Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers. Professors’ obsession with citation formatting is relatively new. Many of us over the age of 40 probably cannot remember learning much about citation styles until graduate school—not because our memories have faded, but because our teachers knew better than to demand that we fret about such specialized, scholarly formalities.
In contrast, experienced writers (like us) edit meticulously only after they have allocated substantial effort to more complex and consequential writing tasks, such as refining their topics, selecting and processing their sources, organizing their ideas, and drafting and revising their manuscripts to improve focus and coherence. Nitpicky professors hinder student writers’ development by effectively forcing them to invest more time and thinking in less important elements of writing. Recent research by the Citation Project corroborates how severely teachers’ citation psychosis has diminished students’ information-literacy skills, in particular.