What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

The right authors, the right names

Some of the comments on the sample essays suggest that essays are referred to the Awards Committee because not all citations in the text have been included in the list of References, and not all references have been cited in the text. In many cases, the examiner is right, there is a mismatch between citations in the text and the reference list. Whether this amounts to misconduct is for the Awards Committee to decide.

Indeed, in some cases, careful examination does show no evidence of misconduct. The examiner is right to refer the essay onwards and upwards, but inconsistency or inaccuracy is due to a lapse in academic writing or scholarship rather than attempts to mislead or deceive, or any other form of misconduct. The loss of a mark or two might be deserved on the grounds of errors of citation, but one hopes the essay was not disqualified on the grounds of misconduct.

One recurring problem in many of these essays is that citations in the text do not always link directly to a reference in the list at the end. It sounds simple enough, cite the author in the text and use that citation as the opening of the reference, providing a quick, visible link. Perhaps it is simple, to those who understand. But the samples suggest that there are many students who do not get it. The link might be there, but it is not a direct link, you have to go searching for it.

Among the problems that seem to occur and recur are students who:

  • use the name of the author in the text but the title of the source in the reference list;
  • use the title of the source in the text but the name of the author in the reference list;
  • use the first name of the author in the text and the last name (with or without the first name, or just the initial) in the reference list;
  • use the last name of the author in the text but the first name and initial of the author in the reference list;
  • use  (in cases of two or more authors) the name of one of the authors in the text but a different author in the reference list;
  • use the name of the author in the text but just a URL in the reference list.

None of these can be considered plagiarism (assuming that quotation marks or other indicator have been used for direct quotations); the student has indicated that the words or ideas in the text are not the student’s original work. All of them are unhelpful, in that the linkage between citation and reference is not there, the reader has to do extra work. Whether any of these is considered “misconduct” by the Awards Committee is another matter; “a possible case of academic misconduct due to incorrect and inconsistent citing and referencing” is not the same as a case of academic misconduct –  such cases could well be dismissed by the Committee.

That is where the “standard understanding” that I suggested earlier comes into play. All instances of inconsistent and incorrect citation and referencing will be reported – and investigated. There should not be instances where some examiners do not report at all while other examiners do, as long as all examiners have the same notions and awarenesses of consistency and accuracy (a different matter altogether).

Teaching point

We can avoid such situations if we get students used to checking for two-way links during the proof-reading process.

  • Does each and every in-text or parenthetical citation link directly to a reference in the reference list/ works cited list/ bibliography?
  • Does each and every reference in the reference list/ works cited list/ bibliography link directly to at least one parenthetical or in-text citation?

If the linkage is NOT clear, make it clear!

It is, after all, just another aspect of good writing, of academic writing.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

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