None too sweet

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I have remarked before on possible problems raised by conflicting definitions and usages of the terms “reference” and “citation.”

Some style guides use the term “reference” to mean the short form in the text which links to what they call a “citation”, the full details in the list at the end; some call that short form in the text “citation” and use “reference” for the full details in the list at the end; some use both terms interchangeably; some use reference to mean the quotation (or paraphrase or summary) from someone else’s work, acknowledged with a short-citation in the text which links to the full citation at the end.

It makes for confusion. In workshops, I often tell Lori’s story:  her teacher kept reminding her to check that she had citations for all her sources and she thought she had … except that the teacher meant citations in the text (which Lori had not got) and she thought her teacher meant her list of sources at the end – which she had got. Result: an accusation of plagiarism.  Part of Lori’s issue was that she had been brought up to understand that it was the list at the end which is all important and she had never before been brought short for her failure to cite her sources in the text.

It is easily done: in Language and labels, I talked about the now defunct RefMe tool, which generated citations for users of the US version and references for users of the UK version.

It can be confusing – and it can (as in Lori’s case) be dangerous. As noted in these columns many times, it is the citation in the text, acknowledgement at the point of use, which indicates honesty; failure to include that acknowledgement at the point of use, in an academic paper, could lead to accusations of plagiarism.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but we do need to be careful to name citations and references, and to be sure we understand what we mean when using those terms.  Personally I prefer IB’s definition of the terms – the citation is the short-form which goes inthe text, the refernece gives the full details in the list at the end.

Not so far removed is the term “bibliography.” This is commonly used for the list at the end, usually alphabetical though sometimes in order of use in the text (and thus a numbered list of endnotes).

The MLA style guide (and others) call this list at the end a list of “Works Cited.” I like this. It suggests that sources which have been cited in the text are listed in the list at the end – and that sources in the list of Works Cited at the end have been cited earlier, in the text.  MLA goes on to suggest that if writers want to show how widely they have read or to list works they have used but have not cited in the text, they can have a separate list at the end, a list of Works Consulted.

APA – which like IB uses the term citation for the short-form in the text and references for the list at the end – calls this a list of “References,” and this too makes sense. It lists the full details of each of the sources cited.

Chicago/Turabian footnoting style calls this list a “Bibliography” – and manages to add confusion to the mix. Chicago footnoting – or at least the Turabian version of it – offers this unhelpful advice:

in most cases, your bibliography should include every work you cite in your text … You may also include works that were important to your thinking but that you did not specifically mention in the text. Label this kind Bibliography or Sources Consulted (Turabian, 9th ed., p. 155).

That saves thinking, doesn’t it?  A Bibliography includes only every work which is cited in the text – but it if you want to include other works, go ahead, just be sure to call it a Bibliography.

Yes, I am being facetious – but no, this is serious. Teachers, professors, examiners know what they have been told, what they are used to, pass on these understandings to their students or mark according to their understandings. It can make for a very uneven playing-field, a mine-field for students whose guides have given them wrong advice, wrong by IB standards.

For the compilers and regular users of Chicago/Turabian footnoting, there may be sense here. The formatting of the two forms (notes and bibliography) is different, the footnote and the endnote on the one hand, and the entry in the bibliography at the end.  The footnote and the bibliographic reference serve different purposes.  The footnote gives full bibliographic details right there at the point of use; the interested reader does not need to leaf to the end of the paper or the book to find those full details, perhaps to follow them up.  The alphabetical list at the end brings together all those footnoted references so the reader can see, at a glance, how many sources have contributed to the text and, often because their name is several times used, who the main writers on this topic or in the field are.

That list at the end may be felt to be superfluous because the reader has already been given all the details needed to find the exact source used – which is why Turabian footnoting allows the bibliography not to be included in certain circumstances.   Extending this line of thinking, if it is not necessarily necessary to include the list at the end, then when it is included it can be used to include sources which have been looked at but which have not been mentioned in the text, which therefore have no footnotes…  It’s a possibly tortured line of thinking but it makes sense, of a sort.   Unfortunately for IB students, as noted, extended essays and other work which includes references in the list at the end which are not supported by citations in the text may be referred to the Awards Committee for investigation into possible academic misconduct. The bibiography – the writer of the bibliography – may be misleading the reader.

That is not sweet at all.

[Just to iterate, if the writer wants to include works which might have influenced the writing but which hav not been cited in the text, please please please (at least for IB assessment purposes) list them in a list of Works Consulted as a supplement to the list of Works Cited.]


Reference (Work Cited)

Turabian, K.L. (2018). A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style for students and researchers (9th ed., revised by W.C. Booth et al). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

One thought on “None too sweet

  1. Pingback: Bibliographical footnote | Honesty, honestly…

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