Writing Projects

Purpose:  The reading, discussion, journal and semi-formal writing (blogging) you will be doing inform the  more formal writing projects you will complete. This is a course, ultimately, about the craft of nonfiction, specifically essay writing.  So these projects are, in effect, the “exams.” As a Writing Intensive course, I have designed each assignment to make the writing process a more visible and intentional part of the course—for you to engage in the creative process of essaying while you also engage in the critique of the essay as a genre and literary form.

Audience: Essay writing may be personal and even intimate—but it is also in key ways public. In this sense, you will be challenged (as every essayist is) to consider your writing in relation to audience.  With the final project, I will challenge you to take your writing beyond the primary audience of this course (myself and the other students, your blog) and consider working toward publication.

Format: For any citations, use MLA format [in-text citation; works cited at end–refer to Purdue OWL]. In the spirit of the essay (and David Shields and Emerson and others), I will allow you to experiment with alternative ways of addressing quotation, with the understanding that there needs to be some type of citation information provided for the reader, if not in the conventional style.



Writing Project 1: The Philosophy of the Essay

Topic: The Essay on the Essay–the philosophy of what an essay is, was, should be.  We have seen that a popular topic for an essay is the philosophy and purpose of essay writing itself. Question: What makes an essay an essay? In other words, What is your definition of what an essay is and should be? How is that informed by what we have been reading in the course? Imagine that you are Montaigne or Emerson or Gass or Didion  writing your own “Philosophy of the Essay.” Or writing a critical introduction to an anthology of essays for use in a course such as this. What’s your philosophy of the essay?

Guidelines: 5-7 pages (double-spaced, normal font and margins). In developing your answer, discuss and evaluate (with direct quotation) at least 2 of the essayists we have studied in Part One–as examples of what an essay is or should be. To guide your focus on particulars of essay writing we have studied, I recommend that you bring into your discussion at least one of the course Keywords.

Writing Intensive Focal Point: the logic of our writing—effectively presenting and supporting a thesis, developing the logic and critical thinking of an essay. This means that your essay should make an argument for your own philosophy of the essay (in relation to philosophies that precede yours), not merely review elements of an essay.


Writing Project 2: Final Project

Topic: Our culminating project challenges and invites you to put everything together. Develop and prepare for publication a 7-10 page essay [in the case of a video or radio essay: 5-7 minutes]. You have the option to expand upon one of the essays you have begun with a prior writing project or begin a new essay with an entirely different topic. Whatever you do, I expect to see (and will be evaluating) your effective integration and ample understanding of the philosophy, rhetoric, and poetics of the essay that we have studied.

Guidelines: 7-10 pages. In addition to the final version of your essay you will submit a 1-2 page preface that should include the following: [1]discussion of how your final project reflects your learning from the course, with specific reference to at least 2 of the authors and (minimum) 2-3 of our course keywords; [2]identification of a publication that would be suitable for your essay and to which you might submit it with further revision or development.

Project map:

Step 1: Initial proposal.

A 1-2 page proposal of your ideas, posted to your blog:

  1. Focus–what is your project? What do you have in mind (subject to change) for what this essay will be about (its philosophy), how it will work (rhetorical elements), what it will do (poetics)?
  2. Mentor: Identify at least one mentor (course authors) for this project, what you might learn from them as essayists (style, how they write, what they write about, how they think).
  3. Keywords: Indicate which course keywords will factor into your project and why.
  4. Further Reading/Research: Do some research relevant to your topic and provide an abstrct of one of your further reading texts–what’s in it, what interests you about it for this project, how you might use it or be informed by it?
  5. Questions (and some initial answers): What’s working (what do you see as a strength of this project)?: what else do you need to consider, develop, explore, rethink, unthink? What’s next (and what aspects do you need/want some help with)?

Step 2: Work in Progress.

You will present to the class, in a 2-3 minute presentation and discussion (think somewhat formal: in front of the class, but not giving a speech), a summary of your proposal and work in progress. This is a chance to share where you are going, also to ask for some collective feedback.

Step 3: Drafting

A draft of your work in progress. Need not be a full draft, yet; should be at least 2-3 pages, enough to give your readers a sense of where you plan to go. This is something you can also use in conferencing with me.

     Step 4: Publication of your final project.

You will publish your final version of the project on the blog. You will also submit a copy to me via email. And, in your preface, you will identify a publication venue where you might submit this essay, with some additional development or revision, for publication. [100 points]


Evaluation of Writing Projects: Rubric

The rubric I will use to evaluate your projects follows the categories we are using in the course to explore in our critical reading the characteristics of strong and compelling essay writing: philosophy, rhetoric, poetics.

[1]Philosophy [logic, critical thinking and reading]

  • Complexity of your thinking:
    • A stake and purpose and complication to your thinking—answering: So what? Who Cares? What’s the difference?
    • Refinement of your thinking:
      • Elaboration of key terms, providing new insights for conventional ideas, complicating simplistic ways of thinking about a topic (including your own assertions).
    • Effective statement and reiteration (threading) of your thesis/argument throughout the composition.
  • Evidence and support for your thinking, your argument:
    • Effective and thoughtful use of texts and arguments of others—your participation in the critical conversation; effective address of arguments other than and/or counter to your own.
    • Effective use of logic and avoidance of logical fallacies.
  • Element to focus on while reading, responding, composting, and revising.

[2]Rhetoric [arrangement, exposition, engagement of audience]

  • Arrangement and style of your critical reading as a narrative (not just an argument):
    • Paragraph structure:
      • Movement (transition) from effective beginning (introduction), middle (supporting readings, complications) and ending (conclusion) in your narrative;
      • Movement within each paragraph, from initial to closing sentence.
    • Effective introduction and conclusion:
      • Setting up the context of your argument/focus and leaving the reader with implications for further thinking.
  • Development/Exposition of the composition:
    • Deliberate reading of ideas and texts in key moments of your narrative:
      • Close/slow reading of text, including effective use of citation/quotation.
    • Stylistic engagement of your audience/reader in the composition:
      • Ethos and pathos, in addition to logos.
      • Use of language, images and rhetorical figures that impress, enhance, surprise, move, and address the reader as well as your focus.
  • Elements to focus on while revising and editing.

[3]Poetics [language, grammar, presentation]

  • Attention to deliberate and specific use of language:
    • Deliberate choice in words (precision, connotation) and syntax:
      • For example: passive and active sentences; varying long and short sentences.
    • Being specific with the medium you are writing about (print, film, digital) and the medium you are using (example: might you include an image in your text?).
  • Attention to cleanliness of your presentation:
    • Editing usage for misspelling, typos, missing words, incomplete sentences or thoughts;
    • Editing violations of academic and print writing conventions that you have not consciously chosen for effect.
  • Attention to the formal presentation of your narrative:
    • Effective title, possible epigraph (?).
    • Effective formatting, spacing, indenting, proper use of style conventions for citation.
  • Elements to focus on while editing.

For each project, one of the three categories, the focal point for that section of the course, will be worth double (50 points), the other two worth 25 points.

The scale I will use is the following.

24-25: excellent; the element (for example: critical reading or development or presentation) is prominent in the composition, demonstrating a thorough and impressive grasp—ready to experiment with other or new items on list.

23: very strong; the element is present and effective, very good grasp—almost ready to check off list.

20-22: strong; the element is mostly present and effective, demonstrating a good grasp with room to continue development to enhance effect—keep on list.

18-19: emerging; the element is present in spots, but not effectively or consistently present, demonstrating an emerging grasp in need of further development—keep on list for next project.

15-17: weak; the element is mostly absent, not effective in the composition, demonstrating a limited grasp in need of more extensive development—keep on list and take into conference with me and/or writing center before next project.

10-14: insufficient; the element fails to be present and is not addressed by the writer, demonstrating a poor grasp in need of immediate focus—plan a conference right away to discuss further what could be improved for the next project.

below 10: not evident or not completed as expected

In my evaluation of your writing projects, you will receive from me comments that address some strengths and weaknesses of the essay, using this structure of 4 categories. I will expect you to refer back to this rubric as a way to follow up on my evaluation and continue to improve upon your writing in the next project. I am willing to discuss questions about the overall grade you receive on a project, but that discussion will focus on strengths and weaknesses related to these categories. So be prepared to respond to my comments.

[1]Philosophy/logic [25 points]

[2]Rhetoric/development [25 points]

[Poetics/grammar [25 points]

[4]Focal Point [25 points]

Overall: 100 points

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