Just a matter of time

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A recent post in a closed Facebook group for IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay Coordinators asked, “Would this be a complete reference for a painting?”

There followed a curious discussion, some 20 comments long.  The discussion inspired this blog post – and also got me reviving a post I started earlier this year on the same theme but had not managed to finish. I have now. My earlier thoughts are weaved in below, but let’s start with this recent, curious discussion.

The very first response declared,

The EE guide specifies that all online sources must have [Date accessed etc]

and thereafter the discussion focused on the date of access and its formatting and placement. After the person who posted the original question pointed out that the suggested reference did include the date of access (“Retrieved July 30, 2019)” that first responder came back with

(the Guide) requests a specific format for this and this point was reiterated in a workshop.

This same responder said in a later comment that the workshop leader had explained that having the date accessed in square brackets at the end of the reference enabled the examiner quickly to determine that the date of access had been included.

This raises a number of points – as it did in the discussion.  Yes, on the page headed Acknowledging the ideas or work of another person—minimum requirements, the Guide states that date of access must be included in any reference to an electronic source (whatever that means, the starting point for my original blog post as taken up below)

Regardless of the reference style adopted by the school for a given subject, it is expected that the minimum information given includes:

        • name of author
        • date of publication
        • title of source
        • page numbers as applicable
        • date of access (electronic sources)
        • URL.

and goes on to state

Examiners are required to alert the IB when minimum requirements are not met by a student, and the work is investigated accordingly.

IB has its own requirements for referencing.  While the IB does not legislate which referencing style is used,  it does require that the style used is used consistently.  IB also advises that when its own requirements are different to those in a published style guide, then IB requirements must be followed.  This is acceptable.  Many if not most of the published style guides state explicitly that, if an instructor’s, school’s, institution’s or publisher’s requirements are different to the suggestions in the style guide, writers should meet the requirements of the instructor (etc).  Say it loud: even if a style guide recommends that date of access is not needed, for IB assessments the date of access is needed.

But, despite our workshop’s participant’s protestation, the IB does not prescribe how the date of access should be presented, whether in square, angled, round or any other shape brackets, or noted as “Retrieved from…” or “Accessed…” or any other term, nor its placement in the reference.  There is no prescription stated in the Extended Essay Guide and no prescription in any other IB documentation.

So yes, I accept that having the date of access at the end of the reference might make it easy for the examiner to determine if it has been included, but this is a matter of preference, not a requirement.

It has also to be said that workshop leaders sometimes get it wrong. They sometimes make mistakes. And sometimes participants in workshops misunderstand or mis-remember what is actually said.  In the same way, textbooks sometimes get it wrong – or are misunderstood by their readers. Sometimes the technology gets it wrong.  The guide is not what the workshop leader said, the guide must be The Guide – in this case, the Extended Essay Guide.

[As I said at the start of this post, most of the comments on the Facebook post revolved around the question of the date of access.  There were just two comments (one of them mine) regarding the rest of the reference, either as example for the referencing of a work of art or this specific reference.   I wondered if there might be a need for the type of painting/ medium used (oil, acrylic, water-colour etc) and suggested that that might depend on the intended audience for the essay; an essay in Visual Arts might require more detail than an essay in History, for example.  I did not need to ponder on whether the artist’s name was “Davinci, Leonardo” or “da Vinci, Leonardo” or “Leonardo da Vinci” – this point had already been raised by another participant in the discussion.]

More importantly, there is the question as to whether omission of the date of access amounts to academic misconduct with referral to the Awards Committee – which brings me back to the post I started earlier.

What is an “electronic source”?

As noted at the start of this piece, one of the IB’s minimum requirements when Acknowledging the ideas or work of another person is the date of access of electronic sources.

Here it is again, the full list of minimum requirements:

Regardless of the reference style adopted by the school for a given subject, it is expected that the minimum information given includes:

      • name of author
      • date of publication
      • title of source
      • page numbers as applicable
      • date of access (electronic sources)
      • URL.

So, what is an electronic source?  This question featured in a recent forum discussion in Programme Communities in My IB (a password-protected platform available only to the IB community).

It may not be as easy as it perhaps should be to provide a comprehensive definition.  Most will agree that it includes items and information found online, on web pages and web sites and in online databases, and that is good.

But what about CD-ROMs or DVDs? They are digital resources, but are they electronic sources?

Personal or group emails found or generated online?

Material found on online databases including journal, magazine and newspaper articles? E-books?  Indeed any print or recorded material which might be downloaded and viewed offline –  sometimes these are scanned or facsimile transmissions of print sources such as can be found in Google Books or the Internet Archive, sometimes they are changeable or flowing, such as ePub versions; are these electronic resources too?

What of other filetypes such as PDF or PPT files?

Come to that, are there differences between journals and other material which may be available in print and electronically – and journals which are online only?

Is anything and everything delivered electronically an “electronic source”?  Are there perhaps categories or types of electronic sources such as “fixed” and “changeable”?

Librarians, teachers and students are often puzzled, confused and frustrated by these “minimum requirements” for citation and referencing – especially when those minimum requirements differ from the requirements of the style guide in use – and much of the discussion in My IB Programme Communities focused on this point.

What are probably the three most frequently used published referencing style guides used in schools offer similar advice – and they keep their options open.

MLA8, for instance, makes inclusion of the date of access optional – but it also offers this piece of advice:

Since online works typically can be changed or removed at any time, the date on which you accessed online material is often an important indicator of the version you consulted…

The date of access is especially crucial if the source provides no date specifying when it was produced or published (MLA Handbook 8th ed, p. 53)

It is worth noting in passing that the previous edition of the MLA Handbook, MLA7, made use of the URL optional with the default being no URL. This advice was reversed in MLA8:  it is once again the preferred option.  In many respects, there are no hard-and-fast “rules,” nothing is set in stone – a notion reinforced by MLA8’s basic principles #2 and #3:

There is often more than one correct way to document a source.
Make your documentation useful to your readers (MLA8, p. 4).

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 6th edition (APA6) advises

When a DOI is used, no further retrieval information is needed to identify or locate the content (p. 191)

and also

do not include retrieval dates unless the source material may change over time (e.g., Wikis) (p. 192).

The advice of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is again similar (note especially the last sentence here:

To cite original website content other than the types of formally published sources discussed elsewhere in this chapter, include as much of the following as can be determined: the title or description of the specific page (if cited); the title or description of the site as a whole (see 14.206); the owner or sponsor of the site; and a URL. The word website (or web page) may be added (in parentheses) after the title or description of the site if the nature of the source may otherwise be unclear. Also include a publication date or date of revision or modification (see 14.13); if no such date can be determined, include an access date (see 14.12). For frequently updated resources, a time stamp may be included (as in the Wikipedia example, which records the time as it was listed with the source; see also 9.39) (CMOS17, pp. 845-846).

with additional advice regarding “formally published electronic sources” such as journals:

Access dates are not required by Chicago in citations of formally published electronic sources, for the reasons discussed in 14.12. Some publishers and some disciplines, however, may require them (CMOS17, p. 833).

Again, note that final caveat.

In short, there are times when it may not be necessary to include a date of access and times when the date of access can be helpful indeed.  Chicago’s distinction, “formal publication,” gives us a useful term, a helpful category, which contrasts nicely against possibly less formal, less stable, less edited web pages.

But … the IB requires dates of access for electronic sources – and presumably for all electronic sources, regardless of whether they are formally published or not.  As noted, this can lead to confusion and frustration, since “The IB does not specify which style(s) of referencing or in-text citation should be used by candidates. This is left to the discretion of the school” (Diploma Programme Assessment Procedures 2019, A4.2.1) – but (again as noted earlier) the IB also demands elements which may not be required by the chosen style.

This point is reinforced in the General Extended Essay Report, May 2018, where we read (p. 6):

    • References and bibliography
      o These must meet the minimum requirements as summarized on the final page of the Effective citing and referencing document. Regardless of the referencing convention used, the IB have minimum requirements that supersede any other norms.

Nor is it a light matter. For better or for worse, in the Extended Essay Guide and many other documents, matters of citation and referencing are conflated with notions of academic honesty.  The minimum requirements at the centre of this discussion  are in a section on Academic Honesty, and include the note:

Examiners are required to alert the IB when minimum requirements are not met by a student, and the work is investigated accordingly (Extended Essay : Guide, (Feb 2016, [last] updated May 2019), p. 33.)

Of course, investigation does not necessarily mean that academic misconduct has taken place.  Many, possibly most, cases will be dropped. But the fear is there, the angst is there, the confusion is there, the uncertainty is there.

Helpful to the reader?  the examiner?  the writer?

So let’s recap: the first four items in the IB list of minimum requirements are probably standard, used in most if not all bibliographical/ referencing style guides:

      • name of author
      • date of publication
      • title of source
      • page numbers as applicable

It is the last two items which cause the most anguish, because not all style guides require a date of access for electronic sources and not all style guides require a URL – and the IB requires both of them.

      • date of access (electronic sources)
      • URL.

We have not discussed the URL yet.  Among the pieces of advice that students are given when Accessing sources: technology literacy—using electronic sources, the Extended Essay Guide advises students to

keep a detailed record of all references, in accordance with the IB’s minimum requirements, ensuring that the URL of where the source was located is written down correctly. This includes recording the date that the site was accessed.

The URL is wanted because it enables the readers to look for themselves at the webpage from which cited material can be found;  the date of access can be important in case the webpage and the information on it is different to the webpage when the reader looks at it.  The date of access can be helpful if it is earlier than an Updated note on the page – it might explain any discrepancy between the text cited and the web page itself.  The URL and then the date of access are useful when checking earlier copies of the page in the Internet Archive (or similar cache or curating platform) – if copies are available in the archive.

I’ll venture a little further: date of access can be akin to the edition number of print materials.  If you are reading a paper and want to check the context of a quotation, you need first to find a copy of the item referenced;  if having found a copy you cannot find the quotation on the page cited, you next check whether the edition in your hand is the same as that recorded in the reference.  If you are using a different edition, this could well explain the discrepancy (and your task of verifying the quotation may be all the harder).  Your edition might be earlier or later than the edition used by the writer of the paper; you need to check the edition number, the date of publication, the publisher, the place of publication.  Differences in any of these bibliographic elements could explain the discrepancy – the reason why the style guides (usually) advise including these elements in one’s references.

Yes, there are exceptions. Not all style guides require all elements – and there are times when their absence in a reference is unhelpful.

There remains the question, is date of access really necessary when referencing a formally published document found online, does it serve any helpful purpose?  Or is it an unnecessary demand by IB, an element which adds nothing to a reader’s understanding?  A URL, possibly, since URLs change and URLs disappear.  But journal articles published in journals with fixed publication dates, especially if they have fixed DOIs – Digital Object Identifiers?

DOIs are, after all, intended to provide a unique digital identification of objects (which might be physical, digital or abstract). In the field of academia, they are used to identify documents, media, articles, datasets and more.  It matters not where these are stored or published or posted, a DOI always points to the same “object;” an online search for a given DOI will always find copies of the same object, wherever it is posted. The URLs of  journal articles may change but the DOI often (but not always) remains constant.  When MLA8, APA6 and CMOS17 say there is no need for dates of access (other than when content might change or be changed), is there need for date of access?

Does IB need to catch up, perhaps to clarify its requirements?

I am in two minds. I was in two minds. I might even have changed my mind.

Better safe than sorry?

Until recently, the only reason I could think of for including date of access for journals found online is to satisfy IB examiners’ need to see consistency in the formatting of bibliographic references.  After all, IB does not care for the rationale behind the recommendations of the style guides; IB makes its own rules and requirements. And, regardless of what IB demands, omission of the date of access is not of itself an indication of plagiarism (or any other form of academic misconduct), cannot be – else the style guides would not suggest that it is optional and/or not require it at all.

Additionally, examiners may not have awareness of the nuances between a journal article with a stable unchanging DOI and (say) a newspaper report or a web-page whose content might change and whose URL might change.   We know only that IB examiners want to see consistent (and complete) formatting of references; they do not (at least they should not) care for notional correctness of the reference (and they don’t know which bibliographic style is in use).  So the danger is that students may be penalised for inconsistent referencing if some online sources include dates of access and some do not.  Better safe than sorry.

It’s not the best of reasons for including date of access, it has nothing to do with academic writing, nor with helping the reader.

BUT … there is another reason (at least one other reason) why it might be helpful to include a date of access for articles and papers with DOI location indicators. The DOI might not change – but the content might. And sometimes it does, sometimes the content changes.

Publishing of academic papers has evolved at great pace in recent years; the traditional model, based on print publication, no longer holds.  In days of yore, an academic paper would go through several stages of editing and peer-review before being accepted as final and published; it was not available to the public until publication in print. If it needed to be amended in any way, a correction might be published in a later issue of the same journal.

Online publication has changed the model. Now it is common for journals to post papers in a pre-print version open to peer-comment and review, then to publish the finalised print version which would be posted online, replacing the pre-print version, and then (if necessary) to publish a corrected version online, replacing the print version.

It can be even more complicated:  DRIVER – the Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research – recognises five possible stages of the e-publication process, tabulated here in this adapted table of  VERSION-MAPPING

traditional version e-print version DRIVER GL v2.0 version
working paper non-peer reviewed draft
pre-print non-peer reviewed submitted version
post-print peer reviewed accepted version
journal article peer reviewed published version
reprint peer reviewed updated version

The page also lists the Journal Article Versions (JAV) Technical Working Group’s taxonomy of seven possible versions:

traditional version DRIVER GL v2.0 version Journal Article Version (JAV)
working paper draft author’s original
pre-print submitted version submitted manuscript
accepted version accepted manuscript
post-print accepted version proof
journal article published version version of record
journal article published version corrected version of record
reprint updated version enhanced version of record


Where this concerns us with regard to the date of access, is that all versions may carry the same DOI.  If a writer references a document with a DOI but does not state which version is used, then the date of access may be the only way to determine the version.

The nuances of stages in the publication process may be lost on our secondary school students. If they find a paper they can use, they’ll want to use it. Oft-times and in many journals, in many disciplines, it may well be the pre-print version that they find because, once published, the paper disappears behind a pay-wall.

I have come round to thinking, perhaps the style guides have got it wrong. Perhaps they should be advising that it the date of access should be included as a rule rather than as an exception, whatever type of online publication is referenced, formally published or otherwise.

Failure to include date of access with a DOI or permalinked source might contribute towards loss of a mark if students are unlucky enough to be marked by an examiner who does not appreciate the nuances – especially if some online sources include the date of access and others do not.  Inclusion of date of access might not be necessary, but it might avoid loss of a mark for inconsistent formatting of references.


A long post this. Congratulations if you are still reading.  We are almost there – but there is a footnote.  The person who wrote the post in Programme Communities, asking What is an “electronic source”?  also asked the IB for clarification.  She got a reply and posted it in the forum:

I just received this reply from The IB Senior Curriculum Manager who conferred with the Academic Honesty Manager:

The reason we ask for the extra info on online sources is just to try to avoid confusion/ problems where the online source has changed or been updated, and also to try to encourage students to be more aware of the origins and purpose of the online sources they are using.

I spoke to our academic honesty manager in Cardiff about your query and she clarified that we would never take action/ penalise a student for not providing a date stamp for an online source. She confirmed that as long as the students use a formal referencing style, and do so consistently across the entire piece of work, that is fine.”

In other words, Catch-22:  failure to include dates of access may lead to an investigation for academic misconduct (failing to meet the minimum requirements) – but of itself, students will not be guilty of academic misconduct if they fail to provide dates of access.

My thought stands: if you want to play safe, give the IB what it wants, always include the date of access regardless of what the style guide says.   You won’t be wrong always to include the date of access when submitting work for IB purposes,  better too much detail in the reference than too little.

Selling me softly…

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An oddity.

A link in an online workshop took me to 7 Alternative Technology in the Classroom Presentation Tools, an article by Daniela McVicker posted in TeachHub, a wing of the K-12 Teachers Alliance.

Probably published in March 2017 (that’s when Internet Archive first saved the page), it provides a quick introduction to 7 presentation tools, alternatives to PowerPoint. Some were new to me, some I already knew, one is my presentation tool of choice. McVicker gives us recommendations for Emaze, Google Presentations, Keynote, Prezi, Nearpod, Tellagami, Haiku Deck and Powtoon.

What jumped out at me as I read was her critique of Keynote (that’s my own preference for presentation). It’s the last paragraph which Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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 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

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

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


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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

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

APA mythtakes

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We don’t take note of non-coincidences, do we? It’s different when two similar events happen close to each other. Wow! we say, what are the chances of that happening twice in the same day? Coincidences stick in the mind, single events do not stick so readily. (This one stuck so solidly that it pushed me into blogging again.)

A recent EasyBib blog post was one half of such a coincidence. Michele Kirschenbaum’s blog post Video Lesson: In-Text Citations had upset me on two counts. Although published on 29 September 2017, my Google Alert did not pick it up until last week.

Count #1: the video gives the impression that in-text citations and parenthetical citations are one and the same

This impression is confirmed in the text of the blog where we read “We think this video, which provides an introduction to in-text, or parenthetical citations, is a great addition to your classroom resources.”

Me, I don’t think it such a great addition, not least because parenthetical citations are one kind of in-text citation, but not the only kind.

Other kinds are available, not least when the citation starts the sentence Continue reading

A gift that kept on giving…

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Regular readers will know my opinion of the (so-called) Harvard referencing, but in case you don’t, it is low. (If you don’t, then see, as instance, the three-part post which starts at Harvard on my mind 1.)

So there was some delight and much sinking feeling when my daily GoogleAlert for [plagiarism] today brought up the hit How to Reference Your Sources Using Harvard Referencing.

  The first line or so of the alerted post by someone signing in as techfeatured reads:

An article in the Sunday Times (Jones, 2006) claims that up to 10% of all degree level submissions commit some form of plagiarism – the act of …

It wasn’t just the mention of Harvard that set the alarm bells ringing and the red flags flying. It was the statistic itself, that 10%, and the ten-year old source. Surely there is more recent research, surely the rate is higher? What is meant by “degree level submissions”?

Today (as I start drafting this post) is Christmas Day Continue reading

Of honesty and integrity

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One of my favourite classroom and workshop activities is a “Do I need to cite this?” quiz. Those taking the test are presented with a number of situations and asked to choose between “Cite the source/s” and “No need to cite the source/s.” *

I like to do this using Survey Monkey – other polling applications will do just as well. It means that I can home in on any situation in which there is divided opinion, or which many respondents are getting wrong. There is no need to go through each situation one at a time if there are just two or three situations which need to be discussed.

Much of the time, the answers are clear: the situation is academic (a piece of work submitted for assessment) so should demand academic honesty, and most students and other participants get it right.

Some of the situations are less clear and lend themselves to discussion, considerations of common knowledge, learned expertise, copyright, credibility and reputation, honesty (as against academic honesty) and integrity.

One situation, for instance, presents Continue reading

Knowing how to write is not knowing how to write

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A month or two ago, but within the space of two weeks, three very different, very similar, situations:

Situation 1 : a student in a school in Asia wrote a comment on an earlier blog post, How Much Plagiarism?  asking for advice. She had misunderstood the instructions; she “forgot to include in-text citations” in the draft of her IB extended essay. All her citations were at the end of the essay. There was no intention to plagiarise.  Since this was a draft, the IB is not involved;  there was still the opportunity to put things right. But she was worried about her school’s reaction which could include note of her transgression on future university recommendations. Her question was, is this excessive?

Situation 2 : an inquiry on an OCC forum: it was the school’s deadline day for submitting final copies of extended essays.  One student, known for his dilatory habits, managed to submit his essay on time. Reading through before authenticating it, the supervisor realised that in the first half of the essay the student had included footnote references for each superscript number in the text. Then the student seemed to have run out of time or stamina, for in the second half of the essay the superscript numbers were there but with no footnoted references to support them. Would it be ethical Continue reading

A footnote on footnotes

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Just as a footnote to my last post, Yes and No – footnotes (in MLA8), there is now a post in the MLA’s Style Center which addresses this very question. I don’t think this page was there at the time I wrote my post, but I won’t swear to that.

The question asked was Are notes compatible with MLA style? – and the answer was much as I suggested: in the absence of specific guidance, follow the suggestions made in the previous edition, MLA7: you can use footnotes (or endnotes) to “offer the reader comment, explanation, or information that the text can’t accommodate,”  and you can make bibliographic footnotes in limited circumstances: “bibliographic notes are best used only when you need to cite several sources or make evaluative comments on your sources.” Footnotes are the exception, not the rule, not if you want to abide by strict MLA style.

[For the purpose of IB assessments, possibly other exam boards too, you should note that the first use is heavily discouraged: such footnotes MAY NOT be read but WILL count towards the word count.]


Readers might want to know that the latest edition, the MLA Handbook, 8th edition, is now available in Kindle format.


Smoke and mirrors

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“Technological solutionism” – a term coined by Evgeny Morozov – offers us solutions to problems we often do not know we have. Some might feel that it sometimes creates new problems, too often without solving the problems it is designed to solve. So often and too often, it fails to do what it says on the tin.

On the other hand, technological solutionism can make big money for the companies behind the so-called solutions. It can blind us to other, often more workable, often more less expensive and more low-tech strategies, approaches and solutions.  Worse still, it can divert attention from the real problems, including situations which might cause the problems in the first place.

I have blogged before about technological solutions which promise far more than they deliver. Turnitin and EasyBib are the ones which come most readily to mind. You can name your own “favourites.”

And now, Microsoft has just released enhancements to Office 365. The announcement is made in an Office Blog article posted on 26 July 2016 with the snappy-catchy title New to Office 365 in July—new intelligent services Researcher and Editor in Word, Outlook Focused Inbox for desktop and Zoom in PowerPoint. The piece is written by Kirk Koenigsbauer. He is a corporate vice president for the Office team, heavy-hitting stuff indeed.  In this post, we’ll be looking just at Researcher and Editor.

In the blog, we read that

Researcher is a new service in Word that helps you find and incorporate reliable sources and content for your paper in fewer steps. Right within your Word document you can explore material related to your topic and add it—and its properly-formatted citation—in one click. Researcher uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to pull in the appropriate content from the web and provide structured, safe and credible information.

and that

Editor assists you with the finishing touches by providing an advanced proofing and editing service. Leveraging machine learning and natural language processing—mixed with input from our own team of linguists—Editor makes suggestions to help you improve your writing.

Powerful tools indeed.  If they work.

Given the first look that Microsoft gives us, they have a long way to go.

First, Researcher. The section heading in the blog reads Continue reading

Seeds or weeds?

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It is sadly ironic when someone writing about plagiarism (with the intention of helping readers understand what plagiarism is and how to write correctly) commits plagiarism.

It happens all too often. I am sure that, in most cases, it is unintentional. The trouble is, readers of their work may sometimes be confused, especially if confused examples are presented. As instances, there are writers on plagiarism who still seem to believe that it is enough to list their sources at the end of a paper.  There are some who appear to think that citation in the text is enough, but are apparently unaware (or who forget) that quoted words demand quotation markers (such as quotation marks or indented paragraphs or a change of font).

I don’t know what to make of the writer of the article, “Planting Seeds,” published in Blossoms: the official newsletter of Abuja Preparatory School (No. 25, 9 March 2016).

The newsletter is aimed at parents. Full credit to the writer for trying to help parents understand what plagiarism is, and understand how students can legitimately use other people’s words and work [“All they have to do is always acknowledge who and where they got it from”]. There is also a section on how some forms of help which parents often give are actually unhelpful, not least because they encourage bad habits and understanding/s. I am particularly impressed that this school takes students up to year 6, ages 10 to 12. I believe the earlier the values of honesty and integrity are inculcated, the better – the awareness of honest use of others’ work is “planting seeds” indeed.

But there are two paragraphs in the newsletter article which give me pause.

The first of these is Continue reading

Self-serving survey?

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When a company (or other group with vested interest) conducts its own research and publishes its own analysis of the results, it is usually worth investigating more deeply. Turnitin has long been a favourite source of disingenuous disinformation (see. for instance, my posts How much plagiarism?, Guilty: how do you plead?, A second look at SEER, and Not as I do, but… ).

Now my attention turns to RefME, the reference generator (unless it is a citation generator; there may be language differences here, as discussed in Language and labels).

RefME has just published a report Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism on two surveys which the company carried out in recent months. It seems a prime example of how not to analyse data, how not to write a report. That’s a brutal assessment, but I think the brutality is justified. Just be sure to get in quick in case the report is edited or deleted.

I think there are (at least) five or six ways in which the report can be considered flawed. Fuller explanation follows the list:

  1. the discussion of the surveys reads at times like an inadequate discussion of the surveys and at times like a press release produced by the RefME publicity bureau;
  2. the report manages to confuse and conflate incorrect or inconsistently formatted references with plagiarism and/or academic misconduct;
  3. the discussion grabs at different research and studies, and suggests (inter alia) that small-scale surveys can be regarded as universal truths;
  4. in grabbing at those different research reports and studies, the writer misreports some and fails to do the homework, to check on the source behind the source;
  5. the report, despite praising RefME for enabling correct and consistent referencing/ endnoting, manages to be incorrect, incomplete and/or inconsistent in at least 11 of its 13 references.
  6. a small matter of several, many, passages which reuse so much wording from source documents that it might be felt that quotation marks are required; some readers might even class these passages as plagiarism.

This is not to denigrate the RefME software itself. I have no opinion there. Until I bought a new computer a few months ago, I found the app hung up too often to enable a valid critique of its performance as a reference (or citation) generator. Now, I find it Continue reading

Copy, paste, EDIT

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Following on in this mini-series of common errors in extended essays: one of the ways in which IBDP extended essay candidates drop marks for  Criterion I: Formal Presentation (Criterion D: Presentation from 2018) is inconsistency in the formatting of references.

IB examiners are instructed that consistency and completeness of references is more important than notions of accuracy, which is good. Given that students are free to use any referencing style that they wish, it is not possible for an examiner to declare that this or that reference is recorded inaccurately, not according to style guide.

But the criterion requires that references are consistently formatted within the list itself. If the reference list is something like this: Continue reading

Back to basics – MLA8 revisited

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I have to admit, I am excited by the latest edition of the MLA Handbook. Gulp! Does that make me some kind of uber-nerd?

I am breaking into my mini-series on common documentation errors in IB extended essays to share my excitement. MLA8 gives us a new way of looking at citation and referencing, very different to the approach taken in the previous edition. What’s more, the hopes I expressed for this new edition (well before it was actually published – see the post MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook) are incorporated in the new approach.

The special delight is because, in basing its new approach on the principles and the purposes of citation and referencing, MLA8 provides us with principles which can be applied to any referencing style or style guide. What you might call a WHYs move, perhaps. Continue reading

Orders are orders

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In my last post, What’s in a name, I discussed the need for clear linkage between the name/s used in an in-text citation and the name/s used to start the entry in the list of References. If the citation reads,

“According to Michaels and Brown, ……”


“‘……’ (Singh 2014)”

then it is helpful to the reader if the entries in the References list start

Michaels, J., & P. Brown….


Singh, V. (2014).

Many students, however, seem unable to make the link. A number of extended essay examples posted by the International Baccalaureate show instances where students manage to mismatch names – detailed in that last post. Two of the instances I listed were essays in which students had used Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Tangled trail

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In the course of this blog, I have engaged in the occasional tortuous tangled trail.

I doubt if any of my trails – or trials – is as complicated as one recently followed by Debora Weber-Wulff. In her latest blog post, A Confusing Pakistani Plagiarism Case, she relates how she tried following up a report in the Pakistani Express Tribune, Confession: Ex-HEC head apologises for plagiarism.

Her difficulties involved trying to find the original paper which the former chair of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) might or might not have co-authored and which might or might not have been included in this writer’s CV and which might or might not have appeared in an academic journal; the paper might or might not have included plagiarised material. This last doubt arises because any plagiarism in the paper might not be considered plagiarism on the (questionable) grounds that the paper was published before Pakistan had legislated any policies regarding plagiarism.

Weber-Wulff sums up her investigation and the issues Continue reading

MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook

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Heads up: MLA – the Modern Language Association – is about to release the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook.

The MLA site says it will be available some time in April, but warns that the online version of the 7th edition will not be available after 31 March. Amazon.com, the American warehouse, gives a release date of March 14, 2016 (four days ago at time of writing) – but also states “This title has not yet been released.” Amazon.co.uk, the British warehouse, gives a release date of 30 April 2016.

Two things catch the eye immediately, the subtitle and the price.

The Amazon US site carries no sub-title at all.



The Amazon UK site gives the title as “MLA Handbook: Rethinking Documentation for the Digital Age (Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Ppapers).” Ignoring the typo and the punctuation of the bracketed instance of MLA, we see what is possibly a new approach: “rethinking documentation…“.

This notion of a new approach is borne out in the price, $11.42 in US and £10.50 in UK. That compares with $16.79 and £18.50 respectively for the still available 7th edition.

It is not necessarily generosity behind the reduction in price for the new edition. The 8th edition is 145 pages against the 292 pages of the 7th edition – the new edition is Continue reading

Snake (in the grass)

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A recent posting in an OCC forum* got me investigating again.**  The post included a recommendation for the free “plagiarism scanner” Viper.

I have warned about Viper, and its parent company scanmyessay.com in an earlier post, Authentic authenticity. There I noted that Viper’s then Terms and Conditions included the statement

When you scan a document, you agree that 9 months after completion of your scan, we may upload your essay to our student essays database so that other students may use it to help them write their own essays. You agree that any right you may have to remuneration for such use of documents is waived.

Some of the other sites using that same “student essays database” are paper mills, selling on pre-written student essays. Viper and Scanmyessay may be free to use, but the cost is the possible loss of one’s original essay, one’s rights to it, and the possible loss of one’s reputation.

That wording is slightly different Continue reading