GUIDELINES FOR WRITING PAPERS
- Clarify and explain your points—they are never as clear to someone else as they seem to you!
- Use argument indicator words to signal your reasons and conclusions. Use other transitional words to signal moves and changes in your thought.
- Be specific
- Qualify your thoughts accordingly; it is rare that terminology and statements can be simply stated without some qualification or drawing some distinction. You cannot succeed at thinking complexly without making distinctions. Get used to it.
- Defend any assertions you make; reason completely; state all your conclusions and state all the reasons required for logically defending those conclusions.
- Defend your understanding of a text by referring to it, even quoting it where that is necessary
- Be clear always about who is speaking in your writing--some views are yours, some those of an author, some the views of an opponent
- Be sensitive to objections, possible misunderstandings, possible misreadings or closely tangential points that will deter your reader from understanding and following your ideas. Defuse these when possible, rather than leaving your points open to unnecessary criticism or misunderstanding.
- Include differing points of view in your paper.
- Integrate into your paper the basic concepts, principles, and methods you have acquired by your study and reading; refer to the text when possible and when appropriate..
- Use relevant and telling examples of what you are trying to say.
- Be objective and self-critical
- Let minor points drop; focus on major problems and issues.
- Raise questions and problems even if you cannot answer or resolve them, whether due to space considerations or your own inability. This is only part of being honest.
- Use correct grammar and style; use language that conforms to educated usage.
- Use obscure and elliptical language
- Ignore competing points of view.
- Be inconsistent or contradict yourself
- Don't use fallacious or facile arguments
- Use a lot of rhetorical questions; state your views in declarative sentences. In general don't force the reader to figure out your position for you.
- Rely on or interject your personal opinions into your analysis—like mathematics, and science, no one wants to hear your own opinions, but rather your educated opinion based on acceptable standards and the best thinking possible
- Be too brief or too longwinded
- Take positions contrary to those in the text without clearly indicating that you realize you are doing this, and also indicating why the text's analysis is wanting on this point.
- Use a dictionary to define your terms; use a philosophical text.
- Miss the requirements of the assignment; answer each and every question fully and completely. Signify where the answers are so they may be easily found by a reader.
- Write as if no one else ever thought about the things you are writing about, as if no one would disagree with you, or as if those disagreements are irrelevant. Don't write as if the discussions we had in class did not happen, or as if you did not read the assignments for class.
- Try to do all this the night (or early morning) before the assignment is due. Get serious: quality thinking needs the distance of time.