A Different Take on Teaching Plagiarism and Citations

By Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with The OSUL Teaching and Learning Department

In last month’s blog post, my colleague Danny Dotson made the case for a universal citation style, rather than the variety of citation styles used by various disciplines and journals. Reading his post got me thinking of a presentation from this year’s ACRL Conference. In Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism, Natalie Hill (University of New England) and Laura Tadena (Texas State Library & Archives Commission) take a “feminist, anti-racist, and equity-informed look at how we teach plagiarism” and citations.  

In their presentation, they make the argument that “traditional anti-plagiarism measures are punitive, harmful, and widespread.” They describe how plagiarism is typically taught with an emphasis on compliance, but without the context that allows students to understand why citations are considered so important. They make the case that focusing on perfect citation format doesn’t really tell us anything about what the student learned. Hill and Tadena recommend that instruction related to plagiarism and citations should focus on the why of citation and should center around functional attribution, rather than perfect format, stating that “proper credit is greater than a citation style.” 

Hill and Tadena also challenge the idea that citation represents a neutral practice, instead stating that “citation is a political act.” When we choose to cite someone, we “give those voices power,” and those that tend to be cited the most are those that already have power. They argue that we should encourage students to critically consider their own citation practices within this context.  

I was inspired by this presentation and included a discussion of their ideas in a virtual workshop I gave on teaching ethical information practices. The audience included both librarians and disciplinary faculty. At the beginning of the presentation, I asked participants to rate their level of agreement with the idea that current methods of teaching plagiarism and citations are “punitive, harmful, and widespread.” Just over half of the participants (N=27) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, about 20% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with the remaining 30% not sure or neutral. In discussion with participants during the workshop, I sensed growing agreement with the concerns raised by Hill and Tadena, as well as a good deal of support for the idea of functional citations. But there was also hesitation. A few participants indicated that they worried about teaching plagiarism and citations in a manner that could be seen as out of alignment with the guidelines provided by the university. Unfortunately, I did not feel that I had a great response to the participants who shared these concerns, and I am interested in hearing what others might have to say.  

What do you think? 

  • Are our current practices for teaching (and punishing) plagiarism and citations doing more harm than good? 
  • Do you consider citation to be a political act? If so, does this inform how you approach teaching citation to students?  
  • Do you support the idea of teaching functional citations? If so, how can we do this in the context of university-wide academic integrity policies?  

Please share your thoughts in the comments! 

For those who are interested in diving deeper into this topic, here are a few resources: 

Baker, Kelly J. “Citation Matters.” Women in Higher Education, (Sept. 30, 2019),  https://www.wihe.com/article-details/124/citation-matters/  

Hill, N. & Tadena, L. (2021). Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism. Association of College and Research Libraries Conference Presentation. 

Ray, Victor. “The Racial Politics of Citation.” Inside Higher Ed, (April 27, 2018),  https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/04/27/racial-exclusions-scholarly-citations-opinion  

Salem State University Library, Evaluating Sources: Act Up: Citation Politics Guide developed by Dawn Stahura. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

LaTrobe University, Power and Politics in Referencing 


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