Prof. McCord's handouts on plagiarism, conferencing, and revising


(A note on a subject that requires mention, but--we all hope--never becomes an issue. . .).

The code of academic honesty, which applies to students, faculty, administrators, and professional scholars alike, requires that credit be given when materials and ideas are derived from others.

Plagiarism is a serious offense because it undermines the very foundation on which an academic community is based--- that foundation being a solid composite of open, honest exchange and trust that makes for genuine respect. The whole fabric of learning involves thoughtful consideration of the ideas of others in relation to our own. We test the ideas we receive from others to see how and for what reasons they fit or don't fit our own interpretations and understandings. The emphasis always should be on active "critical" inquiry in the best sense of the word "critical": exercising careful judgment in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses, beauties and defects, of whatever it is we are studying. The objects of study might be an engineering principle, a chemical composition, a mathematical formula, a historical supposition, a theory in political science, a philosophical premise, a literary text. Only after such focused, thoughtful work does true learning take place.


SO: Always indicate direct quotations you have used in your essay (sentences, phrases, key words from articles, books, the internet) with quotation marks. Appropriating the exact language of another writer is fine as long as you give due credit.

  Paraphrasing the specific ideas of another writer also requires formal acknowledgement.

  General ideas and facts in the "public domain" do not require documentation.

  "Documentation" in Mac's courses is best met by the use of either footnotes or endnotes. It is never sufficient to simply list the articles, books, internet sources you've used in a bibliography at the end of your essay.

Adapted and expanded from Plagiarism: A Cautionary Word to Students by the Dean for Undergraduate Education, Union College


To Essay Conference or Not to Conference?
      (dat's da quest'yun)

Conferences can be very valuable if you're genuinely interested in improving your writing and willing to work in a careful, thoughtful, committed way to do it. If you're interested in a conference in order to simply improve your grade, my conferences aren't for you.

Conferences are generally worthless unless you've spent a good deal of time and thought in preparation for them. This preparation could range all the way from sharing yet-sketchy thoughts about possible topics and texts to offering for my critique a sample of your writing that is as clear and correct as you can make it to the point of sharing. In conference:

1) I enjoy no end discussing with you the subject of your paper, your ideas about that subject, the works you'll be considering when dealing with it, the shape you have in mind for the paper, and how the essay will move from sub-topic to sub­-topic as you express your good thoughts and support them with specific evidence.

    2) I will read carefully and critically one page of what you consider to be your best written effort up to the time of the conference. I'll do my best to define sharply the areas that need improvement or correction, so that you can apply those suggestions to the rest of your essay.

 A conference can be of great value if used in this way.

 A conference will prove to be of little or no value (and will probably frustrate as well as anger you) if you expect that, for example, you will automatically receive a better grade because you demonstrate effort/or you regard the conference as an opportunity to please me by learning how to write "just for me," or expect me to write the essay for you.

      To repeat (plus add a little more) from the Mac Pac:

      Writing is very difficult and time consuming. Writers usually do their best work when they are involved, deeply engaged, in their subject. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE and REVISE, REVISE, REVISE until you express your thoughts and feelings as clearly, concisely, correctly, and effectively as you can. You should spend the time to do your best writing, which includes knowing and applying to your own work all of the information in the Mac Pac.

Some few are blessed---or have worked exceedingly hard--- or have received exceedingly good past training--- to be very good writers. For the vast majority of us, it's very challenging and tough work. I can only evaluate what I am given as a finished essay. I believe it would be wrong for me and unfair to other students to take into consideration charm, effort (or not), personal circumstances, or expectations in assessing the quality of your work. I read closely and evaluate thoroughly and conscientiously according to my standards each and every essay on its own terms.

To Re-Write or Not Re-write?    
     (dat's da quest'yun)

       Rewrites can be very valuable if you're genuinely interested in improving your writing and willing to work in a careful, thoughtful, committed way to do it. If you're interested in rewriting an essay in order to improve the grade you received, my rewrite policy isn't for you.

If you'd like to rewrite an essay, please arrange to meet with me and we'll go over the essay you intend to rewrite to decide together what the most effective ways to improve it would be. Then you'll go off to rewrite and revise the piece until it's as correct and well written as you can make it. A week (or a week and few days) later we'll meet a second time and go over the rewrite and the original to discuss the differences between the two, and, we hope, define and measure the improvements.

     The objective of this activity is to get you to write better. Our hope is that the improvements can be applied to your next essay so that it's stronger, more correct, and more effective than your first effort.

Although the rewrite will not change the grade you received for that assignment, I will note the effort you put into it, which could affect your final grade in a positive way.

 The pencil and/or pen and/or computer and paper are in your court!