Presentation on theme: "Writing a term paper: A few thoughts. The most common error The most common error in term paper is a failure to maintain a focus Your paper should make."— Presentation transcript:
The most common error The most common error in term paper is a failure to maintain a focus Your paper should make an argument of some kind, an argument that supports some point The point should be clear to your reader after the end of the first paragraph, and probably after the end of the second sentence Have a clear idea of what your thesis statement is, and state it in the first paragraph
The thesis statement Everything you write in your paper should relate to the thesis statement The paper is not a good place to demonstrate your breadth of knowledge- the quantity (leave that for the exam) It is instead a place to demonstrate the quality of your knowledge –The best paper is one that leaves me convinced that you have thought about the topic, and sifted through more information than you have presented to give the most relevant stuff –In a sense, the breadth is demonstrated by what you don’t write: by the background from which you have selected what you do present
Four tricks to convey a thesis Four tricks will improve the odds that you have a well-organized paper: –i.) Make an outline: A very short argument of 3-5 main points will almost the essay to write itself –ii.) Walk your reader through the argument: Say what you are going to say, then say it, then say what you have said –ii.) Use headings to remind you and your reader what the outline of the argument is, and where we are on it –iii.) Treat each paragraph as a mini-essay: does every paragraph convey to the reader a point that is relevant to the over-all thesis? Would the point of each paragraph be clear to someone who read it in isolation from the rest of the paper?
Be careful of logical connectors! Many people ‘fake’ a structured argument by stringing together logical or causal connectors such as ‘therefore’, ‘it follows’, ‘thus’, etc. –This can be maddeningly confusing for a reader –Your job is to unconfuse your reader –Don’t use these where they are not appropriate, and don’t use the same ones over and over even where the are appropriate
A lesson from the zen masters ”When sitting sit, when walking walk, above all don't wobble.” –I prefer papers that clearly support a view that I deeply disagree with than a paper that hedges its bets so much that it is unable to support any view at all –I know that many issues we will address are uncertain, but take a stand as best you can anyway –You won’t be held up to attest in any court of law to the view that you state : but do support some view.
Be aware of your reader! Allow yourself to use rhetorical devices or imagery that are interesting and useful Have a writer’s voice! Let me know you are alive! Find something that allows you to bring a little bit of enthusiasm to your task! [A secret: The most successful scientists have a voice, false dogma to the contrary notwithstanding.] Marking papers can be very boring- and I hate being bored! “Have fun- if not you’ll bore us.” Marcel Duchamp
Another note to pragmatists I don’t mark for enthusiasm …but it always shows on what I do mark for.
Mis-spellings Use a spell checker Watch for ‘silly’ errors that the spell-checker misses –It’s [ a contraction of ‘it is’] for Its [the possessive of it] [Warning: This is my personal pet peeve.] –their for they’re Spelling and grammatical errors are in many ways minor, but they detract from the general tone of the paper and make it read as worse than it is –AND they are easy to avoid
Referencing questions Was the topic adequately referenced? –Did every point that needed a reference have one? Did every reference have a point? –I strongly encourage the use of other sources than the textbook, especially journal articles –There are hundreds or thousands of articles relevant to the questions will be asked to write about in this class, including a great many review articles –Many journals are now on the internet Did the referencing style follow APA guidelines? Were full citations given for all references?
Length Cast out from your mind any considerations of length Very short papers usually can’t defend a coherent argument, and very long ones usually include a lot of irrelevant drivel –If you let the argument be your guide, your paper will miraculously turn out to be the right length!