Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Citing in the Text (for Graduate Students)

alternate title: RefWorks, EndNote, and EasyBib are for Chumps

If you were an English major or minor, you probably still have your handy MLA Handbook for writing research papers:

Yours might be the fifth or sixth edition, which is silver. But you've learned how to thumb through it hunting for how to cite a book with multiple authors, or a single-authored article from a journal published semi-annually that uses continuous pagination through its volumes. 

But you are now a graduate student in English, so it's time to upgrade. Give that dog-eared Handbook to your cousin who just went off to college, because it won't help you anymore. If grad school is where you're getting started in English, you might hang on to your Chicago Manual for the odd occasional use but give that APA away. We don't cite in text with dates, because a lot of the stuff we work with has hard-to-determine publication dates, and a lot of it is super old, and it's literature so it's eternal anyway, right? Our goal is not to talk about how recent something is, but rather to get our reader literally on the same page with us, and to share useful sources they may want for themselves. We're all about the page numbers. So new to grad school or new to English in grad school ...

you need this:

The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is how we format our literature papers in graduate school. (If you're not one of mine, check with your prof, who may prefer Chicago - in which case, God help you. The exception to MLA for me is if you've already spotted a potential journal for your seminar paper and it requires something besides MLA, in which case, you should go ahead and format your paper for whatever style sheet that journal prefers, which might be Chicago but also might be a mixture of MLA and their own idiosyncratic preferences). Some places want p. for page number, others just want the number. Do your best to get it as right as you possibly, humanly, can.

The biggest change in practice will be the fact that, with the exception of long poems, including early modern plays, all your citations will be as footnotes or endnotes. Poetry and early modern play line numbers will still be cited in text (ex.: act 3, scene 4, line 54 of a Shakespeare or Jonson play will be cited 3.4.54 right after the quotation, as usual). For everything else, you need footnotes or endnotes. You may do either, depending on what you prefer or what a publisher prefers (but it's pretty easy to reformat from one to the other). The really good news is that you can now do little explanatory notes and chatty bits that don't fit into your paper, like the crazy bit of info on the colors used in 17th century embroidery that you found while researching that you think is cool and you want to include it somewhere in your paper but it is only barely, tangentially, connected to your argument, so you can't weave it in to the main paper. Now you can include it, as a note (kind of like a btw in conversation or an aside in Shakespeare). These are not required, however. What's required are citations. 

The MLA guide will show you how to cite everything in the world. Or, at least, it will get close. MLA has to keep updating because the texts we use keep changing. You can now cite an email, even a tweet. Each time MLA catches up to technology, there is a change and a new edition. Do your best to be current and to adapt the citation examples you see in the guide to the source you have in front of you. The guide may have an example for an essay by a single author from a collection with a single editor, and it may have an example for a book with multiple editors. If what you need to cite is a single-author essay from a collection with multiple editors, it's up to you to combine the two. Do your best. And make your decisions with an eye for making it as easy as possible for your reader to go get your source off a library shelf or online database, and turn exactly to the page on which your quotation appears. That is your governing principle.

If you've made it a practice to get by with resources like EasyBib, you're going to have to stop now, because EasyBib can't help you where you're going. Those resources will get you a partially accurate Works Cited page. They will NOT get you footnote or endnote citations. But do not fret. You can do this. And it's important that you know the parts of a citation, so that you know how to properly raid a bibliography for your own research. 

If you're writing about literary texts that have multiple editions (Shakespeare!), the first notes you create will most likely be statements of which editions you used. The first time you refer to a primary text, you should create a note like this. Editions are different, especially for older texts that had multiple printings, so it's good for your reader to know up front whether you're using a Norton edition or a Bantam, or whether you're using an original printing of an old text: 

After that first statement, you just do your regular, old, in-text citations for line numbers:

For all other literary texts for which we depend upon page numbers rather than line numbers (all prose, modern plays, etc.), you cite in a note:

After the first full citation, you just give the author or text and page number:

Secondary texts are treated similarly. The first citation has all the info and the subsequent ones give author and page:

In this last example, you see that note 8 is a little chatty. That's because the essay refers to encoded nationalism, but doesn't want to go into a thing about it, and so refers and interested reader to a useful source on the subject. 

Okay, you've got it, right? Only, how does one actually make the formatting happen? (These instructions are for Microsoft Word):

Type the sentence you need to give a note for, and put your ending punctuation, and then make sure your cursor is immediately after that ending punctuation. Now move the cursor to References at your top toolbar,

and click on Insert Footnote:

which will give you this at the bottom of the page:

into which you type your citation:

When you're done, click the cursor back to the space just after the superscript note number in your main essay text and keep going. 

That's it. Footnotes. They're awesome. They actually give you much more freedom in your writing - freedom to convey your argument to your reader without interruptions. You also, over time, gain a sense of the inner workings of citations and will become adept at reading citations and other footnotes for the information you actually want: who edited this? who published it? who are the major voices in this discourse? if this footnote is all a list of who has done work on this subject, which of these will be useful to me? 

And you get to write notes for your readers with those things in mind, as well. 

That's really it. Now go do it. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Summary, Why It's Bad, and How to Avoid It

If you're writing for me, there's a good chance your assignment has some version of the following on it:
Do Not Summarize.

And if you'll look at the grading rubric I use (available on the Moodle course page) you'll see that summary appears in the lower grades and analysis appear in the higher grades. That's because summary might show that you read the text, but it also might show that you just read the online study guide, and all it shows anybody is what happens in the text rather than what the text means. An essay should show your reader something cool about the text that you've noticed, or should seek to answer a question about the text that you had when you started writing. An essay should not just churn through the stuff anyone who has read it already knows. That is boring to write and it sure is boring to read. Analysis lets you engage with the text and do something new and different, which is more interesting to write and absolutely more interesting to read. Summary proves that the text happened. Analysis proves that something going on in the text that might not be immediately obvious is really going on.

So how to avoid summary and make sure that what you're doing is analyzing?

The first step in this happens early in the writing, although it's possible to go back and fix summary later. But first and foremost, assume that your reader has also read the text or texts you're writing about. That means you do NOT tell the reader what happens or who the character is. The whole entire point of an English essay is to point out things the reader of the essay does not already realize. You may think that a teacher already knows every possible idea in a text, but that simply is not the case. My students surprise me every day with cool ideas I've never thought of before. You will have to remind me where you are, because I won't be in your head with you, but do this in the same sort of way you would if you and a friend were talking about a movie you just saw together. Can you imagine walking out of a movie theatre with someone and saying "So the first thing that happens is a girl, whose name is Mary, loses her job at a law firm. Then she meets a man at a coffee shop who falls in love with her at first sight." ?? No way, because your friend would stop you and say "Dude, I was there. I saw the same movie you did." What you'd do instead is say, "You know that part where she's walking out of the coffee shop and he follows her with his eyes? That was an interesting way to show that he falls for her on sight." The first example summarizes the movie's opening, and the second examples starts to analyze how the story shows instead of tells that the man fell in love.

The second step is to make sure you never give more than three consecutive statements about what happens without stopping to talk about meaning. Sometimes, particularly with a longer text, you'll need to give a few markers about the story in order to help the reader figure out where you are in it while you're talking. Never give more than three plot markers for each point you want to make. After all, you'll be providing a page number in your citation, anyway, so it's not like I can't figure it out on my own. If you want to make sure that I am with you on the fact that you're talking about the moment Aeneas realizes he has to leave Dido, you can tell me a couple of things leading up to that moment. But don't get carried away and just start telling me the story. Only give me the bare minimum to know one or two things leading up to that moment.

Don't just string quotes together, tell me what the quotes mean (more on that here:  write4bates.blogspot.com/2013/06/how-to-quote.html)  Just using quotations from the text does not mean you're avoiding summary if what you're giving me are a series of plot events in your own words with quotes inserted occasionally. I call these "quotey summaries" and they are particularly frustrating because I need to know what those quotes mean to you, not just that they are there. And telling me what happens before and after Dido's exact words of grief is not the same thing as taking a few sentences (at least) to point out what is interesting about the word choice in her cry, or why it's interesting that it happens when and where and how it happens.

Don't write your thesis statement first and then not look at it again while you're writing the rest of the essay. Look back at your thesis statement at the end of each paragraph and make certain that paragraph did something substantial towards proving the hypothesis suggested in your thesis statement. Every single paragraph in your essay needs to be a point towards proving your thesis. You cannot do this if you are summarizing. I read too many papers that offer at the beginning that a particular pattern in a text means something or other, and then seem to forget entirely what they are trying to prove as sit back and just re-tell the story like I've never read it before. Your thesis statement should suggest a way of understanding the text better, and then work in each paragraph to prove it.

Do not tell a reader what happens in a text. Tell your reader WHY it happens the way that it does.