16 January 2014
Citation templates are so intimidating. Not to mention: demanding. Include a, b, c, d, e. Use italics here and quotation marks there. But don’t put punctuation between x and y or Miss Thistlebottom's hair will curl. Yada Yada. Before long we start feeling like Mark Twain, who is said to have sent a totally unpunctuated manuscript to his editor, put a slew of marks in a postscript, and added a snark: Here’s all the punctuation. Put it wherever you want it.
How do you react to the templates in your software or the examples in EE? Do you consider them dictates—or argue that dictates don’t matter? Are they suggestive or prescriptive? What do you do when you can’t find a model that fits your need exactly?
Citations are quite rigid in some fields. Citations to standard sources such as books and articles also tend to be rigid in the humanities. But those who study the original papers and artifacts of yesteryear—the real deal—soon discover that rigidity just isn't an option.
Since so much of the world is busy posting recipes to Facebook and Pinterest, let’s borrow from that metaphor. EE is a cookbook. It starts with a tutorial for budding chefs. It offers a gazillion recipes for specific dishes. So what happens when the recipe calls for chocolate chips and your pantry has no chocolate chips? You improvise. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. How well your improvisation works will depend upon how well you understand the fundamentals of cooking and what balance of ingredients is essential if you want chocolate cookies instead of chocolate pudding.
EE’s Chapter 2 covers the fundamentals of citation. Its very first paragraph jumps right into this issue of improvisation: Citation is an art, not a science. Whether we’re artists or cooks, the issue is the same. As newbies, we learn the principles. Once we have mastered the basics, we can improvise to capture the uniqueness of each subject or setting. In fact, once we have learned the principles of citation, to quote EE 2.1, “we have both an artistic license and a researcher’s responsibility to adapt those principles to fit materials that do not match any standard model.”
There now, does that make you feel better?