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 each time that it is new…  they know it is wrong but they do it, presumably hoping to get away with it.

But it’s those in-between areas, the grey areas, the shades and the tints, the hues and the nuances and the shifting light, which are so tricky – and this is why the notion of “spectrum” is illuminating. It’s not a straight continuum. It is multi-dimensional.

Fig. 2 – colour wheel/ spectrum

Those in-between areas include:

  • writers who do not know the rules
  • writers who know the rules but (wrongly) think they do not apply in this particular case
  • writers who know the rules and think they are doing everything required, including students who have been misled as to what the expectations are
  • writers who know the rules, but are confused, because sometimes what they do seems to be accepted, but sometimes it is not.

There are other shades and grades of confusion in between too. For instance,

  • just think “common knowledge” and the minefields in wait there, what is common knowledge to you might not be common knowledge to me – and vice versa;
  • just think of the different conventions for acknowledgement in popular non-fiction, where there may be no indication of attribution in the text even if there are pages of endnotes which provide full acknowledgement (or not);
  • or student textbooks, which too often provide information unsupported by anything other than a “For Further Reading” list;
  • or writers whose paraphrases are too close to the original?
  • or writers who have misread or misunderstood an original source and so misrepresent them?
  • and writers who conflate several different sources in one paragraph, to the extent that one cannot tell who contributed what, nor even what is the writer’s own?

Outright plagiarism, citation errors, careless or unhelpful writing and scholarship, and somewhere in the spectrum, good practice.

Extent, intent, non-intent, accident.

It’s a multi-dimensional understanding, far more nuanced than a simple black-grey-white continuum suggests.

We tell them – but do they understand?

Jonathan Bailey tells a cautionary tale. In a blog post on Plagiarism Today, How Schools Are Hurting the Fight Against Plagiarism, he relates an occasion when, while a student at college, his instructor had entered the room and told the class that someone had plagiarised in their last assignment – and she wanted the culprit to own up.  Bailey continues:

The students, all 30 of us, wondered who it was but were more worried that it was us. Many of us began to talk openly about that fear saying things like “I didn’t plagiarize but… I hope it wasn’t me.”

They had not plagiarised – they had not intended to plagiarise – but so uncertain were they about what plagiarism is that they could not be sure that they had not fallen foul of the sometimes-arcane rules.

There is much evidence, anecdotal and research-based, which demonstrates that students (and instructors) often think they know but don’t.  As instance, Kate Chanock and Kim Shahubudian, who in separate studies point to university students who may think they know the rules and so may turn off when they hear yet another lecture on academic honesty or Phil Newton, whose study talks of “misplaced confidence” that they know the rules.

Do we ourselves understand the “rules”?  In my workshops, Jude Carroll’s “Where do you draw the line?” exercise (which I discuss more fully in Somewhere, over the spectrum…) consistently shows disagreement among workshop participants as to what constitutes plagiarism – so what chance do students have?  And there’s Doug Brent‘s study which suggests that

learning to write from sources, like learning any of the practices of the academy, is at least a four-year process of gradual acculturation, a process that continues through graduate school if a student takes that direction, and arguably can continue over the span of an entire career (p. 336)

Chanock’s review of the literature includes half-a-dozen papers whose authors report that university entrants often include other people’s work, including direct quotations and paraphrases, without attribution in the text  (or quotation marks if quotation indicators were needed) but happily include the materials in the reference list.  Those writers conclude that these students are not happily pointing the way for plagiarism detectors; they are just doing what they were told to do at school, include a list of sources at the end of the paper – and nothing more is needed. (And that’s what I learned at school too, just the list at the end.)

Plagiarism is not black and white.

The wrong end of the stick – beating Turnitin

Nor is “plagiarism avoidance.” I have long held that it is not enough to teach students how to cite and reference without helping them understand WHY we cite and reference – and the WHY is NOT simply about avoiding plagiarism.  Avoiding plagiarism might be a small part of the WHYs, but it is a very small part.  Of far greater importance is establishing our credibility as writers who know something about the topic, and helping our readers in many different ways (more details, if you need them, in Lighten the load).  Without the WHYs, our lessons are empty and citation and referencing is seen by many as a hoop through which students must jump if they are to succeed – and if they fail, they are guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism.  The fear of committing it when it is not understood can lead students to use other people’s work excessively, albeit as properly-attributed quotations, using those quotations to say what they want to say rather than as support for their own ideas. They are frightened to have or express their own ideas –  their voice is not heard when they simply report what others have said (Neville, Elander, Pittam (et al) and other studies on authorial identity).  This is the opposite to Newton’s notion of “misplaced confidence” – but it is just as problematic.

And we make students even more defensive in our use of Turnitin and other text-matching services to catch them out and make them even more fearful.

John Schrock‘s story is telling. He relates how a Chinese student once approached him and asked, ‘“Can you help me plagiarize my thesis?”’  He thought this strange request was because her English was, perhaps, not perfect. He checked his understanding:

“You want me to help you a-v-o-i-d plagiarism, right?” I emphasized.
“No,” she repeated back to me, in slow English so I would clearly understand. “I need help plagiarizing my paper” …
“Tell me what plagiarism means to you,” I directed.
“I need to change enough words so it won’t be detected by the computer.”

What this student had learned about academic writing was that the aim is to parrot back the ideas of others but in her own words; the goal is to avoid getting “caught” by Turnitin.

It is not uncommon, this (mis-) understanding, and it is not confined to international students.  It’s a problem when students do not or have yet to appreciate that academic writing is not about telling us what is already known and what others have already said,. It’s about presenting one’s own thoughts, reacting to or supported by what is already known (or what we think we know).

This is a foreign idea for many “international students,”  especially those from countries in which rote-learning is the norm; in such cultures,  students learn to memorise and regurgitate the words of their teachers, and this earns them approval and high marks. They are not expected to think for themselves nor expected to question what they are taught. They learn that they cannot think for themselves until they know much more than they do now.

This too is illustrated in Schrock’s article:

To avoid plagiarism, some believe that all you have to do is change enough words so there are never seven or more in a row that match other work.
“Why not put quotes around all the sentences that are from other people, and then put their names in parentheses at the end of the sentence?” I asked.
“Oh, I know all about that,” she said. “My whole thesis will be in quotes.”
“Didn’t you add some ideas yourself?” (I really wanted to help.)
“No. We are just students. How can we come up with new ideas? Those people get Nobel Prizes. Everything in here I got from the books and articles I read.”

So it is that the student is unheard. The aim of the game, for many, is not about reading, reacting, thinking, learning, writing, growing – it’s all about beating Turnitin.

Finding your voice

It is always fraught, writing about cultures other than one’s own; it may not be politically correct.  So I am delighted to be pointed to Bygrave and Aṣık’s “Global perspectives on academic integrity” (thank you, D.A.). This paper is chapter 1 of a very new book (publication date: 2019) and available I think in full in Google Books: Strategies for fostering inclusive classrooms in higher education.

The paper relates attempts over a number of years to change attitudes towards and awarenesses of international students with regard to the development and understanding of writing and of academic integrity at one North American University campus.  Changes in approach were made each semester – mirroring strategies commonly used in schools and universities around the world – and their effects were monitored and recorded. This is a long-term action-research study.

The chapter opens with a discussion of international students and the cultural challenges they may face understanding the nature of academic writing and academic honesty as an aspect of writing.

The strategies used in succeeding semesters were

  1. advising students of the Academic Integrity Policy and making them aware of the consequences if breach of the policy was discovered;
  2. advising students of the AI policy, submitting work to SafeAssign (text-matching software) with the requirement that they redraft work with 30% or more matched text;
  3. requiring all students to participate in workshops which taught how to cite and reference;
  4. when advising students of the AIP, instructors discussed academic honesty and respect for authors’ work; a writing center was introduced in which students could seek advice;
  5. introducing a writing course for students whose English was below university level designed to inculcate values and an understanding of writing, with special consideration of authorial voice;
  6. extending the writing course to all students regardless of their English proficiency scores.

The first three of these are described as “consequence-based” with an emphasis on detection and punishment, aiming to decrease negative behaviour.  The second set of three are “virtue-based” with an emphasis on providing understand and encouraging positive behaviour.

The authors report that steps 2 and 3 appeared to be counter-productive, the rate of plagiarism and other academic misconduct actually rose. Instead of practicing academic techniques, students relied on the software and the opportunity to rewrite to pass muster. Some students are reported to have been surprised that they were still guilty of plagiarism, despite clean reports from SafeAssign.  Others were found to have used Spinbot and other text rewriting applications, often submitting nonsense. (Students whose English is poor may not recognise when others, including applications, use poor English.) These students were not learning to write, they were learning to beat the text-matching software.

The positive approaches of the later set of strategies, understanding authorship and getting students to realise that they are authors in their own right, were far more successful. As I said earlier, when students understand the WHYs, they better understand HOW citing and referencing and the other conventions of academic writing support their own writing.  They do have something to say in their own right – and they appreciate the opportunity to say it. They value the contributions of others and are better able to use them in their own work.

One last thought: to promote the notion of authorial voice and help students appreciate that what they say does add to the conversation: students in this study were encouraged to write in the first person. This device immediately makes the work personal, encourages their own thoughts, helps them understand how writing works.

Wow!  It’s another AHA! moment, and something I intend to explore further. Watch this space!


(Poor as they are, the two graphics are my own, created using Keynote.)

Bailey, J. (2010, May 10). How Schools Are Hurting the Fight Against Plagiarism. Plagiarism Today. Retrieved from

Brent, D. (2017). Senior Students’ Perceptions of Entering a Research Community.  Written Communication, 34(3) 333–355. Retrieved from’%20Perceptions%20published%20version.pdf

Bygrave, C., & Aṣık, Ö. (2019). Global perspectives on academic integrity. In J. Hoffman, P. Blessinger & M. Makhanya (eds.). Strategies for fostering inclusive classrooms in higher education : International perspectives on equity and inclusion. Emerald, 19-33.  doi:10.1108/S2055-364120190000016003

Chanock, K. (2008). When students reference plagiarised material – what can we learn (and what can we do) about their understanding of attribution? International Journal of Academic Integrity, 4 (1), 3-16. Retrieved from

Elander, J. (2015, May). In search of an authorial identity. The Psychologist, 28, 384-387. Retrieved from

Feijo, S. (2015, May 20). Top Cambridge school administrator under fire for miscitation. Cambridge Chronicle and Tab (3). Retrieved from

Newton, P.M. (2015, March). Academic integrity: A quantitative study of confidence and understanding in students at the start of their higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), 1-16.  Retrieved from

Pittam, G., Elander, J., Lusher, J., Fox, P., & Payne, N. (2009). Student beliefs and attitudes about authorial identity in academic writing. Studies in Higher Education, 34 (2), 153-170. doi:10.1080/03075070802528270

Schrock, J. R. (2014, June 18). Odd request from student: Help me plagiarize! Hays Post. Retrieved from

Shahabudin, K. (2009). Reaping the fruits of collaboration: Learning development research in the LearnHigher CETL network. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 1. Retrieved from

Consistently inconsistent?

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I’ve got a bit behind in my reading lately. Although it was published in May 2018, I came across Jennifer Yao Weinraub’s  Harder to Find than Nemo: The Elusive Image Citation Standard only recently.  In this paper, Weinraub discusses confusion and inconsistencies in the citation of images and the lack of good examples, with particular reference to MLA8 and Chicago. She also discusses other style guides and citation generators, the recommendations of some specific image collections. She points to tutorials and libguides which also attempt to give guidance.

Coming across this article is timely.  Over the last few weeks I seem to have received a steady stream of image citation questions in my inbox. Some notifications originate in online groups and forums, some are emails sent to me directly. It’s a hot topic!  The images presented by questioners are rarely straight-forward, rarely textbook examples. I suppose if they were, there would be less doubt as to how to cite them, the questions would not be asked.  So it is good to find Weinraub’s article, if only to confirm the difficulties and the contradictory or missing advice.

Weinraub suggests confusion in the use of the terms caption and citation (which I would call “reference” – the location details which specify edition (etc) and enable retrieval). She also suggests differences, uncertainty and inconsistencies as to what might or should be included in these. She also notes that when example captions and citations are given, they are often for known artworks, not necessarily the kind of images used or the type of sources used by school and college students, especially in presentations and posters as against formal academic papers.

Weinraub’s distinction between caption and citation/ reference is useful. The caption for the image is placed with the image; it might be below, above or at the side of the image on the page; it serves to provide details about the image including title and artist/creator, and perhaps other information which can add to one’s understanding of the images.  The citation/ reference, on the other hand, should enable the reader to locate the image itself and/or the source that the writer used, be that gallery, book or periodical, website, and so on. Sometimes, she notes, style guides recommend that the citation/ reference is merged into the caption.

The main purpose of Weinraub’s paper is to advocate a common citation standard along with plentiful examples of captions and citations/ references for different types of images in all style guides – certainly in MLA and Chicago, her particular concerns in this paper.  She is especially critical of MLA8, which provides very few examples indeed.  Nor is it just images: it’s other kinds of non-narrative text as well, graphical representations such as maps and charts and graphs and tables and so on.

I am sympathetic to Weinraub’s plea – but not sure of the practicalities. it becomes difficult for the style guides to keep up with the many new apps and formats and the very creativity of those who make images (especially if we take this further to include other forms of illustration and presentation generally).  We could end up with many many examples for many many situations, and still be playing catch-up.  This is one of the reasons why the Modern Language Association (MLA) gave up trying to provide examples of any and every kind of source a writer might need to document, and instead offers principles which will guide the compilation of citations and references, principles which will guide in any situation.   More on this below.

A problem for the user of style guides: when faced with too many examples, the user may find it difficult to find the exact example that matches the current situation – which includes the intended audience for the paper or presentation in which the image is used.  In a Visual Arts essay, the size of a painting can be important, as can the medium used, the materials used, the techniques used and more. If it’s a photograph being discussed, then exposure details such as the lens used, the aperture, the speed, the filters, the time of day or year, any digital effects used, and so on might be important.  Such details will ideally be provided in the caption alongside the image, there for the interested reader at point of use because they add to our understanding.

These additional details might be of less significance if the painting is used, for instance, in a History essay or the photograph in a Geography paper.  They might not be needed at all if the image is used in a paper or a presentation in which they are illustrations rather than of textual importance. Audience and purpose present variables, examples of details to be included in captions cannot cover all combinations and situations.

Captions are used to increase our understanding, along with the Fig. numbers which allow quick reference to particular illustrations in the course of the text.  Citations/ references, on the other hand, give us location details. They tell us where to find the painting, the gallery in which it hangs or the web page on which the image used was found, the database or collection, the article in which the photograph or chart can be found, and so on. Again, the  variables are many.  It strikes me that MLA8’s notion of containers can be used to build a reference – whatever the actual style guide being followed.  Start with the image itself (creator and title) and work outwards in whatever type of source material is used.

[More on the notion of containers can be found in my post, Back to basics – MLA8 revisited – or try the Noodletools tutorial, How to teach MLA8 containers.]

This distinction between caption and location details is helpful, and is also very much in line with the principles of MLA8, especially principles 2 and 3:

Remember that there is often
more than one correct way to document a source.
Make your documentation useful to your readers.
(MLA Handbook, 8th ed., p. 4).

For those who need it, a checklist approach might help, a list of features and information about different types of image, something similar to the table on the last few pages of Effective citing and referencing (downloadable from the IB’s Digiital Toolkit : Brochures, flyers and posters : General Materials).  Writers could then decide which of the listed features can be identified in regard to the image they are working with and then which of these are necessary and/or helpful for their readers.  Indeed, this could apply to any kind of source material, not just images – as in the Digital Toolkit brochure. 

Once those elements which will be helpful to readers have been identified, for captions and/or for citations/references, the “rules” of the style guide can be applied, Upper Case or lower case, titles in quotation marks or titles in italics, medium, size, materials, location, and so on and so on.

Ideally, such a checklist will serve as temporary support or scaffolding for students new to a subject. As they learn the conventions and are exposed to the literature of the subject, as good examples of captions and references are discussed with them (and poor examples too), so they will gain awareness of what is helpful, why it can be helpful to know the details used. They might become more discriminating, aware when details are missing and they ache to know them the better to understand what they are looking at. It would need to be understood that the checklist cannot be comprehensive, cannot cover every type of image or illustration or audience and so on; it is for the writer to extrapolate and decide: “What will help my readers?”

In short, distinguish between caption and location.  In the caption, as well as stating the creator of the image and the title, give as many or as few details as necessary for the reader to understand and appreciate the image – and link the caption with the reference, which gives the location details.  Make it helpful, make it useful.

None too sweet

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I have remarked before on possible problems raised by conflicting definitions and usages of the terms “reference” and “citation.”

Some style guides use the term “reference” to mean the short form in the text which links to what they call a “citation”, the full details in the list at the end; some call that short form in the text “citation” and use “reference” for the full details in the list at the end; some use both terms interchangeably; some use reference to mean the quotation (or paraphrase or summary) from someone else’s work, acknowledged with a short-citation in the text which links to the full citation at the end.

It makes for confusion. In workshops, I often tell Lori’s story:  her teacher kept reminding her to check that she had citations for all her sources and she thought she had … except that the teacher meant Continue reading

A critical criterion

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Over the last few weeks, The IB has been publishing Extended Essay reports for the May 2018 exams.  They are available for most subjects now.

I’ve been looking through them.  Some of them make sad reading, marks thrown away needlessly.  Most students should score in the top mark band for Criterion D, Presentation, at least for the elements of structural presentation.  And yet, and yet…  too many don’t.

Are the students who don’t get maximum points here careless?   Don’t they know what’s required? Are supervisors letting them down by not advising what to check?  Care here with that last though, of course:  supervisors are not permitted to tell students that the page number for (say) the Discussion section does not match the page number given on the Table of Contents page; they are permitted to advise students to check that numbers on the pages match those in the Table of Contents page.  The first situation is being specific and amounts to proof-reading and/or editing (neither of which are permitted); the second is general and generic, and advises the student to do the work of finding errors and correcting them.

Examiner comments regarding page-numbers bother me.  Not the comments themselves but Continue reading

Out of step footnotes – 2

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In recent weeks, I’ve been indulging a footnote fetish – last week’s post was part 1 of a 2-post mini-critique of the Chicago/Turabian style. I am almost over my obsession, just this last blast to go.  It’s a particularly pertinent piece for readers in IB schools, in that it focuses on inconsistencies in Turabian.  While they do  (are supposed to) accept any referencing style, IB examiners are well-concerned to have references and citations recorded completely and consistently within each individual assessment.  Given that IB requirements are sometimes inconsistent with the guidance of particular style guides, confusion can be compounded when the chosen style guide is inconsistent within itself.

[All references and scans used in this piece are from Turabian, 9th edition – more properly Kate L. Turabian’s A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style for students and researchers 9th. ed., University of Chicago, 2017.]

First, a general note, not specific to Turabian.  Turabian advises that many items should be cited in the text but not in the bibliography, for instance:

personal interviews, correspondence, blog posts and other social media, newspaper articles, reviews (of books, performances), well-known reference works, the Bible and other sacred works etc. etc.
(Turabian, section 16.2.3, lists many more…)

Turabian is not alone in suggesting that writers give details of certain types of source in the text but not in the bibliography; many style guides list exceptions to the general rule.  In all instances, when writing for IB, IB requirements overrule the advice of any style guide: if you cite it in the text, be sure to give a full reference in the list at the end.

Similarly, Turabian advises that Continue reading

Out of step footnotes – 1

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A couple of posts ago, I declared myself Not a friend of footnotes. I don’t like them as a reader, I don’t like them as a writer.

I appreciate that many, many people, readers and writers, do like footnotes and endnotes, and that’s fine with me. I’ll put up with them if what I read is interesting, I’ll use them as a writer if my editors demand them.  I’ll agree that they may well suit particular forms of writing and different media. But I do not like them.  In this post and the next, I’ll detail some of the reasons why I don’t like them, particularly as a writer.

[I’ve been told that my two-weeks-ago post was unfair. Here I described some of my problems as a reader, and I used some illustrations from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens to make my point, illustrations I used in a workshop soon after. “But he’s not using endnotes properly!” I was told.  “He shouldn’t use several authors in one endnote, they should be distinct.”

[Far be it for me to suggest that Harari is using endnotes wrongly, especially as Turabian (9th ed.) states 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

To quote or not to quote

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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 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

Multiple confusion

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A question came up in Programme Communities in My IB just recently:

My student is using a book and a website as her primary sources about the organisation she is researching for her extended essay.  When there are several quotations or summaries from the same book or article, it is easy to show in the in-text citation from which page the quotation/ summary/ parahrase is taken.  What about the website, how does she indicate the different pages used from within the same website?  (This is a slightly edited version of the question as posed.)

I checked the manuals and was able to answer the question fairly quickly.  But it’s been bugging me, because the approaches taken by MLA and APA are very different.

APA style

Usually, I prefer APA to MLA. There are several reasons, one of which is that APA is nicely straightforward with its WHO-WHEN-WHAT-WHERE approach.  In this instance, though, I think the APA is confusing.

The answer is not spelt out in the Publications handbook so I checked Continue reading

Smile, please – it’s for real

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I came across this news item in the i newspaper (page 13 of the 29 August 2018 edition, a short article by John von Radowitz). The article reports on a study in which “Scientists showed 20 goats unfamiliar photos of the same human face looking happy or angry;”  they found that “goats preferred to interact with the smiling face.”

It sounds fun, it sounds odd, it almost sounds improbable.

Two things struck me immediately.  The first was that phrase, “unfamiliar photos.”  When you’re a goat, who’s to say whether a photo is familiar or unfamiliar?

The second was a memory – a memory of the academic paper Feline Reactions to Bearded Men.  You might remember it: the researchers claimed to have held cats in front of photos of bearded men and observed their reactions.  The paper suggests that ” Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.”

The cats “paper” was first published in 1999, maybe earlier.  It is frequently used in website evaluation exercises to make students aware of web pages which look authentic but could be big hoaxes.

The name of the site – Improbable Research – is claimed as a warning signal (though as this is the site responsible for the annual Ig Nobel Prizes, a very real event, one might not be so sure). The biggest giveaway in the cats paper is probably the bibliography, which includes entries for Pat Boone, Madonna, Yul Brynner, Sinead O’Connor, Mary Quant, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the if-only Dr Seuss (responsible for the paper “Feline Responses to Hats”).  How much of a giveaway, 20 years on, might be questionable; many of the names are probably unknown Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 3

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[In part 1 of this 3 part article we looked at Wineburg and McGrew’s study which suggests that a fresh look at the way we evaluate web pages and sites could be valuable.]
[In part 2, we looked at a rebuttal of Wineburg and McGrew’s study – and rebutted the rebuttal.]
[In this third part, we look at reasons why we may need a compromise between the “old” and the “new” ways of evaluating pages and sites online.]

In my last two posts, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates. The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

In one particular task, a comparison and evaluation of two articles both of which dealt with bullying, the researchers found that historians and students tended to spend much time considering the actual articles before they moved elsewhere; some never left the target sites, some left them to look elsewhere. By contrast, the fact-checkers spent very little time on the target pages – sometimes just seconds; they all quickly looked elsewhere, often outside the publishing sites. That is not necessarily (at least in my eyes) a concern. What does concern is that the evaluations made by the two groups were very different. Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 2

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In part 1 of this three-part article, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates.  The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

The three groups were asked to complete six tasks in timed conditions. The findings and ensuing discussion are detailed in the paper Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information.

In this earlier post (Not just CRAAP – 1), I invited readers to try one of the tasks for themselves. If you haven’t already done this, it might be a good idea to try before reading on here.

The task asked participants to imagine they looking for information on bullying, and describe their thought processes as they considered two particular articles on two different websites.  The articles were Bullying at School: Never Acceptable on the site of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds – the College) and then  Stigma: At the Root of Ostracism and Bullying on the site of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP – the Academy).

Participants were allowed to look elsewhere on the sites and anywhere else online that they wished.  They had to decide which website was the more reliable and trustworthy.

What the researchers found was that Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 1

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Over the weekend, a newsletter item in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention, One way to fight fake news by Dan Berrett and Beckie Supiano.  It was originally published in November 2017;  I’ve got behind in my reading.

The item reports on a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew.  Wineburg and McGrew compared the search habits and evaluation techniques of three different groups, professional historians, professional fact-checkers, and students at Stanford University.  They found that :

  • the historians and the students mostly used very different techniques of search and evaluation to the techniques of the fact-checkers;
  • the historians and the students could not always find the information they were asked to search for;
  • the historians and the students took longer to decide on the validity and reliability of the sites they were asked to look at;
  • most disturbingly, the historians and the students came by-and-large to diametrically opposite conclusions to those of the fact-checkers as to the validity and reliability of the various sites; the two groups could not both be right.

Before reading further, you might want to try an approximation of one of the tasks undertaken by the participants (there were six tasks in all, in timed conditions). 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

WHYs before the event

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I have long suggested that students will more readily understand the conventions of citing and referencing if they understand WHY we do it, WHY they are asked, expected and required to do it.  HOW to do it is necessary, but knowing WHY we do it gives purpose, can even make it fun.

When I “crowd-source” the reasons WHY we cite and reference, in classrooms and in workshops, the group usually comes up with the main reasons between them. That is good. But there is no guarantee that any one individual in the room appreciates all of those reasons – as evidenced perhaps by my questioner in Qatar, a story I relate in Lighten the load, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”

Trouble is, for many students, the notions of building on what has gone before, showing the trail which has led to our present thinking or contributing to an academic conversation are just too abstract to appreciate. This is so, even at university level, as suggested by Continue reading

It takes time

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One of the basic tenets of this blog is that we do students a disservice when we give them the impression that the main purpose of citing and referencing is to “avoid plagiarism.”

The way I see it, “avoiding plagiarism” is at best a by-product of citation and referencing. It is a long way from being the main or the only reason for the practice. It makes for angst (“what if I get it wrong?”) and it leads to confusion. Because of the nit-picking demands of getting one’s references absolutely perfect, it can lead to boredom. It leads to taking short-cuts, to avoidance of using other people’s work in support of one’s own ideas and statements, to a loss of the writer’s own voice and ideas.

At the same time, as demonstrated by repeated uses of Jude Carroll’s Where do you draw the line? exercise, there are wide differences between what different teachers class as plagiarism. This serves further to confuse, as when a student who has had work long accepted finds her standard practice is suddenly condemned 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

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

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

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

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., 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.”, 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

In other words…

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The usually excellent Jonathan Bailey has, I fear, fallen short of excellence in his latest post in the WriteCheck blog.

Granted, he upholds that standard in much of the post – How to paraphrase. It is good advice – but there is, to my mind, one vital notion missing.

He gives a three-step guide to good paraphrase: read and understand what you are reading, put it aside and don’t look at it again, then note or write fully what you remember as most important, the “key points.”

Bailey does not define “key points.” I would make the point that what is key may well depend on your purpose, why you want to make those points, why you think they are important and worth noting.

That is a minor point. The big point I think he has missed is that, Continue reading

Another fine can of worms

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In my last post, I reflected on text-recycling. This is the practice of re-using one’s own work without acknowledgement. While (I think) most academics frown on the practice and call it self-plagiarism, it seems to be accepted and possibly widely practiced by academics and their professional bodies – in very limited circumstances – in a number of disciplines.

In those fields which do accept text-recycling – or at least turn a blind eye to the practice – it is claimed to be a useful device for speeding the writing process and for ensuring consistency of language when compiling, for instance, a review of the literature, or when describing methods and methodologies. It is not seen as acceptable to copy-paste someone else’s literature review, but it is acceptable (in those fields in which the practice is accepted) to copy-paste one’s own previously published literature review, as long as, for instance, material which is irrelevant for the current study is deleted.

I am not sure that I accept the argument, but, as Cary Moskovitz has argued Continue reading

Cans of worms (and other kettles of fish)

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I have long been aware of the notion of self-plagiarism, reusing one’s own work without acknowledging the earlier use. The post Elusive allusions is especially to the point.

That post was built around a piece by Paul Greenberg, In Praise of Plagiarism, in which he suggests that the re-use of a master’s prose (he names Cervantes and Shakespeare) may be excusable (along the lines of: you cannot say it any better than a master, so why try?). Not excusable, he continues, is the case when a plagiarist uses “… bad prose. It’s not the theft that troubles in such cases, but the poor taste of the thief.” Possibly in an attempt to establish a claim to literary taste and mastership, Greenberg’s January 2015 piece included large chunks of an article he had published in 2007, which in turn included large chunks of an article he had published in 2000.

I have recently come across the term “text recycling,” the practice of re-using one’s own words in new pieces, without noting that the text has been used before. Plagiarism? Self-plagiarism? Where is that line to be drawn?

Many sites and sources use (without thinking?) and usually attribute the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of plagiarism such as ” the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person : the act of plagiarizing something” This definition be found in the online Meriam Webster Dictionary as well as in myriad resources which have used this definition.

But if the words or ideas are one’s own and not someone else’s, then it cannot be plagiarism, can it? Self-plagiarism? Not by the Merriam-Webster definition.

Where it gets complicated, even more complicated, is that, in some disciplines, it seems that text-recycling, the re-use of one’s own words may be – in some circumstances Continue reading