Soporific Aides: Footnoting

Today I have not been watching mindless Bravo TV featuring Jewel’s hosting skillz, using only my capacity to close down my intellect and a probably-illegal internet site.

Instead, I have spent all of today and most of yesterday going back over the literature review I recently thought I’d completed.  Oh, I knew it would probably rear up and strike again at some point and I have been steeling myself against what surely must be the sharpest and most piercing pain a person involved in academic work must endure.

Comprehensive footnoting.

You know the kind I mean: the statement that screams not only clearly this wasn’t my idea but must be expressed in tedious academic longhand involving directions to find precisely what someone else said first and where they said it.  Author, year, journal, volume, page reference, and then precise page reference involving the assertion made.  The Chief Brain has superimposed her own requirement that I provide her with “verbatim quotes” so she can quickly check I can actually prove my assertions.  So I am copy-typing chunks of text once I find something that backs me up.

I’d included vague references (author and year) in the first draft, knowing it wouldn’t be enough but needing to complete the draft in time to jump out of the way of the deadline juggernaut.  Now I need to find the exact page number and quotation which gave rise to the hand-scribbled barely-legible note I took of something I thought I might need later.

Weeks later.  After I’ve read all sorts of other interesting things, worked a bunch of days at a boring paid job, had a fountain of conversations involving in depth analysis of running a fair procedure in particularly difficult circumstances, and dispensed emergency advice all over the place.

I might once, five weeks ago, have been able to find the precise quotation by quickly sifting through a stack of paper a foot high.  Now it is like wading through chest-high treacle while wearing boots made of cast iron.

I feel like I’m back at university panicking before an essay deadline, only in a different order of magnitude.  The academic papers I need to refer to are long and dense, and there are about 30 of them.  The literature review is 5,500 words at the moment and I could perhaps be accused of over-referencing but still, there are many to find.  I am referencing now, knowing that I will still need to re-draft the whole thing to look at the issue from a slightly different angle.  More references will probably be needed, a prospect that brings on a thumping headache.

In search of an easier way, I have decided that in future I will

1) make little page number records in the margins of my own notes every so often and especially where I think I might need to use something later.

2) attempt to embrace the power of electronics to aid this tedious debacle of a task – I am doing things with printed paper and handwritten notes.  There has to be an electronic way of doing this, and I just don’t know what it is yet.  I need to find out.

Because otherwise it is enough to drive a person crazy.  If I do a PhD I will need to read a paper a day, and may (when writing up) need to find a quotation I read three years previously.

Remember when library records came on little cards, and quantitative and qualitative social science coding involved cutting up paper and gluing them to code-cards?  Me either.  But at the moment me and my pile of paper feel perilously close to the dark ages, and modern technology needs to attend.

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4 Responses to “Soporific Aides: Footnoting”


  1. 1 Mrs. G. July 5, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    There has to be an easier way. I wish I knew it. I’d be right there with you with the stacks of paper. I bet Jenn can give you some direction–she’s the most organized person I know.

  2. 2 unmitigated me July 7, 2011 at 3:13 am

    There is a piece of software called Endnote that you can enter refs as you find them, and connect to footnotes as you write. The other choice is an undergrad intern!

  3. 3 Jenn @ Juggling Life July 7, 2011 at 3:31 am

    References of any sort are the most tedious part of any academic writing. I do keep a computer file with the page number–and where on the page I found something. If I’m sure I’m going to use the quote I just type it in right then. I also do my citations as I go along; I really love SonofCitationMachine.net.–it sure beats the old days of having to format everything by hand. I will have to check out the Endnote site.

  4. 4 trash July 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I am seconding Unmitigated Me’s suggestion – get a slave!


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