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hoe schrijf ik een essay?
Concise, basic advice on essay writing. Almost universally ignored by academic conference papers.
  1. Start met een onderzoek. Zoek zoveel mogelijk bronnen, maak notities en zorg ervoor dat je de teksten en artikelen goed omschrijft...
  2. Het schrijven van een essay begint bij het analyseren van wat andere zeggen over het onderwerp waarover je gaat schrijven. Bedenk met welke argumenten je het eens bent en vorm je mening. Blijf jezelf iedere keer de vraag stellen: waarom zeg ik dit? Heeft dit iets met het onderwerp te maken? Hoe ga ik dit bewijzen? Let er op dat wat je schrijft je ook kan aantonen.
  3. Ga nu zitten om de introductie van je essay te schrijven. Begin met jezelf een vraag te stellen. De inleiding is belangrijk om de aandacht van de lezer te krijgen. Maak je onderwerp duidelijk en maak duidelijk waar je naartoe wil schrijven. In je inleiding schrijf je vaak toe naar de hoofdgedachte van je essay.
  4. Beantwoord je centrale vraag en beschrijf hiervoor verschillende argumenten. Verdedig waarom je bepaalde dingen vindt.
  5. Eindig je essay met een duidelijke conclusie, dit kan een simpele uitspraak of gedachte zijn over wat je hebt ondervonden. Je bent je essay begonnen met het stellen van een vraag. Beantwoord in de conclusie deze vraag. Is deze moeilijk te geven dan kom je altijd met een aantal slotopmerkingen over de vraag.

In short, research your subject, form opinions from those of experts, state your thesis/question in the introduction, write clearly, rehearse various arguments about your subject to demonstrate your awareness of the variety of issues and the parameters of your own selection and opinion-forming, and answer your opening question/thesis in the conclusion.

This all seems sensible enough as a process for writing, right? Obviously it doesn't model how anyone thinks. Which I propose is: form an opinion, go looking for quotes you can use to support it, belittle divergent opinions and restate your conclusions in multiple ways.

No wonder it's so hard. And dishonest. Where in all this presentation of the rational subject is the self? Who, exactly, are you supposed to be performing when you write I have looked through the writings of thinkers and from them I draw my inclinations? Why would you dress your opinions up in this way except to persuade another irrational subject that you have done your homework better than they, or to draw power from a putative chorus of other voices that supports what you already thought? A while ago Bill Stoddard observed that right wingers tend to go for the heartstrings while left wingers prefer to tickle the mind's funnybone with paradoxes and refutations of common sense. He suggested that it might make a nice change to try a kind of political speech based on demonstrating tangible things. Frankly, I despair of any prospect for such a thing, even while agreeing with him. And part of the reason is the above prescription for that peculiarly popular and ineffective product, the essay. Because I think it mimes actual thought and consideration, rather than promoting it.

In that spirit, I must say that I'm in favour of window prostitution in Amsterdam because it's a distinctive thing about the city. As an occasional visitor I find it a curious spectacle, like the city's unique mixture of drugs, bicycles and canals, and I don't have to deal with its downside much. I can marshal arguments about the sex workers of Amsterdam working in better and more controlled legal conditions than those of other places, about window prostitution being better controlled and less dangerous than streetwalking or closed brothel-keeping, even about it forming part of the vital mixture of Netherlands culture - how would one dismantle it without threatening the excellent traditions of free speech and action for which the Netherlands has been justifiably proud? I could say that banning the window trade would tend to push prostitution underground, and that we know where that leads: as long as there is demand and supply prostitution will exist, and the key is to regulate it and provide social support such that prostitutes can have decent lives, too. I could even say that it's necessary to make sure that prostitution is visible, a spectacle, to prevent its being swept under the carpet and its workers silenced. That other cities and countries are far behind the Netherlands in recognising all of this, and that one day I hope for a similarly frank and open discussion of prostitution in my own country as the one window prostitution supports, but that in the meantime Amsterdam provides two useful services for the rest of us: it stands as a beacon, showing that a more responsible approach to prostitution and drug use is possible, and it acts as a magnet and safety valve for great surging crowds of sex tourists who might otherwise be getting into trouble back home.

And that's already a third of the total length for the essay contest, so once I've added a thesis statement and a conclusion, where am I going to put all my expert research? Where would I possibly put my consideration of the issues from multiple angles, when just stating opinions takes up so much room? I can give them some lip service, throw in some well-known names, allude elliptically to a couple of arguments, and I'm done. Nothing demonstrated, nothing transformed, nothing really even argued in any solid or accountable way, in the unknowable problem space of the sex trade, i.e. the psyche.

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a kind of political speech based on demonstrating tangible things

Reminds me of Feynman's famous "frozen O-ring" speech!

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