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4 posts from January 2013

January 24, 2013

Asking the Right Question: How Can the Reader Find the Source?

Daisiesby Stefanie

Not surprisingly, we receive a lot of questions about how to create references for all sorts of different sources. As has been discussed in past blog posts, a reference can be put together by asking a number of (very good and pertinent) questions: Who? When? What? Where?
But (and you knew that was coming!) the most important question, the one you need to ask yourself before you even embark on the reference-generating journey (but especially when that journey is starting to look like Siri generated the directions), is embodied in one word: How.
More fully articulated, the “how” question you should ask when a reference is looking confusing is, How is my reader going to retrieve this source? The answer will often clarify how the reference should be formatted.
In fact, the retrieval question is the guiding beacon at the heart of many seemingly impossible reference questions we receive, such as How do I create a reference for a PowerPoint presentation? How do I create a reference for a piece of art at the museum? How do I create a reference for an e-book?
The PowerPoint question is a classic one here at Style Expert headquarters. But it’s not so tricky: A PowerPoint presentation posted online is no different than any other file posted online. Just get your reader there. If the presentation was seen during a lecture or meeting and cannot be retrieved by the audience of your paper, it’s a personal communication, which means that no reference is needed, but it should be cited accordingly.
Consider your paper’s audience when creating a reference for a piece of art—you could create a reference guiding readers to the museum in which it is housed (if, say, it is located close to your class, if you are writing a paper for a course) or a picture of the art elsewhere (if you have a broader audience that might not have access to the particular museum).
And that e-book? E-books are available from many different sources and in all different file formats. Show your readers how to retrieve the particular e-book file you read.
Do you have additional questions about how to get readers to your sources? E-mail us at styleexpert@apastyle.org or leave a comment!

January 18, 2013

Retraction Action

Daisiesby Stefanie

My first word processor was a glorified typewriter; I could type my college papers but only see four lines at a time on a tiny screen, until I hit the print button. What came out often had mistakes that I had not caught on first (cramped) review. Luckily, I could go back, fix the mistakes, and print again. This ritual is also followed by students today, even those using newfangled computers with big screens and programs for catching errors before they are committed to paper. Still, errors sneak by, the slippery buggers.

A step or two up in the publication hierarchy, once an article has been published in a journal (i.e., once the publisher hits print), fixing mistakes becomes a lot trickier. Sometimes, if a small or easily described error is involved, an erratum or correction notice, published in a later issue of the same journal, is printed and linked to the e-version of the original article. Other times, the problems are so great that the entire article is retracted, either by the article author(s) or by the publisher. Whatever the reason for the retraction (e.g., belatedly discovered calculation or measurement errors, plagiarism, falsification of data), the intent is to remove the information from the scientific literature and thus avoid wasting the time and resources of other scientists who may attempt to replicate or rely on the already undermined results.

Yet, a retracted article can still be found, both in print and online. (The silver lining to the retraction cloud may be that there can be usefulness in serving as a bad example. However, if you are not writing specifically about the retraction, consider whether the retracted article is your best resource.) And if it can be found, it can be used as a reference, although readers should be alerted to the article’s retracted status. All of this begs the question, How should a retracted article be formatted for the reference list?

To create a reference for a retracted article, you can repurpose the parentheses found after a reference that includes original publication information, as can be seen in Examples 21 and 26 on pages 203–204 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition. Instead, provide the information on the article’s retraction notice in the parentheses. Examples:

Joly, J. F., Stapel, D. A., & Lindenberg, S. M. (2008). Silence 
     and table manners: When environments activate norms. Personality
     and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1047–1056. (Retraction 
     published 2012, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 
     p. 1378)
Ricaurte, G. A., Yuan, J., Hatzidimitriou, G., Cord, B. J., & McCann, 
     U.D. (2002, September 27). Severe dopaminergic neurotoxicity in 
     primates after a common recreational dose regimen of MDMA. 
     Science, 297, 2260-2263. (Retraction published September 12, 
     2003, Science, 301, p. 1454)

Additional questions? E-mail us at styleexpert@apastyle.org or leave a comment!

January 10, 2013

Alligators and Academia: The Importance of Primary and Secondary Sources

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Have you heard about how alligators infest the New York City sewer system? The ones brought north by Florida snowbirds for the summer as pets, who were then jettisoned after they outgrew the family bathtub? Indeed, your cousin’s best friend once saw one with her own eyes. Or, at least, that’s what your cousin told you. But you wonder, is it really true, or is it just an urban legend?


Reliable Sources in Academic Research Are Usually Primary Sources

Likewise, when it comes to academic research, it’s extremely important to make sure that the claims you make are backed up by sound evidence, or else your paper won’t stand up to scrutiny from your professors or colleagues (just like that alligator story didn’t hold up once you started looking into it).

As we saw with the alligator story, one of the best ways to help ensure a source’s reliability is to make sure you’re reading a firsthand account, or a primary source, from someone who saw the events for him- or herself (like the best friend), rather than a secondhand account, or a secondary source, from someone who only heard about the events but didn’t witness them personally (like your cousin). Most of the sources you use in a research paper or thesis should be primary sources, not secondary sources.

How to Spot a Primary Source in the Wild

Primary sources can come in many different forms. For example, a journal or magazine article might report the results of an original experiment, or a book or website might describe a theory or technique the author has developed or has expertise in. Note, however, that not every article, book, website, and so forth contains primary research. To determine whether a document is a primary source, ask, did the authors discover this finding themselves (primary source), or are they reporting what someone else found (secondary source)? 

You’ll have to evaluate each source on a case-by-case basis, but some document types tend to make promising primary sources:

  • journal articles;
  • books and book chapters;
  • some magazine and newspaper articles;
  • reports, such as from government agencies or institutions;
  • dissertations and theses;
  • interview and speech transcripts and recordings;
  • video and audio recordings;
  • personal communications; and
  • webpages.

Secondary Sources: Second Best?

In our alligator story example, the word of the secondary source, your cousin, ended up not being too trustworthy, and that’s why we shied away from citing it. But that’s not always the case with secondary sources—in fact, many secondary sources can be not only reliable but also extremely helpful during the research process. For example, a textbook or an encyclopedia (including Wikipedia) can help you get acquainted with a research area by summarizing others’ research. Or you might read a summary of one scientist’s interesting study in someone else’s journal article. 

In these cases, however, the chief advantage of the secondary source is not the quotes that you find but that it points you to the primary source through a citation. It’s important to read (and then cite) the primary source if you can, because that will enable you to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information.

It would not look good for you to cite a secondary source (like your cousin with the alligator tale) only for someone else (like your professor—or animal control) to inform you later that the truth was in fact something quite the opposite. Even when secondary sources are highly accurate, being thorough and reading the primary sources helps demonstrate your merit as a scientist and researcher and helps others find that helpful information.

Citations to secondary sources are permissible under certain circumstances. For example, if you are discussing Wikipedia in your paper, you should cite it (here are some more of our thoughts on citing Wikipedia). Likewise, some primary sources are unobtainable (such as if they are out of print or impossible to find) or written in a language you don’t understand, so the secondary source is what you should cite. Or the secondary source might offer an analysis of the primary source that you want to refer the reader to. See our post on how and when to cite secondary sources (a.k.a. a source you found in another source) and refer to Publication Manual section 6.17 (p. 178) for directions and examples of citations to secondary sources.

We hope this discussion of primary and secondary sources has helped you understand what types of sources are most effective and helpful to use in a research paper. Also we hope that you will contact us if you ever do find that alligator, because the family bathtub just isn’t the same without him. 

January 03, 2013

Alphabetizing “In Press” and “No Date” References




by Tyler Krupa

You may already know that references with the same authors in the same order are arranged by year of publication, the earliest first (see the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, p. 182):

Meints, K., Plunkett, K., & Harris, P. L. (2002).

Meints, K., Plunkett, K., & Harris, P. L. (2008).

But do you know what to do when a group of references with the same author(s) in the same author order contain “in press” and “no date” publication dates? Alphabetizing these references is easy as long as you remember the following two points:

1. An “in press” work has yet to be published, so if you have one or more references that contain a publication year, these references will always come before an “in press” reference because they’ve already been published.

2. When dealing with “no date” references, simply follow the same “nothing precedes something” guidance that the Publication Manual gives regarding alphabetizing author surnames in the reference list (see p. 181). Using this guideline, “no date” references should always precede references with “some date.” Also remember that “no date” is abbreviated as “n.d.” in both the reference list and the in-text citations (see p. 185).

Here are some examples that show the correct ways to alphabetize these types of references in the reference list:

Johnson, K., & Jones, B. B. (2012).

Johnson, K., & Jones, B. B. (in press).

Taylor, H., Carter, N., & Beckett, S. (n.d.).

Taylor, H., Carter, N., & Beckett, S. (2010).

Taylor, H., Carter, N., & Beckett, S. (in press).

University of Florida. (n.d.).

University of Florida. (2012).

Also remember that if you have two or more “in press” or “no date” references with the same authors in the same order, you should use lowercase letters—a, b, c, and so forth—after the publication date and alphabetize the references by their titles (excluding A, An, and The; see p. 182 in the Publication Manual). The only difference between these types of references and references with publication years is that “in press” and “no date” references contain a hyphen before the a, b, and so forth:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.-a). The knowledge . . .

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.-b). A strategy to . . .

Schafer, G., & Plunkett, K. (2011a). The power . . .

Schafer, G., & Plunkett, K. (2011b). Task complexity . . .

Schafer, G., & Plunkett, K. (in press-a). The rapid learning . . .

Schafer, G., & Plunkett, K. (in press-b). Sometimes a child . . .

We hope that these examples clear up this point of possible confusion.

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