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How to Write an Essay - The Jordan Peterson Writing Template

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How to Write an Essay - The Jordan Peterson Writing Template
Learning how to write an essay is a very difficult task. In school, it's often not taught in any systematic way. Students are left to either find their way by intuition or flounder. To address this problem, Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at The University of Toronto, created a template for his students that takes them step by step through the detailed process of writing an essay.

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Jordan Peterson
"Thinking makes you act effectively in the world.  Thinking makes you win the battles you undertake...If you can think and speak and write you are absolutely deadly!  NOTHING can get in your way.  That's why you learn to write...It's the most powerful weapon you can possibly provide someone with."

Jordan Peterson

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The Levels of Resolution

An essay exists at multiple levels:

  • The choice of words
  • The formation of sentences
  • The arrangement of sentences in a paragraph
  • The arrangement of paragraphs in a logical progression, beginning to end
  • The essay as a whole

A good essay works at every one of those levels simultaneously.

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Step 1: Choose Topic, Read & Take Notes

Writing begins with these 3 steps:

  • Pick a topic: because your essay should answer a central question.
  • Make a reading list: You should aim to read 5-10 books before you write an essay. And plenty of online sources. 
  • Take Notes: of everything that catches your attention. 

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Step 2: Make an Outline

Step 2: Make an Outline

The outline is the skeleton of the essay and provides its structure. 

An essay that is 1,000 words requires a 10 sentence outline.  

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Jordan Peterson's Rules of Thumb for Note Taking

  • Take note of anything that catches your attention.  
  • Don't highlight or underline.  (That doesn't work.)  
  • Read a bit, then write down what you have learned or any questions that arise.  
  • Take about 2 to 3 times as many notes by word as you will need for your essay.  

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Step 3: Write Paragraphs

Write 10-15 sentences per outline heading to complete your paragraphs.  

Use your notes.  You can work back and forth between changing the outline and your sentences.

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Jordan Peterson's Rules of Thumb for Writing

  • Your first draft should be 25% longer than your final draft.  This will give you material to throw away during the editing process. 
  • Each paragraph in your final draft should be about 10 sentences or 100 words long.  If your paragraph is much shorter than this, that is a sign that your idea isn't substantial enough.  If your paragraph is much longer, it's a sign you have multiple ideas going and need to split them into separate paragraphs.

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Step 4: Edit Your Sentences

Working paragraph by paragraph, take each one of your sentences and write a better version of it. 

 Peterson advises you place each sentence on its own line and write the revised version underneath.

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Jordan Peterson's Editing Advice

  • Make your sentences shorter, eliminating all unnecessary words.  U should cut each sentence by 15-25%.
  • Make sure each word is precisely the right word to express your meaning.  Don't use vocabulary you haven't fully mastered.
  • Read each sentence aloud and listen to how it sounds.  If it sounds awkward, try saying it a different way, then write that down.
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    Steps 5&6: Reorder Sentences & Paragraphs

    Within each paragraph, see if your sentences are in the best possible order.  Get rid of any sentences that are no longer necessary.  

    Same for paragraphs:  They should help the essay flow in the best, most logical progression. Move the corresponding paragraphs until they are in the most appropriate order.

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    Step 7: Make a NEW Outline

    Step 7: Make a NEW Outline

    After finishing your first draft:  write a NEW outline of 10-15 sentences.  DON'T LOOK BACK AT YOUR ESSAY WHILE YOU DO THIS!!! 

    The purpose of this step is to force yourself to reconstruct your argument from memory.  Generally, when you remember something, you simplify it and retain only what is most important.  Doing this, you will remove what is useless and keep what is vital.

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    Step 8,9&10: Repeat Editing & Add References & Format

    To continue improving your essay, you can repeat the process of re-writing and re-ordering your sentences, re-ordering your paragraphs, and re-outlining. Add references, links, biography. 

    Then format it: 12pt font, tabbed idents. 

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    Jordan Peterson Writing Template

    Jordan Peterson Writing Template
    Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at The University of Toronto, created a template for his students that takes them step by step through the detailed process of writing an essay.  

    For Peterson, writing is not just a matter of fulfilling an assignment; it is a skill with deeply existential consequences.  

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    The first draft

    The first words you write are the first draft. Writing is thinking. You'll rarely know what exactly you want to say when you start writing.

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    Common errors

    Most writing mistakes are widespread, but good writers just get better at spotting them. Some things you'll learn to watch for are:

    • Overuse of jargon and business-speak, like "utilize" or "endeavor" instead of "use" or "try."
    • Clichés are stale phrases that have lost their impact and novelty through overuse. If you are used to seeing it in print, don't use it.
    • The passive voice. The subject of the sentence should be the person or thing taking action, not the thing being acted on. "Harry wrote this article," is better than "This article was written by Harry."
    • Rambling. When you are not sure what you want to say, it is easy to phrase it in three or four different ways. A single concise sentence is generally better.

    Give it some space

    When you write something, you get very close to it. It is nearly impossible to distance yourself from it straight away to edit properly.

    The longer you can leave a draft before editing, the better. Half an hour to two days is enough of a break to edit well. When you do edit, read your work out loud. You'll catch more problems and get a better feel for how everything flows.

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    Components of a good essay

    Many people think a good essay is persuasive. But more importantly, an essay should be useful.
    There are four parts to a good essay:

    • correctness
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    Correctness

    An essay should be correct. However, to be correct is not enough if it is vague. 

    Don't publish anything unless you're sure it's worth hearing. Write the first draft of an essay quickly, trying out all sorts of ideas. Then rewrite it very carefully, being sure to sift out anything that you're not sure of, or that is not true. Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be without overstating it.

    Strength

    Strength comes from two things: thinking well, and the skillful use of qualification.

    Qualifications can express many things: how broadly something applies, how you know it, how happy you are it's so, even how it could be falsified. As you try to refine the expression of an idea, adjust the qualification accordingly. The more you refine an idea, the less you'll need to qualify it. However, don't underestimate qualification. Learn to use its full range.

    Writing with good formatting ≠ good writing.

    Writing with good formatting ≠ good writing.

    Formatting with paragraphs, an introduction and a conclusion is not the central component of good writing.

    The underlying purpose behind writing is to communicate information and is co...

    Mind mapping: A tool for all writers

    Mind Mapping is a tool to support writing processes. It provides a space for negotiating the tension between form and formlessness—the negotiation that is at the heart of the creative process.