Posted by: Maria | May 28, 2008

the frustration of citation

I have noticed from our blog stats that a few visitors have Googled their way to this blog by searching for how to cite DVD special features in APA style. Emily refers to this citation question in her earlier post on Citation Station, which is why our blog is coming up in the search results, but unfortunately, the searchers must leave here disappointed, since we don’t actually provide the answer to that question.

This problem of figuring out how to cite things that are not accounted for in style manuals makes me think about some bigger questions. In my previous incarnation as a writing instructor and writing center consultant, I countered a lot of resistance to the persnickety rigors of citation and documentation. Figuring out how to cite DVD special features, or a website, or how to format a footnote: these all seem like a huge pain, and who cares about whether you use a comma or a colon after the place of publication anyway? Well, who cares, indeed. I tried to frame the idea of citation by explaining it thus: citation and documentation are codes of the academic community, or the secret handshakes, if you will. When you follow these codes, you do more than just acknowledge the ideas of others and contexualize your own arguments in larger scholarly conversations. You are signaling your membership and participation in this academic community.

Usually, my impassioned appeal to the greater significance of citation was unconvincing, and I can’t say I blame them, especially when dealing with first year students who are still negotiating their place in the university culture. Knowing how many spaces to put after the colon is the least of their concerns.

Does correct citation really matter? As long as students are citing their sources, does it really matter if their MLA style is exactly perfect? I don’t think it does. I think that once students enter their major and start doing more sophisticated research, observing the conventions of their discipline becomes more important, but in the early years of college research, who cares?

How do we encourage students to understand the importance of acknowledging the ideas of others without getting hung up on the distractions of perfect MLA style? Is this a problem anyone else is thinking about? Is it even a problem at all? What does it mean that the MLA or APA or Chicago manuals do not specify how to cite DVD special features, and how do we accommodate this?  Why are undergraduate students expected to adhere to documentation styles designed and intended for professional scholars?  Is citation a concern of the library, or is something better left to composition class and the writing center, or do we all take ownership of this?



  1. Depends on the class of course, but I’ve gotten some traction by explaining that lack of citation/incorrect citation is a time-honored way of stealing other people’s work. And I don’t just mean in the classroom; I mean wholesale theft of scholarship by women, people of color, etc., by white/male scholars. So unless you as a student want to board that particular bus, i think you’d be wise to follow citation procedure.

    I think citation matters. I think it matters the way measuring the salt matters when you’re baking cookies, or titration matters in chemistry class, or stitching the pieces together matters when you’re making a sweater. Citation is simply a part of the work.

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