Monday, August 9, 2010

Essay Writing Rules

I suppose I should apologize for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere (or, le blogesphere, as it is known in le francais). Despite all of my attempts to appear a man of leisure, work has caught up to me. I have thus found myself thinking about working on the paper that I'm supposed to produce. Sadly, I do not mean "produce" in the way a magician produces a rabbit from a hat - I meant more in the way that a construction worker "produces" a 20 foot hole in the ground (and a traffic jam, in case he's in New York City). One of the reasons this has taken so long is because I have very high quality standards for any paper I write. Perhaps you are acquainted with Strunk and White's Elements of Style, which offers a few key pointers to anyone holding the pen and paper. I've always found that while Elements of Style does very well pointing out the finer details, it isn't very useful when looking for inspiration; you need to actually have an idea of what you're going to write. For some of us, this is an issue*. I can't help with this, but I do have some advice to make your paper more engaging. In case you ever find yourself needing to produce a paper, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind.

1. Papers are much like stories. They should have a beginning, middle and end. And much like every good story, all good papers begin with "No shit, there we were..."

2. Proper formatting can add excitement to any paper. Stamp "TOP SECRET" across every page, preferably in blood (red ink will do in a pinch). On the cover page, explain that readers who do not have access to the paper will be eliminated. This will keep your reader on his toes.

3. Your paper will be impossible for any reader to put down if you can figure out how to print on fly paper. Good luck.

4. If the reader knows what comes next, why would he continue to read? Swap pages around, and make sure page numbers are misleading. A good paper has elements of a good puzzle.

5. Pictures are excellent means to keep your reader's attention fixed right where you want it - on your paper. Playboy magazine has known and used this trick for years.

6. Maps in the days of yore left blank pages at the end so that when you traveled off of the map, you could add in what you discovered. Always leave a few extra pages at the end of your paper, too. This will add bulk, and if a critic says that your paper is missing something, inform him that he should feel free to insert his additions in those pages.

7. Never insult your reader's intelligence by adding citations. Assume that your reader is well read, and knows exactly what you are referring to or whom you have quoted. Alternatively, make sure your reader is paying attention by creating and citing sources that don't exist. Not only does this test your readers, but it helps support claims you may be trying to make.

8. Your scholarly pursuits will be taken much more seriously if you have hostages. Threatening papers written in fonts cut out of magazines are always closely read. Furthermore, if done properly, these open the door for follow up papers. Care should be taken in selecting a hostage of value and making sure not to get caught by your audience, editors or police in the process.

9. Always be accommodating; if your paper will have multiple audiences who differ in opinions, include multiple conclusion sections. This will leave everyone happy. Refer to the "Create your Own Adventure" series for formatting ideas.

10. Poofread!

Anyway, I've really enjoyed working on this, but this has come at the expense of the paper I'm supposed to be writing. Hope these tips come in handy next time you find yourself in the same spot (metaphorically, to be clear) that I'm in!

*See Finding Forester, in which a brilliant author can't write until Sean Connery lets him copy his stuff. Fun fact: Spies and authors are normally trained in the same manner - being shown how Sean Connery does things, and then told to imitate that.


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