Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reader Poll: How careful are you?

I'm going back and triple-checking my footnotes right now. I've prioritized: first, archival document citations (on line now! hooray!); second, published primary sources; third, page numbers in secondary sources (I have much of this on my computer)... or as many as I have time for before deadline. In other words, I'm shooting for sending this off with a final check of 100% of my primary source citations, and likely about 75% of my secondary sources. I feel guilty about that remaining 25%, and glad I'm at least semi-anonymous.

So, since this is incredibly dull, tedious work, and I'm likely to be at it for the next week, more or less, I thought I'd find whatever amusement value in it I could by conducting an unscientific poll of my readers. If you participate, I'd like you to (just this once) log in anonymously. Then answer as many of the questions below as you feel like:

1. When you're doing your editing before publication, how meticulous are you in checking your citations (and does this vary by publication type)?

2. Have you ever caught a citation blunder of yours in print? Did it really, really bother you? Or did you just shrug ruefully and move on?

3. (for comparison purposes): Have you published one book? Multiple books? Articles only?

4. Have you found that your approach to this part of the process has changed over time? If so, how?


Susan said...

It is hard usually to check manuscript citations, but I try to make sure printed primary sources are accurate. I was abashed at how many errors I found...

Anonymous said...

I fear that as much as anything.

tenthmedieval said...

(1) I am not as meticulous as I could be, but rely on my having been pedantic enough with my notes in the first place. No variance by source type. (My published work up till now has always referenced only stuff in print.)

(2) Yes, but only typographical or format errors. On the other hand the footnotes of my first paper are riddled with these because I tried to change my reference edition to a couple of important documents at proof stage and the type-setters apparently couldn't read my long-hand corrections. So gods help anyone who ever tries to follow those up. That was pretty earth-opening. At that point I comforted myself with the fact that it was unlike anyone ever would and, indeed, to the best of my knowledge all my work remains completely uncited in print. SO THAT'S OK!

(3) Two articles.

(4) Really basic changes: always note page numbers in longhand notes, record a digital citation somewhere for anything I have notes of, don't write down quotes without enough information to source them by... all basically reinforcement for the idea at (1) that my notes are good enough to use for citation.

Anonymous said...

I try to be meticulous, but I have discovered errors here and there in my published work. It's not a huge proportion -- maybe 3 known problems out of, literally, a thousand or so individual references in my book and half dozen articles.
As for the response: I'm in the shrug-and-move-on camp. There's nothing that can be done to correct such problems (unless there is a reprint), so it doesn't seem worth while wringing my hands about it.

Historiann said...

What Susan and tenthmedieval said--if you're reasonably compulsive about citations in the first draft as you're writing, you can probably relax about them. (But checking published primary sources is probably a good idea.)

I've never been alerted to an error or omission in my footnotes, in anything I've published. But in this day & age, with e-mail and the google, if someone finds that a footnote of mine is in error, people can find me easily and let me know via e-mail. I then can track down the right citation and/or page numbers pretty quickly and get back to them. (This is not an excuse for being sloppy, but rather a suggestion that the world has changed from back when the published book was your last opportunity to get it right.)

A friend of mine contacted a famous historian in my field, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, when she couldn't find a case or example from the footnote Ulrich provided. (This was back in the days of snailmail and writing actual letters.) My friend was enormously impressed that Ulrich replied to her immediately with a postcard that included the correct citation.

Anonymous said...

Feeling like a badscholar as I read this post, because so far I have one published article and I didn't check page numbers in the citations!

But I should say that my reading process involves taking very meticulous notes that include page numbers that I am very careful about. Plus, both the notes and the entire citation goes directly into Endnote, so chances of citation error are probably low.

Anyway, here's my answers to the poll:
1. Eek! I don't check, unless something looks wrong.
2. No, but so far my "in print" number is one. If I did find an error in citations, I would probably shrug ruefully and move on. I wonder if I would care more if I were a historian, though. I think I would, but maybe that is an unfair double standard.
3. One article so far.
4. Yes, it has changed since I started using Endnote. I used to spend days working on citations before Endnote.