I hear a lot of misunderstanding regarding citations, so I feel compelled to address the subject with a series of articles. What are the basic principles governing citations?
Principle #1 – Citations Have Two Purposes
We provide citations to our sources for two major reasons, although we generally vocalize just one:
1. To locate our sources
There is another very important, yet often overlooked reason for citing sources:
2. To communicate the strength of our sources
“Source citations have two purposes,” says Elizabeth Shown Mills in Evidence Explained. She writes that a citation should deal with “[second reason:] a source’s quality and content, not just [first reason:] identity and whereabouts.” 1
Turabian says that citing facts allows readers to “[second reason:] judge their reliability, even [first reason:] check them if they wish.” 2
An article in The Florida Bar Journal states that
Citation forms provide the minimum amount of information necessary to [first reason:] lead the reader to the source and [second reason:] to convey other key information concerning the source, including the character and degree of support the authority provides and the nature and date of the authority.3
In some fields as little as a name and a publication date, the so-called author-date style, can communicate the strength of a source. Full citations at the end of an article give the location of the source and a full indication of quality.
Numbered superscripts are replaced with an inline reference to an author's surname and the cited article's publication date. For well known experts, this communicates source strength without the interruption of sending readers to the end notes.
This style works well when:
- Research results must be published to be official.
- Leaders in a field are known by their reputations.
- Recent sources provide the most up-to-date information.
- Journals are peer reviewed.
In conclusion, a good citation does more than locate the source; it provides a quick, visual indication of its quality.
Next time I will talk about what a citation must include to satisfy both purposes for genealogical citations.
1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, PDF image (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 43; emphases in the original.
2. Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations : Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 7th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 133.
3. Susan W. Fox and Wendy S. Loquasto, “Citation Form: Keeping Up with the Times,” The Florida Bar Journal 81, no. 1 (2007): 23; online archive, The Florida Bar (http://www.floridabar.org : accessed 4 April 2011).
Image: Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen, “Measuring and Explaining Management Practices Across Firms and Countries,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, no. 4 (November 2007): 1358; author’s online copy (http://www.stanford.edu/~nbloom/MeasuringManage ment.pdf : accessed 10 August 2010); author-date callouts added by Robert Raymond in “Citing Online Records in new FamilySearch,” PowerPoint slide presentation, 2010, used with permission.