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Fewer Rules, Better Papers

I’ve written lately about not requiring students to follow a particular format for citations, and I want to express how liberating it has been for me and the students. But I can also see trouble down the road.

Part of my reason for doing this was because students seemed to focus on tedious rules, and their papers suffered as a result. So far this semester—and it’s still early—I can already see a difference. Their papers have relevant pictures. Before, they wouldn’t have included pictures at all. Their papers are unique in their ideas and research. No longer do they choose topics by ease of research. It’s strange how they seem to equate the act of citing with the act of research. For those who do know the difference, no longer do they choose a source simply because it’s easier to cite; they’re all easier to cite.

Of course, there’s an ethical dilemma I foresee. Some of the pictures, while appropriate content-wise, aren’t cited at all. I’m trying to focus more on reasons for citing and when to cite, and like I said, it’s still early, so I have time to discuss these more. But still, if you use a picture, you should cite it. I’m always baffled that I have to explain this.

And then I keep wondering if I’m adequately doing my job if I don’t teach MLA or APA or another style. I’m afraid some professor down the road is going to judge a student’s knowledge on how to cite instead of when and why to cite. Part of this move has been because of my own experiences with such professors. But I’m still doing it, because it seems like the right thing to do. And because if I look at the papers I’m getting, it seems to be working so far.

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