“Unraveling the Citation Trail,” Project Information Literacy Smart Talk, no. 8, Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard, The Citation Project, August 15, 2011.
The Citation Project is a product of two Composition PhD candidates that realized that student engagement with sources is often driven by their need for citations — and that’s it. We’ve all heard the anecdote about the student approaching the reference desk looking for sources for the paper they’ve already written, but the research behind the Citation Project provides some pretty solid evidence for the assumption that students aren’t doing so because of lack of skill development around being able to really “read” a source.
We’ve encountered faculty that are consistently focused on making sure their students don’t plagiarize. We’ve also encountered faculty that ask us to teach formatting citations. The research that the Citation Project has begun tries to expose the assumption that knowing what plagiarism is and how to cite is part and parcel of being able to engage deeply with a text and subsequently write a “source-based paper” that synthesizes elements from various sources.
They are on Phase I of their research currently, which is analyzing first-year composition papers for their selection of source, and ability to paraphrase and cite appropriately. The research began first with the question, “How often do students use summary, paraphrase, and patchwriting in their researched writing?” They published the preliminary results in their article, ” Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences“, and then continued to expand their research to other composition classes and campuses across the US.
[[Let me preface this summary of their data with this: they did not collect assignment descriptions for each of the paper’s submitted and thus made assumptions about why students cited certain sources (textbooks over scholarly articles). Their justification about why students use certain sources over others is less strong than the data they provide about how students use citations and their ability to engage with the text. Just sayin’. ]]
– Quick to label “underdeveloped writing” as plagiarism: the authors use the term “patchwriting” to describe the areas of student-written text where they tried to paraphrase but failed. This is an interesting added shade of gray to our normal students often don’t understand they are plagiarizing.
– Of the 1,300+ citations they reviewed, almost half are direct quotations, 16% were patch written, 32% are paraphrased and 6% were summarized. Because the authors place greater understanding of text through summarizing, this data is rather depressing:
” If your focus is on procedure and correct format, these papers are a great success. But if you look at this another way and remember that for most of us, “research” is about the discovery of new information and ideas, and the synthesis of those ideas into deeper understanding, the majority of the papers failed. Only 6% of the citations are to summarized material. It is in summary that writers demonstrate comprehension of the larger arguments of a text, working from ideas rather than sentences. And in the papers we studied, students are not doing that. Further, 46% of the citations are from the first page of the source in question. Yes, that really is 46%, and a full 70% come from somewhere in the first two pages (1,328 citations from a total of 1,911 that we coded). The majority of the sources are cited only once, and only a handful of the papers cite any source in a way that suggests the student was engaging with the entire text.”
– Focusing on plagiarism within the writing classroom/process stunts students ability to fully engage with sources and texts, in order to satisfy a requirement or follow specific assignment prompts. In addition they noted that students that do use texts outside of those required, often don’t understand how to weave them throughout a paper. Instead, they are often cited once in one paragraph and then forgotten.
– By teaching engagegment with sources, instructors are, de facto, working towards anti-plagiarism efforts, “Preventing plagiarism is a desired outcome of our research, but as an indirect result of students’ knowing how to work with source.”
– The authors recommend a few ways in which instructors can help integrate plagiarism prevention into their teaching:
- Teach students to read complex sources critically.
- Teach students, perhaps in conjunction with librarians, how to identify good sources and how to read a source citation so they know how to even begin to evaluate a source.
- Describe the purpose of the research process and model use of good sources, such as having students read essays that also cite.
- Work with students to be able to summarize extended pieces of text, not just be able to condense a few sentences into one or two.
- I really liked this approach and appreciated the statistics as talking points for working with faculty who ask their students to synthesize sources but don’t realize they likely haven’t been taught this before (and I’m going to take a leap here and assume that this isn’t just first-year students)
- I believe we had previously discussed the issue of citation analysis and some of it’s flaws because it doesn’t actually show the depth of engagement the student had with that source, just that it was likely evaluated at some point (hopefully). Combining citation analysis with summarizing might be an added way to contextualize the reasons for choosing that source and their ability to engage with it.
- I take issue with their understanding of “information literacy”. They note that students might choose web pages which were likely inappropriate for college-level papers. Assuming that a web page is inappropriate for a college-level paper is too easy a judgement to make.
- I had never heard of “patchwriting” before and really like this description as a way to describe “underdeveloped paraphrasing.”