Saturday, November 20, 2010

APA is for Suckas!

My entire class is, well lets say, less than stellar at using the APA style of writing. (They are actually less than stellar at writing period. I often feel like I need a roseta stone to decifer the meaning of their papers, but that is neither here nor there.) So in order to try to combat this, and prevent everyone of these little mouth breathers from failing, I held extra office hours this week for the specific purpose of helping them improve their writing. I was actually suprised when I had three students show up. Not bad and much more than I was expecting. Things were going pretty well, and to be expected the last student had to spoil it.

They had a case of the "I just know it's". The opening argument for why they should not have to use the APA writing style was they just know if from what they read, they don't remember where. I politely point out that there is a text book we are using, there is a good chance that the information came from there so this would be a good source to cite. I was met with a blank stare. " want me to answer the questions with information from the book and cite that?" Yes. Yes I do. I was hopeful that this would be the end of it however they continued to insist that they had other information they want to use, examples they want to give.

That's great! I love it when students use personal examples! Bring them on, but first show me that you understand the concept and cite the source for where you got the information from. I attempted to provide examples from last weeks assignment for how they could have done this. I was met with a disheartened sigh and was told they would keep trying and I knew that I had made no progress.

I have provided examples, shown them the correct way to use the APA writing style when I turn back their assignments, is there anything else I can do to make them see that they will need to do this (outside my singular course)? I feel like tearing my hair out.


  1. Frak! I just care that my gradflakes cite and do reference lists in APA format. Do they? FSM d*mn it, no!

    I SWEAR they think I'm kidding or I'll give in. And then... they see the red marks on their (almost) weekly essays.

    Tomorrow (Sunday) will be a grading day and maybe I'll be surprised at what they don't do this week. Right.

  2. Heavy drugging and electro-convulsive therapy might work but you'll need to find somebody who worked in a Soviet mental institution to get it right. The CIA tried to do it with a Canadian psychologist and all we did was wipe peoples' memories.

    As for the gradflakes, frak them and the frakking horses they rode in on...if the motherfrakkers can't pick up APA then they need to be in the army. Not our army; the Afghan army will do nicely.

  3. Gawd. You can abandon that harlot of a system APA for starters. Freshmen can never understand it in the first place. And it's such a pain in my ass when professionals use it.

    Best to ease them in on MLA and then go Turabian for the older boys and girls.

  4. That's "Rosetta" and "decipher," Ms. My-Students-Suck-at-Writing.

  5. "Is there anything else I can do to make them see that they will need to do this (outside my singular course)?"

    I do two things that could answer your question. One, I stress the importance of being a good knowledge manager because it establishes your credibility.

    Throughout the term, we review arguments. I ask them to consider if the person is a good knowledge manager and follow with "How do you know?"

    To be a good knowledge manager, you need to cite your answers because it will support your argument. Without support, you have opinion. The writing assignments are not opinion. Thus, if you do not cite and provide references, then you will receive a zero for the assignment.

    Two, APA provides a common, easy to understand, and easy to use citation and reference section (personal note: I have used several styles. MLA quite frankly blows chunks of dog food.). The students complete several worksheets that require each answer to have at least one citation and a complete reference (not work cited or work consulted).

    On the assignment sheet, I include this statement: Failure to follow APA format for citations and references will result for a zero on the assignment.

    When I return the first assignment and a third of the mouth breathers have a zero on their paper, they know that I am not here to fuck around.

    When I return the second assignment and a fourth of the mouth breathers have a zero on their paper, they know that I am super serious not fucking around.

    The rest who fail to follow APA on the remainder of the papers are your generally fuck-tards and provide further evidence that the entire admissions office must be fired with extreme prejudice.

  6. Having had to translate articles from MLA to Chicago to weird house style back in the day, I don't care what citation style my students use. If it's consistent, alphabetized by author and complete (author, title, publisher/journal title, date, pages if a journal), it's fine with me. I don't give a damn about italics here and parentheses there and whatever. Most of the time I get it wrong myself.

  7. @Marcia: There are a few reasons why I use APA, but the primary reason is for consistency and... the gradflakes can't stay consistent in just the one style (between references on the same page!).

    @texpat76: Similar to you, I make a workplace argument, particularly in the field that most will go into and the need for credibility to their readers (or superiors). Some are working professionals and all I think sometimes is: "OMG".

    @Viva: I push EndNote and, for the folks who adopt it, the results are clear. A little bit of work using this software (or something similar) will help them in their other/future classes. Of course, only about 10%-20% take my advice.

    I have an exercise at the beginning of the semester where they have to generate a properly formatted reference list (given criteria that I provide). I use the assignment as a diagnostic tool to see if they even understand what a reference list is (even after I did a brief review/tutorial). However, even for those that do it perfectly, some backslide. And the ones who have no clue? They seem to think that they can get away with sloppy work. No no no.

  8. Thanks for the responses, most of them were helpful (with the exception of diogenes who seems to forget this is a place we can talk and vent frustrations not turn on each other like rats in a cage). I would like to not use the APA style and give them more freedom, however my field requires it so I do not have a choice in the matter. Thanks for the lead on the the software Dr. D, I am going to look into this as it may help them!

  9. Um, GRAD flakes? Don't accept ANYTHING not written in the required style. Just keep saying. "I'm not grading this until you get it right."

    I'm not old and grey, btw. I graduated this calendar year! Those were the standards in my department! And it weren't an ivy.

  10. Generally, I'm with Marcia: as long as they can come up with something consistent and complete, especially in the references list, I'm not all that picky, since I know they'll need to use various styles (from in-house to those in more widespread use) over their careers. But it does seem that generating a reference list that follows basic guidelines (and doesn't contain 3 different fonts, type sizes, or other artifacts of cutting and pasting), on one's own or by using one of the entry-generation sites or software packages, shouldn't be all that hard. It takes time, but that's life. And I realize why those in the sciences, where misplaced decimal points can create genuine disasters, might be a bit more invested in having students demonstrate a minimal level of competence in precisely following conventions on a lower-stakes task.

    The part I really care about is the in-text citations, especially what Diana Hacker calls "signal phrases" at the beginning of cited material. The frustrating thing for me is that many handbooks (including the APA Manual) describe the standard in-text citation format as if all the information should go in the parentheses at the end, when, in practice -- including in many of the APA Manual's own examples -- the author's name and year most often go in the signal phrase, with only the page # in the parentheses (or no need for parentheses at all). I try to explain the thinking behind these practices (basically, clearly marking the beginning of cited material and/or making it clear who's "speaking" before the reader comes to a set of quotation marks, helping someone find the same information you did, not repeating information unnecessarily), but find it hard to get students to concentrate on the underlying principles (which really aren't all that different in MLA and APA) when they've been given the impression that what matters is getting the punctuation exactly right, or having something in parentheses at the end (even if it's just the author's name or, even more weirdly, just the year). That said, I'll repeat what I said above: getting the elements in the order prescribed by a particular format really isn't all that hard, and, I, too, get frustrated when they don't do it (or expect to be "taught" a format, as if there were something to say other than "look at the model, follow it, and if you can't find an exact model for your particular source, do something along the same lines"). But I've got a rubric, and citation has its own category, so I just deduct points as necessary and move on.

  11. They aren't adopting Endnote? Are they insane? Not that I use Endnote myself anymore - I've switched over to "Bookends" (for Mac), which is a lot more flexible - but it does the same thing. But why would anyone NOT use bibliography software? It saved me, easily, a month in my frantic final writing-up. It's so MUCH easier. Endnote is pricey but there are lots of cheaper ones that work just as well. (Like Bookends). I'm astonished.

  12. I don't see the value in APA. What good is it to reference a year rather than a person? People tend to write from a certain POV during chunks of their careers. Referencing a year in-line does nothing for me. All it does is make me stop reading mid-paragraph to look up who the person is referencing.

    MLA does blow in comparison to footnotes (<3 Turabian) but APA blows most of all.

  13. @Monkey: At least as I teach them (and I'll admit I have limited practical experience, but I do know the APA Manual pretty well by now), APA in-text citations provide both an author's name and a year (which means they do a pretty good job of dealing with exactly the phenomenon you describe). With the signal phrase, a full APA in-text citation looks something like this:

    As Jones (2008) found, [insert quoted and/or paraphrased material] (p. 296).

    The only difference between that and an MLA-style parenthetical citation is the year and the "p.", both of which would be ommitted in MLA. It's my understanding that APA requires years because scholars in the social sciences are concerned about currency -- more so than those in the humanities. That make sense to me. Even the various footnote styles don't strike me as all that different; you still need the signal phrase (the "As Jones found"), the superscript number, like the parentheses, marks the end of the cited material, and the page # and any other necessary information goes in the footnote.

    While there are some little things about APA that strike me as weird (rules for when you can omit the date after the name, the fact that you don't put article titles in quotation marks in the references list), all the citation styles strike me as fundamentally similar. But maybe I'm missing something.

  14. 1 - MLA sucks, Monkey. I suspect you're a Lit person, or else you'd know that APA is common in the social sciences. APA is a bit byzantine, but Cassandra notes the real importance is that APA gives page, name and YEAR in the in-text citation. This combo can be VERY useful for readers.

    2 - Why are so many of you advocating for students to use software for coursework? You're just encouraging their dimness. If they wanna use it for big projects, so be it. But ALL undergrads and grad students should do them by hand just to learn the process for papers under 20 pages.

    3 - To re-iterate Marcia's statement above, I was in departments that used APA primarily, but had splinter journals that used all sorts of freaky styles. Knowing how to re-do a style specific for a journal would be impossible if we weren't encouraged to know several of them just in case.

    4 - I simply cannot understand why so many students cannot get the basics down. I can work with a misplaced comma, underlining instead of using quotation marks, and forgetting to alphabetize. It's the ones who get the author's name wrong, neglect a subtitle, never use page numbers, and/or make up their own style when they have a book (and my notes!) in front of them with pages and pages of models for them to copy. For instance, I know of NO style that uses brackets instead of parentheses for in-text citations. Anyone else ever get that one?

  15. Not lit. God, not lit. But I've taught enough intro courses to know that the lit people teaching English Composition only start 'em off on MLA.

    There are a lot of [published] people who shorten the APA to rely only on the form (1992, 324) if only one person on their biblio published that year. And that's where I want to hit my head on the wall.

  16. I teach English. English is traditionally in the Humanities. I teach the documentation style mostly used in the Humanities (MLA), and I don't care if other departments need their students to use Turabian, APA, etc. If you want that done, then teach it in your own classes and departments.

    English proffies are NOT in charge of teaching writing for every other department on campus.

    I teach writing in my discipline. I have a discipline JUST like the rest of the people in long pants.

    I'm sorry; I'm pissed off because I went through this APA / MLA thing last week with a proffie in another department who'd like me to cut 2 weeks out of my own class to work with students on shit he needs.

    Fuck that.

  17. Darla, do you teach literature or composition?

    If you only teach lit, then go MLA with my blessing.

    If you teach general comp, then it might be part of your job to teach them about the most common citation styles and allow them a choice. You might wanna check to see what it is you're supposed to do.

    I've taught in ENG before, and it varied by specific class. But I taught neither freshman comp nor literature. And I always taught them the styles I wanted them to choose from (usually both MLA and APA, with their choice in a paper). One student skipped about 1/3 of the term and wrote his final paper using footnotes. It made an already bad grade just that much worse.

  18. Brook:

    I teach lit, comp, and creative writing. Our department is not charged with teaching writing for other departments. We have one technical writing prof who teaches APA only. Everyone else that I know teaches MLA.

    But it doesn't stop my colleagues from other departments telling me what they'd like me to do with my 16 weeks.

  19. As for the MLA vs. APA debate: The snowflakes should use what their profs (and other audiences) prefer. Period. I teach MLA style in my comp and lit classes because I'm teaching expository writing in a humanities discipline. When I teach business writing, I tell students that they need to figure out which format (APA, MLA, Chicago Manual, whatever) is expected in their current or future professional fields and learn it. I'll help them, of course, but I don't teach seven different documentation styles because there are seven different styles needed among my students.

    It's all about audience. And the kind proffies from other departments who want me to teach APA in comp classes so that they don't have to in their classes? Too bad. Part of their job is to show students how to cite sources within their own discipline. They don't get to abdicate this responsibility because they allegedly don't teach writing.

    But you know, this is all secondary. Documentation is gravy. I can't get the little dears to understand the difference between primary and secondary sources, even though we've spent four classes on it. Sure, about a third gets it. The other two-thirds? It would help if they didn't text, sleep, talk, and/or roll their eyes through the lessons.


  21. APA sucks balls. Oh my god this quotation had 43 words instead of 40! It can't be cited in the paragraph, but needs a block format! WHO GIVES A SHIT? What difference does 3 words make? Typing "14" or "fourteen"? I'm following my profession's rules, not APA. Does it matter in one bit?

    And... don't publish my crappy paper! I don't ever want my forced writing on the topics you chose to be published!

    Peer reviewed... pfff. The credibility inherent in that is as fickle as the winds. Sounds like "politically correct" to me.

  22. APA makes me want to cry and while I understand the importance of giving credit where it is due, I agree with your students that not everything needs a citation. At least your students try to do it, I don't even bother with them anymore because the stress just isn't worth the 5 points. Maybe some of your students feel the same way after seeing all those red marks week after week.
    The thing with these citations is they are SO SPECIFIC, if you put one thing in the wrong place or forget to italicize one piece the entire citation is wrong, so it's like do it right or don't do it all. Easy pick, I won't even bother anymore.


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