At a recent in-school workshop, one of the year 11 students put up her hand and asked, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”
Good question – but maybe a sad question as well.
This student seemed to have the wrong understanding. The question suggests that she sees citation and referencing as an empty chore, a hoop to be jumped through, some kind of torture that teachers enjoy inflicting on students, without point or purpose.
She did understand that citation – in-the-text indication that words or ideas or data or information does not originate with the writer, along with quotation marks or markers as and if necessary – demonstrates honesty and integrity (as discussed in Nothing to fear).
But she seems not to have understood – yet – that or how referencing adds to one’s writing, enhances it. Referencing shows that the writer is ready to take part in conversation with other scholars and academics, that she has something to say, a contribution to make. Referencing, and one’s choice of sources to reference, demonstrate scholarship.
Amongst other things, our references
- demonstrate that we have done our homework and know what others have said
- provide support for what we want to say
- add credibility to what we say
- add authority to what we say (and the more respected the authorities we refer to, the more authority and credibility we provide)
- allow us to credit the people whose work we are using
- allow us to show that we know arguments, opinions, or other discrepancies which might run counter to our own (and perhaps give us opportunity to explain or demonstrate why the counter-evidence is not as strong as ours)
- allow us to build on what has gone before, show gaps in what is known, present alternative explanations or methodologies
- allow interested readers to follow-up on what we say, just as we can use other writers’ references to follow up what they say
- allow us to share the blame if we get it wrong
- demonstrate our credentials and worthiness to join the academic conversation.
Of course, the more “correct” our references, the more we show that we are ready to join the conversation. The more scholarly our use of other people’s material in support of what we want to say, again the more we show that we are ready. That is what it’s about at the school level, and in early years of college or university as well, getting practice, getting ready.
To be good, at anything, we need to practice. Reading, writing, soccer, piano, ballet, tennis, cooking, math(s), thinking … practice, practice, practice. See the purpose, know the WHYs, reflect, get feedback, improve …
Referencing is not a chore and it is certainly not pointless or without purpose. Far from it. In everyday argument and persuasion, we argue more convincingly when we have good evidence to support our points-of-view. In academic work, we write better for the references we use. We show that we have something to say, a contribution to make. We show that we know what we are talking about. We talk the same language as the academics in the field. We have a voice and we have the right to be heard.
Powerful stuff, referencing – and nothing to do with academic honesty!