Essay Guidelines

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English 016.402/Comp Lit 200.402/French 200.402

Instructor: Scott Francis

Essay Guidelines
This handout is a summary of the standards to which you will be held on the essays you write in this course, and of what factors determine how your work is evaluated.
Section 1: Argumentation (pp. 1-2) Section 4: Other considerations (p. 6)

Section 2: Structure (pp. 3-4) Section 5: Citations (pp. 7-9)

Section 3: Usage and style (p. 5) Section 6: Grading (p. 10)
Section 1: Argumentation
- Is it clear what question or issue you are addressing? Your introduction should set up your argument by describing not only what your topic is, but how it arises from the text or film. Here are some examples of questions that you could answer in demonstrating this:
- Does the narrative structure of the text or film affect how the plot or characters are represented, or how we as readers or viewers perceive them?

- Is there an abundance of a certain kind of vocabulary, imagery, or literary/cinematographic device that indicates a particular concern of the text or film?

- Does the text or film have a social or historical context of which it might be offering a commentary?
- Does the essay propose an argumentative thesis to address this question or issue? An argumentative thesis is not a statement of fact. It is an interpretation, one which offers a contestable answer to the question at hand. In other words, it does not only say what, where, and when, but why and how.
Not argumentative: Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes makes reference to the American Civil Rights movement.
- While this is an interpretation, it is not a contestable one. Anyone familiar with the culture of 1960’s America would be hard pressed to deny this. It says what (Planet of the Apes and civil rights), where (America), and when (the 1960’s), but gives no indication of why or how.
Argumentative: Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes uses the orangutans and the heresy trial they conduct to suggest a connection between religious fundamentalism and racism in 1960’s America.
- This is a contestable interpretation: one could make the argument that the orangutans represent something entirely different. Moreover, it provides the why and the how that are missing from the above statement: here, the argument is clearly that the film is using characters and a plot element (how) to make a statement about current events and attitudes (why).

- In supporting the thesis, do you provide proof taken from the text/film itself or from its cultural or historical context?

- The text/film itself is the single most important source of proof for your argument. You must be able to show how your argument is supported by what is actually present in what you have read or watched. This involves not only a careful selection of proof, but also an explanation of how this proof supports your claims.
- As a general rule, especially in shorter papers, it’s better to pick a few extremely relevant pieces of evidence and explain them fully than to amass a pile of instances, some more convincing than others. Remember, it’s not just what the text/film says, it’s how it says it that can provide support for your argument.

- What this means is that the strongest arguments will not only point to the content of the text/film, but to the techniques used in conveying this content. One good way to do this is to refer to your literary devices and figures of speech, as they are nothing other than means by which to convey a message. The ones you’ve found in your weekly exercises might prove very useful to you in this regard.
- Note that you are not obligated to consult secondary sources, but if you do, be sure that they are relevant to your argument.
- Part of supporting your argument is properly citing your source(s). For instructions on citations, please see the section 5 (below).
- What kind of a conclusion do you draw from your argument? Does it go beyond what is readily apparent in the thesis?
- A conclusion should not be a mere restatement or summary of what has already been said. Rather, the conclusion is the place where you take a step back and suggest what broader implications your argument could have.
- For example, does your argument suggest ways in which we could perceive the role of literature, or of specific kinds of literature, in society? Does it truly resolve the problem you have addressed, or does it point to other problems yet to be resolved?

Section 2: Structure
- Does your essay follow the formatting guidelines as described in the syllabus?
- The first two essays must be 4-5 pages in length, and the last two must be 5-7 pages in length. Note that these numbers refer to FULL pages: a 4-5 page paper must be no less than a full 4 pages and no more than a full 5 pages. A paper that is either shorter than 4 full pages or longer than 5 full pages will lose points for structure.
- Essays must be typed, double-spaced, and written in Times New Roman size 12 font, with 1-inch page margins on all sides. Essays failing to meet these criteria will lose points for structure.
- Does your essay have a coherent overall structure?
- This area is closely related to argumentation: an essay should have an introduction that introduces the question and the proposed answer, a body that answers the question and builds toward the conclusion, and a conclusion that briefly indicates some of the implications of the preceding argument.
- Are your individual paragraphs coherent?
- One classic model for papers is the so-called “five paragraph essay,” in which the introduction concludes with a thesis statement that claims that its interpretation is true because of reasons x, y, and z. The introduction is followed by three body paragraphs demonstrating x, y, and z, respectively, and then by a conclusion.
- This model has its virtues in that it prescribes a very coherent overall structure: each body paragraph clearly relates back to the thesis.
- However, it’s also far too restrictive. There’s absolutely no reason to use only 5 paragraphs in an entire essay!
- A paragraph is meant to get across one single idea. For example, you could have a paragraph explaining the significance of a certain citation, a paragraph explaining the tendencies of a certain character, or a paragraph discussing the prevalence and significance of a certain kind of imagery.
- Basically, there are no hard and fast rules for how many paragraphs there should be, or for how long a paragraph should be, though shorter is generally better than longer. The ultimate structural criteria for a paragraph are how well it expresses a single coherent idea and how this idea relates back to the paper’s thesis.

- Do your paragraphs flow logically from one to another?

- If a paragraph follows another, it should be clear why. Is this next paragraph answering a question raised by the previous paragraph? Is this next paragraph providing more of the same kind of evidence found in the previous paragraph? Is this next paragraph taking the argument in a different direction for some reason? Whatever the case may be, the logical connection between ensuing paragraphs should be clear.
- Does your essay have a descriptive title?
- The title should give an idea of what work(s) you’re dealing with, and what issue you’re addressing in them.
Ex: Planet of the Apes as a Critique of Institutional Science
- If you can come up with a clever-sounding title, go ahead, but be aware that it’s better to be plainly descriptive than clever if being clever will interfere with your reader’s comprehension.

Section 3: Usage and style
- Are your vocabulary and grammar correct and appropriate for your topic? This topic covers too much ground to discuss here in its entirety, but here are some general pointers.
- If you aren’t sure what a word means, look it up in a dictionary. Moreover, don’t just stop at the first definition you come to: check the entire entry to make sure you’re using the word correctly.
- Some dictionaries I’d recommend are Webster’s International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED for short). Webster’s International and the OED are both available online through the Penn Library site.
- Keep in mind that sometimes, less is more, especially when you aren’t entirely sure what a word means. Clarity and accuracy come before ornamentation.
- Your weekly exercises are meant to benefit you in your writing. If you can make use of a word you’ve discovered in your own writing, do it!
- The present tense is the one you should be using, except if you’re describing historical events. So, even if a novel is written in the past tense, you should use the present tense to refer to it.
Example: Ulysse addresses his audience as “noble gorillas.”
- Aside from mere correctness of usage, does your own use of language strengthen the points you make?
Style is what can make a good paper into a great one. Granted, people have different styles of writing, and it can take a lot of practice to develop one’s own style, but you have to do some experimenting if you want to develop it. Here are a few suggestions:
- It’s best to write in such a way that you don’t have to use personal pronouns to describe your point of view at all. However, if you must, just use “I” instead of “we” or “one.”
- Humor, if tastefully and selectively done, can do a lot to enhance a paper.
- The literary devices/figures of speech aren’t just there for you to find in the books you read and the films you watch. They’re meant to enhance your own style, as well. If you can use one to convey a point more effectively, then do so by all means!

Section 4: Other considerations
- Hard copies of essays are due in class on the days indicated on the syllabus. Electronic copies will not be accepted. Essays turned in after the deadline (meaning any time after class, including the same day) will receive a deduction of 10 points out of a possible 100.
- If you are unable to attend class due to an authorized conflict or illness, your essay is due no later than the next scheduled class.
- If you need any help, either in selecting a topic or in thinking about how to construct an argument, don’t hesitate to ask me. I can’t pick a topic for you or look at what you’ve written before you turn it in, but I can answer any specific questions you might have or give you suggestions as to where you might look as you continue to write.
- You can also make use of the Marks Family Writing Center:

Section 5: Citations
When you refer to a source in your writing, whether a primary source (i.e. the text or the film you’re analyzing) or a secondary source, you must properly cite it.
Guidelines for citations are those of the MLA (Modern Language Association). The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th ed.) can be found at the Van Pelt Reference Desk and in the Reference Stacks. The Purdue Online Writing Lab features a useful online summary of the Handbook, as well:
The following are guidelines for the kinds of citations you’re most likely to have to use in this class. This is not a comprehensive list; when in doubt, check the Handbook.

Basic format for citations
- MLA citations are “in-house,” which means that the reference appears in parentheses right at the end of the sentence, before the period.
Remember that you must provide references for both direct quotations (enclosed in quotation marks) and indirect ones.
Direct: As Ulysse delivers his speech to the ape congress, he begins to feel “a sort of intoxication, like an owner taking stock of his possessions” (175).
Indirect: Cornelius and Zira help Ulysse come up with an opening to his speech that they know will flatter the orangutans (174).
- If it’s clear what book you’re citing from the context, or if you state the author or work in the actual sentence, there’s no need to specify the author in the reference. If it isn’t clear, you must provide the author’s last name before the page number.
Ex: Around the turn of the twentieth century, imaginative fiction in France began to use scientific discourse less for didactic purposes and more as a narrative device (Evans 99).
- In citing prose works (fiction or nonfiction), it is sufficient to reference the page number alone. However, for works of fiction, it can also be useful to cite divisions of the text like chapters or parts as in the following examples:
As Ulysse delivers his speech to the ape congress, he begins to feel “a sort of intoxication, like an owner taking stock of his possessions” (175; ch. 25).
G. H. Bondy claims that the Salamander Syndicate will “promote Utopias and gigantic dreams” by exploiting the newts (105; bk. 1, ch. 12).
- To cite a film, all you need to do is put the film’s title in parentheses where you’d normally put the reference.
Upon seeing the ruined Statue of Liberty, Taylor vents his grief and rage in an apostrophe to the “maniacs” who started a nuclear war: “God damn you! God damn you all to Hell!” (Planet of the Apes).
If you’re dealing with more than one version of a film (e.g. the Schaffner and Burton versions of Planet of the Apes), it’s better to distinguish between the two by referencing the director instead of the title.
Davidson defies orders and goes to rescue Pericles, indignantly telling his commander that he shouldn’t “send a monkey to do a man’s job” (Burton).
For all questions related to in-text citations, refer to Chapter 6 of the Handbook.

When to cite
- As a general rule, there is no need to provide citations for common knowledge or historical facts. For example, you would not need to cite anything to state that Planet of the Apes was published in 1963.
- Similarly, assume that you are writing for an educated reader who is familiar with the works you are describing. This means that there is no need to provide a citation for general descriptions of settings or characters. For example, you would not need a citation to state that Ulysse Mérou is a journalist, or that Soror is a planet orbiting Betelgeuse.
- If you are using a secondary source, you MUST properly reference it if you are using its interpretation. You do not, however, need to cite historical facts recounted in it (see above).

Works cited list
- At the end of your paper, on a separate sheet, you must have a list entitled “Works cited” that lists the sources you reference in the paper. The list should be in alphabetical order.
Here are some guidelines for the entries you’re most likely to have to do in this class:
Last name, first name. Title. (Translator or editor, if applicable). Place of publication: Press, year of the edition’s publication.
James, Edward. Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Verne, Jules. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. Trans. William Butcher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Lofficier, Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier. French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2000.
Title. Director. Distributor, year of release. Format.
Planet of the Apes. Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner. 20th Century Fox, 1968. DVD.
To distinguish between two versions of a film, you can start with the directors, instead.
Burton, Tim, dir. Planet of the Apes. 20th Century Fox, 2001. DVD.
Schaffner, Franklin J., dir. Planet of the Apes. 20th Century Fox, 1968. DVD.

For all other questions regarding the list of works cited, see Chapter 5 of the Handbook.

Section 6: Grading
Essay grades are out of a possible 100 points, broken down as follows:
- Argumentation: 50

- Structure: 25

- Usage and style: 25
The total points received on an essay correspond to the following letter grades:
97-100: A+

93-97: A

89-92: A-

86-88: B+

83-85: B

79-82: B-

76-78: C+

73-75: C

69-72: C-

60-68: D

59 or lower: F

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