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How to write papers on profound topics

  1. Jun 4, 2007 #1
    ok, so in english, i can write really solid analytical essays on books and such.
    however, i have a really tough time writing and developing ideas on profound topics.

    For example, a while ago we had to write a paper on "the meaning of life." I just found it hard to develop ideas on it. I had a pretty solid starting place. I started out defining what the meaning of life meant to me. But from there, i had a really hard time developing ideas.

    Also, very recently, we had an essay, in which the prompt was "define human." Now, this one was really hard. I didnt even know where to start on this one.

    Personally, i think that analytical essays are easier because there really isnt that much thinking involved. you develop your own idea on a book, and support it with evidence.

    Now, my question is, what is a good way to think about these "profound" topics? and once i generate ideas, what would be a good way of wrapping them up in a coherent manner?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2007 #2
    what class is this?
  4. Jun 4, 2007 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    I think I'd start by doing some research from several angles. I'd research current events about the topic, looking for interesting and novel things that might be of help. Then I'd research classic works and use the historical perspective to look for either old ideas that no longer apply (and why), as well as classic thoughts that have stood the test of time. Then I might try to use those two sets of concepts (present and past) to brainstorm what some of the best things in the future could possibly be on the subject, and maybe what some of the worst things would be, and how to work now to avoid them.

    So can you see how you would apply this approach to the two subjects that you mentioned?

    -- The meaning of life

    -- Define Human

    Also, I like to start all of my written work with an outline. Just basic at first, since I don't know where I'm going with it. But as you do your research, having a working outline gives you a place to start putting things in, and then rearranging them as you get other ideas.

    I also like to try to have an overall theme or two defined by about mid-way in the work on the essay. The themes may change if I get better ideas, but having a thematic approach helps you to organize your research and thoughts. Plus, if you are good at it, you can really play the theme a bit artistically in these kinds of written works. Like, you hint at them a little in the introduction (not necessarily explicitly, but you get the reader to think of them a little on their own), then start to reveal the themes with your evidence and the cross-connectedness of the things that you are writing about. Then in the end, you can really highlight the important themes of what you've been talking about, and if done well, the reader comes away with a belief that your themes are correct, and with a genuine appreciation for how well you supported the themes. It helps if there are some non-obvious, novel and synergistic aspects to the themes that you've demonstrated in your work as well.

    Hope that helps.
  5. Jun 4, 2007 #4


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Back in 8th grade, our English teacher instructed in the art of writing essays.

    Basically, there was a beginning introduction, and an end, and in between three points would be made (but one could do 4 or 5). The point was to limit oneself such that the essay would be manageable.

    The intro starts of general and gets to a specific idea, about which the three or so points would be made.

    The points could be agreement, disagreement and personal opinion, or all three could support the main theme, or oppose the main theme.

    The ending would sum up and expand to a more general statement.

    Also, read essays of great writers - preferably short essays. When learning, I often prefer short and to the point. But then I like some long essays loaded with thought provoking ideas. It's like walking the beach or hiking through the wilderness and discovering something new every few steps.
  6. Jun 4, 2007 #5
    english 12 honors.
  7. Jun 4, 2007 #6
    that makes sense, but the thing that still confuses me is:
    how do i research about "the meaning of life" or "the definition of human"?
  8. Jun 4, 2007 #7
    When you only have a vague idea about a subject, check general reference material first. An encyclopedia should never be the source you cite, but its a good place to get started. Wikipedia is a great that way. From there you will get a list of names of people and articles which you can then read, and also lists of criticism of those people and articles.
  9. Jun 5, 2007 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Plus, nowadays, you can google versions of the phrase in quotes, and get all kinds of different hits. Those hits may be useful by themselves, and they can also suggest alternate wordings or even point to other resources that you can check out. They can also lead to people who have a lot to say on the subject, so some of your secondary searches will be on people who seem interesting....
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