Monday, September 22, 2014

On Citations

The required text for our first year comp course, the one we all have to use, talks about citation.

Before I reveal what it says about citation, let me ask you all, hive-mind of the internet:  what is the primary purpose of citing texts.


Are there different purposes depending on who's writing?


Are there different purposes depending on what sort of text is being cited?

12 comments:

  1. Acknowledging the work of others, and providing evidence of your own credibility.

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  2. In my field, building on the work of others and putting your own work into context of what we already know.

    I'm teaching a grad class this semester and had the weirdest conversation about their term papers-- they were asking me, "How many cites do we need to put in? 20?" I was like... what? You need to get the appropriate number of citations that comes from doing a thorough literature review. Not some arbitrary number. But apparently that's how they do it in undergrad. They also had a really hard time telling what was an appropriate citation from what wasn't, which is truly a failure of undergrad. You can't believe everything that you read, even if it was published. Especially if it was published in a no-name journal back in 1982.

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  3. I would say there are two primary purposes of more or less equal importance: 1) Giving appropriate credit to the authors of those texts; and 2) Enabling readers to track down your sources for themselves. (Establishing your own credibility is a distant third, although it can be useful for explaining to students how the citation process benefits them as authors. But the really important reasons are all about extending the proper courtesies to other members of the scholarly community -- those whose work you have built on, and those who might someday want to build on yours.)

    Of course, from the students' perspective, the primary purpose of citing texts is not getting hauled before the academic standards board for plagiarism, which is also a fine incentive...

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  4. I really like this video of a historian explaining the value of citations/citing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qACRItfpMWI

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  5. As I teach citation, it's to provide evidence for your claims, and to allow your readers to track down that evidence for themselves and evaluate it as evidence supporting your claim; and then, finally, to provide credibility for you -- to support your ethos.

    And yes, that last is a distance third.

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  6. (Also, as a grown-up, citing is a way of influencing who reviews your paper...)

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  7. My stock explanation to students comes pretty close to Porpentine's. I then attempt, in the junior-level writing-in-the-disciplines course I most often teach, to begin getting students to think about using citation as a tool to describe and join a disciplinary conversation, and to convey one's own sense of which among a number of sources that could plausibly described as "credible" (scholarly, peer-reviewed, reasonably recent if you're in a field where currency is a major determinant of value) has the most plausible and/or relevant findings, and why. In practical terms, I push them toward making much more use of signal phrases, and proportionately less use of parenthetical citations (while still making it clear where cited information ends).

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  8. I would agree with Porpentine. Giving credit, and allowing people to track your references. I'm really aware too, that when I read, footnotes (because history still is a footnote discipline) locate a wider discussion around ideas.

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  9. (the other Susan here!). I think the citing is all about credibility, actually, and I'm puzzled that so many of you have it a distant third--although I wonder whether what I mean by "citation" or "credibility" might be a little off. By citation, I'm thinking of any kind of reference to the source of information, and not the information itself--so I don't see the citation itself as fully providing evidence. I think the citation tells me that the writer is informed; that the writer is identifying sources of data and/or influence; that the writer understands what data/influence/sources are in use. For undergrads, the explanation that it lets people track down your sources seems unmotivating (since the only people who track down sources are professors looking to check out possible plagiarism! Although yes, in my professional work, I use citations to locate sources. For undergraduates, though, I emphasize the showing-that-you-did-the-work-thoughtfully-carefully-and-well side.

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  10. Like the last Susan, I think that citation gives credibility to one's argument and shows that you are aware of the conversation going on outside of your paper. You want to enter that conversation and leave your mark upon it, and maybe complicate it a bit. But also, the interested reader can learn more by looking at your bibliography, going to those sources, and reading them for herself. Undergrads have no idea what "lit review" means, in my experience. They mainly shove in quotes inelegantly and hope that they've fooled you into thinking they have done "enough" research, whatever that means.

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  11. Thanks, All, I found this discussion really helpful. I think I'll be able to help my students understand the different reasons we cite and want them to cite now.

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  12. Anonymous11:16 PM

    I tell my students that the author is daring the reader to check up the information. The footnote asserts: "My information is solid. You doubt my accuracy? You don't believe me? Go check for yourself! I dare you! I double DOG dare you!" The imagined confrontation adds a little drama to what would otherwise be a rather boring side to academic writing, but it also helps students understand that the particular format of the citation is not so important: what really matters is whether or not the reader can take the dare.

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