The concept of scholarship as a conversation reflects the origins of learned societies and their journals. Many journals still in existence – such as Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – began as correspondence between researchers working on similar topics. For example, the circles of Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg sent such letters to each other; both are associated with the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (its full name), the oldest scientific society in the world. (Encyclopedia Britannica has excellent articles with sources on both these gentlemen and the Society.)
The Association of College & Research Libraries includes “Scholarship As Conversation” in its Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. The framework, meant to be open to instantiation in different contexts, emphasizes citations as representing this conversation.
Citations help researchers to find more research, as when you find an article that was cited in another article or book or website. That sense of being “on the trail” of an idea is one of the joys of research. Even more exciting is when you formulate your own point of view on a topic, built on information others have provided. You cite their work, and your own work stands out as your original contribution. You have the last word in the conversation!
Formatting citations is not easy, and you may wonder why they are done the way they are? Again, the styles have origins in the communities of scholars that formed around particular topics. Scientists want to know how recent a publication is before reading it; also scientific reports often have multiple authors, all of whose names need to index. Thus it makes sense that the APA citation format doesn’t spell out author first names, and puts the date of publication right after them.
The library has many tools to help you with citing your sources: check out our current display board for ideas. Our online Guide gathers citations aids in many formats. If you prefer in-person help, bring your citation questions to the librarians: we are here to assist you!