Citation in academic writing can discourage creativity

Students forced to quote others wonder if their own opinion matters

In Summary

• The eminence of one's work is seemingly pegged on how much they have referred

Students check books at the Zetech University library
Students check books at the Zetech University library

In my recently concluded semester in campus, we were doing a unit where we had to read an average of eight to 10 articles weekly in preparation for the lessons. These articles formed the core material for the class discussions.

The course was unpopular amongst an overwhelming majority of the students. When I say overwhelming here, I mean 99 per cent of the students didn't like it. The only ones who seemed to like it that much are the ones you'd consider the teacher's pets: those who want to appear as the serious students.

You probably wonder why it was such an unpopular course. Of course, the 10 readings weekly contributed to it. Given students had four other courses to read for, this was tasking. But what made it more loathsome was the attitude of the lecturers.

We were taught by two men who were determined to make students' lives difficult. They'd kick students out of class if they failed to answer a question (the learning was virtual). The software they used to record attendance was erroneous but they'd hear none of it. And they'd sometimes answer students rudely.

When we had a Continuous Assessment Test, they threatened to disregard any assignment that was submitted late even by a minute. This meant any such student would have to resit the course. They had an array of rules which made the classes tense and which I think were unreasonable.

During their classes, they would insist that every answer someone gives has to be substantiated. They have to quote a source. In one of the classes, a student asked an important question. "We have always been told to cite others' work. When will our opinions matter?"

His question is one most of us related to. When I joined campus, citation was one thing I had a very hard time with. For one, I did not understand how to go about it, notwithstanding the numerous resources shared to provide guidance. But more importantly, I did not understand why my understanding of a concept, or the lack of it thereof, had to be determined based on how much I can quote what other people have said about the topic. I suffered even more when we had a writing assignment to do and I chose a topic that hadn't been thoroughly explored. I was forced to rely on most of my thoughts and get creative.

It is good for students and other writers in academia to give credit when they cite other scholars' works. However, the eminence of one's work shouldn't be judged based on how much they have quoted other writers.

Quite often, writings with more citations tend to be seen as more thoroughly researched though this may not always be true. The result is, the existence of a culture where students don't formulate their own thoughts but instead regurgitate those of others. Players in the academic fields should encourage students not to concentrate too much on reproducing other scholars' thoughts but to, instead, have their own line of thinking and only quote other scholars to the extent that doing so is necessary. That way, we have a balance between creativity and ensuring there is no plagiarism.

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