Some Basic Rules for Successful College-Level Writing

        Writing is a complicated process.  In a course which encourages you to experiment with new ways of writing, sometimes we need to stop and strip the process down to basic underlying rules that can help us find our bearings.  These three rules will govern our examination of all the cases we study and the papers you write about them.  The hyperlinks take you to brief comments that further explain the significance of the rules.

Rule #1: Knowledge may be described as a series of  claims: claims of fact ("X is" or "X is not") and claims of  value ("X should be" or "X should not be").  Fact-claims, if true, only need to be communicated clearly to convince well-prepared readers.  Value-claims often are grounded in unstated but powerful beliefs and emotions which need to be explored and explained before they can be persuasive for readers who do not already share those values. 

Rule #2: Claims depend on support by arguments that draw on other relevant claims of fact or claims of value to induce belief in their audiences.  Arguments that are well-constructed and thoroughly tested in revision produce higher levels of belief in greater numbers of readers.

Rule #3: Everyone has opinions, but some opinions  are logically supported more completely, accurately, and appropriately  than others.  They work better because college-level readers expect complete, accurate, and appropriate logical support.  (That usually means papers containing those opinions will get higher grades.)

Working out a thesis with an independent insight and complete, accurate, appropriate support will take you significant effort.  However, it will usually produce something very like a paper's body, perhaps with a form of introduction and conclusion.  Is the paper done yet?  That is, has it grown enough in the body of the argument that you can step back to see what you have created?  We will take up this writing strategy in detail during a later week, but click on that hyperlink if you want a head start.