SIP 6.11 Teaching Source Documentation

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Citing Sources

Many faculty mistakenly believe that by the time students get to college, they should know how to cite sources. Or, they may figure that since students in their classes have taken ENG 1020, they already know how to cite sources. Both of these assumptions are faulty and can lead to unnecessary frustration on the part of the faculty and confusion on the part of the student.

Take a SIP of This: Teaching Source Documentation

Citing sources effectively is a very complex activity and cannot be fully learned in high school or a one-semester college course, like ENG 1020. Instead, it makes more sense to think of effective source citation as something that students need constant exposure to and instruction in. If we think of source documentation as simply a bibliographic entry and an in-text citation, we actually overlook the subtleties of source selection and source integration. When we put all our attention into source documentation, we imply to students that the only reason to cite sources is to prove that they didn’t plagiarize. In fact, there are much better reasons for writers to cite sources, such as to give a nod to the people who have shaped our thinking on a topic, to indicate which conversation we are participating in, and to help our readers track down our sources so they can join the conversation.

Here are some things you can do to help students grasp the complexity of source documentation:

  • Don’t assume that students already know how to use or cite sources. Even if they tell you they do, research by Diana Stout (2013) and Lori Power (2009) suggests that they know much less than you (and they) think they do.
  • Discuss with students the multiple reasons we cite sources. Talk about your own writing and source citations and the functions they serve. Be explicit about what you as a reader expect in terms of source citation in the articles you read and why. Then connect this to your expectations for source citation from your students.
  • Help students understand that different source citation systems exist because they reflect different disciplinary values. Explain how the particular source citation format you require reflects your discipline’s values. For example, if your field uses APA format, explain why the date of publication is so important to readers in your field; and if your field uses MLA format, explain why the date of publication is less important.
  • Instead of simply telling students to cite sources or pointing them toward format guides, engage them in a discussion of how sources are cited in some of the readings for your course and how those citations direct their attention or shape their opinion of the author. Using the readings you assign as models of source citation can help students understand source citation in a disciplinary context.

· Engage multiple learning preferences by providing students with visual aids, such as color-coded format guides, and hands-on activities for practice, such as online games and citation puzzles.

· Give students feedback on their source citations that goes beyond correcting the format of their in-text citations or bibliographic entries to demonstrate that you value the citation for how it frames the source being referred to. When a source citation is missing, give feedback that helps the student understand how this confuses you as a reader. · Remind students that the Writing Center can help them with source citation questions.

When we remember that citing sources effectively is a complex activity, we can be more patient with our students when they produce source documentation that we find lacking. As with any other concept we teach, we should provide scaffolding and opportunities for productive failure, along with supportive feedback.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Teaching Source Documentation

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