This document has six sections:
Advice for Better Academic Writing
last updated: March 11, 2014
comments / corrections / broken links? Please email me.
NOTE: All students in my courses are expected to read and understand the use of citations, the principles of academic integrity and the problem of plagiarism (see Sections 3 and 4 below).
1. Advice for Better Academic Writing
UM Sweetland Writing Center and its writing and teaching guides
UM English Language Institute
UM Library (Information and Reference Center): Citation and Style Guidelines
2. Specific Advice for Writing Papers that Analyze and Critique Urban Theory / Planning Theory Writings
1. If you are responding to a rather broad question, you might be able to write a more effective essay by narrowing the focus of your analysis. Be sure, however, to still address the central theme of the original question. Possible ways to narrow a question: explicitly identify several elements of a question and then state your intention of focusing on a subset of these elements; limit the answer geographically (e.g., just U.S.), temporally (e.g., late 20th century), or by discipline (e.g., a sociological interpretation as opposed to a design or economic interpretation; etc.). Give the reader a clear sense of the direction and structure of the paper on the first page, including any narrowing assumptions you make.
2. For a theory paper, keep your focus on ideas, concepts, and intellectual history. Use cases / examples where appropriate to illustrate your points, but remember that this is NOT primarily an empirical, case study-based exercise.
3. Find the right balance between providing a concise synopsis of the various authors' ideas and offering your own critique/interpretation. Your job is neither to simply summarize the readings (too descriptive) nor to simply write an untethered thought-piece on planning and cities (too idiosyncratic). Find the happy middle ground through a close reading and analysis of the texts.
4. Should one cite class lectures? Normally for academic writing one should refer to the literature (rather than class lectures). The logic here is that the class readings (and any outside readings) constitute the substantive "evidence" for your paper's analysis; the class lectures are primarily to enliven this material, highlight the main themes, and place the readings in context. As a result, you should emphasize class readings. Of course, if there were substantive ideas or interpretations presented in class that were not directly from the readings, then do cite the lecture rather than the literature.
5. Finally, what makes a strong paper? (I am sure different instructors will give a variety of answers.) Here are some selected characteristics of strong versus not-so-strong papers. They are in no particular order, and may be somewhat redundant:
Rigorous, analytical, smart writing; systematic development of arguments; clearly written; thoughtful and wise; clearly organized; probing; ambitious and successful; insightful; nicely combines synopsis of authors' ideas with his/her own critique; good use of literature (both assigned and outside readings); good use of examples; good use of transitions between ideas (and sections of the paper); conveys well both the important points and the nuances in the various authors' ideas; strong, crisp conclusion that nicely ties the paper together. Analytical (said twice, but it's important!); a pleasure to read; good, solid introduction. makes useful distinctions between ideas.
simplistic and descriptive without analysis; somewhat misses the broader scope of the question; unsubstantiated overgeneralizations/assertions; overly colloquial writing; unstructured; polemical; meanders; off topic; conflates different topics/ideas; uses quotes without citations; Muddled logic; cover a few basics, but didn't really dig into the question; doesn't define ambiguous terms; ideas somewhat disjointed; sets up a nice paper structure in the introduction but doesn't deliver; needs to do a closer reading of the source texts; choppy writing; too vague; Forces false dichotomies; relies too much on one text/author when the question requires a broader range of ideas and sources; didn't copy edit paper.
The purpose of citations is:
1. to give credit to other authors (for text, ideas, conceptual frameworks, data, graphs, illustrations, maps, etc.);
2. to help the reader judge the context, legitimacy and possible bias of the information based on the source;
3. to allow the reader to find the source (should the reader like to either check your information or read further).
(In serving these three purposes, the author also avoids the problem of plagiarism. See below).
Citations aren't just a boring, pedantic academic ritual that faculty obsess about but students can ignore. Citations are a central and necessary tool in good, honest scholarly writing. They let the reader double-check your facts, and reveal your sources and intellectual influences. All source materials -- whether directly quoted or summarized -- must be properly documented.
1. If you will be using lots of citations and/or developing large bibliographies, I strongly recommend using bibliographic management software, such as EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero, or ProCite.
2. see the UM Hatcher Graduate Library Citation and Style Guidelines.
3. For a definitive resource on citations and other writing issues, see:
Chicago Editorial Staff. 2010. The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Examples of Bibliographic Entries for Different Reference Types:
Cronon, William. 1991. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W. W. Norton.
Fainstein, Susan S., and Scott Campbell, eds. 1996. Readings in Urban Theory. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Chapter in an Edited Book:
Fishman, Robert. 1996. Bourgeois Utopias: Visions of Utopia. In Readings in Urban Theory, edited by S. S. Fainstein and S. Campbell. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Harvey, David. 1992. Social Justice, Postmodernism and the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 16 (4): 588-601.
to cite electronic sources (from the Internet), be sure to include the standard citation information (author, date, title, organization, etc.) AND the complete web address (url) AND the date you accessed the web page. (It is NOT enough to simply cite the url alone.)
For details and useful links, please see:
UM Hatcher Graduate Library Citation and Style Guidelines
IFLANET: Citation Guides for Electronic Documents
APAStyle.org (American Psychological Association)
Research and Documentation Online (Diana Hacker)
Journal of Electronic Publishing: "Not Your Father's References: Citations in the Digital Space" (Mats G. Lindquist vol. 4, no. 3, March, 1999)
When citing or quoting other literature, please use proper citation format and bibliographic style. There are many legitimate formats. Here are a few options:
1. If citing text from an outside source, place source text inside quotation marks.
1a. (Author year, page) or (Author, year: page), with bibliography at end of document
As Michael Teitz observes, "Land-use planning has proved more durable than its critics and, more importantly, has shown a new burst of creative energy in the past decade" (Teitz 1996, 652).
at the end of the document]
1b. Complete citation in footnote (no need for bibliography here)
1b. As Michael Teitz observes, "Land-use planning has proved more
durable than its critics and, more importantly, has shown a new burst
of creative energy in the past decade."1
Footnote at bottom of page:
1. Teitz, Michael B. 1996. American Planning in the 1990s: Evolution, Debate and Challenge. Urban Studies 33 (4/5): 652.
|2. If referring to specific idea from an outside source (without directly quoting text), summarize in your own distinctive words and cite the source. (Note: do not use this format if you are directly quoting the text. You must use format 1a or 1b from above.)|
2a. (Author year, page) or (Author, year: page), with bibliography at end of document
Klosterman identifies four distinct justifications for planning (Klosterman 1996: 151).
at the end of the document]
2b. Complete citation in footnote (no need for bibliography here)
Klosterman identifies four
distinct justifications for planning.1
Footnote at bottom of page:
1. Klosterman, Richard. 1996. Arguments for and Against Planning. In Readings in Planning Theory, edited by S. Campbell and S. S. Fainstein. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell: 151.
1. These are just two possible formats. Different academic disciplines often use different styles.
2. When citing a specific quote (or an idea on a specific page), include the relevant page number(s). When citing the broader ideas of the entire writing, you do not need to include a page number.
AND A NOTE ON CITING (OR NOT CITING) WIKIPEDIA:
Wikipedia falls into a "gray zone" of sources. It is a remarkable and innovative web-based project, and is notable for its breadth of information, timeliness, easy access, and largely voluntary authorship. That said, it does not (yet) fit into the category of acceptable scholarly source materials (e.g., refereed/peer-reviewed journals, books from academic presses, etc.). This is NOT to say that wikipedia articles are necessarily less "true" or "reliable" than traditional sources. Wikipedia pages are generally better than random web pages, and Wikipedia does have a rather interesting and fairly good editorial policy. But for academic papers, I would not recommend citing Wikipedia (just as I would not recommend citing an encyclopedia).
Wikipedia seems best when covering relatively non-controversial topics where its volunteer authors are deeply knowledgeable about the subject (e.g., the history of html) -- these articles are reviewed/edited by many authors. Wikipedia is more problematic in at least two areas: (a) obscure topics (where a single author uploads material with little collaboration/feedback), and (b) controversial topics where ideological battles trump rigor and balance (e.g., Armenian Genocide). (These latter sites are often locked to outside editing, since such sites are often vandalized:
My advice to students: I encourage you to use Wikipedia as a quick, first stop to get up-to-speed on a topic, but NOT as a definitive or best source. Wikipedia has a stated requirement that authors "verify" their entries with sources. Use Wikipedia as an intermediary to find these primary sources, rather than using Wikipedia as an end in itself. (When a student cites Wikipedia in a paper, I ask them to instead find this pre-existing source.) In the end, I would recommend NOT using Wikipedia as a source in a student paper.
Noam Cohen. 2007. "A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source" The New York Times online. Published: February 21.
4. The Problem of Plagiarism
Plagiarism is "intellectual theft"2 and is a serious matter. It is the responsibility of each student to understand the problem of plagiarism, and there is no excuse or tolerance for plagiarism among university student work. Plagiarism can be cause for failing an assignment, failing a class and/or expulsion. Students come to graduate school with a wide range of experiences using citations and writing scholarly papers. If you are inexperienced with using citations, please don't hesitate to come talk with me (or the course GSI) before the first writing assignment; I would be happy to meet with you and go through the requirements.
Though the nature of intellectual property has become more complex in an era of electronic sources, the fundamental principles of academic integrity remain: cite your sources, give credit where credit is due, and enable your readers to confirm the sources and materials you use in your work. (I remain unmoved by dubious contemporary arguments that notions of authorship, originality and plagiarism are outdated in this post-modern age of digital sampling, mash-ups, social networking, online collaboration, wikipedia and crowd-sourcing.)
All scholarly work is effectively a dialogue between the existing literature (past and present) and the writer. Citing the literature is not a sign of derivative, unoriginal thinking, but rather an appropriate, necessary acknowledgment of this engagement between your own thinking and the ideas of others. As a scholarly writer, you rarely start "from scratch" (i.e., not relying on any previous work done by others). Instead, your work represents (using economic language) the "value-added" above and beyond what was previously done. As a result, a paper cobbled together of uncredited quotes represents very little, if any, "value added" done by the student. Worse, plagiarism is the misrepresentation of the other writers' words and ideas as your own. (And if academic credits -- i.e., grades -- are to measure and mark the value added by the student, then plagiarized work should represent no academic credit or indeed "negative" academic credit; value is "lost" or squandered rather than added.)
When should one cite sources?
You must acknowledge all sources and enclose all direct quotes in quotation marks. This not only applies to text, but also to data, data tables and charts, maps, and any other source material. Use proper citation formatting, including page numbers (see above). Even if you just summarize ideas from another author, be sure to cite. (It is NOT sufficient to simply have the source material listed in the bibliography; you must use citations within the text itself.)
If you directly quote text, then put in quotation marks and cite. If you instead would like to paraphrase an outside source, it is NOT sufficient to simply rearrange or substitute a few words from the quote and present as your own writing. Summarizing other people's work requires a comprehensive rethinking and reinterpretation in your own language and wording. There should be no confusion or ambiguity as to what text, ideas, data and illustrations are those of the student versus those of an outside (and clearly identified) source.
Source Format and Citations:
You must also cite all sources regardless of the source format. This includes not just books and articles (both those assigned on the syllabus and other materials you find), but also anything found on the Internet (regardless of whether the Internet source is an electronic journal, a report from a research institute, a personal home page, a newspaper, the web site of a nonprofit organization, etc.). Cutting-and-pasting text from the web is technically easier than typing in a quote from a published, bound book; nevertheless, the former has the same citation requirements as the latter. (Do not therefore confuse "public access" with "public knowledge".) Cutting-and-pasting text from the web (without proper and complete citation) is NO substitute for proper academic writing, and can easily lead to failing a class, or worse. (See information above about citing electronic sources.)
When in doubt, cite the source(s). If you borrow actual text (be it a phrase, a sentence, or more), you MUST not only provide a complete source, but also put the text in quotes. This applies to both printed and electronic sources, including any and all materials found on the Internet. Using text from the web without proper recognition of the source is not acceptable and constitutes plagiarism.
2. Joseph Gibaldi. 1999. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th edition. New York: The Modern Language Association: 29-34.
Note: Prof. Amy E. Robillard at Illinois State University has written a thoughtful piece that examines this association of plagiarism with theft (as opposed to other metaphors such as borrowing, intellectual laziness, lying and cheating). See “Pass It On: Revising the Plagiarism is Theft Metaphor". A longer version published as: Robillard, Amy. "Pass It On: Revising the Plagiarism is Theft Metaphor." JAC 29.1-2 (2009): 405-35.
If you are unclear about plagiarism, please see these resources:
UM Library: Academic Integrity (links to many great resources, including resources for instructors, resources for students, UM Rules and Procedures)
Rackham Graduate School Policies [since the Urban Planning Program is under the Rackham Graduate School at UM, we follow Rackham policies ]• "Policy Statement on the Integrity of Scholarship"
Center for Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Digital Environment (University of Maryland) and their Virtual Academic Integrity Laboratory
Rebecca Moore Howard, 2001. "Plagiarism: What Should a Teacher Do?" presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Denver, Colorado, 17 March 2001. (Howard teaches at Syracuse University and writes extensively on plagiarism.)
Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices (Council of Writing Program Administrators)
on the broader issue of academic integrity:
Trip Gabriel. 2010. "Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age," The New York Times. August 1.
Brent Staples. 2010. "Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)," The New York Times. July 12.
Ginny McCormick (with additional reporting by Summer Moore, illustrations by Greg Spalenka). 2003.Whose Idea Was That? Stanford Magazine. September/October. (accessed online version on Dec. 19, 2003).
Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood. 2004. Four Academic Plagiarists You've Never Heard Of: How Many More Are Out There? The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: Special Report, Volume 51, Issue 17, Page A8 (Dec. 17).
Kwanghui's Plagiarism FAQ (This is an accessible, engaging page of advice and experiences from Prof. Kwanghui Lim at the Melbourne Business School in Australia. I especially appreciated the bottom section, "Responses to Actual Emails from Students.")
5. Taking an "Incomplete" Grade in a Course
The expectation is that students will complete all the requirements for courses on time (following the deadlines stated in the syllabus). In exceptional situations, I will consider a student's request for a temporary "incomplete" grade ("I") on the grade sheet. When the student has subsequently submitted all course materials, I will evaluate the materials and fill out a "change of grade" form and give to the College registrar. Please note: Requests for incompletes are NOT automatic; you must request and receive permission to take an incomplete before the end of the term. Please also read these URP and Rackham requirements for incompletes below.
• the Urban Planning Program's policy on incompletes (source: URP Bulletin 2009-2010, pp. 46-6):
The Urban and Regional Planning Program follows Rackham policies on the assignment of grades (see http://www.rackham.umich.edu/downloads/publications/gsh.pdf) and supplements those policies as follows. Students are expected to complete all course assignments in full and on time according to the course schedule established by the instructor. Consistent with rackham policy, if a student fails to attend a substantial portion of course lectures and fails to complete a substantial number of the assignments for a course, the instructor will assign a “No Report.” This grade will be converted automatically by the university to an involuntary withdrawal (ED) after the end of a term. Students who receive an NR will be required to retake the course. Students are occasionally hindered from completing all of the requirements of a course because of unforeseen hardships. In that event, the instructor, at his or her discretion, may assign a grade of “Incomplete” for the course. Following Rackham policy, the instructor may assign an Incomplete only if the student has attended and completed a substantial portion of the course lectures and completed a substantial portion of the required work.
When assigning an Incomplete, the instructor will consult promptly with the student to determine the nature of the student’s hardship, establish the remaining work to be completed, and set a reasonable deadline for its completion. That deadline should be set as soon after the end of the term as possible and should not exceed two months following the end of the term, except under exceptional circumstances. The instructor will notify the student of the work remaining and the deadline(s) for completing that work in writing, which may be by email communications. 46 If the student completes all of the required work by the deadline, the instructor will assign the student’s final grade by incorporating all of the completed work.
If the student fails to complete all or part of the remaining work by the extended deadline, the instructor will assign the final course grade based on the work completed before the end of the term and before the extended deadline. In either case, because the notation “I” remains a permanent part of the academic record according to Rackham policy, the final grade as it appears on the student’s transcript will be noted, for example, as “I B+.”
• the Rackham policy on incompletes (Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies (4. Coursework, Grading and Academic Standing) (accessed 27 Oct 2009):
"A student may receive a grade of Incomplete ("I") only if the work remaining to be done for the course by the end of the semester is small and the instructor approves an extension for completing the unfinished work. The instructor must agree to this arrangement and determine a deadline for finishing the assigned work before a grade is assigned. The notation of "I" remains a permanent part of the academic record. When coursework is completed to the satisfaction of the instructor, the grade will appear on the transcript as, for example, "I B+." The grade point average is based only on hours of coursework completed."
6. Group Work/Group Projects - Issues and Advice
Graduate planning education involves extensive group work: from quick in-class small-group hypothetical scenarios to group writing projects and presentations to the culminating capstone projects. Group work can be exciting, socially engaging and rewarding; but the complexities of group dynamics -- combined with deadline pressures, differing work styles and expectations -- can also lead to misunderstandings and tension. Here are some common challenges, strategies and insights:
7. Master's Theses/Professional Projects
The process of developing a thesis or professional project ideally starts before the end of your first academic year. Use the summer to develop your research proposal, configure a committee, and write several drafts of your proposal with feedback from your thesis/professional report chair. You should have a polished research proposal ready to be reviewed and approved by the URP Curriculum Committee in early September.
The actual writing process typically involves several iterations of drafts and revisions over a number of months. If you are planning to graduate on time, be sure to submit early drafts to your committee SEVERAL months before your final completion date, and submit a complete, penultimate version no later than 4 weeks before the end of classes, which will allow for enough time for comments and final revisions to be completed by the last day of class. Develop a specific time table for the submission of drafts and final versions, allowing sufficient time for comments and revisions (typically at least 4 weeks between versions). If you are planning to complete the thesis/project AFTER the end of the semester (e.g., during the summer), please talk with the committee chair about obtaining permission for an "incomplete" for your thesis/project credits (UP733/734).
A sample scenario / timetable:
|late winter semester (of the first year of the MUP program)||discuss the tentative project with one or more faculty members. Attend the required winter semester meeting on professional projects/masters theses.|
|summer (between first and second year of the MUP program)||select a committee for your project (2 faculty for a thesis; 1 faculty + 1 outside client for a professional project); write a draft version of your research proposal; get committee feedback; revise.|
|September||submit a final version of your project research proposal (with an approval signature by your committee chair) to the URP Curriculum Committee for approval (at least one week before the scheduled meeting).|
|early winter semester (January, February)||submit a draft of your project/thesis to your committee for comments|
|mid winter semester (February, early March)||submit a complete, revised version for comments|
|March - April||
submit the final version to your committee; have project/thesis approved by committee (before the last day of class).
Note: the Curriculum Committee does NOT need to read or approve your thesis/project; they simply read and approve your research proposal.
For more details, see the thesis guidelines.