Cite this!

I have strong opinions about important things! Well, not really. I plan to voice a strong opinion, but this is far from important. I have a few things to say about citation styles in academic writing. There, feel free to move on with your day. Nothing of major importance could ever come from the discourse below the break.

I’m currently re-fashioning a manuscript I had submitted the first time in April. The target journal has had a change of editors and this has shelved all submissions and editorial decisions until late in the year. I would have appreciated some warning about this and now that I know my paper would be trapped in the system for an indefinite period of time, I decided to withdraw it and go elsewhere. The new journal, for whom I am cleaning up this 4500 words of attempted-scholarship, uses an entirely different house-style from journal 1. This means I need to go through the manuscript and turn all my end-notes into parenthetical references.

From what I can tell, this sort of problem is unique but endemic to journals in the humanities. Writers working in the social sciences and anthropology mostly use APA style (American Psychological Association), or MLA (Modern Language Association). Writers in literature, languages, and most of the arts, use variations on MLA or Harvard.

Historians, however, don’t really have their own dedicated style guide. Most journals in history prefer notes to in-line but beyond that, your format could come from MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago Manual of Style, or even MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association, the preferred stye for many UK history journals). Most journals add their own idiosyncratic adjustments to these rules, making it absolutely vital that you also check your citations against the house style and give preference to it when you hit contradictions.

Journal 2 uses Chicago style with the author-date system and parenthetical references. Personally, I hate parenthetical citations. Really, what’s more disruptive, a small superscript number at the end of the line or a silly string of authors, dates, and pages, in brackets. I have had to re-read several papers because the flow of the text was impossible to follow between all the reference breaks.

I have a special hate for Chicago style because I don’t actually own a copy of it. I have MLA, a short version of APA, Turabian’s MLA-like manual, the MHRA guide—brought all the way from Waterstones in London. I also have citation guides designed specifically for history papers by M. L. Rampolla, Story and Jones, and Marius and Page. I don’t have the Chicago style guide because, frankly, it’s really very expensive. Considering that I have had to submit papers for publication in just about every one of the formats mentioned above (excepting the last list of history focused styles) you can see how costly it can be when you want to be prepared.

And so, here I sit, turning my tidy end-notes into clunky in-line references using a quick reference summary of the 16th ed., printed off the website. I struggle to see which is worse, making these changes or leaving the paper with a journal that won’t make a decision on it for another 4 months. The latter requires no added effort on my part, but the former is probably better for me.


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