I actually enjoy citing my sources! I like sharing where I’ve gotten my information from. Of course, when I’m blogging, I’m not worried about conforming to any particular standard and am content to just link back to my source’s page or add a link to a place like Amazon where you can snag a copy of the book I’m reading (no affiliate links from me, yet).
But, I’m in school again, and I swear I spend more time trying to cite my sources than I actually do writing my papers. And when you think about this, you should be as pissed about it as I am.
There are a couple ways that the majority of schools and publishers expect your sources to be cited. The two biggest ones that I know of are MLA and APA. They’re very similar, but also stupidly different. Oh well, everyone has their preference and I totally agree that all sources should be cited using the same format to make trudging through them simpler.
But, here’s the thing. Google Scholar is a search engine specifically for scholarly articles. That means that it’s going to look into every peer reviewed journal it has access to and pull out the articles it thinks are most relevant to my query. That’s awesome! It makes life super easy! But, then you go to the individual articles and you run into problem #1: access.
Most of these journals require paying a membership fee to view. And that’s cool. Many of them have a way to tap into the cookies on your computer and verify that you are a member of a university who pays for that membership and grant you access to the article. So problem #1 is easily solved if this magic works (luckily for me today, it did for all the articles I wanted to use!!)
Which then immediately leads into problem #2: citing these articles.
Remember, I told you that there are a lot of different citation options and that every professor and publisher has their favorite. But regardless of what format a person needs to use, this structure isn’t secret. So, here’s what I cannot understand: why it is so HARD to electronically cite sources. I mean, I’m literally reading an article online and I need the APA citation. I don’t get why there isn’t a drop down menu labeled “cite source” where you can pick “APA” or “MLA” or whatever other citation formats there are. Then, there should be a little pop-up window or whatever that has the citation you need in the format that you need.
The best that is available is to “export” the citation to your favorite desktop publisher or whatever. This makes no sense!
Regardless of the citation format (APA, MLA, etc), it all uses the exact same information: title, author, publication date, journal, book, etc, etc, etc. The difference is incidentals like what order you put this information in. What do you italicize. What get’s capitalized and what doesn’t. It really gets stupid very quickly. But, even assuming that it’s not stupid, this information can be very easily gathered from the meta-data of the article. Like, when publishing the article to the site, the title is going to be written very purposefully. So will the authors names and the publication date. After that, it’s just a matter of having a computer program place all the right bits into the right places and making sure the right stuff is italicized.
Even if for whatever reason it’s impossible for every journal’s website to easily provide the correct citation, I further don’t understand why websites like Citation Machine aren’t as useful as you’d think that they’d be. More often than not when I throw in a URL, I get an error message back. My test for this post (which actually is a page that I need to cite) came up with the usual amount of gibberish. The reason most likely is that the tool is going to the website I’ve provided, which it may or may not have access to (see: above) and is trying to create a citation based on whatever it’s finding on that site: ads, links to other articles, etc. It’s not just reading the article that I want it to read and cite.
There’s a manual entry mode, but it ironically has both way too many and not nearly enough boxes to fill with information. For example, the article I want to cite has like 8 authors. APA requires listing authors by last name, then first and middle initial (if applicable). Citation Machine wants me to place their last name in one box, first initial in another, middle initial in yet another…but with or without punctuation? I don’t even know. This segmentation makes it very difficult to just select, copy, and paste from the article. I’ll do as much deleting as typing that way and a whole lot of page flipping. I might as well copy and paste directly into my document and build the citation from scratch! They’re not hard, just tedious, which is why I honestly can’t believe that in the 20 years that I’ve been using the internet for research, including learning how to do citations, the technology hasn’t changed at all.
I also honestly can’t believe that there’s still, gosh, hundreds of citation styles to choose from with 3 main styles most frequently used. Do we really need that many? Are we really better off with that many?
And let’s be honest about why there are that many: when scientific study was first standardized, there were competing journals which, as part of their egocentric “we’re better than them” mentality, meant that each had their own format for submitting sources. Because heavens to Betsy, how awful would it be if an article published in a psychology journal has a citation in the format that’d be found in an inferior mathematics journal!
Again, I don’t have a problem with demanding a standard format! My problem is that we have so many standard formats that it’s insane!
UVA was never picky. I don’t know if it’s because I stuck to the history department mostly with slight ventures into the English, religion, and philosophy departments, but we were always told to use whichever format we preferred. MLA was the one most often suggested first, so it’s the format I always used. This includes when I wrote my history thesis.
Now at ODU, everything is APA, which is fine. To each their own.
Mostly I just wish that if a specific style is that important then the governing bodies that be should make a decision and pick one and only one for use by all students everywhere. It seems that APA is the structure most often used in journal publications (including the “annual review” put together by UVA’s Environmental Science department), then places like UVA should quit being so lenient about style and mandate APA, too. But as it is, I assume middle school hasn’t changed that much and there is a piece of the lesson plan whenever there is a research project, regardless of the class, that was all about the styles to use to cite sources and how they differ from each other. Yes, I remember getting tested on how APA differed from MLA. Apparently I thought that information was as useless back then as I do today for as well as it stuck.
Really, I just don’t see how we’re better off as a society when we have competing citation styles. And if we only had one, it’d make my first comment about having the citation easily accessed from the article page or book (imagine finding the proper citation on the title page of a book!) all the more easier. Wouldn’t making citation easier make it harder to accidentally plagiarize?