Schreiner University, ENGL 1302: Literature & Composition—Essays

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the essay assignments, superseding any previously published information regarding them.


As is noted for another, similar assignment, that the assignment sheet is long is understood. It is also an artifact of trying to be detailed and explicit about expectations for the project. Additionally, it offers practice in attending closely to detail, which is likely to be of benefit.

Because ENGL 1302: Literature & Composition is a writing class that takes as its subject matter a variety of works in poetry, drama, and prose, it makes sense that it would require students to write essays about such works. Doing so not only addresses curricular requirements—a must in any educational organization—but fosters deeper engagement with works of literature and therefore with the cultures that produce those works and, as is traditionally held, with the underlying humanity of those cultures’ peoples. As such, writing literary essays seems an eminently desirable activity to have students do.

Given the demands of the course, students are asked to write four essays—one on a work of each of poetry (PoEss), drama (DrEss), and prose (PrEss), and a fourth on a work in a genre of the student’s choosing (ChEss). As students in the class are presumed to be relatively new to such tasks—the course is a first-year course, after all—the essays are to be relatively brief (although still of a length suitable for publication, so that students mimic the kind of work done professionally) and scaffolded.

Completing each paper will require students to accomplish several tasks:

Information about each follows, along with a copy of the relevant grading rubric and notes.

Identify a Topic of Discussion

As I have noted elsewhere, writing a paper requires having something about which to write it. Fortunately, a class that makes much of literature—particularly one that operates under a mandate to focus on “discussion and writing about great works of literature,” as the University notes is true of ENGL 1302—has much to treat in each of the three overarching genres of prose, drama, and poetry.

In the interests of offering students the chance to customize their course experiences and follow their interests to some degree, as well as to foster additional reading (always to the good for literary scholars), the papers should each treat a text 1) from the appropriate genre (i.e., the PoEss should treat a poem, the DrEss a play, and the PrEss a story; the ChEss can treat a poem, a play, or a story, as the student decides), 2) included in the Course Pack, and 3) not already part of the assigned reading list. Additionally, each paper a student will write must be on a different work. While it may seem that such restrictions are overly harsh, they still leave a great deal of material open to treatment, so students should be able to find something that speaks to them and their interests.

Students may also petition to treat other topics. Such topics must still be of the appropriate genre, and preference will be given to treatments of works in earlier Englishes—although approval is not guaranteed in any event. Petitions must be made to the instructor in writing, preferably early on in the process to facilitate review and possible approval. Papers treating non-approved topics will automatically receive failing grades, so getting a start on permission for desired non-standard topics is worth doing.

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Review Secondary (And, Optionally, Tertiary/Critical) Sources

Texts such as those generally available for treatment in the class essays, as befits selections for a “great works” class, attract no small amount of commentary. Some of it is contemporary to the works themselves, bespeaking then-current interpretations and understandings of the texts. Some is ephemeral commentary that has grown up through continued reading and interpretation of the works since their initial dissemination. Some is scholarly, informed commentary drafted by those who specialize in the interpretation of the texts and, because they have the time to focus on honing their craft, can therefore plumb the texts in ways not normally ready to hand for more casual readers. Despite the protestations of certain quarters, the attentions of critical experts can be revelatory; they should be considered therefore.

As such, students are asked to look into collections of criticism about their selected topics after they have done their initial selections and readings of their chosen texts and made their initial forays into interpreting the texts for themselves. That is, students should read criticism offered in literary critical journals and monographs after having begun to form their own ideas, using what is already present to situate themselves among the already-existing critical work being done. Finding support from others is useful. Finding that others disagree is also so, as it makes some intellectual work easier to do. And finding that others have not seen a particular aspect of a given work is perhaps most useful of all, as it offers the most promise of finding a new thing entirely, something that has heretofore not been known.

Also likely to be useful, although optional in its invocation, is material that offers context for the work and its circumstances rather than treating the work directly. Such material is referred to as tertiary, in that it helps to inform secondary (i.e., material treating the selected topic) material and to support understanding of the primary (i.e., the selected topic itself). Further likely to be of use is material that offers a framework for approaching the primary material, generally referred to as critical sources. For the course essays, neither tertiary nor critical material is required, but either or both are likely to be helpful; their inclusion would be welcomed.

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Develop a Thesis

After having read the selected topic closely and developed an idea about it, and after having worked to situate that idea amid extant criticism of the topic, students will need to assert a thesis about the work. Typically, the thesis should take a form such as “[Selected topic] [performs some action or serves some purpose] for [a specific audience] through [the means by which the performance is made or the service enacted].” That is, it should say that the given topic does a particular thing for a particular audience in a particular way. Any number of such theses are available for such works as the essays are expected to treat, although some will be discounted for such reasons as being unavailable to specified audiences for one reason or another.

Experience suggests that the most common reason for students’ theses to be untenable is anachronism. A work written in the late 1300s cannot do anything for an audience found in the court of Alfred the Great, for example, since Alfred reigned in the late 800s, half a millennium too early for his courtiers to have read such works. Check on dates; they matter.

Some more commonly accessible areas of inquiry for theses are listed below. The list is far from exhaustive, however; students are not required to use any of the ideas noted:

  • Death (How is death handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)
  • Faith (How is faith handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)
  • Gender (How are questions of masculinity/femininity/non-binary life handled, who would get the references, and why would they be treated so for that audience?)
  • Humor (What joke is made, how, and for whom?)
  • Politics (How is power handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)
  • Professions (How is any one given type of work handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)
  • Race (How is race handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)
  • Sex (How is sex handled, who would get the references, and why would it be treated so for that audience?)

Students should keep in mind that the thesis advances an idea to be tested in the process of composing the rest of the essay. As work on each essay progresses, the thesis may well need to shift to reflect best understandings and available evidence. That it does so is far from a mark of shame; instead, it reflects a growing and developing mind that makes it, and such is to be desired.

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Develop Support for the Thesis

The thesis is the most important single statement to be made in the essay, but it will not suffice on its own. That is, readers must be given reason to believe that the idea advanced in the thesis is reasonable and worth considering to inform their own understanding of the work and the world in which the work exists. As such, students will need to provide evidence from their selected topic that it is doing what they claim it is doing. They will also, and more importantly, need to explain to their readers how what they claim is happening is happening; keeping in mind that each reader’s context of reception differs, students will need to explicate their individual contexts so that readers can follow along their lines of thought and arrive at the same theses the students do. Application of secondary and tertiary/critical materials will likely be of benefit in doing so.

The bulk of each essay should inhere in the presentation of evidence and its explanation—and explanation should far exceed presentation. The sample essays in the course pack demonstrate how such can be done.

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Develop an Introduction

With a thesis and support for it in place, students should turn to how they will get into their arguments. That is, they should work on how to lead readers from where they may be to the central point the essay will make and subsequently support. Doing so can take several forms, but one that is not likely to be of great use when addressing the writings on which the essays are expected to focus is summarizing what is presented, particularly offering an extended summary. Papers treating “great works” can, do, and quite possibly ought to assume readers are familiar with the works being treated; generally, only pieces treating obscure passages of larger works need to offer much in the way of summary, and that only to orient the reader.

A far better way to introduce a paper, particularly one of relatively limited scope (such as the requested essays are expected to be), is to offer a brief overview of current criticism of the work and to present the thesis within the context thereof. Papers that apply critical models to selected works can instead offer summaries of the critical model to follow, thereby contextualizing the specific discussion to be had. Other means of introducing the materials are also available, and students should not feel restricted to those enumerated herein.

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Develop a Conclusion

Papers should not simply stop; they should return from the thesis the paper supports to the broader world in which the reader lives. That is, they need to come back out to a greater discussion. One particularly useful way to do so is to conclude a paper by addressing the issue of what readers can do with the thesis that the paper (hopefully) validates, to answer the question of “So what?” as a way to exit the discussion. Doing so not only offers opportunity for brief reflection, but it also demonstrates the applicability of the work done to the work and lives of others, and that demonstration is both needed in a time that tends to devalue humanistic work and a liberal arts education such as the University prides itself on offering and helpful for students who might otherwise not realize how what they do now helps them later. (It also moves away from cheap repetition that too easily annoys.)

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Compose the Paper’s RV

The preceding sections can be considered an extended prewriting exercise. That is, they work towards the generation of deliverable writing, but they do not themselves generate it. The first deliverable towards which they lead is the review version (RV) of each of the essays.

Each essay will do well to open with a brief introductory paragraph that offers context for a thesis it then asserts. Each will do well, then, to follow with a series of paragraphs that present supporting evidence for the thesis, explaining how each point serves to support the thesis. Each will then do well to conclude with a relatively brief paragraph that demonstrates the utility of the thesis advanced in the paper. Each essay will also do well to be written in such a way as demonstrates its writer merits serious consideration as a young literary scholar; that is, each essay should read as if the work of an incoming professional, one striving to contribute to the centuries-long conversation about the human condition that is literary study.

Each essay should be approximately 1,300 words in length (± 25), exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations. (See Note 1, below.) Each essay should be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages with one-inch margins; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should be in the margin at the top of the page at the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper. The ending Works Cited list should be in the same spacing and typeface; its caption should be centered horizontally on the first line of the page, and its entries should be indented as MLA standards assert.

Each writer should submit a typed, electronic copy of each essay’s RV to the instructor through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time according to the schedule noted below:

  • PoEss RV, 17 February 2017
  • DrEss RV, 3 March 2017
  • PrEss RV, 31 March 2017
  • ChEss RV, 24 April 2017

The copy needs to be in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format so that it can be opened, reviewed, and commented on by the instructor; other file formats potentially pose difficulties in such regards, and a paper that cannot be reviewed cannot receive a useful score or commentary. Each RV will be assessed a grade according to the grading rubric below for a minor assignment grade, and comments will be offered on a copy thereof that are meant to guide improvements to the work. (Obviously, those students who do not submit the RVs in timely fashion should not expect to receive any helpful score or commentary on them. Note the “Late Work” section of the course syllabus.)

Although a reasonably complete paper is expected, it is understood that each RV is a work in progress. Some changes are therefore expected; they should not be viewed as failures, but seized upon as more opportunities to improve writing techniques and to enhance the connections among topic, writer, and reader yet more. Also, please note that consulting with the instructor and/or with the Writing Center throughout the process of composition is likely to be of benefit. No specific grade item will attach itself to doing so, but past practice suggests that those writers who do seek such input and attention generate far better writing than those who do not (which, for the grade-conscious, translates to higher scores).

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Revise the Paper’s RV into the Paper’s FV

After receiving instructor feedback, writers should take their papers, review the comments made by their reader, and incorporate those found useful into their ongoing work. That is, they should work to improve their introductions to and statements of their theses, their motion into and through the supporting points, and their conclusions, ensuring that their papers encourage reading rather than interfering with it. The result will become the final versions (FVs) of each of the essays.

Each essay will still do well to open with a brief introductory paragraph that offers context for a thesis it then asserts. Each will do well, then, to follow still with a series of paragraphs that present supporting evidence for the thesis, explaining how each point serves to support the thesis. Each will then do well to conclude with a relatively brief paragraph that demonstrates the utility of the thesis advanced in the paper. Each essay will also do well to continue to be written in such a way as demonstrates its writer merits serious consideration as a young literary scholar; that is, each essay should read as if the work of an incoming professional, one striving to contribute to the centuries-long conversation about the human condition that is literary study.

Each essay should still be approximately 1,300 words in length (± 25), exclusive of heading (student name, instructor name, course/section, and date of composition), title, and any necessary end-citations. (See Note 1, below.) Each essay should still be typed in black, double-spaced, 12-point Garamond, Georgia, or Times New Roman font on letter-sized pages with one-inch margins; the heading should be flush left, the title centered horizontally, and the body flush left with first lines of paragraphs indented one-half inch from the left margin. Page numbers should still be in the margin at the top of the page at the right margin, preceded by the writer’s surname, and in the same typeface as the rest of the paper. The ending Works Cited list should still be in the same spacing and typeface; its caption should still be centered horizontally on the first line of the page, and its entries should still be indented as MLA standards assert.

Each writer should submit a typed, electronic copy of each essay’s FV to the instructor through Schreiner One before the beginning of class time according to the schedule noted below:

  • PoEss FV, 24 February 2017
  • DrEss FV, 10 March 2017
  • PrEss FV, 12 April 2017
  • ChEss FV, 5 May 2017

The copy needs to be in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format so that it can be opened, reviewed, and commented on by the instructor; other file formats potentially pose difficulties in such regards, and a paper that cannot be reviewed cannot receive a useful score or commentary. Each FV will be assessed a grade according to the grading rubric below for a major assignment worth 15 % of the total course grade, and comments will be offered on a copy thereof that are meant to guide improvements to the work. (Please note the “Late Work” and “Revisions” sections of the course syllabus.)

Please note that consulting with the instructor and/or with the Writing Center throughout the process of composition is likely to be of benefit. No specific grade item will attach itself to doing so, but past practice suggests that those writers who do seek such input and attention generate far better writing than those who do not (which, for the grade-conscious, translates to higher scores).

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Grading Rubric

The rubric through which the RV and FV of each paper will be assessed can be found here: G. Elliott ENGL 1302 Essays Grading Rubric. It is in PDF format, so Acrobat Reader will be obligatory.

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Notes

  1. Since the essays will each reference specific material, both primary and secondary sources, formal citation will be necessary. Current MLA guidelines apply; they can be found online here. Both in-text and end-of-text citation are obligatory; failure to provide them may be investigated as an academic integrity violation, per the course syllabus.
  2. Several examples of the kinds of essay requested of students are presented in the “Sample Essays” section of the course packet. They are, in fact, included specifically to serve as examples for student use; review of them is greatly encouraged. Additional example essays can be found here. Not all are directed towards the kind of assignment represented by the essays requested for the course, but many are—and even those that are not can offer useful models of composition. (It is possible that sample essays will continue to be composed to supplement those already available. They will be posted to the course website when and if they are.)

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Geoffrey B. Elliott, 3 February 2017
Updated to clarify formatting requirements.

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