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What's the basic assignment? There will be three papers due by email on the dates specified in the schedule below. For the second and third papers, a reasonably developed rough draft will be due on the dates specified below. Since students in this class come from various disciplines, it will be your task to come up with a topic you find worthwhile. The first will be a three-page paper, and the second and third will be five-page papers. There is no need to consider these papers to be full research essays, although for the second and third papers, I require that you incorporate at least two sources and document them properly. CSUF academic integrity policies apply (see UPS 301.021). See CSUF Library.

The first paper counts for 10% of the course grade, but in the larger scheme of the course, it's more or less a warm-up for the longer second and third papers. It will be due by email over the weekend of Week 4 (Sunday, Feb. 24). This first paper should be only about three or four double-spaced pages long, and you need not incorporate sources unless you want to. Since students in this class aren't generally in my field (which is English literature and literary theory), I won't presume to choose your topic for you, though you're very welcome to email me a paragraph detailing your topic and I should be able to offer some advice. Thomas Kane's suggestion in Chapter 1 of The New Oxford Guide to Writing is worthwhile: . I would advise asking yourself what dimension of, or recent development in, your prospective field (or indeed any area of study in which you're interested) might prove a worthwhile topic to explore. Don't spend too long worrying about your topic; just choose one that's limited enough not to require an extremely long treatment, and go with that.

The second and third papers count for 20% and 30% of the course grade respectively. A reasonably complete rough draft for the second paper will be due by email Thursday, March 21, and the final draft of the second paper will be due by email Sunday, March 31. As for the third paper, the rough draft will be due by email Thursday, May 09, and the final draft by email Friday, May 24. Both the second and third essays should be approximately 5-7 double-spaced, normal typeface and point-sized pages long, and both must incorporate at least two sources beyond the immediate text/s you're covering (the text/s you're mainly writing about are called "primary," and outside sources such as criticism are called "secondary"). The same comments I made above regarding choice of topic applies to these papers.

How do I choose a topic? Since students in this class aren't generally in my field (which is English literature and literary theory), I won't presume to choose your topic for you, though you're very welcome to email me a paragraph detailing your topic and I should be able to offer some advice. I would advise asking yourself what dimension of, or recent development in, your prospective field (or indeed any area of study in which you're interested) might prove a worthwhile topic to explore for a short paper. Don't spend too long worrying about your topic for any of the papers; just choose one that's limited enough not to require an extremely long treatment, and go with that. Don't get bogged down with a bad case of "topic-choice block": remember that the purpose of this course has a lot more to do with developing your formal skills as a writer than it does with demonstrating your depth and breadth of knowledge in a given field. To put it bluntly, I'm more interested in style and coherence of thought than I am in critiquing you with regard to your actual topic.

How do I cite sources properly? On MLA, APA, Chicago and other citation styles when you're incorporating sources and compiling the "Works Cited" or "Reference" page that goes at the end of any college essay. (And by the way, ALWAYS include one, even if the assigned text is the only one you reference in your paper. Most instructors take it for granted that you'll do that, so leaving it out makes your paper seem incomplete and unprofessional.) You should get used to using the style that's appropriate to your own major area of study. In humanities, we generally use MLA (Modern Language Association) style when we quote material and in our works cited lists; in the social sciences, the standard seems to be APA (American Psychological Association). On MLA style, you might find my own GRAMMAR GUIDE and MLA FORMAT documents useful. For APA, one online resource that should prove helpful is U OF EVANSVILLE LIBRARIES APA CITATION GUIDE, but see also APASTYLE.ORG. In the biological sciences, I believe APA can be used, or, depending on the instructor's preferences in a given course, there's also the CBE (Council of Biology Editors) Style. For that style and a very good list of resources on many other style formats, check out this resource: OWL: PURDUE ONLINE WRITING LAB RESOURCE PAGE. For styles such as AMA (American Medical Association) and legal-oriented, try theU OF EVANSVILLE'S STYLE RESOURCE PAGE. One of the sources they list that sounds very promising is SON OF CITATION MACHINE.

How to do well on this assignment: send required rough drafts (for the second and third papers) on time and incorporate advice I send; allow time for revision; proofread and follow MLA or similar formatting and style guidelines; avoid exhaustive coverage and stale generalities: instead, develop a specific, arguable set of claims, demonstrating their strength by showing how they enhance our understanding of specific language, structures, ideas or themes in the material you're covering; document your online/print sources properly; read instructions and take advantage of Resources/Guides/Writing Guides:



Formatting. If your discipline requires MLA style (Modern Language Association), you must observe the following formatting rules; other disciplines call for somewhat different rules:

1. Observe 1-inch margins (MS Word uses 1 1/2"; change with Word's file menu Page Setup feature).

2. Double-space text and indented quotations alike. That is, don't single-space quotations.

3. Avoid extra paragraphing spaces or extra spaces anywhere (after title, etc.). Therefore, tab-indent the first line of regular paragraphs 1/2 inch rather than block-styling them, which would require extra spaces.

4. Indent long quotations of more than four lines from the left; there's no need to indent from the right.

5. Number your essay's pages in header at top right: use Word's insert menu Page Numbers feature to do that. Then input your last name with Word's view menu "header and footer" feature. The command "control/letter r" will right-justify the header text you type.

6. Include at top left on separate double-spaced lines your name, the instructor's name, bare course title, and date. Then add your centered title. A typical paper would begin like this:

Simpson 1

Bart Simpson

Professor Montgomery Burns

English 101

25 December 2010

Why Should I Study English if I'm Never Going to England?!

Then comes the essay's main body.


These comments are humanities-oriented, but general enough to be useful for almost any kind of writing. Your essay doesn't need to offer exhaustive commentary about the work or author chosen, and it doesn't need to provide huge amounts of background information about history, the author's life, and so forth. Instead, examine your text/s on the specific things (problems, issues, themes, etc.) you want to write about, and be willing to grapple directly and in some detail with the actual language of your chosen work. Try to write a paper that leads your readers towards genuine insights based on a patient, well-structured analysis of particular passages (and flexible points of comparison, for comparative essays). If your essay makes a reader feel like re-reading all or some of the literary work in question, you will have done your job well.

1) Thesis presentation in your first paragraph

The paper should go well beyond summarizing, though a little summarizing may be necessary as context for quotations and (in your first paragraph) just to explain what kind of story you are dealing with. The last several sentences of your first paragraph should explain what specific, manageable section of the text you will write about and why you are going to write about it. The "why" part should be more specific than "I want to explore certain characters' actions and relationships, and later on I'll tell you what the point of doing that was." Your reader wants to know what you have already discovered and what you will, therefore, be explaining in detail later. That's deductive structure, as illustrated in the sample paper: here's my argument / now I'm citing and analyzing key passages to show how I arrived at it / now I am wrapping up the argument and reflecting on it.

Thesis Development. In the drafting stages of a deductive essay, the thesis in the first paragraph is often vague, more like a general topic than a specific argument. In a deductive essay, one states claims at the outset and then explores them; however, insights tend to develop inductively. That is, what the writer wants to say emerges only gradually, and becomes sharpest towards the end of the paper. The most efficient way to sharpen your first paragraph is to look over what you write in the middle and conclusion of your essay, and tie it all together into a few sentences that will serve as your thesis. That way, you can turn an inductive rough draft into a deductive final draft, and avoid allowing initially vague claims to get the better of you: unless handled with care, ideas quickly become traps.

Avoiding Generalities. Do not begin your first paragraph with filler such as, "Throughout history, man has fallen in love and written poetry." That is an irrecoverable sign that the writer has little of substance to say. Also avoid literary appreciation filler such as "Ben Jonson's plays are immortal."

2) Argument structure and handling of quotations in the main essay

The aim here is to offer sustained analysis of substantive quotations for which you have provided adequate context, and a conclusion that develops logically from the middle section without simply repeating your thesis. Ideally, there should not be only extremely brief quotations; showcasing a few longer passages and staying with them improves emphasis and structure. In a comparative paper, it's usually best to deal with the texts in two solid blocks rather than to go back and forth between them several times.

3) Grammar and Style

Grammar and style. Key things are consistent verb tense use (present tense is usually best), active voice, and straightforward (not wordy or contorted) sentence structure. A Works Cited page should be included even if you only cite the assigned text/s, and MLA quotation formatting should be correct: see the sample paper available in Writing Guides. Failure to proofread and edit carefully in the final stages is a major factor in poor grades.

More thoughts on style. Avoid vague introductory language or empty praise of the author in question. A statement like "Throughout history so-and-so has been considered a great author" is padding. Get rid of sentences that function only as warm-up for specific analysis, somewhat like filler. Read your paper out loud, and you will get rid of many filler phrases and awkward constructions. We make mistakes in everyday speech, but at least we don't say things like "objective consideration of contemporary phenomena necessitates the inevitable conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity."


If you earn a B+, an A-, or an A, that's great. The A range grades mean that I really didn't see major problems in your thesis, your handling of quotations and organization of the essay, or your grammar and style. I found your paper sophisticated and well written. If you earn a B+ or A-, that generally means your thesis was good but that the grammar and style issues kept the paper from being an outright "A." I have marked up a few pages of your essay to indicate any problems with grammar and style, and possibly with minor thesis/content issues if I found any.

If you get a B, that's good, too. A "B" is solid work, with some room for improvement both in terms of content (i.e. thesis presentation and inclusion/handling of quotations), and style/grammar. The paper markup should indicate some areas in need of work.

If you earn a B- or C+, that's no catastrophe, but you can do better. Invariably this range of grades means that grammar/style problems slowed me down when I was reading your paper, even if they didn't keep me from understanding the basic argument. Often additional problems were that the thesis remained somewhat general and that the paper didn't make its case mainly through analysis of specific quotations.

If you do not get at least a C, the grade means that I saw some serious problems with both content/organization and with grammar/style, or that you simply didn't meet the requirements for the paper, i.e. you turned in a one-pager with no textual analysis, or some such thing.

An F grade usually stems from plagiarized content, whether in part or in entirety, which is also grounds for failure in the course. Sources must always be documented.


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