Guilty by association

Print Friendly
Share Button

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 as each new report was published:

The Lantern (6 November 2017)
Use of GroupMe app leads to code of conduct violations

Columbus Dispatch (8 November 2017)
Ohio State accuses 83 students of cheating in a business class

Mail Online (10 November 2017)
Ohio State says 83 students used messaging app GroupMe to cheat on their business class

New York Daily News (10 November 2017)
Nearly 100 Ohio State University students accused of using app to cheat 

Fox News (13 November 2017)
Scandal rocks Ohio State University as 83 students accused of cheating via app

Inside Higher Ed (13 November 2017)
Ohio State Accuses 83 of Cheating via GroupMe

Washington Post (13 November 2017)
Dozens of Ohio State students accused of cheating ring that used group-messaging app

Slate (14 November 2017)
More Than 80 Ohio State University Students Are Accused of Using GroupMe to Cheat

The actual non-legitimate sharing of information was reported to OSU authorities in April 2017, but it was more than six months before the investigations became so widely publicised.  It seems that, even now, the matter is still being investigated.  This length of time is worrying because some if not all students in the GroupMe group face sanctions which may include repetition of the course or even a failure to graduate.  It is a long time to be under suspicion and unsure of one’s fate. I cannot find a later report which details the outcomes. The cases may still remain unresolved.

Knotty questions

One reason for the delay could be fairness.  The comments posed in some of the online news reports and elsewhere shows awareness of moral dilemmas and pose many knotty questions.  Have all members of this GroupMe group benefited from the sharing, are all equally guilty?  Even if some, most even, did not benefit from the sharing of information, are they guilty by association, they could have benefited?

  • How do you prove whether individual students benefited or not?
  • Should the students who posted dubious material receive heavier sanctions than those who simply read it?
  • Should members of the group have ended their membership of the group if they realised that it was being used to cheat?
  • Would everyone – or anyone – realise that what was being shared overstepped the bounds of legitimate collaboration?
  • Should anyone who did recognise that the sharing had gone too far have reported the sharing to the university authorities?
  • Should students not join such groups at all, in case they might be used for non-legitimate purposes?

Questions such as these have been raised most especially by Nick Ross in Inside Higher Ed on 14 November 2017, Cheating Without Intent? and in Carmen Carigan’s Op-Ed piece for the Indiana Daily Student on 15 November 2017, Online class messaging is not worth it.

It’s not new, of course, and not a unique instance, as several of the reports point out. Even pre-internet, schools’ academic integrity policies often carried the warning that if academic dishonesty is discovered in a group assignment, then all members of the group would share the same consequences.

I recall one of my early academic honesty workshops. I used a paper (found on a free term paper site) which, in the introduction, stated how the investigation had been divided, who had contributed what … and it was readily demonstrable that part three of the paper had been copied verbatim from a weekly magazine.  The question I posed to participants was, if the school’s academic honesty policy states that all taking part in a group project receive the same marks and/or the same consequences, should group responsibility still hold when it is possible to discern which member of the group has cheated?

What if the group numbers 83 students and it is not possible to determine who benefited?

Should benefit be part of the considerations?

In matters of plagiarism, it is often held that plagiarism is plagiarism, whether the writer intended to plagiarise or not. This is the International Baccalaureate standpoint. The IB similarly rules that if a student in an examination room is found to have brought in  unauthorised material, then the candidate has breached IB rules whether that student intends to use or has already used the unauthorised material or not.

By this argument, guilt would extend to all members of a GroupMe or similar group if anyone in the group if anyone in the group posts non-legitimate material..  Indeed, one of Carigan’s suggestions is

… keep your GroupMe controlled — five people or less is probably ideal. 

Set strict expectations for that communication, and if you feel that behavior in the group is unethical, leave the group.

This frightens me, it smacks of technology forcing us to change our behaviour for fear of what might happen.. This is not a good way to go: technology becomes our master, not our tool; instead of empowering us, it disempowers us.

Would I be happier if Carigan had said, “…. if you feel that (someone’s) behavior in the group is unethical, make that person leave the group“?  I probably would be happier.. That is the way to go, the group doing the right thing.

Honesty honestly, anyone?

Postscript (added 6 January 2018):

It is difficult and probably counter-productive to try to include every possible scenario in a school’s academic honesty policy. On the other hand, it is possible to present examples of possible problems and issues under a wider head, in this case, perhaps a paragraph or section on collaboration and collusion.

Given the nature of social media, this type of sharing is likely to be prevalent today. It might be prudent for the school’s academic honesty committee (or equivalent) to consider procedures and consequences. Group and individual responsibility might be an issue to discuss with students. Indeed, discussion with students on any academic honesty issue can help bring an academic honesty policy to life, help students connect the often dry statements with their daily lives, and give them ownership of the policy.

WHYs before the event

Print Friendly
Share Button

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 David Brent’s paper (see It takes time) on 4th year students’ understanding of the purposes of academic writing and research.

Now, Susan Merrick has pointed me to a paper Teaching information literacy through “un-research” by Allison Hosier which makes me rethink my approach (thank you, Susan).  Hosier describes a unit she used with a group of first-year university students.  Faculty felt that, in their research projects, many students often seemed to treat all information as equal; the quality or credibility of the source was not a factor in deciding whether or not to use information or ideas found.

This came across in an annotated bibliography exercise,  where “Essentially meaningless comments such as, “This source is good for my research because it relates to my topic,” and “This is a good source because it comes from the library,” were common” (127). These students seemed to have little appreciation of how the information or ideas affected the student’s own thinking or might be used in furthering arguments or conversation.

Hosier’s approach was to ask students to undertake an un-research project.  Students were first asked to write a short essay on any subject but

  • They were not to do any research, checking, looking up;
  • They were not to cite any sources (because they were not using sources);
  • They were not to quote anything (again because they were not using sources);
  • They were not to worry about or check for accuracy (130).

They had to use what they already knew, and were permitted to throw in ideas they were only half-sure of, or even to make up information if they needed to.

Then came an annotated bibliography exercise, but with a difference. They had to

  • Select a source supporting a point made in the un-research essay and explain how that source supported the point;
  • Select a source adding something new, again explaining how this information affected the essay;
  • Select a source which contradicted information or which offered a different opinion, this time explaining how this source could be brought into the essay;
  • Select a quotation from any of the sources which would add further support to the point/s being made (130-131).

This transformed the exercise. No longer were students just looking for information, they were looking for information with intent, looking for relevant information.  They were beginning to appreciate how to build on what was already known or thought and that they might need to engage in conversation (or argument) in support of their own thoughts.  They appreciated that, without citations, the information and ideas given in their original essays was of little value because the accuracy of the content could not be directly trusted or verified.

Hosier’s project was small-scale, only 7 students took part, but it was useful. For me, it was illuminating.  It is starting where many students are, it has point, and it gets beyond the wisdom of the crowd and gives each individual students added opportunity to understand.

It is worth noting that there is not a single use of the P-word in the whole paper, no mention of academic honesty.  It is all about academic writing and scholarship, about the purpose of academic writing.  Academic writing is not about showing off what we know. It’s about contributing to the conversation.

I would like to try this activity in the classroom or in an academic writing workshop. It could lead into a discussion of “Scholarship as Conversation” and make the notion less abstract, more meaningful.

I am tempted to get students to read each other’s essays, get them asking each other the “How do you know this?” and “Do you have evidence for that?” type-questions. Would this detract from their self-reflection?  Possibly. I’ll ponder this, and discuss with other teachers too. (If you, gentle reader, have opinions, please voice them as comment at the end of this piece.)

One other activity I’d like to try, perhaps after doing this activity and as another form of reflection: I would ask students to draw a picture to illustrate the notion “standing on the shoulders of giants.”  I think this too could lead to fruitful discussion and again make the concept less abstract.

As I write this, I become more and more aware of my own education. Essays were expected of us and we were expected to read beyond the textbook. The only requirement by way of attribution was to include, at the end, a list of all the sources we had used. There was no expectation to cite, in the text at point-of-use, what bit of information came from where.  When I tell this to workshop participants, teachers much younger than me, many will nod in recognition, this is how they too were taught. Some will say that this is still the practice in their own schools, at least until grade 11 and the IB years.  And this, alas, is not academic writing. It is not preparation for academic writing either, is it?

Understanding WHY – it’s a springboard to learning HOW.


Hosier, A, (2015). Teaching information literacy through “un-research,”  Communications in Information Literacy 9 (2), 126-135. Downloaded from

We value our libraries – shout it loud!

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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 by a new teacher. Or, worse still, by an examiner. (More on Carroll’s exercise in Somewhere, over the spectrum …).

Being honest, saying when you are using someone else’s words or ideas or information, that should be our practice. The by-products of this, adding credibility and support and boosting us as thinking researchers who know the subject and have read widely, adding trustworthiness and appreciation that we know the conventions used by scholars in the subject, a demonstration that we are worthy of joining the “academic conversation.” these are by-products to be treasured. So too helping the reader appreciate our knowledge, helping the reader follow our trail, helping the reader find the sources we have used, these too are by-products and again, to be treasured.

“Avoiding plagiarism” is a minor by-product when measured against these.

Even better when we so inculcate these notions of honesty that they become embedded in the individual. Honesty then becomes a matter of integrity, doing things because they are the right things to do (even when no-one is watching, even when nobody will know or find out) without even having to think about it.

It takes time to learn those conventions, of course, the conventions of citation and referencing.

Citation (in the text) is easy; in the major citation styles it is just a matter of saying (something like), “According to Hoyle, ….” or “My uncle told me that ….” You are saying, “This is not mine, this is whose it is” – plagiarism avoided.  Some citation styles require a date, and most require a page number or other location indicator, to help readers find the exact place where words or information can be found – but it is not plagiarism to omit these, even when they are expected, as long as it clear that the words or information have been taken from somewhere else.

Referencing, the list at the end of an essay or paper, can be more difficult. It needs more time and attention if the references are to be complete and consistent and correct per the referencing style in use. But again, incomplete references, inconsistently formatted references, mistakes in the formatting of the references, these are not cases of plagiarism. Get them right and you show your worthiness to join the conversation. Get them wrong and they show you may not be quite ready, you are a junior scholar, perhaps on the way to scholarship. Getting them wrong is not an indicator of plagiarism.

I have also long held that the earlier we start teaching, the younger that children start learning and practising – and the more practice they get – the more they will understand what they have to do and why they do it. They come to understand how it makes them better writers. They see how other writers use citation and references, and often try to imitate the academic style. The more used they are to citing and referencing, the easier it is to learn different patterns of referencing,

Practice of itself is not enough. As with any skill, those practising need feedback and guidance. Are they doing it right? Are they doing it wrong? Are they doing it right, but doing it a different way may make it even “righter”? It takes time and practice and feedback and more practice.

It also takes purpose and understanding. We do not cite and reference just because we are asked to and we don’t do it just, or mainly, to “avoid plagiarism.”.  More advanced or confident users of reference and citation can be guided towards asking themselves how valid or authoritative their sources are, could they find more respected sources? Students can be led towards understanding how other writers cite and reference, and how we can use their citations and references to improve our own work, as when using someone else’s citation of another source and follow the path to find the original writer/s.

Citations and references are there to help readers and help writers and to establish credibility. “Avoiding plagiarism” is but a small reason for citing and referencing.

It takes time to learn and time to understand. It does not come instantly. Students starting an IB Diploma Programme course with no previous experience of inquiry research and writing are greatly disadvantaged.

Brent’s study

These views I have long held.. I feel very much supported by David Brent’s recent paper Senior students’ perceptions of entering a research community.  Brent’s qualitative study is small-scale; his sample is small and limited to students in one faculty of his university taking a wide range of courses. The investigation was carried out through “semi-structured interviews” which yielded more than 500 hours-worth of transcripts. The small sample and use of interview, says Brent, make for deeper analysis of the responses than might be afforded by, for instance, a survey.

Most research into students’ awareness of academic writing and of research is based on studies of first-year university students, often a study into what they already know or do. Brent’s study looks into the perceptions of fourth-year university students with regard to academic research and their place in the world of academia.

The results are interesting. They show a continuum of awareness, “of understanding of and engagement in the research community” (341).

At one extreme is Laura, who saw her time at university as learning how to put together a research report or paper, and being honest when using other people’s work.

Laura couldn’t articulate a reason for the university to ask her to write papers based on sources other than that it “makes you a more well-rounded person” and helps you create a sound argument (343)

She had not learned to use references to help deepen her own research or see the paper in hand as a part of a larger academic conversation.

At the other extreme was Estelle, who after four years had better appreciation of the purpose of research, and of learning the principles of academic writing. She declared

(R)esearch is kind of a way to constantly be advancing our knowledge and, especially with conferences and things like that, sharing with other people. . . . That way, it just contributes to a way bigger knowledge base, I guess (344).

For her, citations indicated intellectual honesty, but she also saw them as “markers of earlier turns in the conversation” (344). It is worth noting that Estelle remarks on her enjoyment of research, often following her nose out of interest, and surprising herself. Research, not for assignment but out of interest and intellectual curiosity.

The other students interviewed had views between these two extremes, some with wider awareness, some with narrow awareness.

Brent is of the opinion that “learning to write from sources … is at least a four-year process of gradual acculturation … and arguably can continue over the span of an entire career” (336).   (I’ll vouch for that; I am still learning. Are you?)

Brent notes that 11 of the 13 students in his survey had had no prior experience in research or academic writing at their high schools. Tellingly, Brent declares:

With the exception of two students who had attended International Baccalaureate programs, the students unanimously declared that what had passed for research in high school was more or less a joke (349).

One up for the rigors of the IB programmes, especially the Diploma Programme, though sadly Brent does not tell us if Estelle was a DP graduate.

In short

Citation and referencing can be exciting and fun, a demonstration of our skill as writers.  It takes time and practice, explicit teaching and coaching and practice, feedback and practice and encouragement. The rewards are there, intrinsic and extrinsic.  Whether in an IB programme or not, we can serve our students better, we can help make them better thinkers and better writers, better able to argue a case and support our arguments. We can help make for more critical thinking – and for more critical thinkers.  It is not just about avoiding plagiarism.



Brent, D.(2017). Senior students’ perceptions of entering a research community. Written Communication, 34 (3), 333-35. doi:10.1177/0741088317710925


APA mythtakes

Print Friendly
Share Button

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?

Print Friendly
Share Button

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…

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

“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?

Print Friendly
Share Button

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?

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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?

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook

Print Friendly
Share Button

Heads up: MLA – the Modern Language Association – is about to release the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook.

The MLA site says it will be available some time in April, but warns that the online version of the 7th edition will not be available after 31 March., the American warehouse, gives a release date of March 14, 2016 (four days ago at time of writing) – but also states “This title has not yet been released.”, the British warehouse, gives a release date of 30 April 2016.

Two things catch the eye immediately, the subtitle and the price.

The Amazon US site carries no sub-title at all.



The Amazon UK site gives the title as “MLA Handbook: Rethinking Documentation for the Digital Age (Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Ppapers).” Ignoring the typo and the punctuation of the bracketed instance of MLA, we see what is possibly a new approach: “rethinking documentation…“.

This notion of a new approach is borne out in the price, $11.42 in US and £10.50 in UK. That compares with $16.79 and £18.50 respectively for the still available 7th edition.

It is not necessarily generosity behind the reduction in price for the new edition. The 8th edition is 145 pages against the 292 pages of the 7th edition – the new edition is Continue reading

Snake (in the grass)

Print Friendly
Share Button

A recent posting in an OCC forum* got me investigating again.**  The post included a recommendation for the free “plagiarism scanner” Viper.

I have warned about Viper, and its parent company in an earlier post, Authentic authenticity. There I noted that Viper’s then Terms and Conditions included the statement

When you scan a document, you agree that 9 months after completion of your scan, we may upload your essay to our student essays database so that other students may use it to help them write their own essays. You agree that any right you may have to remuneration for such use of documents is waived.

Some of the other sites using that same “student essays database” are paper mills, selling on pre-written student essays. Viper and Scanmyessay may be free to use, but the cost is the possible loss of one’s original essay, one’s rights to it, and the possible loss of one’s reputation.

That wording is slightly different Continue reading

In other words…

Print Friendly
Share Button

The usually excellent Jonathan Bailey has, I fear, fallen short of excellence in his latest post in the WriteCheck blog.

Granted, he upholds that standard in much of the post – How to paraphrase. It is good advice – but there is, to my mind, one vital notion missing.

He gives a three-step guide to good paraphrase: read and understand what you are reading, put it aside and don’t look at it again, then note or write fully what you remember as most important, the “key points.”

Bailey does not define “key points.” I would make the point that what is key may well depend on your purpose, why you want to make those points, why you think they are important and worth noting.

That is a minor point. The big point I think he has missed is that, Continue reading

Another fine can of worms

Print Friendly
Share Button

In my last post, I reflected on text-recycling. This is the practice of re-using one’s own work without acknowledgement. While (I think) most academics frown on the practice and call it self-plagiarism, it seems to be accepted and possibly widely practiced by academics and their professional bodies – in very limited circumstances – in a number of disciplines.

In those fields which do accept text-recycling – or at least turn a blind eye to the practice – it is claimed to be a useful device for speeding the writing process and for ensuring consistency of language when compiling, for instance, a review of the literature, or when describing methods and methodologies. It is not seen as acceptable to copy-paste someone else’s literature review, but it is acceptable (in those fields in which the practice is accepted) to copy-paste one’s own previously published literature review, as long as, for instance, material which is irrelevant for the current study is deleted.

I am not sure that I accept the argument, but, as Cary Moskovitz has argued Continue reading