My work as Writing Center Director at Metropolitan State College of Denver (Metro State) is constantly impacted by my work as a contributing researcher on The Citation Project, a nationwide study of student citation practices led by Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson. Three of the Project findings especially resonated for me:
- students tend to use reference sources rather than sources that present original research,
- students don’t seem to read those sources deeply enough to summarize them (relying instead on quoting, patchwriting, and paraphrasing of largely cherry-picked sentences), and
- students seem to have little of their own to say.
These findings are particularly relevant for digital media because the majority of sources cited by students in the study are digital.Indeed, the Citation Project simply confirms and quantifies what those of us who teach research writing and/or work in writing centers already knew: students’ research processes often begin and end with a simple Google search and the top search returns—regardless of those sources’ appropriateness or scholarly legitimacy—receive the most attention from students.
In this webtext, I will discuss how recent research on student source usage, with particular attention to both the findings and methodology of the Citation Project, resonates with writing center work. This webtext is organized into four sections, which can be read in any order:
- Students and Digital Sources summarizes recent research, especially the Citation Project, on how students use source material in their research and writing.
- Writing Centers and Ethics addresses the prevalent ethical issues in writing center studies, situating my argument that writing centers have an ethical imperative for to intervene in students’ research processes.
- Theory describes and discusses the theory that supports the idea that writing centers should encourage and enable what I call “excessive research,” an idea modeled on Nancy Welch’s concept of “excessive revision.”
- Practice acknowledges the practical limitations of the theory and discusses how the theory has been put into practice at the Metro State Writing Center.
It is commonly accepted that tutors should intervene in students’ writing processes (see for example Geller, et. al., 2007; Harris, 1986); however, I intend to argue that the easy availability of and students’ dependence on digital sources necessitates that we include students’ research practices as our territory as well. I will argue that not only are students’ research practices legitimate territory for Writing Centers to intervene in, but that we have an ethical responsibility to do so.