Gemeng des scholen – Learn how to write

The Essay Conclusion


Recap your main idea

If your essay was long and complex, sometimes difficult to follow, in the conclusion you’ll want to recap your ideas in a clear, summarizing manner. You want your readers to understand the message you intended to communicate. However, if your essay was short and simple, don’t insult your readers by restating at length the ideas they already understand. Strike a balance according to what you feel your readers need. In a short essay (600 words or less), any recapitulation should be brief (about 2 sentences), and rephrased in a fresh way, not just cut and pasted from the thesis.
Leave a memorable impression

It’s not enough just to restate your main ideas — if you only did that and then ended your essay, your conclusion would be flat and boring. You’ve got to make a graceful exit from your essay by leaving a memorable impression on the reader. You need to say something that will continue to simmer in the reader’s minds long after he or she has put down your essay. To leave this memorable impression, try . . .

  • giving a thought-provoking quotation
  • describing a powerful image
  • talking about consequences or implications
  • stating what action needs to be done
  • ending on an interesting twist of thought
  • explaining why the topic is important

Keep it short

Keep your conclusion short, probably ten lines or less, and avoid fluff. You’re just trying to make a clever exit, and presumably all the really important points have been made previously in your essay. You should not introduce any totally new ideas in the conclusion; however, you should not merely repeat your thesis either. This situation — not presenting anything new, and neither just sticking with the old — at first seems to be a paradox. However, with a little effort, one of the above six methods will usually yield “a quiet zinger,” as John Tribble calls it.

Finding a Topic for your Dissertation – Part Two


How Not to Find a Good Topic

Finding a good dissertation topic is probably the single most difficult part of getting a PhD in philosophy. It took me about three years to find a good topic — three years of completely spinning my wheels — and the vast majority of students I’ve seen have trouble finishing the PhD got hung up at this very stage. Why is it so difficult?

Prior to writing a dissertation, grad school taught you how to write individual papers. Finding a topic for a single paper is hard enough. Now, all of a sudden, you need to find a single, great book-length topic. Nothing you’ve done so far in grad school prepares you for it…and yet, somehow, you have to figure it out. Actually, things are much worse than this — for in my experience writing graduate level term-papers positively mis-prerares you to find a good dissertation topic. Let me explain why.

Let’s reflect for a moment on how one typically arrives at a term-paper topic. I’m probably oversimplifying, but if I remember right the process goes something like this: You read some papers in Field X. You find an argument/position in Field X that you don’t think works very well, but which you think you can improve on. What you do then is write a term paper laying out that argument/position, criticizing it, and finally, having your say. This is no way to go about trying to formulate a dissertation topic. I’ll use my own case to illustrate.

When I started out trying to formulate a dissertation topic, I decided I wanted to defend normative reasons internalism — the view that all genuine normative reasons depend on the subjective states of the agent to whom those reasons apply. This view, obviously, stands opposed to normative reasons externalism, which is the view that there are normative reasons that in no way depend upon said internal states. Okay, now think for a moment about what a dissertation on this topic would entail. I would have to learn, think through, and try to refute every argument out there — arguments already published by super-duper-smart people — in favor of normative reasons externalism. What a mountain to try to climb!

I’ve rarely seen a dissertation of this sort succeed. This isn’t to say it can’t be done…but I will say I’ve never seen it done. Here, then, is my first piece of advice:

Suggestion #1 — Don’t Focus in on a Big Issue or Big Position Prematurely: you’ll never get your dissertation started, let alone done, if you task yourself with having to refute everything that’s ever been written on a particular side of a well-established issue. That is too tall, and too steep, of a mountain to climb.

How to Find a Good Topic

Suggestion #2 — You have to find a Big Idea: Every successful dissertation that I’ve come across is based upon a Big Idea. My dissertation’s Big Idea was to systematically apply John Rawls’ original position to the domain of nonideal theory. Other Big Ideas I’ve come across include: viewing moral theories as *advice*-giving, understanding and evaluating political theories on the basis of cutting-edge empirical psychology, etc.

There’s a simple reason why it’s important to find that Big Idea: once you find it, the dissertation more or less writes itself. After all, once you find your Big Idea, you don’t need to “refute” every existing argument in the literature on your topic. All you have to do is show how your Big Idea illuminates the topic in ways that the existing arguments in the literature generally miss. In other words, the Big Idea makes things easy for you. Instead of attempting the near-impossible (refuting every other smart person out there), your dissertation aims to change the conversation (or at least show a different way of looking at the conversation).

Suggestion #3 — To Find a Big Idea, Read…and Read Widely: “Okay,” you say, “I realize I should try to find my Big Idea…but that’s easier said than done! How am I supposed to find it?” In my experience, one primary reason grad students have trouble finding their Big idea is that they ran afoul of Suggestion #1 above (“Don’t pick a Big Issue or Big Position”). After all, here’s what happens after you fix in on a Big Issue or Big Position. You read that literature, and try to come up with your Idea. The problem with this is: you might not have a Big Idea on your favorite Big Issue! I had this problem myself. As I said, early on I had my mind made up: I wanted to defend normative reasons internalism. So what did I do? I read everything I could on the subject and tried to come up with my Idea. And I failed. Much later on, after a rejected disseration topic, one of my profs at Arizona, Mark Timmons, told me, “Just read.” I took Mark to mean: don’t just read on your favorite issues. Read other things. And so I did. I set aside normative reasons internalism and started reading political philosophy. I read a bunch of stuff on legitimacy. Then I read, and re-read, Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Political Liberalism, and The Law of Peoples…and at last my Big Idea came to me.

The lesson I took from this is that you never know where your Big Idea will come from. If you have your mind made up about the Big Issue you want your dissertation to be about early on, you’re dramatically narrowing your chances of finding a good Big Idea. If you read, and read widely, about many different topics, the greater your chances of finding your Idea. The larger the net, the more likely you’ll catch a fish.

I hope you all found this discussion interesting, and I’m curious to see what y’all have to say. More later.

Finding a Topic for your Dissertation


Like many other people I know, I got seriously hung up in grad school at the dissertation stage. Writing term papers was one thing. I knew how to do that. But writing a dissertation? I felt more or less completely lost for about 2-3 years. Because I’ve seen so many grad students get stuck at roughly the same stage, I thought I’d make a multi-post tutorial on how to write a dissertation. Please be forewarned: the tips I will give are purely lessons/suggestions that I believe may be helpful. I have little doubt some of you out there will disagree with some, or even much, of what I have to say. Hopefully, those who do disagree will post comments. My hope is that, if anything, my posts on the subject will generate some discussion.

On the Importance of Dissertations

I’m going to begin my discussion by getting on my soap-box for a minute. I’ve heard that many departments — including my alma mater (Arizona) — are moving away from requiring actual dissertations, and are instead accepting a handful of papers (so-called “star papers”) as sufficient for the PhD. I think this is a mistake for at least two reasons.

First, as I’ve written elsewhere and others have remarked as well, our entire discipline is arguably becoming overly specialized. There seems an ever-growing trend in the direction of “smaller”, nuts-and-bolts-type thinking, and away from grand, systematic ideas. I don’t think this is a good trend, and I think the “star paper” approach only feeds into it. Learning how to put together and develop a Big Idea is an important thing to learn, and I think it needs to be learned early on (i.e. before one becomes a prof). If you don’t learn how to develop a Big Idea in grad school, when will you learn? Your first several years after grad school you’re trying to publish standalone papers, so you won’t learn it then. What about after you get tenure? Will you suddenly learn how to develop Big Ideas then, after you’ve spent your entire time in grad school and your professional life before tenure developing Small Ideas? Again, probably not. Our discipline should try to generate Big Thinkers, and there’s just no better time to begin developing Big Thinking skills than in grad school, through writing a dissertation.

Second — and I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this — I think dissertations build character and are important as a test of will. Writing small papers involves a certain amount of discipline, stress, and risk. It’s very hard to write a good paper, as we all know, but if a single paper “goes down the tubes” one can always write another one. Not so for dissertations. There are times during a dissertation when it looks like the whole thing will crash and burn, and when this happens one must find a way. Or sometimes one must scrap the whole thing a begin again. Writing good “star papers” is hard. Writing a halfway decent dissertation is very, very, very hard. It is a surpreme test of will, and a test that I think benefits us in the end. Because if you think grad school is hard, you have no idea. Being a professor is far more difficult. One needs to know how to really push oneself to the brink. This is no joke. You never have enough time as a professor. You need to learn how to do more than you think you can. And I think writing a dissertation helps one learn this. I can’t tell you how many times during my dissertation I thought to myself, or even said out loud, “I don’t think I can do this.” I’ve never said this about single papers. I’ve always thought I could do those. And it’s because of this difference that I think dissertations are important. It’s because, next to a dissertation, the only thing that’s ever led me to say, “I don’t think I can do this”, is being a professor. It’s better to learn that one can do what appears “impossible” as a grad student than to try to learn it as a professor. Because if you didn’t learn how to do the “impossible” as a grad student you may well sink instead of swim as a prof. Those, anyway, are my thoughts. Dissertations are horrible to suffer through…but I think they enable one to swim later on.

The Secret to Writing Your Dissertation


You’ve been in graduate school for many years now, and you’ve come a long way. You’ve completed all of your coursework, formed your Ph.D. thesis committee, passed your preliminary/oral/qualifying examinations, and have done an awful lot of research along the way. There’s a glimmer of hope in your heart that maybe — just maybe — this will be your last year in graduate school.

You’ve probably even gotten some papers published along the way, with a handful of them (if you’re lucky) with you as the lead author! But there’s one more task you need to perform before you’re ready to defend in front of your committee: you must write that dissertation!

While there are many guides on how to do that, many of them are either jokes or people grossly overstating the task in front of you. There are some very important things that go into a dissertation, but there are also some huge misconceptions about what a dissertation is supposed to be. What follows is my advice for anyone who’s reached that stage in their careers, on how to write a dissertation. (At least, as far as theoretical astrophysics goes, although I’m sure this is applicable to many other fields.)

First off, here is a list of what your Ph.D. dissertation is not:

  • It is not the definitive work on whatever your primary research topic is.
  • It is not going to settle long-standing arguments in your field.
  • It is not the most important piece of research or writing you’ll ever undertake.
  • And finally, it is very likely not even a document that anyone outside of your committee (with the exception of a few good friends, and possibly your grandmother) will ever read.

What is a Ph.D. dissertation, then? Quite simply, it’s your way of proving to your committee that you are a competent scientist in your own right, capable of standing on your own two feet as a scientist, researcher, and academic. It is where you demonstrate the following:

  • That you are capable of making original, valuable contributions in an active field of research.
  • That you are aware of and informed about the broad landscape of your field, the background and currently competing work being done on your specific sub-field, and that your professional opinions are well-informed and backed up by your knowledge and legitimate reasoning.
  • That the body of work you submit in your dissertation is comprehensive enough to merit a Ph.D.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, that you are ready to go off and continue your research (if you so choose) without the guidance of your mentor(s).

The first, second, and fourth of these are things you must convince your committee of during your defense; the third, however, is something that must speak for itself within your written dissertation.

And that’s why the most important thing you can do is to just crank it out. What you may not realize is that 75% of your dissertation is already done, you just need to take advantage of it!

5 Must-Do’s For Outstanding Essay Writing – Part Two


3. Every essay needs an essay plan

You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map and essays are just the same.

Before your teen starts writing an essay they should make a quick plan of what they’re going to write about.

An essay plan does not have to be a big thing. Not at all. It only takes a few minutes but will save your teen SO much time overall.

Essay plans instantly give an essay structure, they prevent you from forgetting to include any important points, and they prevent you from losing your way as you write.

An essay plan can be quickly scribbled in a margin, or the first page of an exam book that isn’t marked.

4. Revise and Edit

This depends on what situation the essay is being written in.

If it’s being written for homework and your teen doesn’t have the time pressure of an exam, it can be a good idea to go and do something else for a while once they’ve finished writing. You know when you come back to look at something you’ve written and you see all the little mistakes you didn’t notice before? This is why.

Your teen should check that the paragraphs are written in a logical order. Simply put – does the essay make sense? Does each paragraph follows SEXI? Get them to read their essay aloud (or in their head) so they can see how it flows (or doesn’t as it may be).

If the essay is being written in an exam your teen won’t have the luxury of time. So the number one rule here is: stay until the end! While it may seem like eternity to a high school student, exams aren’t actually that long. And a few minutes of proof reading can often make the difference between one grade and another. It’s worth staying right to the end.

5. Practice makes perfect

Writing essays can be practiced! Many students go through a whole year at school and only do one or two practice essays (that they were forced to do). They may know the subject backwards, but if they don’t know how to write a good essay then they’re screwed.

Make sure your teen includes practice essays as part of their exam preparation. Getting a hold of past exams and using them to practice is a great idea. If you can then have a read of their work yourself that’s fantastic. They might need an adult eye to pick up something that’s not quite right.

Even better, get your teen to ask their teacher to mark it. Most teachers would love an interested student to ask them to mark a practice essay!

5 Must-Do’s For Outstanding Essay Writing


Your teen needs to step up to the mark because school is getting harder.

High school education continues to move away from tests with one word answers and towards students having to come up with paragraph or even full essay answers. And there’s a good reason for this.

The internet has become so widespread and so accessible, that having a library of singular facts stored in your head is no longer helpful. The average cell phone can now access Google or Wikipedia anywhere. Type in your question and boom, there’s your answer.

Essays require more than just a memorization of facts. They require students to have an understanding of what they’re talking about. They also require students to know how to express themselves clearly and concisely in writing.

Being able to communicate well is an absolute must in the real world. It’s also necessary in all subject courses at university, and definitely in any professional capacity.
Essay writing is definitely a learnable skill, but not necessarily a straight forward one for a lot of students.

Because we want your teen to master essay writing as much as they can during their time at high school, here are 5 tips that will significantly increase your teen’s essay marks.

1. Every essay must have a proper structure

An essay must be broken into paragraphs to make it readable. It’s horrible reading a full page of solid text. Breaking down an essay into different sections is what allows it to flow in a logical manner.

At high school all essays should follow a simple formula. Your teen needs to learn this formula off by heart!

Introduction: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Introduce the topic and briefly outline the points you’re going to make in your essay in the order you’re going to write about them. If the essay is meant to argue a point, your teen should make it clear in the introduction what their argument/point of view is.

Body Paragraphs: Tell ‘em. At high school an essay will usually have 3-5 paragraphs. Each paragraph contains its own main point that contributes to the overall theme or argument of the essay. (These paragraphs follow their own structure – see tip # 2)

Conclusion: Tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Sum up what the essay was about.

2. Each body paragraph must have a proper structure

Not only does the essay as a whole need structure, each paragraph needs to meet certain requirements.

S = Statement: This is the main point of the paragraph. What part of the film is being discussed and what did it mean to the film? What was important about an historical event and how did it affect later events? Basically, what’s the point you’re about to discuss in this paragraph.

E = Explanation: Explain what you said in your statement. Tell the reader why your statement is true. Why did the setting reflect how the main character was feeling? In what way did the weather affect the outcome of the battle? This part should make up the bulk of the paragraph.

X = eXample Give an example! A quote, an example, a fact. Something concrete that gives evidence to your statement.

I = Importance Why is the point you’ve made in this paragraph important? What does it mean to the story, or the film, or the event? Tell the reader why it matters. This one might not always be applicable, but if you can then go for it.