Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Once More, You’ve Got to . . .

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the book that inspired the You’ve Got to . . . Assignment

This week, as we continue our study of Maus, we will also examine more of your You’ve Got to . . . assignments. A file of the assignments is posted below and in Moodle, and I will distribute paper copies of the assignments in class.

Before we turn to the You’ve Got to … assignments, we will examine the questions and comments that you wrote on notecards last week. First, we’ll consider the specific questions about English 111, then we will address writing in general.

Q & A: English 111

Q: Will we use A Writer’s Reference throughout the semester?

A: Yes, your copy of A Writer’s Reference will be at your side in class as you revise your final essay the week of April 26. (Remember that my notes on each of your assignments have directed you to specific pages of AWR that address trouble spots.) A Writer’s Reference should also be close at hand when you are working outside of class on writing assignments for your other courses at GTCC. In the introductory section of the handbook, the editors emphasize the vital role that A Writer’s Reference will play in your coursework:

“[A Writer’s Reference is] a required text for ENG 110, ENG 111, ENG 112, and ENG 114, as well as many other courses at GTCC. The information in this handbook will help you with writing, research, and presentation assignments you encounter in all college courses.

“The materials in this section are designed specifically for GTCC students. Review the pages carefully, as understanding the information here will be integral to your success in your ENG courses–and beyond.

“Do not plan to sell your handbook back to the bookstore, or give it away, until all of your GTCC course work is completed.” (GT-3)

Q: Will I be required to maintain a WordPress blog for other courses?

A: You may be required to do so. Former students of mine have maintained blogs for courses in other disciplines, including psychology and Spanish. One semester, a student of mine maintained one WordPress blog site that he used both for my class and a class in communications. That student sought permission from both faculty members, his communications professor and me, to use one blog for both of our classes. If you need to maintain a blog for two classes, consult both professors before you begin. Some professors may require you to set up a site devoted solely to a single course.

Students in my English 111, 112, 126, and upper-level literature courses all maintain WordPress blogs. If you think you may enroll in another course taught by me, plan to keep your WordPress blog. You will be able to use it again.

Q: Can you see a comment that I have posted to another student’s blog if that student has not approved it?

A: No, I cannot. No comment appears on a blog without the blogger’s approval. Please approve your classmates’ comments, so that I can credit the students with posting them. If a classmate has not approved a comment of yours, email a copy to me to ensure that you receive proper credit. 

Q: For this assignment, will we be posting it on our blog?

A: “This” assignment simply asked you to write questions on a notecard (so no, you will not post it to your blog). At the end of the semester you should have four assignments posted to your blog: your introductory blog post and the revisions of your three essays (the literacy narrative, the textual analysis of Maus, and the final reflective essay). 

Q: How many paragraphs do we have to write for this assignment?

A: Again, “this” assignment simply asked you to write questions on a notecard (so the question of the number of paragraphs isn’t pertinent). The revisions of each of your three essays has a minimum requirement of five-hundred words, but there is no set requirement for the number of paragraphs. How many paragraphs a piece of writing needs varies, depending on its content and structure. For more on developing paragraphs and adjusting paragraph length, see A Writer’s Reference (42-53).

Q: How can you tell whether a source is scholarly/academic (e.g. The New York Times, Smithsonian website)?

A: Scholarly sources are ones written by professors or independent scholars and published in academic journals and books published by university presses. Most of the secondary sources that I provided for your analysis of Maus first appeared in quarterly journals and were later collected in the book Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis and published by the University of Alabama Press.

As students at GTCC, you have access to the full texts of scholarly sources through the library’s databases. To limit the sources you find to ones that are scholarly, under the heading “Refine This Search” (on the left), check the box beside “Peer Reviewed.”

The New York Times and  the Smithsonian website aren’t scholarly sources, but they are authoritative mainstream sources; both are appropriate to cite in many academic assignments, including your analysis of Maus, but always review your assignment guidelines and check with your professor if you have any questions regarding what constitutes an appropriate secondary source. For more on evaluating sources, see A Writer’s Reference (354).

Q: What does the perfectly formatted paper look like?

A: Style guidelines determine the correct format for a paper. The sample essays that I have posted for you on my blog and in Moodle comply with MLA (Modern Language Association) guidelines, which are the style guidelines that you will follow in many of your courses. In some courses in the social sciences and the sciences, you will follow APA (American Psychological Association) guidelines. A Writer’s Reference includes detailed information for MLA and APA and also includes sample essays (see the MLA and APA tabs). The MLA Style Center, which is another valuable resource for MLA, is linked to my blog; OWL (the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University) is an excellent resource for both MLA and APA and is also linked to my blog.

Q: What is the main thing that I am supposed to take from English 111?

A: Developing your writing skills through the processes of drafting and revising and preparing to apply those skills to writing situations beyond English 111 are the primary aims of the course.

What I Want to Learn about Writing

I just want to understand grammar better and word choice. I feel like I can never find the right word to fit what I am trying to say.

A: Study well-written models. The more you read, the more you will internalize about well-wrought prose. Also refer to the Grammatical Sentence and Punctuation and Mechanics sections of A Writer’s Reference (171-218) and (259-302). Finding the right word is always a struggle. No matter how much you’ve written, beginning a new piece of writing always means starting with a blank page or a blank screen. The right words are vital, but try not to dwell on finding them until you begin the revision process; trying to find them earlier, when you’re drafting, can be crippling.

I would like to learn about ways that I can improve my essays, being able to write a good summary.

A: For ways to improve your essays overall, see my response to the previous statement. For summaries, the most important elements to keep in mind are these: (1) a summary is  concise; it addresses the text’s key points only, and (2) it is objective; neither your opinion nor the pronoun “I” appears in it.

[I want to learn] how to make a proper thesis and organize my writing accordingly.

A: Your thesis is the answer to the question, what’s my main point? It isn’t a statement of fact; it’s an informed opinion, one that can be a source of disagreement between two intelligent people. Although a thesis usually appears in the first paragraph of an essay, it’s often developed and refined late in the process. (Sometimes you have to write about a subject at length before you know where you stand.) Once you’ve determined your thesis, present each piece of evidence, one by one, to support it. Here’s a basic organization for an essay: (1) introduction and thesis, (2) body paragraphs of evidence to support your thesis and additional claims, and (3) conclusion.

I want to learn how to make my writing more impactful.  

A: Many wordsmiths don’t consider “impactful” a very impactful word. They consider it a weak substitute for “powerful” and “effective.” Precise and concise word choices will strengthen your prose. Aim to be as specific as possible, and express your ideas clearly and concisely. That said, it’s important to assign those aims to the revision process; otherwise, you may not be able to move beyond your first sentence.

I want to learn how to make my writing sound more professional.

A: One way to make your writing sound more professional is to limit your use of first person. That doesn’t mean that “I” shouldn’t appear in your prose, but be mindful that if you repeatedly refer to yourself, you may come across as young and self-absorbed. Moving away from “I” shows readers that you understand that your ideas have broader implications.

[I want to learn how]  to elaborate and explain what I am writing about to the reader.

A: One simple way to develop your writing is through appositives, which are nouns or noun phrases in “apposition” to (or beside) other nouns or noun phrases. One way to include an appositive in your writing is to (1) present an idea, (2) follow it with a colon, and (3) present specific details that bring the idea into sharper focus.

Here are two appositives that I wrote in the opening paragraph of my analysis of Maus:

  • [T]he horror that Zylberberg anticipates: the murder of his friend Nahum Cohn, Cohn’s son, and two other Jewish merchants. 
  • His [Spiegelman’s] rendering of the panels of the living in conjunction with the fragmented panels of the hanged merchants simultaneously conveys connection and separation: both the grieving survivors’ ties to the dead and the hanged men’s objectification at the hands of the Nazis.

[I want to learn] how to write a good story.

A: Study well-written narratives. Note how the writers render scenes and develop conflict. On every page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, at least one conflict–and often more than one–is in play. Conflict propels a narrative forward; scenes enliven it.

I want to learn how to write longhand.

A: Ask a GTCC librarian or a librarian at your local public library for help locating handbooks for writing cursive, or buy one with model letters that you can trace. Also look for how-to videos online.

[I want to learn] how to write a good college essay/everything I can to help me with my writing skills.

A: Practice, ask questions, and take notes.

I would love to learn about different writing styles that would help me find writing more interesting and captivating.

A: In recent years, several of my students have told me that the words of poet and illustrator Rupi Kaur have spoken to them in a way that no other writing has. Kaur, whose work first gained prominence on Instagram, has published three volumes of poetry: Milk and Honey (2014), The Sun and Her Flowers (2017), and Home Body (2020). For more ideas and inspiration, I recommend browsing the reading lists on Lit Hub.

I want to learn how to write better and not have to read how to write pages and just be able to write off the top of my head.

A: Unless you’re writing solely for yourself, you will need to move beyond writing off the top of your head.


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.

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