Establishing Textual Authority

Topics: Homelessness, Writing, Homelessness in the United States Pages: 33 (6336 words) Published: February 11, 2014
Jen n i fer A . M o t t- Smit h

Establishing Textual Authority
and Separating Voices: A New
Approach to Teaching Referencing


ing is tied to our ability to establish textual authority. But how do we address these issues in class?
Over semesters of discussion
with students about the differences
between their writing cultures and
my U.S. academic one, I found that
difficulties with referencing are connected to differences in how students read and write texts. In response, I
developed a new approach to teaching
referencing based on establishing textual authority and separating writers’ voices. Because I teach composition as
a theme-based course, my referencing
lessons relate to theme-based reading
and writing assignments.
In this article, I first present a
short discussion of key theoretical
ideas that inform the approach, and
then I describe five lessons, four of
which are integrated into the course
theme of “homelessness.” There are
many reasons why I use this theme.
Perhaps most important, I find that
homelessness, together with poverty
more generally, is a theme that is

nowing how to reference
is important not only for
students studying in English-speaking countries, but also for those who might want to publish in
English-medium journals. In many
universities, however, it is often just
assumed that students know how to
reference, and approaches to teaching referencing are little more than a public reading of the institution’s
plagiarism policy. As English language
teachers, we need to take the lead
in designing a coherent referencing
curriculum to enable our students to
authoritatively quote and paraphrase
so they are better equipped to achieve
their academic goals.
Ironically, our theoretical understandings have far outstripped conventional approaches to teaching referencing. We now know, for instance,
that English language learners by and
large do not plagiarize deceitfully. We
know that using bits and pieces of
other texts may be integral to language
learning. And we know that referenc16












may be true for students in the United States
as well as for those from other countries.
When, for example, secondary students in
the United States read textbooks, they often
read to master material that society considers
to be true. Students are not expected to make
distinctions between the positions of different
authors because the textbook is usually written by only one person (who likely did not use citations!).
For some students, memorization also
plays a role in their approach to writing. When
they memorize a text, they not only master
the content but also the words. My Chinese
students are happy to produce excerpts from
texts verbatim since, they believe, the texts are
better worded than their own writing would
be. When they reproduce a text, they may
experience it as shared common knowledge,
and therefore not cite it. Thus, it is not at all
self-evident to some students that the idea of
common knowledge does not permit the verbatim reproduction of words or knowledge from a text without appropriate citation.
Furthermore, some students do not have
experience in recording the positions of different authors in their writing, because they were taught to seamlessly meld the voices of
authority with their own. As one of my Korean students explained, in Korea, she and her classmates “copied information from several
websites, and melded them invisibly.” This
does not mean that they did not have their
own perspectives, but rather, that they did not
think that separating out their perspectives
was appropriate or politically savvy, or would
get them an A. As Ramanathan and Atkinson
(1999) explain, students from cultures with
collectivist or interdependent values “learn
to write not so much to present an original,
strong, individual self, but to show how much...

References: Abasi, A. R., N. Akbari, and B. Graves. 2006.
Chandrasoma, R., C. Thompson, and A. Pennycook. 2004. Beyond plagiarism: Transgressive
and nontransgressive intertextuality
Currie, P. 1998. Staying out of trouble: Apparent
plagiarism and academic survival
Eighner, L. 1993. Travels with Lizbeth. New York:
Howard, R. M. 1995. Plagiarisms, authorships, and
the academic death penalty
Kozol, J. 1994. Distancing the homeless. In The
writer’s presence: A pool of essays, ed
Pennycook, A. 1996. Borrowing others’ words:
Text, ownership, memory, and plagiarism.
Ramanathan, V., and D. Atkinson. 1999. Individualism, academic writing, and ESL writers.
Scollon, R. 1995. Plagiarism and ideology: Identity
in intercultural discourse
Starfield, S. 2002. “I’m a second-language English speaker”: Negotiating writer identity and
authority in sociology one
Tokars, L. (2008). Police crack down on
drunks in South Bend
Towson University. 2008. Policies affecting students: Student academic integrity policy. http://
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