Not FAQs But UAQs: Indirect Sources, Personal Communications, Facebook and Twitter Posts

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Three of the more unusual citation questions I've been asked recently concern how to cite indirect sources, personal communications, and Facebook/Twitter posts. Here is what you need to know to sort out these esoteric citation issues.

Indirect Sources
This week a student asked, "What happens if I have to cite something that is already cited in the source that I'm citing. Can't I just act like I used the original source and cite it like I usually would?" (This student was asking about citing an indirect source: using a source that was cited in another source.) Of course, the answer is no because as good writers we can never find ourselves "acting." Whenever possible, it is best to find and reference the original source rather than use an indirect source. It is the only way to know for sure that you are accurately representing the material presented in the original source. However, if you don't have time to track down the original source--and you know your audience is much less formal--then you can include an indirect source. The two most common styles are APA and MLA. The OWL at Purdue shows the standard format for both of these citation styles for an indirect source.
         Examples:
         APA           Johnson argued that...(as cited in Smith, 2003, p. 102).
         MLA           Raavitch argues that high schools are pressured to act as "social
                           service centers, and they don't do that well" (qtd. in Weisman 259).

Personal Communications
Primary sources include conversations, e-mails, letters, and other person-to-person communications. APA style doesn't include these in the reference list because they are not recoverable information; it does include them in-text. Here's an example based on the format from the APA webpage.

         In-text          U.R. Bright (personal communication, February 10, 2010) stated...

The MLA format includes the information in-text and also in the works cited. Here are examples.

         In-text           Diane Chin, the head researcher states in an e-mail...
         Works Cited  Chin, Diane. E-mail to author. 7 Mar. 2008.

As the author, you are responsible for making sure you accurately represent the source. Obviously there are more opportunities to use personal communication citations unethically because they are harder to verify.

Facebook and Twitter
Just yesterday I received an e-mail for a new business communication textbook with a segment for students concerning how to use Twitter for research. The use of social networking cites is evolving, and the citation style guides are updating to stay abreast of the new developments.

For example, on the APA website for October 26, 2009, Chelsea Lee, a blogger for the APA discusses citing posts or feeds in general as well as citing particular posts. The information is detailed and available at the following URL:

http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/10/how-to-cite-twitter-and-facebook-part-ii.html

Amy Vecchione, a librarian for Boise State has compiled a webpage for citing Twitter and Facebook in MLA format at the following URL:

http://guides.boisestate.edu/content.php?pid=19556&sid=586398

She also gives helpfu advice on citing YouTube.

Always keep in mind citations are used to support your points and build your credibility as a writer. For some audiences, using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is appropriate, but for others, it is not. It's important to use appropriate sources for each audience.

What has stumped you when you're citing sources? Send me your questions. Together we can make sense of the conventions and evolutions of using sources well to become better writers. 




 





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