My colleague here at York, Professor Craig Scott, won the NDP nomination in Jack Layton’s riding of Toronto-Danforth last night on the first ballot. Way to go, Craig! He’ll now gear up for battle against the Liberals (the Tories don’t stand a chance in this downtown Toronto riding) in a By-Election which will be held sometime in early spring probably.
In tribute to Craig, I thought I’d post a very useful article he wrote for students on how to write a good essay or thesis. It is highly recommended for upper year undergrads and graduate students. The paper is called:
PRODUCING AN INSIGHTFUL RESEARCH PAPER: SOME ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER
Craig hits on many of the challenges students face in writing a high level paper. I like his observation that “originality” in the sense of “never been thought of before” sets the expectation too high for a student just learning the field. A better objective is to aim for new insight, by which he means a “helpful or interesting way of looking at an issue or problem.” Rather than trying to write something that is new, aim for something that contributes added value to a discussion.
The paper also offers very useful advice on the difference between scanning secondary research and reading that research comprehensively, and when to use both. It explains how to chose topics and develop an outline. It also explains why it is always best to present counter-arguments to your own claims in the best possible light. This is important, and lots of papers I see as Articles Review editor of the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal and in grading papers fail on this account. Authors create a “strawman” of the counter arguments, so that they can then be easily blown over. Here is what Craig says:
The most persuasive essays tend to be those that both acknowledge counter-perspectives and depict those counter-perspectives with reasonable fairness, before then going on to demonstrate why those counter-perspectives are mistaken (whether in whole or only in part). There are limits to how extensively one can do this for short essays in limited-time contexts, but it is still a useful ideal to seek to achieve as much as possible.
I agree whole-heartedly with this. I published a paper last year in the Vanderbilt Transnational Law Journal that was about 50 journal pages long, and almost 20 of those pages were devoted to the arguments against the point I was trying to make. In writing that piece, I almost persuaded myself that I was wrong! By presenting the counter arguments in strong terms, it forced me to think hard about why those arguments are not persuasive. I think these are the best sorts of papers.
And, very importantly, Craig emphasizes editing, editing, EDITING. Like Craig, I will often put my papers through dozens of edits before they are publication ready. Poor editing harms the flow of the paper and the coherency of the arguments. It is often the difference between an A and a B, C, D…
Anyhow, congratulations to Craig, and all upper year undergraduate and graduate students should give his paper a good, careful read.