Writing, Honor, and Community: A Guide for Compositions in French

(Please note that the following guidelines apply to 3000 and 4000 level French courses.  Students in 1000 and 2000 level courses should follow the specific composition guidelines distributed by their instructors.)

In brief:

  • All books, articles, web sites, and other sources of information you use while composing a paper for a course must be acknowledged.
  • If you show your paper to the staff of the French, a tutor at UVA you may get help in locating your errors, but you must correct the errors yourself and acknowledge the help received.
  • If your instructor permits peer editing, a classmate may also help you locate grammar errors or organizational and logical problems in your paper, but you must make the corrections yourself and acknowledge this help.
  • The two guiding principles in every case are to follow your instructor's directions and to acknowledge all help and sources.

Some further thoughts on writing, honor, and community:

When students are writing a composition for a course they sometimes wonder about the amount and kind of help that they can get. The work is going to be graded, and thus should be their own.

The faculty members of the Department of French hope that students of French will be conscious that they are members both of the community of the University of Virginia and of an international community of scholars. Both traditions require honest acknowledgment of assistance received and both traditions encourage individual writers to seek out, rather than to avoid, the stimulation and enrichment of contact with other minds. Thus there are two closely related and very important values: acknowledgment of the work of others and cultivation of one's own original insight and skill as thinker and writer. These values are shared by faculty members and students alike. All faculty members at the University do original work in their fields of expertise. This original work is possible only because scholars and artists are knowledgeable about the work done by others before them. Moreover, almost all of this original work is done with the help of peers. In French, faculty members not only read extensively and make use of the insights of earlier scholars, but they also ask colleagues to read and comment on their work. Many good ideas come from conversations or correspondence with scholars elsewhere. This help is acknowledged every time a faculty member publishes a book or article. The acknowledgment takes several forms: parenthetical references, footnotes, bibliographies of works consulted, discursive commentary within the body of the text, and sometimes in the form of a page or two of special thanks toward the beginning of a book. This acknowledgment is fundamental to scholarly integrity throughout the world.

For well over a century at the University of Virginia, students have chosen to accept the obligations of the honor system. Honor guides Virginia students in all aspects of their lives, not only their work for courses. Specifically, honor in academic matters obliges Virginia students to live up to the highest standard of community of scholars in all writing submitted to a course, a writing contest, an academic journal, or an Internet site. This means that all writers will explicitly distinguish between their own contribution and what they have learned from any other source and that they will acknowledge in writing all their sources.

Students are used to signing a form of the honor pledge when they submit work, but students sometimes do not take the time to distinguish among the different forms the pledge should take, depending on the type of course work they are submitting. The most ordinary form "On my honor as a student at the University of Virginia, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment," is entirely appropriate for most examinations and quizzes. However, it is not the best form for most compositions, particularly in advanced French literature and civilization courses. In advanced courses, it makes perfect sense for students both to give and to receive help honorably. People come here, both faculty members and students, because they want to learn from one another and from such resources as the library, student organizations, and the Maison française. It is entirely normal and desirable that students talk with one another about what they are reading, about their experiences in France and other French-speaking countries, about films they have seen, and about many other matters. In some courses, students are specifically encouraged to (or required to) read one another's draft compositions and to comment on them. Students often read books and articles on the topics about which they are writing their compositions. The University, in short, is a place where people give and receive assistance, when they are not specifically told otherwise for the purpose of certain tests and exercises, and where they acknowledge such assistance.

Thus, for compositions, particularly in advanced courses, the pledge should be combined with a statement that indicates sources and acknowledges assistance. One way to do this is to write "On my honor as a student at the University of Virginia, I have not received any unacknowledged assistance in writing this paper."

Because most students of French are not native speakers of the language, there is one special area of assistance that frequently leads to questions. What kind of help can one receive in improving the quality of the written expression--the French language--in a composition that is submitted in a course? The Department's general guideline is this: you may receive help only to locate weaknesses and errors in grammar, word choice, and organization but you must determine the correct forms for yourself.

The Department of French has an additional rule about compositions that does not derive from honor but is an important matter of community. While teaching assistants in French are available to provide help through the French Tutoring/Writing Service, they are forbidden by Department rule from providing assistance with editing compositions except through the Writing Center (and, of course, to students in courses they are teaching). We have made this rule to protect the time of graduate students, who cope with the demands of their own studies as well as their teaching. Remember that your first resource for questions about compositions is your own instructor.

Please contact the French Department for a list of self-employed tutors.

This document sets forth the general Department guidelines. They apply to all courses in the Department except when your instructor provides alternative instructions. In certain courses there may be more restrictions on receiving help for compositions