General Writing Tips

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					                                         History of Medicine 558
                             Ethical Issues Raised by Biomedical Technology
                                        General Paper Writing Tips:

1.   Goal: an ethics paper consists of a reasoned defense of some ethical claim or position (see (2)
     below). This means that by the final draft, you need to be clear on the claim or position you want to
     defend, and you should also be clear on the reasons or arguments you are going to present in
     defense of that claim or position. If it is not clear what position you are arguing for, or if it is not
     clear what your argument is, your paper will suffer.

2.   Thesis: you must have a thesis. Your thesis is whatever ethical claim or position you are trying to
     argue for or defend, and ideally, should use language that clearly relates to the paper topic (e.g., I
     think that Thomson’s analysis of Hill’s decision is most compelling.) It helps to have some idea as
     to what your thesis is going to be before you start writing your paper, but it will often be modified
     or qualified as you go through the writing process.

3.   Structure: your paper should have an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.
     1.    Introduction: The introduction should be short and concise, and it should indicate to your
           reader what it is that you are going to try to accomplish in your paper. In other words, you
           should state your thesis in your introduction. The simplest way to write an introduction is to
           say something like the following: “In this paper I will argue that thesis T is true. The paper
           proceeds as follows. First, I will do P. Then I will do Q. Having done P and Q, I will then
           present my argument for thesis T. Finally, I will consider some objections to thesis T, and I
           will argue that none of them should force us to reject thesis T.” You should not begin your
           introduction as follows: “From the dawn of time, humankind has worried about thesis T.
           From Plato to Shakespeare, people have asked the eternal question, what is the nature of T?
           Bedouins in their tents on the Sahara and Inuit in their igloos on the frozen tundra have all
           worried about T. Etc., etc.” First of all, it’s unlikely to be true. And second, nobody cares
           whether it’s true.
     2     Main Body: The main body should consist of your reasoned defense of your thesis. This
           defense will often (but not always) consist of laying out the various possible positions one
           can take on an issue and an argument for why one position is the correct one, and defending
           your argument against objections..
     3     Conclusion: your conclusion should sum up what you’ve tried to accomplish in the main
           body of the paper. The simplest way to write a conclusion is to say something like the
           following: “In this paper I have argued that thesis T is true. First, I did P. Then I did Q.
           Finally, I presented an argument for thesis T and considered some objections to thesis T. My
           conclusion is that none of the objections to thesis T should force us to reject it.”

My advice? Say what you’re going to do; do it; and then say what you did. This is somewhat boring, but
it’s very effective.

4.   References: you must provide references for any quotations you cite in the body of your paper. The
     easiest way to do this is to put the author’s name, the article or book title (article titles in quotation
     marks, book titles underlined or italicized), and the page number(s), in that order, either in
     parentheses immediately after the quotation or in a footnote. For example: Judith Thomson argues
     that when rights are not at issue, “no one is morally required to make large sacrifices … in order to
     keep another person alive .” (Judith Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” 91)

     Why is this important? For two reasons. First, because your reader might want to check on the
     quotation, either because she disbelieves it (did Thomson really say that?), or because she might
     want to read more of the article or book from which the quotation came (Thomson said that?
     Interesting; I wonder what else he says on this topic). And second, because if you do not provide a
     reference, you risk representing another person’s ideas as your own. That’s plagiarism, and
     plagiarism is a serious academic no-no.

5.   Style: I cannot tell you how you should write; part of the goal of a university education is to
     develop your own style of writing. However, writing a philosophy paper is importantly different
     from writing a history paper, or an English paper. The essence of good philosophical writing is
     clarity, focus, and attention to relevant details. You do not want to spend lots of time on irrelevant
     details, and you want to get to the point as quickly as possible. Always avoid jargon and try as hard
     as you can to use your own words to say what it is that you want to say. If you need to introduce
     some technical terminology, be sure to carefully explain what the terminology means. In general,
     you do yourself more harm than good by using fancy terminology; most of the time, everything you
     want to say can be said with ordinary English.

6.   Your Reader: Your section leader will be your reader, so you need to write your paper with that
     person in mind. Who is that person? It is safest to think of that person as somebody who is lazy,
     stupid, and mean. Lazy in that he or she will not spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is
     that you are trying to say. Stupid in that he or she won’t understand what you are trying to say if it
     is not clearly said. And mean in that if you say something that can be interpreted in several different
     ways, he or she will always opt for the less charitable interpretation or reading.

7.   Proof Reading: you should always proofread your papers before handing them in. To proof-read
     effectively, you should be on the lookout for spelling or grammatical mistakes, for passages that are
     susceptible to multiple interpretations, for confusing words or expressions, for missing words, for
     correct references, and so on. It is often a good idea to have somebody else look at your paper. If
     they get confused or have questions, then chances are that I will too. A good rule of thumb is the
     following: after having proofread your paper, ask yourself two questions: What am I trying to
     accomplish in this paper? And how am I proposing to accomplish it? If it is not clear to you what
     the answers to these questions are, then you probably need to revise or rewrite some or all of your

8.   Scope: you are not expected to definitively solve the ethical issues you are presented with for the
     paper topics in a four to five-page paper, nor should you try. What you will be expected to do is to
     clearly lay out your view and provide some reasons for thinking that your view, as opposed to the
     other, competing views, is true. Be clear, show awareness of competing views and the material in
     the lectures and readings, and provide a plausible argument for you view.

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