Some Tips for Writing Papers on Abstract Subjects

1. Assume that you are writing for a groups of intelligent high-school seniors—not geniuses—with college level vocabularies. Focus on making your points clear to these readers, not to college professors. Do not try to impress the reader, high-school senior or me: try to explain your point to your reader in terms unmistakable.


2. Whenever you use ore refer to a word, term, or phrase that is not a common term, offer a very brief definition as part of your sentence.

For example, suppose you wanted to use the term metastatic apocalypticism, introduce it something like this: “Voegelin argues that an additional force or element in the deformation of ontological discussion is what he calls metastatic apocalypticism, a synonym for “magic,” the belief that mere faith can effect a change in the structure of reality.”


Voegelin’s idea of social articulation, that is, the formation of a group of people into a structured social entity, is captured well in the American motto e pluribus unam.”

If this brief parenthetical definition is not enough for your argument, clarify or expand or exemplify your explanation (as Voegelin does for metastatic apocalypticism with his second Isaiah anecdote) as necessary later in your discussion. 

3. Voegelin’s and Niemeyer’s writings are full of examples of this and of concept formation generally.For instance, from Niemeyer’s article on authority and alienation:


In the “impartial practice of life” are found a few whose speech is heeded and revered above that of others, because it strikes others as reflection of truth pertaining to that which is, or wisdom pertaining to what to do. To such people belongs what one may call gnostic authority. Then there are, still fewer, those persons who lead a life of exemplary quality so outstanding that many others flock to this person, powerfully attracted. Here we have charismatic authority.

Niemeyer here creates and defines two concepts—gnostic authority and charismatic authority. Perhaps this is also an example of Voegelin’s “symbol formation”—the italicized terms symbolize actual human experiences.

Voegelin and Niemeyer will often choose foreign language (Latin, Greek, or other languages) terms to label their concepts rather than just apt English words. This they do to avoid the ambiguity caused by the confusion of theoretical symbols/concepts and common, popular symbols/concepts that overlap. See the first chapter on “representation.”

4. Use these techniques in your own writing to maximize clarity—to the intelligent high school senior—and to show me that you know what you are talking about when you use Voegelin’s high-falutin’ language.