Skeleton outline for a short student paper

This is a work-in-progress. I will update and add to it.

This skeleton outline assumes you (the student) have been asked to write a paper of roughly 2-5 double-spaced pages. It also assumes you are responding to a prompt.

Introductory paragraph — This tells us why the topic is interesting, then gives your thesis statement. Your thesis statement is your point. It’s the thing you want a reader to remember once they’ve forgotten the rest of what you wrote. It should respond directly to the prompt.

Definitions paragraph — This is for defining and explaining any terms on which your point is based. For example, you may have been asked to say whether some real thing in politics conforms to a definition. How can you do that without giving the definition? Also, if you put effort into this paragraph, the rest of the paper will be much easier to write.

Your professor may rely heavily (but not only) on this paragraph to judge how much you learned… and how efficiently you read.

Body paragraphs — As many as are necessary. Your argument contains more than one idea, and you may be working with more than one definition. Consider writing one paragraph per idea/definition.

Conclusion — Restate your argument, and remind the reader of the logic/evidence that supported it.

If you want, you may conclude with a brief ‘meta’ comment on the prompt or the concepts it asked you to use. This is where you put the point that wasn’t relevant to the answer to the prompt, but that you really wanted to make anyway.

Tips for getting started on papers

1. Start a blank Note (iPhone), Google Doc, or whatever. Call it whatever you plan to title your paper — for now. Put ideas here as they come to you.

2. Put the readings/lectures aside, think for a few minutes, and say your honest answer to the prompt. Write it in the blank document.

3. The blank document should sync across your devices. That means you can add to it whenever. You also can delete, re-word, and move text around.

4. When you are ready to write your paper, you can sit down at a computer and work from the document. You might even write the paper on the phone, but that makes citing sources more tedious.

Addition of October 25, 2023: Now that you have gotten started on your paper, please see this post on how to structure it.

Thoughts on ballpoint pens

I recently switched to (mostly) paper-based grading in one of my courses. This has me thinking about pens.

Above (top to bottom) are a: Fisher Space Pen (USA, ca. 2017, medium, black); Parker Jotter (USA, ca. 1999, medium, blue); and Zebra F-301 (Indonesia, ca. 2018, fine, blue). I will comment on each.

The Parker ties with the Zebra for balance, but the Parker is heavier. Its click is also more satisfying. The Space Pen not balanced, but its click has interesting bounce.

I enjoyed grading with the Parker very much. Its medium point is between the Zebra’s fine and Space Pen’s medium. This was good for writing on the papers. But it also seems to do best on copy paper — and does not perform like Space Pen in non-ideal weather (for obvious reasons).

The Parker also clipped nicely to my jeans — kind of like a tactical pocketknife. Zebra also can do this, but it doesn’t have the heft to stay put. It also has a tendency to get clicked open. Fisher will stay clipped to anything, but it is hard to clip because that clip has little give.

For the shirt pocket, I like Zebra most. It’s so light! Fisher is not fun in the pocket because it’s hard to clip. Parker also is good in the shirt.

I also used a Fisher bullet format for several years (USA, ca. 1993, medium, black). It is a great pen to keep in a coat or pants pocket. It just sits there mostly unnoticed and has a cap that seals well.

Overall, the Zebra is a lightweight, inexpensive, and enjoyable pen. I like it for flying.

The Parker is best for grading. The Zebra probably is next. The Parker will remain my go-to. I will stick to my plan for the Fisher, which is “summer pen.”