For this class, you will write at least two papers. These papers will be written in sequence, as your prompt for your second paper will be based on my analysis of your first paper. (The second paper will probably require deeper analysis of your topic, and you may find that you have to change your mind about all or part of what you said before.)
All your papers will be graded on the quality of reasoning displayed in your paper. Papers will only get good grades to the extent that they display a good effort to think independently, clearly, logically, and deeply. A paper that contains no such thinking will receive no credit.
And remember to follow the Cardinal Rules.
Once you have picked a topic, your main task is to think about the issue as deeply as you can. You should only read the prompt (and anything the prompt tells you to read), which will give you precisely the information you need to think about. And you are expected to do a lot of thinking before you even begin to consider writing up the results of your thinking. This thinking you do before writing is called "prewriting", and if you don't do it, you don't get credit. (CR1)
Your grade will almost entirely depend on the amount and quality of the prewriting you do. If you skimp the prewriting, you are asking for a bad grade. If you omit prewriting you practically begging for zero points.
The way you (eventually) write your paper is important. There must be none of the usual nonsense. You should not write an introduction (CR3), or a conclusion (CR4), or anything else that does not directly contribute to you stating, clarifying, supporting and defending your position (CR5).
Here are the main things your paper should include: (But please note that if the prompt disagrees with the following, and you're not sure what to do, please follow the prompt as best you can.)
Papers that don't follow the prompt for their topic, or which are not based on prewriting that followed the prompt are a waste of time. Your assignment is to do what the prompt says. Doing things that the prompt doesn't say to do is not doing the assignment. Turning in an off prompt paper is not turning in the assignment. You might as well have spent a couple hours at a Klezmatics concert as writing a paper that didn't follow the prompt for your topic. Same result. (CR06)
Your first paragraph should not contain waffle like "in the fields of mineralogy, geology, gemology, and affineurology there is infinite controversy and argument and even a few fistfights on the question of the mineralicity of cheese", or "there are various theories and arguments and conjectures and guesses and theories about whether cheese is mineral", or "notwithstanding whether or not there is a clear agreement or consensus on the issue". All such stuff is garbage, and should never be included in any piece of writing ever. Your first paragraph should be made of meaningful sentences such as "cheese is not a mineral", and "cheese is a substance made by curdling proteins in a liquid such a milk", and "minerals are the inorganic substances that comprise rocks". And it should start with your thesis (CR2). Bottom line: Your first paragraph should say meaningful things. (A first paragraph that says all and only the most important meaningful things is a potent first paragraph.)
After your first paragraph, you should set down the reasoning that led you to your position. This will be a clear and complete summing up of all the thinking you did in your prewriting before you chose your thesis, and which led you to choose the thesis you did. (If you chose your thesis before you started thinking, you did it wrong, and should start over.) This part should consist of you recounting thinking that was as logical as you could manage; thinking that paid attention to whether or not evidence was given, and thinking that honestly tried to figure out what claims were actually supported by the actual evidence available to you. Remember, it's the thinking. that gets you the credit. Stuff that doesn't represent your own thinking doesn't get credit (CR5). (This will be easy, because you just have to remember, or consult your notes from your prewriting.)
Usually there will be at least one argument for a position contrary to your own. If are such arguments you should clearly, completely, and fairly explain that argument. (This will be easy because you will have already gotten this argument clear while you were doing your prewriting on the topic.) It will not always be the case that what you have to say will include an opposing argument. Sometimes, simply explaining all your reasoning will fill up your paper, but if there is an opposing view that has a clear argument against your position, or which makes a serious criticism of your argument, that reasoning against your position should probably should be properly represented in your paper.
Finally, if you've described an argument against your position, you should also explain the logical reason you rejected that opposing argument. This will be a problem you found with the the evidence (if any) offered for the claim, or it will be that you found a problem with the logical connection between the conclusion and the evidence offered. (Again, this will be easy, since all you have to do is check your notes from your prewriting.)
Your paper is graded on the quality of the thinking that went into it. If it's based on unsupported assumptions, other people's thinking, or other things that are not you thinking carefully, honestly, and thoroughly about the topic, it really won't be worth very much.
If the all of the above seems too complicated and stressy, you might want to take the "Thinkathon" option.
Once your initial paper has been graded, you will receive follow-on
instructions in a "Z-comment" (probably "ZNS") in
the top-left corner of your paper in Turnitin.com.
(See the blue smudge circled in red below? That's about where it will be
on your paper.) It's important to note that it's always
okay to change your thesis.
Violating these rules means wasting your time and mine, but it isn't penalized. Thus, doing these don'ts won't have any negative grade consequences, but you should be aware that doing these don'ts won't have any positive grade consequences either.
(This material added 2/6/24.)
Material submitted must respond to the relevant prompt, and to the general writing instructions to receive any credit at all. A thing that just kinda sounds like what I told you to do is not the thing I told you to do. Things that other people told you to do are not things I told you to do. Make sure you follow my instructions as closely as you can. Contact me if you have any questions. (CR6)Papers are submitted through Turnitin.com, (Details in syllabus) More info at madwizard.com/turnitin.htm.
The instructions for the second paper will be given in a comment on your first paper in turnitin.com.
Remember, when your initial paper has been graded, look for the Z-comment to find out what to do next. (Which may or may not include changing your mind.)
Please note that your paper will be graded purely on the quality of the
reasoning displayed. Good reasoning, which shows a proper understanding of
the nature of factual evidence, arguments, and the logical relationships
between factual claims, will earn credit. Papers that do not display good
reasoning will not earn credit.
Remember, that the basic point is to think and to report the results of your thinking. You should explain everything you think clearly and completely, with no unnecessary words, paragraphs, sections or anything else that isn't part of a clear and complete report of your own reasoning about the topic.
Z-comments are always follow-on instructions for new personalized assignments. They are sometimes optional and sometimes mandatory. (ZNS "Ze Next Stage") is the most common Z-comment, but there is also "ZOS." "ZPS," "ZNT," and a few others.) The important thing to remember is that when you see a "Z," you know that the marked comment is going to give you instructions for what you should, or could do next in this writing process. (One of the things you can do is change your mind. You don't have to change your mind, but you are always allowed to change your mind. So if you ever think of asking 'may I change my thesis,' the answer will always be "yes, you may change your thesis.")
Questions? Check out the Frequently Asked Questions.