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Teach Students to Use Sources Appropriately

Faculty often expect students to already know how to research, take effective notes, organize material, question and analyze it, and develop it into a long assignment. But students usually do not know how to do this; they arrive in our classrooms with quite varied backgrounds—from other cultures where citation practices and relationship to authoritative sources differ; from high schools that have primarily focused on personal writing, short assignments, or analyzing fiction; from technical backgrounds that haven’t required them to write from a variety of textual sources.

When faculty assign students to write or speak from sources, they should also follow best practices of helping students to understand the use of those sources in academic and disciplinary context. These practices include:

Talk explicitly with students about the purpose of the source use, and what their critical role is in relation to the sources.

Invite a librarian to discuss how to find appropriate sources.
Some misuse of sources occurs because students have trouble locating sources, and thus get too slowed down in the research process, leaving too much work until the last minute.

Help students learn to read and evaluate sources.
What should they look for? Are they primarily to identify claims and evaluate them? Is the research meant as sources of primary evidence—facts and data that they will analyze? How much interpretation must they do, and how do they do that? Are there disciplinary guidelines for evaluating sources (such as source criticism in history, etc.)? [links]

Discuss your own research projects and process.
What do you look for when you evaluate sources? How do you take notes? Store information? Do you use a program specifically for academic research, such as Mendeley, Refworks, or Zotero? What specific practices do you use for keeping track of quotations, facts, claims, and statistics in relation to their source documentation? For recording and developing your own responses to sources?

Discuss the use of direct quotation vs. paraphrase.
Some disciplines encourage students to use direct quotations; other disciplines prefer paraphrase.

Discuss the citation practices in the discipline, and specifically direct students to the appropriate reference material (Turabian, MLA, etc.).
How does citation work in this field? What does the citation system allow readers to understand about the sources? (For instance, APA inserts the date in the parenthetical citation, thus allowing immediate recognition of how current the source is. Chicago, used by most historians, hides all of the citation information in footnotes or endnotes because it tends to come from sources, such as diaries, newspapers, and letters, that require a great deal of bulky documentation that would clutter the text).

Point students to MIT resources on appropriate use of sources and academic integrity: