Stuff We Don’t Have Time to Cover in Class

Good evening everyone. We’re in the thick of essay writing and mid-term studying, and there’s also a lot going on in class, probably too much to cover and still have an informed discussion of Amos and Isaiah. So please read this post and get caught up to speed on the important things going on.  There’s a lot of crucial information here.  Some of it is stressed in the syllabus and writing assignments; other tidbits have been coming up in my meetings with people during conferences.

Midterm Exams: I have completed grading your midterm exams.  While some people did exceptionally well, there were far more lower grades than I would have liked.  Please remember that the purpose of the exam is twofold:  both to make sure that everyone is comprehending the material and concepts we’re covering and to develop a familiarity with the language so that we can write more informed essays.  It seemed to me that many people were pressed for time, particularly in writing the essays.  It’s not my intention to give an exam that destroys your grade. 

If you are unsatisfied with your grade on the midterm, I am offering a chance to earn 20 bonus points.  Please complete this assignment (TBA) between now and our next exam.

Midterm Grades:  Tomorrow (Wed) I will hand back detailed reports on your midterm grade.  Please remember that these grades are approximations.  I’ve provided comments on the things I care about in this class.  But these are still provisional grades, which can easily be improved upon or squandered.  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Essaying as a logical pathway of discovery: I’ve talked to a few people this week about what the ideal essay should look like.  From experience in high school and college classes, people often conceive of an essay as a formulaic performance, in which a writer makes a claim, then has a lock-step approach to “proving” this claim.  This is the boilerplate “five paragraph essay.”  When we sit down to write this essay, I want us to think about the project differently.  Imagine that your essay is modeling a process of logic and discovery that mirrors what is happening in your head as you sit down to write.  Think of the historical genre of the essay.  Most of the time, when we write about and read about literary texts, we bring complex questions to them, and we realize that the texts usually raise complex questions that aren’t easily answered.  This is certainly true of the Old Testament.

The ideal essay doesn’t necessarily have a rigid “thesis,” but it does make interpretative claims about the text.  It doesn’t have to set out and “prove” anything, but it should have a purpose, a logic to its connections that explores multiple pathways of meaning, tries out or tests explanations, and entertains multiple interpretations.  Perhaps the best point of advice I can give is to re-construct your process of thinking about a topic as you write about it.  Chances are, other people will be interested in what you are writing if they read your essay and realize that you think about the text in ways that are similar to their ways of reading.

Good Signal Phrases: One way to construct this logic of discovery is to insert good signal phrases into your paragraphs.  These are major movements, turns, or ideas that steer the direction of your essay.  I highly recommend that everyone take a look at this handout, which provides a list of sample signal phrases that you can use.  In particular, it is useful to anticipate what critics with alternate views would say and address their perspective.  Another valuable move is to step back and explain, in your own words, why your claim or observations matters. 

Plagiarism: So far we haven’t said too much about plagiarism in this class, but it’s an important topic.  The most simple way to approach this is to always cite sources.  Always make clear where your ideas are coming from, how you are using them, and where readers can locate the information.  Do not attempt to pass off others’ ideas as your own.  If you have any doubts or questions whatsoever, it is your responsibility to consult with someone, preferably me.

In Text Citations: Make sure that when you are writing, you use appropriate in-text citations.  I’ve created a guide on how to do this, in case you have any doubts. You might also want to take a look at the other links in the “Writing Help” section.  Feel free to make an appointment with a consultant at the writing center.

Rough Drafts: Again, your rough draft is due this Friday.  Please post it to the blog, and when you do, contextualize it with a set of questions.  What concerns do you have?  What would you like other people to look at when reading it?  Then, between Friday and the end of spring break, log on and comment on at least three other rough drafts.  We are merely extending the writing process.  If you have any questions about uploading a file to the blog, please let me know, or just send me the essay via e mail in MS Word format with questions.

About Andrew Battista

Andrew Battista is Librarian for Geospatial Information Systems at New York University
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