The value of referencing

One of the problems that confronts teachers of first-year university units each semester is the need to ensure that students learn, quickly, the methods and skills of correct referencing. In some courses, students are very much left to fend for themselves, relying on, perhaps, the services of the university library, advice offered by individual staff members, or simply muddling through on the

mainp - basis of critical feedback on their first assignments. The Department of Media and Information (DMI), along with some other areas of the university, takes a different approach. DMI, in its first-year unit MCI 101: Research and Presentation Project, directly addresses the need that students have to learn correct referencing techniques, devoting some weeks and an assignment to that task. Students can also practise these techniques in the assignments required in other first-year units.

Nevertheless, even when direct attention of the kind just outlined has been paid to referencing, some students continue to struggle with it. The problem is not merely a technical one, since all the students at university are capable of learning to follow the kinds of technical directions that lay out the appropriate steps needed to reference their work. What then is the cause of this problem? DMI would suggest that many students (including some who are quite able referencers) remain confused about the admittedly complex set of reasons that explain why referencing is so important in all kinds of written communication. This paper will outline these reasons before ending with a short exploration of why they might be hard for some students to grasp.

As just indicated, there are three main reasons why referencing is important in essays, reports, presentations, theses, articles, and all the other kinds of scholarly writing in which students engage both at university and then, as graduates, in their professions. Without seeking to assign a priority to any of them they are: first, that referencing enables a reader to seek out more information on the topic of the written work, based on the references given; second, referencing acknowledges authors' ethical and academic debt of thanks to those sources which they have used to create their own 'source' of information; and third, referencing provides a method by which authors can establish the validity and strength of their claims by relying on the authority of the source to which they are referring. Let us examine these reasons in more detail.

The process of effective scholarship (finding, analysing, and communicating information) involves an almost-constant acquisition of ideas, knowledge, views, and general contextual understanding. One method of finding the material from which to acquire this information, used mainly at times of intensive research, is to follow the leads provided in an article or book via the references to find, quickly and with a high degree of reliability, additional valuable, relevant sources of information. A well-constructed piece of scholarly writing will contain both information in its own right and information that assists readers in further information acquisition. Thus an author needs to see referencing as a service to the reader of their work and, using the kinds of standard methods that are available (such as the APA system), make sure readers are easily able to go from their text to others via those references.

The second reason noted above was that authors owe a debt to those writers who have provided them with information, inspiration, and ideas. This debt is both scholarly and ethical. What do I mean by assigning two different aspects to this notion of debt? Following the 'debt' metaphor through a little further, it

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