Category Archives: website updates

Schafer’s Topic Sentence Poem

In my advice on Topic Sentences, I’ve long advised students, both as readers and writers, to understand how a series of topic sentences often form a summary of a longer story or argument:

The first thing to notice is that strung together, the topic sentences summarize the passage as a whole. If the whole article is written in this way, then a reader can zip through the piece by reading only the first sentence of each paragraph, choosing to read full paragraphs only when she wants to know more about the claim made in the topic sentence. Few if any books an articles are written entirely in this manner, but in most cases, one can get the gist of a paragraph by reading the first two sentences, or the first and last sentence. Aim for the same kind of summary.

In fall 2019, a student introduced me to a lovely term for this device: the “topic-sentence poem,” which she had learned from her teacher, Dr. Cynthia Schafer of the Walker School of Marietta, Georgia. Henceforth, I’ll be teaching this as “Schafer’s Topic Sentence Poem.”

A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, 2018

I was recently interviewed by my dear friend Will Bachman for his podcast, Unleashed – How to Thrive as an Independent Professional. I tried to argue that while the most common subjects for popular history—wars, murders, disasters, sports, etc.—have their place, independent consultants and other professionals could benefit from broadening their history reading beyond those topics.

I have posted some suggested titles to get them and others started as A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, 2018. For some older suggestions, see A Layperson’s Reading List in American History, which I most recently revised in 2004, and A History Professor’s Guide to Audible.com, from 2013.

How to write an outline: now with decimals

I have updated my page on How to Write an Outline to reflect my growing preference for decimal rather than alphanumeric outlines. Alphanumeric outlines repeat letters and numbers, so the reader must flip back and forth to figure out if a point labeled “3” is II.B.3 or III.A.3. Decimal outlines solve this: it’s always point 2.2.3. Also, decimal outlines offer an easier check on an overgrowth of points. Rather than tell students they may not use letters and numbers higher than V, E, 5, e, etc., I can simply tell them to write the outline without any digits over 5, anywhere in the structure.

I have also removed the reference to The Craft of Research, since the 4th edition does not include the useful advice that appeared in the 3d. In its place, I refer readers to the Purdue OWL page on Types of Outlines and Samples. And I’ve changed the way I outlined Wells’s introduction.

I’ve kept the old version online for fans of Roman numerals.

How to Write a Prospectus

I have posted a new page, “How to Write a Prospectus.”

A dissertation prospectus is an essay arguing that you have found a research problem whose solution merits thousands of hours of your time; hundreds of hours of the time of your various advisors and committee members as well as that of librarians, archivists, and other people of good will; and, if you are lucky, some public or foundation funds toward your research expenses. Though the dissertation you complete will likely differ significantly from the one you conceive, you should be able at least to sketch out a viable project before attempting to write one.

Comments appreciated as always.