01 July 2011

On angels, pinheads and APA

I've been here before, and here. And I'm marking again, so the old referencing bug-bears come out of hibernation.

The obsessional scholasticism of the "style" manuals fascinates me, and this post from the APA blog apparently takes the biscuit. Read it before continuing.

What really irritates me is of course that it privileges a US convention, that colons are followed by capitals: that is not the British style. But the convention imposes an arbitrary divide: it's no longer a matter of style, taste and preference, but of right/wrong, good/bad. (Which may translate into assessment grades and even immediate career prospects.) [Check out the arguable solecisms of this paragraph.]

There are several standards in play here. I hold to my opinion that we should not get our knickers in a twist about material up to Master's level. (Including such colloquial phrases).

That is what we might call domestic level citation. It's a matter between student and tutor/supervisor. Its test is whether the t/s can trace evidence back to source. In the fairly rare event that an assessor does such a trace, it will be done manually; with considerable tolerance of punctuation, case, and formatting. All my complaints about obsessional and pedantic compliance requirements stand, up to this point.

But I'm reluctantly changing my mind beyond that point.

I don't use EndNote or any other citation management software: I don't understand what most of its fields mean, and the prospect of importing a lifetime's references is unattractive in any case. And I don't need it. But I can see why many people do need something like it. Preparing literature reviews or surveys for publication is made so much easier; such tasks go beyond the domestic level and call for industrial strength solutions. And once data has to be "normalised" (made consistent) for use in a database, such arcane minutiae as the place of a colon matter. The question of whether the colon is followed by an upper-case letter could determine whether the whole title is treated as one field, or as two--title and sub-title.

Such is the stupidity of machines that we have to do their bidding.

Incidentally, in one of those earlier posts I noted that Jude Carroll;
"...went so far as to say that this obsession with "correct" referencing was a phenomenon of the last ten years, and implied that it was symptomatic of a crisis of confidence on the part of academics in their own authority in a post-modern world."
But perhaps that is in itself a humanistic perspective, and the same time-scale could be accounted for by the rise of the machines?

But the Oxford comma? (And here.) I don't think there is any excuse for getting worked up over that.


  1. Confession: I love my Zotero. Expecting authors to be fine style editors? That used to be a good junior graduate job in publishing. May still be? As a reader I like some semblance of consistency, an author date page system more or less consistently applied, links with (recent) access date.Full references at the back. No bibliographic padding. Footnotes should be extremely clever but are prone to fail, otherwise just put it in the main text.

  2. Did that send or disappear?
    I confessed to liking Zotero and some internal consistency that worked.


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