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FORMAL ACADEMIC WRITING Your essay is expected to raise a question about a reading or prove an argument about it. You can follow either of these strategies (A or B). Also, take note of the common mistakes students make in formal academic essays (Section C).
A.HOW TO CREATE AN ARGUMENT ABOUT WHAT YOU READ To create an argument about a reading, imagine how other people read it and offer your response in which you disagree with their interpretation. Here is an example of how you coulddevelopan argument about the story of Adam and Eve (in the Book of Genesis): 1.Find an important question to discuss about the text. For example, if you read the story of Adam and Eve, you might wonder whether God knew about the serpent’s plan to corrupt people. This question is a foundation of your argument: Did God know about the serpent’s plans? 2. Show two different ways of answering the question: Perhaps some readers of the story will say that God did not know about the serpent’s plans. You, on the other hand, might say that God actually know about the serpent’s plans. 3.State your argumentin one sentence.Here is the basic formula: Many readers of [the work’s title] seem to believe that the serpent acted independently of God, but I argue that he acted with God’s tacit approval. It is important that the argument shows the contrast between what you want to a) disprove and b) prove. 4.Compile evidence from the textto supportbothsides of your argument. 5. Write an introduction. Using the argument you have designed earlier (step 3), write a more detailed introduction thatincludes your argument: The opening of the Book of Genesis, which describes the Adam’s and Eve’s downfall, raises the question whether God knew about the serpent’s plan to corrupt people. Readers of the story are likely to conclude that God, the force for good, could not possibly be associated with the serpent and therefore he must have not known about God’s plans. In this view, the serpent acts alone and independently of God. Such an interpretation, however, ignores the possibility that the serpent probably acted with God’s tacit approval. Thus, it can be argued that God knew about the serpent’s plans but chose not to stop him. 6. The rest of the essay falls roughly into two parts, in which you consider two sides of the argument. a)God didn’t know. .. [explain]. b)God knew. . . [explain].
ARGUMENT | PAGE2
B.HOW TORAISE A QUESTION ABOUT WHAT YOU READ It often happens that while you read something, you ask yourself a question that has two fairly convincing but conflicting answers. In the case of Genesis, did the serpent act independently of God? Yes and no. If you recognize that both answers are somewhat correct, you do not have to take a side but simply raise the question and show how it can be answered in two different ways. The opening of the Book of Genesis, which describes the serpent’s intervention in the Garden of Eden, begs the question whether the serpent acts independently of God. The story puts much blame on the serpent to the extent that it is reasonable to conclude that he acts independently of God in his effort to corrupt people. At the same time, we have to recognize that this episode also suggests God’s awareness of the serpent’s plans and actions, thus undermining the notion that the serpent acted completely independently of God.
In contrast to an argumentative essay in which you take a definite position (the serpent did not act independently of God), in this kind of essay you raise a question (did the serpent act independently of God?) and show two different ways of answering that question. In the rest of your essay, you are expected to show evidence supporting both answers. C.COMMON MISTAKES Do not argue with a writer or character you are analyzing. Remember, your task is to understand why a character does something, not to judge a character. Your argument or questions should be about the works we are reading, not some general subject. For example, you cannot argue that “God is always good,” because it is a general argument about God and not the work we read. You have to focus on ways of interpreting the text which we are reading. So if you want to talk about the goodness of God, you might want to discuss the goodness of God asdepicted in assigned text.Example: “What kind of image of God does the book create?” You should not repeat exactly what I say in class. If you do, it means that you cannot come up with your own argument but simply repeat what I say. In this class you should learn how to develop your owninterpretationofwhat you read. Do not expect us to accept your position just because you think that everyone deserves to have an opinion. Your opinion is not important unless you make us care about it.You need to relate your opinion to the views of others. This is why you will have to imagine how other people the same text and offer your opinion in response. Do not expect your audience to accept your religious views as the sole basis for an argument. Many students in class do not share your religious views. Your argument will not be convincing if it relies only on your religious beliefs. Youcannot borrow arguments from any outside source.
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In this course, you will practice writing formal academic essays, which have to be structured in such a way that your readers to effortlessly follow your line of thought.
I.INTRODUCTION & PARAGRAPH SEQUENCE
Since your essay has to be argumentative in nature, you have to prove not only your side of the argument but also explain why someone would disagree with you. It is recommended that you arrange paragraphs in the following sequence:
Introduction Every essay has to start with an introduction that a) clearly establishes the work(s) you will discuss and b) states your argument. You should not attempt to prove your argument in the introduction—just introduce it. I highlighted the argument in the following example: A superficial reading of Ovid’s story about Narcissus suggests that the young man was an exceptionally self-absorbed character. What we are inclined to notice by the end of the story is that Narcissus was so in love with himself that he drowned while trying to embrace his reflection in the water. Interestingly enough, however, Ovid’s version of the myth actually implies that Narcissus never loved himself. In fact Ovid suggests that Narcissus often exhibited signs of hatred toward himself. Part I In this part of the essay, you have to explain why someone can disagree with your argument. Since you mentioned in the introduction that some readers might think that Narcissus was “an exceptionally self-absorbed character,” you have to explain why you think some readers are likely to make that assumption. On the surface, Narcissus indeed seems to be a self-loving character. Thus. . . .[examples and evidence follow. . .] Part II In this part, you have to prove your side of the argument. Since your introduction states that “Ovid’s version of the myth . . . implies that Narcissus never loved himself,” this part allows you to demonstrate that. This part is usually the longest. Example: A closer look, however, reveals that Narcissus never expressed love for himself. . .[examples and evidence follow. . .]
Each paragraph has to start with a topic sentence, a point that directly relates to your main argument stated in the introduction. This approach allows your reader to discern each paragraph’s topic by reading only the first sentence. The basic rule, which every essay in this class has to follow, is that your reader has to have a perfect sense of what the essay is about by reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. The following example is a sequence of paragraphs that follow a specific argument:
ESSAY STRUCTURE | PAGE4
A superficial reading of Ovid’s story about Narcissus suggests that the young man was an exceptionally self-absorbed character. . . . Interestingly enough, however, Ovid’s version of the myth actually implies that . . . Narcissus often exhibited signs of hatred toward himself. On the surface, Narcissus indeed seems to be a self-loving character. Thus. . .[evidence & analysis follow] A closer look, however, reveals that Narcissus never expressed love for himself. [evidence & analysis follow] Narcissus’ reaction to his realization that he fell in love with his own reflection further questions his image as a selfloving character. [evidence & analysis follows]
III. USE OF EVIDENCE
You are expected to use appropriate textual evidence to support the points you make. This will demonstrate your familiarity with the text and, hopefully, strengthen your argument. There are three main rules you have to keep in mind:
1. The only purpose of using quotations is to point out relevant details, not to “remind” the reader basic developments in the story. Consequently, you should incorporate into your essays only small passages that support the point which you make. Avoid giving the impression that you are retelling the book because you have nothing to say. It is not necessary to refer to obvious facts or irrelevant details. For example: Dante’s journey begins when he found himself “within a shadowed forest,” after he had “lost the path that does not stray” (I.2-3). Unless there is a reason why you are drawing the reader’s attention to “a shadowed forest” and “the path that does not stray,” there is no point of quoting, or even mentioning them.
2. All quotations should be appropriately introduced. They should never appear in the beginning of a paragraph—or even in a beginning of a sentence. First you should make a point and then introduce some evidence—not the other way around. Examples:
BAD (because this paragraph starts without making a point—just throwing a quotation at the reader) “There was nothing I looked at in the city that I didn’t believe to be other than what it was: I imagined that everything everywhere had been changed by some infernal spell into a different shape” (22). As we can see in this quotation, Lucius was an imaginative person. He wanted to see more than there was. BETTER (because the paragraph starts by making a point and then offers evidence to support it) It is important to notice that Lucius was so imaginative that he was often carried away by his imagination. On one occasion, for example, he declared that he believed that everything was “other than what it was” (22). He repeatedly made efforts to imagine “that everything everywhere had been changed by some infernal spell into a different shape” (22). 3. Make sure to include a reference (page number) after each quotation. The examples and the exact appearance of page numbers are shown in the examples above.
ESSAY STRUCTURE | PAGE5
The opening of the Book of Genesis, which describes the serpent’s intervention in the Garden of Eden, suggests a certain polarity in the universe. God, the force for good, is constantly opposed by someone, in this case the serpent whom many readers regard as an embodiment of evil. In this view, the serpent acts alone and independently of God. Such an interpretation, however, ignores the possibility that the serpent probably acted with God’s tacit approval. Thus, it can be argued that the serpent did not act independently of God. At first, it appears that the serpent does appear to be acting independently. [Explain what is negative about it—and give some evidence] words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words. . . At the same time some details suggest that serpent probably acted with God tacit approval. [Explain what is positive about it— and give some evidence]. words words words words words words words words words words words words words words words. . .
Note that the essay starts by pointing out how people commonly read this book—they say that the serpent is just bad.
But then the writer of the essay points out that the common way of reading is too limited and introduces his argument: that even though the serpent seems to act independently, there is some evidence that he acted with God’s approval.
Note that the first sentence of the new paragraph a) clearly states the main point of this paragraph, and b) can be clearly related to the main argument.
The same here: every paragraph starts by making a point that can be related to the main argument.
ESSAY STRUCTURE | PAGE6
EXAMPLE In contrast to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which miraculous transformations are meant to be taken as something quite ordinary, Apuleius’ Golden Ass never expects the reader to believe the miracles that take place in it. Strange things, for Apuleius, often take place only in the imagination of an observer, or a result of a hallucination, which turns Lucius’ narrative into a very tricky work. It always keeps the reader wondering whether the events described on the page happened in reality or in the reality as Lucius saw it. We have to notice that Lucius is constantly prone to visual hallucinations. While he was taking a walk around the city, for example, he was so carried away by his imagination that he “expected statues and pictures to start walking” (22). Later on, while looking at a statue of Diana and the dogs, he remarked that it was so well-made that the animals “seemed to be running” and “if any barking were heard nearby, you’d think it came from those stony throats” (24). What we cannot ignore is that Lucius wants to believe that the statues are real, which might in fact be compared to the reader’s habit of accepting a strange work such as The Golden Ass for something more real than it is.
The paragraph starts by making a specific point, which prepares your reader for the evidence to follow.
Note that quotations are usually no longer than a few words long—and they are properly incorporated into the text.
Note that if you use quotations you have to refer to the page number from which they are taken.
FORMAT RULES | PAGE7
TITLES OF WORKS: Depending on the length of the work, its title should be either italicized or put in quotation marks. The titles of long works are italicized (example: Shelley’s Frankenstein). The titles of poems and short works (essays and short stories) are put in quotation marks (example: Wordsworth’s poem “Delight”).
REFERENCES: Quotations should be followed with a reference (page number). Example: Roberts mentions “one crazy philosopher who believed that the sun was a red-hot disk” (30). PUNCTUATION IN QUOTATIONS: The position of punctuation marks (periods and commas) changes depending on whether or not the sentence ends with a quotation. It can be confusing but deal with it. Here are some examples in which I highlighted the places where mistakes are usually made.
RIGHT: Hamilton called Greek mythologists “the first scientists.” She believed that they were “smart” (30). WRONG: Hamilton called Greek mythologists “the first scientists”. She believed that they were “smart.” (30) RIGHT: Hamilton called Greek mythologists “the first scientists,” but at the same time she denied that they were particularly smart (30). WRONG: Hamilton called Greek mythologists “the first scientists”, but at the same time she defied that they were particularly smart. (30) RIGHT: Wordsworth’s attitude toward nature is revealed at its best in his poem “Delight.” WRONG: Wordsworth’s attitude toward nature is revealed at its best in his poem “Delight”.
PROSEQUOTATIONS:If you quote fewer thanfour lines, simply put the quoted excerpt in quotation marks: Hamilton and Roberts seem to disagree whether mythology is an early form of thinking or simply a set of superstitious beliefs. Hamilton, for her part, argues that mythology is an early form of scientific inquiry when she states that “the men who made myths disliked the irrational and had love for facts” (17). If a quotation is longer than four lines, use what is called a block-quotation. In this case, you will not need quotation marks. For example:
FORMAT RULES | PAGE8
Although the Greek civilization is admired for its achievements, many Greeks were much more primitive than many people today believe. One scholar writes: Most Greeks lived in cocoons of tradition, irrationality and superstition; even those who were in a position to understand something rarely welcomed or accepted their implications. A continuing respect was shown to the old public orthodoxies, and in some respects it was reinforced as time went by. It was impiety in late fifth-century Athens, for example, to deny belief in the gods. One philosopher believed that the sun was a redhot disc; when he said so, it did not protect him that he had been the friend of the great demagogue Pericles and he had to flee. (Roberts 30) POETRY QUOTATIONS: If you quote fewer than four lines of poetry, simply put the quoted excerpt in quotation marks and indicate the line breaks in the original text with a slash (/). For example: From time to time, Ovid tries to please the emperor by praising him. Thus in a story of “Lycaon,” Ovid writes that “you, Augustus, / are no less pleased by all the firm devotion / your people show to you than Jove” (11). If you quote more than three lines of poetry, use a block-quotation: From time to time, Ovid tries to please the emperor by making references to him in Metamorphoses. Thus in a story of “Lycaon,” Ovid directly compares Jove to Augustus: you, Augustus, are no less pleased by all the firm devotion your people show to you than Jove was then to hear the gods outcry on his behalf. (11) ELLIPSES: To avoid long quotations (the example above is too long and inappropriate), use ellipses [. . .] toshorten the quotations. Example: Although the Greek civilization is admired for its achievements, many Greeks were much more primitive than many people today believe. One scholar writes: Most Greeks lived in cocoons of tradition, irrationality and superstition; even those who were in a position to understand something of the speculations which were opening new mental worlds rarely welcomed or accepted their implications. . . One philosopher believed that the sun was a red-hot disc; when he said so, it did not protect him that he had been the friend of the great demagogue Pericles and he had to flee. (Roberts 30)
PLAGIARISM IS NOT TOLERATED IN THIS COURSE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. READTHISHANDOUT CAREFULLY.
Plagiarism is a use of “another’s person ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source” (MLA Handbook). The most common example of plagiarism is copying or paraphrasing passages from online essays and scholarly works (including Sparknotes and Cliffnotes) without indicating that you are using outside sources. This does not mean that you cannot incorporate other people’s ideas in your essays (although not in this course). The nature of different disciplines requires you to do research, which consists of reading other people’s works. There are, however, rules of incorporating the results of research into your work. The basic rule: In no way should it ever appear to your reader that what you claim to be your ideas have been taken from someone else. If you still have any questions about plagiarism, you can consult appropriate sections in you writing manual or talk tosomeone in the Writing Center.
You should know that if your essay is suspected of plagiarism, a substantial effort will be made to determine its authenticity. In a proven case of plagiarism, the student will receive an F for the entire course. To prevent any misunderstanding, you should not rely entirely on what you hear about plagiarism from your friends and classmates. Their advice, based on their experience in other classes or schools, can be misleading. Sometimes you hear how easy it is to copy essays from books and internet, and that it is easy to prevent your readers from finding out whether your essay is plagiarized. You might also hear that the penalty for plagiarism is insignificant—that even if you get caught plagiarizing you will always be given a chance to rewrite your essay. On the contrary, any case of plagiarism in this course has only one outcome—a failing grade for the course— even if you “really, really” have to pass this course andare “really, really sorry” for plagiarizing.
SOME STUDENTS’REACTIONS TO THE SUBJECT OF PLAGIARISM:
Q: What’s the big deal about plagiarism? A: It is a violation of trust between instructor and student, which prevents productive cooperation between them in the future. This is why any student guilty of plagiarism will be automatically expelled from this course with a failing grade.
Q: The subject of plagiarism is so confusing that I did not have time to understand it properly before I had to write an essay. I did not know that plagiarism is such a serious offence. A: Before you start writing an essay— or even before you enroll in this course—you should have a good idea of what plagiarism is. If you still have questions, you are encouraged to consult the appropriate sections in your writing manual or contact the Writing Center.
Q: In my country students are encouraged to read as many books as possible and then use any material in their essays without identifying the sources. I think it is an excellent way to learn. I did not know that I cannot do that in this class. A: Research practices and expectations are probably different in other counties, but while you are enrolled at QC, which promotes respect for intellectual property and encourages students to think independently, you are expected to follow its rules.
Q: I do not understand why I failed the entire course simply for submitting one plagiarized essay that counts 10% of the overall grade? A: Since plagiarism constitutes a personal breach of trust that cannot be repaired, it makes it impossible for your instructor to read your future work. In addition, based on your instructor’s personal stance against plagiarism, it is his right and willing choice to prosecute every case of plagiarism to the full extent allowed by the regulations (see the QCHandbook). The maximum penalty for plagiarism—which will be applied to every proven case of plagiarism in this course—is a failing grade for the course and a report to the Dean of Academic Affairs that might eventually lead to student’s suspension from the college.