Citation Rhetoric Examined

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Teresa Dobson

    University of British Columbia

  2. 2. Michael Eberle-Sinatra

    Université de Montréal

  3. 3. Stan Ruecker

    University of Alberta

  4. 4. Shannon Lucky

    University of Alberta

  5. 5. INKE Research Group

    University of Alberta

Work text
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Citation Rhetoric Examined
Dobson, Teresa M.
University of British Columbia, Canada
Eberle-Sinatra, Michael
Université de Montréal, Canada
Ruecker, Stan
University of Alberta, Canada
Lucky, Shannon
University of Alberta, Canada
INKE Research Group
INKE Project
In his influential monograph
The Rhetoric of
Citation Systems
, Connors (1999) elaborates
on the principle that scholars working with
different forms of citation find themselves
thinking differently, since the citation format
has natural consequences in the way it interacts
with the material in the practice of the writer.
For example, the popular MLA and APA formats
differ radically in the way they handle footnotes.
MLA allows writers to include both substantive
and citation footnotes, and gives them the
choice to include citations at the foot of the
page, at the back of the book, or inline. Many
journals employing APA, on the other hand,
discourage use of substantive footnotes and
require that citations be inline. The content of
in-text parenthetical citations is also different:
MLA requires writers to include a page number
for citations, while APA allows writers to refer
broadly to a source by author name and year.
Connor argues that the APA’s emphasis on
the year encourages both the writer and the
reader to be conscious of how recent the
source material is, and that a prejudice tends
to emerge against older publications, which
helps to strengthen the supercessionist form
of thinking across the disciplines where the
APA format is popular. In addition, the lack
of substantive footnoting in the APA tends to
discourage digressions into related but essential
content by both writers and readers.
In this project, we examine how citation style
may modify the reading experience through a
preliminary study with graduate students in the
humanities and social sciences. In the first half
of the study, we asked five graduate students
to read an article that contains a number
of substantive footnotes (Booth’s “Witchcraft,
flight and the early modern English stage”),
and had them prepare an alternative version
in which they were required to incorporate
all footnotes into the text. These two versions
correspond roughly to the practice in MLA
and APA citation. We note, for instance, that
MLA does not require substantive footnoting,
and APA does allow for substantive footnotes;
however, in practice footnotes are more widely
accepted by journals employing MLA style,
while APA journals often discourage or disallow
footnotes. The goal of the exercise was to
look at the differences in handling the two
conditions and the effects of those differences
on production and reception of academic
content. We recorded the details of this
process employing Morae usability software
and interviewed participants post-task about
their process. The study participants found this
to be a challenging and at times frustrating
exercise. Many remarked that the information
in the discursive footnotes was extraneous to
the main thesis of the article and that there
could be no satisfactory way of integrating that
information into the text. Some participants
included the footnoted material verbatim
parenthetically in-text. Others omitted the
footnotes altogether. Generally, participants felt
that a paratextual space for discursive content
(footnotes) is important, although in the case
of this article the footnotes may have contained
more extraneous material than would be
desirable. Participants found converting in-text
parenthetical references more straightforward.
A prejudice against the inclusion of the year
of publication in text in accordance with APA
guidelines emerged: participants noted that
the year of publication is less important to
understanding the relevance of cited sources
than other descriptive information such as
title. The respondents did not believe either
citation system was better equipped to help
readers located referenced sources, but they did
indicate that discursive footnotes provide an
important venue for valued parallel discussions
and related but non-essential information, and

that discouraging the use of discursive footnotes
impoverishes academic writing.
Subsequently, we gave the same article to
twenty-six undergraduate students: half of
the participants read the original, MLA,
version of the article; the other half read
an APA version of the same article in
which footnotes were integrated into the
text. Post-reading, participants answered a
comprehension question and nine recall
questions. Citation style did not appear to
affect either comprehension or recall. A
significant trend, however, emerged: discursive
information, whether it was located in the
footnotes in the original MLA version or
integrated into the text in the converted APA
version, was far less likely to be recalled
by participants. More than two thirds of
participants did not answer questions based on
discursive information correctly, regardless of
whether that information was contained in a
footnote (as in the original MLA version) or
integrated into the text (as in the prepared
APA version). This finding appears to temper
Connor’s thesis about the effects of citation
formats on reading.
This project is an initiative of a major
collaborative research initiative in the digital
humanities, Implementing New Knowledge
Environments (INKE), that aims to foster
understanding of the significance of digital
and analog books and their role in humanities
scholarship. It is also part of a larger
study of citation rhetoric as exemplified
Synergies: Canada’s Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Infrastructure
, a not-
for-profit platform for the publication and
dissemination of research results in the social
sciences and humanities published in Canada.
Results of this citation rhetoric research project
will benefit analysis of citation statistics in large-
scale web search interfaces such as
It will also contribute to further research on
automated semantic searches in bibliographies
and works cited, such as those covered in the
first year of the INKE project (e.g. Ruecker et al.
Booth, Roy
Witchcraft, flight and the
early modern English stage.
Early Modern
Literary Studies.
Connors, Robert J.
The Rhetoric
of Citation Systems.
NY: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates (Taylor & Francis Group).
Ruecker, Stan, Rockwell, Geoffrey,
Radzikowska, Milena, Sinclair, Stéfan,
Vandendorpe, Christian, Siemens, Ray,
Dobson, Teresa, Doll, Lindsay, Bieber,
Mark, Eberle-Sinatra, Michael, NKE
. 'Drilling for Papers in INKE'.
INKE 2009: Research Foundations for
Understanding Books and Reading in the
Digital Age.
23-24 October 2009.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None