Citation basics for ambiguous citations

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Sometimes the sources we want to cite don’t neatly fit the examples in the style guides.  For example the reference in my January 16 post resembled a magazine article in some ways and a blog post in other ways.  I could even make a case for the piece being supplemental material.  Such cases call for us to look at the why, and not simply the how, of citation.

The overall goal of citation is for your reader to find your source.  Regardless of type most sources have an author or its equivalent.  Sources are created at a point in time: most citation formats even have an option when the date is not given.  Sources usually have a title or its equivalent as well.  These elements help the reader trace the source.

The APA Style experts have an excellent framework for thinking through these elements.  For MLA format the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s guide color-codes functionally similar elements among different source types.

My example had a clear author, date, article/post title, magazine/website title, and URL address.  These pieces would help you find the source.  The possible designation of “weblog post” or “supplemental materal” is a mere detail.

I don’t mean to say that details are unimportant.  If we take care of the essentials, though, the details will be easier to manage.