Essays and Discussion Guidelines A. Descriptive Writing vs. An Analytic or Critical Approach Descriptivewriting merely says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic.(Discussions) Ananalytic(orcritical) approach asks and answers questions, makes comparisons, and presents and defends a thesis or argument. Rather than just stating the facts, this approach explains and interprets them. Why did events take place, what were their consequences, how did they relate to other developments? Why did the authors you read take differing stands? What is your own interpretation of the issues? (Essays) Few assignments in this history courses will be simply descriptive. These will be the Discussion Assignments. For the Essay Assignments, rather than just summarizing what happened or what you read, you will usually be asked to provide your own analysis of the topic or issue about which you are writing and to argue a thesis or conclusion. Be sure that you understand what each assignment requires, in terms of the balance between description, analysis, and argument. You must provide evidence and examples to buttress your analysis and arguments. If you encounter material that does not agree with your position, you cannot just ignore it; instead you need to explain why you think that evidence is less important or persuasive. B. General Format and Presentation The papers title, the question being asked, your name, the course number, and the date should appear on a separate first page for your Essays and at the top of the first page of text for the essays. Cover Page Example Essay 1: From the beginning, the English Colonies had democratic characteristics. Assess the validity of this statement with reference to majority rule and representative government in Virginia and Massachusetts. Student September 9, 2017 Fall A 2017 AMH2010_11AY Your Essay needs an introduction (Thesis), a middle section (body), and a conclusion. These sections do not need to be set off with individual headings but may be separated in a longer one. Theintroductionlays out your topic, states what your particular thesis or argument will be, and tells your reader how the essay will be structuredwhat points you will consider. You may also need to provide some background or context in the introduction. Themiddle sectionpresents your information and develops your analysis and argument. Theconclusionpulls together the main points, reasserts the thesis, and may relate the topic back to wider historical issues Number the pages so your instructor can refer to them. Depending on the nature of the assignment, your paper may need footnotes (at the bottom of the page) or endnotes (at the back of the paper). It will almost certainly need at the end a Bibliography of the works you used for the project. See the Referencing Guidelines. Essays need to be double-spaced, with margins of standard width (usually 1 inch on the sides and bottom and 1 1/2 inch on the top). Use standard fonts (Times New Roman or Calibri). I am fully aware that different fonts may be used to make a paper seem larger or smaller than it really is. Also, exotic fonts may be hard to read and grade. Indent the start of each paragraph (usually 5 spaces) from the left margin. Proofread your paper carefully for spelling and typing mistakes. A sloppy paper distracts attention from what you are saying and makes the reader wonder if your preparation for the paper and your thinking were careless too. If your word-processor has a spell-checker, use it, but remember that it will not catch typos that happen to be words (e.g., marital vs. martial). Correct any last-minute changes. If your instructor has given any special instructions about the format of the paper, be sure to follow them. C. Answering the Question Students will most benet from starting the practice of writing their essays as early as possible. Instead of writing and rewriting complete essays until all elements are mastered, break down the skills needed to write an effective history essay into sequential steps. The following steps have proved useful in developing the skills needed to answer the essay questions: Analyze the question Organize the information Develop a thesis Write the introductory paragraph Write the supporting paragraphs and conclusion Evaluate and REVISE Analyze the question: Taking the time to consider what the question really asks is often overlooked in the rush to start writing. Stop and ask yourself, What is the key word or phrase in the question? Underline it. It could be a verb such as evaluate, assess, analyze, apply, compare, or account. Often the questions ask, To what extent is a given statement valid? In what ways did one event or condition relate to another? All questions have one thing in common: They demand judgments about the historical evidence. Therefore, be on your guard for questions that start out with the verbs identify, describe, or explain. An Essay question is never satisfactorily answered by simply reporting information. Such a question is usually followed by analyze or some other more demanding mental activity. Consider, for example, this essay question: Describe THREE of the following and analyze the ways in which each of the three has affected the status of women in American society since 1940: Changing economic conditions Rebirth of an organized womens movement Advances in reproductive technology Persistence of traditional denitions of womens roles For this essay, it is not enough simply to describe changing economic conditions, womens organizations, and so on. You must also analyze the effect that these factors had on the status of women. Here is a fairly sure guideline for any essay question: If you think that you can write an essay without making some judgment that results in a thesis statement, you have not understood the question. After the kind of judgments needed to complete the essay are clear, all the parts of the question need to be identied. More often, however, the two, three, or more aspects of the question are embedded in one sentence, as in this example: Evaluate the relative importance of domestic and foreign affairs in shaping American politics in the 1790s. This question asks the student to deal with both domestic and foreign affairs. As the grading criteria for this question clearly state, if a student fails to deal with both parts of the question, it was not satisfactorily answered and could not receive more than a 50 on a 100-point scale. It may take only a few seconds to identify key terms and the parts of the essay question. If you take the trouble to do this, you will better understand the question and avoid the mistake of writing a perfectly good essay that receives a low score because it answers a question that was not asked. Question: Evaluate the relative importance of domestic and foreign affairs in shaping American politics in the 1790s. Domestic Affairs Foreign Affairs Politics Hamiltons nancial plan: national debt assumption; tariff, excise tax; Bank of the United States French Revolution British vs. French President Washington Constitutionloose vs. strict interpretation Proclamation of Neutrality Jefferson vs. Hamilton Whisky Rebellion Citizen Gent Two-party system Alien and Sedition acts Jay Treaty Election of 1796 Pinckney Treaty Revolution of 1796 Washingtons Farewell Address XYZ Affair Convention of 1800 Organize the information: Many students start writing their answers to an essay question without rst thinking through what they know, and they often write themselves into the proverbial corner. Spend time planning before starting to write each standard essay question. This fact indicates how critical it is rst to identify what you know about the question and organize your information. A practice recommended is to make a brief outline of what you know about the question. A sample outline of the topics that could be treated in answering the essay question about domestic and foreign affairs in the 1790s is provided above. Listing facts pertaining to the question is to help you organize your thoughts, so you will want to use abbreviations and other memory aids. The value of taking time to organize your knowledge becomes quickly apparent. First, you learn whether you have enough information to answer the question. Second, you can judge whether you have enough support for a potential thesis. It is obviously not very productive to take a position that one cannot support. Based on this sample outline, an essay writer should have more than sufcient relevant information to support the importance of both domestic and foreign affairs in the politics of the 1790s. (In addition, of course, your analysis of the facts should be as good as your recall of them.) Develop a Thesis: A strong thesis is an essential part of every History essay. A thesis is more than a restatement of the question or a description of relevant information. A thesis requires some judgment and interpretation of the evidence. The following thesis statement is from a students essay written in response to the above question: During the 1790s, both domestic and foreign affairs contributed greatly to the shaping of American politics. The young nation was struggling with questions such as the interpretation of the Constitutions implied powers, which created domestic strife, while attempting to gain respect from foreign nations over issues such as British retention of north- west forts and the right of deposit at New Orleans, both of which were crucial to American morale and trade. Does the thesis take a position? Does the thesis offer an interpretation of the question? Does the thesis offer organizing or controlling ideas for an essay? This statement starts off being straightforward and simple, but it does take a position on the question. It afrms that both domestic and foreign affairs strongly inuenced the political developments of the decade. Do not be afraid in taking a position, making a mistake or offending some people, including your professor. The nature of History does not offer the certitude of mathematics or the physical sciences. Disagreement over the interpretation of the historical evidence develops because of the limitations of both the evidence and the historians. I am not looking f for the right answer but for a writers ability to interpret the evidence and marshal historical support for that interpretation. For a thesis to be well developed it should have some power to explain the issues in question. The thesis not only took a position but also offered an interpretation of events. This interpretation became the organizing principle that guided the development of the essay. Write the introductory paragraph: improve your essay by using some organizing principles for writing an introductory paragraph. An effective introductory paragraph usually contains three elements: The background to the question or your thesis. The thesis statement. An introduction to the main ideas or points of the essay to be developed in the body or supporting paragraphs. This third element is sometimes called the essays blueprint or controlling ideas. By the end of the rst paragraph, the reader should not only know your thesis but also have a clear idea of the main points to be developed in support of the thesis. The model for an expository, ve-paragraph paragraph. This model also emphasizes the importance of restating the thesis as the supporting paragraphs are developed. Do not conclude from the model that an essay should consist of ve paragraphs, however. The total number of paragraphs and sentences is for the writer to determine. What the model does suggest is that the introductory paragraph is crucial because it should shape the full essay. An effective introduction tells the reader the view you will develop in the essay (your thesis), and then explains how you will develop that view, identifying the main points you will be making in the body of your essay. If your introductory paragraph is properly written, the rest of the paper will be relatively easy to write, especially if you have already organized your information. Follow up the introductory paragraph with an outline of the supporting paragraphs. For each paragraph, list historical evidence that you would use. The exercise of writing an introductory paragraph and an outline of your supporting paragraphs helps you in two ways. First, it reinforces the connection of the main points in the introduction with the supporting paragraphs. Second, it requires you to think in terms of historical evidence before you start writing a complete essay. Model for a History Essay (Thesis):Introductory Paragraph Background sentence 1: Background sentence 2: Thesis statement: Sub-topic Issue 1: Sub-topic Issue 2: Sub-topic Issue 3: (Body) Sub-topic Issue #1 Restate, add to, and thoroughly explain: Evidence 1: Evidence 2: Evidence 3: (Body) Sub-topic Issue #2 Restate, add to, and thoroughly explain: Evidence 1: Evidence 2: Evidence 3: (Body) Sub-topic Issue #3 Restate, add to, and thoroughly explain: Evidence 1: Evidence 2: Evidence 3: Conclusion Restate the thesis in a fresh and interesting manner or explain its signicance. D. Clarity of Organization and Paragraph Structure The body of your paper should be organized into several main sections, each of which deals with a given sub-topic, issue, or question within your general subject. In each section, you will have one or more paragraphs focusing on individual aspects of that topic. Consists of a block of material about a particular subject or about a specific point, one of the issues that contributes to the development of the analysis or argument of the paper. Each paragraph should begin with a general topic sentence that indicates what subject the rest of the paragraph will discuss, what issue it will explore, or what point it will make. By reading just the topic sentences of the paper, your reader should be able to get a summary of the subjects you are addressing and the position you are defending. A paragraph summary of the subjects you are addressing and the position you are defending. If your paragraph talks about several different subjects, it must either be divided up, so you can develop each point separately and effectively in its own paragraph, or be opened by a topic sentence that makes it clear that you want to mention briefly a variety of lesser points. The remaining sentences in each paragraph provide more detail or evidence about the main topic. A paragraph should develop the subject or point it is making; hence it normally contains at least three sentences in addition to the topic sentence and may have a concluding sentence as well. (Here formal writing differs from journalistic style, which often uses shorter paragraphs. This is what is expected in the Gordon Rule) Transitions: Between sections you will need a transition or linking statement, indicating that you are moving on to a new topic. Each paragraph within a section should also be clearly related to the one before and the one after, creating an even, logical flow. If the link is not readily apparent, you should include a sentence, which describes the transition. D. Acknowledging Your Sources (Referencing) and Academic Honesty You must acknowledge the sources of all your information and any ideas or interpretations you have taken from other works. These references are usually placed into notes, with a Works Cited at the end of the paper that lists all works used. See the Referencing Guidelines. Plagiarism.This serious academic offense can take many forms, including using another writers phrase without putting it into quotation marks, not giving the source for a quotation, taking information from other works without acknowledgment, presenting other peoples ideas as if they were your own, or submitting a paper that you did not write. You may not use a paper you wrote for one course to fill an assignment in another class. E. Primary Sources vs. Secondary Works Aprimary sourceis a record left by a person (or group) who participated in or witnessed the events you are studying or who provided a contemporary expression of the ideas or values of the period under examination. Letters, autobiographies, diaries, government documents, minutes of meetings, newspapers, or books written about your topic at that time are examples; non-written sources include interviews, films, photos, recordings of music, and clothing, buildings, or tools from the period. Secondary worksare accounts written by people who were not themselves involved in the events or in the original expression of the ideas under study. Written after the events/ideas they describe, they are based upon primary sources and/or other secondary works. Thus, an early 20th-century historian could prepare a secondary study of the American Civil War through her reading of documents from that period, interviews with veterans, examination of weapons, and so on. F. Use of Direct Quotations When working withsecondary accounts, limit your use of direct quotations. In general, your paper will flow better if you paraphrase the statement, putting it into your own words. Quote only when you wish to call attention to the authors precise phrasing. When usingprimary sources, you may want to use a few more direct quotations, to illustrate the mood, language, or flavor of your sources. But even here, be sparing. A good rule of thumb is to quote only when you plan to analyze or interpret the passage; otherwise, paraphrase. Do not use a direct quotation as the topic sentence of a paragraph. Every direct quotation must be put into quotation marks and given its own individual reference, normally in a note. Anindirect quotationis when you present a direct quotation of the words of person A that you found in a book written by author B (that is, author B was himself quoting person A). In such cases, you must give both sources in the reference that accompanies the quotation. Quotations of five or more lines need to be indented 5-8 spaces on each side and single spaced. When you use this format, do not use quotation marks (but do still give the reference in a note). Shorter quotations should be typed as part of the regular paragraph. Punctuation with quotation marks. When ending a quotation in the text, a final comma or period always precedes the closing quotation marks, whether or not it is part of the quoted matter. Question marks and exclamation marks precede the quotation marks if they are part of the quoted matter but follow the quotation marks if they are part of the entire sentence of which the quotation is a part. Thus: The newspaper reported that 150,000 young people gathered in Denver. Should we accept its account of a stupendous congregation? If you leave out words from a quotation, to shorten it or to make it fit into the grammar of your own sentence, indicate the omission by using periods with a space between each one. For gaps in the middle of a sentence, use three periods; for omissions at the end of the sentence, use four periods. E.g., History can be fantastic . . . . If you insert a word into a quotation, to increase clarity or adjust it to your own presentation, put the insertion into square brackets. E.g.: She commented that by January . . . [the trees] looked sickly. G. Writing in Formal English While most of us speak in casual or colloquial English, it is important to learn how to write formal English too. Our normal conversational style differs in many respects from formal written English. Your ability to write effectively will be one of the most critical factors in getting a job or being accepted for further training. Hence it is worth working on your formal writing skills while you are in college. H. Common Problems in Writing Mechanics and Style Misspelled words: Use dictionary (and/or spelling checker) and correct. Typing error(s): Proofread more carefully and correct. Contraction: Do not use contractions (e.g., wasnt or isnt) in formal writing. Commas omitted or in wrong place: Set off every parenthetical phrase (one that could be put into parentheses or removed from the sentence) by a pair of commas, onebefore and one after it. Use a comma after each item in a sequence of three or more items, including the next-to-last. (E.g., The Velociraptor likes apples, oranges, and pears.) Capitalization incorrect: These capitalization notes apply to papers, which have been returned to you for corrections by your professor. The word marked with a single underline on your paper should start with a lower-case letter, not a capital. The word marked with a double-underline should be spelled with a capital letter Possessives: Insert an apostrophe when a noun is used as a possessive. (E.g., the dogs ear, or the girls running shoes.) Do not use an apostrophe for its as a possessive. (E.g., The dog shook its head.) Its with an apostrophe is a contraction of it is and hence should not be used in formal writing. Prepositions: Check the phrase marked for an incorrect preposition. Reword to avoid a preposition at the end of the sentence. (Wrong: That is an idea I have never thought about. Better: That is an idea I have never considered, or I have never thought about that idea.) Dangling participle: Reword to eliminate an opening or closing phrase with no subject or the wrong one. When a sentence starts with a participle, the (understood) subject of the participle must be the same as the first word (subject) of the main clause that follows. (Wrong: Flying through the trees, John watched the lovely bird. [This means that John was flying.] Correct usage: Checking through her notes, Laquita decided to focus on the problem of deforestation.) Adverbs vs. adjectives: Use an adverb, not an adjective, to modify a verb. (Wrong: Mary plays squash good. Right: She plays it well.) Pronoun: Use who/whom when referring to people, that/which for others. Hyphen with century: Insert a hyphen when you use a century term to modify a noun. (E.g., important to seventeenth-century science.) If the century term stands alone, do not use a hyphen. (E.g., in the fifth century.) Wrong word or nonexistent word: Check a dictionary to be sure this word exists and what its meaning is. Verb tense: Use the past tense, not the present, for historical descriptions. Stay in the same tense throughout a given discussion. Disagreement between singular and plural forms in verbs or pronouns Subject and verb. (E.g., He and his dog walk, not He and his dog walks.) Noun and pronoun. (Wrong: The country went to war when an enemy attacked them. Right: . . . when an enemy attacked it.) Parallel wording: When using the constructions both . . . and or not only . . . also, use the same grammatical form after each of those terms. That is, the word or phrase immediately following both terms must be a subject, a verb, or a prepositional phrase. (Wrong: Naboru likes both dancing and a quiet evening at home. Right: Naboru likes both dancing and having a quiet evening at home.) Run-on sentence: Do not join two separate sentences by a comma. To solve this problem, either: (1) add a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or); (2) substitute a semi-colon for the comma; or (3) divide it into two sentences using a period in the middle. Incomplete sentence: Reword this phrase so that it becomes a full sentence, with a subject and a main verb. Unclear meaning: Undefined term. Make clear to your reader what exact definition you intend when using this term, which can be used in a variety of different ways. Unclear reference. Re-write to indicate to whom or what this word refers. Be especially careful with this and that. Confusing wording. Re-write so as to communicate a clear point to your reader, so that no one can misunderstand you. Idea cannot be followed because it is undeveloped. Explain and discuss this point more fully. Wordiness. Eliminate unnecessary language; see how briefly you can express this point. Awkward phrasing. Re-write to convert this lumpy, uncomfortable wording into a smoother statement. Repetitious wording. Vary your wording to add interest, rather than using the same terms or phrases several times within a few paragraphs, as you have done here. Passive voice. Re-write to avoid passive wordings, which are often imprecise, wordy, and/or wimpy; further, they seldom say who committed the action. (E.g., Many orders were issued.) Use the active voice to achieve a more direct and forceful statement. (E.g., The Queen Mother of Benin issued many orders.) Indirect opening phrase. Re-word for a more vigorous effect, eliminating roundabout or vague opening phrases like there is/are/was/were or it seems that. Repetition of ideas/information. Do not state the same point twice. Discuss each idea or topic fully in one part of your paper, then move on; delete unnecessary repetition. Overly broad generalization. Stick to the evidence you have before you, that you can defend effectively. Gender-specific (or sexist) language. In contemporary American usage, we no longer follow the traditional but biased practice of using masculine nouns and pronouns to refer to everyone. Instead, we try to use gender-neutral language, finding wordings that are inclusive or introduce both male and female terms. (Biased: Every student is responsible for his own schedule. Recast: Every student is responsible for his or her own schedule, or, better, Students are responsible for their own schedules.) For more explanation about writing mechanics and grammar, see Diana HackersA Pocket Style Manual;for help with your style, consult William Strunk and E. B. White,Elements of Style. References: John J. Newman and John M. Schmalbac United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination, New York Amsco School Publications, 2010 University of Colorado, Boulder. History Department http://www.colorado.edu/history/undergraduates/paper-guidelines [accessed August 10, 2017]
Descriptivewriting merely says what
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