My university recently convened an emergency “summit” for librarians, tutors, and concerned faculty members to solve a citation crisis. Our library help desks reportedly cannot complete their core mission of assisting students with information literacy (finding, choosing, and using sources) because students keep pestering them with questions about how to format obscure citations: “I’m analyzing poetry for my ‘Punk Literature’ seminar. Using MLA style, how do I cite a limerick scribbled in the third-floor toilet?”
Meanwhile, the writing center stinks of fear as students struggle to decipher APA, MLA, AP, and Chicago (or is it Turabian?) documentation styles, which seem as alien and absurd to them as using a typewriter. Academic departments and even whole colleges consistently beg the library and writing center for workshops to rehabilitate their worst citation transgressors. Bibliographic citation has apparently eclipsed perfect grammar and the five-paragraph theme as the preoccupation of persnickety professors.
What a colossal waste. Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers.
Agree or disagree?