Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The agony and the exctasy of citations in Microsoft Word 2007

Microsoft Word 2007 has citations! At last, it is possible to use Word to write an academic paper without having to pay for an overpriced, overcomplicated plug in citation manager.

Such a pity then that the actual implementation sucks unless the included citation styles match your requirements exactly

By exactly, I mean precisely that. Want to put your list of references at the back of your paper in a section marked 'references', well you can't. The references section must be called 'Bibliography', that is what Microsoft has decided and if Word 2007 provides a way to choose anything different (other than by converting the references to flat text and editing the result), well I have not found it in many hours of trying.

This is not a minor issue either as a bibliography is not the same as a list of references and in fact many books have both. A list of works cited in the text is almost invariably headed 'References'. The term bibliography is used to refer to a list of works on the same subject matter.

Did nobody in the design team ever ask the folk in Microsoft Research if they could use this citation manager to write their papers? Apparently not as I find it difficult to see how such a basic requirement could be overlooked.

Equally annoying is the instructions given for choosing your references section style:

"Choose the style format that is required by the instructor or the publisher of the written material that you are presenting. When you insert a citation in your Office Word 2007 document, Word provides the correct inline format for your citation. Word then provides the associated bibliography style when you generate the bibliography from the sources that you cited."

In other words, the developers have chosen the styles you are going to use and don't you go thinking that you may change them 'cause you won't. In fact it is worse than that as the styles are all described by name, 'APA - American Psychological Association' and so on.

The style I need for my document isn't listed, which is hardly surprising as in the academic world practically every publisher has their own idea of what a references section shoud look like and they are going to use their own name for it, not 'Chicago' or 'ISO 609'. So even if Word 2007 does support the style you need there is no way of knowing that without trying each of the ten versions in turn.

After several attempts it turns out that ISO 690 seems to be the closest to the style this particular journal requires. But unlike practically every journal I have read, this style uses round parentheses (1) rather than the square brackets [1] that are used in the real world.

Note to Microsoft: nice try but why didn't you try to actually write an academic paper before you released it?

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