“I” is Okay

Today’s post comes from Dr. Adam Kadlac, Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy

One of the most frequent questions I get from students about their writing assignments is: “Can we use the first person?”

Perhaps writing in my discipline is more conversational than other disciplines, but an overly impersonal style (of the sort that seems to be encouraged by many high school teachers) is hard to find even in the most technical works of academic philosophy.  For example, all four of the philosophy books I have on my desk reveal uses of the first person within the first couple of pages, and none of these works are intended for a popular audience.  Obviously, such evidence is far from scientific.  But I think it is fairly representative of how philosophers go about their work.

However, permission to use the first person in philosophy comes with a caveat.  Stylistically, philosophers may be happy to employ “I.”  But we are distinctly uninterested in confessional reports about other people’s thoughts and feelings (especially others’ feelings).  We are, after all, writing philosophy, not our memoirs.

So what’s the difference between good and bad uses of the first person?  Bad uses will stop with the first personal report.  They will take the sharing of the author’s thoughts and feelings as the point of the essay.  Alternatively, good uses of the first person will regard the author’s thoughts and feelings as provisional–as a starting point for a discussion of the reasons why those thoughts and feelings might be justified.  And it is those reasons that most interest us as philosophers.  We want to know whether the thoughts and feelings we have are the thoughts and feelings we have are good thoughts and feelings–whether the thoughts and feelings we have are the thoughts and feelings that we shouldhave.

So, yes.  You can use the first person.  Talk about what you think, believe, and what you are going to try to show in your papers.  Just be sure that the substance of your papers focuses on the reasons why those are good things to believe.

Tuesday’s Tip: The Writing Process

writing process1Author Hannah Richell once described her writing process as reading a lot, writing a lot, and deleting a lot.

What is your writing process? Do you jump right into the middle, or do you focus on the first few lines before moving on?

If you’re not sure how you best approach the writing process, it might be helpful to find a process that works best for you.

The National Council of Teachers of English have a great resource on the website to help you do just that!


From the Archives: Avoiding Techno Distraction

Picture1We’ve all been there. Putting off an assignment, thinking we have all the time in the world. And then when we finally sit down to write a paper, obviously at the last minute, we can’t get away from all the techno distractions!

From Facebook and youtube, Twitter to Instagram, distractions are everywhere. So what’s a Deacon to do? In a recent presentation to Johnson Hall, Writing Center Director Ryan Shirey shared some great strategies for avoiding technology distraction while you work.

Rescue Time runs in the background on your computer and tracks the time you spend on various things to help give you accurate picture of what exactly you’re doing online while you should be writing.

StayFocused and LeechBlock can help limit your possible distractions by selectively blocking your favorite time-such websites for set periods of time.

Have you found ways to limit distraction while you’re working? Share with us on our Facebook page.

Did you know that you can read past Active Voice posts on our archives? This is a great resource for information about the Writing Center in addition to tips and tricks, faculty profiles, and more!

…And What to do After Your Appointment

writersblockYesterday we shared a few tips for making the most of your Writing Center appointment. Now here are a few tips for what do to do once those 50 minutes are over.

  • Schedule follow-up appointment. If you think you still need more help on your paper, make sure to set up another appointment for later in the week or the following week. It might be helpful to meet with the same tutor. Remember, you can have two scheduled appointments and one walk-in appointment per week.
  • Use what you learned. So you came in having trouble with commas, but after going over a paragraph with the tutor you have a much better sense of them now. Great! Now take that information and apply it to the rest of your paper. Take the information your tutor shared with you and use it to continue to improve your writing.
  • Be confident! You got this! Your Writing Center tutor hopefully shared some great feedback, tips, ideas, etc. and now you are ready to continue to write and revise and turn in a great paper!

Need help making an appointment?

Making the Most of Your Appointment

Picture1Hope you had a great spring break! But now it’s back to the grind. We typically see an increase in appointments after spring break as students buckle down and prepare for those final papers and projects of the semester.

Interested in coming to the Writing Center? Here’s a few things you can do to make the most of your 50-minute appointment.

  • Schedule early! We can fill up fast, so if you know you have a deadline coming up, making an appointment sooner than later will ensure you get a spot.
  • Bring your assignment drafts at any stage. It will help the tutor if he or she can read the assignment prompt, especially if you have questions about it. And don’t worry if you haven’t written much. Tutors can help you at any stage of the process.
  • Consider bringing feedback from other assignments. This might help you and the tutor better understand your writing and the areas you tend to need more help with.
  • Talk to professors before appointment. If you have questions about what your professor is asking for in the assignment, ask them before coming to your appointment. Your tutor won’t be able to answer these questions – only your professor can.
  • Come with goals. Come with an understanding of what you want to talk about and what areas you want to work on. That will help the tutor help with more specific areas of your paper.

Need help making an appointment?

Tuesday’s Tip: Where To Start Writing

Workplace, laptop and notepad on wooden table

Last semester, we featured Professor Zak Lancaster. We found a great piece of advice that never got shared from his interview, so we thought we’d publish that for you today!

Do you have any advice for a student who finds it hard to start writing?
Yes, I have an abstract piece of advice and several concrete, specific things. My abstract advice is to find a way to get engaged with the topic you’re writing about. We often find it hard to get started writing if we don’t really care about our argument or our subject matter or if we see it as a chore that someone has made us do. Try not to view it this way. There is also the reverse problem of caring too much, of over-thinking things to the point that we can’t figure out how to get all our complex thoughts in an order that would allow us to start typing sentences. With this problem, I find it helpful to find a friend and talk through my ideas. Or go to the Writing Center! The first problem could also be cured with a healthy dose of talk about our writing.

Here are some concrete things for getting past some kinds of writer’s block:
– sit down and just starting listing out your points, even if they’re just scraps of phrases. Get your thoughts down.
– write out your lists longhand rather than typing.
– work in a plain text file rather than a Word file, which often has a lot of distracting formatting things to contend with.
– if you’re scared of the blank screen, write an email to yourself with a few paragraphs of your paper. Then cut and paste later.
– tape a piece of paper on your screen (cover up your monitor) and just start typing.
– find a software program that blocks you from the internet. There’s one called “Freedom” that’s very helpful. You can set it for whatever time period of “freedom” from the internet that you want: 20 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, etc. I would not have been able to write my dissertation without this program.
– It is not true that writing in perfectly quiet places is best for everyone. You might try writing in a coffee shop where there’s some background noise. I have worked in hotel lobbies. Whether you need total silence depends on you and probably the stage of writing you’re in, whether getting out ideas, revising, or editing.
– figure out the set of affective elements you need to get “in the zone” and then get there. I’ve heard some writers need the sound the washer and dryer because of the repetitive rhythms. Other writers need someone else in the room, but not talking. Find out what you need to make it work.