Frequently Asked Questions



1. Reading has a different place in a Humanities & Religious Studies course than in most other types of courses (math, science, business, art, etc.). In this and most other classes in our department, readings are a bit like problem sets or labs; they are often the heart of what we are concerned with in class, rather than simply serving as supplementary or optional guide that can help you figure out how to handle the main work of the course. If you understand this and take reading seriously, this course will quite likely be very manageable; without this understanding, however, you may have a hard time even obtaining a passing score.

2. In general you should plan two hours of study for every hour of class time. Students generally do best who plan blocks of time in their schedule to work with the readings, rather than simply attempting to get through them from start to finish as quickly as possible. Whether by setting aside an hour daily or a larger block of time several times week, the successful reader finds a time & place when & where she will be relaxed yet alert, and won’t be distracted by other things (e.g., early morning, and/or on a cozy couch, and/or sitting with coffee/tea).

3. Also, most people do best when taking frequent breaks while reading--especially when catching oneself not having absorbed anything in the past paragraph or page. The experienced reader avoids forcing herself to proceed from beginning to end of a reading if she gets stuck--instead skipping ahead when reading becomes impossibly challenging, and then coming back to the difficult section later to see if any further progress can be made. The key is to focus on fully grasping what you read rather than finishing every single page. It is advisable however to skim headings & first sentences of each paragraph for sections one hasn’t had time to read; and then make general notes on the content of what one hasn’t read in depth so that at least one knows which pages to go back to later if they turn out to contain necessary material. In general, too, making brief notes in the margins or on slips of paper inserted into the book will greatly increase focus and abililty to remember what is read. If you need help with reading, the Writing Center (in Calaveras Hall) can assign a tutor to work with you; but you must make an appointment in advance.

4. College level reading inevitably pushes a reader to expand her or his vocabulary. However, this does not happen automatically--it requires a dictionary! The gap between knowing how to use a dictionary and actually doing it is a huge one for many people. Keep in mind that you need to have a dictionary physically present next to you as you read in order to use it! On-line dictionaries do no good unless one reads at the computer; and a dictionary sitting on a distant shelf does almost as little good. Also, many readers benefit from making their own glossary of terms, especially since these are the basis of half the questions on every RAT. Many people find it helpful to do this on index cards, with each entry including not only the word and its definition, but where it appears in the reading (and where the definition was found, if not the dictionary) so that examples can be found again.


5. The first step in preparing for a given reading assessment test is (surprise!) to do all the required reading (see #1-4 above for suggestions) listed on the schedule, and view the relevant image presentation. At the same time, keep in mind that for each RAT I provide a list of terms/names and a set of excerpts from the readings that will serve as the basis of the multiple choice questions on the RATs; I urge you to use these so that you know what is most important to grasp as your read. [View the guidelines for RATs.]

6. Also, two questions on each RAT will deal with images from the presentations that are available for you to review independently. (If you have any trouble accessing them on-line, send me an email immediately.) As you view the image, you may find it helpful to take selective notes to remind yourself of the details of historical periods, the functions of the objects in the images, and the meanings of important symbols. Try to observe and include details that are both obvious (i.e., general subject depicted) and less-obvious (i.e., subtleties of style, minor but significant symbols, etc.). For the in-class team assignments you will have the opportunity to draw connections between primary sources and the images you view, so you may want to think about this as you do the primary reading & view the images.

7. With regards to the journal, your writing should be formal in the sense that you revise to make sure your ideas are clear and that the details you mention are accurate. For all three reports that make up the journal, 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 JOURNAL SUBMISSION 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.)

8. As noted on the "Course Overview," no rewrites will be accepted, except in extraordinary circumstances; but you may wish to submit a prelimary drafts for me to review, or even simply to discuss your ideas with me. 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.

9. Finally once you've written the assignment, make sure all of it gets to me! Pages that are not fastened together in some way are likely to get separated; you are required to staple or paper-clip all submitted work. Also mak sure to keep copies of work you submit; even professors occasionally lose things (gasp!).



10. In making sense of the readings during the first few classes of each sub-unit, and certainly in your team work, I strongly encourage you to ask for and learn from others’ views and ideas about the sources we read.  Also, as each RAT approaches you may choose to study with others, which can be very productive; you should be forthright, however, in asking others who have not first prepared independently to study on their own. Since each student is ultimately responsible for her or his own exam responses (which obviously must be completed independently, without the use of books or notes), you must be discriminating in listening to others' study contributions. And finally, once in the classroom, make sure to keep your gaze fixed either on your own screen or paper or at some distant object at the front of the room or ceiling; gazing at one or more other students' screens or papers will be treated as attempted plagiarism.

11. With regards to the formal journal reports, once again you will surely benefit from consulting relevant course readings and even speaking with others who are integrating them into their reports. The overall content, structure, and style of what you write must be your own, however, and must explicitly credit any outside sources on which you have drawn. IMPORTANT: you may not use internet sources other than those listed on the syllabus.

12. You should familiarize yourself (if you have not already done so) with the CSUS "Policies & Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty"--especially the definitions of cheating and plagiarism--which take a strong stand on this issue. All students are expected to take the time to review this policy as part of preparing for RATs and undertaking the journal assignments for this class.

13. 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: a zero score for the assignment or RAT whose content is plagiarized in whole or in part, and failing the course for a second offense.



14. All portions of your journal reports 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.  Do however 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.)

15. As strange as this will seem at first, do NOT put your name on any of your typed pages; it should appear only on the self-assessment page at the end (see the description of self-assessment, #24 below, for details). However do make sure that your written work includes 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):

     (a) date,
     (b) course number (HRS 140),
     (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 journal should it stray into the wrong pile; the last two help me keep track of my comments and also verify your sources.  Finally, if you are concerned about making clear connections in your writing, you may want to distinguish clearly (by numbering or headings) different sections of your journal, corresponding to the distinct points enumerated in the observation journal guidelines--but note that this is not required.

16. When describing a practice mentioned in the readings, you must give parenthetical page references not only for quoting directly, but also for any paraphrased description you present. Use MLA in-text citation format if you cite (the optional source) Asian Art: ([author’s last name]  [page no.])--e.g., (La Plante 28); but when you cite from the anthologies or textbook, please use the title abbreviation (MOO, RAP, or IAR) instead of the author's last name.

17. 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.

18. If at any point you choose to 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. Note, though, that you may be better off using paraphrase rather than extensive quoting in your journals, given the word limit you should be observing.

19. Although writing bibliographies is a valuable and necessary skill for academic work, this class does not make use of that skill.  Since the items in the journal should draw entirely on class readings, you do not need to include a list of sources in standard bibliographic form.



20. Usually not, if you write clearly. If these kinds of errors begin to get in the way of communicating ideas--especially if there are a painfully large number of them even on the first page--I will probably circle without comment some of the 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.). I may then ask you to correct the errors before I read what you've written, especially if the situation recurs after turning in the first assignment.

21. Generally, though, the focus in the journal should be on exploring whatever most fascinates you and articulating your questions and insights with focus and clear logic, so do not worry too much about perfect spelling, grammar, etc.


22. In order to assist me in responding effectively and efficiently to all written work, I DO want you to include a self-assessment (see #24) for all three journal reports.

23. On the other hand, this should not take more than a short time to complete; you can write it, by hand if you prefer, after you have finished the final draft of each. Journal submissions without the self-assessment 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. Please do not forget!

24. Using the back of the last page, write a self-assessment both of (a) your research & writing process (how did the paper go for you, where did you struggle or get stuck, what went well and what didn’t); and(b) the product (what do you think are the paper's strengths and weaknesses? what further revisions would you have made if you had had time?). I will read this after I read and evaluate the report but before I write my final comments to you; it will assist me in offering you the most useful feedback possible. Make sure to include your name on this page, as it will not be indicated anywhere else on the paper!



25. No journal submissions 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. If your request for an extension is granted, make sure to write me a note along with your self-assessment to remind me when and on what terms I granted the extension. Please understand that I reserve the right to reduce scores for all papers received late without explanation or reminders (see #31 directly below).

26. As noted on the syllabus schedule, if for any reason you cannot make it to campus by the time an assignment is due, you may email the final version of your journal submission to me (in MS Word format) by the deadline and then provide me with a hard copy (which must be identical to the hard copy) no later than the beginning of the next week's Monday class; you must mark the phrase "EMAILED LAST FRIDAY " at the top of your cover sheet. If for any reason you are not able to email an MS Word attachment, or you do not use MS Word, you may also have a hard copy of your submission postmarked by the deadline at a US post office.

27. Turning in a late journal submission without prior approval will reduce your overall score by half a grade for each class day that it is late.  In addition, submitting a journal report late will usually result in some delay in my returning that particular assignment to you.  Finally, bear in mind that journal submissions turned in late could end up in the wrong pile; so make sure to confirm with me that I have received and placed them correctly.


28. 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.

29. In providing more critical feedback, I most often make comments using one or more of the following abbreviations:

                 WBHT = "would be helpful to.."              UWTRT = "unclear what this refers to"
                 NTCY = "next time can you..."                 CITM  = "comment(s) in the margin(s)"
                  ITN   = "important to note "

These comments do not indicate that you need to revise what you have written (see #8 above); but rather that you should apply the advice given on the first two reports to subsequent reports .  Note that you will have three opportunities to write similar reports, so as to allow you to apply lessons learned from one journal submission 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.

30. I often use additional abbreviations whose meanings may not be immediate clear to you, so here is a key:.

                 esp.     = "especially"                 -t'n    = "-tion" (suffix)
                 re:      = "regarding"                  p. #    = "page number"
                 w/      = "with"                          ref     = "reference"
                 ex(-s) = "example(s)"                diff-s/sim-s = "difference/similarities"

31. Concluding comments, generally written below your own self-assessment, 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.]

Dimensions of Religious Culture

Reading Preparation Tests

Frequently Asked Questions (TOP)

Site Visit & Observation Journal