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Cite Right – Confessions of an Edition Ignoramus

Cover artIn honor of our Cite Right workshop, which emphasizes the importance of signaling the edition you’re using so that others can check your sources, I have a confession to make: for a long time I was ignorant about editions.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew that differences among editions existed––it’s hard to major in English and not manage to pick up that basic fact. But I was very stingy about the prices of textbooks (which can get truly obscene), and liked to save money by finding the cheapest copy that I could, whether or not it was the correct edition. Now that I teach classes myself, I know my professors must have been rolling their eyes when I struggled to follow along in class, or cited strange page numbers in my papers.

Cover artThe moment that I finally saw the light, however, and understood the importance of differences between editions came in my first semester of graduate school. We were reading Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, and I had an incredibly cheap Dover paperbacks modern edition. It was an edition designed for recreational reading rather than scholarship, but I thought that shouldn’t make a difference… until someone in class brought up an episode that my edition did not have. The episode was unnecessary, somewhat obscene, and hadn’t aged well, so it made sense that an edition for a general audience would go ahead and omit it. Unfortunately, for those same reasons it was exactly the kind of thing we would talk about in a literature seminar, and I had not read it.

From that day on, I’ve always made sure to have the same edition as the people I’m working with, and to use scholarly editions for scholarly purposes. (Oxford, Norton, and Broadview tend to be good in case you’re wondering.)

Learn from my mistakes: never buy the wrong edition for a class just to save a few bucks! And whenever you cite something, make sure you specify the edition––the details matter!

Chang Library“Cite Right” Series

Brought to you by Books We Read at Chang.