Friday, November 20, 2015

Some Writing Resources (in development)

Below is a general compilation of ideas, suggestions, and stylistic points for undergraduate students. I'm going to compile some bits as I go along.

1. If you are going to head or start your essay with a quote from Marx (or anyone) make sure that that quote is not part of the main body of the text. It is a "head," so stylistically you should right justify it, place it in a smaller font, say 10, then use italics. It has a specific citation method, eg -"xxx" -Marx, Capital Vol1. So include the title of the book or paper. Leave a line between the head and the introduction. The point of a "head" is it someone else's proposition that you aim to support or provide evidence thereof. So make sure the "head" matches the "body" of the essay.

2. Don't leave the quotes you have selected hanging. What I mean is that they need to be integrated in the narrative, and you need to explain their relevance, what they provide evidence for. Don't let the reader try to think about what you are trying to use the quote for; remember, this is your paper, you want to control the understanding of your argument. But not integrating or 'explaining your quotes' you lessen your control over the interpretation of your argument. And furthermore, if you reply by suggesting that it is up to the audience to interpret what you say, well besides that being just lazy writing, I would reply by saying why even bother to make an argument in the first place then? But back to the point, don't let your quotes just hang, get more narrative mileage out of them.

3. Sadly, some students fill their essays with quotes. For example, 50% Marx quotes, 50% of their words, but which functionally was padding to get to the next Marx quote. This isn't a good way to write. First, you are just stringing disconnected quotes together hoping that their pastiche arrangement will make a point. But if you don't tell me what that point is, well, are you actually making an argument? Second, and this is the more moral point, if you just string a bunch of quotes together, are you a person or a parrot? Are you thinking and analysis, are you your own agent? Or are you someone's agent? That different makes a moral difference. And more than that I am not interested in teaching parrots! So don't string quotes together. Instead either analyse them, or use them in support of your analysis. Don't let them determine the analysis.

4. If you quote is longer is about 30-35 words+ you should use the block quote method. It looks neater, reads better, and is easier for the reader to see how you are using them in your analysis.

5. Don't end a paragraph with a quote. Remember if you are 'explaining your quotes' this should never happen.

6. Give the reader signpost and directions. Recently, I was reading a paper on alienation when suddenly the writer says "the fourth kind of alienation is..." but when I checked they didn't have any previous "first" "second" "then another" "lastly" kinds of signposts. So use them to help the reader understand your various points. On that note, sometimes you need to give the reader "directions" on how to read your paper. These do not only come in the introduction, but can come at the top of new sections. For example, think like this: xxxx. xxxx. "Definition of alienation" (Marx) XX...why this is important...XXX. I will give a brief descriptive treatment to the four primary kinds of alienation, where after I will demonstrate XXX. The first kind of alienation is...

7. Don't pass up an opportunity to discuss the roots of ideas. For example, if you are writing about the Communist Manifesto take the time to discuss Kant or the Hegelian roots of Marx's ideas. Here you could address the need for the working class to recognize (Hegel) their oppression and then recognize (Hegel) their need to transcend (Kant) these conditions through international solidarity (Kant.) So show the roots of ideas. Then, to continue the example, spend a paragraph describing what recognition in this example practically means.

8. Related to the above point, don't pass over ideas. Stay. Expand. Elaborate. These are the vocational skills that the liberal arts teaches. And your ability to go to a great depth is one skill that will differential you in a world so caught up in a fray of day to day activities. So ask yourself this: Could I elaborate here? Is yes, then you should. In this respects coulds become shoulds.

9. Page numbers. Sometimes binding errors occur. You can save everyone time and energy by using page numbers.

10. Please stop plagiarizing. I don't care per se. I am not really interested in playing policeman and trying to "catch" students. Further to that, for almost all of you, grades are meaningless. They don't carry over to the world. So stop trying to chase a false currency. That said, I am saddened because the more you plagiarize the less you grow intellectually. Let me explain. There is a common adage that 90% of everything is crap. So most of the material you plagiarize from is erroneous. I can virtually guarantee that you, yourselves, right now, are more likely to produce better material if you just spent the time just thinking about the ideas in front of you. You may risk making a few errors. But making errors and correcting them is central to learning new things. In short, I don't really prioritize you being "right," "correct," (or even agreeing with me,) I prioritize whether you learn or not. So, for me, every time you plagiarize you don`t get the reward of intellectual growth. You don't build up the proverbial muscles of the mind. At the end of the day, I have more interest in you building "mind muscles." But to do that, you need to do the exercises. That means you shouldn't take other`s work, tweak it, then try to pass it off as your own. Instead have the courage to try yourselves. You may make an error or so, but that is intrinsic to learning and living