APA mythtakes

Print Friendly
Share Button

We don’t take note of non-coincidences, do we? It’s different when two similar events happen close to each other. Wow! we say, what are the chances of that happening twice in the same day? Coincidences stick in the mind, single events do not stick so readily. (This one stuck so solidly that it pushed me into blogging again.)

A recent EasyBib blog post was one half of such a coincidence. Michele Kirschenbaum’s blog post Video Lesson: In-Text Citations had upset me on two counts. Although published on 29 September 2017, my Google Alert did not pick it up until last week.

Count #1: the video gives the impression that in-text citations and parenthetical citations are one and the same

This impression is confirmed in the text of the blog where we read “We think this video, which provides an introduction to in-text, or parenthetical citations, is a great addition to your classroom resources.”

Me, I don’t think it such a great addition, not least because parenthetical citations are one kind of in-text citation, but not the only kind.

Other kinds are available, not least when the citation starts the sentence as against finishing it as a parenthetical after-thought.

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

is surely a more powerful statement than

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A page later, section 6.04 Paraphrasing Material, we read

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

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

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

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

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

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

A known unknown.

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


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



Of honesty and integrity

Print Friendly
Share Button

One of my favourite classroom and workshop activities is a “Do I need to cite this?” quiz. Those taking the test are presented with a number of situations and asked to choose between “Cite the source/s” and “No need to cite the source/s.” *

I like to do this using Survey Monkey – other polling applications will do just as well. It means that I can home in on any situation in which there is divided opinion, or which many respondents are getting wrong. There is no need to go through each situation one at a time if there are just two or three situations which need to be discussed.

Much of the time, the answers are clear: the situation is academic (a piece of work submitted for assessment) so should demand academic honesty, and most students and other participants get it right.

Some of the situations are less clear and lend themselves to discussion, considerations of common knowledge, learned expertise, copyright, credibility and reputation, honesty (as against academic honesty) and integrity.

One situation, for instance, presents Continue reading

In other words…

Print Friendly
Share Button

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

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

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

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

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

Zero credibility

Print Friendly
Share Button

BBC News today carries the story of Mariam Malak, The star pupil who scored zero in all her exams.

It seems that Mariam expected to score highly in Egypt’s high-school graduation exams. She had such a good record that she, her family, her school expected her to be among the country’s top-scoring students. She expected, and was expected, to score well enough to make it to medical school.

Instead of which, she managed to score a zero in all seven exams. It is pretty difficult to score a zero in one exam, never mind seven. According to the BBC report, “To get the minimum possible score, a pupil must more or less leave the paper blank.”

First thoughts, evidently, were that she had been discriminated against because she is a Coptic Christian in a Muslim country. Then corruption was suspected; now it seems likely that Mariam’s papers were switched with someone else’s papers, someone who had written out the questions – but nothing else. This seemed especially likely when a handwriting test showed that Continue reading

Nothing to fear

Print Friendly
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
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

Not such a bad idea?

Print Friendly
Share Button

It’s a convoluted story.

First, a memorandum was leaked (shortly before the recent UK general election) which was apparently an account of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon saying, in private conversation, that she would prefer that David Cameron won the election and stayed on as Prime Minister, rather than Ed Miliband, the then leader of the Opposition.

Given that SNP and Miliband’s Labour party have much in common – especially in their joint opposition to Cameron’s Conservative party – and they seemed to be natural allies, and given that there had been much scare-mongering about the stranglehold which the SNP would have if Labour won the election, this was a hugely damaging allegation. It was damaging for the SNP as well as for Miliband’s party.

Sturgeon denied making the comment.

Then it was announced that the leak had been authorised by Alistair Carmichael, a Lib-Dem member of Cameron’s coalition government.

Carmichael denied authorising the leak.

Since the election, which the Conservative party unexpectedly won handsomely, there has been a Cabinet inquiry into the leak of the memorandum. It seems that Carmichael did Continue reading

Not just honesty

Print Friendly
Share Button

I am loathe to accuse anyone of plagiarism, especially a fellow-professional, but sometimes it is a close call.

In the case of the two sites I am looking at in this post, it is a very close call. In one case, it’s not a call, it’s a shriek.

I have mentioned my alert before, my Google alert for the phrase “every written assignment they complete” (see Thirty percent).

My alert came up with two hits today. One was a Prezi with the title “Effective Research and Avoiding Plagiarism” and the other is a blog, “How to avoid plagiarism…“.   If my suspicions are correct, Continue reading


Print Friendly
Share Button

Last night I sat through two webcasts promoted as part of Plagiarism Education Week, promoted and hosted by Turnitin. One of the two webcasts was, I thought, spot-on, encouraging, helpful. The other was … disappointing.

In Tweets from the French Revolution? Using What Students Know to Promote Original Work and Critical Thinking, one of the speakers described a research study he had conducted.  For the first part of the study, 20 adult English learners were given an assignment : write an essay on a historical event or figure. After they had written their essays, the adults were asked two questions: (1) had they found the assignment difficult? and (2) had the assignment helped develop their critical thinking skills?

Most declared they had found the assignment easy, and most said that it had not required critical thinking.  Meanwhile, a check revealed that every single student had plagiarized. Let’s make that Continue reading

A Matter of Definition

Print Friendly
Share Button

In my last post, I admitted to uncertainty with regard to Jane Goodall’s unattributed use of other people’s words and thoughts: is it fair to call this plagiarism, when the faulty passages were discovered and corrections made before the book was actually published?

The situation is more complicated in that Goodall’s poor note-making and attribution practices were uncovered by a reviewer for a national newspaper, not by Goodall, not by her co-author, not by her publishers. It is the fact of pre-publication that gives me pause. It doesn’t help, though it might, if we were told if the reviewer was reading a galley proof or a pre-publication copy, or if it was the final printed hardback that he was reading. The revelation was made 4 months before the expected publication date, so it may well have been a review/proof copy.

I am inclined to think that would make a difference.  I think of schools in which Continue reading