APA or MLA...that is the question! or is it?
When writing the STEM Student Research Handbook, I did a lot of research to determine what style of documentation I would be promoting in my book, for high school researchers. When I received feedback from the reviewers, they questioned my use of MLA. But I stood my ground and defended my use of MLA with high school students.
I settled on MLA for several reasons:
- My class was often the students' first exposure to ANY type of parenthetical documentation, and MLA is simpler to learn.
- I wanted to support my English department, who teaches MLA documentation in students' senior year (I know-I know, they shouldn't wait that long!)
- While many think APA is the scientific documentation style, its not. Its the education style. Scientific journals (not science education), do not usually ask for APA, but their own version of an existing style. Fact of the matter is, before scientists submit an article to a journal, they must determine the style the journal wants. So for me, the extra work it takes to teach APA, was not worth it.
- Its the concept of documentation that is important, not the style. I cannot stress this enough. Using parenthetical citations is important for ideas, not just quotes. Students need to understand that citations do not show weakness in writing, but strength. Students must learn to take information from others, filter it through their own lens, synthesize concepts, and then reframe the information in context of their own research. That's a lot for young researchers to do! Using citations make your writing credible, not less. This is NOT how students first view documentation.
- Programs like EndNote make changing from one documentation style to another very simple. Again, it reminds us, that it is the notetaking skill that is important, not the documentation style. Students new to researching need support from teachers in ALL of their classes to find a note taking style that works for them. Because what really matters, is that when it comes time to write the paper, that a student can easily determine which information they got from which source. (I love EndNote for this purpose!)
- Once students understand the concept of documentation, taking what they have learned about MLA and applying it to any other method documentation style their professors ask of them in college, is not a big step!
My former students have told me, the research skills they learned helped them in college no matter what major they declared. Many of my students go into the humanities, social science, or otherwise. Its knowing HOW to dig for credible resources, HOW to take notes, WHEN to use citations, and then matching those citations properly in a reference list! This is what will benefit students most!