In an effort to more rigorously teach students about the proper use of external sources, the Harvard College Writing Program now requires freshmen to submit not only a bibliography but full PDFs or photocopies of all materials cited in their final papers for Expository Writing 20.
Writing Program Director Thomas R. Jehn said that the policy, which takes effect for freshmen enrolled in the mandatory writing class this spring, aims to help preceptors evaluate their students’ use of sources.
“Our concern is not to set up paper writing as a series of hoops to jump through,” Jehn said. “The conversation about source use needs to be more than just a checkmark. This is really an important part of writing at Harvard.”
James P. Herron, an Expos preceptor and director of the Harvard Writing Project, echoed these sentiments, adding that it can be difficult for preceptors to work with sources to which they have no access.
“In most of our essays, we supply the sources,” Herron said. “If you don’t have the sources, it’s difficult to give the students feedback.”
Jehn said the new policy would enable more comprehensive evaluation. “It sends an important message: We take sources seriously,” he said.
Though he noted that some preceptors expressed concerns that the process of submitting sources could add a new layer of work to Expos, he said that most preceptors felt that the benefits outweighed the cost. Senior preceptor Karen L. Heath, who required students in her Expos sections to submit sources even before the policy was enacted, said that the process was not a significant burden.
Some students, however, complained about the extra work of compiling their sources for their preceptors to see.
“I was just generally annoyed that I had to take the time to actually do that rather than working on my paper,” Rebecca C. Rosen ’15 said.
Zoe E. Michas ’15 agreed that the process was time-consuming, adding that photocopying large sections of books is also expensive for students. Michas, who copied about 65 pages for her research paper, decided against using several more print sources in her paper because of the time and cost of copying. She noted, however, that her preceptor was able to give her better feedback as a result of the new policy.
“I think the idea of it is great, but it’s kind of asking a lot of the students,” Michas said. “I think it hasn’t been fully thought through yet.”
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