Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.
Just as important as citing sources in one's own writing, it is important to be able to properly read and understand citations and bibliographies we come across when reading the works of others. In an effort to better understand what information in-text citations and bibliographies tell us, let's get started in breaking the code!
In-text citations let us know the information we are reading didn't come from the author, but from another person or body of work. A citation can always be identified because it will be surrounded by parentheses ( ). Within the confines of those two miniature walls is our first code that must be broken. The first piece of information we are given is at least one name. This will be the last name of the author or authors from whom the information has been borrowed. The second piece of information you will be given is the year of publication. If the author of the piece you are reading is using a direct quote, you will also be given the page or paragraph numbers in which the cited information can be found. While an in-text citation gives us a lot of good information, we still need a more complete reference from the bibliography page before we can track down this information ourselves.
On your screen is a sample bibliographic entry from a book. And, if you're wondering, yes, that is a real book, yes, I really do have it and yes, I really did read it!
Wetzel, D. (1994). The Complete Joel's Journal and Fact-Filled Fart Book. Bayside, NY: Planet Books.
The bibliography is found at the end the work you're reading. All references will be listed in alphabetical order starting with the author's last name. The reference will begin very similarly to our in-text citation: with the author's last name. For our example, the author's last name is Wetzel. You will also receive the first and, if they have one, middle initial of the author. In our example, that's D, so the author's first name begins with the letter D, and they do not have (or did not provide) a middle initial. This is really helpful because we have authors that sometimes have the same last name but not necessarily the same first name, so, for example, there may be a lot of people with the last name Smith. Having that first initial, and middle initial if they have it, is really important.
The next thing you're going to see is the year of publication. It's always good to know if a book was published in 1912 or 2012. Things like that tend to have an impact on the way information is written. In our example, the year of publication is 1994. The very next piece of information you will find is the title of the piece. The title in our example is The Complete Joel's Journal and Fact-Filled Fart Book. Because this is a book, the next thing you'll find is the location where it was published - Bayside, NY - and the name of the publishing company, Planet Books. That's what you're going to see if your source came from a book. Things will look a little different if it came from a journal or a magazine. The following is an example of a magazine article citation:
Henry, W.A. III. (1990, April 9). Making the grade in today's schools. Time, 135, 28-31.
It starts off very similar to a book citation, but there are a couple things that are different. After the name of the article, 'Making the Grade in Today's Schools,' we have the name of the magazine, Time. Following the name of the magazine will be the issue and/or volume number, which is 135. The last piece of information you'll have in a magazine or journal article is the pages on which the article can be found. In this case, it's on pages 28-31.
There will be another piece of information if the citation was found on a website: the Web address and the date the information was retrieved. There are several reasons for this, but the main reason is how frequently websites tend to be updated. A particular sentence may have been a part of an article when I retrieved it one day, only to be edited out the following day or sometime following that initial retrieval.
Why Citations Are Important
So, why is it important to know the code of citations and bibliographies? It encourages the reader to check the information provided by the author. When you see a citation, you immediately know that you are getting, at best, secondhand information - also known as a secondary source. However, there are times when someone mistakenly gets a quote wrong, uses a quote out of context and even goes beyond the parameters of a particular study in generalizing results. The only way to know if the citation utilized is appropriate is to check it out with your own eyes. Knowing the code of a bibliography will give you everything to need to find the primary source and verify the information.
Being a code-breaker, you can now with confidence identify when an author is using information provided by a third party, or secondhand information. You can also read through a reference for the clues needed to lead you to the source utilized so that you can check it out for yourself and see if the author used the information appropriately or took the original author out of context.
You are now prepared with the skills to be a citation and bibliographic code-breaker. Congratulations!
After watching this lesson, you should be able to read in-text and bibliographic citations and understand their importance.
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