1) Carefully read the essay instructions in the syllabus. There is lots of very concrete advice and everything you need to know about the formal expectations. You need to read these two pages in the syllabus and follow them in order to succeed on this assignment. The essay grading rubric, which details how these expectations translate into grades, is attached to this assignment and copied in "useful stuff", where you'll also find the link to a short instructional piece about writing good definitions.
2) Content Prompt (see syllabus for all formal expectations): Write a definition of the concept "life". Think of it as making an argument/thesis/claim about the concept "life," not a subjective opinion or a dictionary entry. Your thesis should specify how broadly or specifically you are defining life, e.g. "life for humans is..." or "life as a mammal is..." or "life in x text/for x philosopher is...", but make sure it is neither just your own private life you are defining, nor a summary or description of someone else's concept, like summarizing the biological characteristics or describing a philosopher's point of view (arguments are debatable claims, like saying "Plant and human life are not much different... here is why and how").
A good approach would be to argue "life for x (e.g. humans) is... a (e.g. these biological characteristics), b (e.g. this philosophical idea), and c (e.g. this other thing)," where a/b/c each turn into a body paragraph and come from a different angle/perspective. Each of these should be supported by quoted evidence, but remember to pick reputable sources and not inspirational quotes. Use at least one of our course texts for that.
Please note that most definitions of life you have written so far would not be enough, mostly because they lacked concrete evidence, i.e. quotations from reputable sources. The paper is not about "the one, comprehensive right definition" (we've already figured out that that's impossible), but about going beyond what a dictionary or text book can offer. You can argue for anything (just like Jabr did, but with quoted evidence) if you do it well, which means that you sustain its aspects with evidence (quotations) and explanations over the course of 1000 words (+/-100).
- Pick one understanding of life for which you want to argue or an argument about the concept of "life" that you want to make. Remember that you will have to say enough about it to fill 1000 words. Think of the task as convincing someone you don't know of your way of understanding the concept of life. It cannot be so subjective ("life is my family") that nobody else could possibly be included or convinced and it cannot be so general ("we can't define it," "it's the biological characteristics") or tautological ("life is living") that it cannot be sustained for more than a paragraph or backed up with evidence.
- In order to convince, you need to give evidence (i.e. quote reputable sources, which can range from philosophy to science to literature... put keywords in the library search catalog & ask a librarian for help) and explain how this specific quote supports your argument. Quote at least one of the texts we have read in class so far in your paper (ideally more and, if you want, also others, but avoid Wikipedia or too many dictionaries; also check your sources and don't just rely on one).
- Make sure you explain everything well and in appropriate language, and don't assume that I or anyone in this class is your reader (think of a stranger with no previous knowledge of the topic instead).
- Avoid trying to argue for several understandings and jumping back and forth between ideas. Instead, plan out the structure of your paper: If this is my argument, what do I need to explain and prove for all it's components, and which order makes this clearest? Or, where do I need to go and which steps do I need to take to make my point?
- Re-read your own essay, use spell-check, and double-check whether you followed all instructions (quotations? word count? format?... read that section in the syllabus!). Test your argument on your roommate, your mom, your best friend... share what you've written to get feedback. It can only improve your paper.
Coming up with a thesis and organizing your thoughts is hard, so let us help you! Use the in-class exercises, office hours, etc. to run your thesis by us and your peers. The Writing Center offer lots of help too (link & info in syllabus). Remember that you get an automatic 5% grade bonus if you upload evidence of having gotten help with your paper from either of these sources. Don't ignore the word minimum/maximum instructions!
SYLLABES PAGE :
Write 1000 words (+/
100 words), double
spaced, typed, with 1” margins all around and 12
New Roman font (papers that are
100 words below/above the limit of 1000 will be deducted
half the missing/additional
your name, the date, the course, and the paper number in the header,
page numbers in the
Special characters in your file name will lead t
o upload problems.
Quote properly and list all of your sources under Works Cited at the end:
Chose and stick with a
citation style, like MLA
Content & Structure
Papers should make an analytical argument with evidence from
reputable sources for an unknown reader.
An introduction should
Propose one argument that responds to the prompt. An argument is a thesis that is debatable and is not
simply a description or observation. Have no more than one main argument.
nclude the fo
llowing information about the main text
you are analyzing
title in italics, the author, publication date, and genre. E.g., “Franz Kafka’s
novella about a man who wakes up as a bug.”
Be organized around one sub
claim that helps support your main argument.
Give evidence for your sub
claim by quoting from your main text/source or sources. This includes
analyzing the quotations, i.e. stating which aspect of a quote suppo
rts your claim in which way.
Give necessary context to an audience that does not know
. Don’t summarize or describe the
, only what is necessary for your reader to understand the
you’re analyzing and be
convinced by you
r argument. Be brief. You can also make this part of your introduction.
Make sure the main terms of your argument are defined for your specific context. Don’t assume everybody
knows how you understand a term. You can do this “by the way” rather than dictio
nary style, e.g. “Life, in
its biological sense, is central to...”
A conclusion should
Summarize the paper’s argument, telling us what we learned about the text/source/
State the stakes or implications of your analysis, i.e. tell us
what your argument changes about our
understanding of the text/source/
. That’s like responding to someone asking,
Nice point, but so what?
Why does this matte
What to avoid?
Avoid spelling mistakes and incorrect word choices
: Proofread and edit your paper, and use spell
to read your paper (Writing Center, preceptors, roommates...). Re
read it yourself, try it out loud!
Avoid personal reflection
: Avoid saying “I” or drawing from your personal experience. Instead focus on the
to analyze. This is an anal
ytical academic paper, not a personal essay.
: Don’t make statements about “things all people do/think/agree on,” “stuff everybody
knows,” or “what’s normal.” Instead be specific and give evidence for all your claims.
Avoid letting quo
tations speak for themselves
: Always explain what a specific piece of evidence contributes to your
Avoid writing more because you have more to say
: Edit carefully and be succinct. This is part of the challenge of
paper writing. More is not better
. Follow the instructions to succeed.
Avoid writing for your teacher
: Write for a reader who is not familiar with the text
(i.e. give them all
the information about the text or
they will need to understand your argument) and write in a ton
is appropriate for a stranger and an analytical paper (i.e. no colloquial terms).
Avoid having more than one argument or focusing on too many texts
: Less is more. Go for a well backed
and an in
depth analysis rather than touching on this
and that superficially. This will also help with a clear
Avoid describing instead of analyzing
: Don’t give too much summary or description and make sure you have an
argument that you back up with quotations.
Avoid giving Wikipedia or other
reputable sources as evidence
: The sources Wikipedia gives for its claims are
evidence, but Wikipedia itself can be changed by anyone and is not always in the best shape. The same goes
for study sites. Go for the printed word over the posted word for q
uality control, and favor .edu sources.
Google Books is a great resource, and so are the librarians next door. And when you use an online source,
cite it properly; don’t just post a link into your Words Cited list (see above).
Avoid inspirational quotes
amous people or inspirational sayings can be great, but they are not evidence that
will hold up to analysis. The reader wants to hear
argument, supported by reputable academic eviden