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.

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 Continue reading

Names will never hurt me (perhaps)

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I am halfway through my next article but just had to come back to the theme of my last few posts, confusing terminology.

A post today on Int’l School Library Connection, a FaceBook group, asked whether and how IB MYP students writing their Personal Projects can include sources they have read but have not cited in their Projects.

Yes they can, and the advice is to include both a list of Works Cited (which includes a list of all the works cited in the text) and a separate Bibliography (comprising a list of all works used to inform the project).

In the course of the conversation, I looked up the MYP Projects Guide (March 2018 edition) which makes a very clear distinction. In the Glossary (page 61), we see: Continue reading

Bibliographical footnote

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This is a follow up to my last post None too sweet. There I discussed different understandings of the term “bibliography” – I said inter alia that different understandings of what this word means can confuse students and other writers, and may even underlie some instances of unintended plagiarism.

A week later, catching up on my reading, I came across a review of Jason Puckett’s  Zotero: a guide for librarians, researchers and educators by Keith Daniels in CILIP’s Information Professional (October 2018). My eye was caught by a paragraph which reads:

Published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, the book does have an American slant, using the terms “bibliography” to encompass what UK-based students and educators would usually refer to as “references” and teaching staff as “professors”.

It seems a curious point to pick up on in a short review, the use of “bibliography” instead of “references.”  But, given my background in international education, perhaps I have become less aware of such distinctions, or maybe more aware of different and other terms in different style guides and/or in different countries.

Is “references” a British usage?  Maybe.  Many British universities use varieties of Harvard.  Although there is no single definitive version of Harvard (as detailed in the three-part-post Harvard on my mind), they all use the term “References.”     Certainly, this is so at the University of Bedfordshire, the stated affiliation of Keith Daniels, the author of the review. The University’s page Using the correct referencing system suggests 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

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

Yes and No – footnotes

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A question that comes up regularly in the forums is, “We use MLA; can we use this style with footnotes?”

I think there are two answers to this. The first is “No, you can’t.” The second is, “Yes you can.”

Before I explain my thinking, I will just add that the reason most frequently given for wanting to use MLA and footnotes is “the word count.” If the citation is in a footnote and footnotes aren’t counted in the word count, then the rationale is that using footnotes will save words. This could be crucial in, for instance, an IB Extended Essay.

Q:  Can we use MLA style and footnotes?
A:  No, you can’t.

MLA, the student-level style guide of the Modern Language Association as published in the MLA Handbook, recommended the use of footnotes in the 1st edition, published in 1977;  in the 2nd edition, published in 1984, MLA stated a preference for citation in the text. (This piece of history is gleaned from page xi of the 8th edition, published in 2016.)

The 6th edition (2003) noted that some disciplines using MLA still used “endnotes or footnotes to document sources,” and gave a few examples in an appendix (298 ff). The only recommendation regarding footnotes in the 7th edition (2009) was that 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

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

Language and labels

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Different people have different understandings of the terms “citation” and “reference.” This can – and does – cause confusion. In my classes and workshops, I usually start discussion of use of other people’s work by stating how I use and will be using these terms, following the International Baccalaureate (IB)’s use of them. In brief:

  • citations are the short notes which go in the text, as part of the text or in parentheses;
  • references are the full bibliographic information which goes in the list at the end.

If we all have the same understanding of the terms, we are nearer being sure that we are talking about the same things.

There is much to suggest that many students go through secondary school and enter university believing that they understand how to document their use of source material correctly and appropriately, when all they have learned and practised is making an alphabetical list of sources at the end of their work. When told they need to cite their sources, 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

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

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

Lighten the load

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At a recent in-school workshop, one of the year 11 students put up her hand and asked, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”

Good question – but maybe a sad question as well.

This student seemed to have the wrong understanding. The question suggests that she sees citation and referencing as an empty chore, a hoop to be jumped through, some kind of torture that teachers enjoy inflicting on students, without point or purpose.

She did understand that citation – in-the-text indication that words or ideas or data or information does not originate with the writer, along with quotation marks or markers as and if necessary – demonstrates honesty and integrity (as discussed in Nothing to fear).

But she seems not to have understood – yet – that or how referencing adds to one’s writing, enhances it. Referencing shows that the writer is ready to take part in conversation Continue reading

Nothing to fear

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A colleague recently told me of a teacher in her school who seems paranoid about students making mistakes in their referencing. He hounds them. Commas, UPPER and lower case, shape of brackets and parentheses, order of elements, everything – everything must be as per style guide, lest they be accused of academic dishonesty. Tortuous exercises, harangues, endless tests, mini-style guides, all coupled with careful, minute checking of every piece of work and submission to Turnitin to boot … for fear of plagiarism.

The students, it seems, are so scared of making mistakes that their writing is sometimes forced, their thinking is blunted. Many of them spend more time on getting the references right than they spend reading and writing. A few, it seems, prefer not to read or to use other people’s work at all – it saves the bother of referencing (and limits their awarenesses in other ways?).

It’s a shame and a disservice. It is wrong. It is wrong, not least because Continue reading

Somewhere, over the spectrum …

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Shades of grey?

It is tempting to think of plagiarism in terms of black-and-white, either a writer has committed plagiarism – or s/he hasn’t.

There are plenty of grey areas, of course, especially when considering paraphrases or summaries, or the grey areas of common knowledge or of self-plagiarism (duplication of work). But by and large, plagiarism is clear-cut: a piece of work which appears to be the work of the present writer but which lack the indicators that show that this is the words, work or ideas of somebody else, that is plagiarism. Probably. Possibly.

Issues such as intent and extent might be of consideration when determining the consequences, but those are other issues, it is plagiarism or it isn’t. Cases in which plagiarism is suspected but cannot be proven will (usually, in education situations) be given the benefit of the doubt: it isn’t plagiarism. It is clear-cut, black-and-white.

Black-and-white. If the signals are not there, signals that indicate that these are someone else’s exact words, or the citation which indicates that these are someone else’s words or ideas, and it can be shown that the words or ideas originated elsewhere, it’s plagiarism.

Black-and-white (and shades of grey).  It is or it isn’t.

I often use Jude Carroll’s “Where do you draw the line?” activity* in workshops (with permission, of course). Carroll gives us six situations, six descriptions of work starting with no attribution or signal or bibliographical reference, and then increasingly more information is included in each scenario. Example 1 is clearly plagiarism, example 6 is clearly good practice, and, as this is a continuum, we can draw a line: that example would be considered as plagiarism, the next example is not plagiarism. Where do we draw the line?

This is a useful activity. I have often found that, even though plagiarism is a matter of black and white, teachers often draw that line in different places. Some draw their line too low, and would accept work which other teachers would rate as plagiarism – and, sometimes, some draw the line too high, and would refuse work which most would rate as acceptable.  Students too. We all know what plagiarism is – except that we don’t all agree. More grey than black-and-white?

Definitions are not always clear either, and the terms used to describe plagiarism or to explain good practice are frequently confused and confusing. Examples are often inconsistent and advice given is frequently wrong. Worst might be those bodies which give examples and state, clearly, categorically and mistakenly, that this is the only way to cite and reference, and that anything else is unacceptable. The SQA muddle which I highlighted recently is a case in point.

The worst of that SQA mess was the guide for Advanced Higher Chemistry which states Continue reading

Less is more (in this case)

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An interesting post in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) Projects discussion forum on the OCC just recently: “if a student uses both MLA and APA throughout the report” would this be regarded as demonstrating “substantial research skills” (for middling marks) or “excellent research skills” (for top marks)?

My two penn’orth was that this was and is not good practice. While I could not comment on interpretation and application of criteria in an MYP assessment (since my experience is mainly with Diploma Programme (DP) students, several years older, and in any case I am not an examiner), good practice is the use of one recognised referencing style, not a mixture of two or more different styles. After some thought, I added that a DP examiner might look more closely at an essay which used two or more referencing styles, as this could be an indicator of plagiarism.

It is that afterthought which earned me a personal message – is it plagiarism to use a mix of citation or referencing styles?

My answer: No. It is not plagiarism to use several different styles, just as it is not plagiarism to make formatting mistakes in citation and referencing. If the writer signals that “this” is not her/his own and indicates direct quotation if direct quotation has been used, then it is not plagiarism. Formatting mistakes, including the use of different citation styles, are not plagiarism.

It’s the use of two different styles which might indicate less than original thought and suggest that further investigation might be necessary.  It might indicate Continue reading

Harvard on my mind – 2

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In Part 1 of this post, I looked at referencing style guides in general, and Harvard in particular. Unlike most referencing styles, Harvard does not have an authoritative published handbook or manual. As a result, many versions of Harvard exist and the opportunities for confusion are rife. In Part 2, we look at confusion writ large.

This investigation started when studying responses to a survey (on citation and referencing) conducted in a school in Scotland. Many teachers and many students commented that they were often confused, having to deal with too many referencing styles. That was odd. Although this school follows the curriculums and syllabi of three different examinations boards, IB, IGCSE, and SQA, the school promotes and uses just one referencing style.  Harvard.

And then the plot thickened.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)

Not all examinations boards publish detailed curriculum documentation or guidance on the open Internet.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority does.  Much SQA documentation is available.  It might be typical of other examinations boards, it might be totally untypical. But it is accessible – which is why it comes under the spotlight here. Continue reading

Harvard on my mind – 1

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Harvard does not exist.

The referencing style, I mean, not the University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The University exists.  Harvard, as a referencing style, does not.

Most referencing styles, certainly the most widely-used styles, do exist, in that there is one authorised version, sometimes with an authorised version-lite, an adapted version for use in schools and academia. There is a manual to which we can refer,

The Modern Language Association, for instance, publishes the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (in its 3rd edition as of 2008) for professional writers and for scholars and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition, 2009)  for universities, colleges and schools.

The American Psychological Association publishes the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition, 2010), designed primarily for writers submitting papers to APA journals, but adopted by schools and universities and other publishers too.

The University of Chicago Press first produced its own style manual in 1891 to ensure consistency of style in its publications; the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 16th Edition (2010).  Its offshoot for scholars at school and university, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations : Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, originally compiled by Kate Turabian, is in its 8th edition (2013).

So it is with many other styles. The publisher, university, association or other body responsible for the style guide usually publishes a definitive manual, and gives the manual its name. Continue reading

Citing sources makes you think…

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One reason I like an author-date style of citation and referencing is the date element: sometimes it is important to know just when a cited source was published. The standards and formality of academic referencing are not expected in non-academic settings such as blog posts or journalism or popular science – and perhaps, more’s the pity?

Regular readers will know my bugbear, that oft-quoted statement, “Recent studies indicate that approximately 30 percent of all students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they complete.”  Not only is this statement absolute balderdash not least because the claimed studies never existed, the repeated use of “recent” is an irritation in itself. As noted in an earlier post, Thirty percent, the claim was first made in 2001, and fourteen years hardly qualifies as “recent,” not when we are talking internet history. This particular claim is regularly attributed to Continue reading

Nice like you, Ivi … Part 3

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The story so far: I am trying to learn the meaning of Ivi when used in a footnote. The only instances found so far are in four papers written by Dr Marco Soddu, all published online in Foreign Policy Journal.  At least two of Soddu’s papers are academically dubious to the point of plagiarism – and beyond.

Meanwhile, We are no closer to working out what Ivi means or how it is used.  Now read on:

The search for Ivi

Ivi is used – at least, it is used by Marco Soddu, Continue reading