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 as against finishing it as a parenthetical after-thought.

Persuasion can be an art.  As Nelson Mandela once said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.” When you do that, if you can do it, you get buy-in from committed followers.

is surely a more powerful statement than

Persuasion can be an art. As has been said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea” (Mandela). When you do that, if you can do it, you get buy-in from committed followers.

If you are teaching academic honesty as a form of avoiding plagiarism, it is probably easy to learn and use parenthetical citations; they highlight (just in case the reader missed any other signal) that this is not the writer’s own set of words or idea but belongs to somebody else. But to suggest that parenthetical citations are the only form of in-text citation does students a disservice, and may confuse them when they read other people’s work.

[I would also argue that, if you are teaching honesty (as against academic honesty as a form of avoiding plagiarism), then the more natural form may be easier to get across, and can be expected from a young age:
            My mummy says, “….. …”
            In the red book I read that …. ….
            According to Nelson Mandela, ….  ….
[It has the advantage of establishing authority, the reader knows the source of the words or ideas from the outset. This can also reinforce the writer’s crediblity; the writer knows who is important in the field.

[But this is an aside. Let’s get back to that coincidence.]

Count #2: more serious is the misleading comparison between MLA parenthetical citation and APA parenthetical citation:

MLA format is described as being of the form (Author’s Last name Page number) while APA is described – wrongly – as (Author’s Last name, Year published). The examples used are


Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel 35).


Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel, 2006).

The mistake is to think that, because APA is classed as an author-date system, page numbers are not required.  The APA example should read (surely):

Prisoners were told to bring, “a backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else” (Weisel, 2006, p. 35).

It is a mistake I have come across before.  The Libguide at Western Washington University, for instance, advises us to

Create an in-text citation that refers to a complete citation in an alphabetized reference list at the end of the work.  MLA uses author/page (Jones 3) and APA uses author/date (Jones, 2009) citations.

The coincidence I mentioned at the start of this piece was that, on the same day that I discovered the EasyBib blog post, a participant in a librarians’ workshop was furiously adamant that APA is an author-date system and that a page number is not required, even for quotations.

There is no arguing with such a workshop participant, not in public, not without solid evidence. He would not accept the advice given in the APA Style blog, for instance the posts When and How to Include Page Numbers in APA Style Citations  and How to Cite Direct Quotations.  The blog is not the Publication Manual, and of course I had not taken my copy of the manual to the workshop.  I could only say that I would look this up later and let everyone know.

I was right, though. The manual states at several points that, if the piece used can be pinpointed, then pinpoint it, for the benefit of anyone following up on the reference. Help the reader!

In the section on Direct Quotation of Sources, for instance, section 6.03 (page 170) we read:

When quoting, always provide the author, year and specific page citation or paragraph number for non-paginated material … in the text and include a complete reference in the reference list.

A page later, section 6.04 Paraphrasing Material, we read

When paraphrasing or referrig to an idea in another work, you are encouraged to provide a page or paragraph number, especially when it would help an interested reader locate the relevant passage in a long or complex text.

And the following section, 6.05 Direct Quotations of Online Material Without Pagination stresses the helpfulness of paragraph numbers or section headings in helping the reader locate material. It is all about helping the reader, isn’t it?

Later still, section 6.19 Citing Specific Parts of a Source:

To cite a specific part of a source, indicate the page, chapter, figure, table, or equation at the approriate point in text. Always give page numbers for quotations.

Aware readers will have noted that section 6.04 encourages the writer rather than demands that the writer include a page number when paraphrasing (or summarising), but that guidance does go on to say “especially when it would help an interested reader locate the relevant passage.”   It does not make for the strength of assertion of my workshop participant, and it does not apply in the case of the quotations in the EasyBib or Western Washington University examples.

How does/ did that mistaken advice arise?  I really do not know. It might be good to find out, so we can shoot down the information right at the source.  But how many others have been misled, how many others are (still) passing on erroneous advice?

A known unknown.

(Coincidentally, I have just looked at the advice on citation and referencing in a new book published to provide guidance to the IB’s Extended Essay curriculum for first examination in 2018. The author uses APA to illustrate ways of citing and referencing different kinds of source material.  The text is riddled with errors, some in the formatting of the references, some in his explanation of how to cite in the text. [Scream.] I think APA is one of the easiest formal styles to learn and use, easier even than MLA, and this book can only confuse. [Ouch.] Caveat emptor.)


Stengel, R.  (2008, July 9). Mandela: His 8 lessons of leadership. Time. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1821659,00.html



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. 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

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

What’s common about common knowledge?

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A participant in a recent workshop had a cautionary tale to tell: one of her school’s brightest students, one who scored 40 points in her IB examinations (out of a maximum 42 for the six subjects), had been found guilty of plagiarism in her extended essay. This merited a straight Fail for the essay and that meant she could not receive a diploma (normally awarded to students scoring 24 or more points, with at least a D in Extended essay and Theory of knowledge).

During the investigation, the student accepted that she had not provided a citation for the passage which had been questioned – and declared that, as it was common knowledge, there was no need to cite it. Without seeing the essay and the passage in question, it is not possible to comment on the merit of this claim or to decide whether the examiner and the Awards Committee were over-harsh – or if they were perfectly justified in their decision.

It is a salutary reminder. I always advise classes and workshops of the five golden rules of citation: Continue reading