With end-of-term papers coming due, I’d like to reflect on, and perhaps reconsider, general undergraduate attitudes toward research documentation. Simply put, we need to remember citations allow for continuation of our knowledge and culture. Without accurate citation we wouldn’t be able to verify findings and perspectives very well, and judging content is difficult enough without recognizing the source of perspectives and knowledge. First-year students want to be heard, hence the popularity of networks like twitter and facebook that announce one’s presence. But in order to be heard in academic writing, knowing from where we are coming, with whom we speak, and how we respect what others have said, provide one’s credentials. Being unambiguous about one’s dialogue with others necessitates in-text citation and systematic documentation. What others say demands signal phrases be carefully constructed, which is why I’m a big fan of Graff and Berkenstein’s They Say/I Say. Thinking about writing as a Burkean conversation can help students work to represent speakers relevant to their topics—challenging work that many students view as toiling ineffectual when the opposite is the case. For citation establishes and builds ethos—a writer’s ethical standing before one’s audience.
No doubt, documenting is demanding for students. It does require rigorous diligence, yet when academic writers begin to control their signal phrases and documentation, this is when they can better evaluate sources because they’ve been able to differentiate between statements. After students stop obsessing over conventions, writers can draw closer to matters of their written voice, control of one’s research, and supporting a thesis-argument. Writing a draft makes this possible just as planning to cite through one’s notes and annotations makes this process of control easier. Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, this differentiation involves the researcher’s reading process. As the citation project concludes in their review of student papers thus far, the ability to summarize is not being emphasized. Instead, “the students paraphrased, copied from, or patchwrote from individual sentences in their sources” (Howard, Rodrigue, and Serviss). In my experience, student obsession over documentation and their seeking of concrete evidence in the form of quotation infringes on a student’s development in abstracting–literally drawing away–content from a source. And unfortunately, teachers can reinforce this obsession by pointing out documentation as a means of quickly “improving” student academic writing.
Through the separating out of texts by others, writers can extend what we know and believe. Students can move beyond the vortex of messiness that holds back their voices. Student writers are frustrated by not having authority and feel research steals their voices when citations and source differentiation should actually support/develop their authority.