drive by citations

Another interesting topic being discussed at scatterplot:

I’ve noticed a phenomenon I don’t remember from prior seminars. I’m naming it “drive by citations.” These are, essentially, references to a work that make a very quick appearance, extract a very small, specific point from the work, and move on without really considering the existence or depth of connection between the student’s work and the cited work… I’m wondering if this is the result of the increasing availability of online resources like Google Scholar and such, which make it easy to find and cite materials without spending much time considering them.

It is my concern for exactly this kind of phenomenon that makes me leery of this tip from Google Books:

Need 5 sources for your paper at 3am?

Can’t remember where you found that quote? Did someone grab the last copy of the book you needed from the library? Google Book Search can help!

I’m a fan of Google Books, Google Scholar, and in general of increasing online discovery and access to scholarly resources. BUT, I don’t think we want to encourage students to wait until 3am to find 5 sources for their papers. And now that we have the technical ability to search full-text to find small, sometimes out-of-context, quotes and citations to use; it is even more important that educators teach students good research habits, critical reading skills, and good citation practices. I can imagine actually warning students against using drive by citations by giving them a few good (bad) examples, then telling them that they will lose points if they use any drive by citations in their papers.

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