Fooling around: From list of references to reference networks

The following is an idea that occurred to me during Transdisciplinary Design’s session on academic writing today so all the credit goes to the participants of that session. But first an anecdote to pave way for the actual idea.

As I got to my apartment here in East Village, NYC last Sunday, I was the last passenger in the shared taxi I took from JFK. The driver exited the van to take my luggage out and as he was looking towards the place where I’d be staying on the other side of the street, he turned to me and gave me a quizzical look and asked me “you sure you know what you’re doing?”. You, dear reader, could ask me the same question now, but let’s see where this is going.

Here’s the basic idea: academic writing is an iterative process between thinking and writing, but somehow that idea doesn’t stretch out to the list of references. You know, that part of the text we all hate to do, because – let’s face it – it seems like a brain dead activity. Plus most of us do it when everything else in the manuscript is trimmed and polished (excluding those who are adventurous enough to use RefWorks).

So how come we don’t see list of references as an intellectual domain, but instead as something like this?

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You know, endless lines of references – or even name dropping – to show that we know how to use various referencing systems. Reminds me of movie credits, actually. Most people leave the theatre once the credits start rolling, and only the true reference conoscenti stay put and occasionally feel irritated as common people block their view while leaving the theatre.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a reference geek, so to speak. But why don’t we play around with alternative reference representations? What I want to say is that by using alternative means we could actually extend the intellectual domain of any academic text to include the references we have utilised to support our argument. Check this out, for example:

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Instead of a list we can see connections and domains. While listing references in alphabetical order is ok and neat, it really doesn’t contain any argument. Unless one carefully goes through the whole list, of course!

So, what do you think? This is just work in progress, and I’m only building on the work of others, but it would be nice to see this in an academic text! Hopefully in my dissertation 😉

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