Posted by: Maria | July 31, 2008

student research and student writing

In the June 2008 issue of Conference on College Composition and Communication , Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford report on their study of samples of student writing.

This essay reports on a study of first-year student writing. Based on a stratified national sample, the study attempts to replicate research conducted twenty-two years ago and to chart the changes that have taken place in student writing since then. The findings suggest that papers are longer, employ different genres, and contain new error patterns.

In this study, which is an update of a study conducted in 1986 by Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors, Lunsford and Lunsford identify the top twenty errors in student writing.  This top twenty list, which contains errors that did not frequently appear in the earlier study, includes errors related to research and documentation.  Documentation errors were not an issue in the earlier study, largely because today’s students are writing more research papers, which, of course, means that students are more frequently dealing with sources and documentation.

This study is a big deal in the rhetoric and composition field, but what implications does it have for instruction librarians?  As instruction librarians, we are charged with teaching information literacy skills, and these skills include the ability to use information effectively and ethically.  We can talk about the importance of documenting sources in our instruction classes.  We can demonstrate how to use citation managers, like EndNote or RefWorks.  We can point to online sources that provide guidelines for citation and documentation styles, such as the Purdue OWL.  But where do our responsibilities begin and end?

I used to teach college writing, and I tutored in the writing center as well, so perhaps these factors influence my perspective, but I think that the responsibility to teach students how to use, integrate, cite, and document sources is a fuzzy area that straddles both the library classroom and the composition classroom.  Is it possible to clearly delineate these boundaries, and if so, should we?  Should the library be collaborating more actively with the composition department?  How do we take advantage of the natural intersections in our professional work to best serve our students?



  1. There’s a quaint little book that I haven’t read by Pierre Bayard called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, which I refer to now in order to broach a question that the book itself bears upon: What does it mean for us to read a book? To answer that question is, in effect, to prescribe a proper mode of transaction in the economy of signs. (Bayard, it seems, prescribes a mode of transaction that is most flexible and broad.) In a similar vein, citation requirements frame how students are to relate to works to the exclusion of other possibilities for engagement. Now isn’t there something a little ironic about librarians sanctioning those requirements, particularly in light of our valorization of intellectual freedom? Well, maybe not so much in academic libraries….

    So, if I was to make this comment consistent with the standards for academic writing, how proper would it be for me to cite Bayard? On the one hand, I have never “read” his work in the traditional, formal sense of the term, but on the other hand, I have engaged his work well enough to recognize its agency in relation to what I’m writing here.

  2. I wonder if this is the sort of thing that requires mandates from above. Like, who does the administration of the college/university think is responsible for teaching students things like documentation? And are faculty as concerned about documentation skills as we librarians are? My brother is a professor at an undergrad teaching college and says that he sees his primary responsibility as that of teaching students to read and analyze a text, and then produce that analysis in a written document. Citation, while important, is secondary to him. After all, most undergraduates aren’t scholars, at least not yet. Is this the sort of skill set that Everybody thinks is important but Nobody is claiming as their domain?

  3. […] to only have a few of these per year). The day’s plan also included a meeting to discuss points of connection between research instruction and writing instruction, a lunch outing with my coworkers, and an after-work trip to the post office to mail a glittery […]

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