09 June 2008

To footnote, or not to footnote...

A passing comment this morning, on my referencing of books mentioned in this blog, had me turning over in my mind all day the question of why exactly I do it as I do (or at all).

The comment wasn't raising this question, I hasten to add, nor in any way critical. No; the questioning came from myself.

The obvious answer is that I am, at least if you catch me on the right day, an academic. The habit of full source referencing is strong in academics. But most academics don't carry that habit into blogs, where the usual form is simply to hyperlink the title to a library or vendor page. Juan Cole, for example, who has far greater claim to the "academic" label than I, includes no footnote or other biblio references within his posts; he hyperlinks, instead, to Amazon. Dr C and Ray Girvan are both at least as academically inclined as I, but neither habitually use detailed references. Even when writing in the specifically book related JS Books blog, Ray contents himself with a simple inline author and title (for example, "ES Turner's An ABC of Nostalgia" or "Greene's Brighton Rock").

I could perhaps plead that I work with students who will be accused of plagiarism and fail their courses unless they painstakingly reference everything. in an approved way. After some thought, though, that doesn't quite hold water either. My references in here are numbered and more or less modelled on the MLA style, though with author forenames before surname in deference to the to the more relaxed atmosphere of blogdom:

Author, Title. Year, City: Publisher. ISBN

If I was really concerned with setting a good living example to students, I would use the Harvard system which is sweeping the university system these days but which I personally don't much like (though it would be easier, and save me time).

Why don't I much the Harvard system? Because my small superscript numbers in the text like this[1] are unobtrusive, where as the Harvard style parenthesised dates such as "Walkinshaw (1887)" are, in my eyes, ugly and clunky. But then I realise that I am not consistent in using numbers, either; sometime I use a Harvard style alphabetic reference list at the bottom of a post, with no numbers or dates in the text, and just leave the reader to use her/his common sense.

All of which leaves completely unanswered: why do I do it at all?

Answer: I don't know. I just do. Perhaps I'm an anal retentive git who doesn't know how to do otherwise?

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