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Should Classrooms Teach Alternate Citation Methods?

Students will often learn various citation standards as they narrow their academic focus, but there may be reasons for classrooms to begin teaching them sooner rather than later.

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey
Plagiarism Consultant -- Plagiarism Today

In classrooms, three citation standards reign supreme: APA, MLA, and Chicago. Which you use depends upon the discipline of study, the class you’re in, or where you are studying but, if you’re citing a paper in a classroom setting, you’re likely using one of these three.

However, they’re not very different from one another. Each places a focus on supporting one’s research and identifying the work cited in the text itself. As a result, if you've learned one, you can, with a few tweaks, generally do either of the other two. This is especially true as technology has made adding such citations much easier.

But as great as they are for research papers, they aren’t necessarily the most useful outside of the classroom. Many students will complete their academic careers and never touch these citation formats again.

But it’s not that people stop writing or citing. Instead, it’s that they shift to different writing formats and those formats carry with them their own standards of citation. This includes what needs to be cited and when to cite it.

For example, a news article uses a different citation standard than a post on social media, which is different from a legal pleading. However, none use academic standards.

Though students will often learn those standards as they narrow their academic focus, there may be reasons for classrooms to begin teaching them sooner rather than later. Consider the following three:

Reason 1: Teaches the Importance of Citation

When students learn that citation isn’t just about what’s written for class and that all writing has citation standards, they are more likely to follow good citation practices wherever they go, including in the classroom.

Too often students don’t realize that citation is a component of all writing and communication, not just classroom writing, and that can cause them to not take it as seriously as they should, even with the threat of punishment.

Best of all, this gets students practicing good citation standards in their everyday life, making it more natural for them in the classroom.

Reason 2: Exposure to Different Writing Styles

Exposing students to different citation styles also exposes them to different writing styles. This can be a great benefit to students that feel that they are “bad” writers just because they struggle with academic writing.

Instead, they may find they flourish with another writing style and simply need to learn how to adjust their writing for the classroom.

Furthermore, exposing students to more types of writing makes them well-rounded communicators, something that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Reason 3: Better Understanding of Citation

Perhaps the biggest reason is that it will help students better understand academic citation.

Teaching students about other citation standards can be easily followed up with conversations about why this particular writing style uses that approach and the analogs between that approach and the classroom’s format.

Basically, giving students a broader and deeper understanding of how citation works outside of the classroom can help them understand why the formats they use are the way that they are.

That may not seem like much, but many students are slow to pick up citation skills because they fail to understand why they have to use it. This can help with understanding the intricacies and purposes of citation.

Citation Goes Beyond the Classroom

All in all, citation is not just an issue inside the classroom and students, even if they don’t pursue a career in academia, will have to deal with it for the whole of their lives. Teaching, or at least touching on, other citation standards, can help prepare them for that.

However, if done right, it can also help deepen their understanding of in-classroom citation; both how it works and why it works that way.

That can resolve much of the pushback around citation and help students get a jump on being better researchers.