A super-smart student in my Advanced Professional Communications class asked me whether using an app that generates a citation for you in proper APA, MLA, Chicago style was plagiarism. My first thought was “I doubt it,” but in my line of work I’m surrounded by plagiarism hounds so I wanted to be sure. I consulted some expert Facebook friends.
My friend Leigh, a high-school librarian working in England whom I’ve known since fifth grade, posted first: “Haha. No. It’s just a tool, wouldn’t you think? Most journal databases (jstor, etc.) provide all variations of citations to use, as well.”
No Contest Communications cofounder Tierney was emphatic: “Goodness no. If you are doing citations correctly, it is not a creative project; it should produce a uniform result. These tools simply help automate that process. I copy and paste mine from Google Scholar, but I also verify their content (sometimes page numbers are missing.” She added this excellent analogy / rhetorical question: “Is it plagiarism to use a tool like SPSS to run your stats and produce your diagrams instead of doing it all by hand?”
Author and retired university librarian Suzy chimed in on a related issue: “There’s nothing wrong with using a citation-generator app to find citations. All journal-content databases make it easier to ‘find’ citations than ever. But a student shouldn’t cite those in a paper unless s/he has actually consulted those sources. I still wouldn’t call it plagiarism; that’s just a failure to check your own sources before citing them – no different from citing a source from a bibliography (the old-fashioned way) without consulting the source.” Suzy noted that the formatting of these automated citations “isn’t 100% accurate, so a student (or professor) should always double-check. For what it’s worth, in my experience, faculty make plenty of errors in their citations!”