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 – surely in some cases, possibly many cases, quotation IS the best form? It certainly is in a literature essay – we quote extensively, and then explain the portent of those quotations, how they provide evidence for our arguments; we discuss the literary devices used in the quotation.
What about other subjects? Language, yes, we quote extensively. Film too, if we are considering the screenplay – or is that another form of literature? Perhaps when reporting other writers’ opinions, especially in the arts. Perhaps in the humanities, especially history and politics, philosophy and religion? Maybe in the sciences too? Certainly in the social sciences, reporting verbatim comments in a survey, or an interview. Maybe in the natural sciences and other subjects too, if someone has said something particularly apt or pertinent – or impertinent.
But Nadine is right – apart from textual subjects, the norm is to summarise or paraphrase, not to quote. It’s a matter of disciplinary writing, using the conventions of academic writing in the subject to show one’s worthiness to join the academic conversation.
It goes further. It argues a need to support students’ academic writing, with the further understanding that there is not just one kind of academic writing – different subjects have different conventions. We need perhaps to consider whther we are doing enough by way of teaching the skills of paraphrase and summary, the art of and techniques for note taking and note making, the craft of using paraphrase in our work, as ever, not to replace our thoughts but to supplement them, to provide evidence and support for them.
Subject teachers are wont to say there is not enough time in their curriculums to teach academic writing in their subjects – but if they don’t do it, who will? How will students learn? Some will learn despite our lack of support, yes, by exposure to acadmic writing and thinking as they read. What of subjects of which their teachers hold that citation and referencing is rarely used – that is commonly claimed by mathematicians, and science teachers too. And yet, read any academic paper in these subjects and the reference list often comprises 50 or even 100 and more entries.
Those conventions and possible non-awareness of them are something I have been pondering quite deeply in the last few weeks. There’ll be a post or two on the topic coming up. Watch this space!