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Resources for Research Assistants

Substance Checking, Example 1: Incorrect/Incomplete Citation

Scenario: The author included the following quotation in her article: "S. Carolina & Georgia were inflexible on the point of slaves." Her citation reads Letter from James Madison to Jefferson, October 4, 1787, 8 Doc Hist Rat of Const: VA 97 (1988 ed.)

  1. Figure out the source: Some research or consultation with a librarian would reveal that the author was looking at Madison’s letter in a source called Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.
  2. Find the source: a quick search in the library catalog (again, not Google!) would show that the library has this set in print, so one could pull from Volume 8 from the shelf; the catalog record will also show that this title is available online; the electronic version features exact images from the print source. Either option would work; just note which one was used for the check, and copy the URL information for the digital edition in case it is needed for the citation.    
  3. Look for the quotation: in the print volume, if you flip to page 97 of volume 8, you’ll see a letter from Madison to Jefferson.  However, the date doesn’t match the one provided by the author as this one is dated 24 October, 1 November (he wrote it over the course of both of these days), and the quoted language does not appear on page 97. It appears that author has supplied the first page of the document, which is useful, but not the pincite, which is a crucial part of the citation.
  4. Troubleshoot: either 1) skimming the letter will lead to the quoted language on page 105; or 2) searching the online version for part of the quotation will lead to page 105. Note the correct date of the letter, the correct pincite, and any important information about the source itself--full title, authors or editors, publisher, edition, date, etc.--that will be needed for formatting the citation.
  5. Confirm the substance: once the quotation or paraphrase is located, confirm that it is correct. A careful reading indicates that the author forgot the word “the” between “point of” and “slaves.” The quotation should read as follows: “S. Carolina & Georgia were inflexible on the point of the slaves.” Make and indicate the correction.          
    1. Note: most journals require a photocopy or scan of the title page and relevant text page(s). If substance-checking for a professor, ask if he or she would like photocopied or scanned images of the sources.