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Using Examples Well

What’s great about examples are their specificity. That said, I see a surprising number of papers that mention unnamed references or name specific books, movies, articles – and not their authors. When giving examples of scholarly works of pieces of art, be sure to include at least: the name of the work and the name of the work’s author. For example:

  • Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations describes …
  • In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith describes …
  • Adam Smith describes … in The Wealth of Nations.

When the work is well-known, as is the Wealth of Nations, for example, it may not be necessary to specify what type of work you’re referencing. And, in any case, most readers familiar with the formatting of titles would know from context that Wealth of Nations is not likely to be a newspaper, piece of visual art, or movie – any of the other types of works whose titles would be italicized.

In some cases you, may want to provide a date, as in:

  • Jurassic Park (1993) marked Steven Spielberg’s …
  • Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which hit box offices in 1993, marked …
  • The 1993 hit Jurassic Park marked Steven Spielberg’s …

Again, when the work or its author are well-known, as are both Jurassic Park and Steven Spielberg, you probably don’t need to specify their nature (e.g. “the movie Jurassic Park” or “director Steven Spielberg”). However, in more obscure cases (and depending on your audience), you may find this useful or even necessary. For example:

  • When the film Hyènes premiered in 1992, New York Times film critic Stephen Holden praised its director, Djibril Diop Mambety, for telling a story that “carries a sting.”

This sentence would be far inferior if it read:

  • When Hyènes premiered, Stephen Holden praised Djibril Diop Mambety for telling a story that “carries a sting.”

What is Hyènes? A movie? Book? Play? Who is Stephen Holden? A friend of Mambety’s? A colleague? A critic? And who is Mambety? An author? Director? Playwright?

Examples are useful in so far as they provide specific information. Be aware of your audience (consider what they know already), but when in doubt, more is more, in this case.

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