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Essay Writing Instructions – TN History Online
Dr. Carole Bucy
Definition of an Essay for this Course:Frederick Crews, professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, defines an essay as “a fairly brief piece of nonfiction that tries to make a point in an interesting way.”
An essay is fairly brief. While writers will sometimes refer to the articles you will read for this course as “essays,” the term usually refers to short pieces that might be published in a magazine or newspaper. In in this course, all essays submitted whether they be analytical or for the 4 tests should be standard 5-paragraph essays. Every paragraph should have a strong topic sentence.
An essay is nonfiction.
An essay tries to make an argument or major point. This is perhaps the most important and most challenging aspect of the essay. An essay is not just a bunch of words, or even a bunch of paragraphs. An essay all fits together; it all points in one direction. An essay leads to one conclusion. This is what makes an essay different from, say, an article in an encyclopedia, which may be a relatively brief and interesting piece of nonfiction. An essay tries to make a point. It aims to support a single claim. Another way of putting it would be to say that an essay doesn’t just have a topic; it also has a thesis. An essay doesn’t just give information about a subject; it supports a statement, a claim.
An essay tries to make a point in an interesting way. That means catching and keeping the reader’s interest.
In this course, I assign 2 types of essays:
- Analytical essays are based on the analysis and interpretation of a specific scholarly article written by a recognized authority on the topic. In each of these articles, the author takes a position in answer to a question and makes an argument in defense of his/her position. He/she uses specific historical evidence to support his/her thesis.
- DBQ Essays (Documents-Based Question): Students will answer a specific question and develop a thesis that answers the question that is based on the evidence presented in Primary Documents.
All essays that are assignments for this course are designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to interpret both primary and secondary source material and draw conclusions from the assigned materials.
All essays submitted in this course should be standard 5-paragraph essays. Every paragraph should have a strong topic sentence. These assignments should be written in a formal, academic style of language, not “street talk,” and should be written consistently in third person.
The Volunteer State Language Center:The Language Center recognizes that writing and communicating are skills that must be sharpened, particularly in the current global environment. To aid in achieving this end, the Language Center helps students in all disciplines become more effective and more confident scholars. The Language Center works in conjunction with your instructor to provide you with support and assistance in a friendly, relaxed environment in an effort to help prepare you not only for success in academic pursuits but also for success in both local and global communities. The Language Center is in Ramer 157, and the hours for this semester are Mondays and Thursdays 9:00-5:00, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:00-7:00, and Fridays 9:00-3:00. For this class, the Language Center is available online in ELEARN; if you would like to send a draft of a paper you have written for this class to the LC for comments, you can go to the Classlist under “Communications” in ELEARN, and send an email to Tutor, LC. The staff there will be happy to help you. Keep in mind that you will need to give the Language Center staff sufficient lead time in order to get their feedback and make changes in your paper before the weekly Monday night deadline. Using the Language Center is an excellent way to improve your writing skills.
- Instructions for Writing an Analytical Essay (Essays 1, 2& 3):
Analytical essays are based on the analysis and interpretation of a specific scholarly article written by a recognized authority on the topic. In each of these articles, the author takes a position in answer to a question and makes an argument in defense of his/her position. (Your essay on the Loewen article, “The Truth about the First Thanksgiving” is an analytical essay.)
Why did this author write this article? What question did he/she attempt to answer?
How had the author determined there was a problem?
After the author determined a problem (the question he/she wanted to answer, how did the author proceed to investigate the matter? What sources did he/she consult?
Avoid using quotations from the article in these essays. If you feel that you absolutely must use a quotation, you must then follow it with a complete interpretation of what it meant.
- Introductory paragraph – Open with an interesting statement, a “Grabber” (1-2 sentences): The Grabber should be a quick sentence or two that “grabs” the reader’s attention. Do not use profanity, i.e. “DAMN! Thomas Jefferson kicked ass!” However, coming up an attention-grabbing opener is a key to a good paper.
If the essay is an analysis of a specific article, the introduction must include complete name of the author, the full title of the article, and the source, if known. The introduction must include the author’s thesis. What is the primary argument presented here? What big question did the author attempt to answer in writing this paper. Hint: Look at the title that the author has chosen. This is often a clue as to the author’s thesis.
Do not say that you are going to say something in papers no longer than these essays. In other words, do not write in your introduction, “In this essay, I will explain why there should be a national holiday honoring Christopher Columbus.”
- Body of the essay – a minimum of 3 paragraphs – Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence.
- What evidence does the author use to back up his thesis? (Don’t cherry-pick random information here and there. What evidence did you find most important or compelling?
- Be specific. Don’t speak in vague or general terms. Focus on this particular article.
- How did this information (evidence) back up the author’s main point (thesis)?
- Has the author omitted important information?
- Tie all of your descriptive information back to the author’s thesis!
- Conclusion – one paragraph –
Avoid beginning with: “In conclusion,”
Go back to the author’s thesis; Did he prove his thesis? Why or why not? If not, how do you disagree with him/her? You must provide concrete evidence if you disagree. How does his information compare to that presented in the text?
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- Instructions for Writing a DBQ Essay (Documents-Based Question) (Essays 4):
Documents-Based Question Essays (DBQs) are based on specific primary sources that you will be given to use to answer a specific question such as:
- Was Andrew Jackson a great President?
- How democratic was the Unites States Constitution at the time it was written?
- Was the Mexican War justified?
- What caused the Civil War?
- What kind of taxation is equitable for the state of Tennessee.
• Grabber (1-2 sentences): The Grabber should be a quick sentence or two that “grabs” the reader’s attention. Do not use profanity, i.e. “DAMN! Thomas Jefferson kicked ass!” However, coming up an attention grabbing opener is a key to a good paper.
- Background—time, place, story (2-3 sentences): Background is simply some context for the reader. For instance, if your question was “Was dropping the atomic bomb necessary?”, your background could easily be something like this: “The United States entered World War II when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Over the next four years, as the United States moved closer and closer to home island of Japan, the fighting became more and more intense. By 1945, it was clear that an invasion of the home island would result in enormous casualties.” This demonstrates that you understand the period you are writing about before you give your answer.
- Rephrase the Question and definition of key terms in question: As you complete your introduction, rephrase the question as a statement. This restatement should start setting the direction of your paper. Equally important, you need to define any key terms. Thus, using the example above about the atomic bomb, it would be very important to determine what “necessary” meant and to explain that idea.
- Thesis and Roadmap: The thesis is your answer. The roadmap is where you are going to go with your paper. This is usually most easily handled with a “because” statement. This is definitely not the ONLY way to handle this, but is certainly the easiest. Thus, using the atomic bomb example, your thesis might look this: “Dropping the atomic bomb was necessary because using the bomb would have ended the war quickly, would have saved American lives, and would send a message to the Soviet Union about which nation was going to be the most powerful after the war was over.” The beauty of this is that you now also have your three body paragraphs–ending the war quickly, saving American lives, and intimidating the Soviet Union!
• Baby Thesis: A baby thesis is, for all practical purposes, a topic sentence. It outlines what this particular paragraph is going to be about. Using the atomic bomb example from above, you would have three different baby thesis statements, one on each of the points mentioned in your roadmap.
- Evidence: This point and the next are probably the most important parts of your paper. Your evidence will come directly from the documents provided. Cite the document (using “Doc A” for example will work just fine) and tell what it is in the document that is important to your point.
• Argument: However, simply pointing to the evidence is not enough. You have to tell WHY the document and what you pointed out is relevant. DO NOT ASSUME your reader has read the document the same way that you have. You must EXPLAIN why the evidence you have provided is relevant. In short, walk the reader through your thinking.
• Re-phrase the main argument of the paper in a fresh way: This is pretty self-explanatory. After your body paragraphs, you need to conclude your paper. The simplest way to do this is by rephrasing what your main argument was. If your thesis was that dropping the atomic was necessary, restate that idea, but try to state it in a fresh way. “Dropping the atomic bomb was not only necessary; it changed America’s standing in the world.”
“Although statement” (make sure to trump the “although”): If you haven’t already done so, feel free to throw in an “although statement” in the conclusion. An “although statement” is a conflicting point and it shows that you understand there are other points of view and other conclusions that could be drawn. “Although dropping the atomic killed tens of thousands and opened the door to a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union” would be an example. The key to an “although statement” is to make sure you trump it. In other words, since you’ve introduced this conflicting information, show why YOUR point is better.
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All of these things are elements of a good essay. Include these elements and you are well on your way to an exceptional paper.
Saving your file: You must save your file with your last name and the essay number. It must be saved in Microsoft Word 365, which the college is giving you at no charge. If your last name is Smith, for example, your essay will be saved as: Smithessay1.docx
I will not accept any essays submitted in Open Documents, WordPerfect, or other programs.
Header for all History Papers submitted on upper left side, single spaced:
Mary Smith (Your Name)
History 2020-Fall 2012-Dr. Bucy
January 16, 2012 – Essay 1
Your name, etc. should be on a header as I have used on these instructions.
The D2L Dropbox: All work must be submitted using the Desire to Learn Dropbox. I will not accept any written work that has not been submitted to the Dropbox. Because I drop the lowest 5 essay grades, I cannot accept any work after posted deadlines.
- Double space your paper, using 11-point font in MS Word.
- Use your best, formal writing style – no slang or profanity please. Do not use cell phone spelling. Use proper spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
- Keep in mind that you are in a college class and should write like a college student. Avoid immature phrases and statements such as “The article that I am going to write about is…”
- Titles of articles are in quotation marks. Titles of books should be underlined or italicized.
- Avoid Platitudes. “Tennessee is the greatest state.” “This was such a wonderful event.”
- Use past tense consistently. Do not jump back and forth between present and past tense. When in doubt, use past tense. For example, “James Robertson came to the Cumberland region in 1779” rather than “James Robertson comes to the Cumberland region in 1779.” “Walter Durham arguedthat many of the legends about Thomas Spencer were actually based on facts”, not “Walter Durham arguesthat many of the legends about Spencer were based on facts.”
- Avoid using quotations from the articles in a paper no longer than these analytical essays. Instead, use your own words.
- Avoid modal verbs, such as would, could, etc. Instead of “Andrew Jackson would go on to become President four years later.” Write: “Andrew Jackson went on to become President four years later.”
- Do not use 1st or 2nd person. Write exclusively in third person.
- No “Works Cited” page is necessary UNLESS you use outside sources.
- No cover sheet on any assignments for this class
- Avoid superlatives – Tennessee is the greatest state in the United States.
- Stick to the author and his/her argument and the evidence in this particular article. Again, back up your own view with concrete evidence. Don’t use other sources. Focus completely on this article.
- Do not refer to the author’s by their first names. Refer to them as Dr. Finger, or Professor Finger, not as John.
- Take pride in your work.
Pay attention to capitalization and punctuation. They really do matter.
Questions??Email me or drop by my office for help.
Dropbox is in MyVolStateOnline under the Red Tool Bar for your class.