WRITING GUIDE FOR UIT2206 The Importance of Being Formal
Prof Henz has recently assigned his students an essay for his module of formal reasoning and symbolic logic. Siang Lin and I have sat down with Prof Henz (who has also contributed to and vetted this Guideline Sheet) and here is what you need to know:
PROF MARTIN HENZ
The students are being asked to submit an essay of around 2500-3000 words (10-15 pages)
AUDIENCE The essay is not written for General Readers, as in WCT, but for other students of formal reasoning and symbolic logic. Students will not, then, be expected to define, explain or provide reader orientation for the analytical tools employed, but will have to provide reader orientation to the TOPIC that they choose to investigate, which is completely open and up to them.
TOPIC and SCOPE Topics that Prof Henz have approved so far for the essays include "Magic Tricks" (and the devising of a formal logic equations that helps to codify or explain the tricks) and (the inability of formal logic equations to satisfactory capture or explain) "Everyday Life." As you can see, the "scope" here can be magnitudes larger than what would be considered appropriate in a WCT module, because the students are not being asked to do a close reading textual analysis per se, so please refrain from the tendency to try to force these non-WCT type essays into WCT type essays. Rather, what Prof Henz would most like you to focus on is helping his students with the issues of:
Below, for further guidance, are some of the instructions that Prof Henz has provided in writing to his students:
- CLARITY: Even though we realize that you will not be able to judge the quality of the formal logic equations being used, all of the paper's discussion around the topic ("magic tricks", etc) should be clearly understandable to any reader of the paper, so do help the student with sentence level issues (e.g., suggesting and giving them a handout of the Paramedic Method if necessary), paragraph formation, conciseness, etc.
- STRUCTURE and ORGANIZATION: Again, the same rules apply here as in WCT essays. Has the reader been given all the information needed at each point of the essay? Does the essay evince a clear, logical flow or are there leaps in logic and missing transitions? Are whole sections repetitive or unclear? Does the reader "know where they are" in the argument at all times? Are the Introductions and Conclusions effective (and might the student benefit from one of our online Handouts about same)?
- ARGUMENTATIVE RIGOR: Again, check for all of the things that you would check for in any university-level essay, e.g. rhetorical fallacies, overgeneralizations, straw man arguments, claims that are merely asserted, rather than persuasively argued, to be so, etc.
- ORIGINALITY: The objective of the assignment is to see how well students can come up with their own equations of formal reasoning to model, explain or address a phenomenon that they have not seen so addressed in class. Thus, although the "thesis" of these papers will not much resemble the WCT close reading of a set of claims type of theses, Prof Henz has stressed that he still wants to see originality in the student's choice of phenomenon, and that their application of formal models to it should be surprising in some way (e.g., in what conclusions that it reaches, in the fact that such things can be successfully formally modeled at all, etc). In this regard, you should do what you do with WCT students and make sure that the students know that they must explicitly show or state in their papers, exactly how, why or in what way this application of formal logic is original and value-adding.
- CITATIONS: Cite your sources in-text, by referring to a list of
references. The in-text citations as well as the references at the
end of the paper should be formatted following the MLA guidelines,
guidelines published by the Purdue Online Writing Lab.
- Pick a field of your choice and investigate the use of formal methods in this field. Are such methods currently used? If not, why not? If yes, how? How do formal methods contribute in this field?
- If you talk about formal methods in a discipline, or a proposed novel formal methods approach to a discipline, be as concrete as possible.
- Formulate a thesis and work towards backing it up systematically in your essay. Provide orientation to the reader by telling her how the current argument fits into the bigger picture. It may go on a tangent, or into a minor battle field. In that case, tell the reader.
- At all times, keep the reader in mind. Will he follow your argument? What may be her objections?
- Do not be afraid of using formulas even if we need to revise their details later. Illustrate your formal approach with examples. The formal content and diagrams should flow nicely with the text. Large formulas or formal expositions should go in an appendix, which is not part of the number of words given above.
- Use the terminology of the class: form/content, syntax, semantics, models, operations, deduction (if needed), self-application, etc.
- Critically examine your sources. What type of argument are you making? Are you using the right mental tools for your argument?
- Do you want to let the reader partake in these deliberations? [ie, Do you want to bring up these 'meta'-analyses of your analysis and its claims in your essay?] There may be good reasons for doing so, and there may be good reasons for not doing so.
- Of course, quote your sources properly. Material taken verbatim from elsewhere should be indicated as such. Do not be afraid to do so.
- Sometimes it's best to directly cite the source. Always use quotation marks in these cases. Watch for self-plagiarism: Do not submit anything that you have written for a different module, unless you clearly indicate so. The same will hold for this essay. In the future, you should quote yourself properly when you take parts verbatim, and in any case clearly indicate the source.
- I'm flexible regarding the size of your essay. To give you an idea of the volume, it may end up with around 2500 to 3000 words. If it is shorter or longer, the quality of your work must justify the format and amount you have chosen.
- I recommend two visits to the writing centre. The first one should happen soon and definitely before submission of the draft. For the first visit, complete your proposal such that your current ideas are reflected, and prepare an outline. Try to sketch an introduction and a conclusion, and try to flesh out a central argument. I will give you feedback after your draft submission. You should make use of the writing centre once more, in order to revise and fine-tune your essay.