‘What did I do wrong?’ Researching student referencing practices by Helen Hathaway, Clare Nukui, Dr Kim Shahabudin and Dr Liz Wilding

‘What did I do wrong?’ may be a sadly familiar phrase to tutors when notifying students of poor academic practice in their written work. It was chosen for the title of our collaborative TLDF-funded project because it captures the confusion and lack of understanding which is characteristic in student responses to plagiarism and poor academic practice accusations. Such accusations can destroy the confidence and downgrade the final result for otherwise intelligent, committed and hardworking students. Our project aims to uncover some of the reasons why student difficulties with referencing arise, and collate good practice teaching materials for use in subject teaching and for self-development throughout the University.

Difficulties with referencing and plagiarism are an area of concern for all HE institutions in the UK. Problems go beyond knowing how and when to write a citation. Both tutors and students regularly report a failure to understand the purpose of referencing to support a critical discussion. This inability to apply principles of rigorous independent learning goes to the heart of poor academic writing.

There have been increasing efforts on the part of academic departments and central services to provide solutions to this problem through guides, taught sessions, exercises and digital tools like Turnitin. We are all far too busy to keep re-inventing the wheel! So the primary aim of the project is to collate best practice examples of teaching materials and make them available in a format which can be easily adapted for other departments.

We also hope to discover why it is that, even where there is plentiful, comprehensive and highlighted guidance, student difficulties persist. Why are students not using – or not understanding – the guidance available? How can we best persuade them to take referencing at university seriously? We plan to include suggestions with the ‘toolkit’ of teaching materials.

While we are limited by the scope of the current project to focusing close attention on a limited number of departments, we are also planning to briefly survey academics across the university on this topic. In the meantime, we would be very happy to receive any comments, experiences or examples of good practice. Please feel free to contact any member of the project team named above.

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