OF HUMANITIES & RELIGIOUS STUDIES | CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY,
Frequently Asked Questions
DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS ABOUT APPROACHING THE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS?
1. For all written work throughout the term, I strongly advise you to complete drafts of your work sufficiently early for friends (or member of the CSUS Writing Center staff) to proofread them and suggest improvements. (DO NOT BEGIN WRITING A PAPER THE NIGHT OR MORNING BEFORE IT IS DUE!) Multiple drafting is perhaps the single most effective way to improve one's writing. Even the best of writers (perhaps especially the best of writers!) can benefit from consultation with others. (Note: you may also wish to take advantage of the English department's On-Line Writing Lab (OWL), an excellent resource addressing basic writing concerns.)
2. No rewrites will be accepted, except in extraordinary circumstances. For all papers, however, you are encouraged to submit pre-writes --usually an introductory paragraph and some example of what you will do in the body of the paper works best(which could be as simple as a list of possible topic sentences for the remainder of the paper)--or even merely to discuss your ideas with me verbally after class or during office hours. Preliminary drafts must be submitted at least three days before your work is due to allow sufficient time for both response on my part and reflection on yours.
3. Finally once you've written the assignment, make sure to keep copies of work you submit. Even professors occasionally lose things (gasp!).
HOW EXACTLY DO YOU EXPECT US TO DIFFERENTIATE PRIMARY FROM SECONDARY SOURCES BOTH ARE BLENDED IN THE SAME READINGS?
4. Since in most of the assigned texts the two are blended together throughout, you may be tempted to speak of everything within the covers of a particular book as the work of the author credited with having put it together. Still, in the reading analyses I will ask you to distinguish between the primary or secondary sources that are part of the week’s assigned readings, focusing on one or the other (as determined when the paper schedule is decided in class). In the context of this class, “primary” and “secondary” are defined as follows:
• Primary sources are those composed by religious adherents themselves—whether these are ancient or classical texts preserved for thousands of years, or recordings of more informal contemporary conversations and songs. These primary sources stand in contrast to analyses of those sources written by contemporary scholars. The primary works may be set apart from the rest of the reading (for example, accounts of mystical visions or descriptions of Vedic ritual); but more often they will be integrated within the scholarly analyses (the secondary sources) that we read. Thus if you have signed up to focus on the primary source, you will often have to consider citations and excerpts within the secondary sources on their own terms, clearly distinguishing these from the surrounding commentary. Admittedly the translation of primary sources by a contemporary writer of English is itself a form of commentary; but you will nevertheless gain important insight by separating translated quotations and paraphrases from later author’s distinct comments.
• As already mentioned in passing above, secondary sources are the texts written by contemporary commentators trying to make sense of religious practices and ideas. All of these secondary works include extensive paraphrase, quotation, and citation of primary sources translated into English. When focusing your analysis on a secondary source(s), however, you should focus as much as possible on the contemporary scholar’s claims about the older sources, apart from the claims of the sources themselves.
TO WHAT EXTENT CAN I SHARE IDEAS WITH OTHER STUDENTS & STILL UPHOLD ACADEMIC HONESTY?
5. When the time comes to work on your papers, you will surely benefit from consulting relevant course readings and even speaking with others who are engaged in writing their own finals. However, the overall content, structure, style of what you write must be your own, and must explicitly credit any outside sources on which you have drawn.
6. You should familiarize yourself (if you have not already done so) with the CSUS "Academic Dishonesty Procedure," which takes a strong stand on the issues of plagiarism and cheating. The university administration is in the process of considering a more detailed policy on this matter, to make sure that all students are aware of the serious consequences stemming from academic dishonesty. All students are expected to take the time to review this policy as part of undertaking the term project for this class.
7. Personally, I feel that academic dishonesty hurts us all. It adds suspicion and resentment to academic competition, and it distorts the meaning of grades. I am sympathetic to the many pressures that face today's university students, but am willing neither to condone nor to tolerate plagiarism or cheating as a solution to this pressure. I will give you all the help that I can with this course, and would be happy to help you gain access to programs designed to help you, especially if you are unsure whom to contact. On the other hand, I will generally elect the most severe penalty for any act of plagiarism: failing the course.
WHAT FORMAT DO YOU EXPECT FOR THE PAPERS? ARE THERE ANY STYLISTIC REQUIREMENTS PARTICULAR TO THIS CLASS?
8. All portions of your papers should be written using a word processor, either prior to or following composition. Learning how to operate a computer and gaining facility with one or more word-processing programs, if you have not already done so, will be a small but exceedingly important part of your education. As spell-checking software is readily available on the college systems, please be aware that my tolerance for spelling errors is rather limited; on the other hand, BEWARE OF THE AUTO-CORRECT FEATURE that is a standard feature of Microsoft Word, which may substitute the wrong word in an attempting to correct your spelling! (I strongly recommend that you disable this function by un-checking "replace as you type" under "Autocorrect" in the "Tools" menu.) Of course, spell-checkers do not detect grammatical problems or indeed all spelling errors; accordingly, please proofread carefully. (See the “To what extent will you penalize me," #21-23 below, for details on how failure to proofread may affect your grade.)
9. Make sure that
your written work includes, in addition to your name, what I call the essential “magic numbers”
at the top of the first page on either the right or left
side (no title pages please):
(b) course number (HRS 220),
(c) total number of words
(using the"Word Count" feature that is standard with most word processors)
[these first three items on the first page only; followed by]
(d) numbers of your pages at the bottom of each, and
(e) parenthetical page citations for all material referenced from sources,
(even if not quoted directly--see #15 below).
The first two of these allow me to track a particular paper should it stray into the wrong pile; the last two help me keep track of my comments and also verify your sources. Finally, remember that I ask you to distinguish clearly (by numbering or headings, at least the first time) different sections of your reading analyses, corresponding to the distinct points enumerated in the guidelines.
10. You must give parenthetical page references not only for the various sourcess that are quoted directly, but also for any paraphrased descriptions you present. Use MLA in-text citation format: ([author’s last name] [page no.])--e.g., (Gross 28). If you mention the name or author of the work in your sentence, though, your parenthetical citation should be a page number only.
11. In your prose commentary, note that you must carefully distinguish between earlier primary sources (whose exact composers are, in the case of premodern periods, often unknown and thus best referred to vaguely) and the words of contemporary commentators & scholars attempting to make sense of those earlier sources (whose own ideas are almost always distinct from the primary sources they cite).
12. A parenthetical citation should be just before the period or semicolon which concludes the relevant quote or paraphrase (unless you are citing a single-spaced, indented block quote--see the next comment--in which case it should follow after the period); in no case should the parentheses and their content be within citation marks, since they are not part of what you are quoting.
13. Whenever you quote three or more lines of text, please offset the quote by an extra blank line before and after; and then indent and single-space the text.
14. Regarding quotations: (a) use ellipses only to edit out unnecessary words and sentences that do not change the meaning of your source (but quote sentences from different paragraphs as a separate quotation); (b) both in editing quotations and in blending them with your own words, make sure to preserve the overall grammatical consistency of quoted sentences; and (c) be certain to identify any unclear referents contained in a quotation, with commentary placed either before the quotation or enclosed in brackets within it.
15. Although writing bibliographies is a valuable and necessary skill for academic work, this class does not make use of that skill. Since the papers (including the final paper if you chose to write one instead of the take-home final) draw entirely on class readings, you do not need to include a list of sources in standard bibliographic form.
16. Please consult one of the many grammar textbooks for additional guidance on these and other points to avoid reduction of your scores (see #21-23 below)--especially if you think you will continue writing in English after college. (I think this will apply to most of you!) I have personally used both Fowler, Aaron, and Brittenham’s The Little, Brown Handbook and Robert Perrin’sThe Beacon Handbook & Desk Reference and found them useful.
DO YOU SERIOUSLY WANT ME TO SUBMIT AN OUTLINE FOR THE READING ANALYSES?
17. In order both to improve your writing of the papers and to assist me in responding effectively and efficiently to all written work, I DO want you to include an outline (see #22) for the reading analyses. On the other hand, this should not take more than a short time to complete; you can do itin handwriting if you prefer, after you have finished the final draft. Analyses without an outline will be returned to you with a request for completion before I read them, and this will delay the grading and return of your work. To complete the outline, attach a single sheet to the front of your paper, using brief phrases (either typed or hand-written) to show the primary content for each prescribed section of your paper (see guidelines for reading analyses.) For example, begin your outline with "#1. Selective Summary" and then list, using short-hand (rather than complete sentences) and separating each line, the primary claim of the part(s) of the source you are dealing with, the examples you are highlighting, etc.
HOW STRICT ARE YOU ABOUT DUE DATES?
18. Since timely submission is essential to other members of the class being able to read your analysis, no papers will be accepted late without prior approval. Please seek permission to submit late work as early as possible in advance of the due date. Doing so will increase the probability that your request is favorably received; but please understand that I reserve the right to reduced your score (see #20).
19. As mentioned in the reading analysis guidelines, papers should be emailed to me--either as a Microsoft Word attachment or included in the text of an email--by Sunday 3 pm, immediately preceding the Tuesday class at which the source you are analyzing will be discussed. If for any reason you are you are having trouble sending your analysis, please email me immediately at email@example.com; at the very least, call and leave a message on my office phone (278-5332).
20. Turning in a late paper without prior approval will reduce your overall score by half a grade for each day late. In addition, submitting a paper late will usually result in some delay in my returning that particular paper to you. Finally, bear in mind that reading analyses turned in late could end up in the wrong set of papers; so make sure to confirm with me that I have received and placed yours correctly.
TO WHAT EXTENT WILL YOU PENALIZE ME FOR ERRORS IN SPELLING, GRAMMAR, ETC.?
21. When I read your written work, I circle without comment any and all mechanical errors that I pick up: punctuation, spelling, usage, notation, etc. Two or more circles linked by one or more arrows (and sometimes question mark(s)) indicate an error in coordinating different sentence elements (e.g., verb agreement, paired commas around a restrictive clause, etc.).
22. If you turn in a paper with less than one error per page on average (and in some cases I may allow a few more, if the errors are benign or the font is small) I will place your final score on the last page of the paper and circle it to confirm that it is your final score. In this case your errors have no impact on your final score; I advise you, though, to look at the errors you made and figure out how to avoid them next time--especially if you had an average of close to one error per page.
23. If you turn in a paper with a painfully large number of errors--generally more than three per page average--I cross out your original score, subtract the appropriate number of points, and then circle the final score. I strongly advise you to take action to remove errors on your next attempt.
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO INTERPRET THE LINES, FANCY VOCABULARY, & SHORTHAND ABBREVIATIONS YOU WRITE ON MY PAPER??
24. In reading your work I will often underline, sideline, or place checkmarks next to words, sentences, or points that strike me as significant or important. Sometimes these are for my own reference in rereading, and are devoid of any written comment. Usually, though, I will write a short phrase that describes what I see you doing—e.g., “important point,” “effective transition,” “astute observation”—sometimes linking my comments with arrows to the particular words, phrases, or sentences that inspired them. These are not simply filler, but attempts to credit you for the notable successes of your writing efforts; if there's a word you don't understand, please look it up or ask me what it means.
In providing more critical feedback, I most often make comments using one or
more of the following abbreviations:
WBHT = "would be helpful to.."
NTNT = "next time need to..."
ITM = "important to mention"
UWTRT = "unclear what this refers to"
CITM = "comment(s) in the margin(s)"
These comments do not indicate that you need to revise the paper (see #2 above); but rather that you should apply the advice given on the current paper to subsequent ones. Note that you will have three opportunities to write an comparative paper, so as to allow you to apply lessons learned from one paper to the next. Make sure, then, to keep all papers, and to review the comments I have made on previous one(s) before turning in your next attempt.
I often use additional abbreviations whose meanings may not
be immediate clear to you, so here is a key:
esp. = "especially"
re: = "regarding"
w/ = "with"
ex(-s) = "example(s)"
-t'n = "-tion" (suffix)
p. # = "page number"
ref = "reference"
27. Concluding comments, written on the back or front of the last page, summarize the key points of praise and critique; use these as an overall guide to the comments written on individual pages, and consult them in working on the next paper.
[Occasional statements throughout this document are derived, with permission, from a similar document written by my colleague Peter Fosl, Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Transylvania University. Much of the wording of my statements regarding academic honesty is drawn—definitely with permission!--from Patricia Keith-Spiegel, “Syllabi Statements Regarding Academic Dishonesty: Rationale and Suggestions,” distributed by Ball State University’s Center for the Teaching of Integrity.]
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