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SOME RULES OF THUMB FOR WRITING PAPERS Josh Cohen, MIT Here are a few suggestions about writing papers. Please read through them before you write the first paper. 1. State the main thesis of your paper at (or near) the beginning: say, in the first paragraph. It is not bad to say something like: "I will argue that . ..." If you do not have a thesis, get one. 2. Stay focused. Your papers should critically assess some important aspect of one of the theories we have been discussing: the thesis of your paper, stated near the beginning (see point 1 above) will say what that aspect is. Before you get to the evaluation you will need to describe the relevant aspect(s) of the theory you are assessing. But do not try to provide a comprehensive overview of the theory. Instead, guide your presentation by the particular problems that animate your paper. For example, if you are writing on John Rawls’s “difference principle,” you should not first try to sketch his theory of the original position and the argument for the principle within the original position. Confine yourself to the aspects of Rawls’s view that are of immediate relevance to his account of fair distribution. Anything else will be a distraction (and in the short space available, will be done badly). 3. Do not lead with (or conclude with, or otherwise include) sweeping generalities: "Rawls's theory of justice is the most important recent contribution to the perennial human search for the ideal society." "Since Plato, philosophers
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  • Spring '03
  • EricaJames
  • John Rawls, original position, A Theory of Justice, perennial human search, important recent contribution

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