How many…?

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It’s a fascinating and possibly pointless exercise, trying to work out how search engines work.  Although this article was inspired by a news story on beating (so-called) plagiarism detectors, I found myself more interested in what the story told us about Google and (presumably) other search engines.

The story starts withn an article in Hoax-Alert: Forget Russian Bots: Fake Native Americans Are Using Russian Characters To Avoid Fake News and Plagiarism DetectorsThe story relates how a number of websites which appear to be promoted by Native Americans are in fact sites originating in Kosovo and other countries. It seems that they are stealing content, disguising it (to escape similarity detectors) and getting away with it. The way they disguise the content is to substitute Cyrillic characters which look like Latin alphabet characters in text, in order to beat text-matching software.  The HoaxAlert story shows this illustration:

The only difference between the two sentences appears to be the lower-case “a” in “army” used in the first example and the upper-case “A” used in the second example. In fact, the top example substitutes Russian look-alike characters for some of the vowels.

HoaxAlert shows how this becomes apparent if you copy-paste the two sentences into Word and then change the font. Here are the two sentences, first the true version (the lower of the original sentences) and then the fake version:

The notion is that this will beat Turnitin and other plagiarism detectors.  HoaxAlert goes on to show how searches in Google copy-pasting the sentences yields very different results.

I’ll come back to that.  Before I do, I want to take a closer look at the notion that one can beat Turnitin simply by replacing Latin characters with look-alike characters from a different alphabet.  It’s an ingenuous notion for beating Turnitin, granted, BUT… (1) there is nothing new in this notion and (2) Turnitin can (it claims) handle character substitution.

Here’s The Awl, in a post dated August 5, 2010

and here’s a YouTube video showing how to do it:

though it is worth noting that there is an on-screen warning in the first few seconds:

Turnitin confirms that they are wise to this trick too, in a blog post Can Students “Trick” Turnitin?  dated 23 May 2013.

Of course, not all Turnitin’s claims are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – but in this instance, I am prepared to believe them, they spent a lot of time proclaiming this. (What’s more, the HoaxAlert post does not actually say that this trick will beat Turnitin.  It claims it might beat some “plagiarism detectors.”  None is mentioned by name.)

And so we come to Google.

The HoaxAlert post showed that when copy-pasting the Cyrillic version, Google came up with zero hits.

while a search for the true version found nearly half-a-million hits

Fair enough. As I said, there are very few words which use a mix of Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. Frankly, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single one (apart from those used in the article) – and I’m pretty sure that you can’t either.

I did note the lack of quotation marks around either of HoaxAleert searches, and wondered how many hits would come up with quotation marks.  Much fewer, I thought.

[Quotation marks are used to require that the search engine search only for the words used and in that particular order, the quotation word-for-word, as it were. When no quotation marks are used in a search phrase, the search engine will look for documents which use the words in the search-term but not necessarily adjacent or in that order. Any document which uses all those terms in any order will be found – thus the half-million hits.]

Here we go, and copying the Cyrillic version and pasting into the Google search-box between quotation marks, I got “About 6 results.”

HoaxAlert got 0 results without quotation marks – but it is clear that the first hit is the HoaxAlert article (and there is no way in which Google could find this before HoaxAlert posted it, is there?) and the others are reposts and other versions of the HoaxAlert story.

Where it gets interesting is at the foot of the results page. At the top of the page, Google reports “About 6 results.”  At the foot of the page there is a note:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 11 already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

I should have counted how many results were actually displayed, but I missed that. I was too eager to see how many results there were in total. Answer, about 20.

What about the sentence in Latin alphabet?  I didn’t get half-a-million hits, I got “About 29 results.”

That’s not a surprise – I had used quotation marks; for this search, Google was searching for the exact sentence, not for any use of the words in any order.

Once again, there was a note at the foot of the page, and once again, the numbers did not quite match.

Once again, the number shown was only slightly more than the number of hits originally shown – and I am not convinced that all of them really do include the target sentence.

What if I don’t use quotation marks – replicating the HoaxAlert search?

Interesting …  four words are underlined, as if they have been spelled wrongly.

Interesting … the results page shows that this is so…

I am asked:

Did you mean: Thе rеаsоn аrmy hеlіcоptеrs аrе nаmеd аftеr nаtіvе trіbеs wіll mаkе yоu smіlе

Google recognises that some of the words are problematic?  But why not all of the words? HoaxAlert shows ALL the words include Cyrillic characters, not just these four.

I get the same result, using Gill sans:

All the vowels come up as replaced. I couldn’t think of any words which use a mix of Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, but Google apparently can?

Just to round things off, how many hits do I get using the real sentence, the all-Latin version? HoaxAlert got just short of half-a-million.  I got …

… “about 84 results.”  What?

Sure enough, the clue is at the foot of the page, and again there is a mismatch between the number shown as found and the number claimed to be displayed:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 97 already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

And here we are, repeating the search, Latin alphabet, no quotation marks, “About 499,000 results” found.

That means “about” 498,900 results were not displayed because some part of the Google algorithm considers them “similar to the (results) already displayed.”

As I said, it’s  probably pointless, trying to work out how search engines work – except we can be misled in oh so many ways if we accept what they tell us at face value and do not delve.   How many of those “similar” results could be worth looking at more deeply if only we know about them?

Given recent thoughts about needing to read laterally and think laterally when considering what we read, we do need to remind ourselves that we still do not know (for sure) how search engines decide which results to push to the top, how many they hide in the heap of results – and how many they don’t tell us about.

We just cannot afford to stop thinking, can we?

Not just CRAAP – 3

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[In part 1 of this 3 part article we looked at Wineburg and McGrew’s study which suggests that a fresh look at the way we evaluate web pages and sites could be valuable.]
[In part 2, we looked at a rebuttal of Wineburg and McGrew’s study – and rebutted the rebuttal.]
[In this third part, we look at reasons why we may need a compromise between the “old” and the “new” ways of evaluating pages and sites online.]

In my last two posts, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates. The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

In one particular task, a comparison and evaluation of two articles both of which dealt with bullying, the researchers found that historians and students tended to spend much time considering the actual articles before they moved elsewhere; some never left the target sites, some left them to look elsewhere. By contrast, the fact-checkers spent very little time on the target pages – sometimes just seconds; they all quickly looked elsewhere, often outside the publishing sites. That is not necessarily (at least in my eyes) a concern. What does concern is that the evaluations made by the two groups were very different. Historians and students tended to choose the College site as the more reliable and trustworthy, the Academy site as the less reliable and trustworthy. The fact-checkers were the exact opposite.

Wineburg and McGrew went on to ask if students have learned to over-rely on evaluation checklists – and if such reliance lets them down. In practice, Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 2

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In part 1 of this three-part article, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates.  The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

The three groups were asked to complete six tasks in timed conditions. The findings and ensuing discussion are detailed in the paper Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information.

In this earlier post (Not just CRAAP – 1), I invited readers to try one of the tasks for themselves. If you haven’t already done this, it might be a good idea to try before reading on here.

The task asked participants to imagine they looking for information on bullying, and describe their thought processes as they considered two particular articles on two different websites.  The articles were Bullying at School: Never Acceptable on the site of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds – the College) and then  Stigma: At the Root of Ostracism and Bullying on the site of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP – the Academy).

Participants were allowed to look elsewhere on the sites and anywhere else online that they wished.  They had to decide which website was the more reliable and trustworthy.

What the researchers found was that Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 1

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Over the weekend, a newsletter item in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention, One way to fight fake news by Dan Berrett and Beckie Supiano.  It was originally published in November 2017;  I’ve got behind in my reading.

The item reports on a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew.  Wineburg and McGrew compared the search habits and evaluation techniques of three different groups, professional historians, professional fact-checkers, and students at Stanford University.  They found that :

  • the historians and the students mostly used very different techniques of search and evaluation to the techniques of the fact-checkers;
  • the historians and the students could not always find the information they were asked to search for;
  • the historians and the students took longer to decide on the validity and reliability of the sites they were asked to look at;
  • most disturbingly, the historians and the students came by-and-large to diametrically opposite conclusions to those of the fact-checkers as to the validity and reliability of the various sites; the two groups could not both be right.

Before reading further, you might want to try an approximation of one of the tasks undertaken by the participants (there were six tasks in all, in timed conditions). Continue reading

Guilty by association

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A month or so ago, an incident at Ohio State University made headlines. One or more students had posted information on business course assignments in a GroupMe study group.  The type of information shared violated the University’s code of student conduct.  As a consequence, more than 80 students – all members of the GroupMe group – were charged with cheating.

GroupMe is a free group messaging app, widely used to send messages and documents simultaneously to all members of a group. Members of educational GroupMe groups often use it to share dates due and study tips and readings. When collaboration is permitted, this kind of app can be a great boon in assisting collaborative work. In this particular case, however, some users had overstepped the mark and had posted suggested answers to homework assignments. Legitimate collaboration had become illegitimate collusion.

By and large, the headlines (of which this is just a small selection) seemed to get more dramatic Continue reading

WHYs before the event

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I have long suggested that students will more readily understand the conventions of citing and referencing if they understand WHY we do it, WHY they are asked, expected and required to do it.  HOW to do it is necessary, but knowing WHY we do it gives purpose, can even make it fun.

When I “crowd-source” the reasons WHY we cite and reference, in classrooms and in workshops, the group usually comes up with the main reasons between them. That is good. But there is no guarantee that any one individual in the room appreciates all of those reasons – as evidenced perhaps by my questioner in Qatar, a story I relate in Lighten the load, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”

Trouble is, for many students, the notions of building on what has gone before, showing the trail which has led to our present thinking or contributing to an academic conversation are just too abstract to appreciate. This is so, even at university level, as suggested by Continue reading

We value our libraries – shout it loud!

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I mused on coincidences in my last post but one, APA mythtakes. Here’s another one!

Over lunch today, I read a piece in my library magazine, CILIP Update, a story about Bury Council in England. The Council had closed a public library, and some bright spark sent out a tweet, asking the community to advise on what could be done to “turn a former library into a valued community asset.”

And guess what the community replied?

If you’re not sure (I’m sure you are, really), try the Manchester Evening News item Bury council tweeted about making closed libraries into ‘valued assets’ and everyone said the same thing

Everyone saying the same thing, that’s not the coincidence. The coincidence is courtesy friend Christina who just an hour or so later sent me a link to a story in Huffington Post, ‘The Angriest Librarian’ Schools Columnist Over Anti-Library Tweets. This is one person’s response – multiple responses – to a New York journalist’s tweet suggesting “Nobody goes to libraries anymore. Close the public ones and put the books in schools.”

The Angriest Librarian wasn’t the only person who responded. Within hours, more than 110,000 people had responded. Andre Walker, the journalist, had to admit that libraries weren’t as unpopular as he had thought.

We value our libraries – shout it loud!


It takes time

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One of the basic tenets of this blog is that we do students a disservice when we give them the impression that the main purpose of citing and referencing is to “avoid plagiarism.”

The way I see it, “avoiding plagiarism” is at best a by-product of citation and referencing. It is a long way from being the main or the only reason for the practice. It makes for angst (“what if I get it wrong?”) and it leads to confusion. Because of the nit-picking demands of getting one’s references absolutely perfect, it can lead to boredom. It leads to taking short-cuts, to avoidance of using other people’s work in support of one’s own ideas and statements, to a loss of the writer’s own voice and ideas.

At the same time, as demonstrated by repeated uses of Jude Carroll’s Where do you draw the line? exercise, there are wide differences between what different teachers class as plagiarism. This serves further to confuse, as when a student who has had work long accepted finds her standard practice is suddenly condemned Continue reading

APA mythtakes

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We don’t take note of non-coincidences, do we? It’s different when two similar events happen close to each other. Wow! we say, what are the chances of that happening twice in the same day? Coincidences stick in the mind, single events do not stick so readily. (This one stuck so solidly that it pushed me into blogging again.)

A recent EasyBib blog post was one half of such a coincidence. Michele Kirschenbaum’s blog post Video Lesson: In-Text Citations had upset me on two counts. Although published on 29 September 2017, my Google Alert did not pick it up until last week.

Count #1: the video gives the impression that in-text citations and parenthetical citations are one and the same

This impression is confirmed in the text of the blog where we read “We think this video, which provides an introduction to in-text, or parenthetical citations, is a great addition to your classroom resources.”

Me, I don’t think it such a great addition, not least because parenthetical citations are one kind of in-text citation, but not the only kind.

Other kinds are available, not least when the citation starts the sentence Continue reading

By any other brand-name, not so sweet?

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Something is afoot in the world of reference generators. The American company Chegg, which claims to be  “all about removing the obstacles that stand in the way of the education YOU want and deserve” [Chegg: What we’re about], seems to be buying up service after service.

They already own CitationMachine,  BibMe, EasyBib, and CiteThisForMe. None of them is particularly good at what they claim to do, and (in their free versions and since being taken over by Chegg) they are bedevilled by splash and flash advertising (as with Citation Machine, illustrated on the right).

Several of my earlier posts point directly or indirectly to shortcomings in these services.  Their auto-citation generators leave much to be desired. They also leave much to be edited or added after the reference is auto-generated. A common plaint is that students don’t do this – they unthinkingly and uncritically accept auto-generated output no matter how many errors or omissions.  Alas, the manual form-filling modes are often not much better. Too often Continue reading

A gift that kept on giving…

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Regular readers will know my opinion of the (so-called) Harvard referencing, but in case you don’t, it is low. (If you don’t, then see, as instance, the three-part post which starts at Harvard on my mind 1.)

So there was some delight and much sinking feeling when my daily GoogleAlert for [plagiarism] today brought up the hit How to Reference Your Sources Using Harvard Referencing.

  The first line or so of the alerted post by someone signing in as techfeatured reads:

An article in the Sunday Times (Jones, 2006) claims that up to 10% of all degree level submissions commit some form of plagiarism – the act of …

It wasn’t just the mention of Harvard that set the alarm bells ringing and the red flags flying. It was the statistic itself, that 10%, and the ten-year old source. Surely there is more recent research, surely the rate is higher? What is meant by “degree level submissions”?

Today (as I start drafting this post) is Christmas Day Continue reading

Of honesty and integrity

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One of my favourite classroom and workshop activities is a “Do I need to cite this?” quiz. Those taking the test are presented with a number of situations and asked to choose between “Cite the source/s” and “No need to cite the source/s.” *

I like to do this using Survey Monkey – other polling applications will do just as well. It means that I can home in on any situation in which there is divided opinion, or which many respondents are getting wrong. There is no need to go through each situation one at a time if there are just two or three situations which need to be discussed.

Much of the time, the answers are clear: the situation is academic (a piece of work submitted for assessment) so should demand academic honesty, and most students and other participants get it right.

Some of the situations are less clear and lend themselves to discussion, considerations of common knowledge, learned expertise, copyright, credibility and reputation, honesty (as against academic honesty) and integrity.

One situation, for instance, presents Continue reading

Knowing how to write is not knowing how to write

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A month or two ago, but within the space of two weeks, three very different, very similar, situations:

Situation 1 : a student in a school in Asia wrote a comment on an earlier blog post, How Much Plagiarism?  asking for advice. She had misunderstood the instructions; she “forgot to include in-text citations” in the draft of her IB extended essay. All her citations were at the end of the essay. There was no intention to plagiarise.  Since this was a draft, the IB is not involved;  there was still the opportunity to put things right. But she was worried about her school’s reaction which could include note of her transgression on future university recommendations. Her question was, is this excessive?

Situation 2 : an inquiry on an OCC forum: it was the school’s deadline day for submitting final copies of extended essays.  One student, known for his dilatory habits, managed to submit his essay on time. Reading through before authenticating it, the supervisor realised that in the first half of the essay the student had included footnote references for each superscript number in the text. Then the student seemed to have run out of time or stamina, for in the second half of the essay the superscript numbers were there but with no footnoted references to support them. Would it be ethical Continue reading

A footnote on footnotes

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Just as a footnote to my last post, Yes and No – footnotes (in MLA8), there is now a post in the MLA’s Style Center which addresses this very question. I don’t think this page was there at the time I wrote my post, but I won’t swear to that.

The question asked was Are notes compatible with MLA style? – and the answer was much as I suggested: in the absence of specific guidance, follow the suggestions made in the previous edition, MLA7: you can use footnotes (or endnotes) to “offer the reader comment, explanation, or information that the text can’t accommodate,”  and you can make bibliographic footnotes in limited circumstances: “bibliographic notes are best used only when you need to cite several sources or make evaluative comments on your sources.” Footnotes are the exception, not the rule, not if you want to abide by strict MLA style.

[For the purpose of IB assessments, possibly other exam boards too, you should note that the first use is heavily discouraged: such footnotes MAY NOT be read but WILL count towards the word count.]


Readers might want to know that the latest edition, the MLA Handbook, 8th edition, is now available in Kindle format.


Yes and No – footnotes

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A question that comes up regularly in the forums is, “We use MLA; can we use this style with footnotes?”

I think there are two answers to this. The first is “No, you can’t.” The second is, “Yes you can.”

Before I explain my thinking, I will just add that the reason most frequently given for wanting to use MLA and footnotes is “the word count.” If the citation is in a footnote and footnotes aren’t counted in the word count, then the rationale is that using footnotes will save words. This could be crucial in, for instance, an IB Extended Essay.

Q:  Can we use MLA style and footnotes?
A:  No, you can’t.

MLA, the student-level style guide of the Modern Language Association as published in the MLA Handbook, recommended the use of footnotes in the 1st edition, published in 1977;  in the 2nd edition, published in 1984, MLA stated a preference for citation in the text. (This piece of history is gleaned from page xi of the 8th edition, published in 2016.)

The 6th edition (2003) noted that some disciplines using MLA still used “endnotes or footnotes to document sources,” and gave a few examples in an appendix (298 ff). The only recommendation regarding footnotes in the 7th edition (2009) was that Continue reading

Smoke and mirrors

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“Technological solutionism” – a term coined by Evgeny Morozov – offers us solutions to problems we often do not know we have. Some might feel that it sometimes creates new problems, too often without solving the problems it is designed to solve. So often and too often, it fails to do what it says on the tin.

On the other hand, technological solutionism can make big money for the companies behind the so-called solutions. It can blind us to other, often more workable, often more less expensive and more low-tech strategies, approaches and solutions.  Worse still, it can divert attention from the real problems, including situations which might cause the problems in the first place.

I have blogged before about technological solutions which promise far more than they deliver. Turnitin and EasyBib are the ones which come most readily to mind. You can name your own “favourites.”

And now, Microsoft has just released enhancements to Office 365. The announcement is made in an Office Blog article posted on 26 July 2016 with the snappy-catchy title New to Office 365 in July—new intelligent services Researcher and Editor in Word, Outlook Focused Inbox for desktop and Zoom in PowerPoint. The piece is written by Kirk Koenigsbauer. He is a corporate vice president for the Office team, heavy-hitting stuff indeed.  In this post, we’ll be looking just at Researcher and Editor.

In the blog, we read that

Researcher is a new service in Word that helps you find and incorporate reliable sources and content for your paper in fewer steps. Right within your Word document you can explore material related to your topic and add it—and its properly-formatted citation—in one click. Researcher uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to pull in the appropriate content from the web and provide structured, safe and credible information.

and that

Editor assists you with the finishing touches by providing an advanced proofing and editing service. Leveraging machine learning and natural language processing—mixed with input from our own team of linguists—Editor makes suggestions to help you improve your writing.

Powerful tools indeed.  If they work.

Given the first look that Microsoft gives us, they have a long way to go.

First, Researcher. The section heading in the blog reads Continue reading

Seeds or weeds?

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It is sadly ironic when someone writing about plagiarism (with the intention of helping readers understand what plagiarism is and how to write correctly) commits plagiarism.

It happens all too often. I am sure that, in most cases, it is unintentional. The trouble is, readers of their work may sometimes be confused, especially if confused examples are presented. As instances, there are writers on plagiarism who still seem to believe that it is enough to list their sources at the end of a paper.  There are some who appear to think that citation in the text is enough, but are apparently unaware (or who forget) that quoted words demand quotation markers (such as quotation marks or indented paragraphs or a change of font).

I don’t know what to make of the writer of the article, “Planting Seeds,” published in Blossoms: the official newsletter of Abuja Preparatory School (No. 25, 9 March 2016).

The newsletter is aimed at parents. Full credit to the writer for trying to help parents understand what plagiarism is, and understand how students can legitimately use other people’s words and work [“All they have to do is always acknowledge who and where they got it from”]. There is also a section on how some forms of help which parents often give are actually unhelpful, not least because they encourage bad habits and understanding/s. I am particularly impressed that this school takes students up to year 6, ages 10 to 12. I believe the earlier the values of honesty and integrity are inculcated, the better – the awareness of honest use of others’ work is “planting seeds” indeed.

But there are two paragraphs in the newsletter article which give me pause.

The first of these is Continue reading

Self-serving survey?

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When a company (or other group with vested interest) conducts its own research and publishes its own analysis of the results, it is usually worth investigating more deeply. Turnitin has long been a favourite source of disingenuous disinformation (see. for instance, my posts How much plagiarism?, Guilty: how do you plead?, A second look at SEER, and Not as I do, but… ).

Now my attention turns to RefME, the reference generator (unless it is a citation generator; there may be language differences here, as discussed in Language and labels).

RefME has just published a report Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism on two surveys which the company carried out in recent months. It seems a prime example of how not to analyse data, how not to write a report. That’s a brutal assessment, but I think the brutality is justified. Just be sure to get in quick in case the report is edited or deleted.

I think there are (at least) five or six ways in which the report can be considered flawed. Fuller explanation follows the list:

  1. the discussion of the surveys reads at times like an inadequate discussion of the surveys and at times like a press release produced by the RefME publicity bureau;
  2. the report manages to confuse and conflate incorrect or inconsistently formatted references with plagiarism and/or academic misconduct;
  3. the discussion grabs at different research and studies, and suggests (inter alia) that small-scale surveys can be regarded as universal truths;
  4. in grabbing at those different research reports and studies, the writer misreports some and fails to do the homework, to check on the source behind the source;
  5. the report, despite praising RefME for enabling correct and consistent referencing/ endnoting, manages to be incorrect, incomplete and/or inconsistent in at least 11 of its 13 references.
  6. a small matter of several, many, passages which reuse so much wording from source documents that it might be felt that quotation marks are required; some readers might even class these passages as plagiarism.

This is not to denigrate the RefME software itself. I have no opinion there. Until I bought a new computer a few months ago, I found the app hung up too often to enable a valid critique of its performance as a reference (or citation) generator. Now, I find it Continue reading

Language and labels

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Different people have different understandings of the terms “citation” and “reference.” This can – and does – cause confusion. In my classes and workshops, I usually start discussion of use of other people’s work by stating how I use and will be using these terms, following the International Baccalaureate (IB)’s use of them. In brief:

  • citations are the short notes which go in the text, as part of the text or in parentheses;
  • references are the full bibliographic information which goes in the list at the end.

If we all have the same understanding of the terms, we are nearer being sure that we are talking about the same things.

There is much to suggest that many students go through secondary school and enter university believing that they understand how to document their use of source material correctly and appropriately, when all they have learned and practised is making an alphabetical list of sources at the end of their work. When told they need to cite their sources, Continue reading

Copy, paste, EDIT

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Following on in this mini-series of common errors in extended essays: one of the ways in which IBDP extended essay candidates drop marks for  Criterion I: Formal Presentation (Criterion D: Presentation from 2018) is inconsistency in the formatting of references.

IB examiners are instructed that consistency and completeness of references is more important than notions of accuracy, which is good. Given that students are free to use any referencing style that they wish, it is not possible for an examiner to declare that this or that reference is recorded inaccurately, not according to style guide.

But the criterion requires that references are consistently formatted within the list itself. If the reference list is something like this: Continue reading

Back to basics – MLA8 revisited

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I have to admit, I am excited by the latest edition of the MLA Handbook. Gulp! Does that make me some kind of uber-nerd?

I am breaking into my mini-series on common documentation errors in IB extended essays to share my excitement. MLA8 gives us a new way of looking at citation and referencing, very different to the approach taken in the previous edition. What’s more, the hopes I expressed for this new edition (well before it was actually published – see the post MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook) are incorporated in the new approach.

The special delight is because, in basing its new approach on the principles and the purposes of citation and referencing, MLA8 provides us with principles which can be applied to any referencing style or style guide. What you might call a WHYs move, perhaps. Continue reading

Orders are orders

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In my last post, What’s in a name, I discussed the need for clear linkage between the name/s used in an in-text citation and the name/s used to start the entry in the list of References. If the citation reads,

“According to Michaels and Brown, ……”


“‘……’ (Singh 2014)”

then it is helpful to the reader if the entries in the References list start

Michaels, J., & P. Brown….


Singh, V. (2014).

Many students, however, seem unable to make the link. A number of extended essay examples posted by the International Baccalaureate show instances where students manage to mismatch names – detailed in that last post. Two of the instances I listed were essays in which students had used Continue reading

What’s in a name?

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In my last post, Credit where it is due, I discussed IB’s approach to referencing, with special regard to the new Extended essay guide. The guide affects students starting their two-year diploma programme in September this year, for first examination in May 2018.

In an attempt to ensure standard understanding of citation and referencing, IB is instructing examiners to refer to the Awards Committee all cases of inaccurate or inconsistent citation and referencing. This will be, I hope, for the good, for the benefit of students. I fear, however, that the committee will be inundated with such cases.

I have another concern here: the comment (on many commentary forms printed alongside sample essays) reads, “Under the new requirements this essay must be referred as a possible case of academic misconduct due to incorrect and inconsistent citing and referencing.” My concern is that examiners may be wrongly influenced in their overall assessment of the essay by any “incorrect” or inconsistent citation or referencing; they may be prejudiced as they read, and award lower marks than if the student had used “correct” and consistent citation and referencing – even when there is no misconduct, just mistakes. This is a big concern, but I will reserve discussion of this aspect for another post.

For the moment, I want to ignore notions of misconduct and concentrate on consistency, possibly with a view to reducing the number of essays submitted for further consideration.

So, in that last post I discussed the notion of accurate referencing, which could be seen to contradict other IB advice to the effect that “Students are not expected to show faultless expertise in referencing…”. I argued that the notions can be reconciled if “accurate” referencing is taken not to mean accuracy of formatting of the references but instead used to mean that the right authors are cited (as against just any names randomly plucked from a hat). Now, accuracy makes sense.

The right authors, the right names

Some of the comments on the sample essays suggest that essays are referred to the Awards Committee because Continue reading

Credit where it is due

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I have to admit, I’ve long been puzzled by seemingly contradictory statements from the International Baccalaureate. They are highlighted once more in the new Extended Essay Guide (for first examination in May 2018).

On the one hand, we have the statement:

“Students are not expected to show faultless expertise in referencing, but are expected to demonstrate that all sources have been acknowledged” (p. 33 of the pdf guide),

and on the other:

“Producing accurate references and a bibliography is a skill that students should be seeking to refine as part of the extended essay writing process … Failure to comply with this requirement will be viewed as academic misconduct and will, therefore, be treated as a potential breach of IB regulations” (p. 88).

Can we reconcile the suggestion that “faultless expertise” is not required while at the same time requiring “accurate references” – especially given that “correctness” is impossible to judge, given that IB allows use of any recognised style guide. Continue reading

Tangled trail

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In the course of this blog, I have engaged in the occasional tortuous tangled trail.

I doubt if any of my trails – or trials – is as complicated as one recently followed by Debora Weber-Wulff. In her latest blog post, A Confusing Pakistani Plagiarism Case, she relates how she tried following up a report in the Pakistani Express Tribune, Confession: Ex-HEC head apologises for plagiarism.

Her difficulties involved trying to find the original paper which the former chair of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) might or might not have co-authored and which might or might not have been included in this writer’s CV and which might or might not have appeared in an academic journal; the paper might or might not have included plagiarised material. This last doubt arises because any plagiarism in the paper might not be considered plagiarism on the (questionable) grounds that the paper was published before Pakistan had legislated any policies regarding plagiarism.

Weber-Wulff sums up her investigation and the issues Continue reading