– Two hours and five minutes

That’s how long it took me to make an MLA style list of works cited for an essay I am submitting to journals.

There are only nine sources on this list.

Why did it take so long? After all, I kept detailed research notes.  And, I tried EasyBib, which automates citation creation.

It took so long because, like the dashboard design that is unique to every car model, how each publication, whether print or electronic, catalogs its content is idiosyncratic.  Sometimes the author’s name and date are right there, at the top of the page.  Sometimes the name of the newspaper is the same as the owner (New York Times, for example). Sometimes URLs remain stable over time. And sometimes — most of the time — not.

Teachers, don’t we wonder why our students fail, almost every time, to adequately document their research in their papers? What’s wrong with those damn students? (Yes, I am shouting in my stage voice. You know I love them, and I suspect that you do, too.) Let me tell you something:

They fail, not because they can’t — I mean, the freakin’ rules are published everywhere — it’s because they often finish those papers just a few hours before the deadline, and then they’re pooped.  (And we know that’s true, at every school, with 90% of our students.)

So, does my experience make me sympathetic? Only a little. Will I stop requiring students to submit fully formatted citations? No.

I might, however, in all my free time, explore some efficient ways of managing sources for a research paper, and pass them along to students.

Why should we force them to reinvent the wheel? This isn’t a rite of passage; citation-making isn’t critical thinking.

Citations are housekeeping, necessary for sure, but we don’t have to turn the making of them into an art.

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