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Tips for Interpretation essays and Wikipedia Editing Projects
The interactive writing on Confluence in this course is casual, where spelling,
proofreading, and writing style are not graded. But these things do matter in
the Wikipedia Editing Projects.
So here are some relevant tips and guidelines:
Really? You mean that I could lose 1 point per misspelled word per episode
in my Wikipedia Editing Project? Yes! Spellcheck and proofread, and check out these writing
- Expect to take some time to write a cogent argument concisely. Pascal once
apologized to a friend that he had not had the time to write a shorter letter.
You will not have room for lengthy introductions, descriptive narration, concluding
recapitulations, or long block quotations. Avoid meaningless filler fluff.
Omit needless words. Strive for clarity and concision.
- Condense the point of your entire analysis into a crystal-clear sentence
(this may even be your first sentence, though it is written last) to let the
reader know where you are headed. Then pare away everything that does not
lead the reader toward that goal; everything that does not directly support
that argument. This is all the more important in a short essay. How does each
sentence of your essay relate to and develop your thesis? Outline the overall
progression of your essay to tighten it and ensure its coherence.
- What is your thesis (i.e., the point of your argument)?
Is it clearly indicated? Is it clear and specific? Are special terms or concepts
explained concisely, or defined with precision? Make your argument a clear
target; do not leave your reader guessing at your interpretation, unable to
read between the lines, unsure of your position. The latter may be good politics,
but it is not good essay writing!
- Support your assertions with specific historical evidence;
forceful emphasis or simple repetition of claims are not persuasive here.
- Anticipate and identify counter-arguments and evaluate their soundness if
you can; an argument that simplistically ignores contrary evidence is weakened,
- Restrict quotations; respect your reader. Assume that you are writing for
a broadly informed reader (or classmate) who has a general familiarity with
the texts, yet who may be inclined to disagree with you. This means that you
must construct a friendly argument, not parrot a summary.
- Guard against grammatical ambiguities: “I listened to an album in
my dorm room. It was full of violence and sex.”
- Avoid weasel words (“doubtless,” “likely,”
“seems to,” “appears to be,” “possibly,”
“may have been,” etc.).
- Avoid generalized “reification,” where a writer
hides his fuzzy thinking with over-generalized, abstract terms (e.g., “Science
says...,” “History has shown...” etc., instead of “This
person at this time said...” etc.).
- Avoid logical fallacies. For example, can you spot anything
wrong with this argument? “Witches float; wood also floats; therefore
witches are made of wood; ducks also float; so if someone weighs as much as
a duck, she is made of wood, and therefore—a witch.” Monty
Python and the Holy Grail
- Acknowledge all sources used
with notes and a bibliography!
- Prefer the active voice. “I wrecked the car”
is much better than “The car has been wrecked.” The passive voice
is a neat way to avoid responsibility. For reasons not “to be explored”
here, it is quite prevalent in academic writing.
- Avoid lifeless, awkward, and affected intellectualisms ("it could well
- For a serious essay, avoid over-relaxed colloquialisms common in ordinary
conversation ("hey man, just look, it's like this here..."). Colloquial
speech is fine in chats and informal discussion board feedback, but not for
the Interpretation essays and Wikipedia Editing Projects unless it's part of a dialogue
or other creative writing
- To ensure a smooth and natural style, have a friend read your essay read
aloud and see how it sounds.
- How not to write an essay.
- Some frequently troublesome contractions and pronouns:
- their, there, they’re
- its, it’s
- his, hers
- Note the similarity between “its” and “his”
or “hers.” All three are possessive pronouns, none have
apostrophes. On the other hand, both “it’s” and
“they’re” use the apostrophe to show the contraction
of two separate words; e.g., “it is.” See
- Some frequently troublesome SINGULAR / PLURAL forms:
- species / species
- criterion / criteria
- phenomenon / phenomena
slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."