Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MLA, APA: Style Manuals vs. What really counts.

1. As you will discover, different publication venues have different styles. So when you submit a paper or article, you have to find out their particular requirements. In many fields, there is no uniform style among the journals or publishers.

2. My problem is NOT with research writing style, per se. Rather people need to learn when and where they need to give a reference. What I see is lots of those (Schmoe, 1987) references, often at the ends of several sentences in a paragraph, often with no specific pages. Better, if you must, to have a reference at the end of a paragraph. But in general what you are saying is more general. Then you are better off having a bibliographic essay at the end, saying something like:

     My notions about collaborative governance are drawn from        Schmoe, 1987, Roberts, 1990, and Aaroe, 2012. My work on catastrophic events is drawn from Jonah, 2011, and Whale, 1975...."

3. Of course, if you are quoting, or perhaps paraphrasing, you want to give the source and the pages.

4. And you want to be sure that your main sources are authoritative. The most prestigious journals and presses help, but even they publish junk once in a while. And very distinguished work appears in other places.

5. You don't want your notings and sourcing to get in the way of the paper's flow and readability.  Hence #6 below.

6. As I have mentioned many times, I see no reason to refer to most work by the authors' names in the following sense:  

NOT  "Schmoe, Whale, and Jonah (2004) have shown that dogs are more intelligent than cats, using the Animal IQ test developed  by Whale."   

Better to say

"If one uses the Animal IQ test developed by Whale, one finds that dogs are more intelligent than cats."1

        1. See Schmoe, Whale, and Jonah, 2004, p. 244.


        1. Schmoe, J., W. Whale, and P. Jonah, "Dogs and Cats under the Whale IQ Measure,"  Intelligence and Measurement 36 (2004): 235-247, at p. 244.

7.  Of course, if you are pulling apart a piece of work, or summarizing it, you might say.

"In an influential paper, Schmoe et al, 2004, reported on their measurements of IQ. There are, however, a number of problems with their method. We are not told if the subjects have been fed recently, and the nature of their diets. Moreover, it is well known that cats do poorly on the Whale instrument, since they are distracted by the odor of its nontoxic vegetable ink.1

      1. See the work of R. A. Fishey on analysis of very inks in these cases."

My point here is that the clarification about the style manual you wish is in fact not so important. What is important is learning how to use your sources and how to refer to them.