Truth in Society

April 6, 1995

Prompt #68


Reflective introductions . . .

Since Tuesday, you should have read all the revised chapters that members of your focus group have been working on, taking notes as you went along. These notes you then used as the basis for a "substantial reflection about what can be learned about 'truth'" from these chapters. We'll assume that you have in your possession right now two copies of this reflection. (If that assumption is not warranted, you'd better remedy the situation PDQ.)

These individually prepared reflections will become raw material for the creation of single pieces of jointly authored text, conveying the most essential ideas, arguments and conclusions that have emerged. Since Tuesday is "publication day," whatever you manage to put together by the end of the day today will undoubtedly need to go through several stages of editing and revision, so that it will be ready for publication on time.

Let's recall the nature of our undertaking, and how it differed from what we did during the first semester. This time around, individuals and working groups operated much more independently from the focus group. There was usually less concern with coordinating topics and making sure that all important aspects were covered. What you have now are more-or- less "standalone" chapters, ones that have not been tightly fitted together. (We've talked about this as analogous to the published proceedings of a conference on a particular theme or issue.)

Because of all this, it's necessary (or at least very useful) to prepare a fairly substantial introduction which will orient the reader, help her read the individual chapters in the context of our overall focus, suggest relations and ideas that might get clarified or fleshed out as she reads the specifics. We do not envision this introduction will "tie everything neatly together." Instead we're imagining that it will help a reader address the root question of the Truth in Society section -- how do people come to believe what they believe?

Some subsidiary questions your introduction might address: Who in these situations changed their beliefs, and why? Who didn't, and why not? Which beliefs seem most outrageous from our perspective, and how can we understand how reasonable people might hold them? Which beliefs seem most obvious and unquestionable from our perspectives, and how could someone reasonably doubt them? What were the important elements -- argument, self interest, the influence of the media, other people, habit, education, imagination, emotion -- in changing and sustaining people's beliefs?

To get to some of those questions, and thence to our central one, we suggest you begin by:

This process, and the process you've already started of reflecting on what the chapters in your book "add up to" are an important opportunity -- rather like a final exam in that it gives you a chance to do that kind of final reflecting and summing up -- to learn something important about belief and truth and the functioning of society. Don't short-circuit it; remember that if your book is going to add up to more than a set of fairly limited term papers on aspects of some piece of history, it will be because of what this introduction makes of them.

Here's the way we'd suggest you proceed (you may have other ideas, but think about this one anyway):

  1. get together with your focus group to read and mark each others' reflections (John, Russ or Thom will be at the meeting to help if you think that's a reasonable idea; we'll schedule them as early as possible);
  2. make a collective decision about whether you want to write an introduction, a conclusion, or both (preface, prologue, epilogue, afterword);
  3. decide, if you can, on sections of the introduction, or parts of the introduction and conclusion, so that everybody is involved in a group or two or three writing ("writing" in this case may well mean editing and combining and adding to texts already written) one section of the document.
  4. take some time to draft or edit the sections. Schedule this time so you have a deadline, after which -- at another meeting of the whole focus group -- you can put the parts together and print them out.
looking ahead . . .

We expect that this process should be finished to the point of having a rough draft by the end of the day today. That leaves us till Tuesday morning to finish copy editing the chapters and the introductions. We'll have some specific suggestions about that at the end of the day today, but we should say now that groups of at least two or three people should edit each chapter -- and the introduction and/or conclusion -- for form, spelling, style, format, etc., together -- and that the group editing any chapter should not include the original author(s) of that chapter. Each group should include one person who's reasonably good at mechanics, one person who's reasonably good at computers, and one person who'll look after organization (for a total of at least two).

For now, let's get to work on the introductions . . . .


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