Citation Frustration!

This morning I read an article and I actually yelled out a triumphant ‘Yes!!’ while reading it.  Someone else feels the same as I do about citations.  I know articles from The Chronicle of Higher Education may not be high on everyone’s Sunday morning reading list, but I was waiting for my family members to wake up, so I had a lot of time to kill.   “Citation Obsession? Get Over It!” nicely says what has bothered me for a very long time.

Now, I know, as a librarian, I should be embracing citation styles and glorifying their merits.  Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the exacting and overly meticulous displays of citations are very important for some things, especially when needing to get published, but not for the majority of undergraduate assignments.  I never have believed correct citations were a super and highly important component to helping students become better writers.  Yet, poor citation structure often trumps grammar and even content in many papers, at least as evidenced by how assignments are written and in the actual grades students often receive on papers.

As a librarian, I know I have often spent more time assisting students with citation formulations rather than with search formulations.  I have witnessed students spend much more time and energy on getting their citations and footnotes and page numbering correct rather than focusing more on gathering meaningful supporting evidence or on their own writing.  I have also seen firsthand the anxiety of students who may not have the author information in the absolute correct order and with the proper punctuation (and they do not have the same level of concern over what they have written).  To what end?  If we want students to write better, then by all means, lets have them write more.  Yes, they should include citations, but providing the basic information in a consistent format should be sufficient for undergraduate writing.  I would much rather have students spend time doing solid research and writing rather than focusing solely on one specific style guide.  And heaven forbid they should have two papers due at the same time, because undoubtedly they will now have to learn two vastly different writing styles, neither of which will improve their writing skills.

When a student writes a paper that is worthy of publication, then let’s sweat out the details necessary for that particular publication.  Until then, can we please focus more on the writing and less on the precise execution of (fill in the blank) citation style!