Assignment #2: Identifying and Using an Appropriate Format

One of the challenges of avoiding plagiarism is that “correct” citations require a rather exact knowledge of whatever academic format you are using. APA and MLA are common formats, but the way they do citations and what information is included in a citation differs. These are only two formats: there are many. The format you need to learn and use in this course is whatever format is used in your field. It takes time to remember what is normal for a format, and so it is better to focus on one you need rather than trying to learn them all. By itself, a format has no value, but it is necessary to know well the one you are asked to use for your classes or publications. Sometimes, an instructor or editor may be lax regarding things like page layout, but the correctness of how a citation is laid out is important. Consider the following example, in APA format, taken from the list of references for this chapter. Note that this is how it appears in the references list at the end of a work, not an in-text citation within a work.

Dollahite, N. B. & Huan, J. (2012). Sourcework: Academic Writing from Sources. (2nd edition). Heinle.

Notice that the information is not labelled. Instead, it works because of rules about how citations are ordered. This is categorized as a “book” with “two authors” in the APA Guide on Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), and so first are the authors’ names, then the publication year, then the book name, then the edition number, and then the publisher. Without those rules, a reader might not know that the publisher is Heinle, or that the first author’s last name is Dollahite, since the last name goes first in APA. Also note that periods, commas, colons, and other punctuation are required to follow strict rules to help distinguish this information. This is a fairly simple source, but if it were a citation for an author quoted in a chapter by multiple authors in volume with multiple editors, the citation could be quite complicated. (In APA, an in-text citation should include the date of publication, but since no date is available, I should simply mention the author, who is this case is a corporate author rather than a person, i.e. Purdue University, and since I already mentioned the name in the sentence and this is not from a source with page numbers, I do not need to add anything else in parentheses–there are indeed many rules.)

Note that online guides like the OWL are not authoritative, but convenient, and it is important to find a reliable one, such as one produced by a university. Be cautioned that many citation-generating programs, such as the ones incorporated into Microsoft Word or available with apps or websites, are not necessarily updated or detailed enough to be reliable. For a popular format like APA or MLA, thick, new, authoritative printed guides are released every few years–this is especially important for updates to how electronic sources are listed, and for example, the authors were surprised that they recently no longer require a publisher’s city to be mentioned, so things do change. Publishers and some university departments sometimes have their formatting guides. You will be responsible for the quality and accuracy of your citations regardless of the guide you use.

For this assignment, there are three parts:

  1. Consult your department or an instructor for a course in your discipline about what format is common in that discipline, and where students can find guidance about using it (the OWL is very convenient, but only covers a few formatting styles). When you have found a guide of some kind, choose five different kinds of sources. It doesn’t really matter what they are: the point is simply so that you can have practice composing citations, and so they do not need to be related to your discipline. Your instructor may provide sources for you. However, they should be different kinds, e.g. a book with a single author, a journal article, a documentary, a poem from a website, etc.
  2. Write a nonsense paragraph that has in-text citations for each of those five sources. “Nonsense paragraph” here can be anything, and does not really need to come from the source–this is only to show that you can structure an in-text citation correctly. It does not need to use a real paragraph structure either; it is simply that you would have to work much harder to intelligently use five different kinds of sources related to your field in an authentic paragraph for your papers, so this is something easier made an exception to this book’s rule of not giving you more work unrelated to your existing writing projects.
  3. Compose a list of references like the one for this chapter below featuring your five sources. If your citation is correct, your instructor should be able to identify and perhaps locate the source without any difficulty–that is the point of citations.

In Part I, it was stated that a goal of this course is not to give you additional work beyond what you are already doing, but practicing writing citations is an important skill that more easily transfers to your papers than other skills–if you already have sources in mind for your papers, you may include those as some or all of your five required for this assignment, thus saving you more trouble. Submit this either as a printed or electronic document file according to the preferences of your instructor.

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