The History of Race in Latin America

Dr. Kathryn Burns – spring ‘02

Writing guidelines: proper attribution

Ever-increasing reliance on the web can lead to inadvertent plagiarism, so it's important for us to go over proper use of others' work. Plagiarism is basically using someone else's work as if it were your own. It's crucial to do the following:

(1) Use quotation marks when you're using someone else's exact words. (If it's a really juicy source and goes on at length, then you need to indent and single-space the passage.)

(2) Be sure not to use words too much like your original source's. It's plagiarism to change a word here and there but basically use someone else's thought structure as if it were your own. (See examples below, from Diana Hacker's "Pocket Style Manual" [2nd ed.], 94.)

The best way to avoid this kind of difficulty is to rely on your own words as you compose. It can be dangerous to look at the original source while you're writing; better to close the book, then go back later to check on the backing for your assertions.

Original source:
"If the existence of a signing ape was unsettling for linguists, it was also startling news for animal behaviorists." --Davis, Eloquent Animals, p. 26

Unacceptable borrowing of phrases:
The existence of a signing ape unsettled linguists and startled animal behaviorists (Davis 26).

Unacceptable borrowing of structure:
If the presence of a sign-language-using chimp was disturbing for scientists studying language, it was also surprising to scientists studying animal behavior (Davis 26).

Acceptable paraphrases:
When they learned of an ape's ability to use sign language, both linguists and animal behaviorists were taken by surprise (Davis 26).

According to Flora Davis, linguists and animal behaviorists were unprepared for the news that a chimp could communicate with its trainers through sign language (26).

Useful websites for more info.:

Writing short analyses

Participation in class involves writing short analyses (SAs) of our readings to focus your thoughts for discussion. Each should be around 600-800 words, emailed to Dr. Burns ( and student discussants by 10:00 a.m. the day before class. Your SAs should reflect that you did the reading carefully and completely. If the author is advancing an argument, what's her point? Does the reading build on other things we've read or said? Especially at the beginning of the semester, I will ask you to focus on particular questions and issues in the readings. (Note: late work will be marked down.)

Responses will be evaluated as follows:

High pass (4 points): a well-written response that shows you've read the entire assigned reading attentively, grasped the main points, and taken the time to organize your thoughts about the reading's significance (perhaps relating it to other things we've read & discussed)

Pass (3 points): a response that makes some important points, but less effectively, whether from poor presentation, incomplete analysis, or a combination of the two

Low pass (2 points): a response that is vague and off course enough that it looks like you've not done all the reading and/or haven't left yourself time to do a good SA

No pass (1 or 0 points): a response that seems written hastily and on the basis of a quick skim!

Tips for writing effective SAs:

Close the book (or coursepack) while drafting your SA. You can refer back to it, but this will help you avoid plagiarism—getting too close to someone else's words. Best to draft from your notes and thoughts, with glances back at the original text (which you may cite sparingly, if a particular phrase really sums up something elegantly). Remember: you're the person we want to hear from!

Avoid filler, making every word count. Remember: these are short analyses, so you need to get right to the point!

Observe the basics of good writing style: crisp, clear sentences; well-organized presentation of your ideas; good proofreading of the final version. Remember: if you do these SAs well from the start, you'll be practicing thinking and writing skills that will serve you well—both on the final paper and in the much longer run!