Citation Frustration: the Rhizomatic Trickle Down Effect Part 1

I have taught English in HigherEd for many years. One of things I always reinforce with my students is MLA citation style and why it is important.

  I explain how it is a way to acknowledge and track ideas to their source. The Internet is making this much easier and much more complicated at the same time. The lack of citing sources is rampant and sometimes students just don't understand why they are being accused of plagiarism.

   Part of this as Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) suggested in a comment on P2P, can be cultural.  I am thinking of this more along the lines of things I have heard my students tell me when we talk about citaiton. Using someone else's work is a sign of respect. Why would they/ should they be punished  for that. Of course we all know it's more than that. There is a rhizomatic trickle down effect that occurs. Kind of like broken telephone, one false or poorly cited idea can lead to that idea being used in another work, another paper and so on, down the intricate web of academic thought.

  So what can/ should be done? How can we insure proper citation and more importantly should we? Isn't free play of ideas important without the messy citing stuff. Doesn't citation in fact reinforce a power dynamic that one person knows things and others need to learn from them- full stop.

  Now the English teacher is certainly not saying down with MLA, up with citation anarchy. What I am saying is that we need to engage with these ideas, really engage with them, with all our students in order to get to the complexity of citation and power that it wields.


  1. Hi Ann - sorry to take so long to reply. I always tell my students that the difference between plagiarism and academic writing is that the latter shows respect by acknowledging the original inspiration for a thought, but of course it's never as simple as that.

    I hadn't thought about the trickle down effect before, but something else that I have noticed from time to time is that an one author will paraphrase another incorrectly in a paper, and further authors then refer to this incorrect paraphrase rather than to the original. If it's not correctly referenced in the first paraphrase then it's very tricky to check that ideas are being properly represented, and that annoys me very much.

    I've been thinking about curation as a learning design recently - acknowledge that current students are used to sharing content via social media and get them to do this formally - so take articles, phrases, pictures, anything they like and weave them together, explaining why they have included each piece as they go. I'm hopeful that I'll find a member of staff to work with on this and try it as a properly assessed course.

    Thanks for making me think :-)

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  3. I love curation and I speak about it to my colleagues all the time. I think it is something we should definitely instill and reinforce in our students. In an age of information overload precision and traceability (another great rhizomatic concept) is very important!


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