Monday, February 20, 2006



Because there have been questions, I think it's appropriate to lay out more clearly my expectations for the writing assignment. First and foremost, I am always available for questions, and I will read any draft that you give me before the day the paper is due. If you are particularly concerned about a paper, this is the best way to allay your fears.

Although the specific form I ask for in the assignment is a memo, there are certain requirements that any good paper must meet. First, the paper must be free of grammar and spelling errors. This is relatively simple in concept, less so in practice. The best way to make sure that you catch basic errors is to read the paper back to yourself aloud. I cannot emphasize how critical it is to be able to communicate free of such errors; in a professional setting, such mistakes can be disastrous.

Second, any paper must have an argument. You cannot simply ruminate about a subject for five pages without some sort of unifying argument. Having an argument helps structure your paper as a readable narrative. This is true of either the policy-oriented memos or the country analysis memos. If you give me a collection of facts about a country without making some kind of argument about that country, I will be unhappy.

Third, you must cite. This is true of virtually any kind of formal writing, and in fact is so prevalent that I'm surprised I have to mention it. Citation indicates to the reader the veracity of your statements of fact and gives the reader somewhere to look if she wants to read more. Citation is an absolute requirement.

Fourth, the memo as a form is about, essentially, practical questions. No one noodles about the productive interplay between Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes in a memo. Thus, the memo as a form requires a concrete analysis, rather than a mainly theoretical one. While I have no formal requirements regarding memo form (as I mentioned at the beginning of class), I do have a preference for general approach. As I said on the first day of class, I want any memo that you write (apart from the country analysis memos) to set forth two or more courses of action, analyze their merits, and advocate one. This leaves you a great deal of freedom, but gives you the basic form of what the paper should look like.

As to content, the question you approach is up to you. Choosing an interesting question is as important an academic skill as answering a question well. However, I would like the question that you write on to at least touch on the matter for discussion of the day you decide to turn the memo in. Thus, if you are writing for week eight, your paper ought to be at least in part about reputation.

If you have questions, ask. All this said, the writing assignment has gone fine thus far; no one is in any serious trouble.

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