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The Importance of Documenting and Different Documentation/Formatting Styles

The Importance of Documenting and Different Documentation/Formatting Styles

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson discusses the value of documenting and introduces formatting styles, particularly APA.

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Source: Rather, Feroz. (2014, Oct. 8) The Throwaways. The Rumpus. Retrieved from http://therumpus.net/2014/10/the-throwaways-2/. Zafar, Salman. (2014, Feb. 5) Kashmir May Never Become a Part of Pakistan… The Express Tribune News Network. Retrieved from http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/20903/kashmir-may-never-become-a-part-of-pakistan/.

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What are we going to learn today? Today we'll be learning all about documenting research sources. We'll look at why it's important to do so and the different styles and formatting. Then we'll cover the various pieces of data we need to find and demonstrate finding it on a couple of online Sources

One of the more important things that any writer of a research-based essay can do is accurately document the sources of information used in the essay. There are several reasons why this is such a high priority, the first of which is doing so will increase your credibility with readers by showing that you're a thoughtful and careful researcher and writer. It also improves your arguments and support for them through your awareness of your sources, how and why you're using them, and where you found them. Finally, documenting sources will help you avoid unintentional plagiarism by keeping track of your sources and presenting them for your readers to examine themselves if they want.

Just to make things complicated, we've come up with several different established styles for formatting the documentation of sources. No, I'm kidding. There really are several styles, but even though it might sometimes seem to students that they exist just to complicate their lives, the reason we have so many different formatting styles is that different fields, and the discourse communities within them, have different priorities when it comes to providing bibliographic information. And so they each have their own expectations.

It's important for writers, especially student writers, to know which style is required for any given writing project. Though, in all honesty, all of them are similar. The most common formatting styles are the Modern Language Association, or MLA for short, which is primarily used by those in the subject of English and other humanities. Then there's the Chicago Manual of Style, which is used in many different kinds of publication.

The AP, or Associated Press style, is used by newspapers and magazine publishers. And the APA, the formatting style of the American Psychological Association, is primarily used in the social sciences. These styles are similar, and generally require the same information, though often in a different order or presented in slightly different formatting emphases. Still, it's important for beginning writers to learn to work with these styles, no matter what field they're looking to get into.

More important than the style in which it's recorded is what's recorded. And the thing is, virtually all the different formatting styles require the same information. This includes the author or authors in the order they appear on the source and, obviously, spelled correctly. Then we'll need the title of the source itself. And if the source is an essay, a story, poem, article, or piece on a web page, we also need to record the umbrella source, the book, journal, magazine, newspaper, or web page that the source came from.

We need the publication date and the publisher, which on web pages may or may not be the page itself or another organization. And if the source is an essay, story, poem, or article published under an umbrella text, we need the page numbers covered by the source. And we need the page numbers for any quotes or direct paraphrases, or if the source is a web page that's not broken up into pages, then paragraph numbers will do.

And if it's an online source, we also need to record the URL and the date it was accessed because web pages change frequently. For print sources like books and magazine articles, most of the bibliographic data can be found easily. Generally, all you need to do is look at the copyright page, the cover, and the source itself. However, finding the data on web pages can sometimes be a little more challenging. But it's still important to try to find everything because on most pages, you'll be able to. So now we're going to practice.

Let's say that I've been doing some research for an essay about the country of Kashmir and its long, violent history between Pakistan and India. I found two online sources by Kashmiri authors, the first of which we're looking at now. So how do I go about finding the information I need? First, I can easily see the author's name, Feroz Rather, and the publication date, which comes next in APA style formatting, is October 8, 2014. Then I need the title, also right here, "The Throwaways." Now, this, Rumpus, that's an online literary journal. And in this case, it's the publisher too. And the only other thing I need is the URL I found this at, which is right here. Not too bad, huh? So that's one down.

Now, let's look at the other. This is another article by a Kashmiri writer. And here's his name, Salman Zafar. They conveniently list the publication date right next to his name, so I've got that too. And the title is easy to find. And the publisher is probably this, the Express Tribune. But just to be safe, let's look all the way down here at the very bottom of the page. Most web pages, especially big fancy ones like this, will have some kind of copyright statement.

It's usually the very last thing on their web page. It's kind of like the copyright page in a book, only harder to find sometimes. So if you're ever not sure who the publisher of a web page is, scroll down and see what you can find. In this case it was no surprise. The Express Tribune News Network is credited as the copyright holder. So now here are my two bibliographic entries with everything I need I found online.

So what did we learn today? We learned about documenting research sources, from why this is important to the many styles of formatting and what information we need. And finally, a couple examples of online information gathering. We covered a lot. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

  • APA

    The formatting style of the American Psychological Association

  • Formatting Style

    Established rules and guidelines for formatting essays, articles, and books, including the methodology for recording source bibliographic data.