Digging Deeper into Style Guides

This assignment will have you look closely at the part of your style guide that teaches you how to cite sources.


Let me just say that you should never fully trust someone else to cite your sources for you—not second-hand handbooks or guides like The Brief Penguin Handbook or the OWL at Purdue website (though they might appear quite good), not robots like RefWorks of Citation Machine or Zotero or the built-in Microsoft Word citation function or even the built-in citations that databases like EBSCO give you (they look so good but are so often wrong), and not even the cute boy or girl in your ward who seems really confident and helpful (can you say “mixed motives”?).

First, let’s review some terminology:

Are we all clear on that? Do you have your chosen style guide in front of you? Since this is such a complex topic, this assignment contains a lot of writing—I’m trying to explain things to you as best I can so you don’t get too confused, but it’s up to you to really put your brain to work and figure it all out. In the following sections you’ll see numbered questions—type your answers up on a separate document to turn in at the end.

Step 1: The Lay of the Land

Everyone always want to just open up the book to the exact right page and find that the source they need to cite is the example given on that page. It doesn’t work that way. Since there is a limitless number of possible sources in the world, there cannot be a foolproof, completely scientific method of citing those sources. (If there were, I’d let you use robots to do your dirty work.)

What style guides give you, since they can’t give you all the answers, is a set of guiding principles by which to make wise decisions concerning citing your sources. In 99% of cases you’ll find that the guiding principles will act as hard rules which will dictate exactly what you ought to do. For the other 1%, you’ll find you must fudge it; you’ll have to make up the rule using the principles as a rough guideline. In order to be able to do that, you need to discover what those principles are and where you can find them. I’ll give you the first one, and it goes for every documentation style out there no matter what. It’s the bottom line, the single most important thing to remember when citing sources:

Citations are a service to the reader. Thus, cite things in such a way that the reader can find the original source with the least possible amount of trouble, effort, and confusion.

Got it? Don’t forget it. Okay, let’s go to your style guide itself. Open it up to the chapters concerning documentation.

  1. What style have you chosen and what is the full name and edition of the style guide you’re looking at?
  2. What citation style does your style guide prefer—footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations? If it gives you a choice, which one do you intend on using?

Okay, this next part is going to require some thinking on your part. I want you to look at how the chapters/sections concerning documentation are arranged. I suggest looking at the table of contents for those chapters and also skimming through the chapters themselves just to familiarize yourself with the way things are organized. Let me give you some pointers.

For MLA users, you'll see that Part 1 of the book teaches you the "principles" of the style—you're meant to read this more or less straight through—and Part 2 focuses on the "details"—you're meant to look up individual bits as needed, like with a dictionary.

For APA users, you’ll notice that the in-text citations and the References List are covered in the same chapter and that there’s another chapter seemingly devoted to nothing but examples.

For Chicago/Turabian users, you’ll notice that the sky’s the limit. Chicago has instructions for every type of documentation system imaginable—foot- and endnotes, in-text citations, bibliographies, etc. There’s a set of abbreviations they use to let you know which one they’re talking about at any given time. Because of all these options, there are multiple chapters concerning documentation in each book.

  1. What do you notice about your style and the way it’s presented in the book? What terms do you see that confuse you or that you think might be important to know up front if you are to understand the rest? What scares you or worries you about what you’re seeing? What do you find pleasingly logical or comforting?
  2. What do you see when you look at the chapter itself? How is information arranged? Do you see principles being taught and examples being given? How? Does the chapter use some kind of numbering system? How does that work?

Step 2: Diving In

Hopefully by now you’ve realized something important about your style guide—it wasn’t made to be read straight through, but it wasn’t made to not be read straight through either. It’s kind of a paradox, actually. The thing is this: most style guides put the general principles at the front of each section and the farther you read, the more specific—and thus unreadable—the information gets. Therefore, you have to read from the beginning to understand the idea of things, but it’s no use to keep reading to the end because it’s a reference book; you’re supposed to spot read based on what you need. On the other hand, if you just jump in and read right where you think the answer is, you’ll find that won’t work since you don’t know the underlying principles given earlier in the section.

Perhaps a real-world example will illustrate this. Let’s say I have a source in front of me—it’s a magazine article. I open my APA book and notice that section 7.01 gives examples for how to cite periodicals, and when I get there I flip to #7, the one for magazines specifically. This is what I see under #7:

Chamberlin, J., Novotney, A., Packard, E., & Price, M. (2008, May). Enhancing worker well-being: Occupational health psychologists convene to share their research on work, stress, and health. Monitor on Psychology, 39(5), 26–29.

Just an example, no instructions. Pretty frustrating. In order to find the principles involved I back up to the opening of 7.01 where they give some more general information. Here I read that the general form for all periodicals is this:

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (year). Title of Article. Title of Periodical, xx, pp–pp. doi:xx.xxxxxxxxxx

Comparing this to the citation above reveals some of what’s going on, but it still leaves me with unanswered questions about the punctuation, capitalization, and more—what’s “doi” mean, for example? It isn’t until I back up to just before 6.27, where it says “Reference Components,” that I see how to find the answers to all my questions (“doi” is explained in 6.31, I see).

So what do we learn from that? You have to know how it’s all arranged, and it would be smart if you started reading from the beginning to get the general idea, then stopped when things got too technical, then came back to the text as a reference when you have an actual source in hand that needs citing.

For those using an in-text citation/works cited system, there are three big things you probably need to know. I recommend finding where these sections are located and then reading each from the beginning to the point where it stops being useful:

Spend a few minutes looking into that and educating yourself on how things work. Then answer these questions:

  1. Where can you find the information in your style guide on the items in the bulleted list above? What did you learn that interested you in reading about them? What will be useful for later?
  2. Write a citation for the closest book to you right now (not scriptures) as practice.

Due Date

This assignment should be uploaded to your Submitted folder on Dropbox by classtime on Monday, June 10. Please follow the file-naming and format guidelines.