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Cite It Right: Online Citation Tools and Formal Citations

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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We hear it often: "Plagiarism is rampant! Teachers as detectives! Punish the wrongdoers! Stand up for what is right! Seize the moral high ground!"

I have written about plagiarism before, but this time I want to discuss how the offense can often be subtler than buying a published paper online or overtly copying and pasting a document. Rather, it can be a case of simply failing to properly cite sources. If a chunk of text, an image, or a multimedia clip is taken from a source without citation, then -- bingo! -- plagiarism.

In fact, we should probably include the ability to copy and paste and to blend content from multiple digital sources into a single document or file as a key twenty-first-century skill. With this realization, rather than discouraging such behavior we should be encouraging it, while simultaneously teaching students how to properly cite materials.

Here are some online tools for students that take the confusion out of citing sources:

  • Education blogger David Warlick's Citation Machine, which he describes as a tool that will help students, teachers, and researchers learn how to properly "respect other people's intellectual properties"
  • NoodleTools -- with its wonderfully simple NoodleBib functionality -- which targets grades 1-5 and English as a Second Language students and requires the creation of an account but is free and allows you to save bibliographies as lists
  • SourceAid, the tool for professionals that encourages educators to, as the SourceAid Web site states, "invest in the academic integrity of your classroom by providing your students with the best tools to cite properly and avoid plagiarism."

These Web sites vary in the number and type of citations they illustrate, as well as the diversity of sources they cite. Each discusses how to cite books, Web sites, and encyclopedias, but they are not equal and should be reviewed by teachers and students to identify the one that is right for them and for their work. While perusing these sites, be sure to look at the interactive resources available on NoodleTools under "Teacher Resources," the SourceAid newsletter on research skills, and the other wonderful tools and resources available from Warlick's Landmarks for Schools.

Arguments I occasionally hear against the use of these powerful tools remind me of the calculator debates. The ability to automate the creation of citations still makes some educators nervous and has them wondering whether, by allowing students to avoid the pain of learning how to properly cite their term papers, they aren't doing enough to support the development of good researchers. Many are concerned that these tools just make it too easy for students to cite without really understanding how and why to cite, and when.

Do you and/or your school support the use of online citation builders? Do you use Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association formatting and style guides? Why or why not -- and, if so, which is your favorite? Are there other tools we should know about? I'm interested in your comments. And, yes, I promise to cite you as a resource!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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G. B's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think these tool are great, this is 2007 and you have to get with the times. Being in a master's program I have to do papers every week and resources have to be cited. It has been a little frustrating but I have this little APA style handbook that the university sent and I have been doing fine, but if there is something a little easier or quicker I will certainly use it when I need to. Thanks for this article

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel students should definitly learn to actually cite references. Once they have learned it, then they may access some on-line tools to help. I know how frustrating it is to make sure I have all my punctuation in the right spot and all the correct information needed. I am not plagarizing but fear because I left out one item on the citation I would be. It is also difficult to know if you are getting all the information needed for different types of sources, i.e. on-line information, etc. I am thankful to come across a tool that can help me.

Robyn S's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I often find myself confused how to follow APA style exactly. Sometimes there are gray areas as to what goes where and when to use what. Citation Machine is very easy and is very helpful. Thanks for the resource!

Jan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that by allowing students to access online citation builders, they are still learning. Each time the student uses the builder, they have to know what type of citation they are looking for. When they retreive the citation the student still has to write or type it onto their paper. By repeating this cycle over and over, the student will soon remember the citation process of the ones they use often. Then they will only need the builders for new or hard citations. At least in theory it should work!

Jennifer Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that our students will learn the citation process by repetition of using some of these online citation tools. It is critical to know our students and how they learn. Knowing our students and how they will learn best is critical in becoming a better teacher. Robert Garmston has written an article, Becoming Expert Teachers, and in his article he discusses that there are six areas of knowledge when making the journey from novice to expert teacher. One of those areas is knowing our students and knowing how they learn. It is important to know our students enough to be able to offer them multiple ways of how to properly cite references.

Garmston, R. J. (1998). Becoming expert teachers (Part one). Journal of Staff Development, 19(1).

Heidi D's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I struggle with citation every year when I teach my ninth graders to write a research paper. I'm very excited to get into these web sites and see how they can make my job much easier AND make the information easier for the students to understand. They just don't think paraphrasing is plagiarizing. I've always told my students to stay away from graphs and illustrations, but I'm going to change that this year. I'm going to require them and the correct citations that go with them. Thank you for these resources.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that giving students the tools to help the job become easier is a great aid. I know that I use citation machine to format references. I believe the big goal is to reference sources and not necessarily master a specific standard for formatting those sources.

Susan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank-you thank-you! I recently started a Masters degree program and I am constantly second guessing myself on citations. Now I have new tools to help me. I will share these sites with my colleagues as well!

Denise's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wish I had known about NoodleTools last year when my fifth graders were writing their astronomy reports. Thank-you Jim for sharing those websites.

I agree with John that students need to know how to use technology appropriately and that even younger students should cite their resources when creating a poster or writing a report.

I am one of those folks who still write my papers in pen first, however I watch in amazement as my college age children compose directly on the computer.

Michelle S.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Writing has always been my worst subject and not knowing exactly what or how to site things makes it worse. I am so glad to hear the citation machine is so helpful and easy. I can't wait to try it as I'm writing my assignments for Walden University.Thanks.

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