Has “correct” citation practice become an unnecessary obsession in university courses?

A provocative article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Citation Obsession? Get Over It!” asserts that the academy’s preoccupation with correct citation practices inhibits our ability to help students understand the reasons behind the practice.

An excerpt:

“What I advocate here is not to dispense with teaching students how to use sources but rather to abandon our fixation on the form rather than the function of source attribution…Professors’ overattention to flawless citation (or grammar) creates predictable results: Students expend a disproportionate amount of precious time and attention trying to avoid making mistakes. Soon, they also begin to associate “good” writing with mechanically following rules rather than developing good ideas.”

Mention is made of research by the Citation Project which seems to corroborate the author’s assertions.  Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson blame “plagiarism hysteria,” which compels teachers to punish improper citation more than reward students’ effective use of sources’ words and ideas.

What do you think of this article?  Do we focus too much on commas, colons and periods and not enough on the “why’s” behind citing sources?

2 thoughts on “Has “correct” citation practice become an unnecessary obsession in university courses?

  1. Wow – writing centres “stink of fear” because of the demands of APA, MLA, etc? Reference desks are so overwhelmed by requests for citation help we can’t answer other questions? Professors suffer from “citation psychosis”? Come on!

    And in an article on citation, couldn’t the author, Kurt Schick, have made better reference to the statement of the Citation Project researchers? I’ve rooted around on the site (admittedly not a comprehensive search), and can’t find the researchers using the phrase “citation hysteria” anywhere. I also think he’s distorted or misused the researchers’ work. I don’t see them anywhere blaming the way students use sources on an “obsession with citation formatting”.

    So sorry, I find the author’s claims exaggerated and overblown and therefore irritating, though I also suspect there’s a kernel of truth in them somewhere. My big takeaway from the article is the Citation Project site – interesting and useful and worth taking a look at. And at the Project Information Literacy site.

  2. Sorry, can’t edit my previous comment. That last sentence was supposed to read “And here are the two researchers being interviewed at the Project Information Literacy site.”

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