Category Archives: teaching

Talking Tocqueville at the Acton Institute


Just returned home from Grand Rapids, Michigan where I was honored to give a talk on “How to Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America” for the Acton Lecture Series. I lectured for about half and hour and then we had a great Q&A session afterwards about the role of voluntary associations in public life, religion and politics, the frontier and American identity, racial prejudice and slavery, and thinking historically about Tocqueville’s classic work. The audience was exceptionally well read, as evidenced by one person who brought along her copy of George Wilson Pierson’s Tocqueville in America to the lecture and referenced it in her question.

My host for the event was Trey Dimsdale, my former colleague at Southwestern’s Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He accepted a position at Acton this past July as Program Outreach Director. Trey had a big year this year–he finished his Ph.D. residency at Southwestern (AOS, ethics), passed the Texas Bar exam, and moved himself and his family from Ft. Worth to Grand Rapids in a U-Haul with no power steering and no cruise control.

My lecture was focused on the importance of grasping the historical context of Democracy in America as a necessary discipline for appreciating the many insights and perspectives Tocqueville offered in his classic work. Tocqueville was born into an ancient, yet only moderately wealthy, aristocratic line in 1805 and died in 1859. His great grandfather went to the guillotine during the Terror, and his father and mother were imprisoned and scheduled for execution. They were released from prison only after the execution of Robespierre. The experience of the Revolution lingered over the family for decades, and Tocqueville’s perspective on America was shaped by his family’s experiences. He was also deeply impacted by the rise and fall of Napoleon and the July Revolution of 1830 which toppled the restored Bourbon monarchy and raised Louis-Philippe to power. Perhaps the most salient feature of French political, social, economic, and religious culture during Tocqueville’s life was instability. When Tocqueville came to America, one of the features that struck him was the comparative stability of American culture, even though the United States was born out of a revolution.

We also have to understand that Tocqueville visited America during a ten month window of time in 1831-1832. That world is long gone. Tocqueville is often considered to be something of a prophet, because there are some uncanny warnings and prognostications in his work that we clearly recognize in contemporary times. It is also tempting to be nostalgic about the America that Tocqueville saw in the early 1830s. Tocqueville strenuously believed in human freedom, that persons were responsible for their own choices and actions. Although he believed that the spread of democracy was being directed by God, and hereditary privilege would soon be irresistibly supplanted by a providentially directed world movement of equality, he rejected historical determinism. He never considered himself anything more than a studious observer of America–an America that, while he admired many characteristics about its people, institutions, and habits, still did not escape his criticisms. One of his most penetrating censures was how Americans tolerated slavery, and more importantly, race prejudice. “Slavery recedes,” Tocqueville said of free blacks in the North, “but the prejudice to which it has given birth is immovable. . . . Thus the Negro is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labor, nor the affictions, nor the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared to be; and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in life or in death.” Nostalgia for 1831 America is misguided for many reasons–but with regard to reading Democracy in America, we completely miss the point of the book if we pine for a recovery of the past.

So it was a great visit. Ben Domenech of The Federalist will be up next, speaking on “The Rise of American Populism.”


A Tribute to My High School History Teacher, Dr. Doug Frutiger


Dr. Frutiger’s note to me in my senior yearbook. It reads, “John, The daily handshake, the warm frown and the incessant ‘Why not, Frutiger’ or ‘No way, Frutiger.’ What will I do without them? Actually, I’m looking around the room and find that you’ve walked out of class. I wonder where you are. Well–maybe I’ll be OK without you next year. Hope you find something of value at Furman.” -Doug Frutiger

I graduated from the old North Fulton High School off Peachtree Road in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988. North Fulton ceased to exist when the Atlanta City School System, in all its wisdom, decreed its death through a merger with our bitter rival, Northside High School. This merger happened in the early 90s, and the result was North Atlanta High School. I know nothing about North Atlanta, but I am told it is an excellent school.

It must be, because many of my teachers–and we sat under exceptional teachers at North Fulton–went on to teach at North Atlanta for many years. I have especially fond memories of Mrs. Pringle, my algebra teacher; Mrs. Wright, my English teacher; and Mr. (now Dr.) Frutiger, my history teacher.

I was enrolled in North Fulton’s International Baccalaureate program, along with 25 or so other students, during my junior and senior year. I had Dr. Frutiger for world history junior year; economics and history of Canada and Latin America senior year. IB has always been unique and innovative, but it was seriously so during the 80s when I was in school. Dr. Frutiger was among the most inspiring teachers I have ever had in all my years lugging a backpack to class as a student.

He and I remain in contact through Facebook. He is always encouraging whenever I post updates on my writing and publishing. He is likely surprised I amounted to anything. The day I asked him to sign my senior yearbook, my good buddy John Speaks (currently a State Department official based in Turkey) and I decided to head off campus to secure a couple of C0-Colas at the Tenneco station adjacent to campus. This, of course, was a serious breach of school policy (we were likely inspired by Ferris Bueller). But Dr. Frutiger, understanding and merciful as he was, saw the humor in it. Luckily for us. We were set to graduate in a matter of days.

I’m not sure if he remembers this or not, but I remember the first day of class with him at the beginning of my 11th grade year. He gave a lecture on “Criteria for Civilization.” He listed 10 general criteria on the board and then we spent the remainder of class discussing them. I will never forget that lecture he gave in the fall of 1986. It challenged the most basic of my assumptions. As a teenager, I had always considered “civilization” in purely Western terms, but he masterfully argued that civilization is borne out of humanity, not a particular ethnicity or culture. It was the first time I ever thought outside of my Ameri-centric perspective. From the first day of class, and for the next two years, he challenged my thinking, helped me improve my writing, gave me the tools on how to think historically, and demonstrated by his example the life of a scholar and a thinker. He was the first teacher I ever had who was pursuing a PhD in history, and I remember wanting to be just like him–a teacher, a learner, a writer, and a historian.

Dr. Frutiger taught for many years after the joy of having me as his student (see the above note for an idea of how wonderful I was). He inspired hundreds, thousands of students by his life and example. I cannot thank him enough for his labors, and I hope that I can be an inspiration to my students in some small way like he was to me.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Brooks, and “Listening While White”


Image credit: Penguin Random House

I just finished reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bracing Between the World and Me. It came in the mail this afternoon, and I picked it up to read this evening. I could not put it down. I read it in one sitting.

This morning, before receiving my copy of Coates’ book length letter to his son, I read David Brooks’ article, “Listening to Ta-Nehisi Coates While White.”

Since I had not yet read Coates’ book, it was hard to critically assess Brooks’ piece. Now that I have read Coates’ book, I am most uncomfortable re-reading Brooks’ words.

I enjoy David Brooks’ writings. I don’t agree with him on everything. He’s definitely to my political left. But I often find him insightful, and he helps me consider points of view that I might not have considered had I not read his insights on some particular topic.

But perhaps Brooks should have indulged himself in a couple of solid nights’ sleep before writing this particular piece. I think–and take this for what it’s worth–but I think that perhaps Brooks would have been better served to follow his stated first intuitions–and just sat and listened.

Coates’ world is not my world. He describes my world as if it were part of another galaxy, separated by light years of cold and empty space from his own. I was one of those

little white boys with complete collections of football cards, and their only want was a popular girlfriend and their only worry was poison oak. That other world was suburban and endless, organized around pot roasts, blueberry pies, fireworks, ice cream sundaes, immaculate bathrooms, and small toy trucks that were loosed in wooded backyards with streams and glens (20).

Aside from the football cards and pot roast, Coates described the world I grew up in as accurately as though he were one of the Dillon brothers who lived next door to me on Brook Hollow Road.

But he didn’t grow up next door to me. He grew up in Baltimore. He grew up in a black body, a body that was perpetually in danger of being destroyed.

The crews walked the blocks of their neighborhood, loud and rude, because it was only through their loud rudeness that they might feel any sense of security and power. They would break your jaw, stomp your face, and shoot you down to feel that power, to revel in the might of their own bodies. . . . To survive the neighborhoods and shield my body, I learned another language consisting of head nods and handshakes. I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather (22-23).

I didn’t grow up in Coates’ world. And he didn’t grow up in mine. And I do not live in a black body, so I have to concentrate as I read each word in this book in order to strain at understanding just what it is he is talking about. There isn’t time to think about what I think of his words. There is only time to listen and learn–while white.

In his article, Brooks writes,

I read this all like a slap and a revelation. I suppose the first obligation is to sit with it, to make sure the testimony is respected and sinks in. But I have to ask, Am I displaying my privilege if I disagree? Is my job just to respect your experience and accept your conclusions? Does a white person have standing to respond?”

He then assumes the answer is yes, and goes on to say,

If I do have standing, I find the causation between the legacy of lynching and some guy’s decision to commit a crime inadequate to the complexity of most individual choices.

I think you distort American history. This country, like each person in it, is a mixture of glory and shame. There’s a Lincoln for every Jefferson Davis and a Harlem Children’s Zone for every K.K.K. — and usually vastly more than one. Violence is embedded in America, but it is not close to the totality of America.

No, I do not think that a white person has standing–at least to disagree. And I’m not saying this as a guilt-wracked liberal. Who am I to disagree with that about which I know nothing? So what is the proper response from one who is, yes, white and privileged?

I think the proper response is to be quiet; to listen; to let the man speak and be heard. To let the man speak and be heard, not out of pity because of his experiences, not out of sorrow over past injuries to his people, but because of his humanity. And also because he is sharing with all of us a deeply personal letter to his son, his very flesh and blood.

Brooks closes his piece with these words:

Maybe you will find my reactions irksome. Maybe the right white response is just silence for a change. In any case, you’ve filled my ears unforgettably.

Yes, the right response is silence. For a change. Let privileged white commentary on the wisdom bestowed by a black father to his son on living in a black body be overshadowed and hushed, at least this once.

Toni Morrison, in her endorsement of the book, said that Coates was “clearly” the person to “fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died.” Baldwin also wrote a letter to a young relative, his nephew James, to be exact. The letter is included in his work, The Fire Next Time, and is entitled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.”

Speaking of white people, Baldwin said to his 15-year-old nephew:

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people. . . The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.

Baldwin goes on to say:

And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers [white people] to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. . . . The country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free.

Instead of feeling the need to defend the American dream, to justify American history, to inform Coates of one’s own differing personal narrative, and to disagree with Coates’ perspective–sit at the man’s feet, be his student, and ask, What can I learn from reading Coates, rather than, what can Coates learn from reading me? Because if Baldwin was right, then it is we who are white who need to be taught.

Teaching at the Darrington Unit–A Look Back


I wrote this post on my Facebook page on September 7, 2011, right after concluding my second week of teaching courses in Southwestern Seminary’s Darrington Unit extension. Since the first class is graduating tomorrow, I thought it would fun to have a look back on my first impressions of teaching out there.

These men have worked hard the past four years. Their average grade point average is high, but make no mistake. There are no “prison As” here. Every single man has earned his grade.

I’m very proud of these men, and I know that God will use them in wonderful ways as they minister in other prison units across the state of Texas.

Yesterday, when I was packing up my things and getting ready to depart the Darrington Unit after teaching on Alexander the Great and the rise of the Roman republic, a student in my class jokingly said to me, “I bet you never thought you’d be teaching a class full of convicts!” He was smiling broadly as he said this, and laughing. I laughed too, and replied, “To be honest with you, brother, it wasn’t the first thought that occurred to me!”

This exchange pinpoints an unstated reality that has existed in my own mind since I first drove up to the front gate at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas.

There are four checkpoints upon entering my classroom. Security officers check and hold my driver’s license, open and examine the contents of my briefcase, have me empty my pockets and take off my shoes, and physically pat me down, even checking the soles of my shoeless feet every time I enter the premises. All of us on the faculty were briefed on procedures for hostage situations, riot outbreaks, recognizing manipulation, understanding gangs, contraband, and counseling victims of sexual abuse prior to the start of the academic year.

None of this is discussed in The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career.

Still, of the thirty-nine students (the official designation is “offenders”) that are in my class, I can honestly say that every single one of them treats me with a level of respect that I have rarely encountered in twenty years of teaching and pastoral ministry. To describe their attitude about the course as enthusiastic would be slight. This is a group of students who, on the whole, are fully engaged in every aspect of the material. They react to every reading assignment—some positive, some negative—and they articulate their reasons for their reactions. They ask so many questions during the lectures that I am already behind on my course schedule—but I cannot in good conscience curtail this. Their dialogue with me during the lectures is critical to their understanding and beneficial to everyone in the classroom, including myself, in bringing clarity to the material. At the breaks, they file into a queue to ask me questions and make points. At the end of class, I spend at least an hour continuing to dialogue with them on the day’s lectures and discussions. One of my students asked if he could be allowed to write a second eight page critical book review, in addition to the one he is already writing on the Aeneid.

Not only are they in profound earnest about their studies, they are overflowing in their expressions of faith and worship of God. We conclude every prayer with a recitation of Psalm 118.17. They vociferously declare in one voice, “I shall not die, but live!” Yesterday, their voices boomed and echoed throughout the entire educational wing as we sang “My Hope is in the Lord.” What a thrill it is to be in the presence of such men.

I have never encountered an entire group of students like this anywhere I have been a student myself, or anywhere I have taught in my memory.  What a profound honor; what a unique privilege is mine, not only as a teacher, but as a human being in the position to behold God’s hand so clearly at the work of redemption in the lives of persons.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere Lectures on W. E. B. Du Bois in the Prison


Last summer, Phillip Luke Sinitiere graciously invited me to lecture on American exceptionalism in his American religious history class. Today, I had the opportunity to return the favor. Phil was the guest lecturer today in my course on Contemporary Worldviews, a philosophy course I teach to the fourth year students who are enrolled in Southwestern’s Darrington Unit extension. These students are all serving life sentences at the maximum security state prison at Darrington, but will be placed at other units around the state of Texas to serve as inmate chaplains, counselors and teachers after they graduate.

Our first class graduates this May 9. They were the first class in the program, and I was there with them at the beginning, teaching them Western Civ I. They are a tremendous group of men, and I’m very excited for them.

I was really excited to hear Phil lecture today, one which he titled “Forging Freedom in Thought, Word, and Deed: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Life and Times.” As many of you know, Phil just completed his history of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church (due out this October from NYU Press), but Phil is also a W. E. B. Du Bois scholar. The timing of the lecture was perfect. In many ways, I see Du Bois’ life and work as something of an encapsulation of much of what I have attempted to teach these men over the past four years. And Phil’s lecture was outstanding–he effectively communicated the significance of what Du Bois meant to the advancement of human flourishing in America and the world in his long and fruitful life.

The students were riveted as Phil opened Du Bois to the class, introducing him to us as he would a personal mentor and friend. In the first half of the lecture, Phil discussed Du Bois’ early life and career, namely his being the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard, the formation of the NAACP, his controversy with Booker T. Washington, and his friendship with Albert Einstein.

After this first half, Phil opened the floor up for questions, and he received many thoughtful insights and questions from the students. He had provided them with a packet of readings from Du Bois last week to have read by the beginning of the class, and they were well prepared. Included in the packet were Du Bois’ “Prayers” (1910), “Credo” (1920), “The Negro and Communism” (1931), “If I Were Young Again: Reading, Writing and Real Estate” (1943), “An Appeal to the World” (1947), and “Whither Now and Why?” (1960) among several others.

One of the questions Phil received was this two-part question: how many times have you lectured on Du Bois, and what is the most challenging question Du Bois raises that you grapple with as you study him? Phil said that he has lectured on Du Bois hundreds of times, perhaps thousands if you count the many lectures he has given in his classroom teaching. But despite the number of lectures he has given on Du Bois, Phil said that he continues to grapple with this question raised in all of Du Bois’ writings over an eighty-five year period: what does it mean to be a human being, and what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Such a profound set of questions, and yet so simple. So simple, even a child can understand their meaning and importance, but so profound as to tax the mind of a thinker and doer such as W. E. B. Du Bois in the period of almost a century while he walked this earth. Indeed, Du Bois challenges us Christians to put our faith into practice.

In the second half of the lecture, the part dedicated to what Phil described as his “twilight of years,” Phil related some local history pertinent to the life of Du Bois. He talked about his visit to Prairie View A&M in 1945, and specifically talked about a student named Mayme Ross who assisted in hosting Dr. Du Bois when he came to speak at the school. Mayme was a junior when she served as a student host for Du Bois. Phil had recently gotten in touch with her, and was able to speak with her about her first hand experience with Du Bois. Well into her nineties when she spoke with Phil, she told him that she grew up in humble circumstances, and wasn’t sure how she’d feel around such a towering scholar as W. E. B. Du Bois when he came to the campus at Prairie View. But when she met him and interacted with him, she said she felt herself totally at ease–here was a man truly interested in her life, her ideas, her dreams, and her faith. Through Ms. Ross’ testimony, Phil gave us a window into the man W. E. B. Du Bois, and not merely the scholar.

Phil discussed many aspects of Du Bois’ life and teachings in the course of his three+ hour time with the class. Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of Du Bois’ life was the occasion of his joining the American Communist Party and his emigration to Ghana in the last years of his life. Phil masterfully put Du Bois’ decision in context, and helped us to move beyond simple explanations of that decision–a decision that Du Bois did not make hastily, or without the deepest consideration for what it would mean for him personally and professionally.

In Du Bois we see a man who grappled with what it means to be human, what it means to live in freedom and equality, and how justice is truly applied. We see a man who is concerned with what it means to be a “true American”–not in a jingoistic or boorish sense, but in the truest sense, that is, being in community with other Americans who cherish freedom, human dignity, economic and social justice, and concern for the well-being of others.

The meaning of human dignity–it is a historical issue, a theological issue, a social issue, an economic issue, a political issue, an ethical issue, and a practical issue. Through critical thinking, activism, historical and theological reflection, and love for others, Du Bois showed us what it means to truly grapple with this issue that immediately concerns us all.

Thanks Phil, for teaching us today, and for being a model for us of the man Du Bois was.

Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Enlightenment


Last year, I was invited by Veritas Press to participate in the production of a video curriculum for its Omnibus program, geared toward middle and high school students that focused on the history of Western thought. It was a lot of fun, and the best part was that one of my favorite people in the world, my good friend Bruce Etter, was the host of the program. We had a lot of fun doing the interviews on Rousseau–and we also got together for some round table discussions with John Fea of Messiah College. He posted one of the videos on his blog a few months ago.

My students in History of Philosophy are studying Rousseau, and these videos are also for them to watch and review as they gear up for their final exam. Enjoy guys! Study hard! 🙂

*Correction from the first video: I mentioned that John Locke’s conception of justice was that it existed only in the presence of civil law. As the politicians say, I misspoke. I was thinking about Thomas Hobbes, while I was saying John Locke’s name. Sorry!

How to Write a Research Paper


Panther Creek Trail, Cohutta Wilderness, Georgia

I love hiking in the mountains. But hiking can be a true pain in the neck if my attitude isn’t right. Same thing with a research paper–it can be a beautiful journey, but if your attitude isn’t right, it can be a real drag. A good hike is the result of good planning. And a good experience writing a research paper is birthed from a good plan.

My students in History of Philosophy here at Southwestern are hard at work researching their paper topics, which are due at the end of the semester. Yesterday, I had a nice conversation with one of them–he’s writing on Plato’s and Aristotle’s respective conceptions of the Forms, doing a comparison/contrast from Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Metaphysics. So this post is written to my students who are HARD AT WORK (wink, wink), and anyone else engaged in a research project who is looking to make a plan.

The following isn’t the only plan one could make, but it works for me. Here goes:

1. Pick your topic.

What historical idea, event, or thinker has been of particular interest to you as you have proceeded through the course? When you can identify some broad concept that interests you, then come up with a question you would like to explore in your 10-12 page paper.

The question you ultimately frame will be the overarching issue of your paper. The answer to your question is your thesis statement.

You may not know the answer to your question at the beginning of your reading and research. The important thing at the beginning is to frame a question that you will seek to answer in the length of 10-12 pages. But once you begin the outlining process, you’ll want to know how you are going to answer your question.

You may think you know the answer to your question, but be open to adapting your thinking, or even changing your mind as you delve into your research.

2. Pull your sources.

Hit the library! You want to look for primary sources as well as secondary sources. The primary sources are necessary for you to get a first hand account of the issue you are exploring. The secondary sources provide you with a sense of how the conversation is proceeding among historians and philosophers about your issue. You will need to have enough primary sources to show that you are interacting with the historical figures themselves, and you will need to have enough secondary sources to show that you are up on the status of current research.

How many sources should you have for a 10-12 page paper? I get that question all the time. Think quality, not quantity. Your sources should be relevant, balanced between primary and secondary, and you should be engaging with all the sources you place in your bibliography. For this length of a paper, a good rule of thumb is 8-12 sources. But focus mainly on the kind of sources you are pulling, not so much on the number of sources you have included in your bibliography.

3. Read your sources.

Collect your sources into one place, and start reading through them. Take one source at a time. Start with the primary sources, and look at your secondary sources after you’ve worked your way through those primaries.

You are looking for material that is pertinent to the issue of your paper, that is, the question you raised at the beginning of the process. As you go through your sources, put little post-it markers on pages you will return to later. Those are good because they stick well on the pages but don’t do any damage to the pages when you remove them.

Read through your sources, marking them up with post-its, one at a time. When you’ve gone through all your sources, they should be loaded with post-it stickies.

4. Take notes on your sources.

Now that you have read through your sources, you will want to open up your word processor and compile notes from each of those sources. Go back through your stickies and write notes on the pertinent quotes and ideas from each source. I even copy sections from the sources verbatim into my notes–but I’m careful to keep my notes absolutely separate from any drafts that I write later.

5. Go through your notes and organize them by theme.

Once you’ve gone through all your sources, taken notes from each of them, go ahead and print off those notes. Leave room for yourself in the margins to take notes on your document.

Read through all your notes. As you are reading those notes, write little one to five word descriptions in the margins that encapsulate the ideas being expressed in each of your sources. Underline quotations that you might be able to use in your draft.

Go through your notes with a fine-toothed comb, and you will find yourself backing your key ideas for your paper into a corner.

6. Write a detailed outline of your paper.

Using your notes–and your notes of your notes–you are now ready to write your outline. Your outline will be divided into three sections: your introduction, your body, and your conclusion.

In your introduction, you are aiming to do three things: tell your audience what issue you are going to tackle, tell them what your conclusion is going to be, and tell them how you are going to explain your conclusion. So, the question you came up with at the beginning of the process is your issue. The answer to that question is your thesis statement. And your explanation of how you are going to explain/justify your answer is your methodology.

Each of these three aspects of an introduction are essential. You must address each of these aspects in the first paragraph of your paper.

Your body–the guts of the paper–will be divided into the reasons you have for arriving at your conclusion, your thesis. These reasons should be broad, and you are going to explain each reason in course of your paper’s body. You might have three reasons, or five–not much more than this in a 10-12 page paper. But in your body, locate three to five reasons why you are drawing the conclusion you stated in your thesis.

Your conclusion should be concise–you restate your issue and your thesis. You restate the reasons you came to your conclusion. And you can find a way to bring your paper to an end with a little rhetorical flourish–but keep it short and simple.

So, here is the basic structure of your outline:

I. Introduction

A. Issue: Question you are raising

B. Conclusion: Your thesis statement

C. Methodology: How you arrive at your conclusion (your reasons justifying your conclusion)

II. Reason One

A. Explanation

B. Explanation

C. Explanation

III. Reason Two

A. Explanation

B. Explanation

C. Explanation

III. Reason Three

A. Explanation

B. Explanation

C. Explanation

IV. Conclusion

A. Restate Issue

B. Restate Conclusion

C. Restate Methodology

Throughout the paper, you will need to be interacting with your primary and secondary sources. Number the pages of your notes document so you can quickly move around in your notes as you write the paper.

Writing the outline is the most important part of the process. If you have an organized, logical, and detailed outline, then writing your first draft is easy-peasy. But if your outline reflects fuzzy thinking, is not detailed enough, or is missing some key elements, your draft is going to look awful. Spend time on the outline, and make it right no matter how long it takes (within reason).

7. Write your first draft.

Now that you have a tightly organized, detailed, logical outline, you are ready to write your first draft! At this point, your ideas should be sufficiently developed and organized so that your writing of your draft is as natural as can be. You just follow the yellow-brick road you have laid down in your outline.

Use your sources to support your observations, your insights, and your ideas. Don’t let your sources carry your water for you. When you reference your sources, those references should never stand alone. You should always use them to support your own thoughts and ideas.

Writing the first draft is the fun part. The hard work of reading, research, organization, and framing the intellectual structure of the paper is all done. Writing the draft is like bringing the furniture into the new house. Be creative and have fun.

8. Edit/rewrite.

Go back through your first draft and eliminate form, grammar, spelling, punctuation errors. Clean up fuzzy and illogical thinking. Tidy up sloppy prose. Break up run-on sentences. Make sure you’ve cited all your sources properly (Turabian form, 8th edition as of this writing).

Get someone to read your draft for you–someone who will be honest with you, but someone who has your best interests at heart.

Does your paper address the issue you stated at the beginning?

Does your thesis answer the issue you stated at the beginning?

Do your reasons and explanations flow logically to the thesis? In other words, do your reasons follow one from the next to the next, all the way to the thesis?

Are you interacting with the pertinent primary sources?

Are you also engaging the secondary sources? Are you secondary sources up to date? Are they reputable and respected in the field?

Are you expressing your own voice in your paper, or is your paper just a litany of who-said-what? Do your sources support your conclusion, or are you letting your sources speak for you? Make sure your voice is distinguishable from those of your sources.

Is your prose clean and clear? Are you using active voice? Are you avoiding logical and historical fallacies?

A research project is like putting the pieces together in a puzzle. It’s also like building something from the ground up. And it’s like cooking a dish from scratch. It’s fun, intellectually engaging, and deeply fulfilling. I hope you enjoy the journey. As you read, research, and write, remember to stop and smell the roses and make memories for yourself as you proceed down the path.