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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

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October 30, 2011

Citation Obsession? Get Over It! By Kurt Schick My university recently convened an emergency "summit" for librarians, tutors, and concerned faculty members to solve a citation crisis. Our library help desks reportedly cannot complete their core mission of assisting students with information literacy (finding, choosing, and using sources) because students keep pestering them with questions about how to format obscure citations: "I'm analyzing poetry for my 'Punk Literature' seminar. Using MLA style, how do I cite a limerick scribbled in the third-floor toilet?" Meanwhile, the writing center stinks of fear as students struggle to decipher APA, MLA, AP, and Chicago (or is it Turabian?) documentation styles, which seem as alien and absurd to them as using a typewriter. Academic departments and even whole colleges consistently beg the library and writing center for workshops to rehabilitate their worst citation transgressors. Bibliographic citation has apparently eclipsed perfect grammar and the five-paragraph theme as the preoccupation of persnickety professors. What a colossal waste. Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers. Professors' obsession with citation formatting is relatively new. Many of us over the age of 40 probably cannot remember learning much about citation styles until graduate school窶馬ot because our memories have faded, but because our teachers knew better than to demand that we fret about such specialized, scholarly formalities. It's not that they were teaching us to be sloppy scholars, either. On the contrary, they emphasized how to effectively and responsibly locate, evaluate, and integrate other writers' words and ideas into our own writing better, perhaps, than we teach students to do today. Surely, the uneven quality of information available online makes it more important for writers to know how to evaluate the worth of

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

their sources than how to parse pedantic rules and display their expertise in footnoting. What I advocate here is not to dispense with teaching students how to use sources but rather to abandon our fixation on the form rather than the function of source attribution. Here's why: We cannot control how much time and effort students invest in a particular writing assignment; we can only influence how they distribute their energies. Professors' overattention to flawless citation (or grammar) creates predictable results: Students expend a disproportionate amount of precious time and attention trying to avoid making mistakes. Soon, they also begin to associate "good" writing with mechanically following rules rather than developing good ideas. In contrast, experienced writers (like us) edit meticulously only after they have allocated substantial effort to more complex and consequential writing tasks, such as refining their topics, selecting and processing their sources, organizing their ideas, and drafting and revising their manuscripts to improve focus and coherence. Nitpicky professors hinder student writers' development by effectively forcing them to invest more time and thinking in less important elements of writing. Recent research by the Citation Project corroborates how severely teachers' citation psychosis has diminished students' informationliteracy skills, in particular. Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson blame "plagiarism hysteria," which compels teachers to punish improper citation more than reward students' effective use of sources' words and ideas. Thus, clever students master quotation "mining" and sloppy paraphrasing, and they rarely summarize (or, presumably, deeply read or understand) their sources. Why should they, when success equals completing a checklist ("minimum of six sources including two books, two peer-reviewed articles ... proper MLA format, including a period before the parenthetical citation for block quotations") rather than composing writing that engages readers with sophisticated content or, heaven forbid, eloquent prose? Should we not judge writing on its content and character rather than its surface features? The intricacies and formalities of citation become useful to scholars only when they publish their work. Until then, they need a bookkeeping system to keep track of where they found things (a system that others might later use to retrace their steps), and some means of attributing their sources and thus establishing the credibility of information for their audiences. More than anything, source attribution enables students—who, by virtue of being

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

students, don't yet know much about a subject—to borrow knowledge and ethos from those who do. It's just about that simple. What might be more surprising is how simple formal citation mechanics really are. Citation contents are virtually the same across styles and disciplines: author's name(s), title(s), publication information. As anyone who's translated a manuscript from MLA to APA and then to Chicago format knows, the only differences are sequence, punctuation, and format. Why, then, could we not simply ask students to include a list of references with the essential information? Why couldn't we wait to infect them with citation fever until they are ready to publish (and then hand them the appropriate style guide, which is typically no more difficult to follow than instructions for programming your DVR)? We could then reinvest time wasted on formatting to teach more-important skills like selecting credible sources, recognizing bias or faulty arguments, paraphrasing and summarizing effectively, and attributing sourced information persuasively and responsibly. If anything, we should abandon trivial roadblocks so that students can write more often in more classes. Recent research demonstrates how effectively and efficiently writing can improve comprehension of content in any discipline. Writing also enables students to practice analysis, synthesis, and other skills that constitute critical, creative, and even civic thinking. If writing provides one of our best means to enhance learning outcomes across the curriculum, then more writing equals more learning. Why would we design writing assignments with obstacles that discourage students from learning? Kurt Schick teaches writing at James Madison University. Comments Powered by DISQUS

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pmckechn 4 days ago "Using MLA style, how do I cite a limerick scribbled in the third-floor toilet?" These days you photograph it with your mobile phone and print the picture in your essay.

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11/3/11 10:20 AM


Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

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Phil Menger 2 days ago Or better yet place it in a citation tool and have it cite it for you

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profdave 1 day ago You know, this is a fascinating idea. Maybe I should have students include pictures of their sources as a reference list. hmmmm.....

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eech1234 20 hours ago Had to do it in high school (11 years ago). Want to cite something? Photocopy or print it out.

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better_you_than_me 4 days ago The correct URL for The Citation Project is http://citationproject.net/ind....

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csgirl 3 days ago Wow, I wish I had this problem. I can't get my students to include citations in ANY style. They are completely baffled by the concept

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jcking75 3 days ago Basic information regardless of style -- not a bad idea. Of course this depends on them grasping the concept of "someone else's idea" vs. their own. Phrases such as "use your words" with children and "just download it"/"just look it up on the Web" with adolescents engender a false sense of ownership of information, and that mental wall is a difficult one to knock down.

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azadpoor 3 days ago Why don't they just use a reference (citation) management program like EndNote, Reference Manager, Mendeley, Zotero, etc? They do not have to care about the citation style anymore. As easy as that. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

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lexalexander 2 days ago

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

I'm in an online master's program at UNC, and the Mass Comm library uses RefWorks. Recently, when completing a lit review for a research proposal on a weekend (I work full-time and do the bulk of my schoolwork on weekends), RefWorks crapped out: It would accept new citations but not allow me to move or organize them, or to generate a reference list or bibliography from the contents. RefWorks support staff do not work weekends. Finally, long past midnight Sunday night, it started working again, but the resulting reference list was so inconsistently formatted (supposedly APA6) that I cc'd the download to both RefWorks support and my professor. My professor, aware of the RefWorks problem (I wasn't the only victim), said nothing. Unfortunately, so did RefWorks tech support. So: still a few bugs in the system.

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Phil Menger 2 days ago In that case it would have been far quicker just to do it by hand!

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azadpoor 2 days ago I have been using EndNote for +7 years now and never had any such problem.

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lceresa337 2 days ago I discovered Citelighter.com a few weeks ago and I love it! Way better than Refworks or EndNote, and has never crashed on me. It also lets you save citations with full bibliography.

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dramallamaorama 20 hours ago Often times those problems come from the database and meta data, not from the actual software. The software is only a tool- the reliability of information affects how good the actual citations are. Most people don't realize that database service providers are the cause of this, not the software.

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lexalexander 17 hours ago As someone who last darkened the door of a classroom 29 years ago, when all this was still done by hand, I would have appreciated that warning up front. That said, the U is paying RefWorks a ton of money; failure of its support people to respond is not acceptable. Quasi-relatedly, my girlfriend is in a different master's program and is using Zotero and loves it. I may try it.

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Phil Menger 2 days ago

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

Well first of all you have to double check those citations because they are not perfect so you still have to know the format of the citation, punctuation etc. Yes it is way easier but buyer beware. Secondly using wikipedia as a credible source???? Forgetaboutit

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azadpoor 2 days ago "Well first of all you have to double check those citations because they are not perfect" You simply don't know what you are talking about. They are not perfect only if the information you provide (the citation information and style file) are not correct. In case of famous citation styles, there are certain "official" style files that are PERFECT. The only mistake you can make is to put in wrong metadata (wrong author, date, page number, etc). That could happen even if you do the reference writing manually. Besides, you are better off simply downloading the meta-data from a credible database such as Pubmed, ISI Web of Sciebce, Scopus, etc. "Secondly using wikipedia as a credible source???? Forgetaboutit" Again, you don't know what you are talking about. The link I placed in my comment shows the names of different reference management programs and maybe what they can do. That is it. You should learn that the argument "Wikipedia is not a credible source of information" does not work everywhere.

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yellow1 1 day ago Several of the tools mentioned here indeed have some minor errors in the documentation, so I do think the poster does indeed know what s/he is talking about. Even certain databases that cite the sources students find, like those from EBSCO will have minor formatting errors. Since part of the purpose of this article, at least to me, is about those FACULTY who nitpick the citations, I think it is very important to note.

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dpn33 1 hour ago Actually, RefWorks does make mistakes even if your metadata is correct. For example, in APA 6 style, RefWorks formatted the following references without correct capitalization. The metadata were correct. You DO have to proof RefWorks output. It's still an enormous time-saver, but if users think it's "perfect" then I have a fantastic bridge to sell them.

Altink, H. (2005). Deviant and dangerous: Pro-slavery representations of jamaican slave women's sexuality, C. 1780-1834. Slavery & Abolition [Great Britain], 26(2), 271-288.

Anderson, M. (2003). The missouri debates, slavery and statistics of race: Demography in service of politics. Annales De Demographie Historique [France], (1), 23-38.

Beer, J., & Joslin, K. (1999). Diseases of the body politic: White slavery in jane addams' a new conscience and an ancient evil and selected short stories by charlotte perkins gilman. Journal of American Studies [Great Britain], 33(1), 1-18.

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

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lydia 2 days ago MS Word's citation feature works great, too. Another good online one is Son of Citation Machine at http://citationmachine.net.

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usaret 2 days ago I'm not a big fan of the reference tool built into MS Word--inconsistent results. My students and I use Noodletools, which has both free and pay components. Covers MLA, APA, and Chicago. Easy and asks its users the right questions about types of sources.

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profdave 1 day ago I use OpenOffice for my own writing. It includes a citation database which can be expanded by the user.

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blendedlibrarian 3 days ago I routinely encounter students (at MPOW - i know this is not the case everywhere) who cannot readily discern between an article title and journal title. Volume and issue numbers are a challenge as well.How well do you think take to citation formatting? I always take time in instruction interactions to point out the tools in our electronic resources that format the citations automatically. Admittedly these citations are not always perfect and don't help with bathroom limericks, but they can help students getting started on their bibliographies. Whenever I show this feature in a classroom setting there is a giant collective sigh of relief along with the inevitable "show me that again". Are teachers of writing aware of these tools? I am all for simplifying citation formatting as much as possible, and while one would hope for a universal agreement on such a format (yes - some disciplines might need something specialized) I am not hopeful it will happen anytime soon.

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Leslie Healey 3 days ago Jeez, WORD even formats it for you, these days... just let it go, people, let it go. I want their creative energy expended on writing not formatting. Maybe I would not feel so strongly if I had not grown up in an era where one had to place footnotes at the bottom of each page by hand. It is a miracle I am not insane and still like to write.

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R.O.P. Lopez 3 days ago I like a middle ground, Kurt. Focusing on "good" writing can also sometimes be a waste of time too because college students are too young and haven't read enough of other people's styles to blossom into their own

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

writing styles yet, especially in a semester. It is important that they figure out how to gage things like a source's publisher, its date, whether it had an attributed author who's credible, etc. -- and the formatting specifics force them to do that. It's true that some profs go too far in obsessing about plagiarizing and forcing students into robotic citation checking. But I also don't want students to think that writing is all about composing elegant sentences. You need a balance.

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meaganr 3 days ago Thanks for so eloquently articulating a frustration I've felt for a long time!

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tjproudamerican 3 days ago This opinion essay is very important. I remember in 1968, as a new college student who was fascinated by Ezra Pound, and especially,fascinated by Pound's The Cantos, discovering critic and scholar Hugh Kenner. What a surprise awaited me when I read the very politically and socially conservative Kenner's various books. Kenner did not use standard footnotes or references. Instead, for any claim or quote or argument, he used End Notes that gave a fragment of such additions in quotes followed by the source and often an expansion and explanation of the source. Kenner's style was clear and his scholarship was, if anything, clearer. Cut to 2011 and I see my colleagues bragging about the way students CITE sources even as they rightfully bemoan the student's lethargy, dis-interest, lack of passion, and ignorance. The students do not know what anything means, but they sure know how to cite it. In a similar vein, students very often do not read any articles in the sense that we mean when we read articles, but they sure know how to cite and (as Kurt Schick says above) "quote mine" very deep readings of literature that the student him/herself has no real idea what such readings are. Among other things, we are training our students to be excellent echo chamber voices and very deep imposters. They may not know or care about anything, but they sure know how to pretend they do. The situation we often find of successful demonstration of "information literacy" wed as it is to lack of actual literacy is a crisis in higher education we need to engage.

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Carol Saller 3 days ago Poor teachers find something mechanical to focus on, because it's what they're best able to teach. Better teachers can model flexibility and teach more complex concepts. Note, too, that teacher training has never been a part of academe.

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jeff_winger 3 days ago "teacher training has never been part of academe." Not true. I have had training and almost everyone I know, from Mathematics and Physics to English and Philosophy, received pedagogy training as part of the PhD education. I know people from the tip top type Ivies and folks with PhDs from the "lower wrung" schools, nearly all experienced such training. So one of us has a broken anecdote. Perhaps you expect rigorous training, but I think teachers can be over-trained. It is too dynamic an activity, too individual or anecdotal. Ensure that you have people who are intellectually curious, who want to teach, give them some basic tools of the trade, and a good education, pay them well, and let them do their work without this pathetic effort of micromanagement that the state has been performing the last few years. All do respect Carol, I don't believe there is a that much distinction between "Poor teachers" and the "best" because they are both dealing with the "same" students. There are inept, or incompetent teachers, sure, but everyone else, is about the same.

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

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jeff_winger 3 days ago Also, that was some pretty passive aggressive pedagogy.

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cwm4c 2 days ago I tend to agree with Carol. Most everyone I know at my R1 and most that we interview in searches do not have any instruction in pedagogy--from their PhD program nor from any initiative of their own. We have now started to include it in our evaluation criteria. But most people believe they are good instructors, yet cannot concretely say why/how they evaluate that conclusion.

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icbomber23 2 days ago To say nothing of the increasing number of adjuncts who get no formal training. I'm lucky in that I adjunct at the school I graduated from, so I've had had several former teachers/current colleagues who were willing to help me and offer advice, but I imagine if I were doing this somewhere where I hadn't already established those relationships, things would be much more difficult

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goeswithoutsaying 2 days ago I graduated from an R1 and had plenty of training in pedagogy. It's pretty clunky if you already have any idea how to teach and realize how incredibly "performative" great teaching is. I also see all kinds of opportunities for additional pedagogy instruction in my postdoc institutions. Same for job apps where one now must submit the nebulous but thick "teaching portfolio." Still, I think the "fingerspitzegefuhlen" that makes a great teacher can't be packaged, much less described.

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josgirl13 2 days ago What gets "wrung" out of the lower-rung schools, Jeff?

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kerry555 1 day ago "Poor teachers find something mechanical to focus on, because it's what they're best able to teach." REALLY??? ONLY "poor teachers" focus on mechanics??? Time was when rote learning and forcefeeding of nitpicky details were THE accepted way things were taught and learned -- does that mean that all of those teachers were "poor teachers"? Understanding the mechanics of how something works is ESSENTIAL to being able to wield it properly!!! And teaching/learning how to wield some thing properly is the entire point of teaching/learning, right? And only "poor teachers" find that teaching mechanics is what their best at??? Many master teachers teach the mechanics behind something, and are good at it, because, again, it's necessary for the

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

learners to understand the mechanics in order to be able to wield that thing properly. "Better teachers can model flexibility and teach more complex concepts." REALLY??? ONLY "better teachers" model flexibility??? And ONLY "better teachers" teach more complex concepts??? Don't ALL teachers have to model flexibility with their students, as each student is different and their needs are different, thus best grasping/absorbing information in different ways/rates/etc.? Don't ALL teachers teach more complex concepts simply by teaching something new to students??? Although I, and likely many others reading your post, understood what you were trying to say, you WAYYYYY overgeneralized, and by doing so, insulted all teachers, even the "poor" ones... You insulted students as well, as your overgeneralizations inferred that those who grasp and do well with the mechanics of a thing are "poor" students and not able to grasp and do well with "more complex concepts"... Check out some engineering or science students some time, and you'll see examples of students who can do well with both the mechanics of a thing and the more complex concepts behind that thing, and how it works and what can be done with it and how it relates to many other things, some seemingly unrelated...

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Richard Grayson 20 hours ago You really like question marks and upper-case letters.

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kerry555 11 hours ago Only in that they allow me to add emphasis where I want it. Do you not like them? Or use them? As you commented only on the way I emphasized my post, can I assume that that's the main thing you got from it?

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tubertz 3 days ago "The intricacies and formalities of citation become useful to scholars only when they publish their work. " Do a cited reference search in Web of Science and you will see that the ability to properly cite is still, collectively, a work in progress.

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Carol Saller 3 days ago So true. As an editor of scholarly manuscripts, I frequently see incompetent citing in notes and bibliographies. And these are not student papers.

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dpn33 1 hour ago One of my favorite examples of this is a cited work search on "7 habits highly*" and you'll see a dozen variations on the work's author's name. Not to mention the multitude of publication dates.

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udemon 3 days ago

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Citation Obsession? Get Over It! - Commentary - The Chronicle...

http://chronicle.com/article/Citation-Obsession-Get-Over/129575/

Agree! One of my favorite Chronicle article on this is "The Devilments of Style" (2001):

http://chronicle.com/article/T...

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Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. The Chronicle of Higher Education 1255 Twenty-Third St, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20037

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Citation Obsession