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Documentation Style

Sometimes when grading papers, I marvel that students seem to lack knowledge of the basic mechanics of citation — for instance, that parenthetical references do not belong within the quotation marks, or that no documentation style calls for things such as “Inc.” or copyright dates (labeled as such). Problems with punctuation are also troublesome, such as some students’ apparent belief that literally every quotation, even one that comes mid-sentence and is thoroughly integrated into the sentence grammatically, must be introduced by a comma (as in “Kant argues that there is a, ‘transcendental unity of apperception’….”). To me, these types of things are second nature, and my first impulse is that they should be second nature to anyone with a college degree.

Then I reflect that not everyone spent three years in college as a TA in the English department with the primary duty of correcting documentation style and punctuation, as I in fact did. Through that process, I thoroughly internalized all the rules and witnessed every possible deviation from them. What’s more, I was actually paid to attain such fine-tuned knowledge. So perhaps I’m being too demanding when I want all students to be at a similar level.

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November 29, 2008 - Posted by | teaching

23 Comments

  1. «So /perhaps/ I’m being a bit too demanding when I want literally all students to be at a similar level.»

    No.

    Comment by Byzance | November 29, 2008

  2. Perhaps you should ponder your use of the word “literally”, in conjunction with “a bit”. You could have said “Perhaps I am being way too demanding when I want all students to be at a similar level.” And that might not have sounded so, you know, peckish, not to mention convoluted.

    Comment by Lloyd Mintern | November 29, 2008

  3. I’ve taken your advice to heart, Lloyd, though I wasn’t willing to go as far as “way too demanding.”

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 29, 2008

  4. I get:

    “Quotation”. (Citation) New sentence.

    Quite a bit. Yes – the citation is floating between two sentences. None of them, although nearly all of them do it, will tell me where they picked this habit up or the underlying logic to their decision.

    They won’t tell me who told them at ideology, opinion, perspective, view, theory, and idea (among others) all mean the same.

    Comment by Craig | November 29, 2008

  5. I get:

    “Quotation”. (Citation) New sentence.

    Quite a bit. Yes – the citation is floating between two sentences. None of them, although nearly all of them do it, will tell me where they picked this habit up or the underlying logic to their decision.

    They won’t tell me who told them at ideology, opinion, perspective, view, theory, and idea (among others) all mean the same.

    Comment by Craig | November 29, 2008

  6. What about the ellipsis at the beginning of every quotation? It’ll happen “…in this form” (Citation). I don’t know why they do that.

    Comment by johnston | November 29, 2008

  7. I have seen the exact same things as Craig and johnston, and I am just as baffled. Like with my comma example, it’s like someone told them a rule with absolutely no context or no idea of the reasoning behind it.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 29, 2008

  8. They often avoid the first person because someone – likely a high school English teacher – told them that it is improper. Consequently, I get “One” in the place of “I” or “my” or “me.” My marginal comment is usually something to the effect of, “Who is this ‘one’ you are speaking of? You?”. I also get the leading ellipsis, sometimes combined with a trailing ellipsis:

    One might say, “… quotation …”. (Citation) New sentence.

    And often in bibliographies I get references to the JStor or MUSE URL instead of the actual title of the article, journal and all that other relevant data.

    No idea what happened on the double-comment above.

    Comment by Craig | November 29, 2008

  9. Personally, I never felt that citation was properly covered in my undergraduate study. It was covered briefly in English I when we had to write an MLA paper and an APA paper. After that, other classes expected citation, but never really graded you down for using it improperly.

    If I were on the committee that decides general education requirements, I would propose a class with the sole purpose of teaching citation.

    Comment by dave | November 29, 2008

  10. Supposing your big career plans disappoint you, you could seriously have a career in publishing as an editor. I am not kidding or being malicious; Steve at Language Hat (which is, without exception and beyond any possibility of doubt, the best blog in any actual or possible world) went from grad school to editing.

    Comment by John Emerson | November 29, 2008

  11. Proper bibliographic citation was covered in (mandatory) freshman Comp. I imagine proper use of quotations within the text was as well, though I don’t specifically remember.

    I’d probably put more emphasis on the latter than the former, if I were to think in terms of general education requirements. Face it, most people with undergrad degrees don’t need to be able to cite properly, but they should be able to quote without looking like idiots.

    Comment by parsimon | November 29, 2008

  12. Thanks to BibTeX, I never learned how to cite things.

    I sometimes include trailing ellipses when I want to make it obvious that even though where I’ve cut the quotation off could be the end of a sentence, and is the end of my sentence, it isn’t in the original.

    Comment by ben wolfson | November 29, 2008

  13. The ideal situation is when we will all be able to communicate exactly what we wish by just saying “Bod”

    Comment by Amish Lovelock | November 30, 2008

  14. I thought I knew proper citation style until I got the proofs from the Journal of Religion. This is what happens when you study in Britain, where consistency seems to be the only rule.

    Comment by Brad | November 30, 2008

  15. And a reasonable rule it is.

    Comment by ben wolfson | November 30, 2008

  16. The biggest problem for me was being expected to learn a variety of different styles. Over the course of college, because I floated between many different departments and majors, I was required to use MLA, APA and Chicago (not to mention AP, which, while not a citation style, per se, also complicated things). I was taught citation style in several undergrad courses, but as Dave says, no one ever really marked citation errors after those first few classes. While I am sure I was more diligent about it than 90 percent of my classmates, I still did a great deal of guessing and assuming in my citations that was never corrected or marked wrong even if it was.

    Comment by The Girl | November 30, 2008

  17. Does anyone have examples of comparable boneheadedness among graduate students? When do they (we?) internalize citation styles?

    Comment by Craig | November 30, 2008

  18. actually, I am in one of the classes you ta and I check this site a bit out of curiousity, but now that you mention it, why don’t you teach us about it explicitly if there are problems? Also, I think you are cute and can’t wait until i’m no longer one of your students;)

    Obviously, I can’t identify myself here, but I think you know who I am! (clearly, that is a made up email…for now!)

    Comment by seemso | November 30, 2008

  19. Your IP address indicates that you’re Richard McElroy, in which case this is a dream come true.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 30, 2008

  20. Names are attached to ip addresses?!

    Comment by seemso | November 30, 2008

  21. I clicked on your IP address, and it turned out that the only other person ever to post from that same address was Richard McElroy, who is not actually a member of my class at all!

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 30, 2008

  22. Obviously you should call Richard up right now and ask him which of your students is staying with him.

    Comment by ben wolfson | December 1, 2008

  23. Use the opportunity to teach them.

    Comment by Rachel | December 1, 2008


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