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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Problem Solving

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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."
  • 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.  

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. 

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.

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.  

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.  

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.

  • 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.

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. 

  • 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.
  • 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.

    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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    RELATED IDEAS

    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.

    The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second draft, and then into a third. If you keep refining it over days or weeks or even years, it eventually becomes something great.

    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
    • strength
    • importance
    • novelty
    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 composed fundamentally of ideas.

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