Common Core Standards: ELA
Knowledge of Language
L.9-10.3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
- Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian’s Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type.
In grades 9 and 10, the Common Core Standards for Language expect students to develop their knowledge of the language and formatting used in the most common citation style guides.
To students just learning the ropes, documenting references and resources in a research paper feels like a lot of pointless busywork. It may help to remind students of the benefits of citing their sources:
1. It shows they’re not plagiarizing. Plagiarism, or using other people’s words or ideas without giving them credit, is the fast track to nowhere. Plagiarism can get a writer kicked out of college, fired, or both. It’s far better to put a citation after every statement - no matter how obvious - than to get caught passing off someone else’s work as if it came from one’s own brain.
2. It shows they’re not just making stuff up. Almost as bad as plagiarism, “making stuff up” implies that the writer’s arguments are so off-the-wall that no other human being agrees with them, but that the writer believes his or her audience is so ignorant they’ll never notice the difference. Some students believe that citing sources undermines their credibility by making it look as if their argument can’t stand on its own. In fact, the opposite is true: showing that the experts on the subject agree with the argument being presented makes it stronger.
3. It tells other readers in the field that the writer knows enough about the subject to “speak their language.” This is where citing sources properly comes in handy. Writers who can use the proper citation style for the topic their paper covers indicate not only that they can research and organize an argument, but that they’re familiar enough with the field that they know how people in that field communicate information on sources to one another.
Different fields of study have different ways to present information - everything from what information about a book goes in the bibliography to how to use a serial comma. Specialists in a particular field often memorize the rules of their particular style book through constant use, but it’s not as important to memorize the rules as it is to know which style book to grab when writing on a particular topic or for a particular publication.
The most commonly used style guides include:
The MLA Handbook. Published by the Modern Language Association, the MLA handbook is used by writers in the humanities: literature, philosophy, ethics, art, dance, and so on.
Publication Handbook of the American Psychological Association. Also known as “the APA handbook” or “APA style,” this style guide is used not only by psychologists, but also by other areas that are included in the social sciences, such as politics, public health, and social work. Warning: sociologists may use the handbook of the American Sociological Association, or ASA, instead. The two handbooks are similar but not identical.
The ACS Style Guide and/or the CBE Style Manual. The ACS guide is published by the American Chemical Society, and the CBE manual is published by the Council of Biological Editors. Both style guides are used when writing about scientific topics or for a scientific journal.
The Associated Press Stylebook. This book bills itself as “the Bible of the newspaper industry,” and for good reason: nearly every journalistic outlet in the U.S. uses AP style, as do a wide range of informative websites. If writing for a newspaper, magazine, or similar publication, AP style is the way to go.
The Chicago Manual of Style and/or A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, by Kate L. Turabian. These manuals describe the same style of writing and citation, which may be called “Chicago” or “Turabian” for short. The primary difference is that the Chicago Manual of Style is much more comprehensive and thorough than Turabian’s book. Chicago/Turabian style is used as a “catch-all.” If the writer has no idea which style guide is appropriate, Chicago is probably the right choice. (A note: law-related publications use Chicago style for grammar and punctuation issues, but use either the Bluebook, published by Harvard, or the ALWD Manual, published by the Association of Legal Writing Directors, to cite to law-related sources and for certain style issues such as abbreviations. As a rule, if there isn’t a rule for it in the Bluebook or the ALWD manual, the writer should use Chicago/Turabian style.)
Sample Activities for Use in Class
1. Name That Style Guide
For this activity, students will need either a stack of style guides or a list of style guides and the topics they cover, as well as several sample paragraphs from various publications. Sample paragraphs should be long enough to give the reader some idea what they’re about, but should not include any identifying information like footnotes (parenthetical references are okay) or the name of the publication the information came from. In groups, students should read through each paragraph and try to identify which style guide they would use if they were writing the paragraph.
To make this activity more challenging, try overlapping style guide subject areas. For instance, should an article on ethics in education use MLA style (ethics) or APA style (education)? What about a newspaper article (AP style) on how the atom bomb was constructed (science)? Have students back up each of their choices with reasons, and discuss as a class whether the reasoning makes sense or if another style guide would be a better choice.
2. Citation Practice
For this activity, give each student three to five paragraphs of text from a source (or multiple sources) selected at random. Provide the name of the source, the author, and other information necessary to cite the source properly, but do not provide it in proper citation form. Students will also need access to several different style guides, either in the classroom, the library, or online. Have each student write a paragraph summarizing the text they’re given, citing quotes or paraphrases from the selection as appropriate and putting the information about the text into proper citation form. This activity requires students not only to identify the correct style guide, but to look up information in the guide and apply it to their own writing, including the all-important citing of facts and ideas not their own.