Wed., Oct. 18: Annotated bibliography due before class (category = essay3-bib)
Thurs., Oct. 19: Visual map and narrative summary due before class (category = essay3-map)
Tue., Oct. 24: Essay #3 draft due (category = essay3-draft)
Thu., Oct. 26: Comments on essay #3 due before class
Mon., Oct. 30: Essay #3 due before class time (category = essay3-rev)
Choose a specific issue, question, or statistic in the contemporary debate about the criminal justice system that Bryan Stevenson addresses in Just Mercy. You may want to investigate an issue related to mass incarceration, interracial marriage and miscegenation laws, prison conditions, jury selection, judicial elections, police bias, capital punishment, juvenile justice, “super predators,” victims’ rights, mental illness and/or institutions, incarceration of women, the “prison industrial complex,” adolescent development, execution rates, racial bias in the criminal justice system,”the rule of law,” poverty, drug convictions, or the historical connections to slavery, lynching, convict leasing, and/or Jim Crow.
Dr. ‘Chill’s Paradox: The smaller your topic, the more sources you can find and the more you will have to say.
Compose an essay (1250 words max) in which you summarize different positions that have been staked out in the debate and enter the conversation, making an original contribution to the debate. Your contribution should be summarized in a strong, analytical thesis or crux—a statement that a reasonable person might not agree with, not see, or fail to understand without your intervention. You should develop this thesis in conversation with others, both those you agree with and those you disagree with. Support your argument with credible, authenticated evidence and counter evidence. Analyze and explain how the evidence supports your point, and discuss how counter evidence works against you. Don’t avoid evidence that contradicts your claim: engage with it, allowing it to complicate and strengthen your argument.
To get started, follow Gaipa’s 3 “basic steps”
1. Conduct research and reading to discern what experts are saying about the issue
- Look up Stevenson’s sources in his works cited, and find other experts who have addressed the same issue and taken different positions. Your research should be as thorough as possible, identifying all sides of the issue, seeking sources you agree with as well as those you disagree with.
- Seek out authoritative, credible sources. Remember that you are only as good as the company you keep: invoking writers whose opinions are not well respected will drag down your own credibility.
- Consider the date of publication of any sources, too. Make sure your sources reflect the most up-to-date and reliable information on the subject.
- For this step, you will prepare an annotated bibliography of 3-6 sources on your topic or question (see detailed instructions linked here).
2. Evaluate the arguments and make judgments about the position of the authors in the debate
- Review Gaipa, p. 424, and They Say/ I Say, Ch. 14: What’s motivating this writer?
- Identify each source’s thesis, motives, and evidence.
- What experts or studies do the authors call upon to support their claims?
- What arguments do they defend their claims against?
- For this step, you will draw a “ballroom,” map the various positions in the debate, and then translate this visual map into a narrative summary of the debate. You will begin this work during project time on Wed., Oct. 18th, and complete it before class on Thu., Oct. 19th.
3. Discover where in the debate you can step in.
- Will you take a position at the center of the debate or in the margins, focusing on some neglected angle?
- Write a “shitty first draft” or “discovery draft” for your eyes only, adding your “I say” to the “They say” narrative you generated.
- Examine the position you’ve staked out, and decide which of Gaipa’s eight strategies best fits your approach, or devise your own strategy and name it (e.g., “tango,” “waltz,” “bird’s eye view,” or “meta-analysis”).
Draft your argument
After completing the first 3 steps, begin drafting your argument, following the advice in Understanding Rhetoric, adopting “moves” and templates from They Say/I Say, and applying lessons from class workshops.
- Write in your own voice. Don’t write any sentence that you’d be embarrassed to say to your friends at lunch in Commons (TS/IS 121-128).
- Connect the parts, so that each sentence relates to and follows logically from the previous one (TS/IS 105-118). Use the “magic sentences” to establish relationships and make distinctions, rather than relying on the vague, overused “however.”
- Use the skeleton method to make sure each paragraph begins with a strong, analytical topic sentence, and when you extract those sentences and read them consecutively, your argument makes sense.
- Examine your paragraphs to make sure all sentences relate to the topic sentence and include evidence and analysis (see sandwich illustration in UR, Ch. 4).
- Provide metacommentary to help your readers understand how to interpret your statements (TS/IS 129-137.
- Use the templates to revise, following the checklist in TS/IS (140-143).
- Run the Writer’s Diet test to help identify passive voice, nominalization zombies, and other weak spots. Then fix the problems.
- Go to the Writing Center for help at any stage in the writing process.
Your final essay should include a brief “cover letter” that explains what strategy you used and includes 2 illustrations:
- The ballroom inhabited by the various partygoers in the debate (see example in Gaipa 423)
- Your intervention in the debate (see examples in Gaipa 436)
Your final essay should also adhere to Dr. ‘Chill’s List of Forbidden Words & Phrases:
this (as an empty pointer)
however (at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph)
is is important/significant/interesting that…
the media (as a broad target or cause)
An effective essay:
- communicates ideas in your own voice;
- summarizes a current debate and maps the various positions;
- gets across the “facts” about relevant texts and contexts: who, what, where, when, why;
- offers purposeful summaries of relevant texts and contexts;
- intervenes in the debate with a clear, specific, original thesis or crux;
- defines key terms;
- develops your argument in conversation with others, both those you agree with and those you disagree with;
- uses well-placed quotations and evidence to support each point of the argument;
- makes effective use of counter-evidence and counter-arguments.
- makes good quotation & evidence sandwiches:
- introduces evidence and quotations with statements that identify their source, subject matter, and context.
- follows up with statements that analyze or explain how the evidence relates to your argument.
- examines evidence (especially statistics) to make sure they are reliable and accurately interpreted.
- Addresses what’s at stake in your argument: why does the debate matter? why is your perspective important and new? what difference does your approach make?
- Avoids “clutter,” clichés, generalizations, and Dr. ‘Chill’s Forbidden Words & Phrases.
- Replaces passive voice with precise subject and active verbs.
- Includes any relevant images or media, appropriately sized, legible, and well-placed in relation to corresponding text.
- Is free of typos, spelling mistakes, punctuation problems, and grammatical errors;
- Includes a properly formatted works cited, required categories, and an honor code pledge.
Peer and self-critique
- Do the assigned readings and read “how to comment” BEFORE you begin commenting.
- Do not simply say, “This is an amazing essay, but I think you could provide more analysis.” Instead, identify one sentence, idea, or rhetorical strategy that you think works well. Then identify one sentence or idea that is not clear or effective and explain how to improve it. Finally, engage one ideas in the essay, asking a question to probe more deeply.
- Remember to do a “selfie” comment.