Universities bizarre focus on reference styles

Universities seem to spend a lot of time teaching MLA, APA, and Chicago reference styles, even at the undergraduate level.

What is this all about?

1) Most undergraduate students are not going on to academic careers, and will never need to bother with this stuff again once they graduate.

2) Even if they are going on to academic careers, this is far from the most important thing they will need to know!

I have published about thirty papers in academic journals over fourteen years. In all that time, I have first submitted every single one in "my" format:

Maurer, Armand, ed. The Philosophy of William of Ockham: In the Light of Its Principles. Toronto Ont.: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1999.

I've probably submitted those 30 papers to about 60 journals. (I've received very few rejections, mostly because I target a journal I think likely to accept the paper, rather than one likely to reject it: I can't stand spending years shepherding a paper into print!) Out of those 60 submissions, only once I got the paper back because "it doesn't meet our formatting standards." That one I just sent to another journal!

For the most part, editors are happy to send out a paper to referees, and then, only if it is accepted, ask for it to be re-formatted. At that point, I find an issue of the journal, see how its references are done, and copy that style.

In other words, I've published 30 papers over more than a decade without bothering to learn a bloody thing about APA, MLA, or Chicago styles. Frankly, I can't even tell you which of those styles the above example reference is, or if it even conforms to any of them! So why are we tormenting undergraduate students with mastering this stuff?


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