is possible to say first that the scholarly community within which an author writes enforces payment of the debt (their readers will check their work, either consciously or not, for evidence that proper referencing has taken place). Second, it is enforced, or at least made possible, by the ethical behaviour of individual authors who, privately, must recognise they need to acknowledge those other writers who have helped them. Without referencing, the system of mutual obligation on authors to use each others' work, to link new pieces of work to those already published, and to rely on one another's specific expertise would collapse. Thus referencing is important, even if the references were never actually followed up (though, of course, they regularly are).
The third reason why referencing is so important is, perhaps, the most difficult to grasp. References allow an author to obviate the need to detail and support every single premise in their arguments and explanations by relying instead on the authority of the source from which they obtained the information they are presenting (see Allen, Smart Thinking, chapter 6 for more explanation). Put simply, references are part of the way one writes a convincing argument or explanation. Since good writing always seeks to be convincing, even if to only a small degree, then it is easy to see why the quest to teach students to be good writers must also involve teaching them to reference effectively.
These three reasons can be summed up as follows. Each newly produced essay, article, presentation, or whatever, is always based substantially in existing published or presented material and becomes a part of the 'ongoing, knowledgeable conversation' expressed through that material. Written work needs good referencing so as to refer its readers elsewhere, to repay the debt to other writers, and to reinforce its own arguments.
But what makes it hard for some students to grasp the essential elements of this relatively simple argument as to why they must reference, even as they dutifully follow out the instructions to 'reference correctly' laid out for them by teachers? Without going into detail, it seems likely that many students do not yet believe themselves to be authors, with an audience, and a comradeship with other authors. They see themselves primarily as students, governed by a debilitating and unequal regime of inequality in relation to their teachers. Thus, the reasons I have just outlined are not rejected by some students because they are not understood, or are unreasonably or wilfully ignored. Rather the reasons are rejected because they are, quite rationally, not relevant to a 'student', even if they are explained to students. A 'student' (by which I mean the abstract identity rather than any particular individual) is governed by the imperatives of 'doing as one is told' by teachers; a student's audience is their assessor; a student's sense of comradeship is with other students as students; the goal of writing is not, usually, 'contributing to human knowledge' but getting a good mark.
Students in general then fail to understand the need to reference because they do not see how the very sensible arguments in favour of referencing apply to them. Thus, in terms of the cultural understanding of student identity—of 'who
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