4. A footnote in history (Finishing the PhD)

(Part 4 of 10)

Just some brief tips here relating to citations, footnotes and the like.

  • Cite as fully as you can when write and edit. Put full citation details etc. in your notes even. Makes it much easier to find where a quote or idea came from when you’re looking for it in a hurry.
  • Do not attempt to do the footnoting/citations when you’ve written the thesis text. Recipe for disaster.
  • I kept a separate EndNote database of everything I had in my filing cabinet. Essential for determining whether I could check a source immediately or whether I had to find it online or at the library.
  • If you have any references you meant to follow up later, follow them up now. I had a footnote for some Justin Martyr stuff that said ‘check this reference at some point’. Took ages to find the correct reference because I’d written the wrong one down. You don’t want to be doing this at the last minute because the source might be unavailable (e.g. borrowed from the library).
  • Check all the references/citations thoroughly. I had a couple that EndNote bodged because I’d manually edited the citation tags at some point.
  • Check you computer can generate the bibliography and format the citations with all the thesis text if you’re using citation software. You don’t need last minute resource issues with the computer.
  • Check people’s names. In a couple of places I swapped the first names (Mary for Margaret and vice versa) because I was thinking about the one person while writing another person’s name.
  • Be consistent with publishers and place names. If you aren’t sure of US state abbreviations etc. then here’s a useful list.
  • Do not muck about changing the citation style at the last minute. You should have been working with one of the department or faculty styles for the past 2-3 years. Even though software like EndNote allows you to switch styles you may fall foul of things like how that new style’s default settings handle repeat citations.
  • Clearly identify what is required in your bibliography. Some institutions only want material cited. Others want you to demonstrate you know the field well by listing other material that isn’t directly cited to show you know about it. Others want the bibliography arranged into different sub-sections (e.g. primary sources vs. secondary sources). Make sure you get it right early on.

Get your citation system and formatting sorted early on and you’ll sleep better when you’re trying to bring everything together. Plus, I’ve met several examiners who say they check references rigorously (e.g. taking the thesis to the library and looking up every third reference in a chapter!). Good citation style and use demonstrates you know what you’re doing and is informative and helpful to the examiner.

A footnote on EndNote.

Many institutions have site licences etc. for EndNote and it’s the most widely used bibliographic software (though not the only one). If they do have a site licence then often there will be nice extras that allow you to connect to the campus libraries. Take advantage of this – getting the bibliographic information from your campus library catalogue means it will be for that same book you used (probably). Also, learn to use EndNote or similar early on. Just get the basics right. I didn’t have too many problems with it but I’ve heard some horror stories. If your student learning centre/library run courses on it, then go along. Taking a couple of hours to do that early on can save you major grief later.

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