Learning the various rules to citing work can be daunting, though necessary. In my studies I have encountered three different citation methods: American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and Modern Language Association (MLA). Each varies from each other. While, I find APA and MLA to be close in style there are subtle, yet important, differences. And, CMS is a beast of its own variety. Often tutors expect us to understand these variations in style; and to apply them appropriately to our papers without their assistance. This can be a frustrating experience for students. Especially when we lose marks on papers for incorrectly using them; or get accused of plagiarism because of sources incorrectly cited.
In junior courses I have found that tutors will assist me in understanding the citation methods. But once I am in intermediate or senior level courses they expect me to know how to use the citation method they want without instruction or be able to discern which citation method would best fit my paper. When I was first told that I should know how to use the citation method and that they were unwilling to teach it to me, I was frustrated. As time has progressed though I have come to understand why this is. At this level we are expected to be able to use these citations as near second nature. The tutor is there to teach us the course material; not how to cite our paper which is something we should have learned by now. I was used to dealing mainly in APA and MLA styles of citation when, in a senior level course, I was given CMS. I was given minimal directions on how to use it?I was just expected to know-or be able to figure it out for myself. And I did?with the help of friends who had graduated programs which predominately used CMS for citation. Learning CMS was when it became clear to me why tutors do not “teach” us these styles, there is information readily available online and in style guides (which I now own, one for each of these styles.)
Learning how to properly cite our papers is an important part of our education. Giving credit where credit is due is a must. Regardless of the paper or which style I am using, I have made it a habit to check my style guide and citations before submitting my assignment; because, as soon as I think I do not need to, I will create a Frankenstein-monster of APA and MLA.
Is it fair for the tutors to expect us to be able to use various citation styles without their help? To deduct marks for improper citations? I don’t claim to be able to answer those questions, though for myself I can understand why they take the stand they do. I understand why they believe we should know how to, or how to figure it out. But, is it fair? Should the tutors tell us they will not help? Most of the time I have found that when asked I get more than a simple, “you should know this by now” but also a “here is a link if you need some help.” Tutors are there to help with the course material, not things which we should have learned about in junior level courses. This, I have found, goes for more than proper citation but also for grammar errors and punctuation issues. The tutor will point out the problem but it is up to us to remedy it.
The Student study manuals tell us that plagiarism, intentional or not, is a serious offence. Non-intentional plagiarism is improper citation, lacking citation, or simply missing citations. It is important for everyone to be familiar with the citation styles they will use. Checking citations is something which should be part of the final edit of a paper. One resource, which has been incredibly helpful, is the Owl Purdue website, it is a great tool to both learn and to refresh the details of each style.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature