Not such a wise OWL

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It came as a bit of a shock, a press release declaring The Purdue University Online Writing Lab and Chegg Partner to Make World-Class Writing Education Tools More Accessible.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, often referred to as “the OWL at Purdue.” is a much-respected service, providing advice on academic writing in all its aspects, most especially for its comprehensive guidance on the formatting of MLA, APA and Chicago references. .  For many, it is the number-one go-to guide.

I have to admit, the OWL at Purdue is not my number-one source.  For my own referencing queries, I go directly to the official publications,  the MLA Handbook, the APA Publication Manual or Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations, a version of the 1144-page Chicago Manual of Style adapted for use in colleges and schools.  If I cannot easily find what I am looking for, I will try the official Q&A sites: Ask the MLA at the MLA Style Center, the APA Style Blog and the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A are great supplements to the guides themselves. I also use Noodletools.

But there are those and they are many who prefer and recommend the OWL at Purdue.  Fine.

There are of course, also those who prefer technological solutions such as EasyBib, BibMe, Cite This For Me, Citation Machine, CiteFast, WorksCited4U and Noodletools (and there are many many more) over the published manuals, but there we go.

Note, I hesitate whether to include Noodletools in this list because it is in a class of its own.  Among other considerations,

  1. the designers of Noodletools go to great pains to ensure that the advice they give and the references generated are accurate and up-to-date,
  2. Noodletools offers far more than just a reference generator (including note-cards,  organising tools and collaboration opportunities),
  3. its pop-up help and advice messages really are helpful, promoting accuracy,  consistency and completeness, and
  4. it is a superb learning tool throughout: students get to know what they are doing, will learn to be independent, will learn the elements which make up a reference and more readily see the patterns, and will be able to stand on their own feet even when asked to use a referencing style other than the Big Three.

[Disclosure of possible bias: I have worked with Debbie Abilock, the founder of Noodletools, on a number of occasions. I hold Noodletools in the highest regard, not out of friendship or collegiality, but out of firm conviction that it really is the best of its type.]

These considerations are not necessarily true of other online reference generators.  Most generators (including Noodletools) offer a selection of forms one must choose according to the type of source (book, magazine, newspaper, online newspaper, web page etc etc); then you manually complete the form with the information available in the source being referenced: author/s, title of source, date of publication, other publishing details, URL and so on.  The software algorithm then produces a reference in the chosen style.

One issue is that, in many reference generators,  the forms are not necessarily accurate. They may, for instance, miss asking for elements which really should be included (or request details which are not needed).  Another is that help, advice or tips are often sparse (and may even be inaccurate), leaving users to guess at (for instance) capitalization and punctuation or dates and other elements required.  There is often inconsistency between the results generated by different reference generators.  Worryingly, there are often internal inconsistencies thrown up by individual reference generators.

(This is where Noodletools scores. As noted, the designers go to great lengths to ensure accuracy in terms of information to be entered for each type of source, to assist the user in entering the information correctly, and in ensuring the software accurately generates the references based on information input. I am not so sure about other referencing generators.

(This too is where the OWL at Purdue scores. As well as its templates for referencing in the various styles, it offers videos. tutorials and other resources to help students learn what is needed and why it is needed. The OWL is about writing, not about getting the formatting right.)

Many online reference generators offer the opportunity to auto-cite sources:  just enter a URL or ISBN or title and the auto-cite feature will come up with one or more suggestions, and generate a reference in the requested style.  Auto-citation is notoriously inaccurate.  Much depends on the accuracy of the metadata of the requested source – often incomplete or given the wrong label or entered in the wrong data field – and then on the ability of the user to determine if elements are missing or in the wrong place in the generated reference, if the punctuation is correct and so on.

If the user is reliant on reference generators and has not learned what a correctly-formatted reference (in the chosen system) looks like or should include, then there is no way the user will know if the generated reference is wrong or has missing elements.  Knowing what a correct reference looks like is of course not essential if one has a good template or examples to hand to check the accuracy of the generated reference. This is where the appropriate referencing manual/ style guide or the OWL at Purdue or any other example sheet is helpful.

Auto-citation is not necessarily a problem in itself.  Too often, however, users use auto-citation tools and trust implicitly in their output. They do NOT check for accuracy or completeness.  They want ease and speed. Checking for accuracy slows them down so mistakes are unnoticed, are accepted.

None of this is new.  I have critiqued and criticized reference generators and especially auto-citation several times in previous posts, including A gift that kept on giving…, Not so easy does it, Getting it wrong…, and Double-dipping.

In one of these posts,  By any other brand-name, not so sweet? I expressed dismay at the Chegg company’s take-over of many reference generators.

Chegg makes me feel uneasy. It advertises “24/7 homework help,” online tutors and other study help and solutions manuals (solutions to problems posed in textbooks).

The Chegg stable also houses several reference generators, although only EasyBib is mentioned on its website.

The help offered and the use made of the service may be dubious, as evidenced by comments made in the Chegg Homework group on Twitter or the complaints made on – many other review sites are available.  Apart from those hosted by Chegg, they do tend to be unfavorable.

What’s more, a recent trend is for reference generators to offer more than reference generation – including proofreading (spelling and grammar checks) and text-matching services (sometimes but erroneously called ” plagiarism detection”).

Anyone who has qualms about uploading work to Chegg should be wary (we all should be wary).  Note, for instance, a note of reassurance on Citation Machine’s so-called smart proofreader:

Don’t worry, your writing won’t be searchable publicly.

Maybe your writing won’t be “searchable publicly,” but you are still giving it away.  Chegg’s Terms of Use (covering all its products) should give pause:

User Content and Activities

When you submit, post, upload, embed, display, communicate, link to, email or otherwise distribute or publish any review, problem, suggestion, idea, solution, question, answer, class notes, course outline bibliographic and citation information comment, testimonial, feedback, message, image, video, text, profile data or other material (“User Content“) to Chegg, any Chegg employee or contractor, or a Chegg Website, you grant Chegg and our affiliates, licensees, distributors, agents, representatives and other entities or individuals authorized by Chegg, a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, unlimited, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully sublicensable (through multiple tiers) and fully transferable right to exercise any and all copyright, trademark, publicity, and database rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future, and to make, use, reproduce, copy, display, publish, exhibit, distribute, modify, sell, offer for sale, create derivative works based upon and otherwise use the User Content.

Note that we may create, facilitate or display social advertisements, whereby your name, profile and photo may be used to advertise products and services to your network based on your use of the Services and your interactions with Chegg. You agree that Chegg may use your name and profile picture in connection with social ads to advertise products and services to your network based on your use of the Services and your interactions with Chegg and third parties through the Services.

You could be giving Chegg the right to use your work in any way they wish.  By uploading, you are giving away your essays. By using the site, you are giving Chegg the right to use your personal data in any way they wish, including “your name, profile and photo.” Is this wise?

A note in a later section of the Terms of Use sounds remarkably close to disclaimer statements made by many companies which sell pre-written and custom-written essays:

Homework Help, Study Guide and Note Usage

Chegg’s homework help, study and note services are available merely as informational and study aids and should not be considered substitutes for applicable coursework, homework, class and lecture requirements, assignments and related materials. In using the Services, you specifically agree not to use, claim or submit as your own any portion of the help materials. Chegg does not guarantee the accuracy or quality of answers or other study material that appear on the Services, some of which may be posted by other users. You further agree the Services may present information that is incorrect or inconsistent when compared to similar content and materials, including solutions and their methodologies, provided or preferred by publishers of applicable problems or instructors of applicable courses.

I really do have strong reservations about Chegg and its various off-shoots.

So I am saddened by the news that the OWL at Purdue is teaming up with Chegg. The OWL looks set to tarnish its independence and its reputation.

I find several aspects of this partnership disturbing.

That press release The Purdue University Online Writing Lab and Chegg Partner to Make World-Class Writing Education Tools More Accessible includes the declaration:

Chegg’s writing tools will now integrate OWL’s rules and standards in order to teach students to become better writers. Students will upload their documents and receive AI-enabled instant feedback on grammar, spelling, and how to write more effectively as well as access resources from the OWL on any aspect of writing and at any stage of its development. In this dynamic learning experience, students will receive immediate feedback, with deep context and rich examples.

Users of the now defunct RefMe reference generator know only too well that when Chegg bought out RefMe and merged it with CiteThisForMe, it did not raise the quality of CiteThisForMe.  It did horrify those who had used RefMe; quality suffered. Change is not always for the better.  Look out, OWL!

Again disturbingly, an article on the partnership in Inside Higher Education The Wrong Partnership? carried statements attributed to Harry Denny, director of OWL, including this one:

OWL will advise Chegg on writing instruction and help to develop the company’s AI-powered writing improvement tools. Chegg will license OWL’s writing tips and place advertising on its website, helping OWL to monetize its free content. Purdue students will also be given the opportunity to apply for paid internships at Chegg, said Denny. OWL anticipates a six-figure revenue from the partnership, he said.

All kinds of alarm signals are sounding, “helping OWL to monetize its free content” for one. On the internet, too often we pay for free content with our data and our privacy.   There is certainly money and more to be made from our data – just look at Facebook.

It could well be a win-win situation for Chegg, for OWL users are invited to use Chegg services:  OWL is now promoting (at least) one particular Chegg product, Citation Machine.

Above: the OWL at Purdue as on 2 February 2019 (courtesy the Internet Archive).
Below: the OWL at Purdue as on 3 March 2019 (courtesy the Internet Archive).

Is Citation Machine worth trying? It seems prone to the same mistakes as other trials I have made with my go-to citation requests – but it does make those mistakes faster.  Is that a plus?  (That’s a rhetorical question – don’t even try to answer that.). Here are the suggestions for one of my favorite try-this auto-cites, in MLA, APA and Chicago and respectively.

The article, published in The Journal for Historical Review (Vol. 6, No. 1) in Spring 1986, pages 9 ff. and posted on the Institute for Historical Review web-site is by John Bennett; it carries the title “Orwell’s 1984: Was Orwell Right?”  All this is there, on the web page, but not there in the web page metadata or, if included, included in the wrong fields and with the wrong punctuation.  And while there may be some logical reason as to why INSTITUTE FOR HISTORICAL REVIEW is all caps in all three references, there seems no logic as to why the APA algorithm failed to find the title of the article;  the MLA and Chicago algorithms did find the article title, even if they generate it as the title of the journal, thus the Italics.

There is a limit to patience and misery.  I have to admit I did not try generating other references. One bad experience is enough; experience says these tools don’t get any better.

What I did do though was to take up the invitation to Check a paper for grammatical errors.  I have a standard paper, an “essay” I compiled some years ago to see what Turnitin would make of it.   I use the term “compiled” with care, since the “essay” was 100% copy-pasted from 15 different online sources. (Turnitin didn’t make a lot of it, finding just one match in the entire 1200 word “paper.”)

I tried uploading this bogus paper into Citation Machine’s Proofreader.

Alas, Citation Machine’s Proofreader baulked; the paper would not upload, the “We’re uploading your paper…” message and the spinning wheel just went on and on.

I had better experience with another Chegg product, EasyBib’s Grammar and spelling checker.  The interface is almost the same as Citation Machine’s (but we won’t dwell on that).  This time my essay did upload so the experience was better, to a point.

A pointless point.

While some of the suggestions may well have been valid, many more were questionable.  I was particularly tickled by this piece of advice:  I was advised that

He gained a degree in construction engineering in London and soon devoted himself to literature

would read better if I replaced “degree” with terms such as “much,” “some,” “much of” or “somewhat.” Errm…

With some trepidation I tried signing up to the plagiarism check. Both Citation Machine and EasyBib offer a free 3-day trial and, as I was in EasyBib, it was EasyBib’s trial plagiarism check that I decided to try.  You have to give credit card details and $9.95 payment is then deducted monthly if not cancelled within the trial period.  Would I be able to cancel? – that was my worry.

That trepidation was not necessary –  I could not complete my registration.  As well as credit card details, the form demands a Zip Code and did not accept a UK post code – and I had changed country of residence to United Kingdom.  So I have no idea if EasyBib’s text-match/plagiarism-detection is any more accurate than Turnitin’s.

The whole notion of automated reference generation, grammar & spelling checking and text-matching makes me feel uneasy.

And as I was writing this post, Nature  published an article by German plagiarism guru Debora Weber-Wulff, Plagiarism detectors are a crutch, and a problem. That term “crutch” is so to the point.  Turnitin and similar services negate learning, they give out misleading messages, they provide poor advice.   Weber-Wulff is most concerned that users of Turnitin (etc)  rely too heavily on the face-value of the output and the reports. They do not investigate or think any more deeply, they do not read more deeply, they stop thinking.

Weber-Wulff’s article focuses on the misuse (through misunderstanding and misinterpretation) of Turnitin by editors and professors, but she does make passing reference to students’ use and misuse of Turnitin too.  Students, often without training and guidance in the interpretation of Turnitin reports and unaware of its shortcomings (including the false positives it finds and the false negatives it does not find), come to see the purpose of academic writing as “Beat Turnitin.”

Those low-level reference generators too negate thinking and learning; their output is taken as gospel.  Users become over-reliant on them – like crutches. They replace learning, users do not bother to exercise so cannot process or progress on their own, without those supports, those crutches.

Learning takes time and effort and concentration, exercise takes time and effort and concentration, practice takes time and effort concentration. And eventually the user can dispense with those crutches.  We can then perhaps begin to think of using the more advanced reference management tools such as EndNote and BibTeX, us using technology, not technology using us.

All in all, it makes me feel uneasy that the respected OWL at Purdue has teamed up with the unsavoury Chegg stable.  However independent the OWL remains, it is tainted by association. User beware.

Finding my voice

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A few years ago, I wrote (in Somewhere, over the spectrum …) of an AHA! moment, a realisation that understanding of academic citation practices may best be imaged, not just by a straight-line continuum from black to white with shades of grey between, but by a spectrum, all shades of the rainbow and anywhere in between.

It was Teddi Fishman, then director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, who gave me this insight.  In a plagiarism case in which she was asked for her opinion, had a published piece of work had been plagiarised, Fishman said

With regard to citation errors and plagiarism, there is a wide spectrum and certainly not all are created equal. The main defining characteristic in cases that we’d classify as citation errors is that there is an attempt to identify the source of the information rather than to make it appear as if the words or ideas are those of the person using them in the document.

(The full article from which this quotation is taken is no longer available on the Cambridge Chronicle site.  Fortunately, it can still be found in the Internet Archive;  the quotation of Fishman’s response as reported by journalist Sara Feijo is on page 3 of this article.)

Fig. 1 – Black and white and shades of grey

In the continuum imagery, the white end comprises writers who know the rules, know what is right, what is expected, what is needed – and do them!  Ideally they will observe the conventions of citation and referrencing because they have integrity, they wouldn’t – couldn’t – do otherwise.

At the black end we have the writers who know the rules, who know what is right, what is expected, what is needed – and they knowingly break the rules! They copy, they paraphrase without acknowledgement, they use other people’s work and claim it as their own, they use their own work over and over and claim each time that it is new…  they know it is wrong but they do it, presumably hoping to get away with it.

But it’s those in-between areas, the grey areas, the shades and the tints, the hues and the nuances and the shifting light, which are so tricky – and this is why the notion of “spectrum” is illuminating. It’s not a straight continuum. It is multi-dimensional.

Fig. 2 – colour wheel/ spectrum

Those in-between areas include:

  • writers who do not know the rules
  • writers who know the rules but (wrongly) think they do not apply in this particular case
  • writers who know the rules and think they are doing everything required, including students who have been misled as to what the expectations are
  • writers who know the rules, but are confused, because sometimes what they do seems to be accepted, but sometimes it is not.

There are other shades and grades of confusion in between too. For instance,

  • just think “common knowledge” and the minefields in wait there, what is common knowledge to you might not be common knowledge to me – and vice versa;
  • just think of the different conventions for acknowledgement in popular non-fiction, where there may be no indication of attribution in the text even if there are pages of endnotes which provide full acknowledgement (or not);
  • or student textbooks, which too often provide information unsupported by anything other than a “For Further Reading” list;
  • or writers whose paraphrases are too close to the original?
  • or writers who have misread or misunderstood an original source and so misrepresent them?
  • and writers who conflate several different sources in one paragraph, to the extent that one cannot tell who contributed what, nor even what is the writer’s own?

Outright plagiarism, citation errors, careless or unhelpful writing and scholarship, and somewhere in the spectrum, good practice.

Extent, intent, non-intent, accident.

It’s a multi-dimensional understanding, far more nuanced than a simple black-grey-white continuum suggests.

We tell them – but do they understand?

Jonathan Bailey tells a cautionary tale. In a blog post on Plagiarism Today, How Schools Are Hurting the Fight Against Plagiarism, he relates an occasion when, while a student at college, his instructor had entered the room and told the class that someone had plagiarised in their last assignment – and she wanted the culprit to own up.  Bailey continues:

The students, all 30 of us, wondered who it was but were more worried that it was us. Many of us began to talk openly about that fear saying things like “I didn’t plagiarize but… I hope it wasn’t me.”

They had not plagiarised – they had not intended to plagiarise – but so uncertain were they about what plagiarism is that they could not be sure that they had not fallen foul of the sometimes-arcane rules.

There is much evidence, anecdotal and research-based, which demonstrates that students (and instructors) often think they know but don’t.  As instance, Kate Chanock and Kim Shahubudian, who in separate studies point to university students who may think they know the rules and so may turn off when they hear yet another lecture on academic honesty or Phil Newton, whose study talks of “misplaced confidence” that they know the rules.

Do we ourselves understand the “rules”?  In my workshops, Jude Carroll’s “Where do you draw the line?” exercise (which I discuss more fully in Somewhere, over the spectrum…) consistently shows disagreement among workshop participants as to what constitutes plagiarism – so what chance do students have?  And there’s Doug Brent‘s study which suggests that

learning to write from sources, like learning any of the practices of the academy, is at least a four-year process of gradual acculturation, a process that continues through graduate school if a student takes that direction, and arguably can continue over the span of an entire career (p. 336)

Chanock’s review of the literature includes half-a-dozen papers whose authors report that university entrants often include other people’s work, including direct quotations and paraphrases, without attribution in the text  (or quotation marks if quotation indicators were needed) but happily include the materials in the reference list.  Those writers conclude that these students are not happily pointing the way for plagiarism detectors; they are just doing what they were told to do at school, include a list of sources at the end of the paper – and nothing more is needed. (And that’s what I learned at school too, just the list at the end.)

Plagiarism is not black and white.

The wrong end of the stick – beating Turnitin

Nor is “plagiarism avoidance.” I have long held that it is not enough to teach students how to cite and reference without helping them understand WHY we cite and reference – and the WHY is NOT simply about avoiding plagiarism.  Avoiding plagiarism might be a small part of the WHYs, but it is a very small part.  Of far greater importance is establishing our credibility as writers who know something about the topic, and helping our readers in many different ways (more details, if you need them, in Lighten the load).  Without the WHYs, our lessons are empty and citation and referencing is seen by many as a hoop through which students must jump if they are to succeed – and if they fail, they are guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism.  The fear of committing it when it is not understood can lead students to use other people’s work excessively, albeit as properly-attributed quotations, using those quotations to say what they want to say rather than as support for their own ideas. They are frightened to have or express their own ideas –  their voice is not heard when they simply report what others have said (Neville, Elander, Pittam (et al) and other studies on authorial identity).  This is the opposite to Newton’s notion of “misplaced confidence” – but it is just as problematic.

And we make students even more defensive in our use of Turnitin and other text-matching services to catch them out and make them even more fearful.

John Schrock‘s story is telling. He relates how a Chinese student once approached him and asked, ‘“Can you help me plagiarize my thesis?”’  He thought this strange request was because her English was, perhaps, not perfect. He checked his understanding:

“You want me to help you a-v-o-i-d plagiarism, right?” I emphasized.
“No,” she repeated back to me, in slow English so I would clearly understand. “I need help plagiarizing my paper” …
“Tell me what plagiarism means to you,” I directed.
“I need to change enough words so it won’t be detected by the computer.”

What this student had learned about academic writing was that the aim is to parrot back the ideas of others but in her own words; the goal is to avoid getting “caught” by Turnitin.

It is not uncommon, this (mis-) understanding, and it is not confined to international students.  It’s a problem when students do not or have yet to appreciate that academic writing is not about telling us what is already known and what others have already said,. It’s about presenting one’s own thoughts, reacting to or supported by what is already known (or what we think we know).

This is a foreign idea for many “international students,”  especially those from countries in which rote-learning is the norm; in such cultures,  students learn to memorise and regurgitate the words of their teachers, and this earns them approval and high marks. They are not expected to think for themselves nor expected to question what they are taught. They learn that they cannot think for themselves until they know much more than they do now.

This too is illustrated in Schrock’s article:

To avoid plagiarism, some believe that all you have to do is change enough words so there are never seven or more in a row that match other work.
“Why not put quotes around all the sentences that are from other people, and then put their names in parentheses at the end of the sentence?” I asked.
“Oh, I know all about that,” she said. “My whole thesis will be in quotes.”
“Didn’t you add some ideas yourself?” (I really wanted to help.)
“No. We are just students. How can we come up with new ideas? Those people get Nobel Prizes. Everything in here I got from the books and articles I read.”

So it is that the student is unheard. The aim of the game, for many, is not about reading, reacting, thinking, learning, writing, growing – it’s all about beating Turnitin.

Finding your voice

It is always fraught, writing about cultures other than one’s own; it may not be politically correct.  So I am delighted to be pointed to Bygrave and Aṣık’s “Global perspectives on academic integrity” (thank you, D.A.). This paper is chapter 1 of a very new book (publication date: 2019) and available I think in full in Google Books: Strategies for fostering inclusive classrooms in higher education.

The paper relates attempts over a number of years to change attitudes towards and awarenesses of international students with regard to the development and understanding of writing and of academic integrity at one North American University campus.  Changes in approach were made each semester – mirroring strategies commonly used in schools and universities around the world – and their effects were monitored and recorded. This is a long-term action-research study.

The chapter opens with a discussion of international students and the cultural challenges they may face understanding the nature of academic writing and academic honesty as an aspect of writing.

The strategies used in succeeding semesters were

  1. advising students of the Academic Integrity Policy and making them aware of the consequences if breach of the policy was discovered;
  2. advising students of the AI policy, submitting work to SafeAssign (text-matching software) with the requirement that they redraft work with 30% or more matched text;
  3. requiring all students to participate in workshops which taught how to cite and reference;
  4. when advising students of the AIP, instructors discussed academic honesty and respect for authors’ work; a writing center was introduced in which students could seek advice;
  5. introducing a writing course for students whose English was below university level designed to inculcate values and an understanding of writing, with special consideration of authorial voice;
  6. extending the writing course to all students regardless of their English proficiency scores.

The first three of these are described as “consequence-based” with an emphasis on detection and punishment, aiming to decrease negative behaviour.  The second set of three are “virtue-based” with an emphasis on providing understand and encouraging positive behaviour.

The authors report that steps 2 and 3 appeared to be counter-productive, the rate of plagiarism and other academic misconduct actually rose. Instead of practicing academic techniques, students relied on the software and the opportunity to rewrite to pass muster. Some students are reported to have been surprised that they were still guilty of plagiarism, despite clean reports from SafeAssign.  Others were found to have used Spinbot and other text rewriting applications, often submitting nonsense. (Students whose English is poor may not recognise when others, including applications, use poor English.) These students were not learning to write, they were learning to beat the text-matching software.

The positive approaches of the later set of strategies, understanding authorship and getting students to realise that they are authors in their own right, were far more successful. As I said earlier, when students understand the WHYs, they better understand HOW citing and referencing and the other conventions of academic writing support their own writing.  They do have something to say in their own right – and they appreciate the opportunity to say it. They value the contributions of others and are better able to use them in their own work.

One last thought: to promote the notion of authorial voice and help students appreciate that what they say does add to the conversation: students in this study were encouraged to write in the first person. This device immediately makes the work personal, encourages their own thoughts, helps them understand how writing works.

Wow!  It’s another AHA! moment, and something I intend to explore further. Watch this space!


(Poor as they are, the two graphics are my own, created using Keynote.)

Bailey, J. (2010, May 10). How Schools Are Hurting the Fight Against Plagiarism. Plagiarism Today. Retrieved from

Brent, D. (2017). Senior Students’ Perceptions of Entering a Research Community.  Written Communication, 34(3) 333–355. Retrieved from’%20Perceptions%20published%20version.pdf

Bygrave, C., & Aṣık, Ö. (2019). Global perspectives on academic integrity. In J. Hoffman, P. Blessinger & M. Makhanya (eds.). Strategies for fostering inclusive classrooms in higher education : International perspectives on equity and inclusion. Emerald, 19-33.  doi:10.1108/S2055-364120190000016003

Chanock, K. (2008). When students reference plagiarised material – what can we learn (and what can we do) about their understanding of attribution? International Journal of Academic Integrity, 4 (1), 3-16. Retrieved from

Elander, J. (2015, May). In search of an authorial identity. The Psychologist, 28, 384-387. Retrieved from

Feijo, S. (2015, May 20). Top Cambridge school administrator under fire for miscitation. Cambridge Chronicle and Tab (3). Retrieved from

Newton, P.M. (2015, March). Academic integrity: A quantitative study of confidence and understanding in students at the start of their higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), 1-16.  Retrieved from

Pittam, G., Elander, J., Lusher, J., Fox, P., & Payne, N. (2009). Student beliefs and attitudes about authorial identity in academic writing. Studies in Higher Education, 34 (2), 153-170. doi:10.1080/03075070802528270

Schrock, J. R. (2014, June 18). Odd request from student: Help me plagiarize! Hays Post. Retrieved from

Shahabudin, K. (2009). Reaping the fruits of collaboration: Learning development research in the LearnHigher CETL network. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 1. Retrieved from

Consistently inconsistent?

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I’ve got a bit behind in my reading lately. Although it was published in May 2018, I came across Jennifer Yao Weinraub’s  Harder to Find than Nemo: The Elusive Image Citation Standard only recently.  In this paper, Weinraub discusses confusion and inconsistencies in the citation of images and the lack of good examples, with particular reference to MLA8 and Chicago. She also discusses other style guides and citation generators, the recommendations of some specific image collections. She points to tutorials and libguides which also attempt to give guidance.

Coming across this article is timely.  Over the last few weeks I seem to have received a steady stream of image citation questions in my inbox. Some notifications originate in online groups and forums, some are emails sent to me directly. It’s a hot topic!  The images presented by questioners are rarely straight-forward, rarely textbook examples. I suppose if they were, there would be less doubt as to how to cite them, the questions would not be asked.  So it is good to find Weinraub’s article, if only to confirm the difficulties and the contradictory or missing advice.

Weinraub suggests confusion in the use of the terms caption and citation (which I would call “reference” – the location details which specify edition (etc) and enable retrieval). She also suggests differences, uncertainty and inconsistencies as to what might or should be included in these. She also notes that when example captions and citations are given, they are often for known artworks, not necessarily the kind of images used or the type of sources used by school and college students, especially in presentations and posters as against formal academic papers.

Weinraub’s distinction between caption and citation/ reference is useful. The caption for the image is placed with the image; it might be below, above or at the side of the image on the page; it serves to provide details about the image including title and artist/creator, and perhaps other information which can add to one’s understanding of the images.  The citation/ reference, on the other hand, should enable the reader to locate the image itself and/or the source that the writer used, be that gallery, book or periodical, website, and so on. Sometimes, she notes, style guides recommend that the citation/ reference is merged into the caption.

The main purpose of Weinraub’s paper is to advocate a common citation standard along with plentiful examples of captions and citations/ references for different types of images in all style guides – certainly in MLA and Chicago, her particular concerns in this paper.  She is especially critical of MLA8, which provides very few examples indeed.  Nor is it just images: it’s other kinds of non-narrative text as well, graphical representations such as maps and charts and graphs and tables and so on.

I am sympathetic to Weinraub’s plea – but not sure of the practicalities. it becomes difficult for the style guides to keep up with the many new apps and formats and the very creativity of those who make images (especially if we take this further to include other forms of illustration and presentation generally).  We could end up with many many examples for many many situations, and still be playing catch-up.  This is one of the reasons why the Modern Language Association (MLA) gave up trying to provide examples of any and every kind of source a writer might need to document, and instead offers principles which will guide the compilation of citations and references, principles which will guide in any situation.   More on this below.

A problem for the user of style guides: when faced with too many examples, the user may find it difficult to find the exact example that matches the current situation – which includes the intended audience for the paper or presentation in which the image is used.  In a Visual Arts essay, the size of a painting can be important, as can the medium used, the materials used, the techniques used and more. If it’s a photograph being discussed, then exposure details such as the lens used, the aperture, the speed, the filters, the time of day or year, any digital effects used, and so on might be important.  Such details will ideally be provided in the caption alongside the image, there for the interested reader at point of use because they add to our understanding.

These additional details might be of less significance if the painting is used, for instance, in a History essay or the photograph in a Geography paper.  They might not be needed at all if the image is used in a paper or a presentation in which they are illustrations rather than of textual importance. Audience and purpose present variables, examples of details to be included in captions cannot cover all combinations and situations.

Captions are used to increase our understanding, along with the Fig. numbers which allow quick reference to particular illustrations in the course of the text.  Citations/ references, on the other hand, give us location details. They tell us where to find the painting, the gallery in which it hangs or the web page on which the image used was found, the database or collection, the article in which the photograph or chart can be found, and so on. Again, the  variables are many.  It strikes me that MLA8’s notion of containers can be used to build a reference – whatever the actual style guide being followed.  Start with the image itself (creator and title) and work outwards in whatever type of source material is used.

[More on the notion of containers can be found in my post, Back to basics – MLA8 revisited – or try the Noodletools tutorial, How to teach MLA8 containers.]

This distinction between caption and location details is helpful, and is also very much in line with the principles of MLA8, especially principles 2 and 3:

Remember that there is often
more than one correct way to document a source.
Make your documentation useful to your readers.
(MLA Handbook, 8th ed., p. 4).

For those who need it, a checklist approach might help, a list of features and information about different types of image, something similar to the table on the last few pages of Effective citing and referencing (downloadable from the IB’s Digiital Toolkit : Brochures, flyers and posters : General Materials).  Writers could then decide which of the listed features can be identified in regard to the image they are working with and then which of these are necessary and/or helpful for their readers.  Indeed, this could apply to any kind of source material, not just images – as in the Digital Toolkit brochure. 

Once those elements which will be helpful to readers have been identified, for captions and/or for citations/references, the “rules” of the style guide can be applied, Upper Case or lower case, titles in quotation marks or titles in italics, medium, size, materials, location, and so on and so on.

Ideally, such a checklist will serve as temporary support or scaffolding for students new to a subject. As they learn the conventions and are exposed to the literature of the subject, as good examples of captions and references are discussed with them (and poor examples too), so they will gain awareness of what is helpful, why it can be helpful to know the details used. They might become more discriminating, aware when details are missing and they ache to know them the better to understand what they are looking at. It would need to be understood that the checklist cannot be comprehensive, cannot cover every type of image or illustration or audience and so on; it is for the writer to extrapolate and decide: “What will help my readers?”

In short, distinguish between caption and location.  In the caption, as well as stating the creator of the image and the title, give as many or as few details as necessary for the reader to understand and appreciate the image – and link the caption with the reference, which gives the location details.  Make it helpful, make it useful.

Names will never hurt me (perhaps)

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I am halfway through my next article but just had to come back to the theme of my last few posts, confusing terminology.

A post today on Int’l School Library Connection, a FaceBook group, asked whether and how IB MYP students writing their Personal Projects can include sources they have read but have not cited in their Projects.

Yes they can, and the advice is to include both a list of Works Cited (which includes a list of all the works cited in the text) and a separate Bibliography (comprising a list of all works used to inform the project).

In the course of the conversation, I looked up the MYP Projects Guide (March 2018 edition) which makes a very clear distinction. In the Glossary (page 61), we see:

Bibliography: An alphabetical list of every source used to research the project.

List of references: An alphabetical list of only those sources that are cited in the presentation or report.

That strikes me as simple, easy to follow, easy to distinguish between the two kinds of list.

So why, I ask myself, is the definition used in the Extended Essay Guide so difficult – and saying (perhaps) the almost exact opposite?

We read:

A bibliography is an alphabetical list of every source used to research and write the essay.

and we read:

The bibliography must list only those sources cited.

And in between those two directly contradictory statements is the advice:

Sources that are not cited in the body of the essay but were important in informing the approach taken should be cited in the introduction or in an acknowledgment.

For IB MYP students, a bibliography includes all sources, whether cited or not.
For IB DP students, a bibliography includes only the sources which are cited in the text.

It is as confusing as the advice in the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed) which, as I noted in my last post Bibliographical footnote, uses the term “Bibliography” to refer both to a list which includes only the works cited in the text (on the one hand) and also a list which includes works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text (on the other hand) (CMOS17, section 14.64, note 1).

APA6 is almost as confusing in that it advises writers to:

Choose references judiciously and include only the sources that you used in the research and preparation of the article. APA journals and other journals using APA style generally require reference lists, not bibliographies … Because a reference list includes only references that document the article and provide recoverable data, do not include in the list personal communications, such as letters, memoranda, and informal electronic communications. Instead, cite personal communications only in the text (page 180).

This appears first to suggest that all materials used in the research are included in the list of References but then says that the reference list is not a bibliography – which a footnote tells us “cites works for background or for further reading” whereas the reference list “cites works that specifically support a particular article.”

APA’s preference for non-retrievable data to be cited in the text but not included in the list of references may be sensible for readers of journals published by the American Psychological Association (APA) but should be disregarded by writers of IB assessments; IB wants that

citation <<< >>> reference

linkage (and failure to comply could lead to loss of marks and/or referral to the Awards Committee as a case of potential academic misconduct).

For sanity’s sake, my sanity, MLA8 makes clear distinction, worth adapting and/or adopting:

The list titled “Works Cited” identifies the sources you borrow from – and therefore cite – in the body of your research project. Works that you consult during your research but do not borrow from are not included (if you want to document them as well and your instructor approves their inclusion, give the list a broader title such as “Works Consulted”) (page 20).

What all this adds up to (for those in IB schools) is that

1: we must be very clear in our use of these terms – don’t assume that our students have the same understanding that we do;

2: when IB requirements contradict the suggestions in style guides, we should ignore the style guide and give IB what IB is looking for.



Bibliographical footnote

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This is a follow up to my last post None too sweet. There I discussed different understandings of the term “bibliography” – I said inter alia that different understandings of what this word means can confuse students and other writers, and may even underlie some instances of unintended plagiarism.

A week later, catching up on my reading, I came across a review of Jason Puckett’s  Zotero: a guide for librarians, researchers and educators by Keith Daniels in CILIP’s Information Professional (October 2018). My eye was caught by a paragraph which reads:

Published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, the book does have an American slant, using the terms “bibliography” to encompass what UK-based students and educators would usually refer to as “references” and teaching staff as “professors”.

It seems a curious point to pick up on in a short review, the use of “bibliography” instead of “references.”  But, given my background in international education, perhaps I have become less aware of such distinctions, or maybe more aware of different and other terms in different style guides and/or in different countries.

Is “references” a British usage?  Maybe.  Many British universities use varieties of Harvard.  Although there is no single definitive version of Harvard (as detailed in the three-part-post Harvard on my mind), they all use the term “References.”     Certainly, this is so at the University of Bedfordshire, the stated affiliation of Keith Daniels, the author of the review. The University’s page Using the correct referencing system suggests that unless otherwise required by specific courses and departments, UB’s default referencing style is Harvard – and References is the name given to their list of references in their Harvard Referencing Guidelines for Students. It could be all to easy to think this is The-Right-Way-And-Perhaps-The-Only-Way to title the list of references that comes at the end of an article or paper.

In double-checking my thoughts about Harvard’s widespread use across UK, I came across a FAQ in the Bath Spa University guide BSU Harvard Referencing System which contrasts with Turabian’s unhelpful advice (as detailed in None too sweet), that the term “Bibliography” can refer not only to a list which includes only the works cited in the text but also a list which includes both works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text. *

What is the difference between a bibliography and a reference list?
Technically, a bibliography lists all the sources of information you have accessed in the course of your study about the topic, while a reference list will only list the sources you actually refer to in your in-text citations. HOWEVER…it is common for people to use the term ‘bibliography’ when they really mean a reference list. Check with your tutor if you are unsure whether to include sources in the reference list that you have not explicitly referred to using an in-text citation.

So there we are. The most helpful advice then, be aware that the term “bibliography” may cause confusion, so be clear what you mean when you use the term, be sure that your reader/ listener has the same understanding and, if assessment and grades are involved, seek clarification.

* I have since confirmed that the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, on which Turabian’s manual is based, uses the term “Bibliography” in its bibliography-notes style to refer not only to a list which includes only the works cited in the text (on the one hand) but also for a list which includes both works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text (on the other hand) (see CMOS17, section 14.64, note 1).


None too sweet

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I have remarked before on possible problems raised by conflicting definitions and usages of the terms “reference” and “citation.”

Some style guides use the term “reference” to mean the short form in the text which links to what they call a “citation”, the full details in the list at the end; some call that short form in the text “citation” and use “reference” for the full details in the list at the end; some use both terms interchangeably; some use reference to mean the quotation (or paraphrase or summary) from someone else’s work, acknowledged with a short-citation in the text which links to the full citation at the end.

It makes for confusion. In workshops, I often tell Lori’s story:  her teacher kept reminding her to check that she had citations for all her sources and she thought she had … except that the teacher meant Continue reading

Rewrite Redraft Rework Revise Reword Rephrase … Refrain

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My GoogleAlert has just presented me with an anonymous article (“By Guest Contributor”) posted on TechGenYZ, a media company which started just over three years ago (according to its About Us page). They claim,

Our core values are Integrity, Innovation, Quality, Honesty and Excellence.

Perhaps they need to apply these values to their guest contributors.

The article I was directed to carries the title Get unique content with the help of article rewriterIt is a review, of sorts, promoting use of Article Rewriter. This is an application developed by SmallSEOTools. As the name suggests, it rewrites text: it is a paraphrasing tool, a synonymizer.  The anonymous guest contributor claims that Article Rewriter will take text and rewrite it so that the content is totally original and plagiarism-free.  It is recommended for Continue reading

A critical criterion

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Over the last few weeks, The IB has been publishing Extended Essay reports for the May 2018 exams.  They are available for most subjects now.

I’ve been looking through them.  Some of them make sad reading, marks thrown away needlessly.  Most students should score in the top mark band for Criterion D, Presentation, at least for the elements of structural presentation.  And yet, and yet…  too many don’t.

Are the students who don’t get maximum points here careless?   Don’t they know what’s required? Are supervisors letting them down by not advising what to check?  Care here with that last though, of course:  supervisors are not permitted to tell students that the page number for (say) the Discussion section does not match the page number given on the Table of Contents page; they are permitted to advise students to check that numbers on the pages match those in the Table of Contents page.  The first situation is being specific and amounts to proof-reading and/or editing (neither of which are permitted); the second is general and generic, and advises the student to do the work of finding errors and correcting them.

Examiner comments regarding page-numbers bother me.  Not the comments themselves but Continue reading

Out of step footnotes – 2

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In recent weeks, I’ve been indulging a footnote fetish – last week’s post was part 1 of a 2-post mini-critique of the Chicago/Turabian style. I am almost over my obsession, just this last blast to go.  It’s a particularly pertinent piece for readers in IB schools, in that it focuses on inconsistencies in Turabian.  While they do  (are supposed to) accept any referencing style, IB examiners are well-concerned to have references and citations recorded completely and consistently within each individual assessment.  Given that IB requirements are sometimes inconsistent with the guidance of particular style guides, confusion can be compounded when the chosen style guide is inconsistent within itself.

[All references and scans used in this piece are from Turabian, 9th edition – more properly Kate L. Turabian’s A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style for students and researchers 9th. ed., University of Chicago, 2017.]

First, a general note, not specific to Turabian.  Turabian advises that many items should be cited in the text but not in the bibliography, for instance:

personal interviews, correspondence, blog posts and other social media, newspaper articles, reviews (of books, performances), well-known reference works, the Bible and other sacred works etc. etc.
(Turabian, section 16.2.3, lists many more…)

Turabian is not alone in suggesting that writers give details of certain types of source in the text but not in the bibliography; many style guides list exceptions to the general rule.  In all instances, when writing for IB, IB requirements overrule the advice of any style guide: if you cite it in the text, be sure to give a full reference in the list at the end.

Similarly, Turabian advises that Continue reading

Out of step footnotes – 1

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A couple of posts ago, I declared myself Not a friend of footnotes. I don’t like them as a reader, I don’t like them as a writer.

I appreciate that many, many people, readers and writers, do like footnotes and endnotes, and that’s fine with me. I’ll put up with them if what I read is interesting, I’ll use them as a writer if my editors demand them.  I’ll agree that they may well suit particular forms of writing and different media. But I do not like them.  In this post and the next, I’ll detail some of the reasons why I don’t like them, particularly as a writer.

[I’ve been told that my two-weeks-ago post was unfair. Here I described some of my problems as a reader, and I used some illustrations from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens to make my point, illustrations I used in a workshop soon after. “But he’s not using endnotes properly!” I was told.  “He shouldn’t use several authors in one endnote, they should be distinct.”

[Far be it for me to suggest that Harari is using endnotes wrongly, especially as Turabian (9th ed.) states Continue reading

Transferable skills

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If you were hoping for more thoughts on footnotes and endnotes this week, my apologies. The thoughts I had in mind are still to come.  This post is still about footnotes, but not quite what I thought I’d be saying.

The IB has begun posting the May 2018 DP subject reports in the Programme Resource Centre and I have spent some time this past week looking through them.

This is not something I do as a matter of course. I do look at the Extended Essay reports for all subjects – and eagerly await publication, they must surely be posted any day now. But I don’t follow the subject reports that carefully.

My look at the subject reports was impelled by a comment made in a workshop I led last week – a history teacher insistent that the subject guide for History says that students are required to use footnotes.  I was sure that the subject guide says no such thing; IB allows the use of any documentation system as long as Continue reading

Not a friend of footnotes

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There – I’ve made clear my bias, I’m not a fan of footnotes.  Or endnotes.

For one thing, they get in the way of my reading.   That’s ironic, in that one of the claimed virtues of footnotes is that they don’t get in the way of the reader, unnecessary details such as authorship or extra detail or explanation can be relegated to the foot of the page (or the end of the paper/ book).  If readers wish to follow up or find out more, the footnote is there to give the necessary information; if readers do not want to follow up, then they just carry on reading.  The Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale Universtity puts it this way, in a page titled Why Are there Different Citation Styles?

When developing a historical explanation from multiple primary sources, using footnotes instead of inserting parenthetical information allows the reader to focus on the evidence instead of being distracted by the publication information about that evidence. The footnotes can be consulted if someone wants to track down your source for further research.

If the writer thinks the author or the source cited is important, then that information can still be mentioned in the narrative in the text, with full details in the footnote. When the author or source is not considered important, why intrude on the flow of the reading?

While footnotes are often used in the humanities, especially history, they are often used in the sciences as well.  It could be that both disciplines deal in facts and a well-read reader in the field will know the facts, so don’t break up the reading.

Science isn’t all about facts, it’s about theories and ideas, thus the notion that knowing the team behind the research and the recency of the research makes author-date citation systems popular Continue reading

To quote or not to quote

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A couple of weeks ago, Nadine wrote a comment on my post Multiple confusion in which she noted, ” Not that encouraging direct quotations is best writing form, but at that age it’s probably more common.”

That got me thinking. When teaching citation and referencing, we often start with quotations.  Is this because it is easy to demonstrate, based on something that most students can and do already do?  When you copy-and-paste, you are using someone else’s exact words, you are quoting someone. When you quote someone, you need quotation marks. You use quotation marks around the copy-pasted words to show you are quoting, and you also say who that someone is, whose words you have borrowed.

From there we go on to say that, when you use your own words to put over someone else’s thoughts and ideas and findings, you need also to cite them;  they may be your own words but they are NOT your own thoughts.  You still need to say whose thoughts or ideas or findings you are using.

It’s a common complaint, that although most students know how and when to quote someone else’s material, it is when they paraphrase or summarise someone else’s work that they often forget that they need also to cite the source of that work.  It might be because they confuse using their own words with their own original words and ideas… they are using their own words so a citation is not necessary?

I won’t go too far down that track today. What I do want to do is to go back to Nadine’s comment, that “encouraging direct quotations” is not “best writing form.”  My first thought was, why then do we teach how to quote and cite?  But a second thought quickly followed Continue reading

Cite check

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I’ve just finished an online workshop for librarians. Good fun as usual and very worthwhile. The participants made really great strides over the four weeks and they knew it, they had so much new awareness by the end of the month.  it was very encouraging.

Many went beyond the bounds of the workshop readings to find information and opinion elsewhere, the spirit of inquiry was strong.  Many quoted from the articles they found – great!  Quite a few copied graphics and images from articles and other materials found – and most did not need to be reminded to cite the sources of those graphics as well as of the text.

But … perhaps because there were larger numbers of newcomers to librarianship on the course than usual, there seemed to be a rash of participants who would simply cite their images as “Google” or “Google Images” or present the Google image search URL.

That’s not helpful and it’s not right either. I would send a personal message Continue reading

Multiple confusion

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A question came up in Programme Communities in My IB just recently:

My student is using a book and a website as her primary sources about the organisation she is researching for her extended essay.  When there are several quotations or summaries from the same book or article, it is easy to show in the in-text citation from which page the quotation/ summary/ parahrase is taken.  What about the website, how does she indicate the different pages used from within the same website?  (This is a slightly edited version of the question as posed.)

I checked the manuals and was able to answer the question fairly quickly.  But it’s been bugging me, because the approaches taken by MLA and APA are very different.

APA style

Usually, I prefer APA to MLA. There are several reasons, one of which is that APA is nicely straightforward with its WHO-WHEN-WHAT-WHERE approach.  In this instance, though, I think the APA is confusing.

The answer is not spelt out in the Publications handbook so I checked Continue reading

Smile, please – it’s for real

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I came across this news item in the i newspaper (page 13 of the 29 August 2018 edition, a short article by John von Radowitz). The article reports on a study in which “Scientists showed 20 goats unfamiliar photos of the same human face looking happy or angry;”  they found that “goats preferred to interact with the smiling face.”

It sounds fun, it sounds odd, it almost sounds improbable.

Two things struck me immediately.  The first was that phrase, “unfamiliar photos.”  When you’re a goat, who’s to say whether a photo is familiar or unfamiliar?

The second was a memory – a memory of the academic paper Feline Reactions to Bearded Men.  You might remember it: the researchers claimed to have held cats in front of photos of bearded men and observed their reactions.  The paper suggests that ” Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.”

The cats “paper” was first published in 1999, maybe earlier.  It is frequently used in website evaluation exercises to make students aware of web pages which look authentic but could be big hoaxes.

The name of the site – Improbable Research – is claimed as a warning signal (though as this is the site responsible for the annual Ig Nobel Prizes, a very real event, one might not be so sure). The biggest giveaway in the cats paper is probably the bibliography, which includes entries for Pat Boone, Madonna, Yul Brynner, Sinead O’Connor, Mary Quant, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the if-only Dr Seuss (responsible for the paper “Feline Responses to Hats”).  How much of a giveaway, 20 years on, might be questionable; many of the names are probably unknown Continue reading

The memory hole gets deeper

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The news that the respected Forbes magazine published an opinion (op-ed) article by Panos Mourdoukoutas, Chair of the Department of Economics at Long Island University, with the title “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money” a few days ago is hardly news any more. It has been shared widely and commented on in the mainstream media and in social media too. It’s old news.

Mourdoukoutas’s argument is studded with dubious and irrelevant claims and arguments such as


(“Third places” like Starbucks) provide residents with a comfortable place to read, surf the web, meet their friends and associates, and enjoy a great drink. This is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card…

Then there’s the rise of digital technology. Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services…

Amazon Books is a chain of bookstores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local bookstore. It improves on the bookstore model by adding online searches and coffee shops. Amazon Go basically combines a library with a Starbucks…


The article concludes Continue reading


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On 19 April 2016, Kendra Perkins wrote an article for the RefME blog with the title The CRAAP Test: An Easy & Fun Way to Evaluate Research Sources. RefME was taken over by Chegg and subsumed into the Cite This For Me service in 2017 and her original post is no longer available. Fortunately, you can still find the original post, preserved by the Wayback Machine (the Internet Archive).

Kendra had long been a fan of RefME and frequently recommended it in librarian listservs and forums such as iSkoodle. Towards the end of her RefME blog, she declared that she had compiled her list of References using the RefME referencing generator.

A year later, May 2017, Kendra posted an article in her own blog, The Inspired Librarian, a piece with the title Cite This for Me Changed my RefME Blog Post. Here she relates how her RefME post had been reposted on the Cite This For Me site. Her article now read: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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. 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!