Writing a Good Paper

Writing a good paper is perhaps not the easiest job of the world, so I want to give you a few hints to help you set up your paper properly.  These hints are tailored to help you mainly with your midsemester paper, but you can also benefit from these steps for your presentation paper.
  1. Be sure to research your topic thoroughly.  For example, if you must write a paper about the code of ethics of your profession, as you are doing for the midsemester assignment, you need to begin with finding out what the code of ethics is.  As many of you have found already, the internet is a good source for this kind of information.  You can also interview your teacher in your area of major concentration or someone who already works at the job that you are preparing for.  You can also contact companies that are likely to hire someone like yourself, once your education is complete.   You should not simply make up a few sentences of "good" and "bad" kind of stuff.  Every profession has some form of code of ethics, even if it's not written out.
  2. Next, find a purpose for your writing.  Note that writing a paper because your teacher made you do it and because you want to get an 'A' out of the class are both NOT good purposes for a paper; that kind of motivation tends to defeat itself in that you'll try to "get by" by juggling platitudes and commonplaces.  Try to persuade yourself that you are here to make a difference in the real world.  Here are some sample purposes:
    • Suppose you have a co-worker who bad-mouthes the code of ethics.  You are convinced of its soundness.  So, your paper will convince the colleague of the soundness of the code.  Some parts may be so obviously part of what even the colleague agrees to, so you focus your most serious analysis on the parts that you think are excellent and she thinks are not at all excellent.  In order to convince her, you need to clarify unstated assumptions and value judgments.  Showing her in what kinds of worlds her objections might hold true will help her see that this here is not that kind of world where she'd be comfortable with the code as she wanted to see it originally.  Of course, you make a point of driving your points home by constructing cases and examples to convince her thoroughly.
    • Suppose you have read the code of ethics carefully.  Generally, you agree with what it says, but some parts bug you immensely.  You analyze those parts by clarifying the underlying assumptions and value judgments.  Then you make a case to, say, your union representative or your administrative staff or your colleagues.  Get them to agree with you that the statements in the code ought to be trashed or that ought to be highlighted.  
    • Suppose you have to work with Crudney Dimwit, a person who is generous but a bit on the intellectually slow side.  He has read the code of ethics, but his best reaction is a most melodious "Duh?!"  You take it upon yourself to get Crudney introduced to the niceties of the code of ethics.  You do so by analyzing for him what value judgments and assumptions are lurking under the code.  To make sure that he understands how useful all this is, you make a point of showing him concrete examples such as, "Crudney, suppose that the plane has a blown tire.  Would you want to fly the thing under those circumstances? Well, what if the boss made you do it anyway?  Aren't you glad that this code of ethics makes it your task to decide when this plane is airworthy?  And aren't you further happy that, if you contradict the boss in this case, the company cannot fire you?"  [This dialog style is for illustration only, of course; don't imitate this exactly, please.]  Then you can continue to impress upon Crudney how, in a world where nothing runs on profit, we could trust the bosses much more and thus could dispense with this kind of statement in the code.  And if he thinks the world really is this trustworthy, you might cite some examples from recent airplane disasters that seem to point the finger at someone's forgetting the morality of their profession.
    • Suppose you run across some patently immoral statements in your code of ethics.  For example, one student in one of this semester's classes researched the code of ethics of marketing personnel.  Since the student was not entirely convinced that some of the subliminal messages and tugging on people's feelings and persuading people to buy stuff they never would need in a million years were really all that tolerable, the student might want to write an improvement on that code.  In fact, this student might do brilliant work by writing a new code by way of criticizing and thus dismantling the original code.
    • Suppose you have had a debate with me, your teacher, or with a classmate about an issue involving the code of ethics.  Write your paper so as to tell the classmate or teacher off.  Here you have them!  They must listen to you once your thoughts are on paper.  There is a source of persuasive power for you to set the record right with either teacher or classmate.  Your teacher will naturally be a reader, but it's also OK to give the classmate a copy of the paper and say, "Here is what I think about your idea yesterday about . . ."
    • This list is by no means exhaustive.  There are other possibilities. The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is your obligation to write a paper that could make a difference in the real world.  Try to get beyond the classroom.
  3. Now outline your paper.  Once you know what you are trying to achieve, set down the route for getting there.  You can already write out the major points that you will probably have to make in order to achieve your purpose.  Test the outline by going over it with a friend.  Perhaps he or she will be able to point out some things you may have to cover in addition to what you have already.
  4. You are now ready to write your paper.  Using a word processor, buzz through the paper by way of your outline road-map.  Don't stop to fix errors.  Don't worry about typos.  Don't worry about spelling errors.  Don't let anyone look over your shoulder to try to correct anything in your paper.  And, most important of all, turn off by-pass spell-checking and by-pass grammar-checking; you should NOT see little green and red squiggles all over the computer screen. That will merely take you away from the thinking you need to do.
  5. Don't forget the proofreading cycle.  Once you have written the paper, begin proofreading.  Run a spell check, but think about look-alike words that do NOT mean the same thing.  It's always terribly embarrassing if an aviator parks the plane in his or her hanger, instead of his or her hangar.  You really sound more like Crudney Dimwit if you mistake "there" for "they're" or "their,"  or if you cannot tell your salary from your celery.  Have someone else read through the paper also.   Remember that friends are lousy proofreaders; they just want you to feel good.  So, ask someone who isn't feeling too good toward you, or ask your friend to pretend being your worst enemy while he or she is reading the paper.  Definitely use the grammar checker; it does deliver some useful insights. But don't rely on that software too completely: It cannot guarantee that your paper will contain no bugs; it merely helps you focus on some potential problem areas.  You make all the decisions, not the grammar checker.
  6. One last point:  Try to appreciate teamwork.  I suggested that some of you might want to team up for the assignment.  And I have found that, generally, team-produced work outshines individual work immensely.  You may have done the first version of the paper by yourself.  Well, how about trying a re-written version with a team.  You may have teams of two or three people to write papers together.  Schedule a time when you can get together to brainstorm, write, and critique the paper.  I'm quite sure that you will see significant improvements in insight, understanding, and thus quality of the paper.
  7. And of course, you must follow all those conventions for citing sources as you have learned in HU/COM 122 and in HU/COM 221.  Remember that the Department of Humanities at Embry-Riddle requires you to use MLA style for citations and reference pages.  So, whatever you have learned in other courses about writing is still relevant now.
  8. Finally, will the teacher grade your paper on the basis of whether you agree or do not agree with him?  Not on your life!  In moral reasoning, I look for the following:
    1. Does the paper rely on facts from the real world?  Are those facts well supported with cited sources?  Are those sources reliable, a particularly important consideration in days when anyone can push anything up onto the web?  Does this paper rely on a variety of sources or on only one line of propaganda?
    2. Does the paper deal with standard ethical theory related to that issue?  Does the paper give sound reasons for changing or upholding standard theory?
    3. Does the paper assert conclusions that are consistent with the facts and the theory?
    4. Will the teacher's view often be the same as yours?  Probably!  I happen to hold the theory that I am not exactly a dorky, idiotic moron; so if you use the resources rightly and if I use the resources rightly, the incidence rate of our ending up in the same place ought to be fairly high, but that's not how I decide the grade.  I suspect that several students have received papers that had a high score and yet had a note somewhere that says: "I don't agree with you."

    Short Version and Outline:

    1. Offer a clear analysis of the problem or the dilemma.
    2. Give a clear statement of your view in relation to that problem or dilemma.
    3. Offer a clear, fair, and STRONG statement of your opponents' views. [Major error: Misrepresenting your opponent to make the defeat easier for you; be fair.]
    4. State a clear, fair, and strong analysis of the errors in your opponents' views. [Major error: Not getting the job done or misrepresenting the opponents' views.]
    5. Show clearly and unambiguously how your view will repair errors in the opposing views.
    6. Cite supporting evidence for your view.
      1. Use anecdotal evidence as a weak form of support.
      2. Use statistical evidence as a strong form of support.
      3. Use evidence from theories of ethics to justify your view.
    7. Restate your view and how it follows necessarily from the facts and theories that you've cited in the essay.

    General criteria:

    • You have used MLA format correctly for your citations.
    • You have used turnitin to show that your report is at least 80 percent your own stuff.
    • You have taken responsibility for proofreading, grammar-checking, and style-checking.
    • You have successfully avoided logical fallacies and inconsistent arguments.

    Your grade relies on logic and consistency; fair, factual, and well cited evidence as underpinnings of your view; clear references to dominant ethical theories, particularly where those views might oppose your own; and sound presentation and format of the paper overall. And, no, it's not the case that all opinions are equally sound by virtue of being opinions. An opinion that is not well supported and thoroughly thought out is not worth having.

Dr. Reinhold Schlieper
April 4, 2003