ENGLISH 101. ACADEMIC WRITING
I got through three degree programs and years of legal and technical writing using this basic five-step method. I know that it works. --Dr G.
List, group, write, conclude, introduce
This paper models the writing of a college essay exam on Plato's dialogues. It demonstrates a process of writing that can be used with any topic--Socrates as a teacher or any other essay subject. I recommend a five-step process: list, group, write, conclude, introduce.
1. LIST. First, I made a list of all of the details in Plato that I possibly might be able to use in the body of my essay. My "active" reading of the dialogues really paid off here. During my reading, I had highlighted key passages in the text, and I had made notes in the margins and lists on several blank pages in the book. This pre-writing activity allowed me, as I prepared for the exam, to skim through the marked up dialogues and rather quickly find no less than 58 details that might be useful in an essay on Socrates as teacher. If I had not made highlights and notes when I read the dialogues, by the time of the exam I probably would have forgotten all but eight or ten of these items! In other words, I would have had little content for the essay. My COW would be down to OW! Actually, this would have spelled bull.
2. GROUP. Next, I reorganized my list of details into several logical groups. That is, I took the details out of the chronological order, in which I found them in the book, and I sorted them into general categories. This "grouping" activity helped me to figure out the structure that my essay could take. First I grouped items in which Socrates claims not to be a teacher (I happened to notice these first); then I grouped items where it's obvious that he teaches. Next, I grouped items about what he teaches, and then I came up with another group on how he teaches. Finally, some of the remaining details fit a category that I called "teaching background." There were a few leftovers that I didn't know what to do with, so I left them unsorted in the miscellaneous pile. (Note: an alternative to grouping is outlining. With your detail list in hand, you can write an outline that incorporates all or most of the details under headings and subheadings that you devise. I happen to prefer the physical process of grouping, maybe because I'm used to sorting and filing papers in filing systems.)
3. WRITE. Then I was ready to begin writing. I skipped the introduction paragraph and began writing the "body" or middle paragraphs of the essay. The grouping activity in step two showed me how these paragraphs could be arranged and organized. The groups turned out to be: General Background, Socrates Not a Teacher, Socrates a Teacher, What He Taught, How He Taught, and (for leftovers) Miscellaneous. I intended to write a body paragraph on each group except of course Miscellaneous. As I wrote, however, I found that some groups contained too many important details for one paragraph, so I wrote multiple body paragraphs on these sub-topics ("Not a Teacher" and "What He Taught"). As time ran short, I needed to write my conclusion and introduction in a hurry, so I had to eliminate my last sub-topic from the essay altogether ("How He Taught").
4. CONCLUDE. Then, I wrote the concluding paragraph and the Works Cited list. The conclusion was simply a summary of the body paragraphs.
5. INTRODUCE. Finally, I wrote another summary paragraph, a more brief summary in different words, and I put it first in the essay, as the introductory paragraph. I have found that the introduction is the most important section of any essay. The opening creates the all-important first impression in the reader. To write this section first, before you know the actual contents of anything else in your essay, is inviting disaster. Most students' essays have lousy introductions because they have not yet warmed up to their subjects and don't know what they are going to write. ("There are many things one could say about the character of Socrates in Plato's book entitled Five Dialogues. .." In an introduction like this, the reader hears the student wondering aloud how to begin. It's plain boring drivel.)
TIMING? I spent about two hours carefully making my list of details from the book (step 1) and most of another hour grouping the list and thinking about strategy for organizing the order of the body paragraphs (step 2). That was my preparation "before class." (Student preparations should take longer, since students are less familiar with the book and less experienced with planning essays.) Then I allowed an hour and forty minutes "in class" to do the actual writing (steps 3-5). The essay that I wrote is far from perfect because time ran out, but I show it here as a sample or demonstration of how essays can be developed from readings to a first rough draft.
Here's the record of my work, step by step.
Starting with a textbook filled with notes and underlining, I spent only five hours working up my essay.
Gathering the evidence is the most important step. Without evidence, there's no case. Spend whatever time it takes to collect all of the relevant facts that time allows.
yellow marker to identify the items belonging to my first logical
grouping about the "General Back- ground."
Other colors then were used to highlight the items for my other logical groupings.
From the same item list that I developed, you might have come up with an entirely different set of logical groupings. And even if you had some of the same group headings that I chose, you might have classified some of the items differently than I did.
There is more than one "right" answer. I'm advocating a method here, not a particular solution.
I speculate a bit in my conclusion, but I make my introduction much more straight forward. Good intros simply tell what the subject is, how it will be investigated, and what the general conclusion will be. The last of these items is the thesis statement.
First, I made a list of all the facts that seemed to have any bearing on my topic, Socrates as teacher. I had highlighted or noted all of the items while I actively read the dialogues, so it was easy to pick them out by skimming back through the book. I wished I knew shorthand.
List the Details (step one)
Euthyphro: Soc is accused of corrupting the youth (2c-3a)
Apology: "Socrates" in Clouds is a clever teacher
of argument and nat science (18b)
Crito: Does Soc teach
Phaedo: This dialogue depicts Socrates
Next I reorganized the items on my detail list into "logical" groupings. I did it on the computer by cutting and pasting the items. However, a longhand item list can be reorganized by color coding or by any other method of marking the listed items to identify logical groups. In the end, I came up with a list of five groupings, not counting miscellaneous, so my initial essay plan is to write at least five "body" paragraphs, then to attach a conclusion and introduction.
Group the List (step two)
Teaching, general background
Socrates is not a teacher
Of course Socrates is a teacher
What he teaches
How he teaches
Next I started writing my essay, as shown below. I skipped past the introduction and began writing the "body" paragraphs, in what I thought was the most logical order. I would come back to the introduction later, when the main point of my essay would be clearer in my mind. Note: paragraph headings, below in brackets, would not be included in the essay; I show them here only to clarify how the essay was constructed from the logical groups of details in step two.
Write the body paragraphs (step three)
Socrates as Teacher in The Last Days of Socrates
[Omit the introduction for now, come back to it in step 5. Leave room on the page for a later paragraph, if writing long hand.]
[Teaching, general background.] Public education in Athens in Socrates' time seems to have been quite limited. As a child, Socrates apparently had been educated only in music and gymnastics (C 50d). Evidently, all of the adults in the community were responsible for the upbringing of the young: at Socrates' trial, Meletus claims that everybody educates the young, and everybody except Socrates succeeds in improving them (A 24d). In this informal system of education, a young person's only hope for education probably would have been, as Socrates advised, to seek the advice of experts (C 47d).
[Not a teacher.] Although public education was limited in Socrates' Athens, a system of private education was emerging with the arrival of paid professional "sophists" like Gorgias, Hippias, and Evenus (A 19e) and the "natural philosopher" Anaxagoras (A 26d, P 98e). Socrates himself had studied with Anaxagoras, though he soon became disillusioned with natural science because it seemed amoral and trivial (P 98e). These teachers apparently raised popular resentment (E 3c, A 18b). When Socrates was charged with corrupting the youth (E 2c-3a), his accusers characterized him as a private teacher, in the mold of the sophists and Anaxagoras.
[Not a teacher, 2nd par.] Socrates defended himself by denying that he was a teacher. He never charged a fee for his talk (E 3d, A 19e), and he never educated anybody--or so he said (A 19e). He claimed not to understand things, so how could he possibly teach? (A 20c). Often, as in his chat with Euthyphro, he pretended to be the student asking questions of a supposed teacher (E 3d, 5a), but no one ever could enlighten him with good answers to his questions, so he never learned anything to teach. "I have never promised or imparted any teaching to anybody," he said (A 33b). He especially distanced himself from Anaxagoras, whose jail break seemed to indicate more concern with preservation of his body than improvement of his soul or moral character (P 98e).
[Of course a teacher.] Of course, Socrates could have been a teacher of a different sort than the sophists and natural philosophers or the children's teachers of music and gymnastics. In The Apology, he admits that he has a reputation as a "wise man" (A 20e). He also admits to being more "wise" than other people, because he is most conscious of his ignorance (A 21d). Young people flocked to hear him unmask one pretender after another; they enjoyed his devastating cross examinations (A23c, A33c). These young followers also imitated the Socratic method of examination (A 23d), so the old man clearly taught them something, whether this result was intended or not. "Phaedo" illustrates what a day of conversation with Socrates might have been like. Clearly in that dialogue Socrates teaches, although he calls the activity "philosophy."
[What does he teach?] What did Socrates
teach? Philosophy, by his definition, seems to have been a practice of exhorting one's self and other
people to pursue virtue (A 29d). Above all else, Socrates preached the
Golden Rule, that nobody should return wrong for wrong (C 49b). He asked
the Athenians: aren't you ashamed to pursue money, reputation and honor
rather than truth, understanding and the perfection of your souls? (A
29e). His "message" to the young warned them against
materialism (A 30b). He criticized Athenians generally for thinking
far too much about bodily and commercial interests, and far too little
about their mental and moral well being
[What does he teach, par 4] Teaching about this invisible and perfect other world, Socrates appears to have been a mystic or prophet who showed his followers a spiritual reality beyond the physical universe. Revealing the disembodied Forms, Ideas and abstractions, Socrates offered young and old alike an enlightenment experience, similar to the simulated experience of the afterlife provided by the ancient Greek Mystery religions. (See P 69c.) These ancient "Mysteries" were institutions that showed initiates the kingdom of the dead; during initiation ceremonies, the staff and members dressed up as gods and dead heroes and performed illusions to persuade initiates that they had come to Hades. Those who had been initiated in this way "knew" that death was nothing to fear; this knowledge, it was said, made them "wise." Socrates' illusion was somewhat more rational than the Mysteries, but it was of the same general type, revealing the destiny of our souls in death.
Next I sum up what I've written in the body, and I add the Works Cited.
Write the conclusion (step four)
[The group from the item list "how he teaches" doesn't get written because I'm almost out of time, and so I must write a hasty conclusion.] In conclusion, Socrates apparently did not view himself as a teacher like the sophists or Anaxagoras. He seems to have been, instead, a cult leader who showed people an afterlife where (he claimed) perfection and abstract ideas actually existed. Followers glimpsed this higher spiritual reality by practicing Socrates' "philosophy," thinking about ideals and abstractions, being virtuous, preparing their souls for eventual release from the physical world. Perhaps Socrates' unconventional afterlife, as a place of Forms or Ideas, was what bothered the Athenian religious authorities so much that they prosecuted him. He may have "converted" some of their members to his new beliefs. If this view is correct, Socrates and Plato are the essential link in the history of western learning that connects the modern academy to very ancient roots in religious rituals simulating the realms of the dead.
[Don't forget the Works Cited at the end.]
Plato, The Last Days of Socrates.
Trans. Hugh Tredennick
Write the introduction and proofread (step 5)
[Finally, step five, I write the introduction. In a finished essay, of course, I would put the intro at the beginning of the essay, but I leave it here at the end for now to demonstrate the writing process.] This essay explores the question of whether Socrates was or was not a teacher. The evidence is reviewed from the four dialogues in Plato's The Last Days of Socrates. [This last sentence was my signal phrase.] The tentative conclusion is that Socrates was a mystic or prophet, not a public school teacher or a professional tutor of arts or sciences. [This last sentence is my thesis sentence.] He "knew" the existence of an invisible world that souls experience only when disembodied, and his social mission was to help other people "know" it and become "wise." He called his wisdom-seeking process "philosophy," but this practice was religious in nature and could be perfected only at death. [I'm out of time.]
Citation count: 37 citations are used in the body of the essay
Note: the Works Cited form is for a "translation" as shown by Hacker in 31b6. The "book" form (Hacker 31b1) isn't the best choice because the cited words are the translator's, not the author's.
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copyright Gary Gutchess © 2003
Left: a classical Greek vase shows weavers of tapestry. Fine results are produced only with careful, painstaking attention to a well organized plan.