Posted in English 1103, Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Starting Points for Research

Yesterday in class, I demonstrated a variety of starting points for your research, including these:

  • The English 1103 Research Guide, which is linked to my blog (see the list of links on the right).
  • The HPU Library home page, which is also linked to my blog. At the library’s home page, you can conduct searches by source type (articles, books, etc.), you can search for articles in particular publications, such as newspapers of record–including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post—and you can search by keywords or by an author’s name.
  • An article you have read may offer a starting point. For example: If you’re interested in writing about the harmful effects of Instagram reported in September 14 Wall Street Journal article, you might look for research by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego Sate University, who is quoted in the article.

Though you will plan and draft longhand in class tomorrow, you will have the opportunity to use your laptop to conduct research. Your revised essay will include a minimum of three relevant sources, but the notes and any draft work that you produce in class tomorrow, November 3, does not need to incorporate three sources. You may devote a significant portion of class time tomorrow to research itself.

Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring”

King, Stephen. Night Shift. Doubleday, 1978.

To earn an extra-credit course work assignment, read Stephen King’s short story, and publish a response to it of seventy-five words or more on your blog no later than Wednesday, November 10. Questions to consider include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What, if anything, in Stephen King’s story prepared you for its ending? (What, if anything, would you point to as foreshadowing?)
  • Where in the story did you encounter references to war? Why might King have included so many references to Vietnam and the U.S. Civil War?
  • How is “Strawberry Spring” similar to or different from another horror story of Stephen King’s? How is the story similar to or different from a horror story by another writer?
Posted in English 1103, Reading, Teaching

ENG 1103: Leveling, Sharpening, and Assimilating

The fake photograph of Biggie Smalls and Kurt Cobain featured in Lesson Five of Check, Please!

At the beginning of class today, you submitted your worksheet for the fifth and final lesson in the Check, Please! series. My version of the assignment, which I wrote along with you, follows.

Check, Please! Assignment for Lesson Five

In the fifth lesson of the Check, Please!, Starter Course, Mike Caulfield, author of the course and Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, covers the final step in the five-step SIFT approach: “Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to Their Original Context.” Caulfield outlines the process of locating the original context as an antidote to the issues of accuracy that occur when information passes through intermediaries.

One of the most instructive portions of lesson five features a passage in which Caulfield cites a study of how stories evolve as gossip through the processes of leveling (stripping details), sharpening (adding or emphasizing details), and assimilating, which combines the two. In the process of assimilation “the details that were omitted and the details that were added or emphasized are chosen because they either fit what the speaker thinks is the main theme of the story, or what the speaker thinks the listener will be most interested in.” Similarly, leveling, sharpening, and assimilating all figure in the altered photographs and memes in lesson four. The abbreviated speech of the NRA’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, which omits commentary, inaccurately indicates a contradiction in his stance on the presence of guns in schools.

Kawika Singson’s real photograph–real but reposted with inaccurate commentary–featured in Lesson Five of Check, Please!

The image of photographer Kawika Singson with flames at his feet serves as an example of leveling. Although the flames are real, they were not caused by the heat of the lava flow where Singson stands with his tripod. Instead, to create the image, a friend of his poured accelerant on the lava before Singson stepped into the frame. The deception wasn’t intentional; Singson simply wanted the image for his Facebook cover photo.

Unlike Singson’s photograph, the altered photograph of the Notorious B.I.G. with Kurt Cobain was created with the intent to deceive. Cropping and merging the two photographs illustrates the assimilation process adopted by photoshop users to appeal to music fans eager to think that such fictional meetings of icons took place. Krist Novoselic, who founded Nirvana with Cobain, replied to the is-it-real question with his own fake photo, making the claim that the hand holding the cigarettes was Shakur’s, that he had been cropped from the right.

Work Cited

Caulfield, Mike. Check, Please! Starter Course, 2021,   

Posted in English 1103, Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Beginning Your Creative Project

Collage image: an illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen for the poem “Rebecca” by Hilaire Belloc

Today in class you freewrote on seven prompts to generate ideas for the creative project that you will produce this week. The project is a variation on a literacy narrative, which the authors of our text book refer to as “an acount of how you came to think about writing in the ways that you do” (118).

Your project is a variation on the literacy narrative; it’s a piece of imaginative writing–in prose, verse, or a combination of the two–that recreates a memory of one of your reading or writing experiences and conveys the significance of that experience in your development as writer, a reader, and/or a critical thinker.

At the beginning of class on Wednesday, you will receive the assignment, and you will have the class period to continue planning and begin drafting. Your project is due on your blog Friday morning; the hard deadline is Monday before class. You will not post your project to Blackboard.

Consider asking family members about their memories of your early reading or writing experiences. What they remember may lead you to additional ideas for your project. You might also browse the children’s collection at the Stout School of Education Resource Center.

Work Cited

Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Chapter “Thinking Like a Writer.”Writing Analytically, 8th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2019. pp. 1116-4

Posted in English 1103, Reading, Scrabble, Teaching, Writing

Tiles, Pens, and Laptops: Reflections on Word Building

Although I have read Matt Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers” many times, this semester marked the first time I had studied it as an exercise in analysis. Ordinarily, I include Richtel’s article on the syllabus as a prologue to my students’ own blogging. The article served that purpose in August as well. But as I found myself teaching a different composition curriculum that features an analysis as the first major paper assignment, Richtel’s article served a dual purpose: It not only oriented my students to the role that blogs would play in the class, it also provided them with the opportunity to study the way a writer—in this case, Matt Richtel—presents the ideas of the experts he interviews. By reading Richtel’s article, the students learned about changes in writing practices in college classrooms; by rereading Richtel, they began to see how his writing takes shape. The same was true for me.

The process of crafting a study of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” prompted me to meditate on the similarities between analysis and Scrabble, another feature of the course. The more I examined Richtel’s words, the more details I noticed. Similarly, the more closely I study the words on a Scrabble board and the tiles on a rack, the more opportunities for word building become apparent to me. This semester, the processes of writing an analysis of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” and playing Scrabble have deepened my understanding of how those two activities cultivate the focus that leads to the discoveries intrinsic to learning.

One of those moments of discovery occurred for me as I was rereading the paragraph in Richtel’s article where he addresses an argument put forth by experts who frown on replacing the term paper with the blog. Richtel reports their claim that if teachers want to reduce term papers to blog posts, why not bypass blogs altogether and ask nothing more of their students than tweets? In my previous readings of the paragraph, I was drawn primarily to the clever mimicry at the end. There Richtel omits letters from the words “Sherman’s March,” spelling it as “Shermn’s Mrch” to imitate the word-shortening technique characteristic of the Twitter platform.

As I studied the paragraph more closely, I saw beyond the intentional misspellings at the conclusion. Subsequently, what preceded the imitation of Twitterese became far more revealing. I noticed that the paragraph consisted of only one sentence—one of only two one-sentence paragraphs in the article—and that Richtel’s presentation of the claim demonstrates a flaw in the experts’ logic: “Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?” Realizing that Richtel presented one of their assertions as a logical fallacy, led me to this point: “To assert that defenders of traditional academic writing carry their opponents’ argument   to an absurd conclusion presents those advocates of old-school writing as purveyors of the same flawed logic that their own traditional rhetoric supposedly teaches students to avoid.”

Additionally, I considered the effect of choosing to present the fallacy as a one-sentence paragraph, noting that “[b]y introducing an apparent contradiction in the argument of the advocates of old-school writing, Richtel subverts their claim; and by presenting that incongruity as a one-sentence paragraph, he highlights the issue.”

Reflecting on the effect of the one-sentence paragraph, with its emphasis on a single idea, led me to reexamine the other one-sentence paragraph in the article. That paragraph, a sentence spoken by Professor Cathy Davidson of the City University of New York, underscores the prominence of her words and ideas in Richtel’s article, an observation of mine that led me to the thesis, that “[a]lthough Richtel’s article appears to present an objective account of the disagreements among experts, a close examination of the diction and structure of ‘Blogs vs. Term Papers’ reveals a preference for the innovations advocated by Davidson and Lundsford.”

Rereading Richtel’s article through a writer’s lens showed me details I had scarcely noticed before, ones that now in plain view lead me to ask repeatedly, How could I have missed that? It’s a question I have also found myself asking when a word emerges from a seemingly hopeless combination of Scrabble tiles. Sometimes my students chide themselves for what they didn’t see on the board or the rack, but those realizations are almost always part of the composing process, whether we’re building words with tiles, or pens, or laptops. The closer we look, the more we discover, which is learning in its purest form.

Works Cited

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 1103: On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?: Revisiting Richtel’s Report on the Blog-Term Paper Question.” Jane Lucas, 20 Sept. 2021,

Richtel, Matt. “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2012,   

Posted in English 1103, Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 1103: Starting with Summary

Today in class you read and summarized the September 15 article from The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series. The summary that I wrote along with you appears below.

In The Wall Street Journal article “Facebook Tried to Make its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead,” investigative reporters Keach Hagey and Jeff Horwitz document the social media company’s changes in its algorithms, adjustments that the company supposedly made to increase meaningful social interaction, or MSI. Although data scientists working for Facebook concluded that “[m]isinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent among reshares,” the company resisted removing the boost that its algorithms gave to content most likely to be reshared by a long chain of users. In essence, the change had the opposite effect of its apparent aim.

And Moving Beyond Summary

Composing a summary seves as a useful follow-up to reading. Identifying the key points in a piece of writing and presenting them in your own words–and perhaps including a brief quotation–demonstrates that you understand what you’ve read.

When you move beyond summary to analysis, you shift your focus from a description of the subject to a close study of what the text means and how the writer constructs that meaning.

The movement from summary to argument–the move you will make in your final essay–involves a different turn. Rather than focusing on what the text means and how the writer constructs that meaning, you are placing the writer in conversation other credible sources on the subject and finding your own place in the conversation.

Next Up

On Wednesday, October 6, you will submit your completed Check, Please! Worksheet for the fourth lesson in the series. If you misplace your worksheet and cannot print a copy, complete the assignment on a sheet of notebook paper. Be sure to submit it at the beginning of class on Wednesday.

Also, on Wednesday you will receive your draft of your midterm reflection with my notes, and you will have the class period to begin revising your essay.

Work Cited

Hagey, Keach, and Jeff Horwitz. “Facebook Tried to Make its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead. Internal Memos Show How a Big 2018 Change Rewarded Outrage and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg Resisted Proposed Fixes.” Wall Street Journal, Sep 15, 2021. ProQuest,

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Writing and Renewal

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 83.

In the first days of January, as I prepared to teach Maus again, protestors stormed the Capitol and called for the hanging of the Vice President. As the semester progressed, the sound of the protestors’ chants and the image of a neo-Nazi T-shirt in the crowd lingered in my mind, leading me back repeatedly to Art Spiegelman’s depiction of the hanged merchants in Modrzejowska Street. Turning again and again to the same page of Maus solidified my decision to devote my analysis—the one I would write as a model for my students—to the panels that depicted the hangings, but I did not know how I would write about them. The prospect daunted me not only because of the painful nature of the images but also because I had written a sample analysis of Maus only a few months earlier as a model for my fall semester students. Perhaps I’ve already written all I can write about Maus, I told myself. But returning to the pages of Spiegelman’s memoir revealed that I did, after all, have more to write. Studying Spiegelman’s depiction of the hangings in Modrzejowska Street and finding the words to express my interpretation of those panels deepened my understanding of both Maus and the writing process.

The central image of the four hanged merchants, the one that evoked images of January 6, remained the panel that drew me back to the page. But as I continued to study it, I found myself drawn less to that panel in isolation than to its relationship to the ones that framed it. My observation that the bordering panels both linked the hanged men to their mourners and disconnected them from their persecutors, the Nazis, led me to my thesis: “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.”

That statement served not only as my thesis but also as an example to my students of how to develop an idea with a common form of appositive, a noun phrase that offers additional information. As we examined my analysis in class, I pointed to the abstract concept of “connection and separation” and showed how the appositive, the noun phrase that followed the colon, shows readers the specific “connection and separation,” namely “both the grieving survivors’ ties to the dead and the hanged men’s objectification at the hands of the Nazis.”

That learning opportunity grew from an essay that I had doubted would ever find its way to the page. The fact that it did take form illustrates the surprising rewards that the writing process yields.

This school year, perhaps more than any other, has demonstrated the value of writing as a mechanism for making sense of the world. Studying a Holocaust narrative is never easy. But writing to make meaning of Maus now—as we continue to don our own masks—honors the path that Spiegelman himself followed in his struggle to make meaning of his father’s life, a story that we sense, in the words of journalist Adam Gopnik, “is too horrible to be presented unmasked” (qtd. in Wilner 109).

Though I doubted that I could write a second analysis of Maus, facing the challenge expanded my understanding of Spiegelman’s achievement and strengthened my writing and teaching, providing me with another model essay for my students. As we continue to reckon with racial injustice and cultural and political division in our own country, Vladek Spiegelman’s story serves as a sobering reminder that the atrocities his son depicts in Maus are not relics of another place and time—or, as I wrote in the conclusion of my analysis, that “[t]he strange fruit of our past, both distant and recent, should seem far stranger.” As I began to put these words on paper, Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd; but as I progressed from draft to revision, Andrew Brown, Jr., was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City. As we continue to pick up the pieces of our broken world, I return to the page with the hope that putting pen to paper will also help my students—not only develop their writing but also make sense of it all—as we move toward renewal.

Works Cited

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec.” Jane Lucas, 2 Apr. 2021,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Wilner, Arlene Fish. “‘Happy, Happy Ever After’: Story and History in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 105-21.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning Your Reflection

For your final essay assignment in English 111, you will compose a reflection that documents your work over the course of the semester focusing on what you consider your most significant work and the feature or features of the course that have contributed most to your development as a writer, a reader, and/or a critical thinker. Features to consider include the following:

  • Reading Maus
  • Keeping a journal
  • Writing for an online audience beyond the classroom/creating and maintaining a WordPress blog
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your literacy narrative
  • Planning, drafting, and revising your analysis of Maus
  • Consulting A Writer’s Reference/Revising with A Writer’s Reference
  • Writing longhand
  • Limiting screen time

You are welcome to focus on more than one feature but no more than three.

Include in your reflective essay the following elements:

  • An opening paragraph that introduces your focus and presents your thesis
  • Body paragraphs that offer concrete details from your work to support your thesis
  • Quotations or paraphrases from two relevant and credible sources, introduced with signal phrases and followed by parenthetical citations where needed. One of the two sources may be one of your pieces of writing. Recommended sources include Maus, A Writer’s Reference, and the articles linked to your class notes.
  • A conclusion that reiterates the thesis without restating it verbatim

If you quote or paraphrase your literacy narrative or your analysis of Maus, cite it as you would any other blog post. See the entries for my blog posts in the sample works cited list below.

Sample Reflective Essay

“Finding a Way Forward,” the reflective essay that I wrote as a model for my students last semester, is posted below and in Moodle.

Sample Works Cited*

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Somers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

—. “How to Write an Analytical Essay.” A Writer’s Reference, GTCC 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 69-70.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” May 2012,

James, Karin. “What are the Effects of Handwriting on Cognitive Development.” The Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Library, University of Indiana, 2016,

Klass, Perri. “Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age.” The New York Times, 20 June 2016,

Lucas, Jane. “ENG 111: A Clara-fying Lesson.” Jane Lucas, 23 Feb. 2021,

—. “ENG 111: The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec.” Jane Lucas, 2 Apr. 2021,

Myer, Robinson. “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand.” The Atlantic, 1 May 2014,

Richtel, Matt. “Blogs vs. Term Papers,” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2012,

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Sept. 2017,

Wolf, Maryanne. “Skim Reading is the New Normal.” The Guardian, 25 Aug. 2018,

*In the Microsoft Word file or PDF that you post to Moodle, the second line and any subsequent lines of your work cited entries should be indented five spaces or one-half inch.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

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

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

We will continue our study of Maus and examine more of the You’ve Got to . . . assignments today, but class will be devoted primarily to the questions and comments that you wrote on notecards last week. Monday’s blog post addresses the specific questions you asked about English 111 as well as your questions and comments about writing in general. 

You’ve Got to . . . Assignments

Since we may have little time to examine the You’ve Got to . . . assignments today, keep the handout in your pocket portfolio and be sure to bring it to our final class meeting. Between now and then, read the assignments with a pen or pencil in hand and make notes on the text and in the margins.

The last week of class, we will turn back to these ten assignments, and I will distribute a handout with the remaining eleven.

The handout that I will distribute in class today is single-spaced to save paper. I have posted a double-spaced copy below and in Moodle.

A Student’s Companion Bonus Assignment

I have created a bonus assignment for you that focuses on exercises in A Student’s Companion to Hacker Handbooks, the workbook bundled with A Writer’s Reference. Directions for the assignment are posted below and in Moodle.

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.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Looking Forward, Looking Back

In our final weeks of English 111, we will continue our study of Maus and reflect on the assignments you have written as well as the habits that I have encouraged you to cultivate, including drafting longhand and limiting your screen time. This blog post addresses the reasons that I’ve asked you to engage in those practices.

Writing Longhand

One practical reason for writing longhand: What we mark through remains on the page. Sometimes what we cross out can be useful later on, elsewhere in our writing. More importantly, research in cognitive neuroscience indicates that writing longhand has these benefits:

Simply put, writing longhand sharpens our minds in ways that typing doesn’t.

Limiting Screen Time

When we use our phones and laptops, it’s difficult for us to give our undivided attention to one endeavor, but often that singular focus is critical.

When we type on our phones, we often aim to convey as much as we can with as few characters as possible. Texting and emailing–both of which now feature predictive text–do not foster the vital skills of developing our writing and producing original thought.

Limiting our screen time not only helps us improve our writing skills, it can also benefit our overall well-being.

The research cited in the links that I’ve included isn’t definitive, but it makes a strong case for the value of limiting our screen time and putting pen to paper. I encourage you to continue these practices after the semester ends.

Model Textual Analysis

Along with reflecting on the assignments you’ve written and the habits I’ve encouraged you to cultivate, this week we will examine the textual analysis of Maus that I wrote as an additional model for you.

As we read the “The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec,” consider these questions: 

  • What is the essay’s thesis?
  • What textual evidence (images and words in the panels) supports the essay’s claims?
  • Where do I quote or paraphrase the primary source (Maus)?
  • Where do I quote or paraphrase an authoritative secondary source?

After we’ve read the “The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec,” look back at the final paragraph, and consider which strategies I use to develop the conclusion.

  • Do I include a quotation from a primary or secondary source, one that emphasizes the essay’s main point or puts it in a different perspective?
  • Do I place the analysis in a different, perhaps larger, context? (Do I link the analysis to the pandemic or the current social or political climate?)
  • Do I address the implications of the analysis? (Do I explore what the analysis implies, or involves, or suggests about parent-child relationships, about storytelling, about memory, or about totalitarian regimes?)