Consistently inconsistent?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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.

Names will never hurt me (perhaps)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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:

Bibliography: An alphabetical list of every source used to research the project.

List of references: An alphabetical list of only those sources that are cited in the presentation or report.

That strikes me as simple, easy to follow, easy to distinguish between the two kinds of list.

So why, I ask myself, is the definition used in the Extended Essay Guide so difficult – and saying (perhaps) the almost exact opposite?

We read:

A bibliography is an alphabetical list of every source used to research and write the essay.

and we read:

The bibliography must list only those sources cited.

And in between those two directly contradictory statements is the advice:

Sources that are not cited in the body of the essay but were important in informing the approach taken should be cited in the introduction or in an acknowledgment.

For IB MYP students, a bibliography includes all sources, whether cited or not.
For IB DP students, a bibliography includes only the sources which are cited in the text.

It is as confusing as the advice in the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed) which, as I noted in my last post Bibliographical footnote, uses the term “Bibliography” to refer both to a list which includes only the works cited in the text (on the one hand) and also a list which includes works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text (on the other hand) (CMOS17, section 14.64, note 1).

APA6 is almost as confusing in that it advises writers to:

Choose references judiciously and include only the sources that you used in the research and preparation of the article. APA journals and other journals using APA style generally require reference lists, not bibliographies … Because a reference list includes only references that document the article and provide recoverable data, do not include in the list personal communications, such as letters, memoranda, and informal electronic communications. Instead, cite personal communications only in the text (page 180).

This appears first to suggest that all materials used in the research are included in the list of References but then says that the reference list is not a bibliography – which a footnote tells us “cites works for background or for further reading” whereas the reference list “cites works that specifically support a particular article.”

APA’s preference for non-retrievable data to be cited in the text but not included in the list of references may be sensible for readers of journals published by the American Psychological Association (APA) but should be disregarded by writers of IB assessments; IB wants that

citation <<< >>> reference

linkage (and failure to comply could lead to loss of marks and/or referral to the Awards Committee as a case of potential academic misconduct).

For sanity’s sake, my sanity, MLA8 makes clear distinction, worth adapting and/or adopting:

The list titled “Works Cited” identifies the sources you borrow from – and therefore cite – in the body of your research project. Works that you consult during your research but do not borrow from are not included (if you want to document them as well and your instructor approves their inclusion, give the list a broader title such as “Works Consulted”) (page 20).

What all this adds up to (for those in IB schools) is that

1: we must be very clear in our use of these terms – don’t assume that our students have the same understanding that we do;

2: when IB requirements contradict the suggestions in style guides, we should ignore the style guide and give IB what IB is looking for.

 

 

Bibliographical footnote

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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 that unless otherwise required by specific courses and departments, UB’s default referencing style is Harvard – and References is the name given to their list of references in their Harvard Referencing Guidelines for Students. It could be all to easy to think this is The-Right-Way-And-Perhaps-The-Only-Way to title the list of references that comes at the end of an article or paper.

In double-checking my thoughts about Harvard’s widespread use across UK, I came across a FAQ in the Bath Spa University guide BSU Harvard Referencing System which contrasts with Turabian’s unhelpful advice (as detailed in None too sweet), that the term “Bibliography” can refer not only to a list which includes only the works cited in the text but also a list which includes both works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text. *

What is the difference between a bibliography and a reference list?
Technically, a bibliography lists all the sources of information you have accessed in the course of your study about the topic, while a reference list will only list the sources you actually refer to in your in-text citations. HOWEVER…it is common for people to use the term ‘bibliography’ when they really mean a reference list. Check with your tutor if you are unsure whether to include sources in the reference list that you have not explicitly referred to using an in-text citation.

So there we are. The most helpful advice then, be aware that the term “bibliography” may cause confusion, so be clear what you mean when you use the term, be sure that your reader/ listener has the same understanding and, if assessment and grades are involved, seek clarification.

* I have since confirmed that the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, on which Turabian’s manual is based, uses the term “Bibliography” in its bibliography-notes style to refer not only to a list which includes only the works cited in the text (on the one hand) but also for a list which includes both works cited in the text and also works which have been used but have not been cited in the text (on the other hand) (see CMOS17, section 14.64, note 1).

 

A gift that kept on giving…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

“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?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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, ……”

or

“‘……’ (Singh 2014)”

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

Michaels, J., & P. Brown….

or

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?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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 …

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

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

Nice like you, Ivi … Part 2

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share Button

In part 1 of this post, I related the background to this quest, trying to find the meaning of Ivi, when used in a footnote.  I did not know, and my searches were unsuccessful.

In her letter, Ruth had pointed to “Kennedy and Macmillan by Dr. Marco Soddu;” this was the source that her student wanted to use. She wanted to quote a quotation used in the paper, a quotation footnoted as Ivi. page. but who was Ivi?  Did this have the same meaning as Ibid, same source as the immediately previous citation but on a different page?

It took just a few seconds to find the paper.  It is published online in Foreign Policy Journal, and in several formats, Continue reading