WHAT ARE SOME INGREDIENTS OF A GOOD ESSAY?
What Purposes Does It Serve And What Use Can Be Made Of It?
1. Not just a paraphrase of readings. Indicate your judgement of the big points and answer the question "so what?"
2. Extend the ideas of the readings. Indicate what other cases are similar. Relate to problems that concern you.
3. Creativity and insight. Can't be expected every time, but let's try.
4. Ask big questions. The task you set for yourself is important. Even unanswered questions can demonstrate understanding.
5. Deal with the material. If it is no good and not applicable, say so and why. Indicate what would be required. If it is useful, indicate what it means to you and what difference it makes in your thinking. No one has to agree with any reading, but it must be dealt with intelligently.
6. The objective is to improve your skill of inquiry. The policy conclusion and personal values of the writer, while important and relevant, are not the basis for evaluating the paper. It is rather the quality of the argument and the ability to relate concepts and observations. Two papers may receive equally high marks if well reasoned, though they reflect quite different conclusions, attributes and values.
7. Relate theory to empirical observation, both your own experience and the contemporary world as well as case materials provided in the course.
8. Papers should be cumulative. Build on past material where relevant and learn to use systems of interrelated concepts.
9. Analyze both your instructor's articles as well as other assigned reading. Criticize, extend, apply in areas not explicit in the articles, and relate to other concepts and material.
10. All papers in periods where C&C is assigned should explicitly use the SSP paradigm (or some other in other periods) and formulate testable hypotheses therefrom.
In my written comments, I will try to get you to consider the implications of your statements and alternatives to them. Even those comments not followed by a question mark are nevertheless made in that spirit. They are not meant to be the best truth, but something to be considered, weighed, and kept only if it has meaning to you. I only ask that it be thoughtfully dealt with. No one can think for you and in the end no idea has any value unless it is incorporated into one's own thinking. A low grade, I hope, comes not because you did not say exactly what my comments say. They are not corrections in that sense. Rather the grade reflects an overall judgement of your skill in meeting some of the above objectives. If you have a question about my evaluation, please see me at an early date. I hope even the objectives are open ended and if something else has more meaning, let me know what it is and your reason for it and I will consider it with you.
Some time going back over your paper, the readings, and your instructor's comments would be well spent. Occasionally, you may wish to rewrite a topic rather than write a new paper on the next topic. This, of course, has its opportunity costs and you must judge this for yourself.
Your essay should be the basis for classroom oral discussion. It is your chance to practice presentation of your ideas and questions and get professional reaction from colleagues.
Your essay should not be viewed as something extra laid on the usual learning and investigation process. It should just be written record of where your mind is in order to facilitate interaction and testing of your thinking with that of others so that growth is enhanced.
Make your essays conversational. If you think you have a good point and you particularly want me to react to it, put a note in the margin to that effect. "Now get this" or "Help."
Papers should be double spaced typed with at least one inch margin all around. No title page or formal footnoting is required. Pick a major point and develop it. Don't try to cover too much ground. Late papers will not be accepted without prior arrangement.
For background to our educational approach, read Carl Rogers, Client Centered Therapy, Chapter on "Student Centered Teaching." (paperback)