Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Guidelines for Good Academic Referencing

I have been alarmed for a long time at sloppy scholarship in published archaeology. This takes many forms, but one aspect is the sloppy (and sometimes misleading) use of citations and references. I recently read a fascinating paper by Anne-Wil Harzing that documents, in gory detail, a case of sloppy referencing in numerous published studies (in the field of management studies) that led a completely erroneous finding to become entrenched in the literature. She provides a list of 12 “Guidelines for Good Academic Referencing.” I highly recommend her paper (there is a pre-publication version on her web site); these guidelines are very relevant for all academic disciplines, including archaeology.

Harzing, Anne-Wil
2002 Are our referencing errors undermining our scholarship and credibility? The case of expatriate failure rates. Journal of Organizational Behavior 23:127-148.
  1. (1) Reproduce the correct reference. This means get the details of the citation right.
  2. (2) Refer to the correct publication. For example, do not cite Binford (1972) for something that was in fact said in Binford (1965).
  3. (3) Do not use “empty” references. “Empty references do not contain any original data for the phenomenon under investigation, but strictly refer to other studies to substantiate their claim.”
  4. (4) Use reliable sources.
  5. (5) Use generalizable sources for generalized statements. In other words, don’t cite a single example as if it provided support for a more general phenomenon, and don’t cite a study of X artifacts at Y site as if it pertained to many more kinds of artifacts at many sites.
  6. (6) Do not misrepresent the content of the reference.
  7. (7) Make clear which statement references support. Don’t include a number of claims in one sentence, and then append a bunch of references.
  8. (8) Do not copy someone else’s references.
  9. (9) Do not cite out-of-date references. The point here is to avoid data and interpretations that have been discarded or superseded. Many archaeological data reports, of course, NEVER go out of date.
  10. (10) Do not be impressed by top academic journals.
  11. (11) Do not try to reconcile conflicting evidence.
  12. (12) Actively search for counter-evidence.
Herzing found that the greatest problems were caused by violations of guidelines 3, 4, 6, and 9. It is my subjective impression that in archaeology, guidelines 3, 4, 11 and 12 are particularly subject to violation. I will refrain from naming names here in order to avoid antagonizing people.

For a parallel study, published in New Scientist, see: “Scientists exposed as sloppy reporters”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble parsing #6, "The not misrepresent the content of the reference." Is it my mis-read, or is there a word missing or incorrect there?