WR 121: Week 3 Reading, Researching, and Supporting your ideas with evidence

Agenda (Monday & Wednesday)

  • Reading discussion: Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Chapter 1
  • Common grammar issues and choices
  • The writing process
  • Paper #2
  • What are reputable sources?
  • Drafting an outline together
  • Getting started with library research: keywords, search engines, and library resources
  • A guide to workshopping papers

Reading Discussion

  • Background on Barbara Ehrenreich and this text
  • Rationale for including it in our readings
  • General responses
  • A brief note about the ethics of writing about vulnerable populations

Small Group Discussions

  • What themes does the author explore via this immersion?
  • Select one paragraph that is particularly descriptive. Why does it work?
  • Why does the author choose to immerse herself in the field to write this story?
  • Is her methodology successful? Why?
  • What other means could be used to tell this story?
  • Voice: What is voice? How does the author’s voice impact your reaction to this story? Does she switch voice? When and how?
  • Do you think this story is still relevant, even though it was published almost 20 years ago?

Grammar & Style

It's the difference between feeling your nuts and feeling you're nuts.

A few items to touch on...

  • 2nd person voice
  • Comma splice, complete sentences, and fragments
  • There, their, they're: beware! Make sure you are consciously choosing the right word, especially in cases like this one, and also with homonyms.
  • Capitalizing proper names: Kleenex or tissue, but not kleenex or Tissue
  • Repetition can be a powerful tool, but repetition can also be really boring because repetition dulls the senses. Repetition makes you want to stop reading and repetition makes me want to fall asleep. To many professors, this sort of repetition looks as if the student is trying inflate his or her word count in lieu of saying anything substantive. What are some other synonyms for repetition? How else might one avoid unnecessary restating of points? Revise this short paragraph in your journal.
  • Answering declarative statements...

It isn’t enough to say something is good or bad; always support your claims.

Our tiny kitchen is my favorite room in my home.

This statement, on its own, might lead a reader to ask: who cares?

A deeper exploration might go something like this:

Our kitchen is my favorite room in my home. It is where I can immerse myself in the preparation of a meal and set aside the stress of day-to-day life, which always seems to be pressing in on me. Chopping, measuring, and adjusting seasonings temporarily distracts me from politics and turmoil in the world, because these action focus my energies on something I can actually control: making a delicious meal for my family.

My main point here is that even personal writing needs evidence to support the claims you make.

To strengthen your claim, particularly in academic writing, you will want to enter into a dialogue with others, with experts on the topic you are exploring. To make my declaration above even stronger, I might add a quote from someone noteworthy.

Luciano Pavarotti, world-famous opera singer and noted food lover suggests, "One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” This is why my tiny apartment kitchen is my favorite room in my home. It is where I can immerse myself in the preparation of a meal and set aside the stress of day-to-day life, which always seems to be pressing in on me. Chopping, measuring, and adjusting seasonings temporarily distracts me from politics and turmoil in the world, because these action focus my energies on something I can actually control: making a delicious meal for my family.

The Writing Process

Writing is a process; it takes time and involves working through stages:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing
  • Polishing

Prewriting: This stage is where you brainstorm ideas, freewrite, journal, outline -- whatever process you find works best for you. Additionally, you start researching and developing questions which will ultimately lead you to a thesis. The product of this stage is "the big idea."

Drafting: This is when you start to arrange your ideas and incorporate your outside research; you start really writing and connecting your ideas. The final product is a rough draft.

Revising: This is when you start to clean up your paper. Focus on the content of your argument and connect your ideas more fluidly than your previous draft. Is your thesis clearly stated? Are you transitioning from one idea to the next in a cohesive manner? The final product is a developed essay.

Editing: Focus on the details. Correct grammar, mechanics, and punctuation. Format the paper according to assignment guidelines (MLA for this class). Complete your works cited page. The final product is a corrected essay.

Polishing: This is when you really polish the paper. It should be technically correct, but there is still room to hone your argument. Peer review is an excellent way to accomplish this. Can others identify your thesis and follow your argument? The final product will be a solid, well-crafted essay you can be proud of!

The big takeaway here is that, with a few minor exceptions, no one sits down at their computer and produces perfect work in one session. sports, music, dance, architecture, engineering, biology -- each of these disciplines require practice, thought, and process work over time to achieve meaningful results.

Paper #2: Writing What We Know, Making Claims, and Supporting with Evidence

To get our feet wet, we'll continue writing about something we know. Now that we’ve touched on descriptive writing, we’re going to add a few new elements. Namely, we’re going to look at how to analyze texts, make claims, and support those claims with evidence.

I’d like to see you select a topic that you feel connected to (i.e. cooking, playing basketball, income inequality, knitting, yoga, college/education, environmental degradation). I want you to be interested in what you are writing about while practicing and developing some of the skills we are learning. I’m not asking you to write 1000 words on why your chosen topic is totally rad. I am asking you to write a paper that makes a claim or researches what others have had to say about that topic and why it matters. Here are a couple of ideas and examples to give you a sense of what I mean:

  • An avid gamer might want to research the impact of gender stereotypes in popular video games.
  • A student who loves cooking could research the origins and history of a favorite dish or family recipe.
  • The football fan could examine traumatic brain injuries or look at how playing a team sport helps kids develop skills they can use throughout their lives.

Remember, 1000 words isn’t a ton of space to cover really complicated, multi-faceted ideas, so you’ll want to be sure to narrow your focus quite a bit. In other words, you won’t be able to answer multiple questions, but one well-selected inquiry will be just right!

  • Requirements: Incorporate 2 outside, reputable sources (no need for peer reviewed sources yet, but they must be reliable and truthful sources.)
  • Length: minimum 1000 words
  • Format: MLA
  • Audience: Your classmates and your teacher. Assume we know absolutely nothing about the topic and it is your job to help us learn why you care so much about it.
  • Writer: I would like you to begin to transition to a more academic style of writing. Since you are writing about something you are personally interested in, you may have reason to use “I,” but you need to be sure you are being quite focused in your style and tone. Keep in mind that some professors (not me) don’t allow first person narrative in academic writing.
  • Due: February 13- bring six copies to class
  • Workshop: February 15

Drafting an Outline Together

In many of the courses you will take in college, you'll be asked to do a close reading or analysis of a text, followed by a paper or research project. We're going to do an abbreviated version of this together using Ehrenreich's book.

Identifying Themes and Issues

  • Now, in your groups, finish this statement: "17 years after publication, Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is still (or is not) relevant today because...
  • In your groups, brainstorm a list of themes found in this chapter.
  • Drafting the outline

Getting Started with Library Research

Photos from Harvard, where I did research for my thesis.

Peer Review Workshop Guidelines

Workshopping's a powerful tool, but the basic idea is a simple one. Classmates read your draft and take notes in response to our workshop questions. Then, when we reconvene, each person responds ot the piece, one at a time -- but without the writer joining in.

In other words, you (the writer) can't correct people's misunderstandings, or thank them for praise. You're strictly an observers. After the responses have gone all the way around your group, then you can join the discussion. At that point, the floor is thrown open for both your response and for a more open discussion of the work.

It takes getting used to. Writers have a tremendous (and understandable) desire to respond to their piece while it is being initially discussed. But the "silent writer" is crucial, because readers don't normally have you sitting there to correct or interrupt them. Workshopping allows you to glimpse at your writing as others see it.

Not all the advice you get in workshop will be useful, but, for student writers, it offers many unique advantages including: observing how other people craft their papers, learning how to accept criticism, developing the ability to anticipate problems in your writing by thinking about audience response, and, perhaps most importantly, sharing your struggles and successes with your peers to see that you are not alone!

  1. Respond to the writing, not the writer.
  2. Any subject is fair game.
  3. Think about the big picture.
  4. Think about the small pictures, too.
  5. Trust your judgement.

Homework for Wednesday, Feb 1

Library research Assignment

What Lies Ahead

  • Peer review peer papers
  • Read selected articles from this month’s Pacific Standard Magazine on homelessness
  • Next week: developing ideas for paper #2
  • Library visit
Created By
Jenny Woodman


Image credits: Jenny Woodman

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