By Kazuya Muto
When I was in Japan, writing essays was not a big deal for me. But now, in Australia, it is. Writing essays here is very different, particularly in terms of two things: plagiarism and referencing.
In Australia, plagiarism is a very big deal. It can also be a big deal in Japan, but in Japanese universities many students lift sentences from books or Web sites and usually they get away with it. But if you did that in Australia, you may be failed. You may even be forced to leave the university forever.
So if I want to use information from books or Web sites, I have to paraphrase it. I have to express the same meaning as the original article, but using different words and sentence structures. And when you paraphrase, you have to reference your sources, which I find irritating.
One of my classes is "Academic English." Its aim is to help students write a good essay or make a good presentation. One day, our lecturer told us: "Please use Harvard referencing, because most lecturers prefer the Harvard system — or sometimes the Chicago system." Harvard? Sometimes Chicago? I didn't know what she was talking about.
As I packed up my notes and my pencil case, another Japanese exchange student asked the lecturer what she meant by the Harvard system. She was very brave, and I admired her for asking. Apparently, the Harvard system involves writing the title of the book, the author and the year that it was published for each reference, and putting the list of references at the end of the essay.
This didn't sound so difficult. But there are some rules: The book title should be written in italics, commas should be placed between the author and the year of publication, etc. These rules must be strictly followed, and if that girl hadn't asked, I would have been completely unaware of them.
My essay topic was "Aging population and the Japanese economy" and the essay was to be about 1,500 words in length. At first, I thought 1,500 words was too long and I would never be able to write that much in time. But actually the problem was not length but coherence.
As I wrote, I found I didn't keep to the topic. I kept on going off on tangents. (This seems to be much more acceptable in Japanese essays than it is in English essays). As I wrote, I thought up each sentence in Japanese first (I still find it hard to think in English) and then I would translate it into English and type it. So far so good, but the problem was that I would often forget my original thoughts in Japanese as I struggled to translate them into English. After a while, I started thinking there must be something wrong with my brain.
I really struggled with writing the essay and around the 1,200-word mark something strange happened. Absurd thoughts came floating into my mind, and I started laughing at myself. Kris noticed me chuckling as I wrote my essay in the dining room. He said with a laugh: "It sometimes happens to me too! Just relax, mate!"
Fortunately I finished three hours before it was due. I'm worried though about what mark it will get. I'll know at the end of this month. Please, give me a good mark!
Shukan ST: June 9, 2006
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