Miscellaneous Policy Statements for Erlich's Classes

Grading Principles

I shall attempt to maintain the same standards throughout the course. In general, I base my grading upon English Department standards (see below) and the following definition:

  1. "C" essay: an essay about which there is nothing or little to say; an essay that does the job but doesn't do it particularly well or particularly poorly. Errors in logic, grammar, mechanics, format, structure, etc. lower grades from a "C." Assorted beauties of premise, structure, and (especially) elegance-the combination of brevity, sufficiency, and persuasiveness-tend to raise grades.
  2. Due dates are part of the assignments; I assert the right to lower the grade if your papers are late.
  3. I shall penalize mechanical errors that are covered in class and/or on this handout.

Warning: Not turning in work may result in an "F" or "Incomplete" for the course. Not cooperating with one's group may lose you points and will anger me greatly enough that I won't do you any favors.

Standards for English Department Grading

A = An excellent paper — characterized by insight, originality, substance, and stylistic maturity.

B = A good paper — sound in content and b in expression but lacking the insight, originality, substance and/or stylistic maturity of an "A" paper.

C = A satisfactory paper — adequate and average in both content and expression or good in one but poor in the other.

D = poor paper — below average in either or both content and expression without compensating strength in the other.

F = A failing paper — either:

  1. completely failing to address the assignment, or
  2. containing serious and repeated writing errors that markedly interfere with its reading, or
  3. combining general emptiness of content with overall weakness of expression.

"Dippy Errors"

The possessive form of "it"="its" (cf., "he"/"his"); "it's"="it is." The possessive of regular singular nouns is usually formed with "-'s." The possessive of most plurals in English is formed by adding an apostrophe (') after the final "s." Verbs agree with their subjects in number. Pronouns agree with their antecedents in number and gender; their case is determined by their function in their own clause or phrase. In the present tense, written English inflects the 3rd person singular by adding an "s" to the verb: "John kicks the ball." (See below, on dialects.) American conventions require a comma with a coordinating conjunction joining two sentences. The generally recognized coordinating conjunctions are "and," "but," "or," "nor," "for," and "yet." Some authorities now add "so" to this list (when it's not a short form for "so that"); and, in a few contexts, "since" just might be a coordinating conjunction. "However," "therefore," "though," "hence," and similar words are not conjunctions; hence, you must use a semicolon if you use them in a sentence like this one.

Two Additional Points

  1. If you speak a dialect different from "standard" English, you're not making errors of any sort, let alone "dippy" ones. You will just have to make more adjustments than speakers whose dialects are close to the written language.
  2. I'm usually a pretty good model for the standard conventions, so you can imitate what I do in format with a good chance of being "right." Note, though, that I do not type all the handouts you will receive. Also, I tend to overpunctuate-and to overuse the dash and abb.-and I occasionally refuse to follow the printers' convention of putting all commas and periods inside quotation marks. (When I write for publication, however, I knuckle under to the printers.)

If you have trouble with mechanics, contact me and/or the Steering Committee as soon as possible. We can arrange for tutoring, a class session on "basic conventions," or whatever is necessary.

Writing Superstitions

Don't be wishy-washy in your writing. Do, however, differentiate between what you're presenting as simple facts, as conclusions, and as mere speculation. A very handy phrase for telling the reading something is your opinion is "I think." (Avoid using "I think" [and similar phrases] too much. An "I think" statement is literally unarguable: few people would presume to tell you that you really don't think what you say you think.)

Unless you wish to address your reader directly, avoid the 2nd person ("you"). If you wish to include your reader, you may use "we." Do not use the editorial (imperial?) "we." Use "I" as you would use any other word-where appropriate. E.g., "We have seen..." but "I have shown"; ("we" implies multiple authorship).

It may be an inelegant thing to do, but a preposition is a perfectly grammatical thing to end a sentence with.

Try to keep all phrases together. If you must do so, however, it is quite proper to (inconspicuously) split an infinitive phrase. (It is errant pedantry to object to splitting an infinitive phrase like "to go out" and accept a sentence like "I have, with John frequently gone out.")

All else being equal, a simple English word is better than a fancy word.

All else being equal, a simple construction is better than a fancy construction. (The context is always important, though. E.g., you might buy a beer and purchase a classy wine. In a paper in a Shakespeare course you would do a lot better to say "Romeo and Juliet consummated their marriage" than to imitate the student of mine who wrote "Then Romeo did a job on Juliet." Just don't say "anterior to the time when" if all you mean is "before.")

A long essay (more than, say 15 pages) often requires a fairly formal introduction and conclusion-and maybe even a summary, pointer sentences, or pointer paragraphs. Short essays usually do not; indeed, such machinery may insult your reader.

Starting a lot of sentences with conjunctions may make your essay sound like a biblical parody. And starting a lot of sentences with words like "though" and "however" can annoy your reader. Still, it's OK on occasion and certainly grammatical to do so.

Paragraphing is a typographical and rhetorical device as much as a guide to your logic. If you want a short paragraph, use one.

For extraordinary stress, one may choose to use a sentence fragment; note, though, that fragments are now quite fashionable in advertising and other areas and enough of a cliche that they've been mocked on Saturday Night Live and in Doonesbury. So, if you use them, use them sparingly. Very sparingly.

Plagiarism

Don't. You need not consult outside sources; however, if you quote anyone you must put the quoted material inside quotation marks (" ") or, for long quotations, set it off, and you must quote exactly. If, you quote, paraphrase, or depend heavily upon any source, you must give a citation. Parenthetical citation will be quite sufficient for any of the handouts for this course.

Note that successful plagiarism requires a good deal of skill and a great sensitivity to stylistic nuances. Moral concerns aside (for a moment), you should avoid plagiarism unless you're quite good at doing it ('cause I'm pretty good at spotting it).

As Mr. Sutton Landry once said, if you plagiarize it's because:

  1. you didn't have enough time for the assignment, and/or
  2. you're confused, or
  3. because you're just a congenital cheater.

If you're confused or need more time, see me. (The rumors of my having been suckled by a werewolf are highly exaggerated.) If you're just a congenital cheater...well, I like games, and I don't like being fooled; the bet is my skill at literary analysis against your academic career: minimally, your grade in the course.

(Additional Note: I see the plagiarism business as mostly a game for high stakes [on the student's side]; messing over other students, however, I see as vile. Do anything to mess over your colleagues, and I'll do my best to bust your butt out of school.)

Proofreading

You are required to proofread your own essays and to have them proofread by someone else; for some of the essays, you may be required to have your proofreaders add their signatures to the endorsement. I reserve the right to reject as Not Acceptable (NA) any paper with too many proofreading or other dippy errors. Four or five on any page would be "too many" during the first half of the term; two or three on any page would be pushing it after midterm. See above on spell checkers and thesauruses.

Linguistic Taboos, Responsible Writing, and Language Politically Correct (PC) and Politically Incorrect (PI)

Your written work is written and should be decorous (appropriate) for your Speaker, audience, topic, and the general context of an informal essay written in college. Ordinarily you should not use vulgarity, obscenity, scatology, and such. If you need to write such language, try the British convention of a star (*) replacing some key letter or letters (so you won't corrupt a reader who doesn't already know the word): e.g., "sh*t," "p*ss," "bug*er," "w*g," "bro*d," "k*ke," "sl*pe," "go*k," "sk*n job."

If your language offends someone or other for whatever reason, be prepared to change what you've said, or answer "I meant to offend" or "That's your problem." Briefly, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your language.

In my own language I observe one absolute taboo: I will not pronounce the Name of God (Yaweh); ordinarily, I'll say "The Eternal" or Adonai or "Jehovah" or, if I want something explicitly patriarchal, "The LORD." So I don't take the LORD's Name in vain, since I won't use the Name at all. To all other words, I apply the rule of Decorum: appropriateness in context. I recognize, though, that other people have other rules.

Specifically, many people tend to find it very PI and downright nasty to talk about bodily matters in straightforward language-or sometimes at all. They will truly be offended with those "Seven [well, eight] Words You Can Never Say on Television." So, usually, I try to be PC and keep my language inoffensive, but "I'm gentleman enough to say "sh*t in front of a lady" and will do so (so to speak) if I think some word is appropriate.

Listserv

I offer you the opportunity to get on a ListServ for the course. If you have access to a computer that can get into the MU system, that means you can communicate with other students (and less frequently with me) as you like, and I can, on rare occasions, communicate with a fair number of people in the class. Note that the ListServ is primarily for students. If you want to e-mail me a letter; e-mail me a (brief, please!) letter. I won't usually read the ListServ mail unless you write on the SUBJECT line, "Rich: Read This."