All of these information are in the file.
We have assigned three 1,200- to 1,500-word papers this semester, each centered on one of the books we read (Shreeve’s The Genome War, Zimmer’s She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, and Atwood’s Oryx and Crake). You will choose to write two of these papers, practicing the intellectual skills of close reading, critical analysis, and polished communication. The first thing you need to understand is that we are not providing prompt questions. You have to write your own prompt. Once you have done so, you will use it to develop a thesis statement—a point you will try to prove—that will form the core of your paper. From there, you will marshal convincing and well-organized evidence in defense of your thesis.
1. Approaching the paper Avoid two common ways to botch the paper assignments. The first is to mistake the paper for a book summary—you must advance an argument and provide critical evaluation, rather than merely describe contents of the book. The second is to express only personal feelings—you have to have more than just an opinion. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate for his work in behavioral economics, notes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) that the human mind is primed to make judgments driven by emotion: “Do I like it? Do I hate it? How strongly do I feel about it?” Because we can tap immediately into our likes and dislikes, all of us find it easy to reach conclusions that merely rationalize our emotional responses. When asked a hard question (“what do I think about it?”) all of us have a strong natural tendency to answer an easy one instead (“what do I feel about it?”) without even being aware of it. Perhaps you’ve adopted Craig Venter, the scientist at the heart of The Genome War, as your new personal hero. Maybe you find him to be a dishonest blowhard. Neither response, by itself, provides a solid basis for a successful paper. You need to explain clearly and in detail why his dishonesty or his heroism matter. Your goal is not to tell your readers what you feel but to influence how they think about the crucial issues raised by Shreeve, Zimmer, or Atwood
2. Crafting an effective prompt You will devise your own prompts. Good ones do not ask for simple factual answers or emotional responses. At the top of the handout you will find a quotation from Steven Brill stressing the importance of “curiosity” in journalism. The sentiment holds equally true for all forms of intellectual inquiry. Mary Lynn Rampolla reaches a similar conclusion in her Pocket Guide to Writing in History. Historians, she observes, “come to their work with a deep curiosity about the past; to satisfy that curiosity, they ask some of the same questions detectives ask: Who? What? When? And Why?” Curiosity should drive the questions you will ask of the assigned sources. Design your prompts around something you want to know.
3. Moving from prompt to provisional thesis A stimulating prompt is where you start. It’s not where you can end. The prompt asks a question. A thesis answers it. Your formal Notebook entries and your informal notes on the books will resemble a tangled wad of string: all sorts of ideas, issues, and perceptions jumbled loosely together. The job of your prompt is to help you to untangle this muddle and pull out relevant threads. The thesis weaves your threads together into a general proposition you’ll advance over the course of the paper. You do not want your paper to be a bland recitation of facts. A thesis statement must make a definite argument, one which answers a disputable question. Avoid a patently obvious thesis; papers which illustrate only an incredible grasp of the obvious tend not to be particularly successful. A good thesis is precise, focused, and creative, something that demonstrates insight rather than merely regurgitates what you’ve read.
4. Use of sources You are not required to use sources additional to the assigned book. If you do, chose and use them appropriately. The paper to be successful has to remain grounded in the assigned book. Any supplemental source must enrich rather than distract from your analysis of the assigned book—the paper’s core source of information. Students sometimes succumb to the temptation to exploit book reviews or online summaries of the assigned book to avoid developing their own judgments. Doing so produces an unsatisfying paper—and a low grade. If you use an additional source, you need to annotate its entry in the bibliography to answer the following two questions: what service to your argument did the source provide? and, why couldn’t you use the assigned book to acquire the necessary information or perspective?
5. Moving from provisional thesis to rough draft Once you have a provisional thesis you can start drafting the paper. Introduction and organization Think of the organization of your paper as a journey from point A (your thesis) to point B (convincing the reader of your thesis). Make the trip with as little meandering as possible. You must determine which arguments you need to support your thesis, and what evidence you have to bolster those arguments. Include nothing that does not help prove your thesis. Some general points: state your thesis explicitly in the introduction. You want to lead the reader to your thesis; readers tend to follow more readily when they know from the start where they’re going. All paragraphs must support the thesis, be internally consistent, and flow logically one to another. Evidence A perceptive thesis is necessary, but not sufficient. Even the most compelling ideas disintegrate if not solidified by convincing evidence. Your thesis is nothing unless fortified by good arguments, and your arguments are terminally frail unless supported by solid facts taken directly from your reading. Once you start writing, you will need to do patch-up research by returning to the book. You won’t get a full sense of what evidence you need to make your argument, or what argument your evidence can support, until you begin the writing process. The earlier you begin writing, the more time you’ll have to make necessary midstream changes. Style All writers, no matter how accomplished and talented, can benefit from George Orwell’s perceptive essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell’s following suggestions deserve especial emphasis:A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that they write, will ask themselves these questions: • What am I trying to say? • What words will express it? • What image or idiom will make it clearer? • Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? • Could I put it more shortly? • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
Bibliography and notes The “scholarly apparatus” (notes and bibliography) provides the foundation for any piece of scholarly work. By meticulously and accurately citing information, you acknowledge intellectual debts and authenticate your evidence. The reader can track down your facts and ideas—sometimes to check up on you, but usually just to learn more. For this reason, you will include a bibliography and either footnotes or endnotes, following the Notes and Bibliography Style of the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. We provide examples below based on the assigned reading. If you draw upon additional sources, format notes and bibliographies following the same style although (as explained above) you also need to annotate the bibliography to explain briefly your use of the source. Bibliographic entries Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. New York: Anchor Books, 2003. Shreeve, James. The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. I Am Legend. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Warner Bros., 2008. Film. If you use an electronic version of a book—say, a Kindle edition—cite it exactly as if it were print, except note its electronic provenance. Zimmer, Carl. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. New York: Dutton, 2018. Kindle edition. The annotation should follow immediately below the bibliography entry. Venter, J. Craig. A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life. New York: Viking, 2007. My thesis focuses on the role of personality in the race to sequence the human genome. Venter’s memoir provided his personal reflection on how his “love of risk” is perhaps encoded in my DNA. This direct personal reflection from Venter does not appear in The Genome War.