Frequently Asked Questions about Term Projects

Seth Ward

 

 

1. Should I express my own opinion in my paper?

Ultimately, the purpose of your paper is to delineate an issue, present findings about the issue, and present a carefully balanced assessment of their meaning and significance. Your discussion of your findings should present the reasons why you have made this assessment. You could indeed call this “a considered, research-based opinion.”

 

2. How can I write about religion in a secular, academic framework?

It is OK, sometimes even necessary, to start from your own perspective. As your ideas develop, you should be able to “translate” some or all statements about yourself to more general ones, reflecting what you think may be interests shared by your classmates, instructor, and others to whom your paper may be of interest.

 

In writing about the central concepts of many religious traditions, remember that you personally do not have to accept the position of the religious tradition you are writing about, nor do your readers. It is important to remember that people of diverse religious traditions can differ on numerous points, especially points that are not susceptible to historic investigation. Ascribing such statements to those who actually make them is “neutral” and preferable. Thus, “Judaism teaches that Moses received the Torah at Sinai” or “Islamic teaching generally asserts that the Qur’an is the eternal Word of God” are preferable to statements like “Moses received the Torah at Sinai” or “The Qur’an is the eternal Word of God.” The context should make this clear; it may or may not be necessary to reiterate the ascriptions to Jews, Christians or Muslims.  

 

It may be worthwhile to review the goals of the Religious Studies Program: http://uwyo.edu/sward/termproject/Religious%20Studies%20Goals.htm

 

3. Some additional questions.

Q. What style of citation you would like us to use? 

You can easily find very good on-line reviews of different systems of documentation: footnotes, endnotes, in-text citations, and other modes of reference documentation. Although some instructors insist on adopting an arbitrary method—MLA or Chicago Manual of Style for example—in fact each book or journal has its own variations in reference style. Many authors use both footnotes and in-text references, and many types of sources require individualized usages. Sometimes, technical requirements of one or another style do not work well with your computer programs (my word processor makes it difficult to work with some of the technical details of MLA-style rules). Some systems are appropriate for humanities papers, but not for short scientific or social-science reports, or vice versa. In general, a reference style suitable for a history or humanities paper will be most appropriate for your projects, and you should look at books and articles published that are relevant to your project to see how the authors go about doing references.

 

You may be in a department which has a preference for one system for all classes, or has a required course (such as Religious Studies 4000) in which one system is used. History and Religious Studies majors at the University of Wyoming should consider using Chicago Manual of Style for this reason!

 

Most important, getting the technical format of the reference notes to correspond exactly with an arbitrary system down to its minute points is less important than knowing about the content, usage, and need for references and documentation!

 

Effort applied to style should be focused on clarity and "recoverability," that is, the ability of a reader to go directly to a source used in the paper. Adopt a system for your references, and use it reasonably, with reasonable consistency. Foolish consistency can be a waste of time: the contents of your paper and the usefulness of the footnotes is ultimately a lot more important than whether a period or a comma separate the name of the book from the name of the publisher. (Remember to ignore this advice if and when absolute consistency to a prescribed style is required by instructor, context, editor, publisher or employer). 

 

More comments on reference systems:
http://uwyo.edu/sward/termproject/On Reference Systems.htm

 

Notes on Academic integrity and conventions for references may be found at http://uwyo.edu/sward/termproject/Academic%20Honesty%20and%20conventions.htm

 

It should be needless to say but unfortunately it isn’t: spelling and clarity in the body of your paper come first.             

 

Q. What is the general length of our final draft to be submitted? 

The requirements of the paper sometimes are more important than the amount of words.

(A. For RELI2040-01 FALL 2009: 2000-3000 words should suffice. Some students will write more, which is OK.)

 

Q. Do you want a cover sheet or numbered pages? Do you need it bound or is stapled fine? 

In general, I am asking for electronic submission only, so sheets and stapling questions are not relevant. Remember that formatting will appear differently on different machines; use your wordprocessor to put page numbers on pages automatically.

 

Q. Where do I submit or post the paper?

There may be specific directions for this, but in general, submitting your paper in the electronic course framework is required, rather than paper or email!

In some courses, some papers must be submitted twice, once in a dropbox, for secure, private grades and comments, and once in a dialogue box.

 

Make sure your name is “on the paper” –that is, in the file itself. Let your word-processor number the pages.

 

Q. What else should I submit?

(these are generic replies and may differ from course to course).

a. Please prepare a short summary of about 2 pages (300-600 words). The summary should lay out the background and context of your paper, summarize your findings, and discuss their significance. It may be suitable to read this for your oral presentation.

 

b. I am asking everyone to prepare a presentation aid. This is most often a powerpoint presentation but can be prepared on a different platform, or be a handout, a map, or primary source. Please make sure it is posted and submitted as well. You can also prepare a copy on a flashdrive but make sure it is in the electronic course shell.

 

c. There may be other things required, for example, a brief peer review report.

 

Q. I was formatting my paper and I noticed that MLA format calls for only one space after periods unless asked to do otherwise.  I wrote my paper with two spaces, but I will change that you could tell me which you prefer.

 

A. Most of these things are quite important editing issues in some contexts. But they are also ways for students to get bogged down in things than are less important than proper spelling, good sentences and paragraphs, and writing about referencing what needs referencing. I NEVER check to see whether something conforms to a style sheet available to a student unless the style adopted in the paper makes no sense—and then I find that students have slavishly and "correctly" followed a format only to yield rather silly and inappropriate results. Sometimes this is because they follow a format appropriate for an anthro publication when they are writing a more literary type of paper, etc.

 

So, for the record: I prefer worrying about proper sentences and paragraphs to worrying overmuch about how many spaces go after them. Microsoft Word hates double spaces after periods--it puts little green things under them. You should be able to do a global change.

 

Q. also just to make sure:

 

Should I use

1 inch margins

double spaced

Times New Roman or Courier?

 

A. These are good guidelines (I prefer Times New Roman to Courier by the way!) but remember that you are submitting in electronic format only. I use a word counter rather than assessing length of paper by format. I reformat if necessary for me to read your paper. If you submit in PDF format, double space and use 10-12 point fonts.

 

Figure a page is 200-300 words.  I also try to assess the depth of research and reading—number of references for example.

 

Q. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity?

I check for plagiarism and academic integrity on your paper, and I spot check references, especially if I need to determine how a student author got an idea, and recommend you do this when you read your classmates’ papers. In some cases, even when a passage copied from another source is referenced, there may be issues of academic integrity. Do not think that a paper primarily “assembled” from other sources is valid as a term project: YOUR interpretation and assessment of your findings is the crucial element in the paper. A good guide: no more than 1/3 direct quotes, no more than 1/3 paraphrase or summary of your sources, and at least 1/3 your own analysis and contributions to discussion of your topic.  

 

Q. in text citations?

A. --I think you mean putting references in the form (Smith 1999:32) which is OK. You need to have a reference list which makes it easy to find the reference, and should give page numbers if you reference a book or article that is longer than 5 pages or so. Some students find it is easier to have the reference list as a separate file while preparing the paper, but if so, remember to put the reference list at the end of the paper you submit.

 

Q. no title page, but heading on first page with title. Last name and page number on header,  or would you like the first page excluded?

A.--remember this will be read electronically by your fellow students. Few students submit in PDF format; other formats get electronically rearranged easily enough.  If you have a title page, it should not have the header on it, even though some disciplines have formats which suggest this.  The header or footer on each page after page 1 should be formatted by the program, not typed in on each page by you. Each of your classmates’ computers will be different so a paper in which you have "manually" put in page numbers will have the numbers appear on the second or third line of the page on some classmates’ computers.  I think it is useful but hardly crucial to have a running head with your last name and a very short title on the left, and the page number on the right. 

 

Q. Should I put my name on your paper or will you be able to tell whose it is because it is posted in the dropbox basket and inside the discussion section in, and my name will be on both?

 

A. MAKE SURE YOUR NAME IS ON THE PAPER. It’s probably a good idea to have your name in the Filename as well, for example: Smith_MUHAMMADPAPER.doc  . 

 

I probably should set this up as a separate grading category. It is surprising how often students forget to put their names on their papers!

 

For good measure, check to make sure your own name shows up in the “File Properties” as well (Right-click the file in the folder, and go to properties). And—another good measure—put your name in the heading on each page. Even with electronic submission, sometimes the files get printed and pages get out of order or mixed up.

 

Q. What format should I save my paper in?

 

A. .DOC .DOCX .RTF or .PDF files are probably best. If your Word Processor saves in a different format, it may be difficult for others to read, so see if the program allows for saving in DOC or DOCX RTF format. You may have to use a program such as PDF995 (a free program) to “print to PDF.”

 

4. What is the peer review requirement, and when are the peer reviews due?

The requirement is that you (a) share your paper with at least one other classmate in time for him or her to respond in time for you to consider revising your paper, (b) that you review at least one other classmate’s paper and (c) that you report about both (a) and (b) before submitting the paper. Each class may have unique rules about how to do this.

 

You may use some of the suggestions I have made in http://uwyo.edu/sward/termproject/Peer%20to%20Peer%20Advising%20Exercise.htm for approaching the peer review, or other rubrics found on the web or from other courses, or none of them. You can comment on grammar or style, on ideas, on significance, on research issues, or other matters. also should spot-check for “academic integrity issues.” Sometimes there are true and serious plagiarism issues. More frequently, students took shortcuts which need to be fixed, or have papers which are mostly quotations from books or websites. Email the instructor as well as your classmate in such cases if you think this is appropriate. You should have no more than 1/3 of your paper direct quotes, not more than 1/3 paraphrases or summaries—and ideally a lot more than 1/3 of the paper represents your interpretations, your observations about the interpretations of others, and your own assessment of the phenomena you are reporting about. 

 

You do need either to send your classmate written comments, or meet and discuss in person. You can report orally, mark up a draft in pencil or ink or electronically, write comments; there is no required way of doing this. Comments about the peer review process in your report submitted to the course are optional, except if you made good faith efforts to review and be reviewed and need to report problems, or have problems with your classmate’s paper that were not resolved. You should comment on what you received from your reviewer and to what degree it was useful.

 

5. Who can peer-review my paper?

Your paper must be reviewed by a classmate before submission. Any classmate is O.K. as a reviewer.  You can and should request someone in your presentation group to review your paper but this is not crucial. You should not refuse a request from a classmate to review or swap papers.

 

6. What is the Oral Presentation?

 

This response was specific to RELI2040-01 FALL 2009: For the Oral Presentation, a five minute oral presentation. You may read the summary you prepared, prepare another text or “red-line” your paper, do a power point or use other methods. Before presenting, you should read the papers of your classmates in your presentation group. You may wish to include BRIEF comments reflecting on common or different themes in your paper and in other papers in your group. (“unlike John, I found that …”).

 

7. What are the responsibilities of the “Moderators” of each session?

This involves (a) introducing the students and their topics, (b) preparing responses and questions for discussion, (c) assessing whether there are common themes and achievements in the papers presented and most important, (d) keeping time!

 

8. What is expected for discussion of classmate’s papers?

Comment on at least five papers by posting in the Discussion section, and by engaging in oral discussion.

 

In your comments, you may ask questions of the author, confirm, comment on or argue with the conclusions, indicate strengths or weaknesses, common issues which both you and the other author wrote about, larger issues which need to be discussed, and so forth. Assess the work of the group as a whole: what issues seem to be common, or unique; as a group did the papers enlighten? Did issues you raised as a peer reviewer get addressed? Are there issues suggested by the paper suitable for further research? Your course may be set up in such a way that the “Moderators” of a session have special responsibilities to make sure this happens.

 

Check the comments on your own paper in the discussion section, and respond to questions and comments posted by your fellow students or by the instructor.

 

9. What is the final assessment exercise?
This response was specific to RELI2040-01 FALL 2009: Assess about five papers (you can use your assessments of papers you discussed in the E-Companion discussion sections). Rank TWO of them as best and explain why. Please post this in the drop box prepared for this assignment. Some comments about this are found in http://uwyo.edu/sward/termproject/Peer%20Assessment.htm. This is part of a set of end-of-term assessment exercises in which you assess your learning and contributions to the course, and discuss changes you might want to make in your paper.