Students in first-semester composition classes are routinely assigned to write a research paper, but this exercise rarely succeeds because they do not yet grasp how to analyze their sources, say the chief researchers of a multi-institutional study of college students’ citations.
“We need to be teaching analysis, and a lot of it,” Rebecca Moore Howard, professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University and co-principal investigator of the Citation Project, said in an interview. She and her colleague on the project are scheduled to present their latest findings Thursday at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in St. Louis.
The project, which began as an effort to examine plagiarism and the teaching of writing, looked at source-based student papers from 16 institutions, including Ivy League universities, private and public institutions, liberal-arts colleges, religious institutions, and community colleges.
After reading 174 student papers and tracing back their 1,911 citations, the project’s researchers were able to investigate the process by which students find, evaluate, and use the sources they cite.
“It’s very clear that they don’t know how to analyze their sources,” Ms. Howard said. “They don’t understand it and don’t know how to do anything but grab a few sentences and go.”
A presentation of the project’s initial findings at the conference last year told a disheartening story: that students rarely look past the first three pages of the sources they cite and often stitch together a patchwork of text, with little evidence that they absorb their sources’ content along the way.
The presentation the researchers prepared this year added further analysis and reflected data from one more institution, the further recoding of the data, and tests of statistical validity, which it met. Significantly, the results held true across institution types, said Sandra Jamieson, co-principal investigator on the project, and professor and chair of the English department at Drew University. <Read more.>