30 minute citation class

Attribution chart from Austin Kleon's new book Show Your Work.

Attribution chart from Austin Kleon’s new book Show Your Work.

Here’s the outline for the citation class I was having trouble wrapping around my head. It is based on this idea from Iris Jastrom. This little workshop was at the request of a 300-level Canadian Studies class that wanted me to cover MLA and APA citation. I prepped handout packets for small groups to examine in the activity. I used one each of book, journal, and newspaper in order to bring up more questions of what kind of information is valuable to a citation. The class lasted about 25-30 minutes.

Citation has many goals. Avoiding plagiarism is only one of these goals and the least interesting reason to cite. These goals have to do with the fact that writing is inherently communicative, and communication happens primarily within a community of inquiry (a group of people interested in and questioning the same kinds of things).

Why do we cite? Here students brainstorm ideas that I type up on a blank Powerpoint slide for why we cite which can include but are not limited to:
  • to share information
  • to join a scholarly conversation.
  • to reflect the careful work you have put into locating and exploring your sources
  • to help readers understand the context of your argument
  • to help people who may share interests find more information
  • to give credit to the authors and ideas that have inspired your work
  • to illustrate your own learning process
  • to participate in your community of inquiry
There are three interlinked rules that all citation styles strive for:
  • Rule of Least Confusion (get your readers to exactly what you want them to see)
  • Rule of Brevity (Accomplish the first rule as succinctly as possible)
  • Rule of Readability (Think of it like a code.)
EXERCISE: Working in groups, look at these three articles and build your own citation style that fulfills the three rules of citation and that reflects the values of the “community of inquiry” that is your class. Report back what you decided to include, exclude, and why. Questions to consider: What pieces of information does your community value? What pieces of information would you need to find these sources on your own?

Comparing MLA and APA
The pieces you choose to include reflect the things your community considers to be important. These things might be different depending on the kind of material we’re using. Can you tell which of these citations is a book and which is an article? Bonus points if you can tell me which citation style this is. How do you know? MLA is designed specifically for the humanities, such as languages and literature. You notice that the author’s full name is used and the date appears late in the citation. This style considers who wrote it and the title of the article to be the most important pieces of information. This is because most work in the humanities isn’t time sensitive and is focused instead on the people doing the work and their ideas. APA highlights authors and dates. It is used by the sciences where information is very time sensitive.  Consider a book on climate change from the 1970s or a computer instruction manual from the 1980s.

Where do I find help?
This is where I talk about the citation page on the library website, the books on permanent reserve, and the ability of the databases (if you’re looking for articles ) to cite automatically. I always give a caveat about the database citation feature because I regularly find errors in the citations they produce such as titles in caps lock or no spaces after periods. I tell students that the auto cite feature can help them get to a perfect citation but that they will just want to double check that everything looks standard before handing in their papers.

Thoughts
In the sense that the professor was very pleased, the class was quite successful. 30 minutes is a long time to hold attention on citation, and by the time I left class, the students were ready to move on. I think the exploratory activity was a great way to get students to consider a standard of academia that they probably had never examined before. This would probably work even better in a lower level class without such preconceived notions on that is “correct” in citation. I will probably tweak this again the next time I teach citation, but I’m glad to find an approach that satisfies my need to do something more than talk and wave my hands in class. I’d like to incorporate the attribution chart at the top of the post, too. It’s visual and neatly sums up everything.

3 thoughts on “30 minute citation class

  1. I love this outline of a citation class but it continues to focus on the end-goal of producing a correct citation whereas it seems to me it’s a sweet spot for pre-assessment of the source. Take a look at my columns called “Friction” to get a sense of what I’ve been noodling about, for example this one on “How do I cite a pdf?”
    http://www.librarymediaconnection.com/pdf/lmc/reviews_and_articles/featured_articles/Abilock_March_April2013.pdf

    • Meggan says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Debbie. I love the idea of points of friction for pre-assessment. It’s a constant balance to find the right point between instructor expectations and librarian expectations.

  2. varellano says:

    I ❤ that blog post from Iris Jastram and have modeled any citation teaching I do on her blog post. That graphic you use in your post is going in my file of images to use for the Fall!

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