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Constructing citations: reviewing chat transcripts to improve citation assistance as a service

Jaci Wilkinson (Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Alyssa Denneler (Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Leanne Nay (Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Anna Marie Johnson (Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 9 June 2021

Issue publication date: 19 July 2021




Using chat transcripts from Indiana University Libraries, the authors examined a subset of transcripts involving citations. From this analysis, they propose improvements for citation assistance as a holistic service.


Two years of chat transcripts were examined and questions containing citation-related keywords were segregated for further examination. The authors used a test data set to create a coding scheme for the questions and responses. This scheme was then applied to all the citation-related transcripts.


390 of 11,553 transcripts included interactions about citations. In 42% of the transcripts, no specific citation style was mentioned. American Psychological Association and Modern Language Association were the most frequently mentioned citation styles by chat users. Business reports (company data and market research), periodicals (journal, newspaper or magazine articles), websites and government documents were the most often asked about formats, but there was a wide variety of other unusual formats. Questions about EndNote were more common than other types of citation management software. Chat staff utilized a variety of responses including guiding the student by example, directing to an online resource for more information (85% of the responses) or referring to a citation management expert. An unexpected amount of hedging words in the responses indicates the presence of anxiety on the part of chat staff in responding to these types of questions.


This paper goes beyond most existing studies of chat transcripts by using chat transcripts as data to guide service improvements for a commonly asked but not typically discussed set of questions.



The authors like to recognize their colleague, Andrew Asher, who assisted with the early stages of data collection. The authors also thank Allison Rand, Instructional Design Librarian at Illinois State University, who kindly read the paper before submission.


Wilkinson, J., Denneler, A., Nay, L. and Johnson, A.M. (2021), "Constructing citations: reviewing chat transcripts to improve citation assistance as a service", Reference Services Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 194-210.



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