How Do Chinese students Deal With Their Graduation Thesis
Wang Lei has already finished his dissertation weeks before the deadline in late May, but the 21-year-old student at Beijing Information Science and Technology University feels no relief as his thesis still needs to pass the plagiarism test.
“I used a lot of material, but I forgot the sources, so I’m afraid I won’t pass,” he says.
Many of Wang’s peers share the same concerns. They write their theses without referencing the sources they use. As a result, when the test results come out, they have to rewrite part of their theses. In order to avoid such a situation, scholars suggest students familiarize themselves with citation and referencing styles, and start taking notes of their sources at an early stage.
Yu Zhejun, a lecturer of philosophy at Fudan University, used to offer thesis-writing lectures to students in his department. As he observed, many students know very little about referencing styles.
“The papers they submit often include several styles of referencing,” he says. “Often they can’t even tell the difference between references and the bibliography.”
As Yu explains, the bibliography is the complete list of material consulted for the thesis, while the references explain the exact source and location of the material cited in the paper. There are two major styles of referencing that are commonly used in dissertations, namely Chicago style and Harvard style. (see below)
“As soon as you start reading for your dissertation, it is crucial to make detailed notes of what you’ve read and its sources,” he says. Since anything students read could become part of their thesis, having such detailed notes will avoid plagiarism in the writing phase.
Focus on research
When it comes to writing a dissertation, Zhang Jin, professor of history at Nanjing Normal University, says many students struggle with citations.
One of the most frequent mistakes they make is giving indirect sources. “They cite something that quotes the same thing from another source,” he says. “In such cases, the right procedure is to find the original source and reference it.”
Another major mistake students often make is being disrespectful of originality. For example, if they find an idea useful, they don’t bother to find out who suggested it, but simply refer to the material in which they read about it, according to Zhang.
Such details are what matter the most in undergraduate dissertations, he says. “We don’t expect students to submit papers with great ideas. Instead, they should learn how to write papers and conduct research properly,” he says. Zhang believes that, ultimately, writing a thesis is research training for college students.
Choose a style and stick to it
Chicago style: It is a method of citation commonly used in the art field. Students can find a quick guide to this style at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html.
Harvard style: It is a widely used referencing system. According to Yu Zhejun, a lecturer of philosophy at Fudan University, in China this system is more commonly used by science students.
Other material: Students can find advice on references and citations in Introduction to the Study of Chinese Ancient History, a book by Rong Xinjiang, professor of history at Peking University.