I am Lucifer DeMorte

Basic Instructions for Odyssey Writing

Your initial assignment is to write a thoughtful and carefully reasoned 3 to 5 (or more) page double spaced thesis paper (6/13: any format, any style) on one of the allowed topics for your class. (Your paper's title should be the same as your thesis. If you can't come up with a thesis you have confidence in, your paper's title should be "Thinkathon on . . . " followed by the name of your topic.)

Some of my students have said that they find the odyssey instructions confusing, so I've created some simplified instructions which I hope will at least make it easier for you to get started. If you want the directions cut down and straight to point, read the contents of the green box below.

General Plan

This is a Read-Think-Write assignment, which means that you have two very important and complicated things to do before you start any actual writing. Here, in this green box, is what you're supposed to do for whatever topic you pick.

1. READ: Read the essay prompt very, very, very carefully.Try to find or develop at least one argument on each side of the issue, together with any criticisms or counter arguments that seem relevant to you, or which you can come up with off your own bat. Write all these arguments down in your own words as clearly and completely as you can.

2. THINK: Logically analyze the arguments on both sides, and work out which side is logically supported by the available evidence. Remember, this assignment is not about your feelings, so don't just pick the side you happen to "think" is right, pick the side that is supported by the argument that doesn't fail under logical analysis. One way to do logical analysis is to do the following:

  1. Write out a list of relevant arguments clearly in your own words.
  2. Examine each argument to determine whether it commits a logical fallacy.
  3. If an argument commits a logical fallacy, cross it out.
  4. Examine each remaining argument to see whether it has some other logical weakness.
  5. If an argument has a fatal logical weakness, cross it out.
  6. If there's more than one opposing argument left, cross out the logically weakest arguments until there's just one left.

If you follow this procedure, you should be left with the strongest argument 

3. WRITE: Do the following actions in order:

  1. Take the conclusion of the one argument that didn't have any logical weakness, and write that out as your thesis. (This is the title of your paper.
  2. Write out in your own words the argument for your thesis. (This would be the argument that turned out not to have a logical weakness.)
  3. Take the best argument against your thesis, explain it in your own words, and then explain clearly and exactly what is wrong with that one argument.
  4. Make any other comments you happen to think of. Don't write a "conclusion" or "concluding paragraph," and don't repeat anything you've said before. Instead, write out any other thoughts you might have about this topic. (You can write anything at all at this point.)
  5. Stop writing, make any cosmetic or other edits you think appropriate, and turn in your finished paper.

Don't do anything in your paper that isn't specified in these instructions. I don't take points off for wrong stuff, but I only give credit for for material that meets the requirements of the assignment, so stuff that these instructions don't call for isn't likely to help your grade. 

There are certain important basic rules for odyssey writing.

Breaking these rules comes with penalties.

If you follow these instructions, and keep your writing clear and simple, your paper won't have any structural flaws.

If the penalties terrify you, pick the thinkathon option, and just write down things you think, and things you can see you don't know, in no particular order. If your thinkathon would horrify your high-school English teacher, you're probably doing it right.

Once your initial paper has been graded, you will receive follow-on instructions in a "Z-comment" (probably "ZNS") on your paper in Turnitin.com. 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 capital "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.")

The green-box steps given above are your clear and simple instructions for the paper. If you completely understand these instructions, and you see clearly how all these items are different from each other, and you know exactly how to write high quality academic papers, you can go ahead and write your paper.

If you aren't sure how to follow the "green box" general plan above, there's another way to do the paper, described in the pink box below.

Fallback Option: Thinkathon

If the "green-box" instructions seem too hard, or you're irreducibly confused by all these instructions, take this option.

If you're having a hard time coming up with arguments, you can instead write a "thinkathon" paper, in which you write down all the things you think about your chosen topic. Again, you don't write the kind of paper you'd write for an English class, so don't fall back on the conventional, boring and wasteful style of paper. Instead, do a lot of thinking, write out what you think, and explain as best you can why you think what you think. (You are basically just shooting out your knowledge and ideas without any specific thesis.)

Include the word "thinkathon" in the title of your paper, so I know what you're doing.

When I grade your paper, I will be looking for clearly expressed deep understanding of your topic, insightful thoughts about that topic, and carefully reasoned justifications for your thoughts. Your paper doesn't have to be perfect, but you can only get credit for material that demonstrates your own thinking process. A paper that might get an A in English class might well get an F in my class, and vice versa.

Remember, a properly written thesis paper is preferred to a thinkathon, but if you're not ready for the big time, a thinkathon could be a very, very good start.

DON'T STRESS! Remember, the assignment includes a sort of "do-over" option, so if you're still not sure what to do, just write a paper the way you normally do, turn it in as "practice paper," and we can go from there.

Questions?  Check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

If you still find my instructions confusing, email me before you write the paper. (Do not wait until you have gotten a bad grade, and then tell me that my instructions are "confusing." That will not improve your grade.) Get the instructions clear in your mind before you start.

If you do not understand any or all of these items, or if you are not just not completely sure about how to write this paper, you may click on the following optional link to more extensive (and more boring) optional more detailed instructions.

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.)


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