Sunday, August 31, 2008

Citation: A Rabbit Hole

Yesterday's blog entry got the following comment/question from Sarah:

I just remembered another rabbit hole of mine....Citations. short version-- I may have 6 texts that speak to incorporates progressive era reform, germ theory, race & immigration, so does that mean I list all 6 books whenever I summarize a concept that speaks about germ theory, or any of the other themes. The works aren't saying anything uniquely different from one another, I just don't want to be accused of plagarism or leaving out a critical text if I don't cite them all. BUT I also don't want to cite them all every time I make a claim covered by these texts especially when those claims are many pages apart from one another. I feel I'm in a rabbit hole with this one, do you have any suggestions to get out from it?

Since this is not the question of definition from yesterday's post (though obviously related), I figured I'd use it for today's (thanks for the subject, Sarah). My answer would be similar in character, though.

Let's start by looking at this in terms of what you want to accomplish, not in terms of what could go wrong. Now we see that part of the question shows that this situation is when you're trying to summarize (or define) a concept that is used/defined/discussed by others. As part of the discussion of the idea, you want to acknowledge the sources that you are aware of that define the idea (hence avoiding plagiarism).

What I would suggest is to try to frame the discussion of the concept in terms of a general group and an exemplar--something along the lines of:
"Concept X has been discussed, defined and described by several authors over the last three decades (AuthorA, 1980; Author B, 1985; Author C, 1990; Author D, 1995...). The concept, as described by these authors, conforms to a set of main points abut the concept that I will use as definitional in this dissertation/book. In order to discuss these main points, I will use AuthorA as an exemplar; discussion of the other authors would be similar."

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