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Citations are dumb

citation

Image from "Victory of the People" on Flickr

I really find citations to be annoying.  Who cares if you are supposed to add a period instead of a comma?  Who cares if everything gets capitalized, or only the first words?  The original point of citations was so you could refer the reader to a  relevant quote or an idea from someone else.  Well guess what.  We have a way better tool for that now. They’re called hyperlinks.

Citations are the original hyperlink. Example: A reader is cruising along reading a lengthy document on law or medicine or something equally prestigious and comes across something with which he is unfamiliar. “Golly, I sure wish I knew more about where this information came from,” he says to himself.  But lo and behold there is a little number next to the sentence he was just reading.  He glances at the bottom of the page and finds the same corresponding number next to a little note, a footnote if you will.  He is then able to follow the citation in the footnote to a completely different article and then learn more about that topic.

The same process is currently availble on the web except it is much easier.  If you see something you want to know more about, you click on it.

I can see why students cut corners and  spend as little time as possible on citations. It’s boring and it is not the reason they went to school.  I get bored to tears coming up with citation examples.  And I don’t always get the capitalization right.  Citations are not fun or glamorous.

Even though I think they’re dumb, I can still see the value in them.  Properly citing teaches you to give credit where credit is due. It teaches you to be able to separate your thoughts from other people’s thoughts. It’s also good practice following set formats and writing a certain way.  In their jobs many of these students may have to use specialized writing: things like business memos, technical writing, commenting in their code. Students have to learn sooner or later they have to be able to understand and follow specific rules for writing.

That doesn’t make it any more fun, but at least it gives them a reason why they should care about proper citations.

Andy Burkhardt

6 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. What drives me crazy are all the different formats: MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian… I wish all disciplines could agree on one standard format. Every time I help a student with a citation I have to get out the book and look it up, so I can make sure we’ve got all the stupid little details right.

    The Digital Object Identifier System might be something to keep an eye on (http://www.doi.org/). Wouldn’t it be great if all you needed for a cite was maybe an author, title, and then the DIO number?

  2. I couldn’t agree more. What drives me crazy are all the different formats: MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian… I wish all disciplines could agree on one standard format. Every time I help a student with a citation I have to get out the book and look it up, so I can make sure we’ve got all the stupid little details right.

    The Digital Object Identifier System might be something to keep an eye on (http://www.doi.org/). Wouldn’t it be great if all you needed for a cite was maybe an author, title, and then the DIO number?

  3. That would be really awesome. Just one simple number that would be universal instead of a plethora of different citation formats.

  4. That would be really awesome. Just one simple number that would be universal instead of a plethora of different citation formats.

  5. They are completely useless and make the reading stilted and difficult to follow (I’m thinking here of scholarly writings). Intrusive. Frankly, I think a system where you just number your citation and have a numbered listing (references) at the end is more than enough and would allow readers to get on with reading the damn paper in the first place and for writers to get on with writing while STILL giving credit where credit is due. It’s stupid on all accounts; a waste of time, effort and money; needlessly tedious and de-motivating for students and let’s be real here… when you read a citation in the paper do you actually READ it? NOOOOOOO, you pass it as quickly as possible and hope that there is a string of at least 4 words together before the next one. ARG. I HATE THEM.

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