Writing a Literacy Narrative

Narratives are stories, and we read and tell them for many different purposes. Writing students are often called upon to compose literacy narratives to explore their experiences with reading and writing. This chapter provides guidelines for writing a literacy narrative. We'll begin with one student example.



In the following literacy narrative, Shannon Nichols, a student at Wright State University, describes her experience taking the standardized writing proficiency test that high school students in Ohio must pass to graduate. She wrote this essay for a college writing course, where her audience included her classmates and instructor.

The first time I took the ninth-grade proficiency test was in March of eighth grade. The test ultimately determines whether students may receive a high school diploma. After months of preparation and anxiety, the pressure was on. Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I was a strong student, always on the honor roll. I never had a GPA below 3.0. I was smart, and I knew it. That is, until I got the results of the proficiency test.

Although the test was challenging, covering reading, writing, math, and citizenship, I was sure I had passed every part. To my surprise, I did pass every part—except writing. "Writing! Yeah right! How did I manage to fail writing, and by half a point, no less?" I thought to myself in disbelief. Seeing my test results brought tears to my eyes. I honestly could not believe it. To make matters worse, most of my classmates, including some who were barely passing eighth-grade English, passed that part.

Until that time, I loved writing just as much as I loved math. It was one of my strengths. I was good at it, and I enjoyed it. If anything, I thought I might fail citizenship. How could I have screwed up writing? I surely spelled every word correctly, used good grammar, and even used big words in the proper context. How could I have failed?

Finally I got over it and decided it was no big deal. Surely I would pass the next time. In my honors English class I worked diligently, passing with an A. By October I'd be ready to conquer that writing test. Well, guess what? I failed the test again, again with only 4.5 of the 5 points needed to pass. That time I did cry, and even went to my English teacher, Mrs. Brown, and asked, "How can I get A's in all my English classes but fail the writing part of the proficiency test twice?" She couldn't answer my question. Even my friends and classmates were confused. I felt like a failure. I had disappointed my family and seriously let myself down. Worst of all, I still couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.

I decided to quit trying so hard. Apparently—I told myself—the people grading the tests didn't have the slightest clue about what constituted good writing. I continued to excel in class and passed the test on the third try. But I never again felt the same love of reading and writing.

This experience showed me just how differently my writing could be judged by various readers. Obviously all my English teachers and many others enjoyed or at least appreciated my writing. A poem I wrote was put on television once. I must have been a pretty good writer. Unfortunately the graders of the ninth-grade proficiency test didn't feel the same, and when students fail the test, the state of Ohio doesn't offer any explanation.

After I failed the test the first time, I began to hate writing, and I started to doubt myself. I doubted my ability and the ideas I wrote about. Failing the second time made things worse, so perhaps to protect myself from my doubts, I stopped taking English seriously. Perhaps because of that lack of seriousness, I earned a 2 on the Advanced Placement English Exam, barely passed the twelfth-grade proficiency test, and was placed in developmental writing in college. I wish I knew why I failed that test because then I might have written what was expected on the second try, maintained my enthusiasm for writing, and continued to do well.

Nichols's narrative focuses on her emotional reaction to failing a test that she should have passed easily. The contrast between her demonstrated writing ability and her repeated failures creates a tension that captures readers' attention. We want to know what will happen to her.

Key Features/Literacy Narratives

A well-told story

As with most narratives, those about literacy often set up a situation that needs to be resolved—and that makes readers want to keep reading. We want to know whether Nichols ultimately will pass the proficiency test.

Vivid detail

Details can bring a narrative to life by giving readers vivid mental images of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the world in which your story takes place. Such details help readers picture places, people, and events; dialogue helps them hear what is being said.

Some indication of the narrative's significance

By definition, a literacy narrative tells something the writer remembers about learning to read or write. In addition, the writer needs to make clear why the incident matters to him or her. Nichols does this when she says she no longer loves to read or write.

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A Guide to Writing Literacy Narratives

Choosing a Topic

In general, it's a good idea to focus on a single event that took place during a relatively brief period of time. For example:

  • any early memory about writing or reading that you recall vividly
  • an event at school that was interesting, humorous, or embarrassing
  • learning to write instant messages or email, learning to construct a website, creating and maintaining a Facebook page

Make a list of possible topics, and then choose one that you think will be interesting to you and to others—and that you're willing to share with others.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why do you want to tell this story? Think about your reasons and how they will shape what you write.


Are your readers likely to have had similar experiences? How much explaining will you have to do to help them understand your narrative? Your perspective?


What attitude do you want to project? Neutral? Critical? Something else?


Will your narrative be in print? presented orally? on a website? Would photos, other illustrations, or a particular typeface help you present your subject?

Generating Ideas and Text

Remember that your goals are to tell the story clearly and vividly and to convey the meaning the incident has for you today. Start by writing out what you remember about the setting and those involved.

Describe the setting

List the places where your story unfolds. For each place, write informally for a few minutes.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What do you smell?
  • How and what do you feel?
  • What do you taste?

Think about the key people

Write about the people in your narrative:

  • Describe each person in a paragraph or so. What do the people look like? How do they dress and speak? DESCRIBE their movements or facial expressions. Do they have a distinctive scent?
  • Recall (or imagine) some characteristic dialogue. Try writing six to ten lines of DIALOGUE between two people in your narrative. If you can't remember an actual conversation, make up one that could have happened.

Write about "what happened"

Every good story answers the question "What happened?" and dramatizes the action. Try SUMMARIZING the action in your narrative in a paragraph.

Consider the significance of the narrative

Write a page or so about the meaning the story has for you now. How did it change or otherwise affect you?

Ways of Organizing a Literacy Narrative

[Chronologically, from beginning to end]

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[Beginning in the middle]

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[Beginning at the end]

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Writing Out a Draft

Once you have generated ideas and thought about how you want to organize your narrative, try to write a complete draft in one sitting. Concentrate on getting the story on paper or screen and on putting in as much detail as you can.

Draft a beginning

A good narrative grabs readers' attention right from the start. Here are some ways to begin:

  • Jump right in.
  • Describe the context.
  • Describe the setting, especially if it's important to the narrative.
Draft an ending

An effective ending helps readers understand the meaning of your narrative. Here are some possibilities:

  • End where your story ends.
  • Say something about the significance of your narrative.
  • Refer back to the beginning.
  • End on a surprising note.
Come up with a title

A good title indicates something about the subject of your narrative—and makes readers want to take a look.

Considering Matters of Design

Think about the narrative you're presenting and how you can design it to enhance your story and appeal to your audience.

  • What would be an appropriate typeface?
  • Should you add headings to divide your narrative into shorter sections?
  • Would photographs or other visuals show details better than you can describe them with words alone?

Getting Response and Revising

The following questions can help you study your draft with a critical eye and GET RESPONSES from others. Make sure they know your purpose and audience.

  • Do the title and first few sentences make readers want to read on?
  • Does the narrative move from beginning to end clearly? Are there effective TRANSITIONS? Is anything confusing?
  • Are there enough interesting details about the setting and the people? Would it help to add some  DIALOGUE?
  • Have you made the situation meaningful enough to make readers care about what will happen?
  • Is the action vivid, and does it keep readers engaged?
  • Is the significance of the narrative clear? Is the ending satisfying?

The preceding questions should help you identify aspects of your narrative you need to work on when you  REVISE.

Editing and Proofreading

Once you've revised your draft, follow these guidelines for EDITING a narrative:

  • Make sure events are in a clear order and include appropriate time markers, TRANSITIONS, and summary phrases.
  • Use verb tenses consistently throughout. Do not switch tenses unless two actions take place at different times.
  • Punctuate DIALOGUE correctly.
  • PROOFREAD your finished narrative carefully before turning it in.

Taking Stock of Your Work

  • How well do you think you told the story? What could still be improved?
  • How did you come up with ideas and generate text?
  • How did you draft your narrative?
  • Did you use any visuals? What did they add? What other visuals might you have used?
  • How did others' responses influence your writing? What would you do differently next time?

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Analyzing a Text

We need to be careful, analytical readers of magazines and newspapers, ads, political documents, even textbooks. Not only does text convey information, but it also influences how and what we think. This chapter offers guidelines for writing an essay that closely examines a text both for what it says and for how it does so. We'll begin with one student example.


"Stay Sweet As You Are": An Analysis of Change and Continuity in Advertising Aimed at Women

Doug Lantry wrote this analysis of three print ads for a first-year writing course at the University of Akron.

Magazine advertisements aimed at American women have a long history of pushing things like makeup, mouthwash, soap, and other products that reinforce men's roles in women's lives. The concept of personal hygiene has been used to convey the message that "catching" a man or becoming a wife is a woman's ultimate goal, and in advertisements from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s this theme can be traced through verbal and visual content.

For example, a 1922 ad for Resinol soap urges women to "make that dream come true" by using Resinol. The dream is marriage. The premise is that a bad complexion will prevent marriage even if a woman has attributes like wit and grace, which the ad identifies as positive. Blotchy skin, the ad says, will undermine all that. The word repellent is used for emphasis and appears in the same sentence as the words neglected and humiliated, equating the look of the skin with the state of the person within. Of course, Resinol can remedy the condition, and a paragraph of redemption follows the paragraph about being repellent. A treatment program is suggested, and the look and feel of "velvety" skin are only "the first happy effects," with eventual marriage (fulfillment) implied as the ultimate result of using Resinol soap.

Visual content supports the mostly verbal ad. In a darkened room, a lone woman peers dreamily into a fireplace, where she sees an apparition of herself as a bride in a white veil, being fulfilled as a person by marriage to a handsome man. She lounges in a soft chair, where the glow of the image in the fireplace lights her up and warms her as much as the comforting fire itself. A smaller image shows the woman washing with Resinol, contentedly working her way toward clear skin and marriage over a water-filled basin suggestive of a vessel of holy water. This image is reinforced by her closed eyes and serene look and by the ad's suggestion that "right living" is a source of a good complexion.

A somewhat less innocent ad appeared more than a decade later, in 1934. That ad, for Lux soap, like the one for Resinol, prescribes a daily hygiene regimen, but it differs significantly from the Resinol message in that it never mentions marriage and uses a clear-skinned movie star as proof of Lux's effectiveness. Instead of touting marriage, Lux teaches that "a girl who wants to break hearts simply must have a tea-rose complexion." Romance, not marriage, is the woman's goal, and competition among women is emphasized because "girls who want to make new conquests ... [are] sure to win out!" by using Lux. Lux's pitch is more sophisticated than Resinol's, appealing to a more emancipated woman than that of the early 1920s and offering a kind of evidence based on science and statistics. The text cites "9 out of 10 glamorous Hollywood stars" and scientists who explain that Lux slows aging, but it declines to cite names, except that of Irene Dunne, the ad's star. The unnamed stars and scientists give the ad an air of untruthfulness, and this sense is deepened by the paradox of the ad's title: "Girls who know this secret always win out." If Lux is a secret, why does it appear in a mass-media publication?

Like Resinol, Lux urges women to seek love and fulfillment by enhancing their outward beauty and suggests that clear skin means having "the charm men can't resist."

The Lux ad's visual content, like Resinol's, supports its verbal message. Several demure views of Irene Dunne emphasize her "pearly-smooth skin," the top one framed by a large heart shape. In all the photos, Dunne wears a feathery, feminine collar, giving her a birdlike appearance: she is a bird of paradise or an ornament. At the bottom of the ad, we see a happy Dunne being cuddled and admired by a man.

The visual and verbal message is that women should strive, through steps actually numbered in the ad, to attain soft, clear skin and hence charm and hence romance. Not surprisingly, the ad uses the language of battle to describe the effects of clear skin: girls who use Lux will "make new conquests!" and "win out!" Similar themes are developed for a younger audience in a 1954 ad for Listerine mouthwash. This time the target is no longer grown women but teenage girls: "If you want to win the boys ... Stay Sweet As You Are!" Because attracting men would be inappropriate for teenagers, boys are the catch of the day in the Listerine ad. The idea of staying sweet means on the surface that girls should have nice breath, but the youthful context of the ad means that for women to be attractive they must stay young and "stay adorable," preferably with the girlish innocence of a teenager. The consequences of not staying sweet are clear: if you don't use Listerine every morning, every night, and before every date, "you're headed for boredom and loneliness." If you do use Listerine, there are "good times, good friends, and gaiety ahead."

Like Lux, Listerine relies on science as well as sex. With talk of "the bacterial fermentation of proteins," research, and clinical tests, the mouthwash props up its romantic and sexual claims by proclaiming scientific facts. Listerine is "4 times better than any tooth paste," the ad proclaims. "With proof like this, it's easy to see why Listerine belongs in your home."

Visuals contribute to the message, as in the other ads. The central image is a photo of a perky, seemingly innocent teenage girl playing records on a portable phonograph. A vision of midcentury American femininity, she wears a fitted sweater, a scarf tied at the neck (like a wrapped present?), and a full, long skirt. She sits on the floor, her legs hidden by the skirt; she could be a cake decoration. Leaning forward slightly, she looks toward the reader, suggesting by her broad smile and submissive posture that perhaps kissing will follow when she wins the boys with her sweet breath. The record player affirms the ad's teenage target.

The intended consumers in the Resinol, Lux, and Listerine ads are women, and the message of all three ads is that the product will lead to—and is required for—romantic or matrimonial success. Each ad implies that physical traits are paramount in achieving this success, and the ads' appearance in widely circulated magazines suggests that catching a man (whether or not she marries him) is the ultimate goal of every American woman. While there is a kind of progress over time, the ads' underlying assumptions remain constant. There is evidence of women's increasing sophistication, illustrated in the later ads' use of science and "objective" proof of the products' effectiveness. Women's development as individuals can also be seen in that marriage is not presupposed in the later ads, and in the case of Lux a single woman has a successful career and apparently has her pick of many partners.

Still, one theme remains constant and may be seen as a continuing debilitating factor in women's struggle for true equality in the world of sex roles: pleasing men is the prerequisite for happiness. Despite apparent advances on other levels, that assumption runs through all three ads and is the main selling point. The consumer of Resinol, Lux, and Listerine is encouraged to objectify herself, to become more physically attractive not for her own sake but for someone else's. The women in all three ads are beautifying themselves because they assume they must "make new conquests," "win the boys," and "make that dream come true."

Lantry summarizes each ad clearly and focuses his analysis on a theme running through all three ads: the concept that to find happiness, a woman must be physically attractive to men. He describes patterns of images and language in all three ads as evidence.

Key Features/Textual Analysis

A summary of the text

Your readers may not know the text you are analyzing, so you need to include it or tell them about it before you can analyze it, as Lantry does.

Attention to the context

Texts are influenced by and contribute to ongoing conversations or debates, so to understand the text, you need to understand the larger context.

A clear interpretation or judgment

Your goal in analyzing a text is to lead readers to an interpretation or reasoned judgment, generally announced clearly in a thesis. When you interpret something, you explain what you think it means, as Lantry does when he argues that the consumers of the three beauty products are encouraged to "objectify" themselves.

Reasonable support for your conclusions

Written analysis of a text is generally supported by evidence from the text itself and sometimes from other sources. The writer might quote words or passages from a written text or refer to images in a visual text, both of which Lantry does. Note that the support you offer need only be "reasonable"—there is never any one way to interpret something.

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A Guide to Writing Textual Analyses

Choosing a Text to Analyze

Most of the time, you will be assigned a text or a type of text to analyze. If you must choose a text to analyze, look for one that suits the assignment—one that is neither too large or complex nor too brief. If you don't understand the assignment, ask your instructor for clarification.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why are you analyzing this text? To demonstrate that you understand it? To persuade readers of a certain point?


Do readers know your text? How much detail will you need to supply?


What interests you about your analysis? How will your own beliefs affect your analysis?


Are you writing an essay for a class, for a magazine, for the Web? You will probably need to include an image of a visual text.

Generating Ideas and Text

In analyzing a text, your goal is to understand what it says, how it works, and what it means. The following sequence may be helpful:

Read to see what the text says

Start by reading carefully, to get a sense of what it says. This means first skimming, rereading for the main ideas, then questioning and ANNOTATING.

Consider your initial response. What do you think about the argument, the tone, the language, the images? Consider both your intellectual and any emotional reactions. What places in the text trigger those reactions?

Next, summarize or describe the text in your own words.

Decide what you want to analyze

What do you find most interesting or intriguing, and why? The text's language? The imagery? The argument? Something else?

Study how the text works

Texts are made up of several components—words, sentences, images, even punctuation. Visual texts might be made up of images, color, shadow, and sometimes words. To analyze these elements, look for patterns in the way they're used. Write a sentence or two describing the patterns you've discovered and how they contribute to what the text says.

Analyze the argument

An important part of understanding any text is to recognize its argument—what the writer or artist wants the audience to believe, feel, or do. Identify the text's THESIS and write a sentence or two about how convincingly the text supports that thesis.

Think about the larger context

To analyze a text's role in its larger context, you may need to do additional research to determine where the text was originally published and what else was happening at the time.

Write a sentence or two describing the larger context surrounding the text.

Consider what you know about the writer or artist

A person's CREDENTIALS, reputation, and beliefs are useful windows into understanding a text. What do you know about the writer or artist, and how does that information affect your understanding of the text?

Come up with a thesis

Once you've studied the text thoroughly, you need to identify your analytical goal: do you want to show that the text has a certain meaning? Uses certain techniques to achieve its purposes? Something else? Come up with a tentative THESIS to guide you—but be aware that it may change as you work.

Ways of Organizing a Textual Analysis


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[Part by part, or text by text]

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Writing Out a Draft

In drafting your analysis, your goal should be to integrate the various parts into a smoothly flowing, logically organized essay. Whether you write the middle of your analysis first or start at the beginning, you need to support your analysis with evidence from the text itself or from research.

Draft a beginning

The beginning of an essay that analyzes a text generally has several tasks, as listed here:

  • Summarize the text.
  • Provide a context for your analysis.
  • Introduce a pattern or theme.
  • State your thesis.
Draft an ending

Focus your ending on what you want your readers to take away from your analysis. Here are two ideas:

  • Restate your thesis—and say why it matters.
  • Say something about the implications of your findings.
Come up with a title

A good title indicates something about the subject of your analysis—and makes readers want to see what you have to say about it.

Considering Matters of Design

  • Have you set long quotations and DOCUMENTATION according to the style you're using?
  • Would headings make your analysis easier for readers to follow?
  • If you're analyzing a visual text, you may need to include a reproduction and caption.

Getting Response and Revising

The following questions can help you and others study your draft with a critical eye. Make sure other readers know your purpose and audience.

  • Is the beginning effective? Does it make a reader want to continue?
  • Does the introduction provide an overview of your analysis and conclusions? Is your THESIS clear?
  • Is the analysis well organized and easy to follow? Does each part of the analysis relate to the thesis? Is anything confusing?
  • Are all QUOTATIONS accurate and correctly DOCUMENTED?
  • Is it clear how the analysis leads to the interpretation? Is there adequate EVIDENCE? Does the ending make clear what your findings mean?

As you REVISE, make sure your text appeals to your audience and achieves your purpose.

Editing and Proofreading

Once you've revised your draft, edit carefully:

Taking Stock of Your Work

  • How did you go about analyzing the text and drafting your essay? What methods were most helpful?
  • How well did you organize your written analysis? Did you provide sufficient evidence?
  • Did you use any visuals, and if so, what did they add?
  • What did you do especially well? What would you do differently next time?
  • What did your analysis teach you about the text you analyzed and its writer or artist?

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Reporting Information

Many kinds of writing report information: newspapers, textbooks, and websites, for instance, plus notes or essays we ourselves might write. This chapter focuses on reports that inform readers about a particular topic, a kind of writing that often calls for some kind of research. We'll begin with one student example.


The Greatest Generation:

The Great Depression and the American South

The following essay was written in 2001 by a student for a history course at the Trumbull Campus of Kent State University. It was first published in Etude and Techne, a journal of Ohio college writing.

Tom Brokaw called the folks of the mid-twentieth century the greatest generation. So why is the generation of my grandparents seen as this country's greatest? Perhaps the reason is not what they accomplished but what they endured. Many of the survivors feel people today "don't have the moral character to withstand a depression like that."1 This paper will explore the Great Depression through the eyes of ordinary Americans in the most impoverished region in the country, the American South, in order to detail how they endured and how the government assisted them in this difficult era.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) announced in 1938 that the American South "represented the nation's number one economic problem." He commissioned the National Emergency Council to investigate and report on the challenges facing the region. Though rich in physical and human resources, the southern states lagged behind other parts of the nation in economic development.2

Poor education in the South was blamed for much of the problem. Young children attending school became too costly for most families. In the Bland family, "when Lucy got to the sixth grade, we had to stop her because there was too much to do."3 Overcrowding of schools, particularly in rural areas, lowered the educational standards. The short school terms further reduced effectiveness. As Mrs. Abercrombie recalls, "Me and Jon both went to school for a few months but that wa'n't enough for us to learn anything."4 Without the proper education, the youth of the South entered the work force unprepared for the challenges before them.

Southern industries did not have the investment capital to turn their resources into commodities. Manufacturers were limited to producing goods in the textile and cigarette industries and relied heavily on the cash crops of cotton and tobacco for the economy. Few facilities existed in the South for research that might lead to the development of new industries. Hampered by low wages, low tax revenue, and a high interest rate, Southerners lacked the economic resources to compete with the vast industrial strength of the North. The National Emergency Council report concluded, "Penalized for being rural, and handicapped in its efforts to industrialize, the economic life of the South has been squeezed to a point where the purchasing power of the southern people does not provide an adequate market for its own industries nor an attractive market for those of the rest of the country."5 The South had an untapped market for production and consumption. However, without adequate capital, it did not have the means to profit from them.

Southern industries paid their employees low wages, which led to a low cost of living. "You could live very cheaply because ... you couldn't make a great deal of money," remembers Rita Beline."6 Most families did not have much left for themselves after bills and living expenses. "Nobody had much money, you know," recalls June Atchetce. "Everybody kind of lived at home, had gardens and raised their own produce, raised their own meat and had chickens and eggs and such as that." The needs of the families "were very small as far as purchases were concerned." What they could not grow, they did not have a need for, except for basic staples such as coffee, flour, sugar, and honey To save on the cost of clothes, families "had a lot of hand-me-downs from the oldest to the baby. We did not throw them away. We patched them up and sent them down the line."7 Luxury items, like radios, cost too much money, and "only the [aristocrats] had radios because the poor did not stay at home long enough to enjoy them."8 The fact was that Southerners wanted modern consumer items but did not have the purchasing power to pay for them. "The people of the South need to buy, they want to buy, and they would buy—if they had the money."9 Without paying laborers a fair wage, industry had forced upon itself a lower living standard, thus perpetuating losses in local revenue resulting in a decline in purchasing power.10

The Federal government had to step in and help, as the National Emergency Council's report noted:

Some of the South's credit difficulties have been slightly relieved in recent years ... by the Public Works Administration,... the Works Progress Administration, [and] the Soil Conservation Service, [which] have brought desperately needed funds into the South.11

Along with other New Deal projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC], President Roosevelt was able to prime the pump into a seemingly dead Southern economy.

Other ways the federal government primed the pump was with the WPA [Works Progress Administration]. This New Deal measure gave jobs to those who wanted to work. Local governments benefited too. The WPA provided new roads, buildings, hospitals, and schools. Rita Beline remembers her "father came very short of money,... took a job with the WPA, in which he helped in building a road across a lagoon."12 President Roosevelt knew "cheap wages mean low buying power."13 The WPA ensured a fair wage for good work. Warren Addis remembers that "workers were tickled to death with it because it gave so many people jobs. It started out at eight cents an hour for common labor, and it finally went to thirty cents an hour."14

FDR also created the CCC. The concept of putting the American youth to work yielded an economic stimulus by having them send home twenty-five dollars a month. That money worked itself back into local economies as families spent the money on needed goods. Young men across the South "left home to go and do this work. They got paid a little bit of money, which they sent home to their families."15 The CCC created recreation habitats as well. Jefferson Brock recalls, "They came and built brush poles for the fish to live in the lake near my cottage."16 The CCC became an outlet for young men who could not find work in their hometowns. Jesse Brooks remembers:

They did a great lot of good. For instance, they built Vogel State Park and raised the wall up on the national cemetery. Just put people to work. Gave them their pride back. A man's not going to feel very good about himself if he can't feed his family. So, that was the New Deal itself—to put people back to work and get the economy growing again.17

The South did not enjoy the United States' economic successes in the early part of the twentieth century and in many ways was a third world country within our own nation. The federal action that fueled the Southern economy during the Great Depression changed the way of life for the better and helped Southerners endure a time of great despair. Programs like the TVA, WPA, and CCC planted the seeds for a prosperous future. I still do not know if they were the greatest generation, but they did overcome tremendous obstacles to bring forth other "greatest generations."


1. Allen Furline in Kenneth J. Bindas, "Oral History Project," Kent State University, Trumbull Campus, Trumbull, OH. Dr. Bindas has a collection of 476 oral-history interviews from western Georgia and eastern Alabama, from which the information for this paper is derived. (Hereafter cited in Notes as BOHP.)

2. David L. Carlton and Peter A. Coclanis, eds., Confronting Southern Poverty in the Great Depression: The Report on Economic Conditions of the South with Related Documents (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 1996), 92.

3. Vera Bland in BOHP.

4. M. Abercrombie in BOHP.

5. Carlton and Coclanis, Confronting Southern Poverty, 76–78.

6. Rita Beline in BOHP.

7. June Romero Atchetce in BOHP.

8. Ruby Girley in BOHP.

9. Carlton and Coclanis, Confronting Southern Poverty, 78.

10. Ibid., 64–65.

11. Ibid., 73.

12. Rita Beline in BOHP.

13. David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 346.

14. Warren Addis in BOHP.

15. Jane Berry in BOHP.

16. Jefferson Brock in BOHP.

17. Jesse Brooks in BOHP.

DeRoven's essay reports information about how the American South got through the Great Depression. His information is based on both library research and recorded interviews with people who lived through the period he describes. He documents his sources according to The Chicago Manual of Style, the preferred style in history classes.

Key Features/Reports

A tightly focused topic

The goal of this kind of writing is to inform readers about something without digressing—and without, in general, bringing in the writer's own opinions.

Accurate, well-researched information

Reports usually require some research. The kind of research depends on the topic.

Various writing strategies

Presenting information usually requires various organizing patterns—defining, comparing, classifying, explaining processes, analyzing causes and effects, and so on. DeRoven analyzes some of the causes of the Great Depression in the South.

Clear definitions

Reports need to provide clear definitions of any key terms that their audience may not know.

Appropriate design

Reports often combine paragraphs with information presented in lists, tables, diagrams, and other illustrations. Numerical data, for instance, can be easier to understand in a table than in a paragraph. Often a photograph can bring a subject to life.

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A Guide to Writing Reports

Choosing a Topic

If you have an assigned topic, try to approach it from an angle that interests you. If you get to choose your topic, the following guidelines should help:

If you get to choose

The topics that you're most likely to write well on are those that engage you. If you're not sure where to begin, here are some ideas:

  • an intriguing technology: hybrid cars, Google, roller coasters
  • sports: soccer, ultimate Frisbee, skateboarding
  • an important world event: 9/11, the fall of Rome, the Black Death
  • an environmental issue: Arctic oil drilling, the Clean Air Act

Choose a topic that you'd like to know more about—and that your audience might find interesting, too. You might start out by phrasing your topic as a question that your research will attempt to answer, such as How is Google different from Yahoo!? or What kind of training do football referees receive?

If your topic is assigned

If your assignment is broad—"Explain some aspect of the U.S. government"—focus on a more limited topic within the larger topic: federalism, majority rule, states' rights. Even if an assignment is narrow, you need to decide how to research the topic—and how to shape it to your own interests and those of your audience.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why are you presenting this information? To teach readers about the subject? For some other reason?


Who will read this report? What background information do they need? Will you need to define any terms?


What is your own attitude toward your subject? What interests you most about it?


What medium are you using? What is the best way to present the information? Do you need charts, headings, photographs, or other illustrations?

Generating Ideas and Text

Remember that your goal is to present information clearly and accurately. Start by exploring your topic.

Explore what you already know about your topic

Write out what-ever you know or want to know about your topic. Why are you interested in this topic? What questions do you have about it?

Narrow your topic

To write a good report, you need to narrow your focus—and to narrow your focus, you need to know a fair amount about your subject, which often involves some research. Start with SOURCES that can give you a general sense of the subject, such as a magazine article or an Internet site. Your goal at this point is simply to find out what issues your topic might include and then to focus on an aspect of the topic you will be able to cover.

Come up with a tentative thesis

Once you narrow your topic, write out a statement that explains what you plan to report or explain. A good  THESIS is potentially interesting (to you and your readers) and limits your topic enough to make it manageable.

Do any necessary research, and revise your thesis

OUTLINE the aspects of your topic that you expect to discuss; identify any aspects that require additional research, and develop a research plan. Expect to revise your outline as you do your research and finalize your thesis once your research is done.

Ways of Organizing a Report

[Reports on topics that are unfamiliar to readers]

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[Reports on an event]

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[Reports that compare and contrast]

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Writing Out a Draft

Once you have generated ideas and thought about how you want to organize your report, try to write a complete draft in one sitting. Concentrate on getting the report on paper or screen and on putting in as much detail as you can.

Writing reports often calls for certain writing strategies, such as EXPLAINING A PROCESS,
 ANALYZING CAUSES, COMPARING an unfamiliar topic with a familiar one.

Draft a beginning

Reports often need to begin in a way that will get your audience interested in the topic. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Simply state your thesis.
  • Start with something that will provoke readers' interest.
  • Begin with an illustrative example.
Draft an ending

An effective ending leaves readers thinking about your topic.

  • Summarize your main points.
  • Point out the implications of your report.
  • Frame your report by referring to its introduction.
  • Tell what happened.
Come up with a title

You'll want a title that tells readers something about your subject—and makes them want to know more.

Considering Matters of Design

Think about the information you're presenting and how you can design and format it to make it as easy as possible for your readers to understand.

  • What is an appropriate typeface? Would it help your readers if you added headings?
  • Is there any information that would be easier to follow in a LIST, table, or graph?
  • Would illustrations—photos, drawings, and so on—be helpful?

Getting Response and Revising

The following questions can help you study your draft with a critical eye and GET RESPONSES from others. Make sure they know your purpose and audience.

  • Do the title and opening sentences get readers' interest?
  • Does the introduction explain why the information is being presented? Does it place the topic in a larger context?
  • Are all key terms defined? Is more information or explanation needed?
  • If any information is presented visually, is it clear how the illustrations relate to the larger text? Is there any text that should be presented visually?
  • Is the organization logical? Does the text include description, comparison, or any other writing  STRATEGIES?
  • Are sources used effectively (and with appropriate DOCUMENTATION)?
  • Does the report end in a satisfying way?

When it's time to REVISE, make sure your report appeals to your audience and achieves your purpose.

Editing and Proofreading

Once you've revised your draft, follow these guidelines for EDITING a report:

  • Check your use of key terms. Repeating key words is acceptable in reports and can be helpful to readers.
  • Be sure you have TRANSITIONS where you need them.
  • Make sure any headings are parallel in structure and consistent in design.
  • Make sure that illustrations have captions, that charts and graphs have headings—and that all are referred to in the main text.
  • Make sure that any DOCUMENTATION follows the appropriate style.
  • PROOFREAD and spell-check your report carefully.

Taking Stock of Your Work

  • How well did you convey the information? What strategies did you rely on?
  • How well did you organize the report?
  • How did you go about researching and drafting this piece?
  • Did you use tables, photographs, or other graphics effectively?
  • How did others' responses influence your writing?
  • What did you do especially well? What would you do differently next time?

Arguing a Position

In college courses you are often asked to argue positions: in an English class, you may argue for a certain interpretation of a poem; in a business course, you may argue for the merits of a flat tax. Those two positions are arguable—people can agree or disagree with them and present reasons and evidence to support their positions. This chapter provides guidelines for writing an essay that argues a position. We'll begin with one student example.


Organ Sales Will Save Lives

In this essay, written for a class on ethics and politics in science, MIT student Joanna MacKay argues that the sale of human organs should be legal.

There are thousands of people dying to buy a kidney and thousands of people dying to sell a kidney. It seems a match made in heaven. So why are we standing in the way? Governments should not ban the sale of human organs; they should regulate it. Lives should not be wasted; they should be saved.

About 350,000 Americans suffer from end-stage renal disease, a state of kidney disorder so advanced that the organ stops functioning altogether. There are no miracle drugs that can revive a failed kidney, leaving dialysis and kidney transplantation as the only possible treatments (McDonnell and Mallon).

Dialysis is harsh, expensive, and, worst of all, only temporary. Acting as an artificial kidney, dialysis mechanically filters the blood of a patient. It works, but not well. With treatment sessions lasting three three hours, several times a week, those dependent on dialysis are, in a sense, shackled to a machine for the rest of their lives. Adding excessive stress to the body, dialysis causes patients to feel increasingly faint and tired, usually keeping them from work and other normal activities.

Kidney transplantation, on the other hand, is the closest thing to a cure that anyone could hope for. Today the procedure is both safe and reliable, causing few complications. With better technology for confirming tissue matches and new anti-rejection drugs, the surgery is relatively simple.

But those hoping for a new kidney have high hopes indeed. In the year 2000 alone, 2,583 Americans died while waiting for a kidney transplant; worldwide the number of deaths is around 50,000 (Finkel 27). With the sale of organs outlawed in almost every country, the number of living donors willing to part with a kidney for free is small. When no family member is a suitable candidate for donation, the patient is placed on a deceased donors list, relying on the organs from people dying of old age or accidents. The list is long. With over 60,000 people in line in the United States alone, the average wait for a cadaverous kidney is ten long years.

Daunted by the low odds, some have turned to an alternative solution: purchasing kidneys on the black market. For about $150,000, they can buy a fresh kidney from a healthy, living donor. There are no lines, no waits. Arranged through a broker, the entire procedure is carefully planned out. The buyer, seller, surgeons, and nurses are flown to a predetermined hospital in a foreign country. The operations are performed, and then all are flown back to their respective homes. There is no follow-up, no paperwork to sign (Finkel 27).

The illegal kidney trade is attractive not only because of the promptness, but also because of the chance at a living donor. An organ from a cadaver will most likely be old or damaged, estimated to function for about ten years at most. A kidney from a living donor can last over twice as long. Once a person's transplanted cadaverous kidney stops functioning, he or she must get back on the donors list, this time probably at the end of the line. A transplanted living kidney, however, could last a person a lifetime.

While there may seem to be a shortage of kidneys, in reality there is a surplus. In third world countries, there are people willing to do anything for money. In such extreme poverty these people barely have enough to eat, living in shacks and sleeping on dirt floors. Eager to pay off debts, they line up at hospitals, willing to sell a kidney for about $1,000. The money will go towards food and clothing, or perhaps to pay for a family member's medical operation (Goyal et al. 1590–1). Whatever the case, these people need the money.

There is certainly a risk in donating a kidney, but this risk is not great enough to be outlawed. Millions of people take risks to their health every day for money, or simply for enjoyment. As explained in The Lancet, "If the rich are free to engage in dangerous sports for pleasure, or dangerous jobs for high pay, it is difficult to see why the poor who take the lesser risk of kidney selling for greater rewards ... should be thought so misguided as to need saving from themselves" (Radcliffe-Richards et al. 1951). Studies have shown that a person can live a healthy life with only one kidney. While these studies might not apply to the poor living under strenuous conditions in unsanitary environments, the risk is still theirs to take. These people have decided that their best hope for money is to sell a kidney. How can we deny them the best opportunity they have?

Some agree with Pope John Paul II that the selling of organs is morally wrong and violates "the dignity of the human person" (qtd. in Finkel 26), but this is a belief professed by healthy and affluent individuals. Are we sure that the peasants of third world countries agree? The morals we hold are not absolute truths. We have the responsibility to protect and help those less fortunate, but we cannot let our own ideals cloud the issues at hand.

In a legal kidney transplant, everybody gains except the donor. The doctors and nurses are paid for the operation, the patient receives a new kidney, but the donor receives nothing. Sure, the donor will have the warm, uplifting feeling associated with helping a fellow human being, but this is not enough reward for most people to part with a piece of themselves. In an ideal world, the average person would be altruistic enough to donate a kidney with nothing expected in return. The real world, however, is run by money. We pay men for donating sperm, and we pay women for donating ova, yet we expect others to give away an entire organ for no compensation. If the sale of organs were allowed, people would have a greater incentive to help save the life of a stranger.

While many argue that legalizing the sale of organs will exploit the poorer people of third world countries, the truth of the matter is that this is already the case. Even with the threat of a $50,000 fine and five years in prison (Finkel 26), the current ban has not been successful in preventing illegal kidney transplants. The kidneys of the poor are still benefiting only the rich. While the sellers do receive most of the money promised, the sum is too small to have any real impact on their financial situation. A study in India discovered that in the long run, organ sellers suffer. In the illegal kidney trade, nobody has the interests of the seller at heart. After selling a kidney, their state of living actually worsens. While the $1,000 pays off one debt, it is not enough to relieve the donor of the extreme poverty that placed him in debt in the first place (Goyal et al. 1591).

These impoverished people do not need stricter and harsher penalties against organ selling to protect them, but quite the opposite. If the sale of organs were made legal, it could be regulated and closely monitored by the government and other responsible organizations. Under a regulated system, education would be incorporated into the application process. Before deciding to donate a kidney, the seller should know the details of the operation and any hazards involved. Only with an understanding of the long-term physical health risks can a person make an informed decision (Radcliffe-Richards et al. 1951).

Regulation would ensure that the seller is fairly compensated. In the illegal kidney trade, surgeons collect most of the buyer's money in return for putting their careers on the line. The brokers arranging the procedure also receive a modest cut, typically around ten percent. If the entire practice were legalized, more of the money could be directed towards the person who needs it most, the seller. By eliminating the middleman and allowing the doctors to settle for lower prices, a regulated system would benefit all those in need of a kidney, both rich and poor. According to Finkel, the money that would otherwise be spent on dialysis treatment could not only cover the charge of a kidney transplant at no cost to the recipient, but also reward the donor with as much as $25,000 (32). This money could go a long way for people living in the poverty of third world countries.

Critics fear that controlling the lawful sale of organs would be too difficult, but could it be any more difficult than controlling the unlawful sale of organs? Governments have tried to eradicate the kidney market for decades to no avail. Maybe it is time to try something else. When "desperately wanted goods" are made illegal, history has shown that there is more opportunity for corruption and exploitation than if those goods were allowed (Radcliffe-Richards et al. 1951). (Just look at the effects of the prohibition of alcohol, for example.) Legalization of organ sales would give governments the authority and the opportunity to closely monitor these live kidney operations.

Regulation would also protect the buyers. Because of the need for secrecy, the current illegal method of obtaining a kidney has no contracts and, therefore, no guarantees. Since what they are doing is illegal, the buyers have nobody to turn to if something goes wrong. There is nobody to point the finger at, nobody to sue. While those participating in the kidney market are breaking the law, they have no other choice. Without a new kidney, end-stage renal disease will soon kill them. Desperate to survive, they are forced to take the only offer available. It seems immoral to first deny them the opportunity of a new kidney and then to leave them stranded at the mercy of the black market. Without laws regulating live kidney transplants, these people are subject to possibly hazardous procedures. Instead of turning our backs, we have the power to ensure that these operations are done safely and efficiently for both the recipient and the donor.

Those suffering from end-stage renal disease would do anything for the chance at a new kidney, take any risk or pay any price. There are other people so poor that the sale of a kidney is worth the profit. Try to tell someone that he has to die from kidney failure because selling a kidney is morally wrong. Then turn around and try to tell another person that he has to remain in poverty for that same reason. In matters of life and death, our stances on moral issues must be reevaluated. If legalized and regulated, the sale of human organs would save lives. Is it moral to sentence thousands to unnecessary deaths?

Works Cited

Finkel, Michael. "This Little Kidney Went to Market." New York Times Magazine 27 May 2001: 26+. Print.

Goyal, Madhav, Ravindra L. Mehta, Lawrence J. Schneiderman, and Ashwini R. Sehgal. "Economic and Health Consequences of Selling a Kidney in India." Journal of the American Medical Association 288.13 (2002): 1589–92. Print.

McDonnell, Michael B., and William K. Mallon. "Kidney Transplant." eMedicine Health. WebMD, 18 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Nov. 2008.

Radcliffe-Richards, J., A.S. Daar, R.D. Guttmann, R. Hoffenberg, I. Kennedy, M. Lock, R.A. Sells, and N. Tilney. "The Case for Allowing Kidney Sales." The Lancet 351.9120 (1998): 1950–2. Print.

MacKay clearly states her position at the beginning of her text: "Governments should not ban the sale of human organs; they should regulate it." Her argument appeals to her readers' value of fairness; when kidney sales are legalized and regulated, both sellers and buyers will benefit from the transaction. MacKay uses MLA style to document her sources.

Key Features / Arguments

A clear and arguable position

To be arguable, a position must reflect one of at least two points of view: selling human organs should be legal (or illegal). In college writing, you will often argue not that a position is correct but that it is plausible—that it is reasonable, supportable, and worthy of being taken seriously.

Necessary background information

Sometimes we need to provide background on a topic so that readers can understand what is being argued. MacKay first establishes the need for kidney donors.

Good reasons

By itself, a position does not make an argument; the argument comes when a writer offers reasons to back the position up. MacKay bases her argument on the fact that kidney transplants save lives and that regulation would protect impoverished people who currently sell their organs on the black market.

Convincing evidence

You also need to offer evidence for your reasons: facts, statistics, expert testimony, and so on. MacKay uses several types of evidence, including statistics about Americans who die from renal failure.

Appeals to readers' values

Effective arguers try to appeal to readers' values and emotions. MacKay appeals to the value of compassion and to emotion through her descriptions of people dying from kidney disease and of poor people selling their organs.

A trustworthy tone

Readers need to trust the person who's making the argument. You can win this trust by demonstrating that you know what you're talking about, that you have some experience with your subject, that you're fair, and of course that you're honest.

Careful consideration of other positions

No matter how reasonable we are in arguing our positions, others may disagree or offer counterarguments. We need to acknowledge those other views and, if possible, refute them.

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A Guide to Writing Arguments

Choosing a Topic

A fully developed argument requires significant work and time, so choosing a topic in which you're interested is very important. Consider topics that interest you right now; are focused, but not too narrowly; and have some personal connection to your life. To GENERATE IDEAS for a topic, explore your own roles in life.

Start with your roles in life

On a piece of paper, make four columns with the headings "Personal," "Family," "Public," and "School." Then  LIST the roles you play that relate to each heading. Under "school," for instance, you might list college student and dorm resident; under "Public," two roles could be voter and homeless-shelter volunteer.

Identify issues that interest you

Pick four or five of the roles you list. In five or ten minutes, identify issues that concern or affect you as a member of each of those roles. It might help to word each issue as a question starting with Should. For example, in your role as a college student, you might ask: Should college cost less than it does?

Frame your topic as a problem

Most position papers address issues that are subjects of ongoing debate. Posing your topic as a problem can help you find a suitable issue and a clear focus for your essay. For example, if you wanted to write an argument on the lack of student parking at your school, you could frame your topic as a problem, such as: What causes the parking shortage? What might alleviate the shortage?

Choose one issue to write about

Remember that the issue should be interesting to you and have some connection to your life. If you find later that you have trouble writing about it, go back to your list of roles or issues and choose another.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Do you want to persuade your audience to do or think something? Change their minds? Accept your position as plausible?


Who is your intended audience? What do they likely know about this issue? Are they likely to agree or disagree with you? Why?


How do you want your audience to perceive you? As an authority on your topic? As someone much like them? Something else?


If you're writing on paper, do you need photos or charts? If you're giving an oral presentation, should you use slides? If you're writing on the Web, should you add links to counterarguments?

Generating Ideas and Text

Remember that your goal is to stake out a position and convince your readers that it is plausible.

Explore what you already know about the issue

Write out whatever you know about the issue. Why are you interested in this topic? What is your position on it at this point? What aspect do you think you'd like to focus on?

Do some research

At this point, try to get an overview. Start with a GENERAL SOURCE of information, one that isn't overtly biased. Newsmagazines can be good starting points on current issues; encyclopedias are better for issues that are not so current. Use your overview source to find out the main questions raised about your issue and to get some idea about how you might argue it.

Explore the issue strategically

Most issues may be argued from many different perspectives. Use the following methods to explore these perspectives before deciding on your position.

  • As a matter of DEFINITION. What is it? How should it be defined? For example, how can organic or genetically modified food be defined?
  • As a matter of CLASSIFICATION. Can the issue be further divided? What categories might it be broken into? For example, are there different kinds of organic foods and genetically modified foods?
  • As a matter of COMPARISON. For example, is organic food healthier than genetically modified food? Is genetically modified food healthier?
  • As a matter of process. Should somebody do something? Should people eat more organic food? More genetically modified food?
Reconsider whether the issue can be argued

Why is this issue important? What difference will it make if one position or another prevails? Make sure that your topic is worth ARGUING about.

Draft a thesis

Decide your position, and write it out as a complete sentence. For example: Genetically modified foods should be permitted in the United States.

Qualify your thesis

In most cases you'll want to QUALIFY YOUR POSITION—in certain circumstances, with these limitations, and so on. QUALIFYING YOUR THESIS also makes your topic manageable by limiting it. For example: Genetically modified foods should be permitted in the United States if they are clearly labeled as such.

Come up with good reasons

Once you have a thesis, you need to come up with good REASONS to convince your readers that it's plausible. Write out your position, and then list several reasons. For instance, if your thesis is that Pete Rose should not be eligible for the Hall of Fame, two of your reasons might be:

He bet on professional games, an illegal practice.

Professional athletes' gambling on the outcome of games will cause fans to lose faith in professional sports.

Think about which reasons are best for your purposes: Which seem the most persuasive? If your list of reasons is short, this is a good time to rethink your topic—before you've invested too much time in it.

Develop support for your reasons

Next, you have to come up with EVIDENCE to support your reasons: facts, statistics, examples, testimony by experts, anecdotal evidence, case studies, textual evidence, and visuals.

What counts as evidence varies across audiences. Statistical evidence may be required in certain disciplines but not in others; anecdotes may be accepted as evidence in some courses but not in engineering. Some audiences will be persuaded by emotional appeals while others will not.

Identify other positions

Now, think about positions that differ from yours. Be careful to represent those points of view accurately and fairly. Then decide whether you need to acknowledge or refute them.

Acknowledging other positions

Some positions can't be refuted, but still you need to acknowledge potential doubts and objections to show that you've considered them. For example, in an essay arguing that vacations are necessary to maintain good health, medical writer Alina Tugend acknowledges that they "can also include lugging around a ridiculous amount of paraphernalia, jet-lagged children sobbing on airplanes, hotels that looked wonderful on the Web but are in reality next to a construction site." Tugend qualifies her assertions to moderate her position and make her stance appear reasonable.

Refuting other positions

State the position clearly and fairly, and then refute it by showing why you believe it is wrong. Avoid the  FALLACY of attacking the person making the argument or bringing up a competing position that no one seriously entertains.

Ways of Organizing an Argument

[Reasons to support your argument, followed by counterarguments]

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[Reason/counterargument, reason/counterargument]

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Writing Out a Draft

Your goal in the initial DRAFT is to develop your argument—you can fill in support and transitions as you revise. You may want to write your first draft from beginning to end. Or you may write the main argument first and the introduction and conclusion later. Many writers find that beginning and ending an essay are the hardest tasks they face. Here is some advice:

Draft a beginning

There are various ways to begin an argument essay, depending on your audience and purpose. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Offer background information.
  • DEFINE a key term.
  • Begin with something that will get readers' attention.
  • Explain the context for your position.
Draft an ending

Wrap up your argument in such a way that readers will remember what you've said. Here are a few ideas:

  • SUMMARIZE your main points.
  • Call for action.
  • Frame your argument by referring to the introduction.
Come up with a title

Most often you'll want your title to tell readers something about your topic—and to make them want to read on. MacKay's "Organ Sales Will Save Lives" tells us both her topic and position

Considering Matters of Design

Think about the information you're presenting and how to design it. Would any visual elements be more persuasive than plain words?

  • What would be an appropriate typeface? Would it help your readers if you added headings?
  • Would your points be easier to follow if you set them off in a LIST?
  • Should some supporting evidence be in the form of a graph or chart?
  • Would illustrations—photos, diagrams, or drawings—add support for your argument?

Getting Response and Revising

Look at your draft closely, and try to GET RESPONSE from others as well. Following are some questions for looking at an argument with a critical eye.

  • Is there sufficient background or context?
  • Is the THESIS clear and appropriately qualified?
  • Are the REASONS plausible? Is there enough EVIDENCE to support these reasons?
  • Can readers follow the steps in your reasoning?
  • Have you cited enough credible SOURCES? Are these sources DOCUMENTED correctly?
  • Have you considered potential objections or other positions?

Next it's time to REVISE, to make sure your argument offers convincing evidence, appeals to readers' values, and achieves your purpose.

Editing and Proofreading

After revising your draft, follow these guidelines for EDITING an argument:

  • Check to see that your tone is appropriate and consistent, reflects your STANCE, and enhances your argument.
  • Be sure that you have TRANSITIONS and summary statements where necessary.
  • Make sure you've smoothly integrated QUOTATIONS, PARAPHRASES, and SUMMARIES into your writing and DOCUMENTED them accurately.
  • Delete phrases such as "I think" or "I feel."
  • Make sure that illustrations have captions and that charts and graphs have headings—and that all are referred to in the main text.
  • PROOFREAD and spell-check your essay carefully.

Taking Stock of Your Work

  • What did you do well in this piece? What could still be improved?
  • How did you go about researching and drafting this piece?
  • How did others' responses influence your writing?
  • Did you use graphic elements (tables, graphs, diagrams, photographs, illustrations) effectively? If not, would they have helped?
  • What have you learned about your writing ability from writing this piece? What do you need to work on in the future?

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Abstracts are brief summaries of a report or presentation; they are typically 100–200 words. Three common kinds are informative abstracts, descriptive abstracts, and proposal abstracts.

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Informative Abstracts

Informative abstracts state in one paragraph all the main points or parts of a paper: a description of the study or project, its methods, the results, and the conclusions. Here is an abstract for a seven-page essay that appeared in 2002 in The Journal of Clinical Psychology:

The relationship between boredom proneness and health-symptom reporting was examined. Undergraduate students (N = 200) completed the Boredom Proneness Scale and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. A multiple analysis of covariance indicated that individuals with high boredom-proneness total scores reported significantly higher ratings on all five subscales of the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (Obsessive–Compulsive, Somatization, Anxiety, Interpersonal Sensitivity, and Depression). The results suggest that boredom proneness may be an important element to consider when assessing symptom reporting. Implications for determining the effects of boredom proneness on psychological- and physical-health symptoms, as well as the application in clinical settings, are discussed.

—Jennifer Sommers and Stephen J. Vodanovich, "Boredom Proneness"

The first sentence states the nature of the study, the next summarizes the method, and the following one gives the results. The last two sentences examine the conclusion and its implications.

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Descriptive Abstracts

Descriptive abstracts are usually much briefer than informative abstracts and provide much less information. A descriptive abstract functions as a teaser, providing a quick overview that invites the reader to read the whole. For example, a descriptive abstract of the boredom-proneness essay might simply include the first sentence from the informative abstract plus a final sentence of its own:

The relationship between boredom proneness and health-symptom reporting was examined. The findings and their application in clinical settings are discussed.

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Proposal Abstracts

Proposal abstracts contain the same basic information as informative abstracts, but their purpose is very different. You prepare proposal abstracts to persuade someone to let you write on a topic, pursue a project, conduct an experiment, or present a paper at a conference. A proposal abstract stands alone and often is written before the paper itself. Here is a possible proposal for doing research on boredom:

Undergraduate students will complete the Boredom Proneness Scale and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. A multiple analysis of covariance will be performed to determine the relationship between boredom-proneness total scores and ratings on the five subscales of the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (Obsessive–Compulsive, Somatization, Anxiety, Interpersonal Sensitivity, and Depression).

Key Features/Abstracts

A summary of basic information

An informative abstract includes all essential points of a report, a descriptive abstract offers only a bit of information, and a proposal abstract gives an overview of the planned work.

Objective description

Abstracts present information about actual content; they do not present arguments or personal perspectives.


Journals and organizations often restrict abstracts to 120–200 words, so you must carefully select and edit your words.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Abstracts

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Are you giving an overview of a completed study? Only enough information to create interest? Or a proposal?


What information will your readers need?


Your abstract must be objective.


How will you set your abstract off from the rest of the text? What format does your audience require?

Generating Ideas and Text

Write the paper first, the abstract last

Let the finished work be the guide for the abstract, which should follow the same basic structure. Exception: You often write a proposal abstract months before the proposal itself.

Copy and paste key statements

If you've written the work, highlight your THESIS, objective, or purpose; basic information on your methods; your results; and your conclusion. Copy and paste those sentences into a new document.

Pare down the information to key ideas

Edit out nonessential words and details. In your first sentence, introduce the overall scope of your study. Include any other crucial information. Avoid unnecessary phrases, and don't use "I."

Conform to any requirements

Most informative abstracts should not be longer than 10 percent of the original. Descriptive abstracts should be shorter still, and proposal abstracts should conform to an organization's requirements.

Ways of Organizing an Abstract

[An informative abstract]

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[A descriptive abstract]

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[A proposal abstract]

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Annotated Bibliographies

Annotated bibliographies describe, give publication information for, and sometimes evaluate each work on a list of sources. There are two kinds of annotations, descriptive and evaluative.

Descriptive annotations simply summarize the contents of each work, without comment or evaluation. They may be very short, just long enough to capture the flavor of the work, like the following excerpt from a bibliography published in 1997 in the Journal of Popular Film and Television.

Doherty, Thomas. Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988. Print.

Historical discussion of the identification of teenagers as a targeted film market.

Foster, Harold M. "Film in the Classroom: Coping with Teen Pics." English Journal 76.3 (1987): 86–88. Print.

Evaluation of the potential of using teen films such as Sixteen Candles, The Karate Kid, Risky Business, The Flamingo Kid, and The Breakfast Club to instruct adolescents on the difference between film as communication and film as exploitation.

—Michael Benton, Mark Dolan, and Rebecca Zisch, "Teen Film$"

These annotations are purely descriptive; they do not indicate whether the sources are "good."

Evaluative annotations offer opinions on a source as well as describe it. They are often helpful in assessing how useful a source will be for your own writing. The following evaluative annotation is from a bibliography for a paper on global warming. It is written by Jessica Ann Olson, a student at Wright State University.

Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. New York: Rodale, 2006. Print.

This publication, which is based on Gore's slide show on global warming, stresses the urgency of the global warming crisis. It centers on how the atmosphere is very thin and how greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are making it thicker. The thicker atmosphere traps more infrared radiation, causing warming of the Earth. Gore argues that carbon dioxide, which is created by burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and producing cement, accounts for eighty percent of greenhouse gas emissions. He includes several examples of problems caused by global warming. Penguins and polar bears are at risk because the glaciers they call home are quickly melting. Coral reefs are being bleached and destroyed when their inhabitants overheat and leave. Global warming is now affecting people's lives as well. For example, the highways in Alaska are only frozen enough to be driven on fewer than eighty days of the year. In China and elsewhere, record-setting floods and droughts are taking place. Hurricanes are on the rise. This source's goal is to inform its audience about the ongoing global warming crisis and to inspire change across the world. It is useful because it relies on scientific data that can be referred to easily and it provides a solid foundation for me to build on. For example, it explains how carbon dioxide is produced and how it is currently affecting plants and animals. This evidence could potentially help my research on how humans are biologically affected by global warming. It will also help me structure my essay, using its general information to lead into the specifics of my topic. For example, I could introduce the issue by explaining the thinness of the atmosphere and the effect of greenhouse gases, then focus on carbon dioxide and its effects on organisms.

—Jessica Ann Olson, "Global Warming"

This annotation not only describes the source in detail, but also evaluates its usefulness for the writer's own project.

Key Features/Annotated Bibliographies

A statement of scope

You may need a brief introductory statement to explain why you're compiling the bibliography and what you're covering.

Complete bibliographic information

Use only one documentation system (MLA, APA, or another one) so that readers can find each source easily.

A concise description of the work

A good annotation gives accurate information and shows that you understand the source.

Relevant commentary

For an evaluative bibliography, your comments should be relevant to your purpose and audience. Consider what questions a potential reader might have about the sources.

Consistent presentation

All annotations should follow a consistent pattern. Each annotation in the teen films bibliography, for example, begins with a phrase.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Annotated Bibliographies

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Will you need to demonstrate the depth or quality of your research? Will readers actually use your sources?


What do your readers need to know about each source?


Are you presenting yourself as an objective evaluator? Or are you expressing a particular point of view?


For an online bibliography, will you provide links to each source? Online or off, will you use different fonts for the bibliographic information and the annotation?

Generating Ideas and Text

Decide what sources to include

Include only those sources that you or your readers may find useful in researching your topic. Consider these qualities:

  • Appropriateness. Is this source relevant to your topic? Is it a primary or a secondary source? Is it aimed at an appropriate audience?
  • Credibility. Are the author and the publisher reputable?
  • Balance. Does the source present enough evidence for its assertions? Is it biased? Does it present counter arguments fairly?
  • Timeliness. Is the source recent enough?
Compile a list of works to annotate

Give the sources themselves in whatever documentation style is required.

Determine what kind of bibliography you need to write

For a descriptive bibliography, your reading goal will be to capture the writer's message as clearly as possible. For an evaluative bibliography, your annotations must also include your own comments on the source.

Read carefully

To write an annotation, you must understand the source's argument, but when you are writing an annotated bibliography as part of a PROPOSAL, you may not need to read the whole text. Here's a way of quickly determining whether a source is likely to serve your needs:

  • Check the publisher or sponsor.
  • Read the preface, abstract, or introduction.
  • Skim the table of contents or the headings.
  • Read the parts that relate specifically to your topic.
Research the writer, if necessary

You may need to type the writer's name into a search engine or look up the writer in Contemporary Authors. In any case, information about the writer should take up no more than one sentence in your annotation.

Summarize the work in a sentence or two

DESCRIBE it as objectively as possible, even if you are writing an evaluative annotation.

Establish criteria for evaluating sources

Evaluate sources in terms of their usefulness for your project, their STANCE, and their overall credibility.

Write a brief evaluation of the source

Some parts of a work may be useful while others are not, and what you write should reflect that mix.

Be consistent

Be consistent—in content, sentence structure, and format.

  • Content. Give about the same amount of information for each entry.
  • Sentence structure. Use the same style throughout.
  • Format. Use one documentation style throughout.

Ways of Organizing an Annotated Bibliography

Depending on their purpose, annotated bibliographies may or may not include an introduction. Consult the documentation system you're using for details about alphabetizing works appropriately.

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Sometimes an annotated bibliography needs to be organized into several subject areas, and the entries are listed alphabetically within each category.

[Multi-category bibliography]

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An evaluation is basically a judgment; you judge something according to certain criteria, supporting your judgment with reasons and evidence. You need to give reasons because your evaluation may affect your audience's actions: they must see this movie, should order the Caesar salad, and so on. In the following review, written for a first-year writing class at Wright State University Ali, Heinekamp offers her evaluation of the film Juno.


Juno: Not Just Another Teen Movie

It all starts with a chair, where Juno (Ellen Page) has unprotected sex with her best friend Bleeker (Michael Cera). Several weeks later, she's at a convenience store, buying a pregnancy test. Only sixteen, Juno faces the terrifying task of telling her parents that she is pregnant. With their support, Juno moves forward in her decision to give birth and give the child to Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a wealthy and seemingly perfect married couple looking to adopt. Although the situations Juno's characters find themselves in and their dialogue may be criticized as unrealistic, the film, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, successfully portrays the emotions of a teen being shoved into maturity way too fast.

Much of the time, Juno seems unrealistic because it seems to treat the impact of teen pregnancy so lightly. The consequences of Juno's pregnancy are sugar-coated to such an extent that in many cases, they are barely apparent. The film downplays the emotional struggle that a pregnant woman would feel in deciding to give birth and then put that child up for adoption, and it ignores the discomforts of pregnancy, such as mood swings and nausea.

Likewise, Juno's dialogue is too good to be true—funny and clever, but unrealistic. For example, Juno tells Mark and Vanessa "If I could just have the thing and give it to you now, I totally would. But I'm guessing it looks probably like a sea monkey right now, and we should let it get a little cuter." At another point, talking about her absent mother, Juno says, "Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine's Day. And I'm like, 'Thanks a heap, coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment.'" As funny as they are, the creatively quirky one-liners often go a bit too far, detracting from both the gravity of Juno's situation and the film's believability.

But although the situations and dialogue are unrealistic, the emotional heart of the movie is believable—and moving. Despite the movie's lack of realism in portraying her pregnancy, Juno's vulnerability transforms her character and situation into something much more believable. Juno mentions at various times that her classmates stare at her stomach and talk about her behind her back, but initially she seems unconcerned with the negative attention. This façade falls apart, however, when Juno accuses Bleeker, the baby's father, of being ashamed of the fact that he and Juno have had sex. The strong front she is putting up drops when she bursts out, "At least you don't have to have the evidence under your sweater." This break in Juno's strength reveals her vulnerability and makes her character relatable and believable.

The juxtaposition of Juno's teenage quirks and the adult situation she's in also remind us of her youth and vulnerability. As a result of the adult situation Juno finds herself in and her generally stoic demeanor, it's easy to see her as a young adult. But the film fills each scene with visual reminders that Juno is just a kid being forced into situations beyond her maturity level. At a convenience store, Juno buys a pregnancy test along with a licorice rope. She calls Women Now, an abortion clinic, on a phone that looks like a hamburger. And while she is giving birth, she wears long, brightly striped socks. These subtle visual cues help us remember the reality of Juno's position as both physically an adult and emotionally an adolescent.

While the dialogue is too clever to be realistic, in the end it's carried by the movie's heart. Scott Tobias from the entertainment Web site The A.V. Club says it best when he writes that the colorful dialogue is often "too ostentatious for its own good, but the film's sincerity is what ultimately carries it across." In fact, intensely emotional scenes are marked by their lack of witty dialogue. For example, when Juno runs into Vanessa at the mall, Vanessa, reluctantly at first, kneels down to talk to the baby through Juno's stomach. Vanessa's diction while talking to the baby is so simple, so expected. She simply starts with, "Hi baby, it's me. It's Vanessa," and then continues, "I can't wait to meet you." This simple, everyday statement stands out in comparison to the rest of the well-crafted, humorous script. For her part, Juno simply stares admiringly at Vanessa. She doesn't have to say anything to transform the scene into a powerful one. Another scene in which the dialogue stops being clever is the one in which Juno and Bleeker lie side by side in a hospital bed after Juno has given birth, Juno in tears and Bleeker lost in thought. They don't need to say anything for us to feel their pain at the realization that although the pregnancy is over, it will never truly be in the past. The absence of dialogue in scenes such as these actually contributes to their power. We finally see more than stoicism and sarcasm from Juno: we see caring and fear, which are feelings most would expect of a pregnant teen.

There has been much concern among critics that as a pregnant teenager, Juno doesn't present a good role model for teen girls. Worrying that teens may look up to Juno so much that being pregnant becomes "cool," Dana Stevens writes in Slate, "Let's hope that the teenage girls of America don't cast their condoms to the wind in hopes of becoming as cool as 16-year-old Juno MacGuff." But it is not Juno's pregnancy that makes her cool: it is her ability to overcome the difficult obstacles thrown at her, and that strength does make her a good role model. Another critic, Lisa Schwarzbaum from Entertainment Weekly, feels that the movie might have been more realistic had Juno chosen to go through with an abortion. It's true that Juno may have chosen the more difficult answer to a teen pregnancy, but she is far from alone in her decision. Perhaps Schwarzbaum underestimates teens in thinking that they would not be able to cope with the emotionally difficult situation Juno chooses. Again, in her strength, Juno is a role model for young women.

Although Juno is a comedy filled with improbable situations, exaggerations, and wit, its genuine emotion allows us to connect with and relate to the film. The reality of the characters' emotions in controversial and serious situations allows Juno to transcend its own genre. It reaches depths of emotion that are unusual for teenage comedies, proving that Juno is not just another teen movie.

Works Cited

Cody, Diablo. Juno. Dir. Jason Reitman. Perf. Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman. Fox Searchlight, 2007. Film.

Schwarzbaum, Lisa. Rev. of Juno, dir. Jason Reitman. Entertainment Weekly, 28 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Apr. 2008.

Stevens, Dana. "Superpregnant: How Juno Is Knocked Up from the Girl's Point of View." Rev. of Juno, dir. Jason Reitman., 5 Dec. 2007. Web. 12 Apr. 2008.

Tobias, Scott. Rev. of Juno, dir. Jason Reitman. The A. V. Club. The Onion, 6 Dec. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2008.

Heinekamp quickly summarizes Juno's plot and then evaluates the film according to clearly stated criteria. In the process, she responds to several reviewers' comments, joining the critical conversation about the film. She documents her sources according to MLA style.

Key Features / Evaluations

A concise description of the subject

Include just enough information to let readers who may not be familiar with your subject understand it. Heinekamp briefly describes Juno's main plot points in her first paragraph.

Clearly defined criteria

Determine clear criteria as the basis for your judgment. In reviews, you can integrate the criteria into the discussion, as Heinekamp does. In more formal evaluations, you may need to announce your criteria explicitly. Heinekamp evaluates the film based on its emotional power and realism.

A knowledgeable discussion of the subject

You need to show that you know your subject and have researched other sources. Heinekamp cites many examples from Juno, showing her knowledge of the film. She also cites three Internet sources, showing her research.

A balanced and fair assessment

Seldom is something all good or all bad. A fair evaluation may acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses. For example, Heinekamp criticizes Juno's too-witty dialogue and unrealistic situations, even as she appreciates its heart.

Well-supported reasons

Provide reasons and evidence for your judgment. Heinekamp gives several reasons for her positive assessment of Juno—the believability of its characters, the emotional scenes, Juno's strength as a role model—and she supports her reasons with quotations and examples.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Evaluations

Choosing Something to Evaluate

You can more effectively evaluate a limited subject than a broad one: review certain dishes at a local restaurant rather than the entire menu; review one film rather than all the films by Alfred Hitchcock.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Are you writing to affect your audience's opinion? Do you want to help others make a decision?


What will your audience expect to learn from your evaluation? Are they likely to agree with you or not?


How will you show that you have evaluated the subject fairly and appropriately? What tone will you use?


Will you deliver your evaluation in print? Online? As a speech? Can you show an image or film clip?

Generating Ideas and Text

Explore what you already know

FREEWRITE to answer the following questions: What do you know about this subject? What are your initial feelings? Does this subject reflect your basic values?

Identify criteria

List criteria you think should be used to evaluate your subject. Which criteria will likely be important to your  AUDIENCE?

Evaluate your subject

Study your subject closely to determine if it meets your criteria. Come up with a tentative judgment.

Compare your subject with others

Often, evaluating something involves COMPARING AND CONTRASTING it informally with similar things. At other times, you may have to do research to see how your subject compares.

State your judgment as a tentative thesis statement

Your THESIS STATEMENT should balance both pros and cons: "Fight Club is a great film—but not for children." This example offers a judgment but qualifies it according to the writer's criteria.

Anticipate other opinions

If I think Will Ferrell is a comic genius, and you think Will Ferrell is a terrible actor, how can I write a review of his latest film that you will at least consider? One way is by acknowledging other opinions—and refuting them as best I can. You may need to research how others have evaluated your subject.

Identify and support your reasons

Write out all the REASONS that will convince your audience to accept your judgment, and identify the most convincing ones. Then decide how best to support your reasons: through examples, authoritative opinions, or something else.

Ways of Organizing an Evaluation

[Start with your subject]

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[Start with your criteria]

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Lab Reports

Lab reports describe the procedures and results of experiments in the natural sciences, the social sciences, and engineering. As an example, here is a lab report written by a student for a psychology class at Wittenberg University.


The Effect of Biofeedback Training on Muscle Tension and Skin Temperature


The purpose of this lab was for subjects to train themselves to increase their skin temperature, measured on the index finger of their nondominant hand, and to decrease their muscle tension, measured over the frontalis muscle, by using biofeedback training. This study is based on the research of Miller and Brucker (1979), which demonstrated that smooth muscles could experience operant conditioning.



Seven subjects were used in this study: five female and two male. The subjects were the undergraduate students of Dr. Jo Wilson in her honors psychophysiology class at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. All subjects were in their early twenties.


Equipment used in this lab included an Apple Microlab system configured to measure (1) skin temperature through a thermode taped with paper surgical tape onto the index finger of the subjects' nondominant hand and (2) frontalis muscle tension via three electrodes placed over the frontalis. When subjects' skin temperatures were more than the means for the previous 90-second intervals, the computer emitted a tone. It also emitted a tone when muscle tension in the frontalis was less than the mean of the previous interval. See the procedure section for exact electrode placement specifications.


Materials used in this lab included paper surgical tape, alcohol to clean off the forehead, conducting gel, wire, electrode collars, and a chair.


Upon arriving at the lab, the researchers turned on the Apple Microlab computer. With the aid of Dr. Wilson, subjects had either electrodes attached to their forehead or a thermode attached to the nondominant hand's index finger. The treatment order was random for each subject, and it was reversed for his or her second biofeedback session. The forehead was swiped with alcohol to clean the skin. Electrodes with conducting gel were placed over the frontalis muscle by putting the ground electrode in the center of the forehead and the white electrodes two inches on either side of the center of the forehead. Pre-measured electrode collars allowed the researchers to place the conducting gel on the electrodes, peel off the backing on the collar, and place it on the subjects' forehead. The researchers still made sure the electrodes were placed properly. The wire running from the electrodes to the computer was then taped to the subjects' back so it would be out of the way. Subjects were then seated in a comfortable chair with their back to the computer.

Depending on the experimental condition, subjects were told to reduce their frontalis muscle tension by relaxing and even thinking of holding something warm in their hands. They were told that they would know they were meeting the goal when they heard a tone emitted by the computer.

Each session began with a 90-second baseline period, followed by fifteen 90-second trial periods. During each trial period, a tone was emitted by the computer each time the subjects' frontalis muscle tension was below their mean tension for the previous trial; the tone served as the rewarding stimulus in the operant conditioning paradigm.

When skin temperature was to be measured, a thermode was attached to the index finger of the subjects' nondominant hand with surgical tape. The wire running from the thermode to the computer was taped to the back of their hand so it would be out of their way. Then a 90-second baseline period occurred, followed by fifteen 90-second trial periods. During each trial period, a tone was emitted by the computer each time the subjects' skin temperature was above their mean temperature for the previous trial; once again, the tone served as the rewarding stimulus in the operant conditioning paradigm.


The results of this lab were generally similar (Tables 1 and 2). All subjects demonstrated the ability to increase their skin temperature and decrease the tension in their frontalis muscle in at least one of their sessions. Five subjects were able to increase their skin temperature in both sessions; the same number decreased their muscle tension in both trials.

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The majority of subjects (five) were able to both increase the skin temperature of the index finger of their nondominant hand and decrease the tension of their frontalis muscle more during the second trial than the first.

Specifically, subject 7 had atypical results. This subject's overall average skin temperature was less than the baseline value; the subject's overall average muscle tension was more than the baseline value.


The bulk of the data collected in this study validated the research of Neal Miller; the subjects appeared to undergo operant conditioning of their smooth muscles in order to relax their frontalis muscles and increase their skin temperatures. Subjects 3 and 6 each failed to do this in one session; subject 7 failed to do this several times. This finding is difficult to explain precisely. It is possible that for subjects 3 and 6, this data was a fluke. For subject 7, it is likely that the subject was simply stressed due to outside factors before arriving for the first trials of EMG and skin temperature, and this stress skewed the data.

The effect of biofeedback training was generally greater as the operant conditioning became better learned. Learning was indicated by the finding that the majority of the subjects performed better on the second trials than on the first trials. This finding shows the effectiveness of biofeedback on reducing factors associated with stress, like muscle tension and low skin temperature; biofeedback's impact is even greater when it is administered over time. The implications of this information are without limits, especially for the treatment of a variety of medical disorders.

There were a few problems with this lab. The subjects all were at different levels of relaxation to begin with. It is impossible to determine the effects of outside events, like exams or other stresses, on their EMG and skin temperature levels. Skin temperature itself could have been altered by cold outside temperatures. Being in a lab may have altered the stress level of some subjects, and noises from outside the lab may have had an effect as well.

If this study were repeated, it would be a good idea to let subjects simply be in the lab for a period of time before measures are taken. This would allow the effect of outside temperature to be minimized. It would also reduce the effect of getting used to the lab, decreasing the orienting response. Finally, it would also be good to do the experiment in a soundproof room.


Miller, N. E., & Brucker, B. S. (1979). A learned visceral response apparently independent of skeletal ones in patients paralyzed by spinal lesions. In N. Birnbaumer & H. D. Kimmel (Eds.), Biofeedback and self-regulation (pp. 287–304). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

This report includes sections commonly part of lab reports in the natural and social sciences: purpose, method, results, discussion, and references. Some reports keep results and discussion in one section; some reports include an abstract; and some reports include one or more appendices containing tables, calculations, and other supplemental material, depending on the audience and publication. In this example, the author assumes that her audience understands basic terms used in the report, such as frontalis muscle and biofeedback.

Key Features/Lab Reports

An explicit title

Lab report titles should let readers know exactly what the report is about and provide key words for indexes and search engines. Avoid phrases like "a Study of." Thomas's title clearly describes the report's subject and includes key words.


Some lab reports include a one-paragraph abstract.


This section describes the reason for conducting the study.


Here you describe how you conducted the study. Your discussion should thoroughly describe the following:

  • subjects studied and any necessary contextual information
  • apparatus—equipment used, by brand and model number
  • materials used
  • procedures—including reference to the published works and techniques or statistical methods you used
Results and discussion

Here you explain your logic in accepting or rejecting your initial hypotheses, relate your work to previous work, and discuss the experiment's design and techniques and how they may have affected the results. In longer reports, you may have two separate sections. "Results" should focus on factual data, and "Discussion" on what the study means.


List works cited in your report, in appropriate style.


Appendices are optional, presenting information that is too detailed for the body of the report.

Appropriate format

Check to see that your report meets the requirements of your discipline.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Lab Reports

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why are you writing? To demonstrate your ability? To persuade others? To provide a record?


Is your audience familiar with the field's basic procedures? Do some procedures need to be explained?


Lab reports need to have an impersonal, analytical stance.


All lab reports have headings; choose a typeface that includes bold or italics so your headings will show clearly.

Generating Ideas and Text

Research your subject

Each research study contributes to a growing body of information. Research what others have done on your subject and the procedures they followed.

Take careful notes as you perform your study

Another researcher should be able to duplicate your study exactly, using only your report as a guide, so document every method, material, apparatus, and procedure carefully. Take careful notes so that you'll be able to EXPLAIN and analyze everything you did.

Draft the report a section at a time

You may want to start with "Methods" or "Results," then DRAFT "Discussion," and "Purpose." Do the "Abstract" last.

  • Write in complete sentences and paragraphs.
  • Avoid using the first person I or we.
  • Use the active voice whenever possible and the past tense throughout.
  • Use precise terms consistently; don't alternate among synonyms.
  • Be sure that each PRONOUN refers clearly to one noun.

Organizing a Lab Report

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Literary Analyses

Literary analyses are essays in which we examine literary texts closely to understand their messages, interpret their meanings, and appreciate their writers' techniques. To write a literary analysis, you use specific analytical tools to go below the surface of the work—to understand how it works and what it means. Here is a sonnet by the nineteenth-century English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, followed by one student's analysis of it written for a literature course at Wright State University.


Sonnet: "Lift not the painted veil
which those who live"

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.


Metaphor and Society in Shelley's "Sonnet"

In his sonnet "Lift not the painted veil which those who live," Percy Bysshe Shelley introduces us to a bleak world that exists behind veils and shadows. We see that although fear and hope both exist, truth is dishearteningly absent. This absence of truth is exactly what Shelley chooses to address as he uses metaphors of grim distortion and radiant incandescence to expose the counterfeit nature of our world.

The speaker of Shelley's poem presents bold assertions about the nature of our society. In the opening lines of the poem, he warns the reader to "Lift not the painted veil which those who live / Call Life" (1–2). Here, the "painted veil" serves as a grim metaphor for life. More specifically, the speaker equates the veil with what people like to call life. In this sense, the speaker asserts that what we believe to be pure reality is actually nothing more than a covering that masks what really lies beneath. Truth is covered by a veil of falsehood and is made opaque with the paint of people's lies.

This painted veil does not completely obstruct our view, but rather distorts what we can see. All that can be viewed through it are "unreal shapes" (2) that metaphorically represent the people that make up this counterfeit society. These shapes are not to be taken for truth. They are unreal, twisted, deformed figures of humanity, people full of falsities and misrepresentations.

Most people, however, do not realize that the shapes and images seen through the veil are distorted because all they know of life is the veil—this life we see as reality only "mimic[s] all we would believe" (3), using "colours idly spread" (4) to create pictures that bear little resemblance to that which they claim to portray. All pure truths are covered up and painted over until they are mere mockeries. The lies that cloak the truth are not even carefully constructed, but are created idly, with little attention to detail. The paint is not applied carefully, but merely spread across the top. This idea of spreading brings to mind images of paint slopped on so heavily that the truth beneath becomes nearly impossible to find. Even the metaphor of color suggests only superficial beauty—"idly spread" (4)—rather than any sort of pure beauty that could penetrate the surface of appearances.

What really lies behind this facade are fear and hope, both of which "weave / Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear" (5–6). These two realities are never truly seen or experienced, though. They exist only as shadows. Just as shadows appear only at certain times of day, cast only sham images of what they reflect, and are paid little attention, so too do these emotions of hope and fear appear only as brief, ignored imitations of themselves when they enter the artificiality of this chasmlike world. Peering into a chasm, one cannot hope to make out what lies at the bottom. At best one could perhaps make out shadows and even that cannot be done with any certainty as to true appearance. The world is so large, so caught up in itself and its counterfeit ways, that it can no longer see even the simple truths of hope and fear. Individuals and civilizations have become sightless, dreary, and as enormously empty as a chasm.

This chasm does not include all people, however, as we are introduced to one individual, in line 7, who is trying to bring to light whatever truth may yet remain. This one person, who defies the rest of the world, is portrayed with metaphors of light, clearly standing out among the dark representations of the rest of mankind. He is first presented to us as possessing a "lost heart" (8) and seeking things to love. It is important that the first metaphor applied to him be a heart because this is the organ with which we associate love, passion, and purity. We associate it with brightness of the soul, making it the most radiant spot of the body. He is then described as a "splendour among shadows" (12), his purity and truth brilliantly shining through the darkness of the majority's falsehood. Finally, he is equated with "a bright blot / Upon this gloomy scene" (12–13), his own bright blaze of authenticity burning in stark contrast to the murky phoniness of the rest of the world.

These metaphors of light are few, however, in comparison to those of grim distortion. So, too, are this one individual's radiance and zeal too little to alter the warped darkness they temporarily pierce. This one person, though bright, is not bright enough to light up the rest of civilization and create real change. The light simply confirms the dark falsity that comprises the rest of the world. Shelley gives us one flame of hope, only to reveal to us what little chance it has under the suffocating veil. Both the metaphors of grim distortion and those of radiant incandescence work together in this poem to highlight the world's counterfeit nature.

Huff focuses her analysis on patterns in Shelley's imagery. In addition, she pays careful attention to individual words and to how, as the poem unfolds, they create a certain meaning. That meaning is her interpretation.

Key Features / Literary Analyses

An arguable thesis

In a literary analysis, you argue that your analysis of a work is valid. Your thesis, then, should be arguable, as Huff's is: "[Shelley] uses metaphors of grim distortion and radiant incandescence to expose the counterfeit nature of our world."

Careful attention to the language of the text

Specific words, images, metaphors, sentences—these are your primary source. You may also bring in contextual information, such as historical or biographical facts.

Attention to patterns or themes

Literary analyses are usually built on patterns or themes, which reveal meaning. In Shelley's poem, images of light and shadow and the poem's many half rhymes (live/believe, love/approve) create patterns that contribute to the overall meaning.

A clear interpretation

When you write a literary analysis, use evidence from the text and, if appropriate, from context to explain how the language and patterns found there support your particular interpretation.

MLA style

Literary analyses usually follow MLA style.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Literary Analyses

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


What do you need to do? Show that you have examined the text carefully? Offer your own interpretation? Demonstrate a particular analytical technique?


How will you convince readers that your interpretation is plausible? Are readers familiar with the text?


After studying your subject, eyes, can you step back to see what your observations might mean?


If your subject is a visual or electronic medium, will you need to show significant elements in your analysis?

Generating Ideas and Text

Look at your assignment

Does it specify a particular kind of analysis? Look for terms that tell you what to do, such as analyze, compare, and interpret.

Study the text with a critical eye

Go beyond your initial reactions and think about how the text works: What does it say, and what does it do? What elements make up this text? Do they work together effectively? Does this text lead you to think or feel a certain way? How does it fit into a particular context (of history, for example)?

Choose a method for analyzing the text

Three common focuses are on the text itself, on your own experience, and on other contexts.

  • The text itself. Trace the development and expression of themes, characters, and language through the work. How do they help to create the overall meaning, tone, or effect for which you're arguing? The example essay about the Shelley sonnet offers a text-based analysis that looks at patterns of images in the poem.
  • Your own response as a reader. Explore the way the text affects you or develops meanings as you read it closely from beginning to end. If you were responding in this way to the Shelley poem, you might discuss how its first lines suggest that while life is an illusion, a veil, one might pull it aside and glimpse reality, however "drear."
  • Context. Analyze the text as part of some larger context—as part of a certain time in history, or as one of many other texts like it. A context-based approach to the Shelley poem might look at Shelley's own philosophical and religious views and how they may have influenced the poem's characterization of the world we experience as illusory, a "veil."
Read the work more than once

To analyze a literary work, plan to read it more than once, with the assumption that every part of the text is there for a reason. Focus on details, even on a single detail that shows up more than once: Why is it there? What can it mean? Also, look for details that don't fit the patterns: Why are they part of the text? What can they mean?

Compose a strong thesis

The THESIS of a literary analysis should be specific, limited, and open to potential disagreement. In addition, it should be analytical: "The choice presented in Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken' ultimately makes no difference." Avoid thesis statements that make overall judgments, such as a reviewer might do.

Do a close reading

To find specific, brief passages that support your interpretation, you must read the text closely, questioning it as you go. Ask, for example:

  • What does each word (phrase, passage) mean exactly? Why does the writer choose this language?
  • What images or metaphors are used? What is their effect?
  • What patterns of language, imagery, or plot do you see?
  • What words, phrases, or passages connect to a larger context?
  • How do the various elements of language, image, and pattern support your thesis?

Your analysis should analyze and interpret your subject. Many literary analyses also COMPARE two or more works.

Find evidence to support your interpretation

Although we're all entitled to our own opinions, when writing a literary analysis, we're entitled only to our own well-supported and well-argued opinions. When you analyze a text, you must treat it like any other  ARGUMENT. You have to show EVIDENCE from the text to back up your argument.

Pay attention to matters of style

Literary analyses have certain conventions for using pronouns and verbs.

  • In informal papers, it's okay to use the first person (I, we). In more formal essays, make assertions directly: "Frost's narrator has no basis for claiming that one road is 'less traveled.'"
  • Discuss textual features in the present tense even if quotations from the text are in another tense. Describe the historical context of the setting in the past tense.
Cite and document sources appropriately

Use MLA style unless told otherwise. Format QUOTATIONS properly, and use SIGNAL PHRASES when needed.

Think about format and design

Text divisions are usually marked by TRANSITIONS, but in longer papers, headings can be helpful.

Organizing a Literary Analysis

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Memoirs focus on events and people and places that are important to us. We usually have two goals when we write a memoir: to capture an important moment and to convey its significance for us. For an example of this kind of writing, see "All Over But the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg on pages 153–57 of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Key Features / Memoirs

A good story

Your memoir should be interesting, to yourself and others. At the center of most good stories stands a conflict or question to be resolved—and a sense of suspense that makes us want to keep reading.

Vivid details

Details give readers mental images of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the world in which your story takes place. When Bragg describes a "voice like an old woman's, punctuated with a cough that sounded like it came from deep in the guts," we can hear his dying father ourselves.

Clear significance

You need to reveal something about what the incident means to you, but don't, simply announce the significance as if you're tacking on the moral of the story. Bragg tells us that he's "trapped between [his] long-standing, comfortable hatred, and what might have been forgiveness," but he doesn't come right out and say that's why the incident is so important to him.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Memoirs

Choosing an Event to Write About

LIST several events from your past that you consider significant in some way. They do not have to be earthshaking; indeed, they may involve a quiet moment that only you see as important. It is often a good idea to write about events that happened at least a few years ago because you can see those events with a clear perspective. Also consider how well you can recall what happened, how interesting it is, and whether you want to share it with an audience.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why is the memory important?


What do you want your readers to think of you after reading your memoir? How can you help readers understand your experience?


What impression do you want to give, and what tone do you want to project? Sincere? Humorous? Self-critical?


Depending on the medium, will you include illustrations, audio or video clips, or other visual texts?

Generating Ideas and Text

Think about what happened

Take a few minutes to write down what happened, where it took place, who was involved, what was said, how you feel about it, and so on. Is there any tension or conflict in the story?

Consider its significance

Why do you still remember this event? What effect has it had on your life? Why might it interest someone else?

Think about the details

The best memoirs let readers experience in words and images what the writer experienced in life. Spend some time DESCRIBING the incident, and consider adding photos or other visual materials. Try writing out  DIALOGUE, things that were said (or might have been said).

Ways of Organizing Memoirs

[Tell about the event from beginning to end]

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[Start at the end and tell how the event came about]

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Profiles are written portraits—of people, places, events, or other things. A profile presents a subject in an entertaining way, showing us something or someone that we may not have known existed or that we see every day but don't know much about. For an example of this kind of writing, see "Rural Idaho Town Seeks to Turn Film's Cult Status into Prosperity" by Laura M. Holson on pages 161–65 of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Key Features/Profiles

An interesting subject

The subject may be something unusual, or it may be something ordinary shown in an intriguing way. You might profile an interesting person, place, or event.

Any necessary background

Include just enough information to let readers know something about the subject's larger context. Holson sums up the plot of Napoleon Dynamite in one brief paragraph and says very little about the town of Preston.

An interesting angle

A good profile captures its subject from a particular angle. In her profile of the Napoleon Dynamite festival, Holson focuses on how the townspeople are reacting to their sudden fame from this small, quirky film.

A firsthand account

Spend time observing and interacting with your subject. With a person, interacting means watching and conversing. With a place or event, interacting may mean visiting and participating, although sometimes you may gather more information as a silent observer.

Engaging details

Include details that bring your subject to life. These may include specific information ("More than 300 people traveled from as far away as California and Connecticut"); sensory images ("Ryan Grisso, who dressed up as Rex in red, white, and blue star-spangled pants, a patriotic kerchief on his head, and a blue knit shirt with the name 'Rex' stitched on it"); figurative language (visitors came "for the chance to embrace their own inner Napoleon"); dialogue ("I said, 'What do I have to do?' Jared said, 'Shoot a cow.'"); and anecdotes ("During the tater tot eating contest. . . . Mr. Grisso's mother-in-law playfully slipped a few tots down the front of her green shirt"). Choose details that show rather than tell—and be sure all the details create some dominant impression of your subject.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Profiles

Choosing a Suitable Subject

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it's something that arouses your curiosity and that you're not too familiar with. LIST five to ten interesting subjects that you can experience firsthand.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Why are you writing the profile? What angle will best achieve your purpose?


Who is your audience? Are they familiar with your subject? How can you get their interest?


What view of your subject do you expect to present? Sympathetic? Critical? Sarcastic? Balanced?


Should you include images or any other visuals?

Generating Ideas and Text

Visit your subject

If you're writing about an amusement park, go there; if you're profiling the man who runs the carousel, make an appointment to meet and interview him. Bring a camera if there's anything you might want to show visually.

Explore what you already know about your subject

What do you know about the subject now? What do you expect to find out? What preconceived ideas about it do you have?

If you're planning to interview someone, prepare questions

Holson likely asked townspeople such questions as, "How do you feel about the festival? Did you like the movie?"

Do additional research

For some profiles, you may need to do some library or Web research, to get a different perspective or fill in gaps. Often the people you interview and the sponsors of events can help you find sources of additional information.

Analyze your findings

Look for patterns, images, and engaging details. Compare your preconceptions with your findings. Look for discrepancies, between a subject's words and actions for example.

Come up with an angle

What's most memorable about your subject? What will interest your audience? Holson focuses on how Napoleon Dynamite has affected the people of Preston—whether they welcome the movie's fans, worry about how their town is perceived, or hope to make money off their town's unexpected fame.

Note details that support your angle

Use your angle to focus your research and generate text. Try DESCRIBING your subject clearly,  COMPARING it with similar subjects, or writing DIALOGUE. Holson, for instance, quotes a local farmer who appeared in Napoleon Dynamite as saying, "I have never had that kind of attention in my life."

Ways of Organizing a Profile

[As a narrative]

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[As a description]

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Proposals are ideas that say, "Here is a solution to a problem" or "This is what ought to be done." All proposals are arguments: when you propose something, you are trying to persuade others to see a problem in a particular way and to accept your solution to the problem. For an example of this kind of essay, see "Course Requirement: Extortion" by Michael Granof on pages 171–74 of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Key Features/Proposals

A well-defined problem

Some problems are relatively simple, and you would not need much persuasive power to make people act. Other issues are controversial: some people see them as problems while others do not, such as whether or not motorcycle riders should wear helmets. Any written proposal must establish at the outset that there is a problem—and that it's serious enough to require a solution.

A recommended solution

Once you have defined the problem, you need to describe your solution in sufficient detail. You might suggest several solutions, weigh their merits, and choose the best one.

A convincing argument for your proposed solution

You need to convince readers that your solution is feasible—and that it is the best solution. You may want to explain how your proposed solution would work. See, for example, how Granof details the way a licensing system would operate.

Anticipate questions

Consider any questions readers may have about your proposal—and show how its advantages out-weigh any disadvantages. Had the textbook proposal been written for college budget officers, it would have needed to deal with questions about costs.

A call to action

The goal of a proposal is to persuade readers to accept your proposed solution, which may include asking readers to take action.

An appropriate tone

Readers will always react better to a reasonable, respectful presentation than to anger or self-righteousness.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Proposals

Deciding on a Topic

Choose a problem that can be solved. Rather than tackling the problem of world poverty, for example, think about the problem faced by families in your community that have lost jobs.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Do you have a vested interest in a particular solution, or do you simply want to eliminate the problem?


How can you reach your readers? Are they receptive to change? Do they have the authority to enact your proposal?


How can you show your audience that your proposal is reasonable and that you are credible?


Will you deliver your proposal in print, online, as a speech? Would visuals help support your proposal?

Generating Ideas and Text

Explore potential solutions to the problem

Often, you'll need to do research to see how others have solved—or tried to solve—similar problems. Don't settle on a single solution too quickly—you'll need to COMPARE the advantages and disadvantages of several solutions in order to argue convincingly for one.

Decide on the most desirable solution(s)

One solution may be head and shoulders above others—but be open to rejecting all the possible solutions on your list and starting over if you need to.

Think about why your solution is the best one

Why will your solution work better than others? What has to be done to enact it? What will it cost? Writing out answers to these questions will help you argue for your solution.

Ways of Organizing a Proposal

[Several possible solutions]

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[A single solution]

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Topic Proposals

Instructors often ask students to write topic proposals to ensure that their topics are appropriate or manageable. Some instructors may also ask for an ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY showing that appropriate sources of information are available. Here a first-year student proposes a topic for an assignment in a writing course in which she has been asked to take a position on a global issue.

The loss of biodiversity—the variety of organisms found in the world—is affecting the world every day. Some scientists estimate that we are losing approximately one hundred species per day and that more than a quarter of all species may vanish within fifty years. I recently had the issue of biodiversity loss brought to my attention in a biological sciences course that I am taking this quarter. I have found myself interested in and intrigued by the subject and have found an abundance of information both in books and on the Internet.

In this paper, I will argue that it is crucial for people to stop this rapid loss of our world's biodiversity. Humans are the number-one cause of biodiversity loss in the world. Whether through pollution or toxins, we play a crucial role in the extinction of many different species. For example, 80 percent of the world's medicine comes from biological species and their habitats. One medicine vanishing due to biodiversity loss is TAXOL. Found in the Wollemi pine tree, TAXOL is one of the most promising drugs for the treatment of ovarian and breast cancer. If the Wollemi pine tree becomes extinct, we will lose this potential cure.

I will concentrate primarily on biodiversity and its effects on the medical field. If we keep destroying the earth's biodiversity at the current rate, we may lose many opportunities to develop medicines we need to survive. The majority of my information will be found on the Internet, because there are many reliable Web sites from all around the world that address the issue of biodiversity loss and medicine.

—Jennifer Church, "Biodiversity Loss and Its Effect on Medicine"

Church defines and narrows her topic (from biodiversity loss to the impact of that loss on medicine), discusses her interest, outlines her argument, and discusses her research strategy. Her goal is to convince her instructor that she has a realistic writing project and a clear plan.

Key Features/Topic Proposals

Unless your instructor has additional requirements, here are the features to include:

A concise discussion of the subject

Topic proposals generally open with a brief discussion of the subject. In its first two paragraphs, Church's proposal includes a concise statement of the subject she wishes to address.

A clear statement of your intended focus

State what aspect of the topic you will write on, narrowing your focus appropriately. Church states her intended topic—loss of biodiversity—and then shows how she will focus on the importance of biodiversity to the medical field.

A rationale for choosing the topic

Tell your instructor why this topic interests you and why you want to write about it, as Church does.

Mention of resources

To show your instructor that you can achieve your goal, you need to identify the available research materials.

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Sometimes we write essays just to speculate, to play with an idea, or simply to share something. Reflective essays are our attempt to think something through by writing about it and to share our thinking with others. For an example of this kind of writing, see "My Life as a Dog" by Jonathan Safran Foer on pages 180–83 of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Key Features/Reflections

A topic that intrigues you

A reflective essay has a dual purpose: to ponder something you find interesting or puzzling and to share your thoughts with an audience. Your topic may be anything that interests you: someone you have never met, an occurrence that makes you think, a place where you feel safe. Your goal is to explore the meaning that the person, object, event, or place has for you. Try to make connections between your personal experience and ones that readers may share. While Foer writes about his experience with his dog, he also raises questions and offers insights about how we relate to others.

Some kind of structure

A reflective essay may seem to wander, but all its ideas should relate, one way or another. The challenge is to keep your readers' interest and to leave readers satisfied that the journey was pleasurable. Foer brings his essay full-circle, introducing the vote on the off-leash law in his opening, then considering our relationship with dogs and the compromises we make, and closing with an image of the joy that freedom from a leash brings.

Specific details

You'll need to provide specific details to help readers understand your subject. Foer offers a wealth of details about his dog: "She mounts guests, eats my son's toys (and occasionally tries to eat my son), is obsessed by squirrels, lunges at skateboarders and Hasids." Anecdotes can bring your subject to life: "Once or twice every morning, for no obvious reason, she'll tear into a full sprint. Other dog owners can't help but watch her. Every now and then someone will cheer her on." Reflections may be about causes, such as why dogs make us feel more human; comparisons, such as when Foer compares animals as pets and as food; and examples: "virtually all animals raised for meat in this country are factory farmed."

A questioning, speculative tone

In a reflective essay, you are working toward answers, not providing them. So your tone is usually tentative and open, demonstrating a willingness to entertain various ideas as your essay progresses. Foer achieves this tone by looking at people's relationships with dogs from several different perspectives and by asking questions for which he provides no direct answers.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Reflections

Deciding on a Topic

Choose a subject you want to explore. Write a list of things that you think or wonder about, find puzzling or annoying. They may be big things or little things. Try CLUSTERING or FREEWRITING to see what comes to mind.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


What's your goal in writing this essay? What aspects of your subject do you want to reflect on?


Who is the audience? How will you introduce your subject in a way that will interest them?


What is your attitude toward the topic you plan to explore?


Will your essay be a print or Web document? An oral presentation? Would it help to have any visuals?

Generating Ideas and Text

Explore your subject in detail

Reflections often include descriptive details. Foer, for example, DESCRIBES the many ways he encounters dogs in New York: "Retrievers in elevators, Pomeranians on No. 6 trains, bull mastiffs crossing the Brooklyn Bridge." You may also make your point by DEFINING, COMPARING, CLASSIFYING, or using virtually any other organizing pattern.

Back away

Ask yourself: why is my subject important or intriguing? You may try LISTING or OUTLINING possibilities, or you may want to start DRAFTING to see where the writing takes you.

Think about how to keep readers with you

Reflections may seem unstructured, but they must be carefully crafted so that readers can follow your train of thought. Sketch out a rough THESIS to help focus your thoughts, even if you don't include the thesis in the essay itself.

Ways of Organizing a Reflective Essay

You might consider organizing a reflection using this overall strategy:

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Another way to organize this type of essay is as a series of brief reflections that together create an overall impression:

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Résumés and Job Letters

Résumés summarize our education, work experience, and other accomplishments for prospective employers. Application letters introduce us to those employers. Because the two texts together serve as an advertisement selling your talents, they require a level of care that few other documents do. Also important is sending a thank-you letter following an interview.

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Print résumés are presented on paper to be read by people. A print résumé highlights key information typographically, using italic or bold type for headings, for instance. Scannable résumés can be delivered on paper or via email, but they are formatted to be read by a computer. They have one typeface without any bold or italics or indents, and they include keywords that you hope will match words found in the computer's job description database.

Following are two résumés—the first one print and the second one scannable—both written by a college student applying for an internship before his senior year.

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Samuel Praeger's résumé is arranged chronologically, and because he was looking for work in a certain field, the résumé is targeted, focusing on his related work and skills and leaving out any references to high school (that he is in college allows readers to assume graduation from high school) or his past job as a house painter, which is not relevant. The print version describes his work responsibilities using action verbs to highlight what he actually did— produced, instructed, and so on—whereas the scannable version converts the verbs to nouns— producer, instructor. The scannable version is formatted in a single standard typeface, with no italics, boldfacing, or other typographic variation.

Key Features / Résumés

An organization that suits your goals and experience

A chronological résumé is the most general, listing pretty much all your academic and work experience from the most recent to the earliest. A targeted résumé generally announces the specific goal up top, and shows only the experience and skills relevant to your goal. A functional résumé is organized around various kinds of experience and is not chronological.


A résumé should be short—one page if possible. Entries should be parallel in form. Print résumés often use action verbs ("instructed"); scannable résumés use nouns instead ("instructor").

A design that highlights key information

On a print résumé, typography, white space, and alignment matter. Put your name in bold at the top, use headings for major sections, and add adequate white space. On a scannable résumé, use one standard typeface throughout and no italics, boldface, bullets, or indents.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Résumés

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


How will the position for which you're applying affect what you include on your résumé?


What sort of employee is the organization seeking?


What qualities do you want to convey?


How are you planning to send your résumé and letter? Whatever your medium, be sure both documents are formatted appropriately and proofread carefully.

Generating Ideas and Text for a Résumé

Consider how you want to present yourself

Think about the method of organization you will use—chronological, targeted, or functional—and gather the information you will need to include.

  • Contact information. At the top of your résumé, list your full name, a permanent address, a permanent telephone number with area code, and your email address.
  • Your education. Start with the most recent: degree, major, college attended, and minor (if any). List your GPA (if it's over 3.0) and any academic honors you've received.
  • Your work experience. List your most recent job first. Include job title, organization name, city and state, start and end dates, and responsibilities.
  • Community service, volunteer, and charitable activities. List what you've done, and think about the skills and aptitudes that participation helped you develop or demonstrate.
  • Other activities, interests, and abilities. For example, if you have a high level of knowledge about computers, describe your computer skills in a way that an employer might find useful.
Define your objective

Are you looking for a job that calls for a targeted résumé? Or do you need a chronological résumé to use in a search for any kind of work?

Choose contacts

Ask people to serve as references for you before you send out a résumé.

Choose your words carefully

Focus on your achievements, using action verbs that say what you've done. For a scannable résumé, use nouns rather than verbs, and use terms that will function as key words. To determine what key words to list, read job ads carefully, and use the same words the ads do—as long as they accurately reflect your experience.

Consider key design elements

Make sure your résumé is centered on the page and that it looks clean and clear. Use a single, simple font throughout and print on white or off-white paper. Limit paper résumés to one full page. For a scannable résumé, do not use bullets, indents, italics, or underlining.

Edit and proofread carefully

Your résumé must be perfect.

Ways of Organizing a Résumé

If you have extensive relevant work experience, list work before education.

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Application and Thank-you Letters

The application letter argues that the writer should be taken seriously as a candidate for a job or some other opportunity. Generally, it is sent with a résumé, so it doesn't provide much information. However, the way it's written and presented can get you in for an interview—or not. Following is an application letter that Samuel Praeger wrote seeking a position at the end of his junior year. Praeger tailored his letter to one specific reader at a specific organization.

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A thank-you letter shows your appreciation for an interview, restates your interest in the position, and shows that you have good manners. Following is a letter Samuel Praeger sent to the person who interviewed him for an internship.

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Key Features/Application and Thank-You Letters

A succinct indication of your qualifications

In an application letter, make clear why you're interested in the position—and give some sense of why the person you're writing to should want to meet you. In a thank-you letter, remind the interviewer of your qualifications.

A reasonable and pleasing tone

Through your words, demonstrate that you will be the kind of employee the organization wants. Your letter should be neat and error-free.

A conventional, businesslike format

Most application and thank-you letters follow the block format shown in the examples.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Job Letters

Generating Ideas and Text for Application and Thank-You Letters


Application and thank-you letters should not be chatty. Keep them focused, and include only information relevant to the position.

State the reason for the letter

When you're applying for something or thanking someone, say so in the first sentence.

Think of your letter as an argument

When you're asking for a job, you're making a claim—that you're qualified for a certain position. Support your claim with reasons and evidence. Praeger, for example, cites his education and his work experience.

Choose an appropriate salutation

If you know the person's name and title, use it. If you don't know the person's title, one good solution is to address him or her by first and last name.


Typos, grammar errors, and other forms of sloppiness make readers think that if this applicant can't take the time to PROOFREAD, how badly does he or she want this position?

Ways of Organizing an Application or Thank-You Letter

[Application letter]

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[Thank-you letter]

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Mixing Genres

Writers often combine different genres in a single text. An EVALUATION of mining practices, for instance, might include a PROFILE of a coal company CEO. For an example of an essay that mixes genres, see "Write for Your Life" by Anna Quindlen on pages 201–3 of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Key Features / Texts That Mix Genres

One primary genre

Although your writing situation will often call for a genre that is appropriate for your purpose, additional genres can play supporting roles. Quindlen's essay, for example, primarily argues a position but mixes in other genres, including report and reflection.

A clear focus

Each genre that you use must contribute to your main point. Quindlen's analysis of the film Freedom Writers, for example, supports her claim that writing is one way we learn about ourselves.

Careful organization

The various genres must fit together neatly and clearly. Quindlen opens by analyzing the theme of Freedom Writers, noting that it's about "the power of writing in the lives of ordinary people." She then switches genres, reporting on how "we have moved so far from everyday prose" and then reflecting on the consequences of that move.

Clear transitions

When a text includes several genres, those genres need to be connected by transitions. In addition to using words such as "in addition" and "however," you may want to sum up an idea and move it forward. For example, Quindlen ends one paragraph by quoting Don DeLillo as saying that writers write "to save themselves, to survive as individuals" and then begins the next paragraph by referring to DeLillo's words, saying "That's exactly what Gruwell was after."

Some Typical Ways of Mixing Genres

Following are some of the most commonly mixed genres and how they combine with other genres.


Sometimes a personal anecdote can help support an ARGUMENT or enhance a REPORT.


One way to bring a REPORT on an abstract topic to life is to include a profile of a person, place, or event.

Textual analyses

You might need to analyze a speech or other document as part of an ARGUMENT, especially on a historical or political topic.


You might include an evaluation of something when you write a PROPOSAL about it.

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A Brief Guide to Writing Texts That Mix Genres

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Are you writing this text to inform? Persuade? Something else? What genres will help you?


Who are your readers? Which genres will help them understand your point?


What is your primary genre and what other genres might support it?


Is your stance on your topic objective? Opinionated? Something else? Will a particular genre help you establish a certain tone?


Will your text be in print, on the Web, presented orally? Should you include illustrations? Audio or video clips?

Generating Ideas and Text

Identify your primary genre

If you're writing in response to an assignment, does it specify a particular genre? Look for key verbs that name specific genres—such as, analyze, argue, and describe. If the choice of genre is up to you, consider your PURPOSE and AUDIENCE carefully to determine what genre is most appropriate.

Determine if other genres would be helpful

As you write a draft, you may identify a need—for a beginning that grabs readers' attention, for a satisfying ending, for ways to help in analyzing something. To meet such a need, you may want to mix one or more genres within your draft. Remember, however, that these genres must support and enhance your main point.

Integrate the genres

Make sure that your genres work together to create a unified, coherent text. Use TRANSITIONS to help readers move from section to section.

Multi-Genre Projects

Sometimes a collection of texts can together represent an experience or advance an argument. For example, you might document a trip to the Grand Canyon in an album that contains journal entries, photographs, a map, and postcards.

You might also write in several different genres on the same topic. For example, you could ARGUE that the government should provide universal health care, write a MEMOIR about a time you were ill, and compose a PROFILE of a doctor. You could assemble all these texts in a folder—or you could create a website.

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