I am Lucifer DeMorte

Getting Started on Odyssey Writing

Fallback Option: Thinkathon

Please note that all six Cardinal Rules of course apply to all thinkathons.

If you're having a hard time coming up with a coherent view of the issue, or really don't know how to organize or even start your paper, you can instead write a "thinkathon" paper, A thinkathon is a graded assignment 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.

(Material in red was added 10/26/23) Please bear in mind that this is still a graded assignment. The whole idea of the thinkathon is to accommodate people who use good reasoning, but are unsure how to organize their papers, and people who can think logically, but need to start writing things down, and thereby jump-start their thinking process, before the good ideas will start coming. It's not an alternative assignment in which one's unexamined, superficial beliefs and unsupported assumptions will be credited in the same way as deep, thoughtful, evidence-based logical reasoning. A paper consisting of nothing but belief-statements and assumptions will be worth zero points, no matter its format.

Things you could write down to get you started are the various opinions people have, the various facts that are relevant to the issue.

Terms you should use a lot are "maybe", "I think", "could be", "I don't know if" and similar "hedge" words to indicate that you're just thinking at this point, and haven't committed to any particular view. (Good ideas, and other evidences of good reasoning will earn credit, whether they're expressed tentatively or definitively.)

The way to do this is to start with a blank document, type in the first thing you can think of about the topic. (Again, use phrases like "I think" or "might be", and so on to indicate that these are just your thoughts on the issue. Develop and explain this idea as best you can. (Again with lots of words like "maybe", and "could" to indicate that these are your thoughts here.) When you've said everything you can without repetition, stop writing. Then, start a new paragraph and write down the next thing you think about the topic. When you've said everything you can about that idea, start another paragraph with the next thing you think, and so on. Every time you have a new idea, add it on to where you're writing. If you change your mind about anything, add on a new paragraph in which you explain why and how you changed your mind, Make sure you explain the reasoning behind all of your ideas, even if one thing you think contradicts another thing you think. It's still the quality of your reasoning that get you credit here. When you can no longer think of a new opinion, a new question, a new relevant fact, or a new comment, you are done and should stop writing.

Another thing you could do is write out a list of questions you think need answers. You can follow this with a list of possible maybe answers to those questions.

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

(Added 10/26/22) The thinkathon is graded exactly the same way I grade regular papers; I just look for instances of good thinking, and ignore outline, structure, grammar, and spelling.) 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.

Places where you clearly get definitions wrong, make clearly unsupported assumptions, make clearly bad inferences, or otherwise clearly fail to follow instructions, will basically be ignored. Even the worst mistakes don't hurt your grade, but bad mistakes definitely don't help it either

Your paper doesn't have to be perfect, but you will 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.

Copyright 2014 by Martin C. Young

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