Paper Writing Tips for English/BKS 341

     This course is unusual in several ways that affect the writer.  It's interdisciplinary, so students will encounter readings in many document formats, from newspaper articles and blog posts to scholarly articles in MLA, U. Chicago, APA, and some weird Continental systems that most Americans never see. If students are familiar with MLA style, they should use it.  If they are familiar with another format, they should use that one.  Just be consistent.  If students do not know how to adhere to a scholarly document format, please see the course style sheet, linked to the menu at the bottom of the home page.

Critical Thinking:  Because English/BKS 341 asks students to think independently and to examine their own literacies as evidence in all three textual domains (digital, print, and manuscript), the first thing I am looking for in their writing is active engagement with their topics, thinking at a high level of energy and care.  This means they should not be content to merely report information, but also should be evaluating and reacting to the information you report.  By all means, they should report what they saw/felt/thought, but then think about why that matters, why the evidence appeared that way to them and how it might have changed as a result of more careful study, what it might have meant to readers and writers of other eras, etc.  Remember the power that comes from asking one's evidence "why" and "how" as part of understanding it. 

Research:  Some English/BKS 341 research will require students to ask themselves or friends and family about their experiences of texts.  Generally, though, one should never be satisfied merely with what one knows, one's self, or what others tell one.  If nothing else, try to find historical context for people's experiences, including one's own.  We do not live in a vacuum, but in cultures whose major events and trends shape us.  Do not ignore this.  Please do not neglect to ask your instructor for assistance--this can be an extremely important form of outside-class teaching and learning.

       Secondary source research will be essential for most topics, and writers should find relevant, current, peer-reviewed sources rather than relying upon whatever Google is pitching today.  Research in the Internet and digital text will depend very much upon when the sources were writing.  The 'net changes quickly, and sources rapidly become outdated except as evidence of what we once used to believe was true.  Peer-reviewed scholarship on print and manuscript texts will be absolutely required, except in rare cases in which booksellers or amateur scholars can be demonstrated to offer important evidence or judgment that we can rely on.  Take seriously the responsibility to demonstrate the reliability of non-peer-reviewed sources.  When you first use such a non-peer-reviewed source, explain the source's credibility in foot- or endnotes. Here, too, please do not neglect to ask your instructor for assistance.  I have trained for decades to be able to help.

Prose quality:  Treat these writing assignments as important pieces of academic prose.  If students happen to write in an online format (Web page, etc.), they should make sure they translate all the traditions of American academic prose composition to the online form.  Give your written work an academic title that clearly communicates the topic and thesis of your work.  Create an introduction that prepares readers for the kinds of evidence the paper will examine, its conclusions and logic, and the order in which the readers will encounter it all.  Treat paragraphing as a way to sign-post the major logical structures in the writing, to keep readers from becoming lost or confused.  Offer illustrative examples, taking full advantage of modern word processors and Web page editors' capacities for including images, charts and graphs, hyperlinks, and other extra-textual evidence.  Make sure the work has a proper conclusion that looks for consequences of the truths and speculations it has just presented.  And finally, document the sources used in a format appropriate to the style the paper follows (see above).