Sin Boldly! Dr. Dave's Guide to Writing the College Paper

By David R. Williams | Go to book overview

8
How to Lose Your Case

Unfortunately for you, it is easier to be critical than to be constructive. It is easier to point out mistakes than to explain how to get it right in the first place. Perhaps this is because human history is a rubble pile of mistakes waiting to be repeated, and the right answers are still a promised land somewhere over the rainbow. Whatever the reason, mistakes are easily identified and labeled. You therefore need to be able to recognize some of the most familiar logical fallacies so that you can get to them and correct them before I do.


Circular Reasoning

Circular reasoning is so prevalent that it even has its own marginal notation (mine is an arrow shaped like a circle). Indeed, its popularity is such that I feel impelled to say something about it: Don't do it!

In case you don't recognize this problem, it is the tendency to explain something by the thing explained. I have had students write on papers that "People like beef because it tastes good." This is circular. Saying they like it and saying that it tastes good are simply two ways of saying the same thing. Thus, the steak's tasting good is not the cause of liking it. In my Early American Lit class, every year someone writes that Emerson was a romantic because he lived in a romantic era. Yes, and it was a "romantic era" because romantics like Emerson lived in it. Which came first, the era or the writers in it? This too is circular reasoning.

-91-

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Sin Boldly! Dr. Dave's Guide to Writing the College Paper
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Appreciation iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction What It's All About xi
  • 1 - Some Really Crude Basics 1
  • 2 - Choosing a Topic and Telling Your Story 9
  • 3 - In the Beginning . . . Pulling Your Creation out of the Void 25
  • 4 - Choosing a Voice 35
  • 5 - Plain-Style American Populism 49
  • 6 - Choosing Words 61
  • 7 - Arguing Your Case 77
  • 8 - How to Lose Your Case 91
  • 9 - For Instance: Two Examples 101
  • 10 - Literary Games 115
  • 11 - The Social Sciences 141
  • 12 - Grammatical Horrors 155
  • 13 - Some Common Stupid Mistakes 163
  • 14 - Punct'Uation!?! 177
  • 15 - Citing Sources Successfully 187
  • 16 - A Sample Quiz- Just for Fun! 195
  • 17 - Concluding Sermon 199
  • The Author's Rap Sheet 202
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