Faculty: Cut Your Students Some Citation Slack

From one instructor to another: can you consider cutting your students some slack when it comes to citations?

Recently, the APA published a new edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and just a couple years ago, the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook replaced the long-standing 7th edition. With each new edition comes changes - some significant, some minor. Regardless of these changes and regardless of various formats, all citations serve the same purpose and contain the same information - they point the reader to a source of information with as much information as needed to locate that source.

citationneeded.jpgWhile exacting rules may be required for scholarly publication, the inclusion or exclusion of a punctuation symbol, the italicization or lack-thereof of a word or two, the addition or subtraction of a retrieval date do not, in the long run, matter much. The differences between APA 6th and APA 7th are, as they say, academic. Ultimately, they are designed to make the citation process more straightforward. However, if a student uses the 6th edition as a reference instead of the 7th (or vice-versa), has the student made an error? And is this error worth points?

In the Library we provide guidance on citing sources in all their complexity, but many librarians also take the position that at the college-level, formal citation styles are needlessly complicated and a distraction from the research and writing process. We try to provide up-to-date examples on our much-used Citing Source Guide, but recognize that we can't cover all the possibilities. Many of the Library's resources (catalog, databases) provide formatted citations for students - a welcome shortcut that we happily promote - but these citations may not reflect the most recent changes to the various styles.

Recently, we discovered that our updated APA style guide style declared that it was providing examples from the 6th edition, even though we had updated everything to reflect the changes in the 7th. This caused some confusion with students and much consternation among our librarians who are worried that our error will have negative repercussions on students who had sought our help and intended to follow their assignment instructions to the letter. We apologize for the error and hope that no matter who your students are, no matter what format you ask your students to use in citing their sources, you will consider the true purpose of citations and ask yourself: "Can I locate this source based on the information provided?" If so, you've got yourself a successfully cited source.


image credit: Randall Munroe. "Wikipedian Protestor" available under CC BY-NC license