Monday, January 21, 2008

Make quick work of academic citations

Recently, I came across a great tip for automatically generating properly formatted citations for your academic papers. Those of us who write such papers know that it can be fairly tedious to write and double-check these citations, especially when you have to mentally shift between formats — MLA, Chicago, APA, and so on. For citations in MLA style, you can use a little utility called Knight Cite, hosted by Calvin College; however, it requires you to plug in all the data points yourself. In other words, the citation it spits out is only as good as the information you provide. And of course, it’s limited to the MLA format only.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could switch between formats as needed and get a ready-made citation with all the necessary data filled in automatically? Indeed it would, so here’s the tip. Point your web browser to World Cat, look up the book, journal article, film, music recording, or what have you (World Cat has almost everything you might need); next, click the Cite this Item link; then, copy, paste, and reap the benefits of the Information Age. :)

The beautiful thing is that World Cat takes all the labor out of generating citations. Even better, if you’re looking up journal or magazine articles, World Cat knows the page numbers already. Here’s an example, for Anne C. Petty’s 2004 essay, “Identifying England’s Lönnrot,” published in Tolkien Studies, Volume 1. Pretty sweet, am I right?

Of course, every once in a while, you might still have to write your own citations, especially for extremely new (or forthcoming) titles. Or for some alternative sources, such as rest-stop graffiti, Magic 8-balls, alien mind transmissions, tattoos, and epithets shouted from passing vehicles. Fortunately, the good folks at the PMLA have provided some guidance there too! ;)

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