The Study Dude – How to Write Like a Philosopher

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to start your writing with a clincher and end with a bang.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

The book The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities by Eric Hayot teaches you how to write with the sophistication of a philosopher, or, more generally, a humanities major.

Structure Paragraphs and Papers with Hayot’s Uneven U
Once, in undergraduate studies, I wrote a brilliant commentary on a news program, so brilliant that the instructor requested to read it out loud to his classes. He assigned me an A-, so my terms for him reading it involved upping my grade to a solid A. He declined my request and read two dull papers as a substitute. The reason why I didn’t receive an A had everything to do with my conclusion. I wrapped up an otherwise brilliant essay with a silly, incomplete conclusion.

I needed the magic elixir for writing a compelling conclusion. In all of my time as an undergraduate and then a graduate student, writing a compelling conclusion seemed a perplexing proposition. If the conclusion doesn’t add anything new, it seemed only common sense that a conclusion should rehash or summarize what went before. Thus, drafting conclusions seemed a banal process.

Yet, Eric Hayot illuminates how writing the conclusion of anything from a paper to a book to a paragraph can make something new and exciting. In fact, ending with a highlight is the aim of a good conclusion. Here’s Hayot’s advice for concluding your paragraph or essay:

– In general, what is termed a level 5 sentence is the most theoretical of all the levels, often including a solution. A level 4 sentence is the next most theoretical, after the five, and often contains a problem. The level of theory, or abstraction, lessens down the numbers until you get to level 1, which is raw data. Level 2 is descriptive while level three is a summary that often includes an example.
– On a structural level, a paragraph should start with a level 4 sentence, which presents a problem in an abstract matter. After the level 4, the paragraph should work toward a level 1 sentence in the middle, including raw data. Finally, the paragraph sentences should climb upward until they end with a bang: a level 5 abstract or theoretical solution. This high to low back up to high forms a lopsided “U”.
– By opening with a level 4 theoretical or abstract problem, you can move toward closing with a level 5 theoretical solution, thereby creating surprise and novel information in the final sentence of each paragraph or component. In short, the paragraph opens with a problem and by the end of the paragraph, closes with a solution. Surprise!
– When structuring not only your paragraphs, but entire sections or the entire book, structure it so that you start with a level 4 component (theoretical, presenting a problem) and work your way down to a level one (raw data) and then back up to level 5 (theoretical, presenting the solution). For example, the chapters in a section would start with a level 4 chapter, work downward to a level 1 chapter, and then conclude with a level 5 chapter.
– With a book, make each chapter form the lopsided “U” (level 4 on down to level 1 up to level 5). Within each chapter, even the subsequent paragraphs should form a “U”.

Three Transitions that Will Make Your Paper Flow
Transitions. How do we master these structural necessities without them becoming redundant or sounding forced?

In a past Study Dude article, Joshua Schimel suggested that we take a keyword from the last part of the sentence and begin the next sentence with a synonym for that word. He also entertained other ideas for creating continuity, but this idea seemed quite intriguing for someone never before overtly exposed to that strategy.

When I was in graduate studies, a co-worker at an academic society advised me to add more transitions to my writing. Her suggestion was to include the common transitional words, such as “therefore”, “thus”, “consequently”, and so forth. This suggestion seemed to miss the point of transitions: transitions need to be varied and interesting onto themselves. There needed to be a way to include transitions that didn’t draw from a conjunctive adverb at every paragraph start.

Eric Hayot provides three suggestions for structuring your writing with a variety of transitions:
– One way to include transition is to use transitional words, such as “for example”, “in other words”, “in summation” and so forth. Punctuation marks such as the paragraph return, a semicolon, colon, or comma can also serve as transitional points.
– Another transitional structure is the x/y format, where x/y is a sentence. The x can refer to the material that came before the x/y sentence. They y alludes to what is coming next. The x typically can be a subordinate clause that rehashes something already discussed to lead nicely into the next y territory.
– Words like “now”, “here”, “there”, “then” and so forth are called deictic markers and they fix the reader into a location or time in the text. In other words, they can ground the reader in the context of the matter by giving some sort of locality or temporality.
– The last transitional method Hayot discusses involves what are called lexical transitions. These transitions take keywords from the last paragraph (often from the last sentence) and use synonyms, antonyms, or cognates of the word in the next paragraph to create a kind of continuity. Just to be clear, a cognate word is a word similar in quality to another.
– Hayot even goes so far as to say that you can use words that sound similar or even rhyme or that have similar prefixes or suffixes to create a sense of continuity. This is a bit of a reach, but it can make your writing even more cryptic and rhetorically interesting.

The Components of Your Research
When I began writing my thesis in Communications, I felt overwhelmed with uncertainty.
With what depth did I need to research the subject matter? What knowledge base of theory or methodology should I possess? Would my present knowledge ever be sufficient for the task at hand?

Having bypassed the honours course on suggestion of a professor, I found myself in the dark for what level of background was required of a master’s thesis. I focused instead on various keywords in my paper, weak ones, as it turns out, and researched the dickens out of them. I also read up on the methodology I learned, but the methodological learning curve seemed endless. Many facets that I could have, and should have, researched went by the wayside.

Eric Hayot knows exactly the breadth of knowledge needed for writing a publishable paper. His exploration of what is needed to make a solid thesis or article will surprise you:
– You will need to explore archival documents such as historical records.
– You will need to study the critical perspectives on the topics that you are about to discuss.
– You will need to delve into theoretical perspectives on the topic that you are about to discuss. You may even explore the theoretical development of the theories that underlie your topic of study.
– You’ll need to know the biographies of major figures you discuss in your book as well as histories of events.
– You’ll need to know what schools the authors of major works you cite come from. You will need to know some depth of history and biography on these authors. For instance, you’ll want to explore the biographical background and school allegiance of your most cited theorists.
– You will need to know the genre and language?background?of books or objects you study (say as primary sources). For instance, if you study something in a foreign language, you will need to know how to read some of the language and how to interpret the cultural nuances. In another instance, if you use poetry books as a primary resource, you will need to know something about the historical evolution of poetry along with contemporary poetry criticism and the structures of poems.
– While you need to know all of the above (the iceberg, metaphorically speaking) to get the insight necessary for an effective thesis or publication, you only show the tip of your iceberg in your actual writing.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Hayot, Eric. 2014. The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. NY, New York: Columbia University Press.

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