Misc. Helpful Advice

A Basic Taxonomy of Documentation Styles That Editing Services Should Know

In their freshman English courses, many college students must use Modern Language Association (MLA) style.  Some even learn MLA well enough to apply it in later undergrad papers.  However, when they take classes outside of the English department, they often find they must learn other documentation styles. The more common among these additional styles are the American Psychological Association (APA) style and Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS; often referred to as Chicago style).

For graduate students and professionals engaged in scholarly writing, the documentation styles tend to be more varied, with many disciplines and professional groups having their own specific styles, including the Council of Science Editors (CSE), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, pronounced “I triple-E”).  In addition, many other professional organizations have their specific styles, many journals have their own in-house styles, and some publishers have their own styles that apply to all of their journals or to those focused on certain fields.

The various styles can be very confusing.  Besides the more salient differences (whether notes or parenthetical citations are used and whether dates follow authors’ names in parenthetical citations), the styles are often differentiated in the bibliographic entries by the use of parentheses and punctuation or the placement of the date.

To identify styles by the in-text citations, I generally apply the following system.

Numbers used to represent citations

  1. Are the numbers superscript (1) or regular font (in-line) in brackets (2)?
    1. Superscript numbers are used for different purposes in different systems.

a. In some documentation styles, superscript numbers indicate footnotes or endnotes that provide authorial comments only (used in MLA or APSA, for example).  These notes are not used primarily to indicate references unless, as specified by MLA, a parenthetical citation would contain enough references so that its length interferes with reading the text.

b. In other styles, the footnotes or endnotes indicate the sources for information used in the text and may contain authorial comments (alone or with reference information).  Such notes are used in the CMOS/Turabian notes-bibliography style.  Notes corresponding to superscript numbers appear at the bottom of the page on which the numbers appear (footnotes), at the end of a chapter (chapter endnotes), or after the last chapter (endnotes).  The information in these notes is repeated in a bibliography that often follows the final endnotes.  The bibliography is in alphabetical order.  This notes-bibliography style allows the use of shortened citations or Ibid. after the initial note giving the full publication information.  However, many students complain about having to duplicate the information from a bib entry for a source in the first note referring to that source.  Simply copying the information will not work because the punctuation in the notes is different from that in the bib entries.

c.         Finally, superscript numbers can indicate entries in the final references list (often labeled References or References Cited).  The entries in the final list are organized in the order in which they appear in the text and are numbered.  Subsequent references to a source will be indicated by the earlier superscript number assigned to that source.  Styles using this citation/sequence style include AMA and one of the CSE styles.  AMA indicates page numbers in superscript parentheses immediately following the number: 5(p377).

  1. Non-superscript (in-line) numbers in brackets usually indicate a citation/sequence style (with entries in the references list organized in the order of their citation in the text).  IEEE is an example of this style.  However, ACM has an alternative name/sequence style in which sources in the references list are organized alphabetically by authors’ last names and numbered consecutively.  In the text, a number in brackets (following punctuation marks if any are present) indicates the source being cited.

 

Parenthetical in-text citations

  1. Do parenthetical citations include the publication date?
    1. If parenthetical citations do not include a date, the documentation style is very likely MLA.
    2. Styles that include the date in parenthetical citations are often used in the social sciences and in some humanities.  They include CMOS/Turabian author-date style, APA, ASA, APSA, ACM, and CSE name/year style.  These styles can be further differentiated by the formatting of the citations.

a.         If an ampersand (&) is used to join multiple authors’ names instead of the word and, the style is very likely APA or Harvard style.  APA is further identified by a comma following the author’s name before the date and preceding the ampersand (Smith, Jones, & Brown, 2010) while Harvard style does not have either of these commas (Smith, Jones & Brown 2010).  Both Harvard style and APA have the page number preceded by a p and a period: (2010, p. 5).

b.         Styles that do not place a comma after the author’s name can often be differentiated by the way the date and page number are treated. APSA and CMOS/Turabian author-date styles separate the date from a page number with a comma (Name 2010, 23).  CSE name/year style also separates the date from a page number with a comma and indicates the page number with a p with no punctuation following it: (Name 2010, p 23).

c.         ASA separates the date from the page number with a colon: (Name 2010:23).

d.         Some styles do not use parentheses for the in-text citations.  Specifically, ACM uses brackets: [Name 2010].

 

Thus, the taxonomy for the documentation styles is as follows:

Numbers or Information in parentheses

If numbers, are they superscript or regular font?

If superscript, do the numbers indicate notes?

If so, do the notes contain source information?

If not, the style is probably MLA or APSA. (Skip to “parentheses” questions below.)

If so, the style is probably CMOS/Turabian.

If the numbers do not indicate notes, check the references list for numbered entries. The style is probably AMA or CSE.

If the numbers are not superscript, they are probably in brackets.

If the numbers are consecutive early on in the paper, the style is probably a citation/sequence style, such as IEEE, and the entries in the references list are not in alphabetical order.

If the numbers appear to be random, the style is probably a name/sequence style, such as ACM, and the entries in the references list are in alphabetical order.

If parentheses are used, do the in-text citations include dates?

If not, the style is probably MLA.

If so, is an ampersand used to connect authors’ names?

If so, does a comma appear before the date?

If so, the style is probably APA (which has a p and a period before the page number).

If not, the style is probably Harvard (which also uses a p. before the page number).

If an ampersand is not used to connect authors’ names, is the date separated from the page number with a comma?

If so, does a p without punctuation appear before the page number?

If so, the style is probably CSE name/year style.

If not, the style is probably APSA or CMOS/Turabian author-date style.

If the date is separated from the page number with a colon, the style is probably ASA.

 

Finally, if the author-and-date citation appears in brackets instead of parentheses, the style is probably ACM.

 

If you are having trouble, hire a good editing service such as Edit911.

8 Steps in Writing Technical Manuals

As technologies continue to develop, there is an increasing need for quality technical manuals.  Whether the product is a piece of software, hardware, mechanical device, or a technical reference on a particular subject, there is a need for your book writing skills.  Here are some guidelines and advice that can position you to be successful with your technical manual writing project.  A technical manual that is well written, properly formatted, and edited can be a selling point for the product.  For example, if your product is comparable to another, yet people comment on the poor quality of your technical manual, a consumer may choose the other product because the instructions are better.

Learn, in detail, about the item or subject matter with a hands-on approach.  Your experience using the piece of equipment, software, or involvement with the subject matter is valuable in technical manual book writing.  Use the item and identify problem areas so that you can provide a clear, yet concise, series of instructions.

Discover the skill level and technical proficiencies of your end user.  Understand your target audience.  If you are writing to the public who has no experience with the item, you will need to provide details that are easy and fun to follow.  If you are writing for advanced users, remember to refer them to other sources of information for the basic use of the item or subject.

Develop an outline for using the item from start to finish for a task, lesson, or purpose.  Your outline is a brief sketch of how you would use this item or explain the subject matter from start to finish.  For example, a technical manual on a calculator would start with explaining how to power the unit on before you would begin providing details associated with using memory or power function buttons.

Write the document with easy to read vocabulary.  Choose your vocabulary so that end users can easily read the technical manual and understand what is written.  Most often, when people need to use the manual, they seek a clear example of how to get past a particular issue with the product.

Have test users utilize the manual and give you feedback.  Find test users, people who will use the product, and let them evaluate the technical manual.  Ask these people to make notes or comments about where your manual was not clear.

Edit for content and format.  Book editing for proper grammar, clarity of presentation, flow of ideas and content, and ease of reading will help the end user find value with your technical manual.  The format, especially inclusion of a table of contents and page numbering, is critical for making this document user friendly.

Perform a secondary review with another focus or test group to determine if you have solved the problems found by the first group of test users.  After your edits are complete and the areas that were unclear have been improved, find a few new test users and give them the opportunity to use this technical manual.  Make certain you have addressed the problems discovered by the first user group.

Final Editing. Finally, edit and re-write sections that the second test group found to be problematic and then move forward with your final plan for book editing and formatting prior to publication.

Congratulations, you have successfully written and formatted your first technical manual.

The 5 Keys for Self-publishing Success

Writing a novel, short story, or technical manual is on many of our “Bucket Lists.”  With the advent of Self-publishing through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, or many other avenues it has become easier to self-publish.  Regardless of whether or not you plan to sell millions or just a few copies to achieve fulfillment and happiness, you need to follow these five important steps to be successful in book writing and publishing.

1) Use a content editing service

Find a friend, fan, or professional editor who will read your book for content.  This person should be familiar with the genre of your book and be able to help you by suggesting areas that need improvement.  Some areas that a content editor might be able to identify as needing work include character development, storyline flow, and historical (if appropriate) accuracy.  It is also important that your content editor make sure your story is unique.

2) Develop an eye-catching cover

The first thing a potential reader sees for your book is the cover.  As people scroll through eBooks or on bookshelves, the cover is what catches the eye.  If your cover telegraphs the content and excitement of your story then people will pick up a copy and start looking in more detail to determine if this is a story worth their time or money. Choose a designer wisely and budget for a good one. Elance is a good way to find freelancer designers, as is Behance.

3) Have a Table of Contents

With a Table of Contents, it is easy for people to see what your book offers.  Interesting chapter titles or descriptions of the technical chapters helps the reader immediately assess the value of your book.  In our fast-paced society, a book without a Table of Contents might be set aside because it would take to long to determine the value of the book.

4) Employ an excellent book editing service

If you have spent any time reading book reviews you will notice that many reviewers comment on spelling errors, typos, and poor grammar.  It is critical to the success of your work that you have the book edited.  A good book editor will find punctuation issues, spelling and grammatical errors, formatting problems, and he or she can help you keep readers happy and providing you with four and five star reviews.  Poorly edited books often receive one star reviews and this can absolutely stop any sales of your book.

5) Write a catchy book description

After the cover grabs the potential readers attention, your book description needs to convince them that your book is going to be a wonderful read.  You must tease the reader, activate his/her imagination, and capture his/her attention.  Often a beta reader or a book editor can help you write the book description.

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How To Use Quotations In Dissertations

Using quotations in a Dissertation

Dissertations serve a two-fold purpose.  They are the final projects for doctoral candidates, the last step before degree conferral, in which these individuals may show their knowledge of their specific areas of interest and of their ability to identify and propose solutions to problems within their fields.  Dissertations are simultaneously the transition from students to contributors within their fields by engaging in original research and adding to the body of knowledge.

In writing dissertations, authors must demonstrate their thorough understanding of their particular areas of study.  One way to show that understanding is through the use of quotations garnered from previously written works in their field or in related areas.  However, overuse or inappropriate use of quotations may have the opposite effect, suggesting a lack of understanding.  Therefore, authors must use quotations judiciously.

The number and length of quotations may vary from one academic field to another.  For example, students examining Shakespeare’s use of figurative language in his various plays will need to include specific quotations from the plays for each type of figurative language discussed.  Such quotations may range from one word to several lines.  Students conducting qualitative studies based on extensive interviews of research participants will also need to use numerous quotations from those interviews to support whatever themes they discover through their analysis of those data.  However, inclusion of quotations from other experts in the field of study should be handled differently.

In the proposal, concept paper, and the final dissertation, candidates must demonstrate their familiarity with the research in their field.  This is the primary purpose of chapter 2 in most dissertations.  Some of that background material is also revealed in the first chapter to set up the problem and to show the significance of the study.  Additional background material is revealed in chapter 3 to show an understanding of the chosen research methodology and its appropriateness for the study in question.

In these chapters, authors are not only giving information pertinent to their studies but also showing their ability to grasp ideas, analyze material for its strengths and weaknesses, and synthesize material from various sources to create the foundation for their particular study.  Therefore, quotations should be used only when that is the best and clearest way to provide information to the reader.

Consider the following two examples:

Example 1:  According to John Smith, “The best thing about this concept is that it is easy to understand compared with other concepts in this field.”  He went on to say that “scientists will be able to use this new knowledge to create new technology for this field” and that “people will embrace this technology very quickly.”  Therefore, “companies that wish to increase their profitability” should begin investing in “this new scientific venture” so that they “will not lose out” on this “golden opportunity.”

Example 2:  According to John Smith, this new concept is easier to understand compared to others in the same field.  Because of this, new technology will be forthcoming, which people will be eager to purchase.  Therefore, he advises businesses to invest in this research as soon as possible.  Failure to do so may result in their decreased profitability.

Although not taken directly from actual dissertations, the formats of these two examples shows what edits often find in dissertations.  Both examples deal with the same topic and make the same essential points.  Yet the second one clearly shows the writer understands the material drawn from John Smith’s work; the first does not.  The first one is simply a copy of John Smith’s words interspersed with innocuous connecting phrases.  The writer in the first example has not attempted to analyze, synthesize, or summarize the meaning of Smith’s words.  Instead, the writer has found material that fits the topic being discussed and quotes from that material, expecting the reader to figure out what it all means.  Unfortunately, many candidates use this type of format.  Variations include inserting block quote after block quote, often from the same source, and quoting single words that, in and of themselves, hold no special significance.

Authors who use quotes judiciously reduce verbiage and redundancy, demonstrate their thorough grasp of the material, and often show the connection of their original research to the rest of the field more clearly.  If they include quotations at all, they do so to emphasis a particular point.  Using quotations in this way is ultimately more powerful.

After deciding to include quotations, authors must also handle them correctly.  The following points are not all inclusive but represent some of the more common problems editors find in dissertations.

1.     Introduce most quotations.  Seldom should a paragraph begin with a direct quotation.  Many university style guides require authors to introduce quotations, although there are exceptions.  However, when in doubt, error on the side of introducing the quotation to prevent any misinterpretation of the material.  Use one of the following constructions:

    1. a full sentence with the quotation placed after a colon;
    2. a short introductory phrase such as “according to” followed by the person’s name, a comma, and the quotation (e.g., According to Smith, “Businesses must take advantage of this golden opportunity”);
    3. the person’s name, an appropriate verb such as “stated,” and the quotation (e.g., David stated, “I am hungry”).

 

2.     Reproduce the quotation accurately.  The quotation should be written the same way it is written in the source from which it is being taken.  However, there are exceptions to this rule, depending on the style guide candidates are required to follow.  For example, writers may correct minor grammatical problems within a quotation as long as those corrections do not change the meaning or are not needed to demonstrate a particular point.  This avoids overuse of [sic] to show that the author knows the errors are there and makes it easier for the reader to follow.  It also acknowledges that the errors may or may not have been in the original quotation but are the result of transcription by a third party.

 

3.     Alter the capitalization of the first word of the quotation to fit the syntax of the sentence in which it is placed.  Generally, if the quotation follows direct attribution, the first word is capitalized (e.g., David said, “He goes to my school”).  However, if the word that is included, the first word is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun (e.g., David said that he goes to my school).  If the quotation is a block quotation and comes after a colon, capitalize the first word (see Example 1).  If it is a block quotation used as a continuation of the sentence, do not capitalize the first word unless it is a proper noun (see Example 2).

Example 1.

He recited the Gettysburg Address:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 

Example 2. 

The new law states that

any person entering another individual’s domicile without the express permission of that individual is trespassing and is subject to the fines and levies as defined in Section 3 subsection 1 paragraph 1.

 

4.     Use appropriate punctuation.  Be sure to punctuation the quotation correctly as it is used within the dissertation.

  1. All run-in quotations must begin and end with quotation marks.  Block quotations are not placed within quotation marks.
  2. Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation marks (e.g., Patty bought “The Isle of Man,” the bestselling mystery novel).
  3. Other forms of punctuation go outside the closing quotation marks unless they are part of the actual quotation (e.g., Did he just say, “I’m going home”?  I asked, “What do you have for lunch?”)
  4. If a quotation contains a quotation, be sure to enclose the secondary quotation in single quotation marks (e.g., He stated, “I have just read the story, ‘The Scarlet Ibis,’ for the tenth time”).  Note that in block quotations, secondary quotations are punctuated with double quotation marks, not single, because the doubles are not used to define the beginning and ending of the major quotation.

 

5.     Use ellipses correctly.  Ellipses (. . .) are used to show the omission of wording from a quotation.  However, ellipses are not needed if an author chooses to delete the first portion of a sentence being quoted or the last part of a sentence being quoted.  Only material deleted from the middle of a quotation is noted by an ellipsis.

  1. Correct: He began reciting the Gettysburg address:  “Four score and seven years ago . . . perish from the earth.”
  2. Incorrect: He began reciting: “. . . and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal . . . .”

 

6.     Use attributions correctly. Here, attributions refer to the verbs used to indicate how the speaker is speaking (e.g., said, stated, noted, etc.).  Be sure the verb used is possible.  For example, a person can shout words but cannot grimace words.  In dissertations, stick with simple verbs that allow the reader to move into the quotation as quickly as possible without having to consider if the verb makes sense.

 

7.     Cite, cite, cite. Citations are attributions of a different kind.  Be sure that each quotation is cited accurately.  Citations should include the author of the source, the year of publication, and the page number in the source on which the wording may be found.  Although it is possible that a quotation may split between two contiguous pages (e.g., pp. 9–10), seldom will a quotation span more than two pages unless it is an extremely long block quotation.  (If it is, see the previous discussion about appropriate use of quotations.)

 

8.     Avoid single word quotations.  Generally, these are terms and should be italicized in their first use in text and not punctuated at all in subsequent use in the paper.  If a word was coined by the author of the source being quoted, incorporate a phrase or a sentence in which the word appears as a quote rather than using the single word.  This assists in eliminating the tendency to place the term in quotation marks every time it is used in the paper.

 

Finally, remember that overuse of almost anything minimizes its effectiveness.  This is as true with quotations as with any other writing technique.  Use quotations sparingly.  Be sure that the information cannot be conveyed as effectively or as accurately through paraphrasing, summarizing, or synthesizing it with other material.  Be accurate, use appropriate punctuation, and cite the source properly. If you’re in need of assistance, consider hiring an excellent dissertation editing service, such as Edit911, to check everything for you.

 

6 Tips for Using an Academic Editing Style Guide

In performing any academic editing, such as dissertation editing or thesis editing, you will usually need to use two style guides.  The first is provided by your university and may or may not be combined with the policies and procedures for dissertations and degree conferral.  The second is a professional style manual.

One Style Does Not Fit All

editing service
Some schools use one professional style manual for all departments; others allow each department to choose its own manual. The most common of these are the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and the MLA Handbook (MLA).  Some departments use A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Turabian).  Other manuals are used less commonly in the writing of dissertations and theses.

Go Right to the Source and Ask the Horse

You can determine which style manual you are required to use by checking the university style and formatting guide or asking your advisor.  Ideally, the professors for your courses leading up to the dissertation process will expect you to use the required professional manual for their assignments.  In that way, you will begin to build the skills needed in the dissertation or thesis process.

Learn & Apply Its Rules

Professional style manuals include information related to the technical aspects of writing your dissertation, including the requirements of formal language, and to the publication of articles and books.  Some manuals are narrow in focus; others try to anticipate as many situations as possible that writers may confront.  Most typically include information related to the following:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation (including use of italics)
  • Capitalization
  • Preferred spelling (including hyphenation)
  • Use of numbers
  • Use of abbreviations
  • Use of scientific terminology
  • Formats for tables, charts, and other graphics
  • Reference list or bibliography entry requirements by type of source
  • Internal citation formats
  • Footnote and end note formats
  • Levels and formats for headings and subheadings
  • Elimination of bias in writing (including gender bias and preferred terminology for racial and ethnic groups)

Pay Attention to the Edition

When you locate the specific professional style manual for your department, be sure to note which edition the university requires.  These manuals undergo continual revision, with new editions being published as often as every three years.  Typically, universities will update their requirements to include the most recent manual editions.  However, students who begin the dissertation process under one manual edition are not usually required to change as long as they complete their dissertations in a timely manner.

Be Wary of the Guides’ Limitations and Contradictions!

You should also be aware of the limitations of these professional guides.  For example, APA and MLA are geared specifically to the sciences and language and literature, respectively.  CMS is much broader in scope and is generally used in the social sciences.  When APA and MLA do not contain specific information, editors often rely on CMS to determine correct form and required information.  They then adjust the formatting to meet APA or MLA requirements.

You may also find that information in the professional guides contradicts information in your university dissertation style and format guide.  Remember, the university guide always trumps the professional guide.

Consider Using an Editing Service

If you’re stumped or just want to be sure, you may want to hire an editing service to check everything for you. Be sure to tell your academic editor not only the specific style manual required but also the specific edition.  Editors often have multiple editions of these manuals to use as resources.  Knowing which one you must follow is imperative to ensuring an accurate edit of your paper.