Technorati href="http://www.technorProfile Thinking Nurse: Harvard Referencing System - A Bizarre Academic Ritual

Thinking Nurse

This blog will reflect my interests in learning disabilities, nursing, nursing theory, philosophy and politics and my general interests in the arts and literature. (Nursing is an art as well as a science!) Philosophy and nursing have been intrinsically linked since the days of Socrates, his mother was a midwife, and taught him everything he knew!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Harvard Referencing System - A Bizarre Academic Ritual

Every Student Nurse, in the UK at least, will know the misery created by the Harvard Referencing System, the method our tutors, and presumably the NMC, the Department of Health and the Quality Assurance Agency think that student nurses should use to reference their work.

As a consequence, students spend hours torturing little blocks of text, agonising over whether to italicise the Journal Title or the Article Title, scanning through textbooks to find their year of publication and the city where they were published.

Of course we are being taught to be 'critical thinking nurses' - to examine and scrutinise our practice, to seek out and destroy 'nursing rituals' that are there for no apparent reason, apart from 'thats the way it has always been done'. Practice must be justified with evidence that it is actually of some use.

Perhaps it is time to apply this method to the bizarre academic ritual that is the Harvard Referencing System. Here are a few questions we could use to interrogate the practice of using it.

What use is it to patients that their nurse knows how to reference an article?

Does use of the Harvard Referencing System provide any evidence of either a nurses' practical skills or of their ability to think?

Does use of the Harvard Referencing System make a student nurses essay any easier to read, or their message any clearer?

Does the Harvard Referencing system provide any more useful information than a simple bibliography at the end of an essay?

Should a nurse fail their course because they cannot get their head round how to reference correctly?

Of course the answer to these questions is NO! Patients and clients do not care one jot about the Harvard Referencing System, or whether their nurse knows when to use bold text in a reference.

Using the Harvard referencing system is a mindless rote exercise - it demonstrates a student's ability to unquestioningly obey arcane rules - precisely the kind of thinking that is meant to be discouraged by the modern nursing 'critical thinking' curriculum.

Articles written using the Harvard Referencing System are difficult to read - the flow of an argument is constantly interrupted by irrelevant names, dates and page numbers. We need to be trained how to present clear, easily accessible information to our clients, instead we are being trained to make our essays into headache-inducing mazes of references.

I can understand the need to use references correctly when writing for a peer-reviewed journal - here the provenance of ideas and facts becomes an important issue - but is it really neccessary for student nurses at undergraduate level? At this level, a simple bibliography should suffice - tutors would in reality be just as able to detect plagiarism, poor thinking and invented facts using this system as with Harvard.

The fact is that some student nurses do fail because they lose marks for referencing (and conversely, perhaps some pass because they can reference, even if they are not good at much else?) Should this process really be part of how we select who should become a nurse?

Perhaps there are legions of fans of the Harvard referencing system out there, who can explain why it is so vital that nurses should be able to reference a parliamentary paper correctly - if there are, I hope they will post here and explain it to the rest of us!


At 9:02 PM, Blogger Ruthie said...

LOL! You will find much solidarity in your plight amongst the psychology students.

In psychology they change the referencing system every couple of years. In fact, there is an entire text book (of about 600 pages) in the library that tells us how format our documents correctly. How big a margin should be, the spacing, which bits of the references should be italised and underlined.

I remember I once got an assignment back with the comment. "The title on your title page is too far up, it should be precisely in the middle."

Ridiculous I thought, but there's no point in loosing marks just to spite the outrageous rule makers. So on my next assignment I put the title in the middle.

Guess what happened,

"The title should be at the top of the page, not the middle of the page."

What can you say?!


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