Do you struggle to think of an argument when you’re writing an essay or reviewing your research? Has your tutor told you that your work hasn’t involved enough critical thinking about your topic? Then you should consider coming to our workshops on Critical Thinking and Writing, and Developing an Academic Argument which you can book on our website now!
But as a philosophy student, I make arguments all the time. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of these topics because you’ll find out all about them in the workshop. Rather, I’ll give you a taste of some of the stuff involved. I’ll give you a couple of examples of how not to make an argument. Even if you don’t use this kind of reasoning in your subject, hopefully this will give you some food for thought, and you might be able to apply this to when other people make arguments in real life.
So, you need a statement to support your argument. You will thus actively search for a source or think about something which will prove it.
But are you also ignoring sources and argument which reject your claims? You might include a source or two which does show the other side, only to easily reject it with additions to your original argument.
But is this oversimplifying the other argument?
There is an official term for when you oversimplify another person’s argument. It is called ‘reduction ad absurdum’.
It’s a bit of a mouthful I know, but its a Latin term for oversimplifying an argument, to ignore the reasoning behind an argument because you have exaggerated it beyond it’s original meaning. It is a rhetorical device, meaning people use it in their arguments to convince them despite it having no logical basis. If you’re a philosophy student you have to be careful not to do this, or else you will be deducted marks.
Let’s give an example.
If somebody were to argue that the government should better redistribute wealth between the rich and poor, but you were to denounce that statement as that sounds like communism which has historically lead to the deaths of millions of people, that would be using reductio ad absurdum.
This is because the other person was not saying that communism should be implemented, but simply that there should be a greater redistribution of wealth. This could simply mean more social funding or increasing wages. It does not automatically mean the person is advocating communism, which is an extreme redistribution. But you have made it so that it seems like they are, which can be easily attacked.
Another similar thing to do is to make a straw man argument. This is very similar to reductio ad absurdum, apart from the fact that you make an argument which is set up to fail, rather than responding to another person’s argument.
For example, you believe communism is bad and so no one will want it. So you set up an argument which denounces what you believe to be a communist agenda – the redistribution of wealth. You make the argument “We should not redistribute wealth because that will only lead to communism”. You have framed your argument so that it follows the narrative of communism being bad. But redistribution of wealth does not entail communism. You have set up your argument to fail on a bad premise, therefore you have created a straw man argument.
There are many other rhetorical devices which I will not go into here. You might find out a few more in our workshops, but they are more focused on the theory behind arguments as a whole. It is worth looking into rhetorical devices because they are used a lot in everyday life, and when you can point them out, it means you will never be fooled!
Overall, have a second think about what your overall argument is saying. But, as a final thought, don’t think that you must be constantly presenting strong arguments or sources which question your own. You of course only have a set word count and want your own argument to seem as strong as possible. Just show that you have critically thought about your own argument and other arguments too – you aren’t just presenting a simplified conclusion.
Ever heard of a little company called “Google”? Of course you have. You probably use at least four of their products on a daily basis, probably more. They’re best known for their search engine, which has held its dominant position in the market for so long they became a verb. Of course, YouTube is probably their next most recognisable website. If we were to produce a study, I would be willing to bet my tuition fee money on it being the website most responsible for student procrastination. It’s a fool’s bet, since any cursory walk around the library will give you all the evidence you need.
However, while Google can be your biggest obstacle in your quest to get a decent education, it can also be your greatest friend. Google search is possibly the most powerful research engine in the world (our lovely StarPlus coming a close second) but you didn’t click on this to read about what you already knew.
What you might be less aware of, is that your university account is also a Google account, giving you easy and full access to the Google Suite. These are apps most students will have used before or at least know of. But nobody ever uses them to their full potential. Google for Business, as it’s called, is a set of incredibly polished apps designed to work seamlessly together. If used efficiently and properly, Google goes from the friend who buys you another pint to the one who drives you home.
So, let’s get started!
I’ve only really started using Google Calendar properly this year, when all of a sudden my schedule got a lot more dense. Honestly, I don’t quite know where I’d be without it. Its easily accessed through the ‘My Services’ menu on MUSE, and gives you an extremely powerful timetabling system. Of course, the calendar can also be synced to your phone by downloading the Google Calendar app and logging in with your MUSE credentials. The iPhone calendar app can sync with Google Calendar, but the stock Google app is much more efficient.
Creating an event is easy. Events can be colour coded, set to repeat regularly or irregularly; as well as a whole host of other features. Events can be programmed to give you half hour reminders by default, or other notifications. For example, an upcoming exam can be set to notify you in a month, then two weeks, then one, etc. When all of his information is available with a quick glance of your phone, timetabling becomes easy. Multiple calendars can be set up for different categories of event. For example, if you’re working a part time job, like me, you might want to use a different account than you university one to calendar these events. The visibility of a calendar can be turned on and off easily, giving you an easy look at how much time is being spent where.
This can even by synced with Gmail. Google’s smart algorithms can pick out dates and times of events from the content of an email, meaning you can add society or academic events directly to your calendar. You can explicitly create events and share them through gmail as well! So there’s no more excuses for missing the study group!
This is an essential tool for any student with a poor memory like me, and a useful one even for those who are abnormally organised. I heavily recommend using this tool as much as you can!
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
Almost everybody uses Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for their office or academic needs. This is done with good reason, as they’re not only free for students at Sheffield through the CiCS website, they’re also extremely powerful tools. But most people never use these apps to do the really complicated stuff, which means that for many people, they use Word just because they know they’re comfortable with it. I’m going to suggest that for the casual user who wants simple features with a few convenient extras, Google’s own software might be the better choice.
When opening a new Google Docs file, it looks very familiar. All the buttons are in the same place they would be on Microsoft Word, if a little bit cut down. What makes Google Docs apart are a few important features?
Google Docs saves with every change, so you’ll never lose your work. Seriously, if a bolt of lightning hits the computer when you’re writing your essay, you’ll lose at most a letter. It is constantly saving your process, meaning you can immediately get back to what you’re doing.
It syncs through Google Drive, meaning its accessible through any computer. All you have to do is log in with MUSE and navigate to the file and you can get back to work. None of this UniDrive rubbish and managing various different versions of the same document. Just load it up and off you go.
You can easily share your document, and edit it with others at the same time. This is invaluable for sharing notes or working on a group project. Entire documents can be shared with others using their university email or just a link. Google’s edit history shows exactly who edited what, and participants can leave comments for others to respond to. Working on a group PowerPoint needn’t be done face to face if it’s just not practical. Combine this with Google Hangouts, Google’s chat and voice app, and group work is extremely easy.
They might be a little bit more simple, but these features can make your life quite a lot easier if you weren’t using those features anyway. Plus, any Google Docs file can be saved as a Microsoft Word file if you find yourself wanting one of those more complicated features. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this amazing tool, but those are the features I find most notable.
You might not have heard of this one, as it’s a little bit more niche than the others. Google Keep is a notetaking app meant to rival that of apps like Evernote. Simple, short notes such as shopping lists, to-do lists, reminders, recipes etc. can be taken, sorted, synced and shared all through this one little app. It has multi-media capability, meaning images can be saved just as easily as text, as well as being integrated through the entire google suite. This means you can share a note via Gmail, or embed a link to your Google Doc into your to-do list!
I’ve been hit and miss with this app. It is quite powerful, yet at the same time it really depends on how much you and others use it. Due to the fact that few people actually use it, when sharing a Keep note you might find people respond with confusion rather than thanks. However, if you’re the type to keep digitised notes, to-do lists and more, you might find it useful to have an app available everywhere to keep you more organised!
If you have a university account, you have an extremely large amount of cloud storage space available to you through Google Drive. This is the ultimate way to keep your university documents backed up, safe and secure. Say goodbye to the old USB stick, as Google Drive enables you to keep everything online!
Google Docs, Gmail and Keep are all fantastically integrated with Drive. All of your Google Docs files will be saved on the drive, so available anywhere. You can load attachments straight from your drive account into an email.
All of this is fairly old hat, Drive is quite well known by this point. However, what you might know less about is Google’s Team Drives. The Team Drives are perfect for committees sharing resources, group work or even whole lecture groups.
Instead of hosting documents everywhere, messing around constantly with access and editing permissions, you can simply create a group drive and invite everybody to it. From there everybody can create and edit documents within the drive, with a constantly updating record of who has edited what and when. The true power of the Google Suite is revealed here. Everybody can have a shared Google Calendar, Drive and Document space to voice concerns, discuss and write.
Even if the worst happens, and somebody deletes everything out of spite or stupidity, Google Drive can restore these deleted items or previous versions within 30 days!
So that’s the Google Suite, a stupidly powerful set of applications we all have access to and should understand. I think they are criminally underused by the majority of students, either because they don’t know how or don’t want to put in the effort to get used to something new! But these are used in hundreds of businesses to great effect. Here at 301 we use Google Calendar and Gmail extensively, as well as Google Drive. The same can be said of the rest of the academic and administrative staff at the University of Sheffield.
I hope this has persuaded you to experiment with them too! The more people who use them on a regular basis, the easier they will be to use with peers. Google might have dropped their pledge to “not be evil”, but they make some very high quality apps!
So, next week is my last official week of teaching, which means that I am very nearly at the end of my degree. I have no idea where these past three years have gone! Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with that in mind I’ve recently been doing a lot of reflecting upon my time here at Sheffield and what I’ve learnt during it.
I (somehow) now know what I want to do:
I was accepted onto the Teach First programme to teach Secondary English last summer (which seems like a lifetime ago!), starting this September. I’ve always thought about teaching but the opportunities I’ve had available to me over the course of my degree, for example various teaching/tutoring volunteer projects, have shown me that teaching is what I really want to do. That said, even if you’re still unsure about what direction you want to go in, then do not panic! You don’t have to know what you want to do right now – I’ve just been a bit lucky, I think.
I’ve met some amazing people:
The people I’ve met during my degree have honestly made my uni experience. As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t think I would have been able to get through the difficult times without them! I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to make sure that I don’t lose touch with the friends I’ve made as they’re some of the best people I’ve ever met.
I’ve learnt how to be a pro multi-tasker:
I’ve somehow managed to juggle three part-time jobs this year alongside a full-time English Literature degree. People think I’m literally insane, however I’ve actually quite enjoyed the busy days. I think it’s taught me that I am able to handle quite a lot when I need to but it has also proved that resting and having days where you do absolutely nothing is equally as important!
These are just a few of my key reflections that I’ve had over the last few weeks. If you sit and think about yours, I’m sure you’ll see that you’ve learnt far more than what you realise!
A great way to gain valuable work experience, increase your skills and improve your general well being, is to get involved in activities outside of your course.
There are numerous activities you can do and if you are looking to gain specific job-related skills you can tailor the activity, so that you are getting the experience you need. There are lots of opportunities at the university to help you get the most out of your time here. which will also help you gain the experience you will need for your future career. You could join a society or club, sit on a committee, become a mentor or ambassador, or volunteer. These are all ways to enrich your CV, get valuable work experience – and provide you with a reference!
Societies and Committees.
Joining a society or committee can be an enjoyable experience that will help you meet new people and learn new skills. If you take a position on a committee you will receive training, gain experience of managing projects, working as part of a team and get recognition on your HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report).
There are various mentoring programmes within the university that you could get involved in. You could be a mentor within your department or you could be mentor in one of the schools that the university works with. Working on these programmes enables you to develop transferable skills whilst contributing positively to the lives of local pupils. Mentoring is also HEAR accredited.
There are lots of volunteering opportunities in Sheffield and the Students Union has an office that deals specifically with volunteering opportunities. You can volunteer to help on projects within the university or the wider Sheffield community. Whether you’re looking to gain experience to help you with your future career or you just want to get involved, there will be something for you! Find out more here: www.sheffieldvolunteering.com
Twice a year the Students Union run “Give It A Go” activities. These sessions offer a taster of volunteering and a chance to benefit the local community. This is a great opportunity to try different things out and find the right one for you. They are brilliant for your physical and mental health, a great chance to meet new people and offer something exciting to boost your CV!
Now that essay deadlines are passing, you may have a bit of spare time on your hands so this is the perfect opportunity to try something new. Below are some of the things I want to try out before the year is up.
If you read my blogs regularly you will know I am a frozen pizza and instant noodle enthusiast. That is because I can’t cook and I feel like cooking requires too many ingredients, herbs and spices. I’m sure cooking can be made simple and I want to learn. Maybe I can even learn to make home-made pizza!
Some kind of sport
Back in the good old school days I was really sporty but once exams started taking over my life in the form of GCSE’s, A-Levels and uni I ran out of time to do sports. Tennis is a sport I have always wanted to have a go at but never got round to. I have a tennis racket that I bring to uni every year in the hope that I will find my passion for tennis. It has still never been taken out the packet.
Give it a Go
I always wanted to try give it a go and do something I’ve never done before like stunt cheerleading or how to run a cinema.
Start a society
I want to come up with a new and innovative idea for a society. Something nobody has ever thought of. I’m running out of time for this one so you guys may have to do this one on my behalf.
Okay, I’m cheating a little as I actually did my first ever protest over the weekend which inspired this blog. I took part in Reclaim the Night which was a march against sexual violence and assault. I learnt that political activism really isn’t my kind of thing but at least I can tick it off the bucket list.
Arts and Crafts
I’m not very creative but I want to learn a craft related skill such as sewing, cross stich or knitting.