Successful Writing :

Mastering The Conventions of Documentation





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Mastering The Conventions of Documentation :





If you have ever used the endnotes or bibliographies provided in books and articles to augment your own search for information, you already know how helpful clear documentation can be. There are three 'reasons for documenting the sources you use in your own writing:


  • To let readers know where you found the material that you include in your paper



  • To make it possible for readers to locate and use that material themselves if they choose to follow up on your research



  • To show your instructor you have mastered the careful science of documentation, an essential component in all academic fields



  • Many of the basics of using borrowed material correctly were covered in the section on managing sources and quotations. The purpose of this chapter is to look in greater depth at two especially important sides to documentation and then to present the basics of citing sources according to the
    MIA Handbook - Fifth Edition and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association - Fifth Edition.


    Documenting sources correctly involves more than using the correct form of footnotes and bibliography entries. Whatever form your documentation takes, your readers still need to be able to tell exactly which materials are your own and which come from someone else's words or ideas.

    And however you choose to cue your reader that a particular idea or fact is one you have taken from someone else, those materials still will need to be smoothly integrated into your writing.

    This double task - letting your readers know you're borrowing words, facts or ideas from some other source, while at the same time integrating that material smoothly into your own writing - places a particular burden on the writing you do around such borrowings. In the case of direct quotations, the task is only partly accomplished by using quotation marks (for quoted material that is four lines or fewer) or block indentation (for quoted material that is five lines or longer). You also need to introduce that borrowed material. For material that you paraphrase or summarize, such introductory comments are especially necessary, both to indicate the act of borrowing and to make a smooth connection with your own ideas.

    The following paragraph, part of an essay on capital punishment, illustrates a number of problems in the ways it uses borrowed material:

    Capital punishment is one of the features of American society today that most distinguish us from the rest of the world. No country anywhere -not Russia, not China - executes its citizens at anything like the rate we do ours. Other than brute revenge, perhaps the only possible justification for such activities on the part of the State would be the argument that the existence and frequent, well-publicized use of capital punishment discourages other potential criminals and prevents other crimes. In support of that claim, a recent study concludes that capital punishment has a strong deter¬rent effect. "An increase in any of the three probabilities - arrest, sentencing or execution - tends to reduce the crime rate. In particular, each execution results, on average, in 18 fewer murders - with a margin of error of plus and minus 10." As lain Murray concludes, "On the final day of 1999 (the last day for which we have accurate figures), there were 3,527 prisoners under sentence of death in American prisons. This study suggests that if all those sentences were carried out 63,000 lives would be saved." One is left agreeing with noted philosopher John Stuart Mill, who in a speech before the English Parliament on April 21, 1868, aptly concluded that "I confess it appears to me that to deprive the criminal of the life of which he has proved himself to be unworthy ... is the most appropriate as it is certainly the most impressive mode in which society can attach to so great a crime the penal consequences which for the security of life it is indispensable to annex to it."


    You could point to many faults in this writer’s handling of source material.

  • The writer has failed to provide any documentation at all showing the sources she used.


  • If the second sentence ("No country anywhere ... ") reflects a fact the writer discovered somewhere, a source must be cited. If not, it probably cannot be supported and should be omitted.


  • Most of the paragraph - three sentences - is direct quotation, none so memorable that it needs to be quoted. Paraphrase or summary would suffice. All of those direct quotes overpower the writer's own language. If the whole essay were to go on like that, the result would be a patched together assemblage of various people's words and ideas instead of an essay by one writer.


  • In the first quote, the writer has in fact appropriated quoted words as her own. ("Capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect" should be part of the quote.)


  • Readers cannot tell if the first quote comes from the same source (Iain Murray) as the second quote. In fact, it does not.


  • The third quote, taken out of context from the words of a famous philosopher nearly 150 years ago, in another country, does not really support the point at hand.


  • The following revision eliminates the unnecessary use of direct quotes and shortens the remaining quotes to just the key phrases needed. Where others' ideas are being used, the language around those ideas clearly indicates the fact and there is internal documentation (here in MLA form) that will lead readers to the right items in the Works Cited or References at the end of the essay. Finally, the superfluous John Stuart Mill quote has been eliminated entirely.

    Capital punishment is one of the features of American society today that most distinguish us from the rest of the world. Other than brute revenge, perhaps the only possible justification for such activities on the part of the State would be the argument that the existence and frequent, well publicized use of capital punishment discourages other potential criminals and prevents other crimes. In support of that claim, a recent study by Emory University researchers Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul H. Rubin and Joanna Mehlhop Shepherd concludes that capital punishment has a strong deterrent effect. The researchers discovered that increases in either arrests or sentencing or executions in fact reduce the crime rate. For each execu¬tion performed, they claim 18 fewer murders will take place. As lain Murray concludes, writing in American Outlook Magazine online, "On the final day of 1999 [...] there were 3,527 prisoners under sentence of death in American prisons. This study suggests that if all those sentences were carried out 63,000 lives would be saved. If these researchers are right, then it may just be the case that capital punishment, barbaric and morally repugnant as it may seem to many in America and to perhaps most of the rest of the world, in fact makes sense for society.


    Of course the internal documentation in the paragraph would lead to full citations at the end of the paper.


  • Styles of Documentations



  • In-Text Citation



  • Bibliographic Documentation






  • Successful Writing Index




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