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Paper #1

Topic: Why did Levinson title his book “An Extraordinary Time”?
Assignment: Provide your argument in a short memo, with a maximum of 300 words.

Not included in the count: your name, class and the date, the Honor Code pledge and a proper bibliographic citation of Levinson at the bottom of the memo.

Due: As a hard copy, in class, on Monday, January 22, 2018

  1. You don’t need to read the entire book!

Instead ask yourself: if I have only 45 minutes to “read” a book, what should I look at first? What do I skip altogether, what do I skim? A rational approach only works if the book is well-written. This one is. Levinson was a journalist for the Economist and has two previous books under his belt.

  1. Brevity is not easy.

Many a writer has opined that they wrote at length because they lacked the time to revise. That had some merit in the days of quill and ink. You have no such excuse in this era of word processors.

• Brevity requires that you focus on one point: you have a main point, and that’s it. For example, the title implies that one time period was “extraordinary” and the other was merely ordinary. You can focus on the former or on the latter, but you can’t give equal time to both.

You also need lean prose. The passive voice adds words; stick to active verbs. Avoid indefinite modifiers: “some” and “often” convey imprecision, adding to length while detracting from what you say.

Don’t include title and author in your memo. It doesn’t add content. A bibliography helps you stay lean!!

  1. Proofreading & format.

See the guidelines on the course web site. Do please get a classmate or friend or parent to proofread your paper. There’s also the Williams Communication Center. You’d do that if you were preparing a memo for your boss to hand to the Big Boss. Get in the habit now!

As to the physical format, see the guidelines: legible font, double-spaced with 1" margins. Your name at the top, acknowledgements and source(s) at the end. Count the words of the body of your paper. If you end up at 301 words, it's not a big deal, but if it's 330 words, cut something.

On brevity: In 1918 Woodrow Wilson was asked about the time he spent preparing speeches:

“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”