Credit where it is due

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

On the one hand, we have the statement:

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

and on the other:

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

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

I am not certain that what follows here was or is the IB’s intention, but I think I have found one possible suggestion. I have been looking at extended essay samples available in the OCC, and most especially in the workshop leaders’ area, with a view to selecting essays for inclusion in workbooks for my extended essay workshops. Beyond this, I note that many of the sample essays share problems and issues which could lead to a loss of marks – an avoidable loss of marks. These essays could provide material for several blog posts; this is just the first.

In this post, I am considering essays in which quotations have been cited – there are no suggestions of plagiarism. The trouble is, some of the quotations have been assigned to sources which are NOT the sources of the quote…

As simple as that.

This could be due to poor note-making, a random assignment of who said what after the essay is completed (a failure to CITE AS YOU WRITE). This is not plagiarism because the quotes have been assigned to others; these students are not representing the words or ideas as their own. Credit is given – but it is given to the wrong author/s. In one case, a quotation was assigned to a well-known author in the subject, along with the title of a book of readings in which this author’s paper is not included.  This is totally and almost certainly deliberately misleading. It is laziness. It is unhelpful. It is poor scholarship. And, because of the attempt to mislead, it is misconduct.

Turnitin (nor any other text-matching software) is not going to pinpoint such cases, certainly not without careful double-checking of each highlighted match. Many Turnitin users choose to eliminate quotations in quotation marks from the originality check, so they do not show up at all, the discrepancy will not be discovered.

It takes checking, often (as in the essays which aroused my suspicions) inspired by unusual or downright wrong use of language or terminology. I do not look at every use or claimed use of source material, but when alarm bells ring …  The reader does need to stay alert. A clean Turnitin report is not necessarily indicative of a properly written and appropriately documented essay, human judgement is still required.

My thought then is that “accurate references,” in IB terms, refers not to accuracy in terms of formatting using MLA, APA or any other style guide. “Accuracy” means “the right source has been cited,” credit has been given where it is due.   I might be wrong in this interpretation, but it does reconcile those two seemingly contradictory statements.

Lessons for students: accurate note-making is an essential; cite as you write.
Lessons for teachers and examiners: a clean text-matching report is not necessarily proof of good scholarship; check several citations to see that this was indeed what the author/s said or intended.

[The IB has been alerted and the suspect essays have been removed from the samples available. I have not been told whether further action has been taken, action which could include revocation of the writer’s IB diploma, and I doubt that I will be informed.]


This is the first in a series of tips and caveat, many of which come out of common errors in sample essays available on the OCC. Watch for more!

2 thoughts on “Credit where it is due

  1. Pingback: What’s in a name? | Honesty, honestly…

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