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



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

When you get wrong answers to the wrong questions…

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There has been a bit of a splash in the last few days, publicity regarding a study of Turnitin by Susan Schorn of the University of Texas.

iSchoolGuide, for instance, splashed an item by Sara Guaglione: University Of Texas At Austin Writing Coordinator Susan E. Schorn Finds Turnitin Software Misses 39 Percent Of Plagiarized Sources, and EducationDive posts a similar take on the story, this by  Tara García Mathewson, Plagiarism detection software often ineffective.

There is not a lot new here, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective.

Both articles are based on a post in InsideHigherEd by Carl Straumsheim, What Is Detected? worth reading, for its content and for the comments it has generated. Again, not a lot new, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective (as are other so-called plagiarism detectors, it is not just Turnitin which is problematic).

Straumsheim goes further (than Guaglione and Mathewson), pointing to Turnitin’s propensity to assign false negatives Continue reading

Isn’t it ironic?*

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Congratulations, the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad.  According to The News International (27 March 2015), the university has won a Turnitin Academic Integrity Award.


It is the third paragraph which catches the eye. It reads:



Turnitin claims to be the global leader in evaluating and improving student writing. The company’s cloud-based service for originality checking, online grading and peer review saves instructors time and provides rich feedback to students. One of the most widely distributed educational applications in the world, Turnitin and Ephorus is used  by more than 15,000 institutions in 140 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of scholarly work online.

Now, this seems so very similar to Turnitin’s description Continue reading

How much plagiarism? (revisited)

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The Bangalore Mirror today publishes a report:  Ctrl-C-Ctrl-V, but only up to 25%, VTU tells its PhD students, with the sub-heading

After installing new anti-plagiarism software to sniff out borrowed material, the technology varsity has realistically left some room for ‘permissible lifting’.”

It seems that students have been turning in their PhD theses with more than 50% “borrowed” material.

A VTU official said the new plagiarism software aims to inculcate in students respect for academic integrity and discipline, even as it identifies acts of dishonesty.

To restore credibility to the University’s degrees, and (as stated in the article) “to inculcate in students respect for academic integrity and discipline, even as it identifies acts of dishonesty,” the amount of allowable plagiarism is to be capped at Continue reading

WriteCheck gets it wrong (again)

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The latest entry on the WriteCheck blog, 3 Ways to Avoid Plagiarism – Summary, Paraphrase and Quote includes a teaching video and the transcript of the spoken text.

It’s an interesting piece; I’m not sure how useful the video would be as a teaching tool or as a learning tool. There are too many holes in it.

Again and again, in the video and in the text, we are told:

Avoiding plagiarism is pretty simple because there are only 3 ways to borrow information, so you only need to know the requirements for these three techniques, and you should have it.  The three ways to save yourself from plagiarizing are summary, paraphrase and quote.

And that’s just plain wrong. Continue reading