APA mythtakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

is surely a more powerful statement than

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A page later, section 6.04 Paraphrasing Material, we read

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

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

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

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

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

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

A known unknown.

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


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



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


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The general rules are clear: “if it’s not yours, you cite it” and “if you’re not sure whether or not to cite it, cite it.”

Most, but not all, documentation style guides include the rule, “if you cite it in the text, then you must reference it (usually at the end of the article, paper, chapter, book), and if you have a reference (at the end), then you need a citation in the text.” Put simply:

citation <> reference <> citation

There are exceptions to every rule, and documentation is no exception Continue reading

Imagine… (another flawed study)

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The problem with plagiarism, as with any activity that those who indulge prefer to keep secret, is that we don’t know how prevalent it is, so we can’t say how effective are the measures we take to prevent or detect occurrences, or whether what we do really does make a difference.

Turnitin, probably the most well-known of the various online text-matching services (aka plagiarism checkers or plagiarism detectors), tries – possibly needs – to have it both ways.  They try to show that more and more students at all levels of education are plagiarising, so schools need to buy their detection services, and they also try to show that schools which use their services have reduced levels of plagiarism. Continue reading

Thirty percent

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I use the Google Alert feature to be made aware of new web pages which include terms I regularly search for. It saves me having to remember to repeat my favourite searches, and it pinpoints new or changed pages.

I thought the feature had gone berserk the other day. My alert for “every written assignment they complete” usually gives me just one or two hits a week.  This week’s digest gave me forty hits. Continue reading

To link or not to link?

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Mathew Ingram raises an interesting question in his paidContent blog: is linking to a post or page from which one is quoting sufficient to avoid charges of plagiarism, or is more needed by way of attribution?

What makes the question even more interesting is that it is based on an article recently posted in The Atlantic.  It seems that the links in the original story were lost Continue reading