Contents of the Memo:

1. Purpose and Form

2. Grading

3. Rules

4. Suggestions

1. Purpose and Form

Each paper shall be an argument. An argument proves or provides persuasive, logical support for a particular point, called a "thesis," that you wish to make. In a political theory paper, the thesis is a judgment that you make about an argument or idea of the theorist under discussion. I suggest that you use one of the following forms.

TYPE A. If the idea or argument that you wish to address is clear, and you intend to attack or defend it, you should present your own argument in the following form:

1. A fair statement of the theorist's position.

2. Your thesis--the point that you wish to make.

3. a. If you argue against the theorist's position, your third step should be the statement of your criticism, and your

4. fourth step should be the best likely response of the theorist.


3.b. If you argue in support of the theorist, you should present your argument clearly and succinctly, your

4. fourth step should be the presentation of the strongest criticism of that position that you can imagine, and your

5. fifth step should be your response to that criticism.

Final Step: To round it off, end the paper with a brief concluding statement and a bibliography set in proper form.

TYPE B. If, instead, (1) the theorist's argument is ambiguous or contradictory, or (2) if his idea is unclear, or (3) if you are posing a question to the theorist that he did not explicitly consider in the work under discussion, your argument must take a different form. You must cite the various relevant statements of the theorist and then reason toward a conclusion, weighing and balancing the relevant statements against one another. The conclusion may be (1) that the theorist's argument is indeed self-contradictory, or (2) that the theorist's apparently vague idea is actually clear when interpreted properly, or (3) that the theorist would probably answer your hypothetical question in a certain way in light of the statements that you have marshalled.

Thus a fair form for such a paper may be:

1. References to the relevant statements you will discuss.

2. The question or problem presented by the statements.

3. Your reasoning toward an answer to the question.

4. A clear statement of the conclusion you have drawn.

TYPE C. If you wish to compare and contrast the views of two theorists on a particular concept or broader idea, such as comparing Plato's idea of "justice" with that of Aristotle, or contrasting St. Augustine's concept of human nature to Rousseau's concept, you must accurately and succinctly state the positions of each theorist and draw from the comparison some conclusion of your own. This conclusion is your thesis or judgment, and you must then demonstrate or argue that the judgment is an important one--that it has important consequences. For example, you may wish to argue that the difference between Hobbes's conception of human nature and Rousseau's conception is one of the principal reasons for their different assertions about the basic purpose or function of government.

A typical form of a comparison-contrast paper is as follows:

  1. Statement of Theorist A's position.
  2. Statement of Theorist B's position.
  3. Demonstration and clear statement of the difference or similarity upon which you wish to focus.
  4. A demonstration or argument showing why the difference or similarity is important.

As you become more practiced in these forms of arguments, you will find that you will modify them to make your papers more persuasive or readable; but unless you are already experienced at this type of writing, I suggest that you stick closely to the forms outlined above. I also strongly suggest that you read, read, and then read some more articles and books about the theorists that we are studying in order to see how people go about writing critical papers. Book reviews in newspapers, magazines, and journals are also a good source of critical commentary style and will help you to understand the kinds of things that people say about other writers.

2. Grading

I shall pay equal attention to the content of your argument and the quality of the writing in which you express that argument. Regarding content, I will grade your argument on the basis of the following:

1. the argument must be internally consistent. Do you logically and consistently prove your main point?

2. your interpretations of the passages that you quote and paraphrase must be reasonable. Your references must support your inferences.

3. the passages that you quote and paraphrase must accurately reflect the philosopher's overall position. Your selection of passages in the primary material must reflect your familiarity and understanding of the entire assigned reading.

4. the thoughtfulness and degree of difficulty of your thesis and argument. An excellent statement of the obvious will not be graded as high as a good attempt to make a more subtle, thoughtful argument.

Poor writing--poor grammar, syntax, word choice, sentence-and-paragraph structure--is easily recognized, and it damages your ability to argue persuasively. Indeed, I do not think that good reasoning and good argument can be separated out of the writing (or speaking) in which it is expressed. Poor writing, short of the fatal errors that I list below, will result in a lowering of the grade of the paper. Specific standards for writing are found below. (You might want to take a look at Robert Pirsig's account of his stint as an English instructor at Montana State University in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

3. Rules

A. The papers shall be no longer than three or four pages, typewritten, and double-spaced (about 750 to 1000 words) with a title page that identifies you by I.D. number only, not by name. Use 12 point type with margins of no more than 1" inch, justified only on the left. You should cite your sources in footnotes. There must be at least five footnotes per paper. For Politics and History majors, bibliographies and footnotes must conform to the Chicago Style. You should use Turabian as a model.

B. All papers must conform to the Chicago Manual of Style as set out in Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), excluding the system of parenthetical notation described in Chapter 10, which may not be used. This requirement applies in particular to footnotes, bibliographies, punctuation, and quotation. I also recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, available in the bookstore and via a link on this web page.

C. All papers must be exclusively your own work. In addition to the prohibition of plagiarism that applies to all of your work, you may not have anyone else proofread or edit your paper for the purpose of critiquing your argument or your writing or both. You may discuss--indeed, I urge you all to discuss--the readings and your opinions with others, but once you start writing the paper you must proceed on your own. Do not read your paper to someone else: develop the technique of reading it aloud to yourself and listening objectively to hear and detect poor writing and illogical reasoning. The only exception to this rule is the help you may receive from writing tutors at the Marymount Learning Resource Center. LRC tutors will not edit or proofread your papers, but will give you feedback if you read the paper to them.

D. The three-page papers you submit may have no more than five (5) spelling, typographical, quotation, and serious grammatical errors; the four-page papers may have six (6); and so forth (two errors plus one for each page). Following this formula, I shall stop reading after finding the maximum number of errors and give the paper an "F."

Typographical errors include (in addition to spelling errors) improper capitalization and the omission, duplication, or random stringing together of words. Quotations must be completely accurate down to the punctuation. This practice is especially important in research. Double-check and triple-check all quotations. I will check at least two of your quotes in each paper that you submit. (Your citations must also be correct!) Learn to tailor the quotes to your sentences by using ellipses and brackets, as explained in the Turabian (or other grammar) text. Spelling, typographical, and quotation mistakes are errors that you should pick up and correct in proofreading the paper.

If you have problems with punctuation and syntax, now is the time to rededicate yourself to learning the rules. Again, Turabian's Manual for Writers or Strunk and White's Elements of Style are excellent texts to study. Examples of unacceptable serious grammatical errors are (1) sentence fragments (sentences without verbs, sentences without subjects, sentences without independent clauses, or simply incomplete sentences), (2) incorrect noun-pronoun or subject-verb agreement (singular subject with plural verb or plural subject with a singular verb), (3) run-on sentences ("comma splices"), and (4) sentences improperly split--usually between the subject and the verb--by misplaced commas ("comma faults").

Errors of the types just described are absolutely forbidden. Lesser punctuation errors will hurt your grade, but they will not by themselves kill the paper. What I am asking, in the words of my son's Kindergarten teacher, is that you "do your best work." Don't offend me by giving me something less.

E. No "F" papers may be rewritten. To allow rewrites would put me in the role of a proof-reader, and this I will not do. Other papers, with my permission, may be rewritten, but they must be handed in within one week (or other announced deadline) of the time that I return them to you.

The rewrite must make substantial revisions of the paper: mere corrections of errors or the making of my suggested changes in the initial draft are not enough.

F. All of the books that we shall be reading in these courses have been published in several editions over the years. Although I strongly recommend the editions that are listed in the syllabus, you may use other editions. Regardless of edition, your footnotes must refer not to page numbers but to the permanent notation that appears in all editions of a given work (if the work has such conventional notations). For example, use the Stephanus numbers (e.g., 443d) to cite Plato's work; use the Bekker numbers (e.g., 1135a) to cite Aristotle's works; use chapter numbers for Hobbes, section numbers for Locke, book and chapter for Rousseau and St. Augustine, etc., as appropriate.

4. Suggestions

  1. Do not use contractions -- e.g., don't, couldn't, it's -- in writing any paper unless it appears in a quotation that you use.
  2. Do not use the possessive form of an inanimate object -- e.g., the argument's premise or the position's weakness. Use a prepositional phrase instead -- i.e., the premise of the argument, the weakness of the position. Dead things cannot own or possess other things.
  3. Wherever possible, keep your sentences short and simple. Be careful in your use of commas. A good basic grammar book or Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is essential. The Elements of Style is available in the bookstore and on the internet at Strunk's Elements of Style
  4. Never use the word "feel" as a verb. There are some legitimate uses for this disgusting word, but I doubt that you will ever need the word for a political science paper. If you must know, one "feels" emotions, one does not "feel" clauses or propositions. In a sentence, the verb "to feel" should never be followed by the word "that."
  5. Use the active voice often: use the passive voice rarely. "Mary killed John" is an example of the active voice: the subject, Mary, is an actor who does something and to whom we can clearly trace the action. "John was killed" is an example of the passive voice: the subject, John, is a victim or object of an action that someone or something else performs, and the source of the action is not clear. It is a weaker statement than the first. Even "John was killed by Mary" is weaker than "Mary killed John." Use a few passive voice sentences, of course, for variety or if you want to be sneaky or intentionally vague.
  6. Use only one adverb per sentence.
  7. Do not split infinitives: splitting them usually weakens the sentence.
  8. Do not end your sentences with prepositions. This also generally weakens the sentence.
  9. Do not use justified right margins.
  10. Do not use a slash (/) as a form of punctuation. For example, ""he/she,"" ""him/her,"" or ""and/or.""
  11. If you must use inclusive language, and I do not recommend it nor do I want it in the papers that you do for me, be sure that your nouns and pronouns agree in number; that is, singular noun--singular pronoun, plural noun--plural pronoun.
  12. Break these rules only when the violation improves the sentence or the paragraph. There are always exceptions to the rules in politics.