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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment