Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. What should I do if I’m missing certain bits of information for the bibliography? For example, I have many instances where I wrote down the date of a publication, but I can’t find the volume and issue numbers. The same goes for the page numbers of the entire article; for example, I jotted down the number of the page I’m citing from but not the pages of the entire article. This is problematic, as I’m a historian completing my PhD dissertation on materials from the 1930s, and the sources I use are not available online.

A. I’d say you’re in something of a pickle. First, try again online. Even if the text of an article isn’t available, it’s possible that you can find references to it that will include the missing information. Search for the article title and whatever information you have (journal title and year). Sometimes if you search for the journal, its year, and a page number (not the article title, which would limit the search), you will get hits that include the volume and issue numbers. Consider carefully whether to trust what you find. Try to confirm the information at more than one reputable site, keeping in mind that misinformation tends to replicate quickly online.

If you can’t locate the information you need online, you’ll have to dig it up the same way you did originally. Visit the libraries or archives where you did your research and find the sources. You might be able to ask a reference librarian by e-mail or phone to help you.

In some cases, it won’t be disastrous to omit some information—for instance, if your note citation gives the year, volume, issue, and page number of the material you are quoting or referencing, the bibliography can do without the page range of the entire article. Unfortunately, even if a citation includes the year, page numbers alone aren’t always helpful without an issue number. In that case, unless you are certain that the page numbers for that year number straight through without starting anew in each issue, you should consider dropping the source.

And need I scold you about not taking thorough notes on your sources?