The Frankenreference – Taming the APA Monster

person drawing Frankenstein on brown board

I just going to say it, I love APA Style Blog. Seriously, if you teach writing, are learning writing, or if you write using APA, follow @APA_Style on Twitter.

APA is often a monster, a big boss if you will, that students feel they will never beat. My nickname in tutoring services is APA Lady. (I have another, the Dictator of Tutoring, but that is different post.) I have read literally hundreds of APA student papers, before and after submission. And I have seen students with good ideas give up on writing because of frustrations with APA.

I think part of that stems from our belief, as faculty, that APA are strict rules rather than guidelines. And because of this, we hold students to a too high standard of exactness. I was reminded of this today when checking out the APA Style Blog on referencing Art: “a good reference contains enough information to lead your reader to the source you used, as concisely as possible” (Hume-Pratuch, 2010, para. 2). That’s it. That is what a good reference is supposed to do and while there are guidelines, if the reference our students provide does that, we should accept it.

According to McAdoo (2010), “if the exact situation you’re looking for is not represented, don’t be afraid to create a Frankenreference” (para. 3). LOVE IT! The Frankenreference! Every APA reference has four parts – author, year, title, and publishing information. Those four parts help the reader find the document, and by document I mean what ever thing you used to gain the information be it a video, blog post, report, book, tweet, movie, webpage, article, etc., and the ability to review it as you did. Which is the point of the reference page: to help the reader find the sources you used so that if they are interested in more, they can gain from it too! Awesome, the point is to leave a path!

But too often, I believe we end up using APA as a stick that beats up developing writers who may not yet know that this report they used should be referenced as a book, listed as an electronic version or that this other source is really an online article and not a simple webpage as they have formated it. Did they give you enough information to find the source? If they did, use this as an opportunity for learning more about referencing and show them the other, perhaps more proper, way to reference but don’t take away one of their ten marks for APA. When students consistently receive one out of ten marks for APA, even after spending hours trying to get it right, it is demotivational. And, frankly in my opinion, deters them from the joy of writing, the meaning of referencing, and understanding of how you can follow another’s research to gain more information. I have had too many students in my office tell me that they are just giving up on APA because it is not worth it, that they will never get good marks on it anyways.

We know that the APA manual was not written for students – right? It is not learner friendly. I believe most content instructors don’t spend a lot of time teaching or reviewing APA with their students and that students are left to figure it out. If only that were possible. I have been doing the APA Lady thing for 10 years, and I still check the manual and APA Style website regularly. In fact, I had to look up how to reference a blog to make sure I did it right for this post.

Finally, all this emphasis on the proper referencing and citing of sources takes attention away from the other, perhaps even more important, part of APA: the style of writing. APA style is more than the rules and guidelines, it is a style of writing that is clear, concise and logical; that reduces bias with neutral language; and values an academic treatment of topics for better communication. APA guidelines were meant to help writers to present their findings through publication but I fear that how it is used with students who are developing writers is causing a level of frustration that causes them to stop trying.

Hume-Pratuch, J. (2010, April 10). There’s an art to it [Blog post]. Retrieved from

McAdoo, T. (2010, February 11). The frankenreference [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Postscript: A final word on dates. All of my references for this article are more than five years old and would be rejected by some faculty as too old. The 6th version of the APA manual was released in 2009 and it is the current version. Therefore, APA Style Blog posts from 2010 about the 6th edition can be considered foundational sources and are valid in spite of their age. There is a lot of bad information online about APA and there are few sources I trust. There is no better place to go for advice online on APA then  APA Style.

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Temporary Disabilities

man with hand bandage wearing backpack standing

Staying within the theme of students with disabilities, I have been thinking about students with temporary disabilities, perhaps because I have seen a number of St. Clair College students recently on crutches. I expect that all colleges and universities provide acommodations for students with a temporary disabilities such as a broken arm, sprained ankle or other injury. A student comes in with a broken arm and I expect the reaction is: Well of course! You are going to need more time to write your test because you broke your writing hand! Often, temporary disabilities are obvious – you can see it!

Let’s do a self test. When you are asked for accomodations from a student with a broken arm, how do you react? Do you:

A. Ask them for a doctor’s note and copy of their xray to prove that their arm is broken?

B. Question them about if they REALLY need extra time to write their test? After all, employers aren’t going to want to give extra time!

C. Accept their excuse but call them out in class for making you do extra work by having to get their test to Student Services 48 hours in advance and making you go back there to pick it up!

D. Accept their accomodation plan and ask if there is anything else you can do to help them while they recover?

Do you think that my A – C answers are ridiculous? I do, but I have heard stories of students with other types of disabilities including learning disabilities and mental health issues describe these kinds of reactions from faculty and I have heard faculty express concerns about whether students with disabilities REALLY need them.

I just wonder, do we give students with invisible disabilities the same acceptance and care that we do for students with temporary disabilities? It is something to think about!

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Learning Strategies for Students

person holding pencil near laptop computer

All students come to us with a certain set of study skills but most don’t realize that there are a variety of ways to approach and interact with materials and learning experiences in an educational environment. When students have struggles with their learning, often they do more of the same rather than trying something new; usually because they don’t know that there is something new to try. For students with learning disabilities, Learning Strategists are the best source of new ideas.

Students with learning disabilities, in particular, benefit from explicit instruction in strategies that mitigate the challenges in the education environment that their learning disability presents. But like many enhancements in our environment that we have made for persons with disabilities like automatic doors which help persons without disabilities as well, learning strategies can help all students. Here’s a couple of examples:

Two Finger Reading: If you are reading a textbook and come across a figure or chart, use two finger reading. Before reading the full text in the chapter about the figure, read the text beneath the figure. This often is a brief summary of the material presented and can provide a quick overview of the big picture. Place one finger of one hand on the figure. Place one finger of the other hand on the text in the chapter. This will help you keep your place in the text and on the figure as you move your attention between the two. Read a chunk of the full text that describes or explains the figure. Then shift your attention to the figure and trace the area of the figure that the text described. When you have reviewed that section of the figure, return to read another chuck of the full text. For more on reading see my previous post.

3 + 3 + 3 In Class: This strategy is to help shift your focus to the class that is beginning and prepare for new information as well as close a class before you leave. It involves taking three minutes before the class begins and 3 minutes at the end of class before you leave. Before start of class, take three minutes and quickly review the material presented in the last class. Scan your notes or other materials to remind yourself of what has come before. This can help you build connections between information presented from one class to the next and it wakes up your brain so that it is ready to receive new information. At the end of class, before you pack up and leave, take three minutes to quickly review the notes you have just taken and make a list of three concepts or ideas that were most important TO YOU. A quick review, coupled with decision making and writing down your list can help make the information more meaningful to you and increase the movement of information between short-term and long term memory.

While learning strategies and study skill instruction can help all students, for students with disabilities, working with a Learning Strategist allows for the exploration of strategies tailored to their particular learning needs. It can take some trial and error to find the method that matches the student, but the effort can mean the difference between struggling needlessly and making the most of a student’s finite study time.

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