Writing 101: How to Make Mistakes

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Jesse Summers

Humans make mistakes. Rather than think of mistakes as simple failures, we’ll look at how we make mistakes and what they tell us. How do we explain the mistakes of self-delusion, rationalization, lack of self-control, or even compulsion? What about systematic mistakes, like delusions or chronic doubt? How do we in fact respond to mistakes, and how should we?

Different disciplines–psychology, neuroscience, economics, philosophy–study and discuss these topics in different ways. In this course, we will read from various disciplines as we come to understand mistakes, and we will organize our thoughts using the argumentative tools of philosophy. We will also write a lot in this class: free writing, summaries, structured notes, outlines, responses, and many drafts. These writing assignments will build on each other to help us develop and articulate positions and arguments clearly–and to make productive mistakes in our writing. In a first project, we will develop our initial thoughts on mistakes into a short reflective essay. A second project will respond to a philosophical argument through drafts and peer feedback. For the third project, each student will explore a topic of his or her own choosing related to the course, research the topic, present it to others for feedback, and write a final paper.


Student Writing Assignment

What are students writing? Editorial essay based on original research on some systematic mistake and/or remedy.
For whom? 
For general readers, particularly those with an interest in systematic mistakes or their policy implications.
Where would such writing typically be found? 
An Op-Ed page of a newspaper.
Why would someone usually read it? 
For policy implications, or for deeper understanding of systematic mistakes.


Reader requirements: professional experience in some aspect of error/mistake analysis or prevention; experience with structural factors of error from psychology or philosophy viewpoints particularly useful but not required.


See examples of reader bios for this course


Student – Reader Interactions

Intro meeting

  • Oct 8 – 17

First Draft

  • Oct 30: Student sends first draft to Reader
  • Oct 30 – Nov 7: Meeting to discuss first draft (no written feedback necessary)

Second Draft

  • Nov 15: Student sends second draft to Reader
  • Nov 16 – 20: Meeting to discuss second draft; Reader sends written feedback a day before meeting

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