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Citations and Footnotes: Respecting Thinkers and Researchers

As promised in my column last week, I will continue to talk about research, this time focusing on the most interesting and sexier part of this intellectual exercise called research.

How did sex enter the discourse of research? When I was Research Chair in the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, in Makati years back, Dr. Alfredo Bengzon took me aside when he was sensing I had difficulty developing a culture of research in the campus. ‘Know what, Tito, you have to demystify research… you need to make it sexier.”

The academic in me found that advice odd first but then I realized the wisdom in it. Students and many teachers think of research as separate from learning and teaching. It is but, wholly, it is not. Everyday, we re-search. When we converse with anyone and we want to bring them to our side, we do not merely rely on our words, we mention books or names of authors that will make our argument strong, feasible and, well, attractive.

In formal research, calling on authors and books to join our discourse is the function of citation. It is the act of naming books and writers. It is, as the Handbook for Scholars puts it, the courtesy of one scholar to another.

The quotes can come from the so-called big books – the Bible, fragments from ancient philosophies – or from popular sources like films and songs.

Always, the rule is for us to make sure our quotations are correct and, like true love, faithful to the sources. As in real life, no one wants to be misquoted.

Any mistake in the quotation can bring down your argument, and with it your reputation as a writer or researcher. If you are a cinema buff, you cannot be forgiven if you do not know the source and context of the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The fanatic will easily say, with a smirk in his face, that’s Clark Gable as Rhett Butler giving up on Scarlett O’Hara. But if you are a film historian, you will even be aware of the endless debates in how the actor delivers the line in the film. Did Gable respect the comma between “dear” and “I”? Or, did he utter it smoothly till the end, without any pause anywhere? There is a way to settle this dispute: go back to the source. Watch the film Gone with the Wind and carefully view the scene and listen closely this time.

In research as with films, the same rule applies: Go back to the source, return to the original. Confront the author’s words as they appear in the book.

The advent of the Internet and the creation of Wikipedia have made us all easy authorities overnight. Even the most difficult concepts like “rhizomatic ideas” and “rhizomatic philosophies” are accessible through Wikipedia. Go to the site and you could be blown away by the instant articulation of ideas.

There is nothing wrong with consulting Wikipedia but as with any kind of knowledge or sources of knowledge, you need to be critical. You need to develop the art of bracketing, which is simply reading and stopping and asking yourself: Is this true? Is this correct?

If the audience is composed of college students, using the Wikipedia to explain “rhizomes” could work, but only up to a degree. It will not work when your audience have not only read Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari but other authors related to their writings, which includes non-philosophers like Marcel Proust!

Does this mean you cannot do research based on one book only? You can but you admit to the delimitation of your sources. This is plainly called intellectual honesty.

What are the basic rules for citation then? These tips are from various sources. Quote for authority; quote for emphasis; quote for color; otherwise do not quote at all.

As regards, authority, it is important for the teacher/researcher to be updated in sources. You cannot be relying on old books, unless you are dealing with classics. In good universities, each year the lecturer is asked to submit a syllabus or course outline with references not more than five (5) years old.

Look at this paragraph:: The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in individuals 16 years of age and older. As is taken from the Pfizer website, then it possesses authority. The next sentence is for emphasis: The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of the medical product under Section 564(b)(1) of the FD&C Act unless the declaration is terminated or authorization revoked sooner.

How does one quote for color? If you want to say, Life is simple, there is no need to quote from any wise person. But listen to this quotation attributed to Confucius: “Life is really simple, but men insist on making it complicated.” Now, that is color.


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