Core 101-102, Dr. Essid
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Writing in this Class: The Best Cheat-Sheet You’ll Get All Year!

One goal for every class of mine is more than merely teaching how "to write for what I want."  My goal is instead to teach students how to write for college professors in any field.  Sadly, few high-school students today get enough practice with argument-based writing in longer papers.  Their grades suffer first semester at Richmond, as a result of this lack of practice.  I hope to help you with this process.

Students come to Richmond with justified concerns about writing for professors.  We are picky about what we consider "good writing," and we tend to have our own idiosyncratic rules.  Richmond is a school with academic excellence at the core of its mission, and faculty are not punished for asking a lot from you.  I will be demanding but friendly in my expectations; A grades are not likely first semester (see my Web pages on Pet Peeves and Grading to understand why).

Premises: The Introduction

  • For the most part, you will not use too much personal experience in college-level writing.
  • Every document must have a central claim as its introduction.  This may, for me, take the form of the traditional "thesis statement" of one or two sentences at the end of the introduction. For other teachers you may be writing other types of introductions.
  • Most importantly, a thesis for me states why the central claim is so: "Naguib Mahfouz's character Mustafa Al-Dashoory states that Allah does not interfere in human events.  This idea orients readers to the meaning of the entire work." This is a central claim stated in two sentences.
  • It is still not a thesis statement. Remember: no "why" = no thesis statement.  Without "why" or "because," you just have a claim.
  • A revised thesis with a "why":

    "Naguib Mahfouz's character Mustafa Al-Dashoory states a dangerous idea, that Allah does not interfere in human events.  This idea orients readers to the meaning of the entire work, since good and bad fortune alike come as mere accident to those who live in the Quarter, though these people see the hand of Allah in most events."

  • Every introduction must have a "road map" to orient the reader. That means that a reader who completes just the introduction will know the major premises the paper will address.  To continue the example, a writer might, before the thesis just given, have an introduction that begins with a memorable incident that sets up the thesis.  Here’s a sample first sentence:

    Fountain And Tomb features the comic tale of a blind man who tricks a drunk into following him around, in search of another drink.  They wander in circles for hours, providing not only an hilarious incident for the local people but also a deeper metaphor for the spiritual reality of their world.

  • While the conclusion of a paper might talk about the consequences of the topic beyond the paper's scope of investigation (perhaps why Al-Dashoory's idea might still be dangerous today in our times.

Premises: Arguments & Style

  • College-level writing is based on supported arguments. Every claim you make must be supported by evidence from your texts, by logical consequences of prior claims, or, in other classes, by outside sources and empirical evidence such as experiments and statistics.
  • Sophisticated vocabulary and intricate sentences are not the best strategy at first.  Some students "overwrite" and try to "sound like professors." For me you'll want to write in simple, declarative sentences using only words you know well. 
  • As your vocabulary expands here, and it will, be sure you know the spelling of words. Buy a dictionary such as Webster's New Collegiate or The American Heritage. No online dictionaries, in my experience, provide enough context.

Your Writing Topics

  • You will have many opportunities to write for me, both low-stakes responses and higher-stakes essays. In both cases, Writing Fellows from my Eng. 383 class will read the work and will meet you for a short conference.  If you miss the conference, I will deduct a full letter grade from the response or long essay.
  • You will be writing two longer papers for me this semester, each at least six pages, double-spaced.  You will select your own topic but must submit a proposal of a paragraph to me in advance for approval.  You may submit a proposal at any time, up to one week before the draft deadline given in the syllabus. If I do not have a proposal by then, I’ll be giving you a topic.
  • Your proposal should state why the idea you want to explore is worth the effort, and which book you will use (only one!) to support and defend your claims.
  • Your Writing Fellow must meet with you before you turn in your longer papers to me.  I will not accept the longer paper until you can give me the Writing Fellows' commentary on a draft and I've gotten a Writing-Center report from your Fellow.

Notes:

  • Due Dates: see our online schedule
  • Turning in a late draft or missing the conference with your Fellow will lower the paper grade by a full letter.  Be sure to note carefully the time and location of your conference! 
  • Do not use any fonts larger than 12 points or margins larger than 1.25 inches.
  • Give the paper a title that sums up the main idea--be creative here.  "The Blind Leading the Drunk" is a better title than "Mahfouz's Challenge."
  • Be familiar with my “pet peeves” page, under the course info page for the class.

Possible traps for you as a writer:

  • Do not fall into the trap of summarizing too much of the plot of any story you draw upon to craft your answer.  We’ve all read the book.  Your goal is to craft a thesis in your introduction, then employ and explore events from the book to make your own argument that analyzes why your claim is true. 
  • Be familiar with the page “What is Analysis?” and other related pages from Writer’s Web (see the link from our syllabus).
  • It’s easy to impose your own moral or religious views on a text and have them trickle into your writing. For example, in considering The White Castle, it’s too easy to reach knee-jerk conclusions about Islam or Turkey; both are complex as this visitor to Turkey can tell you! So begin and end your analysis with what is there in the text and its ideas.

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