We want you to write a 2 page essay
that develops fully an interesting, insightful, tightly focused argument*
that engages two texts you've read and/or talked about thus far. Your
essay should provide the reader with clear support and with argumentation
that fully justifies your conclusions, and it should be written in
a style that is both felicitous and sophisticated. Its argument should
be both complex and clear.
"I don't know what you want; I don't know what you're looking
for" -- If by this statement you mean: "I don't know
what specific content, in what specific form, you want," the
answer is: "we don't either." There is no magic formula,
no single right reading, no set model for a great essay. Having said
that, here's what we don't want: Don't simply repeat what we said
in lecture or class -- we already know what we said in class;
we're the ones who said it. We want to hear what you think; what
your ideas are. Feel
free, however, to take something we said in class and explain it further
or expand on its implications, using your
own reading or experience for support.
Most Important: At any and all of the process below, help
is available if you need it. Talk to your TA (during office hours,
not the night before the paper is due), check out the Undergraduate
Writing Center (FAC 211; take this description with you), or
visit the UT
Learning Center (Jester).
The one thing you must do in your
Other things you can do in your
a connection using two texts studied – put “this
and that together” – and explain both the details
and the significance of that connection
(Note: one of these "texts" can be a detailed rendering of personal
- Locate yourself in a conversation (from section, from lecture,
from your reading, from life)
- Agree with a writer and extend his or her ideas with your own
- Ask a question, then answer it
a “light bulb moment” you had while reading
What you CANNOT do:
with an author and go off on a rant
a single text
How to get started:
to your reading journals, and find the point in your reading
that engaged you the most. (Note: if the point that engaged you
the most was something said in class or in lecture, go back to your
journal and find out what you originally said about it. If it is
a point you missed or misread, look back at the work and figure
out why you missed or misread it. Use the left-hand page to write
down what you discover.)
back in the text and find out what was said there that made
you say what you said. Does the text actually say what you say it
says? Do you still agree with what you wrote originally? Why or
why not? What would you write in your journal now?
you've settled on a statement you can live with, you need to ask
yourself "is this simply a statement of fact?"
(for example, does it merely repeat what gets said in the text or
retell an incident that occurs in the text?) or does it in some
way provide a commentary or present an opinion on the text? Another
way to think about this step is to ask yourself does my argument
make explicit something that I see as implicit either in this
text or between two texts? Keep thinking about this point in the
text until you can formulate an argument that provides some commentary
you need to ask yourself two vital questions: what is my argument?
and why is it important?
Remember, your essay should be an individual, not a personal,
response to the reading. You might think the protagonist in
"Mr. & Mrs. Elliott" is a twit (and he might be),
but a good paper will explore why his being a twit is important
(to an idea of masculinity exemplified in another story, to Nabokov's
idea of the author as teacher, etc.). You might personally disagree
with Frost about the importance of metaphor, but why is your disagreement
the entire text and find all of the evidence that led you to this
conclusion. Begin also to think about how and why you came to
the conclusion you did. You should also look for evidence that might
contradict or work against your argument.
asking yourself those two vital questions: what is my argument?
and why is it important? Write and re-write your response until
you can articulate a clear answer to these questions in two or three
sentences. You do not necessarily need to write these statements
explicitly in your essay, but it should be clear to a reader of
your essay what your argument is and why you think it is important.
Remember, if you can't
clearly explain to someone exactly what your argument is (and why it's important), odds are that a reader
won't know what it is either.
- Ask yourself,
"is this an argument I can make in two pages?"
If not, narrow your focus. You probably can't say much in
two pages about all of "Education by Poetry," but you
might be able to develop a nice argument about the Self-Belief in
the above process until you've arrived at what you think is a workable
argument with a reasonable amount of support to back it up.
- Now you
need to ask yourself the most important question in writing,
"who is my audience?" Your audience, of course, is
your TA, and you can assume that your TA has read the text you're
talking about but has not formulated any opinions or conclusions
about it. You need to show your audience the evidence and
support that led you to your conclusions and explain how and why
you came to the conclusions you did. Just because you assert
something (no matter how strongly you assert it) doesn't mean that
your audience will be convinced of your assertion. Just because
you read a certain line in a certain way doesn't mean that your
audience will read it in exactly the same way. Make sure that
your argument doesn't rest on assumptions that your audience may
not share or that you haven't clearly articulated. You have
to convince your audience that your argument is a sound one.
is the most effective way to present my argument?" There
are as many answers to this question as there are writers of essays
and arguments to be argued. Still, here are some general tips:
in a style and voice that is easy, natural, and clear. You're
not a 17th century scholar; don't try and sound like one.
what you mean and mean what you say. This might sound simple,
but it's the hardest thing to make your writing do.
your argument in a clear, coherent order. Don't jump from
point to point without telling your audience where you're going.
Writing is a process. It involves thinking, reading, writing, rereading,
rethinking, and rewriting. Like a work of art (which it is), it is
never finished; only abandoned. It's a grueling, painful thing, especially
when we have to throw away something that we've already written, but
it's the only way we can really know what we think and communicate
that thinking to others.
Finally, here are a few rules on "How
to Write" from Colson Whitehead.
First and final drafts must be typewritten or word-processed.
Use a title page with the following information: your name,
your TA's name, course and unique #, date, paper number, and paper
title. Use space-and-a-half for the text of the paper, with
1 inch margins all the way around the text. Use only 10
or 12 pt. plain fonts (Times 12 or Geneva 10 are good models).
Do not justify on the right hand side. Please staple the pages
together. Do not
use Headers or Footers with
your name in them and do
not put the title on the 1st page of the text.
Computers are available at the Student Microcomputer Facility
(SMF, or "Smurf,") on the 2nd floor of the Flawn Academic
Center (FAC), also known as theUndergraduate Library (UGL). You should
get a user account with the SMF as soon as you can.
Become familiar with computing resources. Some departments provide
computer labs; check with your advisor. There is also a list of computer
locations (and other student resources) in The Student Guide
to First-Year Writing, 3rd edition; eds. Englund, Sheryl and
Shannon Prosser (available at local bookstores).
Scholastic dishonesty: Turning in work that is not your own,
or any other form of scholastic dishonesty, will result in a major
course penalty, including possible failure of the course. A report
of the incident will be made to the Office of the Dean of Students.
Do not use editing services other than those offered by the Undergraduate
Writing Center (FAC 211) or the UT
Learning Center, where approved tutors are trained to help
you resolve your own problems so that all your writing reflects
what you have learned. If you have any questions about your work,
talk to your TA or check out the Academic
Integrity Site at Student Judicial Services and the Statement
on Scholastic Responsibility at the DRW.
You are not expected to use any sources or research for your papers,
but if you do, you must provide your TA with photocopies or printouts
of all sources you use. If you have any questions about the
use you are making of sources for your assignments, see your TA before
you turn in the paper. And here's some suggestions for the Appropriate
Use of Wikipedia.
Complaints: Bring any questions you have to your TA first.
Questions about grades must be presented in writing within one
week. You should state your claim and provide reasons for it. Complaints
or concerns will be resolved in a meeting with me (Bremen), you, and
By the way, here's what an argument is
not; some sample
essays; the exercise on "Writing
an Argument" that we
went through in lecture with "The
Revolutionist"; and some logical
fallacies, courtesy of Sheridan Baker's Practical
And (ouch) conservative columnist David Brooks takes Harriet Miers
to task for her inability to "write
clearly and argue incisively."
Here's the Two-Page
Paper Grading Guide, a Paper
Proposal worksheet, and some
more guidance on how
to write an argument from Purdue
University's Online Writing Lab, along with advice from Dartmouth's
Writing Program and Harvard's
*As Michael Palin says in the Monty
Python video, an argument is "an intellectual process." It's "a
connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." Does
to answer (or at least to explore) a challenging intellectual
the point you're making one that would generate discussion
and argument, or is it one that would leave people asking, "So
your argument too vague? Too general? Should you focus on some
more specific aspect of your topic?
your argument deal directly with the topic at hand, or is it
a declaration of your personal feelings?
your argument indicate the direction of your essay? Does it
suggest a structure for your paper?
your introductory paragraph define terms important to your
the language in your argument vivid and clear?
Two Page Paper Checklist
order of importance, consider these questions:
1. Can you easily determine what is the argument here and
why is it important?
2. Does the essay maintain a consistent focus on that argument
or does it stray off its stated or implied purpose?
3. Is the development of the argument clear, purposeful, and
Clear: you can see a progression from one point to the next
Purposeful: each paragraph has a discernible function in
developing that argument
Substantial: sufficient support and explanation is shown
to the reader
4. Does the writer maintain coherence between paragraphs?
5. Do individual sentences convey their meaning clearly?
6. Are individual words used properly? Are they le
mot juste? (For example, how many times--and in how many
forms--do you use the verb "to be"?)
7. Search for “this,” “it,” “is,” “was,” and “were”: clarify any ambiguous pronoun references and make verbs more active and precise.