essay-writing skillsThis Essay#1 is graded (5% of the course grade). But its intent is mainly diagnostic, to ensure that your essay-writing skills are up to speed before you write Essay#2. I highly recommend that you take the optional “Quiz Snack#1” as I provide some quick writing tips there.
Your essay should be focused/have a main point, and its prose should be lucid and correct.
At my discretion, poorly executed essays will receive no grade (a “0” as a place-holder), and I will ask you to resubmit with perhaps a side-bar brief email/tutorial exchange with me or a visit to FIU’s Writing Center.
The paper should be approximately one, double-spaced page long. With all the options below keep “I” phrasing to a minimum–indeed, kill altogether usually. You do not need to say “In my opinion, I believe I’m disgusted by cockroaches because I feel a cockroach is a creature that does not deserve my respect.” Instead, “Cockroaches, among all creatures, deserve little respect because…”.
See the sample paper from a previous class with my comments (on Option#1 below, on Rousseau and nostalgia) after the options.
Amplify on your ideas/postings in the second Time-Thought Exercise (Rousseau/nostalgia). You may use the same or kindred phrasing you initially used, as long as such is appropriately edited (to reduce chatty informality, increase precision, and otherwise make squeaky-clean grammar-wise) and expanded upon to meet the one-page requirement. The essay should be analytical, not a parade of personal impressions or personal narrative.
Choose any of the episodes of the “What is Time” documentary (sometimes the main topic stretches over several of the 10 minute or so episodes). Write a review of the episode(s)/topic that a) summarizes the overall “point”, b) evaluates the effectiveness (or not) of the episode(s)/topic, and c) briefly, adds your own perspective on the documentary “point.”
Reread my somewhat whimsical reflections on my dog Rusty and his memory capacity or on bugs and their sense of ongoing pain (or not). Presumably, it is largely Rusty’s capacity, however limited, to have memories that would make us nervous about using him for medical experiments (or prematurely ending his life, so he could become, say, a meal for us). Whereas we would have very little qualms about stomping on the cockroach, because Mr. Cockroach’s sentience doesn’t exist in-time very much at all (it does not anticipate; it does not regret). Construct an ethical/philosophical argument supporting a non-human species “right” to survive (or not), by focusing on a thresh-hold mental-capacity example somewhere between a dog and a cockroach (a cow? a bird? a lizard?).
Below is an A+ sample from a previous class for Essay#1 plus my comments/tips to the class-at-large, so you can see how the phrasing/argument sequence plays-out sentence-by-sentence and its effect on the reader (i.e., me!).
This writer/student clearly has taken other humanities courses, and so has learned how to write polished prose: one of the goals in this course is for you to achieve the same, through the sequences of Paper 1, 2, and 3, and the eight Time-Thought Exercises. Yrs Dr. H.
Longing for the past is as old as mankind. Words attributed to King Solomon tell us: “Do not say “What has happened, that past times were better than these?” for it is not out of wisdom that you ask about this” (Ec. 7:10, Byington). The first takeaway is that thousands of years before Rousseau, the nostalgic evocation of a better past was common enough to merit writing about it. And second, this verse of Hebrew poetry tells us that is not very wise to hold such opinion, although we are not served with a reason for it.
The prevalence of such nostalgic view of the past should not surprise us. The present is ephemeral; it goes by too fast and often escapes our control. The future is seen with fear, for it is full of uncertainty. The past, bad as it may have been, is certain. From there it is easy to idealize it, minimizing, rationalizing, and even ignoring its negative aspects, at the same time exalting the good experiences, exaggerating them. Yes, the past was better, it was simple, as we can replay it at any desired slow-speed in our memory, sanitizing it. For me, the danger behind such naïve nostalgia is that it fuels the glorification of historical events and its protagonists. This, in turn, has led to a parade of politicians and aspiring leaders who stir the masses, paradoxically promising a bright future that will take us to our glorious past, from restoring Germany to its past glory, to making America great again.
More than a century after Rousseau, Nietzsche argued against what he called monumental history, warning of its potential for the above described mass manipulation. (Nietzsche, “On the Utility and Liability of History for Life”). I stand behind Nietzsche’s thesis that the past must not be romanticized, but seen and analyzed in a critical manner. We learn from our past, we don’t idealize it, wanting to go back to it. Solomon was right: Nostalgia can be entertaining, but it is not smart.
Normally, I don’t like truisms, but this is a short one that queues up the quote.
Using a quote (not a dictionary definition!) can be a good way of setting up a main point/argument: that is, if the quote allows you to unpack a complex idea/tension/paradox subsequently.
Note the use of relatively sophisticated words (evocation) and simple/precise words (merit).
The “although we are not served…” could be re-phrased, as you have to jerk your brain about to get the point (i.e. the quote does not explain why nostalgia is foolish). And there are other glitches (should be “such a nostalgic view”). It’s only when such glitches become chronic that I comment on them and mark-off (trust me: I really do read every paper quite carefully!).
This writer tends to prefer short, emphatic sentences. But they don’t read as “simple” because of internal punctuation (“The past, bad as it may have been, is certain”), which gives a sense of “weight” or shrewd sequences (“minimizing, rationalizing, and even ignoring…”).
Note the smooth development … layer upon layer of meaning is built on the initial quote, without backtracking or repetition. Also, the political point (“making America great again”) is done deftly, without being heavy-handed/too politically partisan (although I have no issue with strong viewpoints per se!).
Throughout, a sense of personal “voice” comes through, and so use of “I stand…” doesn’t lapse into lax phrasing or lame “I feel that I might believe that some might think, as I do, that…” “I” phrasing.
The aside about philosopher Nietzsche: this writer has some books tucked within (as it were) and I appreciate that, but I don’t expect such. However, by the end of this course, you will have the same!
The wrap-up line works well, and emphasizes the overall point previously and yet also adds a slight twist; that is, the pleasure of nostalgia. Conclusions are very tough to write: the temptation is to say “In sum” or “In conclusion…” That’s ok, but often an essay dealing with humanities topics will have a more organic/complex ending, derived from the momentum of what has preceded. I.e. the argumentative destiny has been reached and there is no need to review the miles travelled.