Thanks to you all for the excellent work you have done on your first drafts of Formal Writing Assignment #1. You will be receiving comments from one of your classmates who read your draft and responded using the peer review sheet. I’m hoping that these comments will be helpful to you as you revise your work and finish your final draft. One reminder about this: I’m calling the draft you are handing in on Friday your “final” draft, but in fact, you’ll be able to re-write it again once you get it back from me with comments and a grade, and can change your grade accordingly. For example, you might submit your final draft on Friday and get it back from me the following week with a grade of B-. You can then use the comments I gave you to revise it again and resubmit it, and the grade might go up to, say, B+. You’re able to revise and resubmit it as many times as you would like.
I won’t be grading or commenting on your first drafts individually (you’ll receive 10 points on the Blackboard grading page, just for submitting the draft). But I’ve read all of the drafts that have been submitted and wanted to offer some general comments that I hope will be useful. As I say, I will be giving you more extensive comments on your final draft, but for now, I also wanted to give you these general comments that apply to all of the first drafts that I have read so far. (You can find a downloadable version of these comments on the “Course Content” section of our Blackboard page).
- Be sure to concentrate on the central topic that you have been asked to write about from the very beginning of your essay—that is, be sure that you are writing about the techniques that Angela Davis is using to make her argument in Are Prisons Obsolete? This is important, because it will help you avoid spending too much time simply summarizing the book. The heart of your essay should be describing and analyzing how Davis makes her argument, and your response to the question of whether she does so effectively.
- Be sure to talk about WHY Davis uses certain kinds of techniques at certain points in her book. This “why?” question is very important, because it provides you with an opportunity to come up with an argument or arguments of your own about Are Prisons Obsolete? It’s great to note that Davis uses a lot of historical examples, for example. But the next step is to think about some of the questions that could come out of this point. For example, why does she use this particular technique? Why does she focus on particular things in detail, while not focusing as much on others? Why does she use the particular style that she uses, and how is it different from the styles used by other writers whose work we have read so far? Do you think that these different choices make her text effective, or not? These are the sorts of questions that can help you to deepen your analysis of Davis’ book and the articles we have read.
- Be sure to use examples and quotes from many different sections of Davis’ book, from the very beginning of your essay. If you have not already begun getting to some specific quotes and examples by the end of the first page of your essay, then you are not being specific enough. Don’t be afraid to use direct quotes, but at the same time, feel free to also refer to specific incidents, people, ideas, etc. by paraphrasing them rather than directly quoting from the essay. Just be certain to be as specific as possible throughout. Also, especially as you work on your final draft, be sure to write about the second half of the book, and particularly the conclusion, where Davis makes some direct suggestions about what abolishing prisons would actually look like and practical examples of how this might work.
- Be sure to ANALYZE the quotes and examples that you are using, and be clear about why you are using specific examples and quotes in different places in the essay. Whenever you use a quote in your essay, the reader should have a clear understanding of how that quote connects to what you, the writer, are saying. For example, suppose you wanted to use this quote from page 16 of Are Prisons Obsolete?: “In the meantime, corporations associated with the punishment industry reap profits from the system that manages prisoners and acquire a clear stake in the continued growth of prison populations. Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex.” Here are the steps you would follow to help the reader connect this quote to your own argument:
- First, introduce the quote: you just need one sentence, but help the reader understand why you are about to use the quote.
- Next, write the quote; feel free to write out the whole thing, although ideally you should be using quotes that are 1-2 sentences long at most. You can also use ellipses if you only want to use part of a quote. For example, you might use the quote above in this way, if you wanted to shorten it: “corporations associated with the punishment industry reap profits from the system….Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex” (16).
- Third, summarize the quote. That is, restate the quote in your own words; basically, you are saying something like “what Davis is saying in this quote is_________” (using your own words). This shows the reader that you understand what the author is saying in the quote that you are using.
- Finally, in a few sentences, analyze the quote: explain what it means, talk about the techniques Davis is using, and show the reader how it relates to your argument.
That is, you should always have some kind of analysis or explanation that follows a quote or specific example from the text. The reader should not have the sense that you have just thrown these quotes in for no reason. Instead, it should be clear every time you use a quote or a specific example from a text you are writing about why you have chosen it and how it relates to your argument.
Here are a few other smaller points to keep in mind:
- Be sure to include a title. Besides helping the reader understand what your essay is about, choosing a title can also help you as a writer. Trying to come up with a few words that encapsulate your whole essay is a good way to make you think about what your own main idea or central argument might be. For this reason, try to avoid generic titles like “English 24 Essay” or “Formal Writing Assignment One” or “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and so on. Instead, try to come up with something specific that actually describes what you are writing about in your essay. Think of it this way: I’ll be reading more than 50 versions of this essay, since I teach 2 sections of this class. So when I turn to your essay and read the title, try to come up with something that shows me what makes YOUR essay different from all the others, something that will make me stop and say: “OK, this one looks really interesting; I’m looking forward to reading it.”
- As you work on your final draft, be sure to proofread your paper very carefully, going sentence by sentence and finding all of the sentence-level problems. We will be talking more about editing your paper and finding and correcting sentence-level problems later this week. For now, the thing to say is that once you start to move towards your final draft, take your essay apart sentence by sentence, looking for specific sentence-level problems such as run-on sentences, sentence fragments, problems with verb tense or subject-verb agreement, spelling errors, etc. One suggestion is to read your essay out loud to yourself, listening to places where it sounds a bit awkward or strange; it is much easier to find mistakes by hearing them than it is by seeing them.