Writing, College

College students across the country will soon be returning to school in some capacity. Covid-19 is on everyone’s mind as students, faculty, and staff prepare for the start of the academic year.

I thought it would be useful to offer some helpful how-to guides and suggestions to help students manage their coursework and succeed, especially since many of them will be completing the upcoming semester remotely.

College Writing

Most students will be required to write an argumentative research paper at some point in college. Writing an argumentative research paper can be stressful and seem like a daunting task. You can reduce your stress and manage the writing process by planning and preparing in the right way.

Here is an easy, 4-step guide to effectively write an argumentative (thesis-driven) research paper. You can use this guide to prepare and as a template to help you plan and write your paper.

How to Write a Thesis Statement and Topic Proposal

In an argumentative paper organization is key: each idea/section should flow smoothly from the preceding idea/section. An effective argument will be focused and will avoid any fluff or unnecessary digressions. To that end, it is important to plan a clear topic proposal.

A well-written topic proposal will make the writing process go smoothly, and it can be used as your introductory paragraph. Following the 4-steps below, you will be able to construct a well-written, focused topic proposal and introductory paragraph.

4 Steps for Writing a Better Paper

Step 1: State the problem you will address in your paper. An argumentative or thesis-driven paper takes a position on some issue. At the outset, it is important to give a clear, concise statement of the issue or problem that you will address. You can state the problem directly or in the form of a question.

  • Example: “Fracking” or Hydraulic Fracturing is an extremely controversial method for extracting natural gas that raises a host of environmental concerns. This paper examines whether it is ethical to continue such a practice.

Step 2: State why the problem matters. This is an important step because you want the attention of your readers. Here it is helpful to think of practical issues or concerns. Why should the reader care about the argument you are going to make? Why should the reader care about the issue?

  • Example: It is important that we fully understand the environmental impact(s) of practices like fracking. Such practices are contrary to human interests (broadly construed) and may hinder our efforts to develop more efficient, sustainable methods for meeting our energy needs.

Step 3: State your thesis. Your thesis statement is the position you will defend in your paper. The thesis statement is the most important component of a good topic proposal and effective argumentative research paper. Be clear and direct when stating your thesis.

  • Example: In this paper, I argue that the practice of fracking is unethical because it (a) causes significant damage to the environment and (b) forestalls further development of better methods for meeting our energy needs.

Step 4: State how you plan to organize your paper. This is where you give the reader an idea of how you plan to make your argument and substantiate your thesis. Think of this as a very concise outline of your paper. Here, it is important to start thinking about the best way to organize your ideas. I recommend including a statement addressing how you will conclude your paper (will you examine the implications of your position, suggest what further research is needed, etc.).

  • Example: For present purposes, I focus only on the practice of fracking. I begin with a brief sketch of what fracking entails. I then highlight two main problems, x and y, associated with fracking’s negative impact on the environment. I argue that given its negative impact on the environment the practice of fracking is unethical and contrary to human interests. I then end with a discussion of some implications of my position and conclude that continuing practices like fracking ultimately obstructs our attempts to develop more sustainable energy practices.

Do you have any suggestions or tips for writing a thesis-driven paper?

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Please check out these related articles and posts: How to Zoom – 5 Things You Should Do When Using Zoom in College, How to Succeed in College – 7 Things You Should Do, Applying to College – Enrolling in School Immediately After Graduation, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Simple Steps to Realize Your Goals, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights, Waiting – Kafka’s Before the Law, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, and How to Stop Lying to Yourself – Creating Clear Goals.

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“There is a view of life which conceives that where the crowd is, there also is the truth, and that in truth itself there is need of having the crowd on its side.”

– Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, dobetterwithdan, philosophy, the crowd, authenticity

Recently, I have found myself thinking quite often about the state of social dialogue and debate in our country. In an ideal situation, individuals in the public sphere should be free to engage in reasonable, rational debate to deliberate on issues, to find common ground, to determine the best compromise, to establish best practices, and, among other things, to reach consensus.

Reasonable, rational debate requires, at a minimum, that individuals be openminded, charitable to others, and that we each take responsibility for our own views and beliefs.

In the public sphere, however, it seems that every issue is couched in partisan, polarized, and oppositional terms—making it seem as if there are two clearly defined positions. For instance, when a debate is politicized, it quickly centers around the opposition between the standpoints of democrats and republicans. Any view or position that does not fit neatly within either of these standpoints is simply excluded and dismissed.  

(See my related article, Waiting – Kafka’s Parable Before the Law)

Divisions and polarization are a detriment to public discourse

Even when an issue is not outright politicized, we have come to expect an oppositional framework that is detrimental to rational, reasonable discourse. I have experienced this myself on numerous occasions. Disagreement quickly becomes an all-or-nothing situation as each side refuses to hear the other. You must either accept the other person’s position in full, or you are wrong and represent the opposing side.

I think this trend toward increasing polarization has made it almost impossible to be sensitive to the complexities of the issues and the nuances of individual and social life. We miss a lot and shortchange ourselves when we demand that others agree with us. We grow more close-minded when we only accept views that confirm our own.

(Please check out my related article on overcoming these issues here.)

Do you think public discourse is threatened by the increasing divisions and polarization in the U.S.?

“From becoming an individual no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.”

Kierkegaard

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Want to discover more? Please check out these related articles and posts: The Habit of Thinking, Thinking for Yourself – Checking in with Camus, Character Development – Giving Style to One’s Character, The Road Less Traveled, Freedom & Responsibility, Philosophy Teaches Us, What is Self Mastery? – Stoicism, Self-Discipline, and Freedom, and Are You on the Right Path? – How to Live Your Best Life.

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dobetterwithdan, Sisyphus, Philosophy, Existentialism, happiness

Each time I revisit Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, I find myself drawn to the final line: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pointless labor. He is forced to push a boulder up a mountain. When he reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down and Sisyphus must return to it to begin again.

The boulder always rolls back down the mountain…Sisyphus never successfully completes his task. His labor, as the gods intended, is utterly pointless and hopeless.

Sisyphus knows he will labor with his boulder until the end of time. Each time he ascends the mountain, he struggles under the weight of the boulder.

Everything seems certain, his fate has been sealed, it is the penalty for his disobedience. He is being punished by the gods, and he blames them for his torment.

Nothing about Sisyphus’ situation screams happiness. What are we supposed to imagine that would somehow warrant imagining Sisyphus happy?

Why does Camus focus on this myth, on Sisyphus, when he could have presumably focused on some other character, some other tale?

(Check out my related article, Is Life Absurd? – Camus and Authenticity.)

At the end of the myth, Camus points out that we leave Sisyphus with his burden, his boulder. His punishment eternal, Sisyphus will perform the same task, again and again, forever. Why, then, is it imperative that we imagine Sisyphus happy?

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Camus

Perhaps it is imperative that we imagine Sisyphus happy because by doing so we affirm our own freedom to think, to control our attitude, our mindset. As I see it, we see in Sisyphus something of ourselves, and since we make this connection our own happiness depends on whether Sisyphus can be happy.

“Myths,” Camus claims, “are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.” Human beings are imaginative, creative beings, and when we breathe life into a myth, we make it meaningful in a way that is relevant to our time, our struggles, our situation. The myth provides some basic ingredients, as it were, and with them we create an entire meal.

“Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.”

Camus

Camus’ imagination is piqued by the very slight reprieve Sisyphus gets from his physical labor whenever he must walk back down the mountain to retrieve his boulder. Camus calls it a “breathing-space” and “the hour of consciousness.”

As Sisyphus makes his descent, he is free to reflect, to think. It is this opportunity to exercise consciousness, to reflect and think, that interests Camus.

Camus imagines Sisyphus reflecting on his life, on his circumstances, as he makes his way back to his rock. He reflects on himself, his situation, on his life, and his past. Camus imagines that Sisyphus’ perspective slowly changes over time.

At first, Sisyphus is likely upset, mad at himself, angry with the gods, and probably blames the gods for his punishment. With time, however, Sisyphus starts to slowly reinterpret things, to change his perspective. He begins to experiment with different explanations for his current situation and even starts to view things differently.

(See my related article, Understanding Our Relationship to Suffering)

Sisyphus tries out different meanings, different ways of making sense of his life, his predicament. In some interpretations, the gods bear the blame for his circumstances. In others, he is to blame because he defied the gods’ will.

Sisyphus begins to realize that he is responsible for his actions, for how things turned out. For Camus, it is self-reflection that makes Sisyphus’ transformation possible, because he begins to realize his power, his ability to create meaning and to determine how he interprets his life, his circumstances.

Thinking for Yourself

Sisyphus is free. He is free to think, to interpret his world as he sees fit. Sisyphus’ freedom of thought frees him from thinking of himself, his life, as one controlled by the gods.

(See my related article, Waiting – Kafka’s Parable Before the Law)

He is not a victim, he is not bound to an explanation, a perspective, that he does not accept and did not create. His life again (or perhaps for the first time) becomes his own.

We imagine that Sisyphus returns to his burden, his boulder, but he does so having transformed. Sisyphus’ mental state, his perspective, has changed, and with it his world has changed.

Sisyphus has taken control of his conscious life and accepted his fate as his own. Happiness is once again possible for him because he recognizes that the possible interpretations are inexhaustible.

We imagine Sisyphus happy because his conscious life is his own. We realize that this is true for us as well. We have control over the meanings and explanations we accept. We can affirm our freedom to think, to form our own perspective and live an authentic, happy life.

“I conclude that all is well,” … and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted.

Camus

Do you agree with Camus? Is a happy life an authentic life?

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Want to discover more? Check out these related articles and posts: The Most Important Question, What we can Learn Living Underground, Strength of Will – Nietzsche, Honesty, and Authenticity, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, Philosophy Teaches Us, Curiosity, Perplexity, and the Wisdom of Socrates, To Exist Beyond Good and Evil, The Eternal Recurrence, Authenticity and the Outsider, and Freedom & Responsibility.

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We hold ourselves back when we lack a specific, well-defined standard for evaluating success.

dobetterwithdan, goal, planning, clear goal

We often struggle to make progress toward our goals when we lack a clear way to evaluate our success. We leave ourselves too much room to make excuses and/or misrepresent the progress we have made when we are not specific about what we aim to achieve. We tell ourselves we are making progress to make ourselves feel better, even though we have failed to accomplish what we set out to do.

We hold ourselves back when we lack a specific, well-defined standard for evaluating success. We end up frustrated by our slow progress, and, ultimately, we abandon those projects that would improve our lives.

How, then, can we stop lying to ourselves and create clear goals?

(See my related article, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Simple Steps to Realize Your Goals)

How to Establish Clear Goals

Establishing a clear standard for evaluating your success will help you focus, make consistent progress, identify problem areas, and achieve your goal.

I recommend using a journal to write out your specific goal, your plan for making it happen, and your evaluation of your ongoing progress.

  • Establish your goal. What is your goal and what does success look like? Be specific and set a realistic goal. For instance, if you want to get in shape, your goal might be expressed in terms of a target weight or a set time commitment (1 year). If you want to write, your goal might be expressed in terms of a final project (a novel, a screenplay, or an article) and tentative deadline. It is important that your goal is attainable and that it is defined in a way that allows you to clearly measure your success.
  • Plan how you will achieve your goal. What actions can you take to reach your overall goal? When you plan, it is important that you specify individual achievements that are measurable, that are relevant for achieving your goal, and that hold you to specific time constraints. For example, if your goal is to get in shape, you can set up a weekly schedule that establishes specific time commitments and days on/days off. If your goal is to write a novel, you can establish daily and weekly/bi-weekly writing goals (1,000 words a day and one chapter every two weeks). It is crucial to make your plan realistic and attainable. Your early successes will help motivate you to aim higher as you develop a routine and make progress.
  • Evaluate your progress. Once you have a plan, you need to evaluate your ongoing progress. At the end of each day, write down what you have accomplished. Did you do what you set out to? If not, why not? Evaluating your ongoing progress will help you become more aware of what is holding you back. Honest self-assessment is key to self-development and self-improvement.

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Check out my related articles and posts: Kafka Before the Law, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights, Are You Distracted – How to Limit Smartphone Use, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, What is Strength of Will? – Nietzsche, Honesty, and Authenticity, Philosophy Teaches Us, Epicurus on Pleasure and Desire, and How to Change Your Thinking – Change Yourself.

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