cf. ibid., op. cit., MLA, APA et al.

Ron Johnston examines the finer points of citation, arguing that only conformists will be published

September 18, 2008

I have recently been asked to contribute to several academic encyclopaedias, with instructions to authors including wording such as: "Avoid direct quotations from and citations of other works ... Also, please do not include parenthetical citations of published work." My protests that this anti-intellectual practice sets students a bad example - I hope we still teach them that they should always credit their sources - achieved nothing. Some academic editors agreed, but the publishers prevailed, without any convincing rationale for this major shift in academic practice.

Robert Hauptman would undoubtedly agree with me. (See his section on "When to cite" - p. 180ff.) He believes that standards of documentation - undertaken for six purposes: acknowledgement; attribution; tracing; validation; protection against accusations of misconduct; and tangential substantive commentary - are slipping and, indeed, that the demise of the footnote is inevitable.

Documentation's subtitle indicates its scope. In a book of two separate parts, the first two thirds are historical, with fascinating, if esoteric, brief chapters on the development of documentation in written texts, treating commentary, marginalia, footnotes and illustrations - but not indexing.

Some of the material is contemporary, however, with Hauptman showing his particular dislike of academic lawyers' footnoting excesses and the complexity of Derrida's texts.

The remainder of the book is of more interest to a wider readership, with chapters on some of the major documentation systems used in English-language publishing (University of Chicago Press; Modern Languages Association (MLA - the system Hauptman uses); American Psychological Association (APA); the BlueBook set of rules for legal publications; and several major scientific journals, such as Nature), plus errors, misconduct and the growing use of citation data. Hauptman's own predilections (prejudices?) come through. For example, the APA policy of not using capital letters within a book's title is "shoddy treatment, which ironically diminishes the worth of monographic studies" (p. 158; really?!); practices such as the italicisation of journal volume numbers are "inconsequential eccentricities (that) are annoying and counterintuitive" (p. 157 - annoying perhaps, but in what sense counterintuitive?). Replacing the author's name in second and subsequent bibliographical entries by hyphens is "a convention he refuses to use" (p. 161) - although when editing books he has overridden other authors' predilections, such as finding page numbers superfluous when referencing journal articles!

Documentation is a means to an end, not an end in itself, especially with regard to attribution and acknowledgement. There can be no absolute rules, only practices that provide the necessary and sufficient information. I have never understood the need for authors' given names in references (OK, there are many J. Smiths - p. 157 - but surely only one who published an article in a particular journal with a given title in a stated year), nor the journal volume and issue number; indeed, the article title is probably superfluous. But publishers, editors and copy editors hold the upper hand and demand conformity to their preferred format.

Hauptman may refuse to employ certain practices, but would he withdraw an article from a journal if his prejudices were rejected? I wrote for those encyclopaedias!

In a brief foreword, David Henige claims that Documentation "needs to find a home not only in every library, but in the collections of scholars and especially of graduate students in all fields, who desperately need to learn the lessons taught here" (p. 3). But the main lesson by far is "Conform or else"; you are required to follow journal and monograph publishers' style sheets, and there is little need to read a book - fascinating though its historical background may be - displaying one author's prejudices about those practices, many of which are evolving towards a minimalist position. Academics of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your footnotes.

Commentary, Glosses, Marginalia, Notes, Bibliographies, Works-Cited Lists, and Citation Indexing and Analysis

Documentation: A History and Critique of Attribution,

By Robert Hauptman

McFarland & Company

240pp, £23.95

ISBN 9780786433339

Published 15 March 2008

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