Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Uses of references in CIE Foundation Studies students' argumentative research essays

Thelma Blackford
Foundation Studies, Centre for International English
Curtin University of Technology
The Curtin University Foundation Studies program is a full-time course of study designed for International students to gain entry to undergraduate courses. The program has the advantage of being taught on Curtin's main campus by university staff, and prepares students to operate effectively in a university setting and gives them a working understanding of the requirements for successful undergraduate study.

Foundation Studies students in one their core units for Academic Writing, are required to write a 2,000 word argumentative essay. The task is process based and occurs at the end of their second semester. It consists of didactic, drafting and conferencing input. It is a major preparatory exercise for academic discourse. In an action research investigation of 15 research essays there is evidence of difficulties encountered by students when locating and selecting resources.

There is evidence of different types of plagiarism. With online referencing there was extensive copying, and with in-text referencing only a few students summarised paraphrased and cited references effectively.

To reflect changes in information literacy and the implications of evidencing research, this impacts on issues such as assessments and today's pedagogy.

Do new guidelines need to be formulated for unit outlines and course requirements to address these problems?


The study carried out on students' uses of in-text references revealed important information literacy problems due to students under-utilising many resource formats. The study furthermore showed the under-utilisation of certain integrating categories of reference uses for example, Original Explanations, Summaries and Paraphrases. Evidence of different kinds of plagiarising practices was observed. The academic essay is still the traditional mode of academic discourse at Curtin. At a pre-tertiary level CIE Foundation students undertake a research essay in preparation for the university's discourse community.

Analysis of data

15 argumentative research essays of 2000-3000 words were written in semester 1 1998 by CIE international students. The in-text references of these essays were analysed to measure the kinds of resources used as well as how these were used. The end-text references totaling 123 included 74 books, 20 online sources, 11 journals, 7 newspaper articles, 4 dictionaries, 3 encyclopedias, 2 dissertations, 1 speech, 1 video and 3 brochures.

The end-text references located totaled 72 out of 123 used. The difficulties in locating these references were due to:

181 in-text references were cited from 123 sources. On occasions the same source was used more than once. This accounts for the larger number than 123.

14 students used in-text referencing. One student used more than 40 references and another more than 20. 7 students used between 10-20 references while 5 used less than 10. One student used none. Their uses were categorised according to degrees of integration the categories ranged from most to least integrated, in the following order.

Table A: Kinds of sources used

Online sources-World Wide Web5 students used online sources20 URL addresses cited6 URL addresses located
CD-ROMs and databases4 students used scholarly journals5 uses of scholarly journalsGreen Left Weekly, New Scientist, Australian Family Physician
Journals-popular5 students used newspapers6 uses of popular journalsShe, Seventeen Woman's Day, New Woman
Newspapers5 students used newspapers7 uses of newspapersThe Age, The Australian, The West Australian
Books15 students used books79 uses of books
Community resources3 students used community resources4 uses of community resources2 booklets on Euthanasia
1 leaflet on Abortion
Videos1 student used a videoABC Compass program on Cloning
Speeches1 student used a speechPauline Hanson's maiden speech
Dictionaries3 students used dictionariesThere were 4 uses of encyclopedias
Encyclopedias2 students used encyclopediasThere were 3 uses of encyclopedias
Dissertations2 students each used a dissertation1 dissertation on 'The Beauty Myth' located at Curtin Library1 dissertation was not located

Discussion on the kinds of sources used

Students' uses of sources displayed an inability to produce a reference list from a range of sources.

Knowing information problem-solving skills prepares students for an information-based society and a technological workplace. For a student's future that is characterised by change the student needs to be able to retrieve and manage information, think critically, creatively solve problems and communicate effectively. The research- based essay promotes resource-based learning because the students are required to access a variety of information formats. The traditional library location skills taught in isolation no longer equips the student to become information literate.

For resource-based learning both librarian and educators need to become partners in a shared goal. This goal means enabling students to become lifelong learners by helping them to become information literate because they can always find information needed for any task at hand. The issue of information literacy is one of power. If students are disenfranchised through not knowing how to locate and select information the answer is to empower not just them but all educators dealing with them. Curtin educators and students can gain this knowledge through bibliographic instruction programs, workshops and training sessions. Without the support of either faculty or school involvement it is impossible to achieve the goal of information literate students. It is only by lecturers linking more closely with librarians that a meaningful information literacy program can happen. Moreover, library based information literacy activities are excellent opportunities for active learning that involve experiencing and observing. By integrating these activities into the tasks we set the students learn the language of the discipline and their different learning styles can be catered for as well as course content. The more information seeking and evaluating competencies the students develop in our university environment the better prepared they will be for success in their future education, social and work environments.

All kinds of resources are worthy of discussion but I include the Internet here because from this medium students copied extensively.

Online sources

The use of online sources by only 5 students suggests that the other 10 students may have chosen not to use this medium due to a variety of reasons. Many may have avoided using the World Wide Web due to the issues of authorship, accuracy and reliability of information. They may have had little technical knowledge about using computers. No tuition had been given on how to use the Internet.

That two thirds of the students choose not to use the World Wide Web has implications for teaching the research essay in the future. Students had no tuition regarding the problems of articles having frequently no author, date, publisher or pagination. Another issue was the difficulty encountered when trying to cite material. The information in the Harvard handout was not sufficient to enable ESL students to easily understand the referencing protocol. These students may have known little about the success rates of different search engines. Neither may they have known about Boolean or other searching concepts.

The 5 students who used online sources used 20 references but only 6 of these could be located. One reason for this could be that students typed their URL addresses wrongly. Another reason might be that the information was no longer on the servers. That the online information was extremely plagiarised may be due to the students believing that Online material would not be located and analysed. Students by being forewarned of this are more likely not to copy or at least are more wary about it. A good idea is to ask students to submit with their essay photocopies of information from

Table B: Categories of sources used

Original ExplanationSummar-
QuotationsNear CopiesExact Copies
No students did Original Explanations.5/15 students used Summaries.7/15 students used Paraphrasing.10 students used Quotations.7/15 students used Near Copies.11/15 used Exact Copies.
There were no occasions of Original Explanations.There were 22 occasions of Summarising.There were 53 occasions of Paraphrasing.There were 26 occasions of Quotations.There were 17 occasions of Near Copying.There were 35 occasions of Exact Copying.

1 student used 11 occasions. Of the other 11 occasions the average number per student was 0.7 Summaries.2 students used 24 and 12 occasions respectively. The remaining 13 students averaged 1.25 Paraphrases each.The Quotations used ranged from 1 Quotation by a student to 5 Quotations by a student. The average use was 1.7 per student.One student used a Near Copy of above 10 lines. 4 used Near Copies of between 5-10 lines. 5 used Near Copies of less than 5 lines.8 students used Exact Copies in excess of 10 lines. 6 used Exact Copies of between 5-10 lines. 8 used Exact Copies of less than 5 lines.

Discussion on categories of sources used

Information literacy is not only important for learning about resource-based format but also it impinges significantly on how students use these resources. Less plagiarising is likely when a student can access and evaluate information critically and creatively. As plagiarising displays inappropriate and irresponsible attitudes to university academic discourse practices the information literate student shows social responsibility by practicing ethical behaviour in regard to information and information technology. Furthermore in their future careers as responsible citizens they can make ethical information decisions. The extensive use of Near Copying and Exact Copying especially from the World Wide Web is of great concern. That students under -utilised many of the categories has implications for future teaching. Although all categories are worthy of discussion the following two categories can be improved by adopting a range of teaching strategies that include concept mind-mapping, note-taking, more meta-cognitive awareness practices and frequent practice of the task.


Summaries were under-utilised in that two thirds did not use Summaries. Summarising is a higher order cognitive skill and requires that the student be able to analyse and synthesise given material. The student must not evaluate but in a shortened version typically a third of the original text is required to retain the authors voice and ideas and use the students' own language and style. In a Summary the student does not disagree with or critique the writer's opinion.

There are different types of summaries, some may consist of only one sentence, whereas others can be a third, a fourth or fifth of the original version.


Paraphrasing entails putting the writer's original sentence or sentences in his/her own words. This cognitive process of restating an idea from the main source helps the student to internalise the meaning of the original text more fully. That 8 out of 15 choose not to Paraphrase has future implication for the teaching of this category. Paraphrased text must be attributed to the original source. Successful Paraphrasing requires the student to use their own language and style and keep the original author's ideas and voice. Paraphrasing typically focuses on a main idea and is a more detailed re-formulation than the summary. Its use also helps to prevent over use of Quotations.

Students frequently use synonyms to replace words and they also change the order of the sentence around. This is still plagiarism. To prevent this students must be made aware that keeping phrases and changing nouns is not sufficient. The range and use of reporting verbs need to be understood and practiced by students.


Lecturers need to reflect on the validity of a research argumentative essay. A research essay can be more valid if it reflects a wide range of sources. Lecturers need to be mindful of the extent of integrating categories used by the students and the assessment policies need to take into account the range of sources used as well as the kinds and extent of integrating of the more appropriate categories.

In order to provide for the learning of future academic university discourse at CIE's Foundation Studies writing course we must:

This piece of action research is on-going and the students' learning style profiles as Deep, Achieving or Surface learners have yet to be correlated with their respective uses of resources as well as how effective they are at using the various integrating categories. This information will have further pedagogical implications.


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Please cite as: Blackford, T. (1999). Uses of references in CIE Foundation Studies students' argumentative research essays. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 42-48. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/blackford.html

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