The intended audience for this post consists of writers who use citations in their work and editors who are new to working with material that includes citations. Most of my work involves reference work of some form, and some of it consists entirely of references.
Sometimes authors ask for a “reference check,” but this can mean a lot of different things. Often, authors who are students or are otherwise new to working with an editor don’t actually know the extent of the reference check they need and are relying on their editor to do whatever it is they think is correct. In practice, this needs to be something that client and editor agree on before work begins.
What to Expect When You're Expecting Citation Help
At a minimum, checking references will usually mean the following:
A while back, I wrote about the state of gender neutral pronouns in writing. Until we get to the point where the singular “they” is standard, however, there is the question of how to negotiate the singular gender pronouns “she” and “he” in academic writing.
The usual way of describing a generic or hypothetical subject in nonfiction writing was, for a long time, with a masculine pronoun, unless there was a particular reason for using the feminine, a practice called the generic masculine. I happen to be reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations right now, and he gives us plenty of examples:
Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able to work is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniencies of life, for himself, and such of his family or tribe as are either too old, or too young, or too infirm, to go a-hunting and fishing. (Smith  1909, 5)
But: “In most parts of Scotland, she is a good spinner who can earn twentypence a-week” (Smith  1909, 125).
Smith, of course, wrote during a time period when this was normal and unquestioned. In the first quotation, the pronouns, despite being gendered masculine, are meant to be read as generic. Whether Smith was thinking of individuals of both sexes when he wrote that paragraph or just of men is unknown and, for the purpose of the book, not very important. In the second, the worker being described is explicitly intended to be read as female. It took 125 pages for him to use the word “she,” though in previous chapters, “her” appears in references to “a tender mother” (117), “the labour of the wife” (72), and a greyhound (19).
I'm Lea, a freelance editor who specializes in academic and nonfiction materials. More info about my services is available throughout this site.