Now the problem is not, that despite the clear guidelines, students still use their own system. But I cannot explain to them why they have to follow certain guidelines, if these aren’t even standard guidelines in the social sciences and the humanities. So many journals have their own reference style, and try to explain to a student why s/he has to use one particular style, if there are so many out there that work just as well.
This problem annoyed me particularly recently when I was in the process of revising a paper that I had submitted to Journal of Pragmatics. The journal has its own particular reference style, which means that one of the things I had to change was my bibliography. This took me three or four hours, for various reasons. First of all, I had to look up all the first names of the people whose work I cite. I have no idea why, because adding first names doesn’t make the reference list more clear. In fact, it makes it less clear, because you look at a jumble of names. Just try and figure out which ones are first or last names. Furthermore, even with Google I couldn’t always figure out what the first name was of some of my references.
The second problem was that the style of JoP is slightly different from APA in almost every way. JoP needs comma’s where APA needs colons; the year of publication should not be between parentheses; the page numbers of a book chapter should not follow the name of the book, but come at the end of the reference; the initials and last name of editors of books should be inverted; there needs to be a space between the volume of a journal and the edition; ampersands between authors aren’t allowed. And God only knows what happens when I add a doi. The guidelines of JoP make no mention of this, so I just put them at the very end.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these changes do not result in a better paper. The quality of my research isn’t improved in any way because I write “Enfield, Nick, Stivers, Tanya” instead of “Enfield, N. & Stivers, T.”, so why do I have to waste hours making the reference list look different? The goal of a reference list is simply to make it clear where I get my ideas from, so that readers of my paper can easily find the original work. None of the changes I made contributed to this in any way.
And maybe the worst part of it all is that JoP has a Mendeley plug in that doesn’t work. Nobody wants to waste time on their list of references, so it’s great that there are systems like Mendeley that incorporate the standard of every journal. But if those standards aren’t up to date, what is the friggin use? Can’t we just stop with this ridiculous obsession with different reference styles?
I see two solutions to this problem. The first is to get rid of all these guidelines entirely. Authors should just commit to a certain style that is clear, and be consistent in this style. While this might work, it might also create a bit of chaos, so it’s not my favourite solution. Instead, let’s all stick to one style, and never change it again. The process of getting a paper submitted is tedious enough without having to waste hours every time in getting the reference style in line with what a particular journal wants. It does not benefit the quality of our research, all it does is annoy. And try to explain that to an undergrad taking his/her first course in research methods.