I. Why Write A Good Journal?
The journal is probably the most important assignment. Unfortunately, it is the assignment that people neglect the most. The journal constitutes 20% of your grade; a bad journal can have great impact. But the journal influences your grade in many more subtle ways. The better your journal, the easier your other assignments will be and, in most cases, the higher your paper grades will turn out.
Why does the journal have such a large impact of your work?
(1) The journal lowers stress. The journal is important because it is a rehearsal for your other papers. It allows you to think about the material in advance and to begin to develop an understanding, an interpretation, an opinion, and a criticism of the material long before you sit and write your papers. This will help to make the first draft of your paper easier to write and as a result, it will significantly lower your the stress-level. Philosophy papers can be overwhelming, and not understanding the material makes the assignment even more difficult. By writing about the material in advance, you will have a better idea of how to start.
(2) The journal increases sophistication. The “rehearsal” aspect of the journal will allow you to present a better discussion of the issues and arguments. It allows you to become familiar with the texts and issues and this allows you to look deeper into the philosophical issues. When you think about interpretation and criticism in advance, you already start to develop your own ideas even if you are unaware of it. You can reference your journals in order to remind you of your initial thoughts.
(3) The journal saves time. Many students regard the journal as incredibly time-consuming. However, in reality, the journal saves time because it provides a library of summaries and criticism which you cash use to start your papers. What are the major delays in paper writing? First, many people have to re-read part or all of the text because they don’t remember the main points or the argument. Second, people have to struggle to understand that which they thought they could put on paper. Third, often underestimate how difficult it is to summarize and criticize. A journal cuts much of that time. Since you can use your journal entries in your papers, you can develop the framework of your first draft with only minimal cutting and pasting. You can use the journal summaries as the beginning of your paper summaries, and use your criticism to jump-start your paper as as well. Those students who are genuinely conscientious about their journals have told me time and time again that the papers are not nearly as difficult or overwhelming as they would be had they not written their journal.
II. What Are the Parts of the Journal?
The journal is divided into two parts: a summary and a commentary. The minimum requirement for the journal is one full page, but you will most likely discover that as you progress in the course, the journals will become longer. Many people regularly submit journals that are between two and three pages pages long, but do keep in mind that this is larger than required.
The summary section of the journal should answer several important questions. First, what is the main point of the essay? In other words, why is the philosopher writing this particular piece? What problem is he or she trying to solve? And, what conclusions did he or she arrive at? This section is best placed in the opening paragraph of the journal entry. Second, what is the argument of the essay? The argument presented must be different from the conclusion. the conclusion tells the reader what the philosopher is trying to prove, but the argument explains the reasons for the conclusion — it is that part of the essay in which the philosopher tries to convince the reader that the essay’s conclusion is correct. The philosopher will cite evidence and put forth explanations. In the journal, you should summarize the main points in this section. The summary section should contain one or two quotes from the text that you think are important enough to represent the entire text. When completing the summary, ask yourself: “Did I list the main point of the essay?” and, “Is this enough information that when I need to write a paper, the journal will remind me of the essential information?” Keep in mind, summaries are difficult and require practice. It takes some time to learn how to condense large amounts of information into a few paragraphs.
The commentary, or “opinion” section of the essay should follow the summary section. It should contain your evaluation of the conclusion and the argument. Do you agree with the conclusion? Why or why not? Do you think the argument presented supports the philosopher’s conclusion? Why or why not. It is very important that you justify your opinion. It is not enough to indicate that you agree or disagree with the philosopher, you must explain why you agree or disagree.
The journal is that place in which you can explore your ideas and initial thoughts regarding the essay. Don’t be afraid to be critical, and don’t be afraid to try new ideas. Feel free to include personal commentary. If an example from your own life will help to explain your feeling on the essay, include it. Remember, the more interesting the journal is for you to write, the more interesting it is for me to read.
III. Sample journals.
Below, you will find a sample journal. It is not based on a philosophical text, but I think it will be helpful to show you what I expect out of each entry. The right column has the actual text, whereas the left column describes what I am doing in the journal and why.