Prof. Scott D. Campbell (home)
Urban Planning Program
University Of Michigan

last updated: March 22, 2023
comments / corrections / broken links? Please email me.


This document has eight sections:

General advice
1. General Advice for Better Academic Writing
2. Specific Advice for Writing Papers that Analyze and Critique Urban Theory/Planning Theory Writings
Proper Citations (and do I cite wikipedia?)
4. The Problem of Plagiarism (and chatbots)
5. Formatting Data Tables and Graphs


Specific advice for Michigan planning students:
6. Taking an "Incomplete" Grade for a Course
7. Advice on Group Work/Group Projects
8. Master's Theses/Professional Projects


See also these separate pages on:


NOTE: All students in my courses are expected to read and understand the use of citations, the principles of academic integrity and the problem of plagiarism (see Sections 3 and 4 below).

1. Advice for Better Academic Writing

  1. Provide a good introduction: it sets the theme, entices the reader, and tells what lies ahead. An insightful first sentence/thesis statement can provide your essay with a good opening and sharpen the reader's attention. However, carefully craft this initial sentence to directly introduce your main question or topic. Avoid overly general statements/platitudes about cities, urbanism, human nature, etc. that are not specifically linked to your theme. (For example, avoid an opening sentence such as "Humans and cities are interactive, and neither can exist without the other." or "Sustaining a livable planet is the most important goal of humanity, even more important than equity or growth or historic preservation."
  2. Academics often justify the importance and original contribution of their work by identifying a "research gap" and then proposing to fill that "gap" with new findings, arguments, methodologies, etc. But it is easy to overplay this strategy and create a strawman out of the existing literature (e.g., "all past literature about globalization ignores the role of climate change..." or "most scholars of suburbanization assume that the free market creates sprawl"), and thus invite the reader's skepticism. In many cases, an essay doesn’t require the elaboration of a "research gap” to justify itself. The strongest justification is a strong project with a strong argument. (That is, focus not on the size of the hole you will fill as much as what you fill it with.)
  3. Be sure that the reader quickly understands your main question (the "research question"), how you will address the question, and your answer to the question.
  4. When writing about a book or article, provide more than just a summary of issues. Instead, write a close reading analysis, interpretation, critique, or comparison. You may first need to summarize the text, but then step back and take an intelligent, critical look at the text and set it in the larger context of writings on cities and planning.
  5. But be sure to not go to the other extreme by simply writing a freewheeling list of your opinions. Writing just from experience has its place, but that is not the focus of this course; the function here is to write critically from the readings. (This shift away from either simple summaries or experiential thought-pieces represents the shift from high school to college writing.)
  6. Pay close attention to your writing "voice." Avoid both stiff, academic-sounding language and overly informal "colloquial" language. One effective approach is to use your first-person voice to introduce the topic and questions, then step back and have the various cited authors present their competing arguments, and then conclude by returning to the first person to summarize and critique.
  7. Avoid unnecessary use of passive voice; it often muddles the issue of agency (i.e., who said or did what) and makes sentence structures unnecessarily complicated. Passive voice makes your statements sound vague and disembodied. Active voice is stronger, simpler, and makes agency explicit. Don’t conflate passive voice with sounding “objective” (a bad habit amongst academics?). An example of passive voice: "Automobile manufacturing jobs in Detroit have been greatly reduced since 1950." Better: "Automation and industrial decentralization have greatly reduced automobile manufacturing jobs in Detroit since 1950." Or be even more direct about agency: "In the post World War Two period, management at the large automotive industries strategically invested in automation, outsourcing and the regional and international decentralization of manufacturing to both discipline labor and reduce labor costs, leading to massive job losses in Detroit."
    Also: do not go out of the way to avoid using first-person voice just to sound "objective." An example of passive voice: "it is argued that suburban residents participate less in civic organizations." Better: "I argue that suburban residents participate less in civic organizations." (or, if you want to avoid using "I", you might try: "This paper argues that suburban residents participate less in civic organizations.")
  8. Keep your writing focused: don't give a lot of background and history at the beginning without it clearly supporting your main points. Show the reader why the march through a couple of pages of background/history is useful. Otherwise it reads like meandering.
  9. Signal the transition to the paper’s conclusion. Loosely analogous to a chess game, a paper moves through three phases: opening moves, the middlegame, and the endgame. The hurried reader often scans the first page for the question, method and paper's trajectory, and then skips to the final pages and scans for the conclusion (the endgame). Readers either look for an explicit “conclusion” section header or language at the start of a paragraph on the final pages that signals this shift in voice and focus – a voice of reflection, summary, reconsideration. Provide a satisfying sense of coming full circle here, returning to your initial question and letting the reader know that you are now answering a question (or a challenge, or a dilemma) you posed on your first page. One strategy is to put your paper aside for a moment, and on a blank sheet of paper, write (e.g., in a list) your main arguments and insights. Then edit your conclusion to clearly and convincingly make these points. And then go back through the body of your paper and edit to make sure that your paper is building up to these main points. Sometimes you will find a mismatch/misalignment between the body of your paper and your conclusions. You then have two choices: (1) rewrite your conclusion to logically follow from the analysis in the body of the paper, or (2) edit the body of the paper (adding and subtracting where necessary) so it aligns with the conclusions you want to make.
  10. Avoid over-generalizations without supporting documentation (e.g., "cities were horrible places to live until the 20th Century..." or "...suburbs are uniformly sterile, racist, boring places...."). One strategy to avoid overgeneralizations is to engage in a close-reading and evaluation of the source material, and allow for nuance, contradictions, and unresolved contradictions. (Remember the literary adage, "show, don't tell.")
  11. Give your writing a clear, organized structure. Don't just write what is in your head: you can start that way (the exploratory stage of writing), but you then need to restructure and edit for clarity and continuity. Your ideas are only as logical, clear and strong as your writing. (The transition from undergraduate to graduate papers includes the shift from writing a single last-minute version that only the professor sees to writing a series of drafts that are read by many people).
  12. Simplify your writing: you don't need complicated, awkward sentence structures to express complex ideas. Be straightforward, but without losing any subtlety.
  13. Avoid such phrases as "many people say," "some argue that," etc. These evoke a vague, unidentified voice (or voices) of either hearsay or authority without attribution. Either be more specific (by citing specific authors/texts) or drop altogether.
  14. Provide good transitions between ideas. Let the reader know when you are moving from one idea to another (with transitional sentences, and perhaps with section headings). Show the connection between ideas. Develop a systematic, cumulative argument.
  15. Avoid simply describing a general framework and naming general categories, especially in an introduction. (Example: "There is a relationship between urban form and environmental outcomes, and changes in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are associated with changes in urban density and numerous other variables.") Instead, identify specific relationships and their characteristics (e.g., whether a relationship is positive or negative, weak or strong, etc.). (Example: "Higher density cities tend to have lower per capita levels of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), though access to good public transit and higher parking costs also reduce VMT.") Note: Yes, we learn in statistics to not conflate cause-effect with mere statistical associations, so be mindful of this distinction.
  16. If your academic writing seems rusty, take a look at Howard S. Becker, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). It is a fun, informal and often helpful guide.
  17. Double-space your text, include page numbers, and use adequate margins. (Exception: memos are usually single-spaced.)
  18. Show your sources. See detailed instructions below on citations and plagiarism.
  19. Good note-taking skills can help you avoid plagiarism problems down the road:
    • Take notes in your own words (rather than just copying and pasting from sources);
    • If an author's wording is vital to retain in its original form, put in quotes with the full source in your notes;
    • Keep track of all sources as you find them and use them in your drafts (DON'T wait until the end to retrospectively add sources).
    • Try writing your draft without referring to your source material. This will encourage you to put ideas and arguments in your own words.
    • Avoid "patchwriting", i.e., paraphrasing source material.)
  20. Finally, read widely and deeply! Good readers make good writers. Read both non-fiction and fiction.

UM Sweetland Writing Center and its writing and teaching guides
UM English Language Institute
UM Library (Information and Reference Center): Citation and Style Guidelines

Note: many thanks to Dr. Julie Steiff, UM Taubman College lecturer and writing instructor, for many great conversations and ideas about scholarly writing.


2. Specific Advice for Writing Papers that Analyze and Critique Urban Theory / Planning Theory Writings

1. If you are responding to a rather broad question, you might be able to write a more effective essay by narrowing the focus of your analysis. Be sure, however, to still address the central theme of the original question. Possible ways to narrow a question: explicitly identify several elements of a question and then state your intention of focusing on a subset of these elements; limit the answer geographically (e.g., just U.S.), temporally (e.g., late 20th century), or by discipline (e.g., a sociological interpretation as opposed to a design or economic interpretation; etc.). Give the reader a clear sense of the direction and structure of the paper on the first page, including any narrowing assumptions you make.

2. For a theory paper, keep your focus on ideas, concepts, and intellectual history. Use cases / examples where appropriate to illustrate your points, but remember that this is NOT primarily an empirical, case study-based exercise.

3. Find the right balance between providing a concise synopsis of the various authors' ideas and offering your own critique/interpretation. Your job is neither to simply summarize the readings (too descriptive) nor to simply write an untethered thought-piece on planning and cities (too idiosyncratic). Find the happy middle ground through a close reading and analysis of the texts.

4. Should one cite class lectures? Normally for academic writing one should refer to the literature (rather than class lectures). The logic here is that the class readings (and any outside readings) constitute the substantive "evidence" for your paper's analysis; the class lectures are primarily to enliven this material, highlight the main themes, and place the readings in context. As a result, you should emphasize class readings. Of course, if there were substantive ideas or interpretations presented in class that were not directly from the readings, then do cite the lecture rather than the literature.

5. Finally, what makes a strong paper? (I am sure different instructors will give a variety of answers.) Here are some selected characteristics of strong versus not-so-strong papers. They are in no particular order, and may be somewhat redundant:

Rigorous, analytical, smart writing; systematic development of arguments; clearly written; thoughtful and wise; clearly organized; probing; ambitious and successful; insightful; nicely combines synopsis of authors' ideas with his/her own critique; good use of literature (both assigned and outside readings); good use of examples; good use of transitions between ideas (and sections of the paper); conveys well both the important points and the nuances in the various authors' ideas; strong, crisp conclusion that nicely ties the paper together. Analytical (said twice, but it's important!); a pleasure to read; good, solid introduction. makes useful distinctions between ideas.

simplistic and descriptive without analysis; somewhat misses the broader scope of the question; unsubstantiated overgeneralizations/assertions; overly colloquial writing; unstructured; polemical; meanders; off topic; conflates different topics/ideas; uses quotes without citations; Muddled logic; cover a few basics, but didn't really dig into the question; doesn't define ambiguous terms; ideas somewhat disjointed; sets up a nice paper structure in the introduction but doesn't deliver; needs to do a closer reading of the source texts; choppy writing; too vague; Forces false dichotomies; relies too much on one text/author when the question requires a broader range of ideas and sources; didn't copy edit paper.


3. Proper Citations
The purpose of citations is:
1.  to give credit to other authors (for text, ideas, conceptual frameworks, data, graphs, illustrations, maps, etc.);
2.  to help the reader judge the context, legitimacy and possible bias of the information based on the source;
3.  to allow the reader to find the source (should the reader like to either check your information or read further).

(In serving these three purposes, the author also avoids the problem of plagiarism. See below).

Citations aren't just a boring, pedantic academic ritual that faculty obsess about but students can ignore. Citations are a central and necessary tool in good, honest scholarly writing. They let the reader double-check your facts, and reveal your sources and intellectual influences. All source materials -- whether directly quoted or summarized -- must be properly documented.


Quoting and Paraphrasing
We use source materials because they contain both good information (ideas, data, typologies, distinctions, etc.) and useful wording (phrases, sentences, paragraphs). If you want to convey the ideas found in a source text, EITHER directly quote the text (and put the author's text in quotation marks), OR express the ideas in your own distinctive words/voice and cite the source of the idea (including the page number if relevant). Avoid the problematic middle ground between the author's original wording and your own voice: it is NOT ok to slightly change the wording or word order and simply list the source without putting the source wording in quotes (Example 2 below). If the source author uses specific wording or phrases that you find distinctive and effective (such as Young's "denies and represses social differences" from the examples below below), do put in quotes and cite. (For definitions of "cite," "quote" and "paraphrase," see below.)

Three Examples of Citations: Two that are fine, and one that is not.

the source text:
"The ideal of community denies and represses social difference, the fact that the polity cannot be thought of as a unity in which all participants share a common experience and common values. In its privileging of face-to-face relations, moreover, the ideal of community denies difference in the form of the temporal and spatial distancing that characterizes social process." Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 227.

Three Examples

Example 1:
Directly quote the text.

Example 2:
Slightly change the wording (and include a citation, without using quotation marks).
Example 3:
Put the ideas in your own, distinctive voice and cite (with the option of quoting specific phrases).
Your text

"The ideal of community denies and represses social difference, the fact that the polity cannot be thought of as a unity in which all participants share a common experience and common values" (Young, 1990: 227).


The principle of community rejects social difference, meaning the polity cannot be conceived of as a singular unity in which all citizens share common experiences and values (Young, 1990: 227). Iris Marion Young is critical of the ideal of community because it enforces social conformity and "denies and represses social difference" (Young, 1990: 227).
Is this a proper way to cite sources? YES

Note: it would be even worse to just list Young's book in the bibliography (and exclude the in-line citation), and worst of all to omit any mention of Young at all.



full citation in the bibliography at the end of the paper:

Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

UM's Sweetland Center for Writing provides a useful guide: Beyond Plagiarism: Best Practices for the Responsible Use of Sources
including a section on the problem of "patchwriting" (a kind of inappropriate paraphrasing), that contains some helpful examples of what to do and not do.


Some Definitions (all from the Oxford English Dictionary, OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 21 March 2016.

cite, v.
2. trans.
a. To make reference to (a passage, text, author, etc.), esp. as an authority or as providing support for an argument; (sometimes spec.) to quote directly.

quote, v.
2. trans.
a. To reproduce or repeat a passage from (a book, author, etc.); to repeat a statement by (a person); to give (a specified person, body, etc.) as the source of a statement. Cf.
b. To mention or refer to (a book, author, etc.) as providing support or evidence for a particular statement, opinion, or practice.

paraphrase, v.
1. a. trans. To express the meaning of (a written or spoken passage, or the words of an author or speaker) using different words, esp. to achieve greater clarity; to render or translate freely. Also fig.
b. intr. To make a paraphrase; to comment or enlarge upon a passage so as to bring out the sense.
c. trans. To adapt, appropriate, or alter the wording of (a saying or quotation) or the words of (an author or speaker) to suit one's own purpose. Usu. in infinitive at the head of an introductory clause.

[Note: these are selected excerpts and do not include all the various definitions of each term.]


1. If you will be using lots of citations and/or developing large bibliographies, I strongly recommend using bibliographic management software, such as EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero, or ProCite.
2. see the UM Hatcher Graduate Library Citation and Style Guidelines.
3. For a definitive resource on citations and other writing issues, see:
Chicago Editorial Staff. 2010. The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Examples of Bibliographic Entries for Different Reference Types:

Cronon, William. 1991. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W. W. Norton.

Edited Book:
Fainstein, Susan S., and Scott Campbell, eds. 1996. Readings in Urban Theory. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Chapter in an Edited Book:
Fishman, Robert. 1996. Bourgeois Utopias: Visions of Utopia. In Readings in Urban Theory, edited by S. S. Fainstein and S. Campbell. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Journal Article:
Harvey, David. 1992. Social Justice, Postmodernism and the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 16 (4): 588-601.

Electronic Sources:
to cite electronic sources (from the Internet), be sure to include the standard citation information (author, date, title, organization, etc.) AND the complete web address (url) AND the date you accessed the web page. (It is NOT enough to simply cite the url alone.)

For details and useful links, please see:
UM Hatcher Graduate Library Citation and Style Guidelines
IFLANET: Citation Guides for Electronic Documents (American Psychological Association)
Research and Documentation Online (Diana Hacker)
Journal of Electronic Publishing: "Not Your Father's References: Citations in the Digital Space" (Mats G. Lindquist vol. 4, no. 3, March, 1999)


When citing or quoting other literature, please use proper citation format and bibliographic style. There are many legitimate formats. Here are a few options:

1. If citing text from an outside source, place source text inside quotation marks.

1a. (Author year, page) or (Author, year: page), with bibliography at end of document

As Michael Teitz observes, "Land-use planning has proved more durable than its critics and, more importantly, has shown a new burst of creative energy in the past decade" (Teitz 1996, 652).


Bibliography [placed at the end of the document]
Teitz, Michael B. 1996. American Planning in the 1990s: Evolution, Debate and Challenge. Urban Studies 33 (4/5): 649-71.

1b. Complete citation in footnote (no need for bibliography here)

1b. As Michael Teitz observes, "Land-use planning has proved more durable than its critics and, more importantly, has shown a new burst of creative energy in the past decade."1


Footnote at bottom of page:

1. Teitz, Michael B. 1996. American Planning in the 1990s: Evolution, Debate and Challenge. Urban Studies 33 (4/5): 652.

2. If referring to specific idea from an outside source (without directly quoting text), summarize in your own distinctive words and cite the source. (Note: do not use this format if you are directly quoting the text. You must use format 1a or 1b from above.)

2a. (Author year, page) or (Author, year: page), with bibliography at end of document

Klosterman identifies four distinct justifications for planning (Klosterman 1996: 151).

Note that the period comes after the citation. Also: for chapters in edited books, please cite the actual author of the piece (Klosterman), NOT the editor(s) of the collection (Campbell and Fainstein), who are simply listed in the complete reference below.


Bibliography [placed at the end of the document]
Klosterman, Richard. 1996. Arguments for and Against Planning. In Readings in Planning Theory, edited by S. Campbell and S. S. Fainstein. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.


2b. Complete citation in footnote (no need for bibliography here)

Klosterman identifies four distinct justifications for planning.1


Footnote at bottom of page:

1. Klosterman, Richard. 1996. Arguments for and Against Planning. In Readings in Planning Theory, edited by S. Campbell and S. S. Fainstein. Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell: 151.


1. These are just two possible formats. Different academic disciplines often use different styles.
2. When citing a specific quote (or an idea on a specific page), include the relevant page number(s). When citing the broader ideas of the entire writing, you do not need to include a page number.


Wikipedia falls into a "gray zone" of sources. It is a remarkable and innovative web-based project, and is notable for its breadth of information, timeliness, easy access, and largely voluntary authorship. That said, it does not (yet) fit into the category of acceptable scholarly source materials (e.g., refereed/peer-reviewed journals, books from academic presses, etc.). This is NOT to say that wikipedia articles are necessarily less "true" or "reliable" than traditional sources. Wikipedia pages are generally better than random web pages, and Wikipedia does have a rather interesting and fairly good editorial policy. But for academic papers, I would not recommend citing Wikipedia (just as I would not recommend citing an encyclopedia).

That said, Wikipedia, which started in 2001, is now 20+ years old (and has expanded and matured considerably). If faculty once simply told students, do NOT USE OR CITE Wikipedia, the current answer is likely more nuanced (and complicated). Wikipedia seems best when covering relatively non-controversial topics where its volunteer authors are deeply knowledgeable about the subject (e.g., the history of html) -- these articles are reviewed/edited by many authors. Wikipedia is more problematic in at least two areas: (a) obscure topics (where a single author uploads material with little collaboration/feedback), and (b) controversial topics where ideological battles trump rigor and balance (e.g., Armenian Genocide). (These latter sites are often locked to outside editing, since such sites are often vandalized.)

My advice to students: I encourage you to use Wikipedia as a quick, first stop to get up-to-speed on a topic, but NOT as a definitive or best source. Wikipedia has a stated requirement that authors "verify" their entries with sources. Use Wikipedia as an intermediary to find these primary sources, rather than using Wikipedia as an end in itself. (When a student cites Wikipedia in a paper, I ask them to instead find this preexisting source.) In the end, I would recommend NOT using Wikipedia as a source in a student paper.

see also:
Scott McLemee. 2016. Wikipedia at 15. Inside Higher Ed. Jan. 15.

Noam Cohen. 2007. "A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source" The New York Times online. Published: February 21.


4. The Problem of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is "intellectual theft"2 and is a serious matter. It is the responsibility of each student to understand the problem of plagiarism, and there is no excuse or tolerance for plagiarism among university student work. Plagiarism can be cause for failing an assignment, failing a class and/or expulsion. Students come to graduate school with a wide range of experiences using citations and writing scholarly papers. If you are inexperienced with using citations, please don't hesitate to come talk with me (or the course GSI) before the first writing assignment; I would be happy to meet with you and go through the requirements.

Though the nature of intellectual property has become more complex in an era of electronic sources, the fundamental principles of academic integrity remain: cite your sources, give credit where credit is due, and enable your readers to confirm the sources and materials you use in your work. (I remain unmoved by dubious contemporary arguments that notions of authorship, originality and plagiarism are outdated in this post-modern age of digital sampling, mash-ups, social networking, online collaboration, wikipedia and crowd-sourcing.)

All scholarly work is effectively a dialogue between the existing literature (past and present) and the writer. Citing the literature is not a sign of derivative, unoriginal thinking, but rather an appropriate, necessary acknowledgment of this engagement between your own thinking and the ideas of others. As a scholarly writer, you rarely start "from scratch" (i.e., not relying on any previous work done by others). Instead, your work represents (using economic language) the "value-added" above and beyond what was previously done. As a result, a paper cobbled together of uncredited quotes represents very little, if any, "value added" done by the student. Worse, plagiarism is the misrepresentation of the other writers' words and ideas as your own. (And if academic credits -- i.e., grades -- are to measure and mark the value added by the student, then plagiarized work should represent no academic credit or indeed "negative" academic credit; value is "lost" or squandered rather than added.)

When should one cite sources?
You must acknowledge all sources and enclose all direct quotes in quotation marks. This not only applies to text, but also to data, data tables and charts, maps, and any other source material. Use proper citation formatting, including page numbers (see above). Even if you just summarize ideas from another author, be sure to cite. (It is NOT sufficient to simply have the source material listed in the bibliography; you must use citations within the text itself.)

If you directly quote text, then put in quotation marks and cite. If you instead would like to paraphrase an outside source, it is NOT sufficient to simply rearrange or substitute a few words from the quote and present as your own writing. Summarizing other people's work requires a comprehensive rethinking and reinterpretation in your own language and wording. There should be no confusion or ambiguity as to what text, ideas, data and illustrations are those of the student versus those of an outside (and clearly identified) source.

Source Format and Citations:
You must also cite all sources regardless of the source format. This includes not just books and articles (both those assigned on the syllabus and other materials you find), but also anything found on the Internet (regardless of whether the Internet source is an electronic journal, a report from a research institute, a personal home page, a newspaper, the web site of a nonprofit organization, etc.). Cutting-and-pasting text from the web is technically easier than typing in a quote from a published, bound book; nevertheless, the former has the same citation requirements as the latter. (Do not therefore confuse "public access" with "public knowledge".) Cutting-and-pasting text from the web (without proper and complete citation) is NO substitute for proper academic writing, and can easily lead to failing a class, or worse. (See information above about citing electronic sources.)

To summarize:
When in doubt, cite the source(s). If you borrow actual text (be it a phrase, a sentence, or more), you MUST not only provide a complete source, but also put the text in quotes. This applies to both printed and electronic sources, including any and all materials found on the Internet. Using text from the web without proper recognition of the source is not acceptable and constitutes plagiarism.

2. Joseph Gibaldi. 1999. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th edition. New York: The Modern Language Association: 29-34.
Note: Prof. Amy E. Robillard at Illinois State University has written a thoughtful piece that examines this association of plagiarism with theft (as opposed to other metaphors such as borrowing, intellectual laziness, lying and cheating). See “Pass It On: Revising the Plagiarism is Theft Metaphor". A longer version published as: Robillard, Amy. "Pass It On: Revising the Plagiarism is Theft Metaphor." JAC 29.1-2 (2009): 405-35.


NEW FOR 2023: Writing, AI Chatbots, and Plagiarism:

The rise of Artificial Intelligence and chatbots (applications that answer user questions with AI language models) raises all sorts of new, fascinating (and at times troubling) questions about their impact on scholarship and what constitutes academic writing (original or otherwise). The short answer: including text generated through an AI chatbot in your academic writing, and presenting this text as your own original writing and thoughts, is a form of plagiarism and is not acceptable.

For another perspective, I "asked" ChatGPT this question on March 22, 2023. Here is the question and reply:

ME: "Is a university student's use of an AI chat bot to write a class essay assignment a form of plagiarism?"

ChatGPT: "Yes, using an AI chat bot to write an essay assignment for a university class is considered a form of plagiarism, as it involves presenting someone else's work as one's own. Plagiarism is the act of using someone else's work without giving proper credit or permission. When a student uses an AI chat bot to write an essay assignment, they are essentially using someone else's words and ideas to complete their assignment, without actually doing the work themselves. This goes against the academic integrity standards of most universities and is considered a form of cheating. It's important for students to understand that using an AI chat bot to write an essay assignment can have serious consequences, including failing the assignment, failing the course, or even expulsion from the university. It's always best for students to complete their assignments using their own ideas and words, and to properly cite any sources they use in their work."



If you are unclear about plagiarism, please see these resources:
UM Library: Academic Integrity (links to many great resources, including resources for instructors, resources for students, UM Rules and Procedures)
Rackham Graduate School Policies [since the Urban Planning Program is under the Rackham Graduate School at UM, we follow Rackham policies ]• "Policy Statement on the Integrity of Scholarship"
UM's Sweetland Center for Writing provides a useful guide: Beyond Plagiarism: Best Practices for the Responsible Use of Sources.

see also:
Center for Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Digital Environment
(University of Maryland) and their Virtual Academic Integrity Laboratory
Rebecca Moore Howard, 2001. "Plagiarism: What Should a Teacher Do?" presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Denver, Colorado, 17 March 2001. (Howard teaches at Syracuse University and writes extensively on plagiarism.)
Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices (Council of Writing Program Administrators)

on the broader issue of academic integrity:
Elena Denisova-Schmidt. 2016. The Slippery Business of Plagiarism. Inside Higher Ed. May 24.
Trip Gabriel. 2010. "Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age," The New York Times. August 1.
Brent Staples. 2010. "Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)," The New York Times. July 12.
Ginny McCormick (with additional reporting by Summer Moore, illustrations by Greg Spalenka). 2003.Whose Idea Was That? Stanford Magazine. September/October. (accessed online version on Dec. 19, 2003).
Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood. 2004. Four Academic Plagiarists You've Never Heard Of: How Many More Are Out There? The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: Special Report, Volume 51, Issue 17, Page A8 (Dec. 17).
Kwanghui's Plagiarism FAQ (This is an accessible, engaging page of advice and experiences from Prof. Kwanghui Lim at the Melbourne Business School in Australia. I especially appreciated the bottom section, "Responses to Actual Emails from Students.")


5. Formatting Data Tables and Graphs: Advice

  1. Provide a clear, logical presentation of the data

  2. Properly label tables: full title (variables, geography, years, units, unit of analysis, etc.); label x and y axes; sources (full citations). If you are using BLS occupational categories, list BOTH the SOC code AND the occupational title.

  3. Be clear about geographic unit of analysis:  City?  County?  Metropolitan (or Micropolitan) Statistical Area?  Combined Statistical Area? etc. (Be consistent about using the precise geographic title/label, especially when the central city name is also the county and/or metro name as well.) You might include, in the corner of your graph page, a little map showing the relevant geography.   This would readily inform your readers (or viewers) the geographic areas. (for more details, see US Census geography)

  4. Explain all unclear, unusual terms. When in doubt use precise official definitions (e.g., from the US Census).

  5. [optional] provide a caption at the bottom of a table or chart if it helps the reader understand the graphics and/or quickly focus on the major trends/patterns in the data

  6. Numbers in Data Tables and Graphs Generally, you don't need accuracy past 1/10 of a percent.   e.g., x.x%.  

  7. Be consistent with the number of decimal places you show (e.g., don't have a table with values such as 3.4;   6;   2.73; etc.).   Instead, round to:  3.4;  6.0;  2.7.
    You can easily have Excel do this for you:  Format > Cells > select "number" and set decimal places to "1".   Also:   my sense is that it is better to use negative signs to indicate negative numbers (rather than parentheses or red digits), but this convention may vary by discipline and region.

  8. Be sure to right-justify all numbers in tables (decimal points should line up vertically). This makes reading the table easier.

  9. What chart types to use? Bar and column charts can only handle a limited number of cases x variables before they get crowded and hard to interpret.  Try alternatives:  scatterplots, small multiples of charts; a well-constructed data table; etc.
    and be careful of excessive color-coding, 3D graphic effects, etc.  Have the reader see patterns in the data, not patterns in your graphic design.  

  10. If your table or figure includes "selected occupations," briefly note the selection criterion: e.g., "the ten largest occupational groups in the city," or "the ten fastest growing occupations in the US," etc.

  11. Whose table/graph is it? Be sure to clearly indicate who created the table or chart (or map, image, etc.): did you create it (the default assumption if not otherwise indicated)? Or are you copying a preexisting table from another source (if so, clearly label the source). Generally, it is better to create your own tables, charts, maps, etc. But if you do reprint third-party figures, let the reader know. (And "screen captures" are often problematic, since text and numbers are converted into graphic images and thus reproduce poorly.) Example: instead of copying a US Census table through a screen capture, instead use the "download" option (e.g., as an Excel, Tab delimited, or comma delimited file). Then use Excel (or another spreadsheet or table-based utility) to create your own table.

  12. Fit an entire table or chart on one page: In most circumstances, please avoid having a table or chart spill over into multiple pages. There are various ways to avoid multiple-page tables (and using tiny font sizes is not ideal): remove unnecessary variables or cases (i.e., unnecessary columns or rows); use more concise language; adjust column widths to reduce blank areas; use landscape rather than portrait page orientation if necessary. Most importantly, start the table at the top of a new page (rather than in the middle of the page). If you must have a multi-page table, be sure to repeat the column headings at the top of each new page.

  13. See this updated one-page pdf file: "Data tables:  Common mistakes and fixes"

For more advice about writing about data, see my short talk on "Telling Stories with Numbers"


Specific Advice on Economic Data

  1. If showing monetary values over time, note if constant (adjusted for inflation) or current (NOT adjusted for inflation) values (e.g., dollars) [US Census explanation]

  2. To adjust time-series data for changes in prices (usually inflation, rarely deflation), user deflators such as the CPI: are specific deflators for specific sectors;  the CPI is a useful, aggregated index.)   Remember that the CPI focuses on Consumers.

  3. Use precise economic terms [and see the BLS glossary if you need definitions]

  4. Also:   the poverty thresholds do NOT adjust for variations regional cost of living (e.g., that rents etc. in New York City are higher than in Detroit).  But there are some exploratory efforts to do this.  e.g.,

  5. For income (and other values), clearly label if it is the MEAN income or the MEDIAN income.

  6. Clearly note whether income data etc. are measured at the per capita, household or family level.  Each of these three levels has value.   But these may be affected (i.e., distorted?) by demographic characteristics of the local population.  e.g., an unusually large or small hhd size will have an affect.  Communities with a lot of non-family households (e.g., Ann Arbor) will show a much higher median family income ($92K in 2013) than hhd income ($55K)  -- since students generally live in non-family hhds and have lower income.    The gap between hhd and family income will be smaller in communities without a lot of college students.  e.g., in Petoskey, MI:  median hhd income is $42K and median family income is $57K. (source: US Census. INCOME IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (IN 2013 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS), 2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates).

  7. Labor Force Participation Rates (LFPR). Underlying this rather dry statistic is the more poignant question:  why is someone not in the labor force?  Is it voluntary or not?  Are they raising children?  taking care of elderly parents?  discouraged workers?  students?  retired?  etc.    see: and Age-specific LFPR can be useful.

  8. Employed Residents vs. Jobs Located in Geographic Area: Be sure to differentiate between these two.  Keep in mind the difference between jobs located in a city (or county or metro area) vs. employed residents in a city.  The former are usually reported by the employer (e.g., the firm), along with other data about wages and salaries paid, number of employees, the type of business, etc.   The latter is reported by the resident (e.g, through the population census, ACS, etc.).    In closed labor markets the two should be the same (e.g., everyone who lives there works there and vice versa -- Hawaii might come close to this).   But most of you are looking at open systems:  e.g., people commute in and out of the location. In locations with a high net in-commuting pattern (e.g., Manhattan), jobs >> employed local residents.  In typical "bedroom suburbs", you will find the reverse:  employed local residents >> jobs.  Elsewhere you may find parity between the two (e.g., a jobs-housing balance).  

6. Taking an "Incomplete" Grade in a Course

The expectation is that students will complete all the requirements for courses on time (following the deadlines stated in the syllabus). In exceptional situations, I will consider a student's request for a temporary "incomplete" grade ("I") on the grade sheet. When the student has subsequently submitted all course materials, I will evaluate the materials and fill out a "change of grade" form and give to the College registrar. Please note: Requests for incompletes are NOT automatic; you must request and receive permission to take an incomplete before the end of the term. Please also read these URP and Rackham requirements for incompletes below.

• the Urban Planning Program's policy on incompletes (source: URP Bulletin 2009-2010, pp. 46-6):

The Urban and Regional Planning Program follows Rackham policies on the assignment of grades (see and supplements those policies as follows. Students are expected to complete all course assignments in full and on time according to the course schedule established by the instructor. Consistent with rackham policy, if a student fails to attend a substantial portion of course lectures and fails to complete a substantial number of the assignments for a course, the instructor will assign a “No Report.” This grade will be converted automatically by the university to an involuntary withdrawal (ED) after the end of a term. Students who receive an NR will be required to retake the course. Students are occasionally hindered from completing all of the requirements of a course because of unforeseen hardships. In that event, the instructor, at his or her discretion, may assign a grade of “Incomplete” for the course. Following Rackham policy, the instructor may assign an Incomplete only if the student has attended and completed a substantial portion of the course lectures and completed a substantial portion of the required work.
When assigning an Incomplete, the instructor will consult promptly with the student to determine the nature of the student’s hardship, establish the remaining work to be completed, and set a reasonable deadline for its completion. That deadline should be set as soon after the end of the term as possible and should not exceed two months following the end of the term, except under exceptional circumstances. The instructor will notify the student of the work remaining and the deadline(s) for completing that work in writing, which may be by email communications. 46 If the student completes all of the required work by the deadline, the instructor will assign the student’s final grade by incorporating all of the completed work.
If the student fails to complete all or part of the remaining work by the extended deadline, the instructor will assign the final course grade based on the work completed before the end of the term and before the extended deadline. In either case, because the notation “I” remains a permanent part of the academic record according to Rackham policy, the final grade as it appears on the student’s transcript will be noted, for example, as “I B+.”

• the Rackham policy on incompletes (Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies (4. Coursework, Grading and Academic Standing) (accessed 27 Oct 2009):

"A student may receive a grade of Incomplete ("I") only if the work remaining to be done for the course by the end of the semester is small and the instructor approves an extension for completing the unfinished work. The instructor must agree to this arrangement and determine a deadline for finishing the assigned work before a grade is assigned. The notation of "I" remains a permanent part of the academic record. When coursework is completed to the satisfaction of the instructor, the grade will appear on the transcript as, for example, "I B+." The grade point average is based only on hours of coursework completed."



7. Group Work/Group Projects - Issues and Advice

Graduate planning education involves extensive group work: from quick in-class small-group hypothetical scenarios to group writing projects and presentations to the culminating capstone projects. Group work can be exciting, socially engaging and rewarding; but the complexities of group dynamics -- combined with deadline pressures, differing work styles and expectations -- can also lead to frustration and tension. Have a productive discussion at the beginning of the group process about expectations, deadlines, division of tasks, etc. Misunderstandings can arise due to divergent expectations about work loads, expertise, leadership, scheduling, etc. Good groups communicate well, share work and responsibilities fairly, and resolve small disputes or misunderstandings before they fester and grow large. Early planning and open discussions can prevent many problems arising later in the semester. Be responsive to other group members (e.g., quickly answer emails and other messages) and find common ground towards creating an excellent final product (e.g., paper, report, presentation). If issues arise that you can't resolve within the group, feel free to consult with either the instructor or GSI.

8. Master's Theses/Professional Projects

The process of developing a thesis or professional project ideally starts before the end of your first academic year. Use the summer to develop your research proposal, configure a committee, and write several drafts of your proposal with feedback from your thesis/professional report chair. You should have a polished research proposal ready to be reviewed and approved by the URP Curriculum Committee in early September.

The actual writing process typically involves several iterations of drafts and revisions over a number of months. If you are planning to graduate on time, be sure to submit early drafts to your committee SEVERAL months before your final completion date, and submit a complete, penultimate version no later than 4 weeks before the end of classes, which will allow for enough time for comments and final revisions to be completed by the last day of class. Develop a specific time table for the submission of drafts and final versions, allowing sufficient time for comments and revisions (typically at least 4 weeks between versions). If you are planning to complete the thesis/project AFTER the end of the semester (e.g., during the summer), please talk with the committee chair about obtaining permission for an "incomplete" for your thesis/project credits (UP733/734).

A sample scenario / timetable:

late winter semester (of the first year of the MUP program) discuss the tentative project with one or more faculty members. Attend the required winter semester meeting on professional projects/masters theses.
summer (between first and second year of the MUP program) select a committee for your project (2 faculty for a thesis; 1 faculty + 1 outside client for a professional project); write a draft version of your research proposal; get committee feedback; revise.
September submit a final version of your project research proposal (with an approval signature by your committee chair) to the URP Curriculum Committee for approval (at least one week before the scheduled meeting, which is often in early October -- do confirm deadline with committee ahead of time).
early winter semester (January, February) submit a draft of your project/thesis to your committee for comments
mid winter semester (February, early March) submit a complete, revised version for comments
March - April

submit the final version to your committee; have project/thesis approved by committee (before the last day of class).

Note: the Curriculum Committee does NOT need to read or approve your thesis/project; they simply read and approve your research proposal.

For more details, see the thesis guidelines.