Short Writing Assignments, 2010
SOCI 130 Medicine and Society

Updated September 24, 2010

This semester you will be assigned to write several short papers in which you are supposed to read a case that involves some problem in medical ethics or a policy conflict, think about what issues are at odds with each other in the case, decide what action you think should be taken, and argue your case. These papers are meant to prepare you for a class discussion and so they cannot be turned in after class unless you get in touch with me ahead of time (or call when you are sick).

The general goal of the writing assignments in this course is to help you to learn the difference between an opinion and an argument, and for you to make effective arguments. These short papers are meant to give you an opportunity to write out an argument, and to do it in a way that is not simply an expression of an opinion.

An opinion is a personal point of view, usually guided by emotional feelings or private values. You may give facts to support an opinion, but in general opinions are hard to dispute because they are not presented as a logical product that results from looking at facts. Rather they are personal and emotional. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. But we don’t have to take their opinions seriously.

Arguments are different because they can be separated from the individuality of the person making the case. Arguments have a logical structure and they can be challenged by attacking their logic. Arguments also are based on and responsive to data. You can reject an argument by showing that it is contradicted by the facts. Generally for every argument there are one or more counter arguments that negate them. In debate tournaments, you may be assigned any point of view on an issue and be required to present convincing arguments regardless of your opinion. This is a good illustration of the way that arguments are separated from the people who make them in a way that opinions are not.

A good argument generally acknowledges that there is a counter argument. In fact, it generally is a good idea to state the counter argument and then tell why you do not think it is correct.

In evaluating your paper, here are things I will be looking for.

  1. Your opening paragraph should clearly state what your paper will do. You might state the position you will take and in a sentence tell why you reject the counter position. You might summarize what material you will cover in the paper. It helps if you think of your paper as answering question or resolving a problem; tell what the question or problem is in the first paragraph. We will criticize you if you do not have a first paragraph that does this. We will criticize you if your opening paragraph gives a general introduction to the subject matter with no specifics about the purpose of the paper.
  2. You must clearly state the issues in the case under discussion and you must tell what position you are taking. You may not waffle or take a middle ground. The POINT of this assignment is for you to argue a case and you don’t have to fully believe it to make the argument. If you try to avoid taking a position or say both sides are correct, you’ll be criticized.
  3. Your paper should be typed, double-spaced, and it should have correct spelling and grammar.
  4. Your paper should state your argument and the argument for a counter point of view.
  5. Your paper should tell what logical arguments and what evidence convinces you that your argument is correct and that opposing point of view is wrong.
  6. The paper should be about three pages long.
  7. Your paper will be stronger if it includes details and facts and is not just a collection of abstract assertions.