Don’t Worry, it’s Only Citing

Perhaps those of you who are reading this are, or were at one point, a state-of-the-art, GA tutor for your college Writing Center, like myself. I am probably not the typical GA you would expect to see working in a Writing Center. By this, I mean my BA isn’t in English, it is in Psychology. I only have a minor in English. Because of this, worrying opening week of the Writing Center I was not going to be able to help other students with their papers and questions, was more than an understatement for me.

What if I describe the use of articles incorrectly?  What if I miss a comma? I can ask how my lack of knowledge makes them feel…

However, with each passing week, I’m beginning to notice that we have more and more students coming to us from a variety of disciplines, not just English Composition. Business, Economics, Nursing, Social Sciences, so on. When these students bring us their papers, they all have two things in common: they need to know how to avoid plagiarism, and how to cite in APA.

Ah! Here is where I can help!

When I was an undergraduate, I wrote an immense amount of Psychology research papers in APA format. For my capstone, I wrote a twenty-one page research paper, cover letter, abstract, and works cited not included, on the correlation between substance abuse and women’s depression in the Appalachian region. And I had to give up my summer to do so. If I can get through that, I can help a few students with their citations, no problem.

There have been several students come in this semester with the same type of research paper for the same Experimental Psychology course (A class I took as an undergrad as well). All have been working on their introductions of the paper. The introduction is where all of their sources they have researched will be presented, and those sources cited.

Some students are concerned because their professor has expressed that they want the students to avoid direct quotes from their resource articles unless the quote is one to two sentences in length. Some students wonder how they are to avoid plagiarism if they’re limited in what they can directly quote. This is when I proceed to explain paraphrasing. How it’s okay to sum up a section of your resource article into your own words, as long as you still include an in-text citation when doing so. I explain that you can either use your in-text citation at the end of the paragraph, like you would if you were directly quoting something, or, you can start your paragraph by stating the researcher’s name, followed by the year their research was conducted. Some students either forgot that they could paraphrase, or never knew paraphrasing wasn’t plagiarizing as long as it was cited.

One session I remember in particular, was an online appointment I had last week. A student submitted a paper with instructions that they needed help with APA in-text citations and getting started. When I go to open the document the student attached, there was nothing. Literally all the student had was the sub headings for each section of their introduction. When chatting online with the student, they expressed great distress in not even knowing how to start. I remember reading in A Guide Composition Pedagogies (2nd ed), that in order to help students stop seeing research papers as this treacherous, pit of doom, that they’re never going to climb out of, help them break down the paper into smaller portions. That way, it seems like a bunch of individual research papers, and more realistic to accomplish (Tate, Taggart, Schick, Hessler, p 236).

As I proceed to explain this method to the student, I think back to when I was writing this paper, and how stressed out I was. I sympathize with them, but can’t tell them not to stress out over it. It kind of is a required paper and class to graduate.

What was that method I learned back in Behavioral Learning? Positive Reinforcement! That’s right.

That’s when I suggested to them that perhaps, trying to write the introduction first isn’t the best idea. Start in the sub headings, get all of your cited work written first, and then go back! You’ll know more about your topic, and will be able to elaborate in your introduction on what you have already written. The student seemed to like this idea. And of course, I reassured them that they will get through this research paper, and they will pass the course. Don’t stress out so much. I think being in their shoes three years ago made them feel a lot more confident in their ability to write this paper.

That’s when I realized what my style of tutoring is. I’m the reassuring type. I may not be able to tell you when to use a comma or semicolon without looking it up on the Purdue Owl first, but I’m going to be able to give you the confidence you need to write a research paper, any paper, and help you see it as an accomplishable task. Being able to reassure students, and see flustered expressions disappear by the end of our sessions, has helped reassure me that I am being a helpful tutor.

-Jessica L.


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