Getting ahead of ourselves

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I recall an IB extended essay examiner’s report in which the examiner deplored the number of essays which appeared to have been written at the last minute; all the URLs of websites in these essays had been accessed on the same day (presumably different same days for different essays). There was no indication as to whether these essays had been marked down because of this, possibly as part of the criterion which takes in holistic impression. Nevertheless, the tone of the comment suggested that the examiner/s disapproved.  Perhaps he thought that the dates of access should provide evidence of continued research?


This examiner’s report came to mind as I tried to work out a reference for A geometric realisation of 0-Schur and 0-Hecke algebras by Bernt Tore Jensen and Xiuping Su.  Authorship, title, journal title, volume number and issue, even the pages in the print journal, they are all clear enough.
The problem comes with the date of the journal. Here we are, it’s December 2014, and the paper I want to cite is dated February 2015. How do I cite a paper which hasn’t been published yet? Except … it has been published, there it is, on the internet, and it even has a DOI.

There are ways, there are always ways. (Almost always – I’ll come back to that.)

Chicago-style referencing, I learn from the LibGuide at Emory University,  uses the terms “preprint” for papers which have not yet been accepted and “forthcoming” for papers which have been accepted but are not yet published respectively.  That’s not quite the case with the maths paper – it has been accepted – and it’s been published, pre-published; it’s available online, even if not yet published in print…

MLA is a little more elusive, but I tracked down an article by Nate Kreuter in Inside Higher Education which suggests using “Submitted for Initial Review,” “Revised and Resubmitted,” and “Forthcoming” to describe the various stages of pre-publication. Once again, “Forthcoming” doesn’t really cover the case, but it’s as near as we are going to get.

As I often find, it is APA which offers the most sage advice (though of course you can’t use MLA for some references, Chicago for others, and APA as and when it suits; referencing doesn’t work like that).  The excellent APA Style blog offers good advice in the post Almost Published. Again, depending on the stage of pre-publication, you might use
“Manuscript in preparation” for papers still being written,
“Manuscript submitted for publication” for papers submitted but not yet accepted,
“in press” once the paper has been accepted but before publication, and
“Advance online publication” for papers posted online but not yet available in print. That’s our case exactly!

Jensen, B.T., & Su, X. (2014). A geometric realisation of 0-Schur and 0-Hecke
            algebras. Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra. Advance
            online publication. doi:10.1016/j.jpaa.2014.04.022

It’s the last piece of advice in the APA style blog-post that gets me, that sparked that memory of the IB examiner, not liking all the URLs being accessed on the same day: the blog ends with a reminder to keep updating the reference until you are ready to submit your paper.  That’s just what the examiner seemed to object to.

The advice ties in with that in the APA manual itself, keep testing your URLs, especially just before submission and publication;  update with the latest URL if possible; if the page has disappeared, find a different source; if you can’t find it, and you cannot find a different source, drop it altogether (APA6 2010, p. 192).

It’s what I tell my students: if you can no longer find the piece/passage/source you used to support your statement or argument, and you cannot find anything which says much the same thing, perhaps it wasn’t such good support after all?  (That’s the exception to the “always ways” notion above.)


The pre-publication history of this paper is interesting; this is available in the downloadable pre-publication paged PDF file, and adds further insight to the publishing process.  It might not be essential reading, but it does provide a hint for those interested in seeing how knowledge grows, bit by bit.



2 thoughts on “Getting ahead of ourselves

  1. Dear John, thanks for your post. I really appreciate your insights about academic honesty.I always advise my students to polish and update their list of reference in their last draft, and I tell them to put “last accessed…” since very seldom you access your sources only once. I remember reading a close to final draft of a history internal assessment paper from a student where many of the sources were “last accessed” a year from the day I was reading it. To me it was more a sign that the student hadn’t touched the paper for a long time. So, we had a conversation.

    I think I would have flunked myself the criteria of the IB examiner.

    • Thank you for your comment, Pia.

      The latest-address situation gets a little more complicated. One of the reasons for MLA7 dropping the requirement to include the URL (unless required by instructor or examination board) was that web pages disappear and addresses may change.

      MLA7 advises “Since sites and other resources on the Web sometimes disappear altogether, you should consider downloading or printing the material you use during your research, so that you can verify it if it is inaccessible later” (Section 5.6.1).

      This is a very different approach to APA. APA wants the READER to be able to follow-up the citation; MLA wants the WRITER to be able to follow-up or check her/his use of the cited source. Me, I take the stance that citation and referencing is there to help the writer AND the reader – one of the reasons where I don’t like styles which use footnotes or endnotes, especially when they work against readability. (Another blog post, another time.)

      IB (and other examination board) requirements are something else again. It is always a good idea to save pages, make screengrabs or printouts or photocopies of materials used in case of later need – but it is also a good idea to check that material used is still available, and has not been changed. Especially in the sciences, where later corrections or retractions can make a world of difference.

      Thanks again, John

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