Teaching Citations as Part of the Writing Process: Student Voices

by Lauren Fleming, undergraduate major in English

Why do students violate University academic integrity policies? As an English major, I began to wonder about the root of this campus-wide issue. I am often subject to the woes of my non-English-major-but-still-have-writing-assignments peers and have noticed one common denominator: interactions with quotations and citations.

Often, a conversation might go like this:

Friend: My professor gave me my assignment back and said the citations were wrong, but I am allowed fix them and give it back for a better grade. Can you show me what to do?

Me: Sure, what citation style do you use for that class? Did you go over that at all?

Friend: Citation style? I have no idea. No. I don’t even think about that until after I write what I need too, then I just add it in at the end. I’m not even sure what it does.

Me: *long, dejected exhale*

Instructors sometimes return assignments with poor grades for improperly formatted citations or problem quotations, some offering a regrade upon revision, others not. After all — whether we have taken English Composition courses or some equivalent — didn’t we already learn the basics of writing, including brainstorming topics, formulating a thesis, generating an outline, producing a draft, proofreading, and revising? Voilà! Final product. Or so we thought…

Students are misled by this common blueprint of the “writing process,” where instructors may clearly and thoroughly define their writing assignments, but rarely detail technicalities such as citation formatting. Often, instructors make the mistake of assuming student familiarity with their specific expectations (which often vary from professor to professor or discipline to discipline). The painstaking process of properly formatting quotations, citing information, and compiling a Works Cited page (or References page or Bibliography) should not be an afterthought to the main event, but rather an integrated part of writing.

Dry as it may be, teaching quoting and citing skills (and embedding them into your writing lessons, refreshers, and assignment instructions) is essential because it communicates to your students that citing and documenting sources are, in fact, important! Moreover, teaching students to correctly cite information and attribute credit where it’s due reduces student anxiety when it comes time to write, resulting in higher-quality, more honest work. That way, you can breathe a *short sigh of relief* when receiving assignments back.

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