March 29, 2010
I got a good tip on writing history papers from a prof today. The key is, he says, pretend that you're in a bar, and have been asked "Will the Yankees win the World Series this year?"
First up, you have to decide a position. Sure, you could say "Gee, I'm not sure," but then everyone will ignore you and you'll be excluded from further conversation. You must start with a thesis that takes a stand.
Second, for a typical paper, your audience is assumed to be your professor and fellow students in the class. They possess substantial background knowledge on the subject at hand– assume that they paid attention in lecture and did all the readings. With the baseball example, you wouldn't include in your statement anything about how baseball was invented, or why it was important, or even who the Yankees are or what the World Series is. The people that care to read your paper, already know that stuff.
What you do include is facts that your readers don't know, and facts that they know but you think are especially important to your argument. Sure, they know that "The Yankees have the best-paid players in the game," but you mention it if you believe that money motivates superior performance. Then you might mention "They've got a really hot prospect in their AAA farm team, ready to move up if needed," to include information that your readers didn't know.
Going back to the first point, only once you've established your argument should you include the best points contradicting your thesis. But you do need to address those points, as otherwise people will think you're unaware of, say, the Red Socks' great off-season trades, and you'll look like you don't know what's really going on.
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