Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Background Reading -- Acquiring Sources

Google: drive, docs, pub

[The advice for MLA format on this worksheet are not my own, but come from the website mentioned. http://www.easybib.com/reference/guide/mla/website  The advice at the end of this worksheet is not my own, but taken from Pathways 4 published by National Geographic Learning.]
Step 3: Background Reading -- Acquiring Sources
            The next step is to acquire a list of books and articles that you can use for your research.  At this stage in your research, you will try to acquire as much information as possible.  You will not have the space to use all this information in your paper, but acquiring as much information as possible will help you to know which points are most important (or most interesting) to include in your paper.
            For this week, you need to get ahold of ten books, articles, or websites that you can potentially use as sources of information for your research topic .  You do not need to read the articles... yet.  (Although the assignment for next week will be to read and summarize the articles, so it's not a bad idea to start reading them now if you have the time. ) 
            Write down the ten sources below.  In order to get practice on your bibliography, write up your sources in academic bibliography style.   You won't need to use all ten of these sources in your actual final paper.   (In your final bibliography you will cite only the sources from which you took information--this may or may not include all of the sources you read.)  However, it will still be useful to practice bibliography style here.  (And if you do decide to use any of these  sources later, then your bibliography citation will be already ready for you!)
            There are many different styles of bibliographies and citations.  Different professors will require different styles of bibliographies, so in a University it is always good to check what style your professor requires before you write your bibliography. 
            One of the most popular styles in America is the MLA style, so you can use this style as a guide if you like.  (Or, if you prefer, you can use another style, such as APA, Chicago Style, et cetera.)
            Below are some quick and dirty tips for writing in MLA format from the website: http://www.easybib.com/reference/guide/mla/website.  This is only a partial list, so check the website for complete information if you have more questions.

General Rules for MLA Format 7th Edition

  • You are no longer required to have URL's in citations. If your instructor wants to include URLs, put them in angle brackets after the entry and end with a period.
  • Use italics instead of underlining for titles of larger works including books or magazines, and "quotation marks" for titles of shorter works such as poems or articles.

Author Rules:

List entries alphabetically by last name.

Works with no authors

If there is no author given, alphabetize the works by the title. Use a shortened version of the title.
  • Studyguide[...]

Citing one author

To cite an author, use the last name followed by the first name and if given, the middle name of initial.
Last name, First name. Title. City: Publisher, Year.

Citing two authors

To cite two authors, use the last name followed by the first name and then inverse to first name and last name.
Last name, First name and First name Last name. Title. City: Publisher, Year.

Citing more than one author

If you are citing more than one author, separate the authors by commas alphabetically. The first author should have their last name, first name and the additional authors should be cited simply with their first and last name.
Last name, First name, First name Last name, and First name Last name. Title. City: Publisher, Year.
How to Cite a Website in MLA
Last name, First name. "Article Title." Website Title. Publisher of Website, Day Month Year article was published. Web. Day Month Year article was accessed. .
Cain, Kevin. "The Negative Effects of Facebook on Communication." Social Media Today RSS N.p., 29 June 2012. Web. 02 Jan. 2013.
Make sure to:
  • Only include the URL if the source cannot be found easily.

How to Cite a Book in Print in MLA

The basic information of a book includes author(s), the title of the book, and the publication information.


Last, First M. Book. City: Publisher, Year Published. Print.


James, Henry. The Ambassadors. Rockville: Serenity, 2009. Print.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1942. Print.

Assignment:  Write down (in bibliography style) 10 sources that you have found related to your topic.
1. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

2. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

3. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

4. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

5. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

6. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

7. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

8. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

9. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

*Remember Wikipedia is not a reliable academic source, but you can use the Wikipedia page to find other sources on your topic.
* Find sources that are long enough to contain some good information, but not so long that you won't have time to read them.
* Look for up-to-date information, especially in fields that change often such as technology or business.  For Internet sources, look for recent updates to Web sites.
* You sources of information need to be reliable.  Think about the author and the publisher.  Ask yourself: What is their point of view?  Can I trust this information? 
* Your sources need to be well respected.  For example, an article from a well-known newspaper or professional journal will probably be more respected than a blog or Facebook post.
* Start with Web sites with .edu or .org endings.  These are usually educational or non-commercial sites.  Some .com Web sites also have good information, for example www.nationalgeographic.com or www.britannica.com
* Think about the source's audience.  For example, imagine you are buying a new computer and want to read about the different types of computers before you buy one.  If the source is written for computer programmers, for example, you might not be able to understand it.  If the source is written for university students who need to buy a new computer, it's more likely to be understandable.  
* When you go to a source cite, preview the content: Read the title and the subheads, look at the pictures, and read the captions.  As you preview, ask yourself: Is the site trustworthy?  Is the information accurate?  Is it current?  Is the information thorough?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman

            So, after reading the original Anno Dracula, I have decided to continue on to the sequel: The Bloody Red Baron.
            These books will doubtless only appeal to certain readers, but I quite like them because it allows me to combine my interest in early modern history with my interest in pulp fiction.

            Set in the same universe as Anno Dracula (the universe in which Dracula defeated Van Helsing instead of vice-versa), this book takes place 30 years after Anno Dracula, during World War I.  Dracula is on the side of the Germans now, and there are vampires fighting on both sides of the war.

            Most of the same comments that I made about the first Anno Dracula also hold true here as well.  The fun of the book is a universe in which real historical characters are intermixed liberally with characters from many other stories.  So this novel features characters like Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, General Jack Pershing, Mata Hari and Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) interacting with H.G. Wells’s  Dr. Moreau, Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror, Paul Baumer from All Quiet on the Western Front, Mycroft Holmes and his more famous brother Sherlock Holmes.
[There are also brief references to The Greyfriars (which I’m familiar with because of George Orwell’s critiques of The Greyfriars stories ) and to Harry Flashman, who is mentioned as a public school graduate of disrepute.]

Although at first glance it may seem quite bizarre to re-tell the story of World War I with vampires, it does actually fit once you start reading it.  Since World War I was already one of the most horrific wars (from the soldier’s point of view), the subject matter is already quite macabre to begin with.  And into the slaughter fields, where Europe killed off an entire generation of its youth, why not add in vampires to increase the horror of it?  (Although actually, although my local bookstore had this book shelved in their horror section, it’s actually much more fantasy/adventure than horror.)

The writing style is, once again, highly readable.  So if you’re interested in this kind of book, it’s recommended.

Other Notes
* As luck would have it, a co-worker of mine is reading a history of World War I right now, so we chatted about the subject.  “I just finished a book on World War I myself,” I told him.  “Well, World War I with vampires mixed in.  The premise is that it takes place in a world where Dracula was never defeated, and Dracula goes over to fight with the Germans.”
            “That’s just the sort of thing Dracula would do,” my friend immediately said.

            The 2012 re-print edition (the edition I read) contains annotations at the back, where author Kim Newman explains the origin of a selective some of his characters and references.
            Personally, I would have preferred a more complete set of notes.  But as Kim Newman writes: “I’m not going to tag every borrowed, misappropriated or historical character, setting or bit of business. … I want some mysteries to remain.” (p. 551).  I find this frustrating, but I suppose this is his prerogative as the author.
            Similarly, Kim Newman writes, “Obviously, this is a fantasy novel—but much of the most unbelievable material in it is true; I have refrained from too many ‘yes this really happened’ and ‘my god, they actually said that’ notes.” (p. 551)  What a shame!  I really love those “yes this really happened” and “my god they actually said that” notes.  And I’m a bit puzzled by Kim Newman’s reluctance to include them here. 

            I am, however, sympathetic to the fact that Kim Newman is writing these annotations at a distance of almost 20 years from his original book.  This book was originally published in 1995, and as Kim Newman admits: “It has been a sobering experience to re-read the book and realise how much of my research I’ve completely forgotten.  In some cases, others will have more luck tracking down what or who I meant than I have. (I can completely identify.  I have the same experience re-reading my old under-graduate papers, which are also at about a distance of 20 years remove now.)

            The Bloody Red Baron is even more packed with borrowed names and characters than its predecessor.  Just about every page has some new name on it.  And just about every name in the book is a reference to real history or some other fictional work.
            But fortunately this is where Wikipedia really comes into its own, because the Wikipedia page for this book (W) contains a (complete?) list of the borrowed characters, historical and fictional, that populate The Bloody Baron.  And so it was from Wikipedia that I learned that the English fighter pilot Albert Ball (W) was actually a real person, and that the character “Red” Albright came from the Captain Midnight (W) radio show, or that the character Kent Allard came from The Shadow series (W).

            But that being said, there are still plenty of interesting notes in Kim Newman’s annotations.  For example, it was in Kim Newman’s annotations that I learned about Biggles (W), a character in The Bloody Red Baron that comes from a series of novels by W.E. Johns.  Kim Newman claims that at one time Biggles was hugely popular in British culture, and furthermore suggests, “It is possible that their [the Biggles novels] pre-eminent position in British culture was shot down by devastating parodies of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. (‘I don’t understand your banter’), which Michael Palin at least must have come to regret.” (p. 559)
            So then, of course, I had to look up on Youtube the Monty Python parodies of Biggles.  For example, “Biggles Dictates a Letter”

And the “I can’t understand your banter” skit (which doesn’t explicitly mention Biggles by name, but Kim Newman seems sure is indirectly parodying the Biggles books.)

And the Spanish Inquisition sketch, featuring “Cardinal Biggles”.

            (I have actually seen all of these sketches before, but enjoy them much more now that I know what they’re parodying.)

            And that is the whole joy of a book like this.  It’s constantly opening up new areas of interest for the reader.

Link of the Day 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Using Wikipedia

(Tesol Worksheets--EAP Research Essay)
Google: drive, docs, pub

[The Wikipedia question seems to come up every term, so I thought I'd design a handout to try to deal with it. In my case, my EAP students don't have a lot of access to English libraries or databases, so I'm pretty forgiving of their temptation to fall back on Wikipedia. But I wanted to address its advantages and disadvantages and make sure that they understood why they shouldn't use it in theory. This worksheet is supplemented with an in class discussion. (Before I give them this sheet, I have them talk in groups about the advantages and disadvantages of Wikipedia. I find I can usually elicit most of the stuff on the handout before giving it to them.) In classrooms with a computer projector, I also try to show some of the features of Wikipedia as we discuss it.]

Step 2: Using Wikipedia

Talk with a partner. What are the advantages of using Wikipedia? What are the disadvantages of using Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a very popular and convenient website. Many people, myself included, use Wikipedia on a regular basis to check information or learn about new things. And the information is usually accurate and reliable.

However, most universities do not allow students to use Wikipedia as an academic source. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is that Wikipedia is designed to be an encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is designed to introduce a topic, and is usually only a summary of the important information on a topic. However, in university, students are required to study a topic in-depth. The university professors want students to read more detailed information about a topic than is available in a quick summary.

In addition to this, there are several things about the structure of Wikipedia which make it dangerous to rely on Wikipedia too much. Anyone can write on Wikipedia, whether they are an expert on the subject or not. Furthermore, Wikipedia entries are not always checked by experts, and they may sometimes contain mistakes. Sometimes, people intentionally write false information on Wikipedia, either as a joke, or to try to deceive people about an important issue.

Despite all these problems, studies have consistently shown that Wikipedia is usually reliable, so more often than not the information you find on Wikipedia is accurate. However, under current academic guidelines at most universities, students are not allowed to cite Wikipedia as a source in their academic papers.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't use and read Wikipedia. It only means that you shouldn't include Wikipedia in an academic paper. Wikipedia is still useful for learning background information about your topic.

When you start a research project, the first thing you want to do is to try to find out as much information on your topic as possible. You will probably not have the time or the space to use all this information in your actual paper, but a thorough knowledge of your topic will help you to decide which points are the most important to include in your paper, and help you to evaluate any further information that you might find in the future. Therefore, it is recommended that you read the Wikipedia entry for your topic to help you get background knowledge. You will not be able to include this information in your paper (unless you can find it again in another source), but it will give you a stronger understanding of your topic.

Another way in which Wikipedia is useful is as a way to find other sources. Most Wikipedia pages will include a list of references, external links, and a bibliography. Although you will have to critically evaluate all these different sources (some of them may not be academically reliable) many of these sources and weblinks will be acceptable to use on your paper.

Step 1:
Read the Wikipedia entry for your topic.  Write down the various headings and subheadings that the article includes, and note down any interesting information that you find.  (For the most part, this will be only for background information.  But if there is information you want to include on your final paper, see if you can find the original source that Wikipedia is using, by following the footnotes at the end of the sentences.)

Step 2: Check the external links, bibliography, and list of references in the Wikipedia entry.  Make a list of any sources that you think will be useful for your paper.