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Paper Preparation


The aim here is to generate your personal handle on the field without getting brainwashed by published authorities. The printed word has an authority which is hard to resist, so the first thing to decide is NOT TO READ ANYTHING until you have found your bearings. There are ways to achieve this without reading! So think:

  1. What are you trying to achieve?
    1. To put yourself in control of the material or topic
    2. To demonstrate that control through discussion
    3. Possibly, to answer a set question
  2. How are you going to do that?
  3. a. Start by gathering material
    In this case, you want pictures of artefacts/buildings, with full identifications, size, materials, locations - as relevant (you may scan texts for this information ONLY)
    b. Arrange this material in chronological order
    It happened in chronological order. Chronology gives meaning. You will treat it in chronological order as far as possible in your final paper. Even if you take a conceptual approach, you will still treat the various aspects chronologically!
    c. STARE at the material. DO NOT READ ANYTHING YET!
    Know it so well that you recognize it instantly whenever you see it. Describe it to yourself. Notice things about it: apparent purpose, subject matter, style, details, possible influences. Compare earlier objects with later ones - do you notice any sudden or gradual changes? What are those changes? Compare the work of one artist or country with another. Do they both seem to have the same purpose? Ask the material questions - does it have a physical or cultural context? Is it in good condition? Why is it (or was it) where it is (or was). Why has the artist done what he has done? Why would you have done it, if you had been the artist? If the artefacts seem to have been poorly made, refuse to assume bad workmanship or misunderstanding by the artist: why else might the artist have chosen to make it look the way it does? Etc.
    d. Digest your initial thoughts
    Note down your current understanding of the field: development, problems, possibilities. Note down any questions that occur to you, together with possible answers. Note down any opinions you have. Note down some wild speculations. Build your own theories, if you like. Get all your thoughts in writing. Number the pages as you go (this will help you find it all again when you come to write up).
  4. You are now armed with opinions, observations, questions, theories. You know the material. You can no longer be brainwashed! Now you are ready to go into dialog with the published authorities. So now you may read your course books and get books and periodicals from the library.
    1. Collect any additional information which throws light on your questions, theories, etc. Note in down, with its sources (full reference and page numbers)
    2. Collect information on aspects which did not occur to you before. Note it down, with its sources, as before
    3. Now consider all this new material in the light of your own knowledge of the material (stage 2). Does it help? Does it account for everything you wanted to know? What is missing, if anything? do you need to find more information? Do the authorities seem to have the same problems as you?
  5. Reassess your original ideas
    1. Have the published authorities helped you at all? Note down how.
    2. Do you still think what you originally thought? Perhaps the published authorities provided you with support for your theories? If so, note down how. You will have to credit them. You should be feeling good!
    3. Do you now think what the published authorities think? Perhaps they convinced you they were right. If so, use your original ideas as a source of useful discussion in the paper. Very scholarly!
    4. Do you now think something somewhere in between? Perhaps the published authorities disproved some of your first ideas but gave you some new and better ones instead. Note it all down. This is going to be a great paper!
    5. Do you still think what you originally thought, but are your ideas are in conflict with the published authorities? This is potentially rich and fruitful, not a disaster. Be ready with everyone's arguments (crediting authors) and prepare to fight to the death!
    6. Are the published authorities in conflict with each other as well as with you? This is a sign of an unresolved field which would benefit from further research. Make sure you say so in your paper. Note the main camps. Decide between them or stick to your own guns, giving reasons in each case. This will be a rather analytical paper, which the field obviously needs!
  6. Begin to organize all this material
    1. Pick out the various issues, ideas, etc and decide which are the most useful for your paper. Of these, which ones are mentioned most often by the authorities? They are important and must be included in your final paper.
    2. Pick out the stuff you want to include in your paper. This is always a bit of a gamble. No two authorities exactly agree, and that includes you and your professor. So brace yourself and plunge in. Exercise the vital scholarly skill of selection. Relevance is what you're after. What does your reader need to know in order to follow your discussion? Include it. What can your reader do without (even if it is interesting) and still follow your discussion? Leave it out. Choose a representative range of examples. Include the best-known ones. They are the proof that you know the field. Leave out the little-known ones unless you feel they shed important new light on the field. Make sure your examples include all relevant media.
    3. Now put them all in order of importance for your paper. Use chronological order where possible. Use it for tracing developments. Use it for comparisons. If taking a conceptual approach, use it within the categories. If deciding between two equally important things, put the earliest one first. Make a list of the results. This is the working order for your discussion. Make each one into a temporary subheading now.
  7. Flesh out the paper plan
    1. Refer to your subheadings. What do you want to say about each one? Using short notes, refer to each aspect you propose to cover. If the plan is for your own use, give the page numbers where you will find the details in your notes. Be very specific. For example, do not say "Insular influence?", say "Alcuin at Charlemagne's court (new line), enlarged decorative initials, ribbon interlace (new line, indent) Insular influence?". If your supporting material includes publications, give the reference beside the note, e.g. "Possible Italian influence? (see Hubert, Porcher, Volbach, p 23)". This will become a footnote in your paper.
    2. Make complete bibliography, giving the abbreviations used in your plan. Attach it to the end.
  8. Turn to The Art of Persuasive Writing
  9. You are now in a position to decide on your introduction and conclusion. These are vital parts of the paper. Their function is to establish your authority from the word go, and to make sure the reader remembers your conclusions at the end. They are discussed in The Art of Persuasive Writing.
    Now is also the time to consider the best ways of presenting your arguments. These, too, are discussed in The Art of Persuasive Writing.
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