Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 14

Posted: Sep 02, 2016 18:09;
Last Modified: Sep 02, 2016 18:09

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Hi all!

I spent this week putting information into the newly updated database. It works much faster than it did before, and is very intuitive to use. Dan mentioned that he would like to see some screenshots, so please enjoy the following images:

Here we see the front page of the database, with two text boxes, one for the Source and one for the Reference.

Options will pop up after you begin typing which makes adding sources and references super quick.

The Location box allows you to type the page number on which you found the reference in your source material (I simply type the number without any “p.” or “pg” preceding it) and the drop down box allows you to choose whether the reference is a Text Quote, Text Mention, Scholarly Reference, or Other Reference.

Clicking on the “View Entries” link allows you to view all of the entries that you have made. They are listed from oldest to newest in one big list.

So far I have had zero problems with the database, however I have been coming across a few snags with regards to gathering references from the sources. To use this first article by Lenore Abraham as an example, it is not noted anywhere which edition of Bede’s “History of the English Church and People” that she uses, she just simply gives the title. I am not sure how to figure this out, but feel that it is important to know as the edition cited is the most important piece of information that we are attempting to gather. I am concerned that a lot of other articles might omit this information as well, but I suppose we shall see as the collection continues. I was also curious as to whether or not we count the “about the author” blurbs when adding references. The beginnings of articles will occasionally list other pieces the author has published and I am not sure whether or not to count these as references. My initial instinct was to ignore them, as they do not necessarily have anything to do with the article in question, and if they are important they will be cited again further on, however I thought I would bring it up to be sure.

I am excited to continue collecting information. I will be back in Lethbridge for school on Tuesday, so I can start requesting inter-library loans again and keep our project rolling!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 12+13

Posted: Aug 23, 2016 10:08;
Last Modified: Aug 23, 2016 10:08

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Hi all!

Summer is winding to a close, and our project continues to progress. The database is working, and is currently being made faster for even easier use. Books and articles are still being collected and scanned, and I am trying to split my time between scanning sources and collecting data.

At our last meeting Dan and I went over the exact specifications for the references I am collecting. Information is sorted into four types:

Text Quotes (TQ)

Text Mentions ™

Scholarly References (SR)

Other References (OR)

Text Quotes and Text Mentions come from editions, facsimiles, translations, and manuscripts, and only refer to Cædmon’s Hymn itself. Quotes are direct quotations from the poem, while mentions are references to other editions.

Scholarly References will consist of references made to anything other than Cædmon’s own words. This can include books and articles about the hymn or other topics, as well as supplementary text from the editions of the hymn.

Other References is simply a catch-all category for anything that does not fit into the previous three categories.

Unfortunately I have been having laptop issues and had to reinstall the operating system on my computer, losing some programs in the process. I am not sure if this will affect my GLOBUS endpoint, but I will try transferring some files later to determine if I need to figure all of that out again.

My goals for this week are to scan the ILL books that I currently have checked out, transfer all the files I have scanned to GLOBUS, and fine tune the way I collect my data from the books and articles. I have been finding that it is quicker to write down a large chunk of references on paper and then input the info to the database in one go. This may change as Garret makes the database quicker. The faster version of the database should be ready this week, but I do not currently have access to it so today will be a scanning day. I also plan to request another chunk of ILL books and articles from the library.

For next week’s blog I hope to write a sort of how-to guide on collecting information from the sources and inputting the info into the database. As the new semester starts in two weeks, I will have less time to spend on the project and I believe Dan plans on hiring more students to help the collection go faster. The how-to guide should ensure that we are all collecting data in the same way, and should ease any confusion that might cause errors. As the semester progresses I and whoever else might be working on the project can go through the data collection at a steady pace, and I can continue to collect and scan the sources needed to complete the bibliography.

Things seem to be on track, and hopefully the transition into the new semester will be smooth!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 11

Posted: Aug 05, 2016 13:08;
Last Modified: Aug 05, 2016 13:08

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Hi all!

I have a very short blog post this week, as the week itself was very short. I spent the last few days collecting more sources, doing some scanning, and preparing to begin data collection.

The database should be up and running this weekend, meaning data collection can officially start next week. I will see Garret on Sunday and we will be able to do some test runs on the database to make sure it is working properly. We have been discussing its functions over video conference several times throughout the week, and it seems to be coming along very well!

Next week I will be splitting my time between continuing to collect sources and beginning data collection, a suggestion made by Dan during our last meeting. This will allow us to understand any flaws in our collection system earlier on, rather than waiting for EVERY source to be collected and scanned before we try out our system. I am optimistic that it should all go well, and will report back at the end of next week!

Until then,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 10

Posted: Jul 25, 2016 10:07;
Last Modified: Jul 25, 2016 10:07

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Hi all,

It is week 10 already, and I feel like I am nowhere near where I thought I would be with regards to this project. While the list of the sources we need for our data collection on Zotero are as complete as we can know at present, not everything on the list has been collected yet. I was in high spirits at the beginning of last week thinking that the collection of sources was nearly complete, however I realised later on that I had missed a good chunk of the list. It turned out that I had some filters set that were omitting a portion of the 700-ish books and articles. To make a long story short, more collection is still needed!

This will mean more inter-library loan books will need to be ordered and scanned, and more articles will need to be transferred to the GLOBUS folder. Thankfully the book scanner is back up and running again! If it holds out it should make the process painless and a good deal quicker than scanning things on the photocopier.

My plan for this week is to:

- finish scanning the inter-library loan books I currently have checked out (there are about four left to scan)

- finish collecting EVERYTHING on the Zotero list, keeping track of how many inter-library loan books are due to come in so I can account for future scanning time.

- transfer all electronic copies of articles and books to the GLOBUS folder (the internet guy is FINALLY coming on Tuesday to hook up my apartment, so I can work on this every night starting tomorrow)

- And then, if by some miracle I finish everything before the end of the week, I will begin data collection.

To be quite honest, I have been very frustrated with myself and the fact that I have not begun the data collection sooner. I suppose that collecting and organising hundreds of articles just takes longer than I imagined. I really have been working at it steadily throughout the summer, trying to maintain a level of organisation that allows information on the project to transfer easily between myself, Dan, Garret, and anyone else that might happen to work on the project. Although scanning and photocopying seem like menial tasks, I think I need to remind myself that such tasks take time and are necessary to keep our project organised and moving forward.

I do hope though that if Dan has any concerns with the pace of the project that he will let me know, as I do not want to drag things out way longer than he was expecting. The project IS moving forward, however slow it may have seemed the past couple of weeks. Although collecting and organising the sources is not the most exciting part of the job to write updates about, you all can be assured that it is almost complete and the data collection will begin very soon! I am very much looking forward to beginning this part of the project, seeing what we find, and facing the challenges that I am sure we will encounter.

Until later,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Mini Update (Week 9)

Posted: Jul 22, 2016 12:07;
Last Modified: Jul 22, 2016 12:07

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Hi all!

Just thought I would post a short update for you, as I was meant to have started reading and collecting data by this point. Unfortunately my efforts have been sabotaged by the library’s book scanner which has been refusing to work properly for me.

At the beginning of the week it worked beautifully for two batches of scanning, however on the third batch it kept kicking me out and deleting my work, saying that it did not have enough memory. The library staff was quick to look at it, but as the “book scanner expert” was not available that day, I had to wait for it to be fixed.

I busied myself with other work (it turns out that I was not quite finished collecting sources, there was a sizeable chunk that had escaped my notice!), and came back this morning with even more books to scan, but a new issue has arisen:

Now when I scan a batch the images show up on the screen, but it doesn’t register as having scanned them. The screen provides me with a page count, but no indication of how many megabytes have been scanned, so when I go to email the images it says “NO IMAGES SCANNED!”. The images have been scanned! I see them on there!

Anyway, the I.T. staff are on the case and will let me know when they get it working again. The scanner really does work wonderfully when it does work, and it is so much faster than a conventional scanner or photocopier. I will continue collecting sources today, and hopefully get a chance to use the scanner again before the library closes. I also plan to come in this weekend to try to catch up on the work that was lost throughout the week.

I feel bad that it is almost August and we are still not at the data collection point. Hopefully things will go a bit smoother once everything is scanned and organized!

Until next week,

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 9

Posted: Jul 18, 2016 09:07;
Last Modified: Jul 18, 2016 09:07

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Hi all!

I finally get to start reading this week!!! While I am still not 100% complete in my sourcing of all the books and articles, it is looking as though I will definitely be able to start reading by Wednesday if not earlier.

I also have a bunch of books from inter-library loans that I need to scan portions of. That will be part of my job today.

The database will be ready this week as well. Garret says that there will be a few improvements that he will want to make, but I will be able to start using it this week. All the information that I collect will still be available as the database is upgraded.

You may have noticed that I have switched to blogging at the beginning of the week as opposed to the end. I have found that at this point it is more beneficial to myself to post at the start of the week outlining some goals and then adding an update post sometime during the middle of the week. I am going to continue this model for the next while.

Until next time!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 6

Posted: Jun 24, 2016 09:06;
Last Modified: Jun 24, 2016 09:06

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Hi all!

This week I have been gathering sources for the pieces in our Cædmon bibliography. This is not a speedy task by any means! I admit that I have felt a bit impatient with myself and have been concerned that I should be at the point where I am gathering data by now, but I try to remind myself that it is important to make sure that we have a complete pool of sources from which to pull data, otherwise people could poke holes in our findings when we are all done. All of the proper experimental procedures that I learned way back in 7th grade science fair still apply here!

Dan gave me the key to the Digital Humanities lab on Monday, and I was able to go in and dig through Rachel’s drawer in the filing cabinet from last summer. I was excited to find that she had a ton of articles in there that simply need to be scanned. This will be time consuming, but worth it to have them all organized in the GLOBUS folder and accessible to everyone in our group. I am wondering if when I scan articles if there is a way for the pdf’s of the scans to be grouped together or if each individual page will have to be put in order on the computer… I will have to see!

I was having trouble with GLOBUS yesterday, so I am meeting Gurpreet this afternoon to figure out what’s wrong. I updated to the new version of Windows a few days ago and it is causing my computer major hassles. I doubt that’s why I can’t get GLOBUS to work, but I would still like to blame Windows anyway.

My goals for next week are to have all of the articles from Rachel’s drawer scanned and transferred to GLOBUS and for everything that we don’t have from the Cædmon bibliography be requested or found on the internet. I will have to motor, but I think it is do-able. The database should be ready for me to start reading/counting the following Monday, and from that point on I can read, count, and determine whether or not we will need extra students hired to help get these 700 articles read!

Until next week!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 5

Posted: Jun 17, 2016 10:06;
Last Modified: Jun 17, 2016 10:06

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Hi all!

Painfully short blog entry this week, I’m afraid. A lot has been accomplished this week, but there is not a lot to report.

The bibliography has been completed, with the final count being approximately 700 pieces of Cædmon scholarship. This number may increase or decrease as I read through the actual works. Some may have nothing to do with Cædmon (I erred on the side of having to much rather than too little), and others may point me in the direction of something I might have missed.

I have also begun to search out access to the pieces that make up the bibliography. This week I have been finding most things on JSTOR, but I expect that I will be requesting a lot of inter-library loans next week! Once I have found all I can find online I can start reading while I wait for the inter-library loans to come in. As the loans come in I will be splitting my days between scanning the loans and reading. (Note to self: locate that book scanner Dan told you about.)

The database to record what I find while I read is in the works as well. I should have an update from Garret early next week, so I will have more info on that in next week’s blog!

Until then!

Colleen

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Cædmon Citation Network - Week 4

Posted: Jun 11, 2016 10:06;
Last Modified: Jun 11, 2016 11:06

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Hello!

This blog comes to you a day later than usual, as Friday’s work ended up taking a lot longer than I thought and I ran out of time! To be honest, this week was spent much like last week: checking our Zotero bibliography against other bibliographies of Cædmon scholarship.

I ended up re-doing a bit of my work from last week, as I learned in my meeting with Dan on Monday that our scope was a bit wider than I had previously thought. I was worried that I had not been considering certain entries in the various bibliographies to be “about Cædmon enough”, so I decided to go through the entries again and add some that I may have missed. It makes sense to add more rather than less, as I can simply remove an article from the list if I read it and realise it has nothing to do with Cædmon. At the moment our bibliography is almost complete, and we have nearly 700 entries!

What are we going to do with this giant list of articles and books? Well, firstly I have to acquire access to each entry, either via JSTOR, inter-library loans, or through one of our library’s other databases. Then I read through EVERYTHING and count each quote and mention of Cædmon and note which of the approximately sixty different editions of the Hymn are cited. We have also decided to try and note every other citation as well. For example if one article about “Cædmon’s Hymn” cites a book about the history of peanut butter sandwiches, I will take note of it, as there may be other pieces of Cædmon scholarship that also cite that book about the history of peanut butter sandwiches. It will be interesting to see if there are identifiable relationships between writing about Cædmon and seemingly unrelated topics – not peanut-butter-sandwich-history obviously, I just haven’t eaten breakfast yet so I am giving you a delicious example.

How am I going to keep track of all this? Good question! We will need a database that I can use to mark down each citation as I come across them in my reading. On Monday Dan and I discussed at length what we will need from this database, and how we would like it to work. At first we were hoping something on Google Forms would do the trick for us, however we discovered as we talked that we need more control over our information than this tool would allow.

One problem emerged when we realised that among our gigantic list of 700 articles (and books, etc) we would find certain works that were actually editions of the Hymn not included in our original list of editions. We would need a way to add this piece to the Editions list… Several other concerns were raised as well, but to be honest I am finding them difficult to explain without drawing you all a little picture. (I should ask Dan how to add images to these blog posts!)

I mentioned at some point that I would pick the brain of my boyfriend, Garret Johnson, who has his degree in Computer Science from the University of Lethbridge and is my go-to person whenever I have a question about these sorts of things. Dan suggested that he could hire Garret to build our database if he would be willing, as someone with a programming background could probably produce what we need a lot faster than either Dan or I working on it ourselves. So that is our current plan! Garret will begin building us a database that will suit our needs and my job for next week will be to start acquiring the 700 articles and books on our list. By the end of next week I am sure I will have thoroughly annoyed the librarians at school with the amount of inter-library loans I will be requesting.

Until next week!

Colleen

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Straw bibliography: A common error in student writing

Posted: Feb 08, 2015 17:02;
Last Modified: Feb 08, 2015 17:02

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This post describes a particular rhetorical technique that students often use in their essays that professional scholars never do: something I call the “straw bibliography.” If you learn to recognise these in your writing (and more importantly, learn how to handle them more professionally), the quality of your research will improve immensely.

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What is a “straw bibliography”

“Straw bibliography” is the term I give to statements like the following, when they are unsupported by citations:

The question of the definition of medieval literature has long been a source of debate

Critics argue constantly about the role of women in literature

Ever since the Greeks, writers have debated the role of fate

I call these “straw bibliography” on analogy to “straw man” arguments: a straw man argument is an argument where you create non-existent opposing arguments that you can easily demolish in order to bolster your own case; a straw bibliography is a non-existent bibliographic claim that you make in order to bolster your own argument by suggesting it is widely studied.

Straw men arguments and straw bibliographies are both bad for the same reason: they prevent actual debate and discovery by substituting a false one instead. In a straw man argument, you create fake arguments that nobody would ever actually make in order to defeat them—ignoring actual counter arguments that it would be far more productive to engage with. In a straw man bibliography, you create a fake bibliographic record in order to support your argument—and ignore the almost certainly more interesting actual bibliography on a question that you could be dealing with.

How to avoid them

The solution to a straw bibliography is very simple: never make a bibliographic claim you cannot supply some examples for. I.e. if you say that critics have long discussed the lack of women in Huckleberry Finn, supply some examples in a citation immediately after you make the claim: since in this case I am claiming both that critics have discussed this and that they have done it for a long time, my list of references should include several works stretching back whatever you consider to represent a “a long time” (perhaps 50 years or so?).

This is in fact what professional scholars do. It is very common in professional research articles to have an early section that discusses previous bibliography on a question. Depending on the specific argument made, this will either include an actual discussion of the different views and positions or a lengthy footnote or parenthetical citation listing a number of people who have previously discussed this issue.

An example

By way of an example, here is a discussion of scholarly opinion about the errors in a famous manuscript of Bede’s Historia ecclesiatica from Notes and Queries 49.1 (2002), p. 4. The text in bold is the bibliographic claim; underlined text is the support that stops it being a straw bibliography:

IN the course of the last twenty years, a scholarly tradition has arisen concerning the remarkable accuracy with which the `St Petersburg Bede’ (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Lat.Q.v.I.18 (referred to hereafter as P))1 reproduces the text of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica. While the precise context in which this accuracy is claimed varies from scholar to scholar, its extent is described in almost identical terms in each case. As Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe puts it, `[P] is a particularly careful copy of the text. Excepting errors in the sources quoted by Bede (and thus, probably, in the originals), editors have reported only six errors in the text of Bede’s Historia, and these errors are minor.’2 Similar language is used by R.D.Fulk (`there appear to be just six errors in the text, so …the work [i.e. P] must be very close to the author’s autograph copy’)3 and M.B.Parkes (`there are only six errors in the text written by Bede himself. The high quality of the text in this copy [i.e. P] suggests that it cannot be very far removed from the author’s draft’).4

….

1 This is the manuscript formerly known as the `Leningrad Bede’. The shelf-mark was Leningrad, M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin Public Library, Lat.Q.v.I.18. The manuscript is often referred to by the siglum L in secondary discussions.

2 K.O’Brien O’Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge, 1990), 33.

3 R.D.Fulk, A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia, 1992), 427.

4 M.B.Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982 (Jarrow, 1982), 5.

The text in bold is the piece that could easily be a straw bibliography, if I didn’t have the citations to back it up; the parts that stop it being a straw bibliography are underlined.

In this particular case, since the article is actually about what “accuracy” means, I go into detail about what some of these scholars say in particular, providing a sentence or two about each with an associated footnote. But if my article had been about something else this bibliographic tradition touches on, I could have done something like the following:

IN the course of the last twenty years, a scholarly tradition has arisen concerning the remarkable accuracy with which the `St Petersburg Bede’ (St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Lat.Q.v.I.18 (referred to hereafter as P))1 reproduces the text of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica.”2

….

1 This is the manuscript formerly known as the `Leningrad Bede’. The shelf-mark was Leningrad, M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin Public Library, Lat.Q.v.I.18. The manuscript is often referred to by the siglum L in secondary discussions.

2 See for example, K.O’Brien O’Keeffe, Visible Song: Transitional Literacy in Old English Verse (Cambridge, 1990), 33; R.D.Fulk, A History of Old English Meter (Philadelphia, 1992), 427; M.B.Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982 (Jarrow, 1982), 5.

(I’m using footnotes here, because that’s what Notes and Queries, the journal where this was published, requires. But most modern journals would prefer this in parenthetical form in the main text).

Why this isn’t pedantry

At first glance, this might seem like pedantry. Does it really matter that much that I can show specific examples of people talking about problems that I’m pretty sure have been discussed a lot?

The answer is that it really does matter. Especially in the Humanities, exactly who said what and exactly what they said are very often the source of extremely interesting analysis (this is why, in contrast to many other disciplines, humanists cite page numbers). Bibliographic patterns and histories, therefore, can reveal an awful lot about how people in the past understood things and about changes in this understanding through time.

Indeed, the article I am citing here is an example of that: I discovered this problem when I was collecting citations to avoid a straw bibliographic claim in a different article that scholars “have always recognised that the St. Petersburg Bede is among the more accurate of Bede manuscripts.” What I discovered when I checked the actual references I gathered to support this was that it had nowhere near “six” errors in it (that would be impossible in such a big manuscript)… and I ended up with this article explaining why people mistakenly thought it was.

So get in the habit of always supplying some examples when you make claims about how often some work or topic has been discussed. You’ll sometimes find that it actually hasn’t been discussed as much as you think it has, or that the debate goes off in a different direction than you suspect.

In my experience, the bibliography is never as straightforward as you think it is.

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Some quick notes on citation practice for undergraduates

Posted: Feb 04, 2015 18:02;
Last Modified: Feb 04, 2015 18:02

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Students seem always to get very nervous about citation… and, interestingly, perhaps through that nervousness, end up doing it in ways that professional scholars don’t.

Contents

Here are some tips that pros use for citation that undergraduates tend not to know:

Plagiarism is not a property crime.

Many students treat citations as, in essence, payment for ideas. Or perhaps better said, they seem to understand the absence of citations as a property crime: you “stole” somebody’s ideas or words.

But citation is not (primarily) an economic activity, but rather an evidentiary one. The point of citation is not to pay somebody for their ideas or words, but to show where your words and ideas came from. If you don’t cite things, then people don’t know what the basis for your evidence and claims is and they can’t refine or develop your arguments. Nobody is so original that nothing they say is based on what others said. You cite things so people can understand the context of your ideas.

You don’t need to quote things in order to cite them

Many students seem to think you need to quote something from somebody in order to cite them. You don’t and, unless they say something memorable the formulation of which is important to your argument, you probably shouldn’t.

There are three reasons why you might cite a work you are not quoting at some point in your paper:

  1. You are paraphrasing them: i.e. your point or evidence is very similar to theirs, but, since there was nothing important or memorable about how they said it, you are simply repeating what they said in your own words;
  2. You are synthesising or summarising information from them: i.e. you got your information from a source which you are now summarising in some way or extracting and reusing in a form that isn’t more or less exactly the way your source did it;
  3. You were influenced by the source (and perhaps others): i.e. you aren’t directly using their conclusions of evidence, but their conclusions or evidence had an influence on yours and agrees with yours or supports it.

In each of these cases, you would provide a citation to the work(s) in question; but you probably wouldn’t quote them.

Quotations should be in some way memorable

The only time you really need to quote somebody is if they say something you want to use in a memorable, non-obvious way and their particular formulation is important to you. You don’t have to quote formulations that are trivial or non-memorable. There must be 10,000 books about Jane Austen, for example, which contain the words “Austen writes…” somewhere in them. You don’t need to put “Austen writes” in quotation marks, however, because one of your source has this.

Citations can be retrofitted

An interesting exercise (and actually good for you as well), is to try and retrofit citations: i.e. add citations to your text after it is written.

There are two ways of doing this. The first is to write your paper the normal way, citing things as you use them, and then, when you are finished, go back through your paper and see how many additional sentences could reasonably contain a citation to the works you have already used. The second is to write a paper and then go through it trying to find evidence and sources for the things you’ve already said, or examples of other people who have said the same thing.

The point is to try and be extra generous with your citations, including them whenever they are related to your work, rather than just when they are the source of your work. Students often seem intent on including the minimum number of citations possible in their work; professional researchers, on the other hand, generally try to err on the side of the maximum possible number of references.

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