down database names that we’ve lost sight of the whole point of citing sources in the first place? Do our budding scholars realize that citing sources is not merely an academic hazing ritual of sorts, causing them hours of extra labor after their papers are written?

It would seem that the newest editions of APA and MLA are only muddying the waters, making it harder for researchers — especially novice ones — to achieve the true goal of citing sources: to give credit to the scholars their research builds upon and to make it as easy as possible for their readers to learn more about that work.

And if we can agree on that primary goal, how do we get back to emphasizing it rather than the arcane rules?

2 thoughts on “What *really* matters when citing sources?”

  1. Love this post, Emily! I sometimes see students worry more about formatting a bibliography than the actual content of a paper.

  2. Ditto to what Phoebe Acheson said.

    I get stampeded by students every time insisting I am ok with the way they are citing sources. *sigh* – substance over style guys – please!:)

    Makes my eyes sore!

Comments are closed.