38 Citing Sources Is A Skill Learned Later On

Kelsie Miklos

Let’s think back to our high school days as a senior student, getting ready for college. Our high school teachers were so adamant that as a graduating class and moving on to college, we would be prepared– at least my teachers were. However, looking back now as a junior in college, I can say that I was not prepared at all my freshman year. I remember one of my high school English teachers instilling in us that “You will need to be able to craft an essay and correctly cite sources if you want to succeed at the collegiate level.” With that being said, we were taught how to cite sources using basic MLA (Modern Language Association) formatting adhering to pieces of writing that were standard: argumentative essays and informative essays. Don’t get me wrong, MLA is a basic Common Core Standard taught across the nation in public and private schools and it is a skill that every high school student should be familiar with. The main point here is that although we fully believed that we were prepared for college level courses, we were not ready for it at all. It is a bit hypocritical when high school teachers tell you that they have taught you all of the skills needed to succeed in college yet, they only allow us to gently dip our toes into citing sources when it is essentially a broad, umbrella term.

So,  contrary to my  high school teachers’ beliefs, it is common that students entering a four-year college (even community) are completely blindsided by the fact that they must use different sources for different classes– not just MLA formatting. This is a major setback for college students– we come to college nervous, excited, and fully believing that we were prepared and ready to handle our academics. In most cases, students need to take extra time out of their day to relearn, research, and teach themselves how to cite sources that are not MLA formatting. I am sure you have had this experience as well- we did not completely learn how to cite different sources and our high school teachers did not prepare us for it. It is easy to say and most true that citing sources is a skill learned later on in our academic journey.

It is imperative to dive into the complexity that citing sources holds over students, starting with the fact that “Citing a Source” can be extremely broad and needs to be adapted, adjusted, and tailored towards the type of work a student is doing. In general, citing a source takes time, effort, and thinking. Luckily for us in the modern– day world, due to accessible internet there are thousands of ways to find out how or what sources to use for different types of classes and assignments. Although we have easy access to understanding how to cite differently than what we are used to, it is still a headache for students that are unaware of the broadness surrounding the word ” Citing” when they enter the college level; (if you think about it, no high school student is researching different ways to cite for fun- we trust our teachers that MLA is the only citing method.) Furthermore, citing sources on its own is a whole other process we need to complete as students– what makes it more difficult is that each way of citing a paper or project is completely different. There are four common methods used that are completely different from each other and require different set of standards. APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian are commonly used for college/graduate students based on which type of classes they are taking. Each type of citing method is matched up with a specific type of writing. If you take a look on Purdue Owl, each type of citing has its own set of instructions, its own way of putting a citation together, and is tailored completely differently. This of course, forces students that aren’t aware of the differences to take time out of their studies to completely learn a new process of citing sources that should of already been taught to them.

You may not have been taught this in high school, different majors or classes may require you to use a different citing method besides MLA. Not all majors in college will be needing to write an informative or argumentative paper. No matter which major you choose, you will eventually have to cite something differently than what you are used to for your professor; it is unavoidable. Citing it correctly and appropriately is the hard part– you will not cite the same way you do for a psychology class which requires APA formatting compared to writing something for a business, history or fine arts class which requires Chicago style citing. Each method of citing, comes with a different set of instructions, some may require footnotes, bibliography, in-text citations, references list, abstract page, works cited, etc. That list can go on and on and the way we cite things as students’ needs to be adjusted to adhere to the different types of work that we put time, effort, thought, and care into.

This brings me back to my main point- do you ever remember your middle or high school teacher going over anything other than MLA formatting? That is highly doubtable. We were taught only MLA citing style due to the fact that we were only writing basic research papers. It is contradictive that school districts thrive to prepare their students for their future academic journey and confidently say that they have successfully completed their job, sending us off “college ready”. Yet, when we go to college and are told to cite a source using APA style for a psychology paper we completely fall behind, we must teach ourselves, and cannot help but feel as if our old teachers failed us. Furthermore, this Good Ideas chapter is in place to bring awareness to the flaws of the education system and question it entirely. However, for this section, emphasizing the truth that citing sources is and never has been a “basic” skill learned early on is what is important. If citing sources was a skill learned early on, I would assume that as students we would be fully equipped with knowledge on how to cite not only using MLA formatting. Obviously, that isn’t the case.

It is essential that we become optimistic about this conversation surrounding citing. We all know that the education system across the United States has its issues and concerns– what is extremely frustrating is that districts may not have all the tools students need to succeed at the college level (although they believe they do) and that the Common Core State standards should be reviewed and challenged to keep up with more modern-day academics. It’s not just about adding or deleting certain content areas that are essential for a student’s education, but it is more about “What can we do as a district or state to ensure that students will be successful in college?” or “Are we making sure as professional educators, that we are teaching our high school students everything they may possibly need in their future education?” Can you imagine a world where students enter college fully knowing the different ways to cite sources and that they wouldn’t have to take time away from their studies to teach themselves that? It would be a benefit for a students’ academic journey, giving them the confidence to be successful and not feel completely blindsided with the complete change of scenery when entering college. If this was a basic skill learned early on, I can confidently say that this chapter would not be written for you to read. With optimism, we can only hope that this can eventually be changed for students– giving them the tools and knowledge necessary to advance in their academics and no matter what classes they take, they are equipped and ready to handle any method of citing a source but until then, I am hoping this chapter reaches and educates the right audience; potentially sparking conversations, and ideas around the way we educate and prepare ourselves.


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Good Ideas About Writing Copyright © 2021 by Kelsie Miklos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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