Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Online Documentation Tools

This summer, I’m exploring a variety of Web sites and tools that you can use in the classroom and/or for your own professional development. Each week, I’ll talk about how it works, point out related sites, and discuss classroom connections. This week, I focus on online resources for building documentation citations.

Bibliographic style can be difficult to teach. There are exact formats that have to be followed precisely. Differences among citations may seem eccentric to students, and even more eccentric can be the differences among citation formats (e.g., MLA versus APA).

Most language arts textbooks include the most basic details on these citations. Websites like the Purdue OWL provide extensive lists and explanations on citations and reseearch writing. With these resources to guide students, writing bibliographical citations is just a matter of plugging details into an equation: Last name, First name. Book Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Date of Publication. It’s simply an eccentric process of fill-in-the-blank.

That’s why online documentation tools can supplement the process in useful ways. Using online bibliographic entry generators, students still complete the process of filling in the blanks, but they can be less overwhelmed by the task. The process is really the same as it would be for someone using a language arts textbook: determine the kind of text and fill in the blanks of the citation form.

Naysayers will argue that these generators take away the responsibility to learn how to write bibliographies. I don’t think that’s the case. Students still have to determine the kind of text properly. If students can’t tell the difference between a single-authored book and a book authored by several people, they aren’t going to find the right format—whether they’re working with textbook instructions or an online generator.

Further, students still have to find all the necessary details for the texts they create citations for. No online generator is going to fill in the details students leave out. If the student skips place of publication, it’s going to be missing from the citation. That’s where editing and proofreading come in. No matter how students create their bibliographical entries, they’re still responsible for checking the entries against the standard formats and correcting any errors.

Online citation builders are just the 21st century way of filling in the blanks. For this week’s web highlights, I'm sticking to free sites. There are web-based services that ask for a fee of some kind, and there are pieces of stand-alone software, like EndNote (a sophisticated program that is probably beyond the needs of most K–College students). These tools are great too, but I’m focusing on tools that can be used in any classroom with the right computer and Internet resources.

So here are the sites that I recommend for building citations:

MLA Citation Generator
MLA Citation GeneratorThis barebones tool builds only seven kinds of entries. Its simplicity would be perfect for elementary and middle school students whose sources are fairly traditional.

Citation Builder
Citation Builder ScreenshotFrom the University of North Carolina University Libraries, this online tool can create only six kinds of entries; however, the related forms allow for more complex kinds of texts (e.g., multi-author books, online and print journal articles). Don’t let the limited number of choices on the homepage fool you. This tool can produce rather sophisticated entries and requires students to know which information is relevant on the forms for the texts they enter. It’s best suited for secondary and college students.

Oregon School Library Information System Citation Makers
OSLIS Citation Maker ScreenshotThis versatile site offers three different citation makers: MLA citations for elementary students, MLA citations for middle and secondary students, and APA citations. Like the UNC University Libraries’ tool above, the MLA citations for older students includes forms that can result in rather complex citations. The Citation Maker for Elementary Students narrows down the options a bit. The pages in this tool are rather text heavy, making it appear a bit busy. Students would benefit from teacher demonstration and modeling to help them learn how to use the large amount of data on the pages.

EasyBib Screenshot EasyBib is a complete tool that includes forms for three dozen different kinds of texts, including advertisements, email messages, interviews, and photographs. Despite this wide range of options, the forms are fairly simple and, with guidance, could be used even with middle school students. If students are to use the tool independently, it’s more appropriate for secondary and college students. The citations that the tool creates can be printed, saved as an RTF file, or viewed online (and then copied and pasted into another document).

Note that this tool does include pervasive links and encouragement to purchase the company’s MyBibPro, but the free tools convinced me to include it. The tool is very complete, allows for annotation, and includes links to Facebook and MySpace communities that are bound to capture students’ attention.

Son of Landmark Citation Machine
Landmarks Citation Machine ScreenshotCitation Machine is less slick than EasyBib, but it includes basic citation forms for not only MLA and APA, but also Chicago and Turabian—plus there are no annoying “Subscribe” links. The default links on the site include the forms for typical kinds of texts. Be sure to click the “More?” link under MLA and APA to expand the list to access a wide range of citation types, including podcasts, television shows, and government publications. With support from a teacher or librarian, the tool could be used by middle school students, but is probably best for secondary and college students.


mattbucher said...

Another one worth looking at is OttoBib.

Cathryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cathryn said...

Thanks, as always, for the great links and info, Traci!

More cool stuff: the Writing Center at Brigham Young University has a few easy-print handouts on citation styles that can be very useful, too. They were originally based on Purdue's OWL resources and were designed with online citation builders in mind. They work well as supplementary materials to lessons on citation styles or as reference sheets while students use the online citation builders. Links to both the online text versions and printable versions are here:


Anonymous said...

Thank you for supporting the use of on-line bib makers. I couldn't agree more. I have battled the nay sayers in my building for years.I always remind my students that in the end their citations are only as good as the information they provide. They are still responsible. I am partial to the Landmark Son of Citation cite and find it to be easily used by secondary students, even freshman.

Seton said...

I noticed that NoodleTools was not mentioned, and wondered if you skipped it for a reason. I've always liked it because it provides a lot of coaching along the way, helping students to understand what they are choosing when they choose a type of source, etc. There's a free component as well as the pay site. Interested to know what you think. Thanks for encouraging use of these tools.

Nick Carbone said...

cool list. A free resource that anyone can use is The Bedford Bibliography which was co-designed by Mike Palmquist, who coded the Writing Studio at Colorado State and Paul Taylor, of The Daedalus Group. Paul did the coding and Mike wrote the examples and explanations. Both have taught writing and research for years, and so approached the design from their experience.


flying_pig said...

Thanks for doing all of the legwork (er...fingerwork?). I've used a couple of online citation tools my district recommends, and have found that it makes life a lot easier for both the kids, and me, PLUS they are more ready to cite the sources because of the ease provided. There is one comment I'd like to address - "Naysayers will argue that these generators take away the responsibility to learn how to write bibliographies". Honestly, I would rather spend my time helping my kids become better WRITERS than CITERS! Yes, proper citation is important, but in the current educational climate, where kids are tested to death, and quality teaching time is fast shrinking, who cares if a kid can churn out a proper citation from memory?!?!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this legwork. Word 2007 also has an automatic bibliography/works citated maker, but misses many of the sources my middle school students use.

We are heavily into using subscription databases of magazine, journal, newspaper articles, as well as multimedia, and Word just doesn't handle these well. So I'm going to play around with these tools to see which will fit my students best.

Teaching bibliography is hard enough ON PAPER. Why torture yourself and the kids when an automated source will prompt them for all that's needed so they can succeed?


Mary Burkhart said...

The Weinberg Memorial Library here at the University of Scranton recently purchased the license for RefWorks and Write-N-Cite. According to RefWorks home page: "RefWorks -- an online research management, writing and collaboration tool -- is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies."

Happily, it delivers. Plus, because it is based online, users can access their database from any computer linked to the web, they can change their info from one style to another; e.g., from APA to MLA or Chicago or Turabian, and so on. In addition, RefWorks offers online tutorials and webinars.

I like it, and will incorporate it into our training workshop for our writing consultants before the fall semester begins.

It's definitely worth a look: http://www.refworks.com/

Anonymous said...

For the past four years of graduate school, I have been a Noodletools user. I highly recommend it. The creators continually improve their website, keeping it user friendly up to date. There is even an option to create "cards" for your resources as well as annotate them. Extremely user friendly, too.

David B$ said...

I guess I'm pre-labelled here as a naysayer, but... I find that most of the online citation forms are woefully limited, and it's difficult to construct acceptable citations for anything but basic entries from them. Since figuring out which form fields to use and how to tweak the entry once it's completed requires the use of a style handbook anyway, why not ask students to learn to use the style handbooks and to type the entries directly into a document? The amount of typing is basically the same, but the knowledge of how to use a word processor correctly is a distinct bonus that online generators don't provide. (And my students, by and large, are far less capable of using a word processor correctly than my students ten years ago were, when they had to pay attention to the tool to make best use of it.) I insist that my students avoid the generators, and those who do typically don't have to rewrite their citations.

I would point out that EndNote is the best of the software lot, since it allows for detailed customization of any form template (I found this indispensable for writing my dissertation), but I agree that it is too much tool for secondary and most undergraduate students.

rik said...

don't forget BibMe!

Anonymous said...

Knight Cite, Calvin College's documentation tool, is one of the most robust offerings I've found and is well worth using.


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