November 21, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: citations and references

Posted in citations, references at 6:25 am by dlseltzer

A reader sent an interesting note about our discussion of “swap out” last week that I wanted to share.

A reader wrote:

 As a Navy aircraft mechanic, we used the term “swap out” to mean replace an airplane part.  It could be a piece of electronic equipment, or it could be a piece of mechanical equipment like a strut. When we used “swap out” the implication was that one of the things being swapped was no longer working. You rarely swapped out a working item for another working item.

 Tip: Citations and references

A reader writes:

I have always been under the impression that citing references in abstracts (stand alone ones, submitted to conferences) is unnecessary and just not done. In the subsequent poster or talk, I would cite the references, but never in the abstract. Now  I work in a private company, and the people who work here almost always cite references in their abstract submissions. Do you know if there are rules about this, or if the rules vary depending on the discipline?

Gee, for the life of me, I don’t know why your co-workers would include citations in their abstracts. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t vary by discipline. Both the Chicago Manual of Style and the AMA Manual of Style agree on this point , and they represent very different disciplines. Citations are not used in abstracts. There is one exception, however. That is when the work being reported is integrally related to previous work. In that case, you would include the reference in the text as a parenthetical phrase.

Our work is based largely on the previous work of Smith and Jones (Smith, MD,  Jones, BA. Very important study. J Gen Intern Med. 2005;61(2):171-178.), but expands upon it to examine the other effects of Brand New Drug on the course of the disease.

So that’s about it. For the most part, no citations in abstracts, but I’ve been thinking about citations a bit lately, so I wanted to bring up a couple of things.

First, what is the difference between a reference and a citation? The citation is the superscripted number or other device (such as names of authors and date) that is included in the body of the text to identify the source of the information. The reference contains the complete information that would allow one to identify and retrieve the original document. References are usually found at the end of an article in a numbered list.

Second, what is the format for references that we should use in our CVs? I am using, as a guide, the AMA Manual of Style that is based upon the citation format created by the National Library of Medicine and has been adopted by most scientific journals, but please note, that your journal or school or department may have its own style so it is worth checking. (I just checked and the University of Pittsburgh does not have a particular style for references, but the School of Medicine does, and it follows AMA [American Medical Association] style.)

Here goes! First author last name, comma, first and middle initials, comma, and so forth, until you reach the final author, and there, instead of a comma, put a period. Next, the name of the article, and you use sentence style capitalization where only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Got that? That is one of the areas that people mess up. Don’t capitalize all major words in the title–only the first word and proper nouns. If there is a subtitle preceded by a colon, the subtitle is not capitalized. This is another area where mistakes are made.

[NOTE: This convention does not hold for APA Style (American Psychological Association). In APA style, the first word following the colon IS capitalized, but not in AMA style.]

Next comes the ABBREVIATED name of the journal. I capitalized that since some people think it is more formal or somehow better to use the whole name of the journal. IT IS NOT. We want to use just the abbreviated name. If you don’t know how to abbreviate a journal’s name, you can contact me and I’ll let you know, or find the NLM database of journal abbreviations at <>. Here are some hints: Journal is J, American is Am, Medicine is Med, and Health is spelled out as Health. The name of the journal is followed by a period.

[NOTE: Here’s where AMA style and the School of Medicine differ slightly. In AMA style, the abbreviated title is in italics. In the School of Medicine, it is not.]

Follow the title with the year and a semi colon, the volume number and then, the issue number (and the issue number is in parentheses) and is followed by a colon and then,  the page numbers and at last, a period. Finally, the PubMed Central ID (PMCID) number (which is not the same as the PMID number) and a period. (If you also have the PMID, it’s okay to throw it in, too. It precedes the PMC ID.) That’s it. We’re done!

Here’s an example:

 Chaucer, JC, Freud, SL, Lehari, LT. The effect of brand new drug: are the side effects worth it? JAMA. 2013;6(5):1358-68. PMCID: PMC2752308.

 [NOTE that JAMA does not follow the abbreviation hints, noted above, but most other journals do.]

But what I really want you to remember is to use journal abbreviations, don’t capitalize all of the “important” words, and don’t capitalize the subtitle that begins with a colon.

Okay? Thank you.


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