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Teaching Your Child How To Master Citations
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It took my youngest son quite a while to master the use of citations. To be fair, I must admit that it was more than the pure mechanics of using citations that figured in his getting a grasp on using them effectively. It wasn’t until I had many conversations with other parents, teachers and homeschoolers, that I finally realized what needed to be done in order for us to get a handle on the problem. It is often difficult for young people to distinguish between their own opinions and substantiated facts.

My son, for example, had a tough time understanding that it was not enough to merely make an assertion just because he saw it written down “somewhere”. It wasn’t until he was repeatedly pressed to say where the facts came from, and to distinguish what were his own original ideas from those of other authors that he’d read that he began to get a sense of the importance of precisely determining the authority of the information he was using. Once he clearly distinguished his versus others’ ideas, he was better able to understand why it was important to “give credit where credit was due”, so to speak.

There is often confusion in young people in how works cited differ from bibliographies. Both terms have to do with referencing information that support written work, but bibliographies refer to consulted sources that may or may not actually be used, whereas citations refer to material that is always directly used in an essay or paper. I think that an additional factor muddying the distinction between the two terms is that bibliographies are often encountered first in a child’s education and citations only later.

Not only are there dozens of types of citations, but there are also many different citation “styles”. This can be especially troubling in the homeschool environment, because you often have to make a choice from similar styles with considerable overlap. The main citation styles are as follows:

• The APA Style is compiled by the American Psychological Association, and is often used to cite references in the fields of psychology and the social sciences.

• The ASA Style is from the American Sociological Association, and is often used in the fields of sociology and related disciplines.

• The MLA Style is developed by the Modern Language Association of America, and is often preferred in the study of literature, the arts, the humanities, and other academic subjects.

• The Chicago Style is compiled by the University of Chicago Press, and is often used in the study of history and other academic studies.

• The Blubook Style is compiled from the Harvard Law Review Association, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Pennsylvanis Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal; it is often preferred by law schools in the U.S.

• The ALWD Style is compiled by the Associateion of Legal Writing Directors, and is often preferred for use in court documents.

• The Harvard Style ia a parenthetical referencing style in which partial citations, for example: (Doe 2011, p.10), are enclosed within parentheses; it is preferred for college or university reference work.

• The Vancouver Style is compiled by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, and is preferred for use in medical, dental and biomedical journals.

It’s best to pick a single citation style, one that covers most of the kinds of subjects your child will be writing about, and stick to that one.  For the academic subjects that are typical in most homeschool environments, I recommend using the MLA Style. The MLA Style covers 36 types of citations in three broad categories:

• Books and other non-periodical publications,

• Articles and other publications in periodicals, and

• Electronic resources

The MLA electronic resources citation type includes eBooks, eMails, and Web sites. These are especially useful for citing information sources that your child will encounter online. One problem that came up repeatedly for online information sources was when another citation type was referred to “inside of” a Web site source. For example, what do you do when a book or a journal is referred to inside of a Web site reference? After a bit of research, we have found that is it best to first list the inside citation type, and then to “append” the Web site citation type at the end.

Here is an example from Chapter Five, "GNR: Three Overlapping Revolutions" of Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book “The Singularity is Near" When Humans Transcend Biology”:

Citation 4, p. 206: Robert Waterston , “Scientists Reveal Complete Sequence of Human Genome”,CBC News, Apr 14, 2003, "< CBC News Web site link inserted here >"

You can see here that the April 14th, 2003 CBC news progaram reference is embedded in the CBC News Web site link.  Books, newspaper articles and other citation types can also be "nested" in Web site citations in this way.

There is no greater satisfaction than seeing a difficult problem yield to an effective solution. At the beginning of last summer, after pre-testing revealed that my son needed remedial work in preparation for his senior year high school writing assignments, I noticed that it took him an average of three to five hours t complete short essays of about a page or so. But by summer’s end, after using a four-step essay writing technique that we developed together, he was able to produce complete works, fully researched and correctly cited, in about an hour!

Mastering the proper use of citations was pivotal in bringing this about. Sharing stories such as this and the similar achievements of others are some of the reasons why Academic Boot Camp Tips was created. We invite you to participate in our community as we engage in this most satisfying adventure in learning.

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