Pietro’s writing guide

Posted Nobember 15, 2012
This page is a short writing guide for my students. Please make sure you read it carefully! I am also creating several other guides to research strategies, referencing, software, and presentations.

The basic idea:
In my courses I am introducing you to conversations. These conversations are carried out in national and international media, and in peer-reviewed journals. Your job is to research a particular issue, and then connect the details of one or two very specific cases with the more general conversation about that topic. Example: Filipina maids in Hong Kong (specific case) and the feminization of migrant labor (general conversation). Your thesis–your argument–should be a comment on that conversation.

Default structure: the thesis essay
The default paper format I expect is a thesis essay. It normally includes seven parts:
1. The title, which indicates the argument and topic of the paper.
2. The thesis paragraph, which starts with the thesis statement, and then introduces the topic and some details of the case.
3-5. Three supporting sections, which build your argument through detailed explanation of your case, and comments on the related literature.
6. A conclusion, where you restate your argument, but enrich it with the detail you have just given in your supporting sections.
7. A bibliography.
If your particular thesis or subject-matter requires you to deviate from this format, that is fine. I like variety! But it is worth knowing what the default is, before deviating from it.

Style of writing: persuasion
Above all else, you are trying to persuade your reader. So essays are arguments. The argument should be written like a story.
Storytelling is a moderately formal style. Avoid idioms that only appear in speech (or written dialogue). Informal writing, dude, is like the worst thing to weaken your argument, you know?

Correct these grammatical errors:
Grammar-errors distract the reader (me) from focusing on your argument. You don’t want that, because I am giving you your grade. Main things to look for:

  • Run-on sentences. Break them up. American academic writing is different from other styles; you should be very blunt, very direct.
  • Know the difference between affect and effect. This is a very common error, because the verb form of affect is related to the noun form of effect.
    affect (v.): to alter, to cause a change. “This policy will affect minorities.”
    effect (n.): a changed condition, an impact. “This policy will have a strong effect on minorities.”
    Sadly, both of these words have other meanings that cause confusion. As a noun, affect means facial/body expression; such as: “The traumatized man had no affect; I could not read his emotions at all.”
    The verb form of effect means to implement. So you can “effect a plan,” but that is a rare usage. Please just write “implement a plan” instead.

    Pietro’s recommended usages verb noun
    affect to alter, to impact
    (USE THIS)
    facial expression
    (DO NOT USE)
    effect to implement
    (DO NOT USE)
    a change, an impact
    (USE THIS)
  • Apostrophes. DO NOT USE THEM TO MARK PLURALS. Again, there is some confusion. Apostrophe-S indicates possession. You are reading Pietro’s webpage. Apostrophes also mark contractions, like don’t or can’t or 1980’s. But “natural disaster’s and urban policy” DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Disaster does not own the word “and.”

Normally, teachers sound like grumpy old farts when we talk about grammar. Fine. But you need to know why it matters. You need to write with persuasive force, especially if you are my student! You know what is at stake: we need better urban policy, and we all need to write as persuasively as possible to make that happen.