Reference formatting woes

November 4, 2011, 12:41 pm

At this very moment, I am taking a break from making reviewers’ very minor revisions to a paper that I submitted recently. I am very pleased about just how minor these revisions are, but of course I can’t just leave it at that. I noticed that Reviewer #1, who was particularly enamored of the paper (thank you, Reviewer #1!) only made 5 tiny changes – three of which were in the bibliography and were errors caused by EndNote’s poorly defined style for that particular journal.

Disgruntled tortoiseshell cat

I am disgruntled.

This drives me insane. I have used EndNote for years, and I like many things about it. EndNote is one of the main reasons that I still use Microsoft Word for all of my writing. Well, also because I do a lot of collaborative writing, and if I were to send my colleagues a file in, say, Scrivener, they would think I had lost my mind. But I digress. The point that I was trying to make is that I rely very heavily on EndNote.

You can download a whole library of journal citation styles, which I have done. There are over 5,000 styles in this library, suggesting that you can automatically format your document correctly for over 5,000 academic journals. However, in my experience, not a single one of these styles has turned out to be completely correct. I’ve even gone and downloaded the individual style file from the journal itself and it’s not correct. Every time I have submitted a paper to a new journal (that is, one to which I have not submitted previously), I have had to go in and edit the reference style manually. EndNote, WHY can’t you get this right?

This isn’t quite so bad when the Instructions to Authors include a set of example references with proper formatting. But one of my favorite specialized journals, one which I read regularly and have published in, has the worst Instructions to Authors that I have ever seen. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Journal of ___ian __ology.) This is their instructions for how to format the bibliography: See a recent issue of the journal. I’m not kidding. I have tried and tried to get the style correct, but of course every time I submit, the editor sends it back telling me to fix it. (But not HOW to fix it.)

Which brings me to a more fundamental problem: Why do we need all of these different reference formatting styles anyway? Why can’t we just pick one and make it the standard? Below is one reference, formatted for 5 different journals that I have submitted to or published in previously.

Cheevy, M. Q. 2006. Musings on academia. American Journal of Blogology, 14, 546-561.

Cheevy MQ. 2006. Musings on academia. Am. J. Blogol. 14:546-561.

Cheevy, M. Q. 2006. Musings on academia. -Am. J. Blogol. 14: 546-561.

CHEEVY, M. Q. 2006. Musings on academia. American Journal of Blogology 14:546-561.

Cheevy MQ (2006) Musings on academia. American Journal of Blogology 14, 546-561.

Why? WHY??

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