Friday, February 6, 2009

Decide on One Writing Style!

As a scholar, and as someone who as worked in a profession with its own stylebook, I often find myself frustrated with pleasing others in regard to which style I use. I've been lucky enough to have professors who see the ridiculousness of such conformity and who just simply don't care as long as all sources are cited the same way consistently and all of the necessary information is provided so the reader could look up the source. Keep the headings, page margins, etc., reasonable and consistent.

However, it's those blasted conferences and journals that really complicate things the most. You write a great paper in APA format for a class only to find that the journal uses Chicago style. Or, perhaps, in your undergraduate education, you were taught that MLA style was the way of the future and that all other styles were obselete — and then you get to graduate school and no one has ever heard of it.

Me, personally, I like to write (making sure to keep words in AP style of course) and cite my sources by using superscript numbers and endnotes or footnotes. This way, I don't have to look at a last name in parentheses, maybe with a year or page number, and try to guess the source. I can just look at the corresponding number if I want, and it takes up less space in the actual manuscript (plus, in the latest verison of Word, if you just hover your cursor over the number, a pop-up window lets you see the full citation).

On EBSCO Host and plenty of other citation software and/or databases, you have the option of seeing a source cited in so many different ways that it's surprising anyone can even tell what style you use. Some people want full first names while others just want initials. And the list goes on. So why hasn't the academic community gotten together and just debated about the best style and picked one to save everybody a little trouble? My guess is because academics really can't agree on much of anything, but some of them must have stock in the various style guides.

C'mon, profs, it's time to put selfishness aside for efficiency — think of how much time we could all save if we only used one style. We'd memorize every detail of it eventually from not switching between three different ones, and we'd never have to convert anything again once we decide it would be a better fit in Journal A instead of Journal B. My guess is this will be about as successful an argument as trying to institute an international language, but I at least had to try to put some momentum behind it.

Have a gripe about academics, public relations, journalism or a related topic? Want to do guest post or persuade me to write about it? Just leave a comment on this post! And oh, while you're at it, people, can we please settle this English vs. journalism argument about the serial comma?

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