- Make decisions about how to present your contributions to the conversation about your wicked problem.
- Cite the sources you’ve used in a way that makes sense for your context and audience.
Thinking about your audience will help you create work that effectively communicates your message. This is even true of decisions you make about citing your sources. Citation is a service to your audience that allows them to learn more about or verify your information. There are a variety of ways to cite sources depending on your audience and the format of your work.
Participating in the Conversation
It’s likely that your first twelve years of schooling reinforced the idea that the only person you’re doing your “school work” for is your teacher. Let’s try and break the habit of thinking that way. Maybe you were really good at playing that game, or maybe it didn’t work that well for you. Either way, that is not the only way to learn. The project-based nature of this class invites you to identify a problem that exists in the real world, find something real you can do about it and then find a way to share your contribution with other real people. This is where you start participating in the conversation about your wicked problem.
The analogy of a conversation is a good way to describe scholarship in general. All those scholarly articles, books and videos on your wicked problem are different voices in the same conversation, each one responding to the ones that came before it. Researching your wicked problem is like listening in on a conversation, one that has been going on a long time and won’t ever finish. But instead of remaining a passive listener in this conversation, in this course you will contribute to the conversation.
We tend to think of the scholarly conversation as happening only in articles and books, but this isn’t true. Creators, yourself included, can contribute their perspectives on an issue in a variety of ways. What matters is that you consider your audience when making decisions about how to share your work:
- What information is your audience likely to already know, and what is new to them (and will therefore need to be explained carefully)?
- What formats will work best for conveying information to that audience (text, video, audio, images, infographics)?
- Where does that audience go for information, and how can you put your message in a place that they will see or find it?
- How can you make your message sharable so that others can help your message spread?
Citation is for Your Audience
It’s not hard to imagine that thinking about your audience would affect decisions you make around the format and tone of your work. But it might be less obvious that you would consider your audience when deciding how to cite your sources of information. You may have been encouraged to think of citation as a very precise process of following all the rules related to one of the formal academic citation styles, like MLA or APA. Sometimes citation does mean that (like when your teacher or other academics are your whole audience), but this isn’t the only possibility.
Consider what citation looks like in this blog post. Or in this video. In both cases the creators have enabled their audience to see where the information is coming from in a way that makes sense in that particular format.
Let’s stop to consider what the point of citation even is. Apart from “I was told to,” there are a few different angles. First, citation is a courtesy to your audience. They may be interested in or skeptical about a claim you’re making, and if you give them enough information to find the sources you used, they can learn more about the topic, verify your information and make their own judgements about the credibility of those sources.
How frustrating is it when you want to know more about an interesting news snippet or listicle, but there is no link to or information about the original sources? If you want to get your audience on your side, it’s best not to annoy them by failing to provide enough citation information.
A second reason to cite is the benefit to you. One way that audiences judge the quality of a piece is by the sources is it relying on for support. If your audience sees that you are citing sources that they themselves have confidence in, that reflects well on you and earns you some credit with them.
A final reason for citation is related to the idea of scholarship as a conversation. Providing citations to relevant previous sources is how you convey what earlier ideas you are responding to and is generally expected of participants in the conversation. If you’re repeating something you originally heard from someone else, it is courteous to both your audience and the original source to say where it came from.
Citation should apply to any piece of information that is not common knowledge among your audience. Here is another reason to carefully consider your audience. Different audiences have different shared sets of knowledge. A group of zoologists will have a shared and detailed understanding of biological knowledge that is very different from what we would expect a group of non-experts to have.
Failing to cite the original source of information that is not common knowledge is known as plagiarism. Among academic audiences in particular, plagiarism is taken very seriously. Again, the context matters. In a casual conversation, no one assumes you are the original source of everything you say, even if you don’t say where you originally heard it. But in an academic context, the convention is that if you don’t cite the source of a particular piece of information you are saying that it is your original contribution.
What information do you need to provide your audience so that they can find your sources? You might think that just a link to the original source would be enough, but links break all the time. This phenomenon is known as link rot. The average lifespan of a link is around 2 years, according to a research paper written by Dennis Fetterly, A Large-Scale Study of the Evolution of Web Pages. See what I did there? I gave you enough information that you can find and check the source even though that link is broken. Good citation provides other pieces of information beyond the URL so that people can find the original source even after the link changes.
This information includes things like the name of the work, the date, the author’s name, the name of the journal, magazine, newspaper it appeared in, or a digital object identifier (DOI). But depending on the format of the source you are citing, different information may be appropriate, (like the director’s name for a documentary or the title of a book that a chapter appears in.)
Academic Citation Styles
All these different pieces of information are why citation styles like MLA, APA, and Chicago are so challenging. Each citation style has one right way of citing sources in every last format. This may seem like just an annoyance, but the idea is that someone could look at the citation and, just based on how it’s written (capitalization, punctuation, italics, order of information, etc.) be able to tell whether it is a book, journal article, website, video, etc. Each rule is a clue for the audience.
Why are there so many different academic citation styles? This also comes back to audience. Each style evolved within a different community, each of which cared about different things. For example APA (short for American Psychological Association) is often used in the social and natural sciences. In APA, the date is the second piece of information in the citation because in those fields new discoveries happen a lot and it’s important to know when the research was done.
Compare that to MLA (short for Modern Language Association), a citation style used and developed within the humanities (language, literature, philosophy, art, etc.) which puts the date at the end. However in MLA you’ll notice that the author’s whole first name is spelled out, instead of just using a first initial as APA does. This is because in the humanities it matters less when an idea came about, and matters more whose idea it is (because it probably relates to that person’s other ideas and their whole body of work).
In the chapter Types of Sources, we discuss how peer review is used both as a form of gatekeeping and as a process of getting feedback to improve a work. But scholarly peer review, coordinated by an editor, is not the only way to do peer review. Below are a variety of peer reviewer guidelines. Pick any two to read and then answer the questions below.
- What guidelines seemed most important and why?
- How could you use peer review, or a similar process to improve your work? Who would you ask for a review?
- What questions would you ask someone reviewing your work? What kind of feedback would be most helpful?
Consider the Works Cited list below and answer the following questions.
- Edward Bernays
- Wikipedia. Public Relations
- Pinterest. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
- Bernays, Edward. Crystalizing Public Opinion.
- Encyclopedia of Propaganda
- What impression does this list communicate to the audience?
- In what ways might these citations be confusing for the reader and how could they be improved?
When you are sharing work in an academic setting, it makes sense to use one of the standard citation styles, because that is what academic audiences expect. But academic audiences aren’t the only audiences. Think about the format of the work you are creating and the audience you intend to reach and answer the questions below.
- Will you use a standard academic citation format? If yes, which one? If not, why not?
- Take a look at your list of sources. What information about these sources will be most useful to your audience and why?
- If you are producing work in more than one format (website, poster, video, handout, etc.) how will your citation decisions differ across these formats?
- Special thanks to Matt Cheney for sharing his citation teaching materials, on which this section was built. https://bit.ly/3BjNqT7 ↵