This summer, Im exploring a variety of Web sites and tools that you can use in the classroom and/or for your own professional development. Each week, Ill 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. Its simply an eccentric process of fill-in-the-blank.
Thats 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 dont think thats the case. Students still have to determine the kind of text properly. If students cant tell the difference between a single-authored book and a book authored by several people, they arent going to find the right format—whether theyre 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, its going to be missing from the citation. Thats where editing and proofreading come in. No matter how students create their bibliographical entries, theyre 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 weeks 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 KCollege students). These tools are great too, but Im 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
- This 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
- From 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). Dont 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. Its best suited for secondary and college students.
- Oregon School Library Information System Citation Makers
- This 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 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, its 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 companys 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
- Citation 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.