This Edition, That Edition: Does It Matter?



18 September 2014

We've all done it. We're writing something. Maybe it's an instructional article. Maybe it's the end product of a piece of research. We recall something we've read that is relevant to a point we're trying to make. We even recall where we read it—one of those Significant Books or Weighty Journals on our own library shelves. So we retrieve it, find the relevant passage, refresh our memory as to what it actually says, synthesize or quote the author's point, and then cite the source.

All well and good. Or not!

Did we also check an online library catalog or major bookseller to determine whether the edition we are citing is the author's latest? Did we run a search of periodical literature to determine whether that journal author has published subsequently on that same subject?

All authors make errors that they correct in their next editions. Authors make discoveries, post-publication, that may change their conclusions. Those perspectives will also undergo alteration in the next edition or in a subsequent essay. Across time, standards and practices change. Users of any of the major style guides know that recommendations change. (In the not so distant past, for example, style guides decreed that authors should not use postal codes for abbreviations of state and provincial names. Aside from a reverence to tradition, the big objection seems to have been the horror typographers have at using a string of all large caps in the middle of narrative. In today's world of acronyms and initialisms, any objection to using CT for Connecticut seems picayune.)

The writer's mandate, Cite the latest edition,  may not be budget friendly, but the price of a new edition—or a new article from JSTOR—can be a lot cheaper than the time lost in dealing with our readers (as well as the authors, themselves) who pile on post-publication, wanting to know why we passed on advice that is no longer current or why we skewered them for an error that has been corrected. It's also a lot less time consuming than all it takes to remove egg from our faces or repair our reputations.

It's also possible, thanks to Google Books' snippets and Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, that we may not have to buy a book's latest edition in order to doublecheck a specific point—or to ensure, assuming the point remains, that we attribute it to the correct page number.  On the other hand, if we really are serious researchers and this work is significant to our understanding of the subject, we just may decide that the go-to copy on our shelf should be the latest edition.

PHOTO CREDIT, "Update Mouse Message Illustration Design," CanStockPhoto ( : downloaded 9 September 2014), contributed by Alexmillos; used under license.