Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First Essay Assignment Posted

As you'll recall, there will be three essays assigned throughout the course. They are designed to build on one another. This first assignment will focus developing your ability to clearly (but briskly) introduce a philosophical position to a general audience. The second will focus on analyzing and critiquing an argument. The final (research) essay assignment will aim to synthesize these skills as well as give you the opportunity to carve out your own position on a topic you find particularly interesting. 

Here is the first essay assignment. Papers are due via email by 11PM on the 29th of September. They will be assessed on this rubric (other assignments will modify this rubric according to their specific goals). Notice that in order to get an 'A' on this paper, you will need to do most things very well. This will probably be difficult at first. Don't worry: it often takes a few tries to develop these skills. That's why I have set up the course to allow you to rewrite and count only your best work toward your final grade.

As I mentioned on the assignment sheet, my website has some writing advice and resources. Most of what I say there focuses on essays with theses supported by arguments. Since this is not the skill we're focusing on at this stage, it won't necessarily all apply. This time out, I want you to focus on clarity and simplicity of exposition (since that is a crucial stepping-stone to good analysis and argument). On this front, I want to highlight two especially relevant resources: Jonathan Bennett and Samuel Gorovitz's paper “Improving Academic Writing” and Peter Smith's “Developing a Writing Style”. Both stress the importance of simple, plain writing and offer some pointers on how to achieve it. One humiliating but astoundingly useful technique both mention involves reading your paper aloud (or better: having it read to you) and then rewriting. Try it and be amazed and humiliated — and a better writer. Another piece of practical advice (that I always heed): write many drafts. My writing only gets good when I write a lot and then mercilessly rip it to shreds. Out of the ashes something decent sometimes emerges.

As always, please don't hesitate to pay me a visit in my office hours if I can help at any of the stages of your writing. 

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