I taught at the University of Leicester for 30 years, finally retiring at the end of September 2008.
In January 2006 I started teaching a new course for DiploFoundation. This is based on my textbook and is called ‘Diplomatic Theory and Practice’. It has proved popular and is still running. Read more about it here. However, my limited typing skills made it very difficult for me to run the weekly online chatroom-style sessions, and this is now very ably done for me by Katharina Höhne. Haraldur Egilsson, another outstanding former student of mine, fields the queries and observations which the students make in the form of hypertext annotations to my lectures. What is my contribution? I update the lecture texts at least once a year, serve as back-up and ‘agony-aunt’ to my two slaves, and examine some of the students’ work.
1. RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS
- Useful online resources for students of diplomatic studies.
- The most informative site of which I am aware for diplomats wishing to upgrade their ‘cyber skills’ is that of the Italian diplomat, Stefano Baldi. And the most argumentative – in the best sense – on topics of current interest is that of my good friend, Sir Brian Barder, the former British High Commissioner in Australia.
I am also the author of two textbooks, and co-author of a third:
International Politics: States, Power and Conflict since 1945, 3rd edn
(Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf: Hemel Hempstead, 1997) ISBN 0-13-230327-2.
Introduction to International Politics
Derek Heater & G. R. Berridge (Harvester Wheatsheaf: London and New York, 1993; now with Macmillan) ISBN 0-7450-1090-3 (hbk); 0-7450-1091-1 (pbk)
3. WRITING ESSAYS AND DISSERTATIONS
- ‘Compare the foreign policy positions of Donald Trump with those of Hillary Clinton,’ or How to Tackle a Comparative Question
Examiners often set comparative questions like this, and for two good reasons. First, since the comparisons selected by them are unpredictable, over-selective exam revision is difficult – and candidates should be encouraged to avoid this because revision is just another word for course consolidation. (Other ways of encouraging broad revision are to require answers to a large number of questions and to construct exam papers with sections on different parts of the syllabus, from each of which at least one question must be answered. But such methods, I regret to say, are now out of fashion, except – let us all hope – for medical students.) Secondly, comparative questions make students think, and test their powers of analysis. Unfortunately, too often they spend the first half of their essays on the first subject to be compared (here the Republican front-runner in the presidential primaries in the United States in 2016) and the second half on the other one, and then only as an afterthought make some sweeping comparison in the ‘conclusion’. Such an answer is not an answer to this sort of question at all, and grim experience prompts me to offer the following advice.When a comparative question is posed we are being asked to identify the similarities and the differences between two subjects. It is, therefore, on this division that the structure of the essay should turn. But there is more to a good comparative essay than two unweighted lists presented in arbitrary order. To begin with, is it the similarities we analyse first or the differences? This depends on our view of which are the most significant. If we believe the similarities to be relatively unimportant, it is best to start with them because it is not a good idea to end on an anti-climax. Get these out of the way and then put the weight of the essay on the differences: ‘It is true that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton share at least one foreign policy attitude: they both support the advancement of US interests. In addition … er … well … er … come to think of it … er … [don’t waste too much time scratching your head!]. However, what is really striking is the great number of their disagreements. Among the most notable of these are [x, y, and z].’ Obviously, if we take the opposite view; that is, that it is the similarities which are most significant, then the order is reversed. If a comparative essay is thus divided into two ‘parts’ it does not follow that these are ‘halves’. In other words, the second part of the essay, which deals with the more significant points of comparison, should be longer and more detailed than the first. By these two means – a reasoned order and a reasoned weighting – two lists become a well constructed argument. (Whether it is convincing depends on its other attributes.) Now answer the question posed in the title.
- Writing introductions
There is an old adage that the first thing to write is your conclusion, so you know what you have to prove; and the last thing to write is your introduction, by which time you will know what you have to introduce. (There is a lot of sense generally in this because what it underlines is that every essay should have a clear argument, and that this should be worked out before the final draft is commenced.) So, when doing the first draft of your essay (and certainly your plan) forget altogether about the content of the introduction and only worry about this in your final draft. But then you should take great care over it because, obviously, it is the first thing that your teacher or examiner will read and ‘first impressions’ are notoriously difficult to shift. (I once knew an examiner who made a habit of only reading the first page of an exam essay on the grounds that this alone was all that was needed to ‘judge the quality of mind’ of the candidate.) What, then, should a good introduction look like? This is not straightforward because, of course, it depends in some degree on the subject to be discussed and whether or not it has been the focus of significant controversy. Nevertheless, certain general rules can be advanced. The first, I think, is that a good introduction should be short: no more than one paragraph for an essay or chapter of a dissertation and perhaps five or six pages for a dissertation as a whole. Students often spend far too long giving ‘background’ at the beginning of their essays or dissertations, which is a sure sign that they have a weak argument and are not particularly anxious to get to grips with it. The second rule is that it should present the issue and, if it has been the subject of controversy, what are the main conclusions of the rival positions on it. The third rule is that it should hint (no more than that for this is not your conclusion) at the thrust of your argument. And the fourth is that the introduction should indicate very crisply what are the methods (sources, main texts, examples etc.) on which you propose to rely. Avoid at all costs the kind of introduction that is nothing more than a thinly disguised ‘contents list’ of your essay: ‘First I shall … Secondly, I shall … And, finally, my sixteenth point will be … ’.
- Contents Lists
An essay is too short to require a contents list on a separate page but it is an essential feature of a dissertation of 10,000 words or more. A good contents list is not only a route map but – if the chapter headings are well chosen – provides a snapshot of how your argument develops. It will, however, fail altogether in the last regard if it is too cluttered with Parts (A, B, C etc), Sections (I, II, III etc) , Sub-Sections (1,2,3 etc), Sub-Sub Sections (i, ii, iii, iv etc.). Avoid this kind of fussiness (but see ‘Sub-headings’ below), which will make your reader feel that he has by mistake stumbled on a car repair manual.When doing last-minute checks, also make sure that the chapter titles on the contents list correspond exactly to those on the first page of each chapter in the body of the work.
Very short essays do not require sub-headings but anything longer does. Sub-headings not only help the reader but you, the writer, as well, because they force you to focus on proper organization of your material. They can also be added (in a smaller font) to the contents list. But don’t overdue them! In a 5000 word essay I would not expect to see more than, say, five or six sub-headings. Try also to avoid use of sub-sub-headings. Simplicity is a great virtue.
- Substantive footnotes
Students often clutter up their essays and dissertations with facts of marginal relevance and sometimes with swipes at other writers. This gives the impression that they are unable to distinguish the important from the trivial and dilutes the force of any argument. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a case for including this sort of material. Try putting it in ‘substantive’ footnotes, i.e. those which provide an interesting detail and can be glanced at by those readers with a particular interest in the general point you are making but can safely be ignored by those who are not.