Scholarship News

Study Shows Students Don’t "Get" the Materials They Cite


April 12, 2011
by Alexis Mattera

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks a lot, They: A new study shows that college students are taking those words to heart when it comes to citations rather than actually deciphering the meaning of the subject they’ve been tasked to write about.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks a lot, They: A new study shows that college students are taking those words to heart when it comes to citations rather than actually deciphering the meaning of the subject they’ve been tasked to write about.

The Citation Project, presented by Rebecca Moore Howard (associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University) and Sandra Jamieson (professor of English, director of composition and department chair at Drew University) at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication, analyzed research 164 papers written in first-year composition courses at 15 colleges in 12 states and divided the 1,832 citations into four categories: exact copying, patchwriting, paraphrasing and summary. Unfortunately, the type of sourcing that reflects the most comprehension – summary – represented only 9 percent of the citations in the study. “That's the stunning part, I think: 91 percent are citations to material that isn't composing,” said Jamieson. “They don't digest the ideas in the material cited and put it in their own words.”

The explanations for these practices are vast – writing for efficiency as opposed to understanding, finding increasing difficulty of separating legitimate from illegitimate information on the Internet and not knowing what exactly goes into forming a proper citation – and there’s much more to Howard and Jamieson’s research here but the sad truth is that students are just not "getting" the material. Have any of your papers contained the offenses they detail? Given the statistics, it’s likely they have...but why?

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