Shelley Reid .

English 1213, Fall 2003, Essay Assignments

Oklahoma State University

Overview Page Short Assignments

On this long, not-very-web-friendly page you will find the assignment prompts for

  • Essay 1, Why We Tell Stories, 3-4 pp.

  • Essay 2, Crossing the Line (comparative text analysis), 4-6 pp.

  • Annotated Bibliography (12-15 sources)

  • Essay 3, Bibliographic Analysis, 5-7 pp.

  • Essay 4, Arguing for Change, Proposal + 8-10 pp. essay

  • Reflective writing: Audience Analysis & Post Script

(Essay 5 is an in-class essay exam.)

Essay #1:  5%/25 points:  Why We Tell Stories

In short:  Write an essay that analyzes three narrative stories and explains to an everyday audience the reasons people might tell a certain kind of story.  Draw an overall conclusion about this kind of story, about the social values behind the story, and/or about storytelling.

Tasks for this essay:


Analyze specific evidence:  Match some or all of Schank's categories to elements in the stories you choose:  quote from Schank, quote from or give specific examples from the story, explain the connection, and draw your conclusion.  You might do this kind of analysis first, either in brief notes or in longer sentences, even before you decide on your thesis.


Organize your analyses:  Instead of analyzing all of one story and then all of another, sort the pieces into groups according to Schank's and your judgments:  most paragraphs should analyze similar aspects of at least two different stories together. 


Go "out on a limb" with your own argument:  Your thesis and your conclusion must do more than say "these stories match some of Schank's categories but not others."  Bring in your own judgment:  what will you argue is the main purpose of these stories?  And "so, what?"  Why might it be interesting to someone who hears or tells these stories to know what's going on?  What do we learn if we listen to our own stories? 


Main criteria for this essay

A clear thesis argument giving your own overall judgment; connections to this thesis drawn all the way through the essay.

Careful, logical analysis of the evidence:  "show your work" as you explain what you see and how you see it

Smooth integration of quotations and paraphrases of other texts into your own paragraphs and arguments

Logical organization:  unified paragraphs and easy-to-follow transitions

Engaging and lively "voice"; relatively few serious errors in citation or syntax.

Draft a 3-4 page essay ("one page" = approximately 250-300 words, so 3-4 pages = 750-1200 words) in time for the draft workshop on January 21.  Draft essays should be typed/computer-printed; bring three copies with you to the workshop. 

Folder Checklist for Essay #1, Due January 26

Audience & Purpose Analysis

Copies of your three stories

Complete Early Draft, Drafts with Peer Comments

Revised Essay (with title & works cited page, MLA format)

Post Script


Essay 2, 15%/75 points:  Crossing the Line

In short:  Write an essay that draws from three sources -- two from assigned readings in Speculations, one that you find (article, story, movie, song, blog, etc.) -- in order to make an argument about "crossing the line":  where the line is, who defines it, what should be done, and/or how "ordinary Joes & Josies" might encounter and deal with the line.

Tasks for this essay:


Read, analyze, and connect information from three different sources.  This will be easier, it turns out, if all your sources don't say exactly the same thing.  Consider using one source as the "home base" or the "main example" or the "main idea" source, and linking it to the other two.


Explain, step by step, how a line is being drawn:  Again, as in Essay #1, try to think of principles, steps, angles, theories, populations, or questions that you can organize by, rather than going Source 1, Source 2, Source 3.  What's at stake, and for whom?


Go "out on a limb" with your own argument:  Your thesis and your conclusion must do more than say "here's what everyone else thinks, and I agree/disagree."  Strong essays will also say more than "these articles are similar/different."  Take a stand:  where exactly do you see the line, what do you recommend, and what difference does this make to normal people?


Main criteria for this essay:


Sources well chosen to illuminate a tricky subject; information from sources used to support but not to substitute for your own thinking

A clear thesis argument giving your own overall judgment; connections to this thesis drawn all the way through the essay.

Careful, thoughtful analysis of a difficult question:  go slowly through the issues and examples so that your readers can see exactly the line you're describing

Smooth integration of quotations and paraphrases of other texts into your own paragraphs and arguments

Engaging and lively "voice"; relatively few serious errors in citation or syntax.

Draft a 4-6 page essay ("one page" = approximately 250-300 words) in time for the draft workshop on February 16.

Folder Checklist for Essay #2, Due February 27

All Essay #1 materials

Audience & Purpose Analysis

Annotated copies of your three sources (4pp. each for SP texts; whole outside source)

Complete Early Draft, Drafts with Peer Comments

Revised Essay (with title & works cited page, MLA format OR APA format)

Post Script


Researching for a Reason:  Change in the lives of Ordinary Joes & Josies

Annotated Bibliography; Analysis Essay (#3); Proposal; Argument Essay (#4)

The most powerful and useful kind of writing, and the most common kind of writing outside university classrooms, is writing that addresses a real problem close to the author's home or heart and aims to persuade real human readers to change their minds, their affiliations, and/or their actions.  People who write grant applications, letters to state legislators, new curricula proposals to school boards, bylaws for neighborhood groups, informational notes for colleagues who need to make key decisions, plans for youth groups to take action, stories for a local newspaper about the effects of new businesses moving into town, essays for magazines on community development or for collections about environmental awareness, or even New Year's Resolutions, are all writing for change, and they're often writing about something that affects them, their neighbors, or someone they know. 

For your research during the second half of the semester, you should choose a topic that has special interest to you, to people in your intended profession, to people in your hometown or family, or to friends in your community or an organization you belong to here in Stillwater.  Choose carefully:  this will be your researching life for eight weeks!  Your topic must:

...have "one foot" in the course textbook: you'll need to use enough of one idea from one of our assigned readings to be recognizably in touch with the class material ("stretching" is allowed and encouraged)

...focus on either a "local" angle or an "ordinary Joe/Josie" angle:  you need to be writing to an audience of people you know (community leaders, youth group members, university residents, local politicians or business owners, etc.) and/or writing to a group of "people on the street" in a way that engages them and shows how this issue is relevant

...lead to a specific recommendation for change: in behavior, in law, in spending, in attitude, in action, in ethics; an immediate or long-term change; the first step of a change or a complete overhaul.  Your recommendation must be feasible, given the issue and the local/ordinary people involved.

You should thus find a particular problem that needs solving, action that should be taken by a relevant individual or group, or a change you think should be made on behalf of a person or group of people.  You will need to choose a specific audience who can help make this change happen; this will be your target audience.

Note:  Generalized topics for generalized audiences -- particularly topics about which people hold very unshakeable opinions, such as the death penalty, abortion, gun control, environmental protection, violence, freedom of speech, war, etc. -- are not appropriate for this essay unless you can conclusively demonstrate that you have a narrow, local angle and a personal conviction and a very local audience that could indeed be changed in a measurable way by reading what you write.

We will complete this project in several steps; you will thus need to get an early start, but will have extended time to investigate the complications, options, and sources of resistance to change, and to conduct research (in or out of the library) to find ways to address those ideas.

Annotated Bibliography Assignment, 10%/50 points: 
Background Research

As continuing preparation for your research and writing during the second half of the semester, you will determine a focused topic about which you have an interest, develop a set of research strategies and plans, and begin the search for reliable, useful information. 

Then compile an annotated bibliography of 12-15 sources.  No more than four of those sources may be individual Internet websites; at least four must be books, or essays in scholarly journals or anthologies.  At least one must give information about an alternate viewpoint or an opposition voice.  Having thoughtfully read and reviewed the sources, you will create a formal annotated bibliography, using standard APA citation format and providing for each source some basic information about topic, reliability, and applicability.  You'll finish with a two-paragraph overview of all your sources.

Your annotated bibliography will cite all your sources, formatted correctly, in alphabetical order, double-spaced with hanging indents.  Underneath each source citation, you will include a short, double-spaced, indented paragraph which annotates -- gives brief but crucial notes about -- that source. 

Each annotation -- about 150 words -- will include the following:

a sentence or two noting the author's main arguments or conclusions, and briefly describing the evidence used to support those arguments

a sentence or two evaluating the quality and/or reliability of the source:  you may analyze the author's credibility, the text's location, the part(s) of the author's own research that seem(s) reliable and thorough (or not), and/or whether the author or source -- or the target audience of the source -- has any "special interest" that might bias the information

a sentence or two explaining whether and how this source might be relevant & useful to your particular investigation; you should specifically acknowledge your best and worst sources:  which are the "most comprehensive" or "least useful" or "clearest in giving opposition views," etc.

Two Paragraph Overview:  As you finish your bibliography compilation, complete a Two Paragraph Overview of what you've found.  In one full paragraph, summarize the three or four main issues or topics that these sources address, and note anything you hoped to find but have not yet found.  In a second full paragraph, give a general evaluation of the sources you've found:  note which ones are your most/least useful or reliable (why?), and explain whether in general, this collection of information is satisfactory for someone conducting research in this field.  (This Overview should help you prepare to write Essay #3.)

Complete a full draft of your Annotated Bibliography and Two Paragraph Overview by March 8.  Turn it in with a folder of complete copies ofyour sources.  Turn your final version in with the Essay #3 Assignment.

Essay Assignment #3, 15%/75 points:  Survey and Analysis of the Research Field

The basics:  Using at least 7-8 sources collected in your Annotated Bibliography, you will develop a set of theories about the kind of research that is available on your topic, the kinds of questions or conclusions that are most important to your local/ordinary audience in regards to your topic, and the kinds of questions or investigations that still need to be done.  This essay combines a research summary -- what important things did you find out so far? -- with a research analysis -- what might all this information mean to a researcher in the field?  Write as if you were giving next year's 1213 students a "leg up" on their own research; be the fearless explorer reporting back on what the library wilderness holds.

The hints and suggestions:  You'll probably want to begin this paper by collecting and categorizing information to see if there are distinct, intriguing, or important patterns -- or if there are issues that are overlooked or underrepresented.  Although you are a beginning student of the field and are working with a limited sample, still there will be conclusions you can draw and/or recommendations you can make based on what you have already seen; these will provide the argumentative, analytical focus of your essay.  This will be a speculative argument based on careful reading and thorough descriptive analysis -- you will, in essence, be "guessing," but you must provide informed guesses and explain (with evidence) how you came to interpret the information in the way that you do.

NoteYou will not yet be arguing in favor or against the change you are examining
Essay #3 is an argument about whether the resources themselves are useful.  If you were judging a "source show" rather than a county-fair "cattle show" or a grade school "talent show," how would your sources, individually and collectively, rate?  why?

Organizing Essay #3:  Questions and structures.  Although your essay should look like an ordinary essay, and read smoothly with an overall point and easy transitions rather than subheadings, it may make sense to think of having five parts to the essay:

1. Introduction

Explain your topic, define the problem/issue and any controversies, note why and to whom this topic is of interest.  Try to explain your angle for this assignment:  what has your research emphasized?  What, overall, did you discover?

2. General overview of the issues in the field

In several paragraphs, each drawing on at least 2-3 of your sources, explain what researchers and writers in this field tend to report on.  For instance, you might consider some or all of the following:

Remember, this
 is still mostly a description:  show what you see rather than
what you think.

What questions tend to be asked or issues most carefully examined about the topic?  What issues are not so well covered?

What positions (more than just for or against) tend to be taken, or tend to be most convincingly argued, in this area? Who supports each?

Who tends to write about or be interested in this topic?  What seems to motivate them?

What kinds of magazines, journals, books, internet sites, or government databases provide the best information?  what information seems to be difficult to find?

3. Specific analysis of resources you found

In several paragraphs, each quoting from more than one source, give your judgments about the quality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, and/or relevance of the kinds of sources you found while doing your research.  For instance, you might consider some or all of the following questions:

These questions ask you for your own arguments about all the sources you found.  You are still focusing on whether the sources are good rather than on what change should be made.

Why do you think some issues/questions and not others are asked/examined?

What might explain the dominance of these ideas, or of particular positions or voices or kinds of resources, in the debate?

Why might some people rather than others be more visible?  What biases or interests do they have?

When specific examples are given, do they tend to focus on one kind of person/community/location? is any person/place/location left out?  why might that be, and how might it affect research on this topic?

Is there more information in certain years, for some locations and not others, for some aspects of the problem rather than others?  what might that say about the people who find this idea important?

What questions, issues, angles, or examples seem to be left unasked or unexamined?  what might cause that, and what does it mean for researchers in the field?

4. Conclusions and projections

In a full paragraph or two, you should summarize the topics already addressed:  what has been solved and proved, for what communities or situations?  Is the information adequate for someone who has the goals you have?  You should also begin to set up for your continuing research by explaining what needs to be done now: what needs solving, what information would still be helpful to a researcher, and what your next steps as a researcher will be, given what you found and your particular goals (with specific examples and explanations).

Note:  You may choose to alternate "overview" with "analysis" rather than separating them into different sections.  It would be possible to alternate between the two kinds of thinking, or to have paragraphs that give some overview and then give an analytical judgment about what you saw.  Each paragraph should include quotations and/or very specific examplesfrom texts.

Draft a 5-7 page essay in time for the workshop on March 24.  Revise it substantially in response to peer and instructor feedback before turning in the final draft.

Folder Checklist for Essay #3 Folder, Due March 31:

Essay #1 & #2: final versions + comments

Annotated Bibliography Draft & Final Copy

Audience Analysis & Post Script

Complete Essay #3 Early Draft and Peer Comments

Revised Essay #3 (with title & new Referenceslist)

Photocopies of any outside (printed) text used in Essay #3


Essay Assignment 4:  25%/125 points:  Bringing Research Home

You've done the initial research; you're an expert, now, with things that you really need to tell people so that your readers can benefit.  Essay #4 is your chance to do this.  There are three limitations.  First, your essay topic will need to have a local or Ordinary Joe connection, one that must come out of -- but may expand upon -- the research you did for Essay #3.  Second, you must choose a specific target audience to keep in mind, because writing for real people gives energy and focus to the creation of a text.  Third, you must make an argument:  you may argue for or against a specific kind of change; you may support or contradict a current policy or attitude; you may describe a problem and recommend steps toward an improvement. 

Note:  You may choose to narrow your focus to a partial change: to recommend a pilot or experimental program, to recommend a first step or two, to recommend that one small entity begin the change.

Having chosen a topic and focal point, you will write a proposal (see below) that is designed to convince your target audience that this topic is worth study and that you have the ideas, resources, and interest to be the one to do the studying.  As you start to write the essay, you'll need to consider the feasibility and audience-reaction questions that your arguments will generate.  At minimum, you should address the issues of resources (time, people-hours, and money) needed to make the change, and explain how you know the proposed change will be effective -- will actually solve or start to solve the problem.  You will also want to take extra time to edit and proofread your text, to make sure that your words don't get in the way of the ideas you want to communicate.

Your essay must draw from at least 7 outside sources; at least 3 of these must be sources other than web pages or ProQuest printouts; at least one of these must provide information about why your target audience would oppose or resist the change you propose.  The central core of your research must come from the sources you identified for Essay #3, though it is likely you will need to locate additional resource material.

Create an essay proposal by March 26.  Draft an 8-10 page essay in time for the draft workshop on April 9.  Revise it in time for the Advanced Draft Workshop on April 16.

Folder Checklist for Essay #4 Folder, Due April 23:

Essays #1, #2, & #3: final versions + comments

Audience & Purpose Analysis


Complete Early Draft(s) and Peer Comments

Revision Plan

Advanced Draft, revised & edited

Revised Essay #4 (title & works cited, appendices if needed)

Photocopies of any outside (printed) text used in #4

Post Script


The proposal specs:  Draft a 2-3 page proposal for Essay #4. Your audience for a proposal is usually the person or persons who have the power to approve or deny your proposed project:  in this case this is me, Dr. Reid.   However, you will be evaluated on how convincing you are at answering the questions, objections, and/or concerns of your chosen "target audience," so you need to keep that audience in mind, too.  You must convince me that there is a problem that needs investigating and solving, that there is a benefit to finding a solution to this problem, and that you have the basic knowledge and ability necessary to complete this project.

The specifications listed below are required, exactly as noted, for this assignment.  (Formal proposals often have pages and pages of guidelines!)  You may refer to the sample proposals made available to you for guidance, but you must follow these particular specifications regardless of what you see in other models.  Proposals that fail to follow the format or to address the main sections/issues below may be returned to you ungraded.

General Expectations

• create a computer printed, double-spaced document with 1" margins, 12- or 14-point basic font (Times, New York, etc.)

• Number all pages at the top

• write in sections, each about 1-2 paragraphs with an appropriate heading on a separate line (see bold headers below)

• add an extra line of "white space" before each header to clearly separate the sections

• keep the writing style/voice formal and concise; keep quotations, stories, and explanations to a minimum length but maximum effectiveness

Main Header:

• centered near the top of the first page (no separate title page; no quotation marks)

• first line(s):  concise and descriptive title, including a phrase such as "Proposal to Investigate…" or "Proposal to Recommend Change to…"; use line breaks intelligently so as not to break up a key phrase or strand two words on one line

• next line:  "Submitted to Dr. Reid"

• next line:  "Submitted by [Name]" (put this only on one copy; see Note 1)

• next line:  "[Date]"



• briefly describe the problematic situation to be changed

• identify the Essay #4 target audience to which you'll be writing

• briefly convince the proposal audience (Dr. Reid) that there is indeed a serious problem that needs attention

• explain why it needs to be addressed (now)

• briefly describe the specific changes you will recommend or issues you will address

• explain the benefit of your research for the Essay #4 audience


• describe your intended research and writing process for this essay in a carefully planned series of steps that answer the questions/issues raised in your intro: show the proposal audience that you know what you're doing

• refer to the comprehensiveness and/or reliability of sources already located

• describe the additional information or sources you intend to locate to be more persuasive or to address feasibility issues in Essay #4


in table form, give an approximate time schedule for this essay project (at least 6 steps)

• organize according to steps in your methods/introduction

• leave adequate time for planning and revising your essay


• readers must understand the limits of your investigation: what won't you address? why?  what related issues lie outside the boundaries of your project?

• what problems will remain unsolved even after your research & recommendations?  what later steps may need to be taken?

• what might need to be done in future investigations?


• briefly re-emphasize the importance of your project and its benefits

• indicate your awareness of feasibility issues and concerns (time, money, personnel) that your audience might have (give examples) and note your intention to present reasonable, workable recommendations

• indicate your openness to questions or suggestions

Note 1: Bring four copies of this proposal to class:  three without your name, one with your name on it.

Note 2:  Once you have had your proposal approved, you cannot significantly change the scope or topic of your Essay #4 without writing a new proposal


Reflective Assignments:  Due with every Essay Folder; typed assignments preferred.

Audience & Purpose Analysis:  Recommended: complete this before you write your Complete Early Draft.

You should complete a 200-300 word Audience & Purpose Analysis for each essay.  You must answer Question #1 listed below; you may answer any of the other questions, briefly and/or in depth, to complete your analysis.  If you have other thoughts or questions about your audience or purpose, include them here.

1.  Describe a possible audience for this essay beyond the professor for this class:  a person, real or hypothetical, or a kind/group of people.  Be as specific as possible: who are you trying to reach? who might be interested?

2.  What does the average member of this audience already know or believe about this topic?  What top three questions might they have?  What might they object to in your argument?  Why?  How might you create or find answers?  (Use this question to think about organization:  do your paragraphs directly answer the most important questions you list?)

3.  If you were publishing this piece in a magazine, what kind of magazine would it be?  What other kinds of writing would be in the magazine?  Why would a reader read your piece?  What headline, photo, or illustration might accompany it to get your readers' attention?  why?  (Use this question to think about your intro:  How could you get your reader's attention with words?)

4.  Describe your purpose for this essay.  First, you might explain what got you interested in this topic or reading assignment.  What do you most want to share with your reader?  What, if anything, do you want to learn or understand by writing it?  What change do you want to create in others (who?)?  What actions do you want people to take? (Use this question to think about your thesis and conclusion:  be sure to say "up front" and bluntly what your main idea is!)

5.  Imagine your reader (as described above) finishing the essay:  what do you want your writing to have done to this person's thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and/or behaviors?  If your reader were to finish reading and then leap up and go to the phone to "make a difference," whom would you want the reader to call, and what would you want him/her to say?  An answer such as, "I hope they will think a bit about this some more" is insufficient for an argument essay; explain exactly what you're hoping to convince people to believe or, especially, to do. (Use this question to think about the "so what?" of your conclusion:  what might you say to elicit this response?)

Post Script:  "Dear Dr. Reid…"

You should complete a 200-300 word post script after writing and revising each essay.  You may answer any or all of the questions below, and/or explain something else about the hows and whys of your writing process.

1.  What (if anything) was most difficult about writing this essay?  why?  how did you cope?

2.  What (if anything) was easiest about writing it?  why?  is this something that's  usually easy for you?

3.  What do you think is the strongest part of this essay? where do you come closest to affecting your reader the way you'd like to? what did you do as you were writing to make this part work?

4.  What changes have you already made in the essay from its earlier draft(s)?  what (if anything) did you learn as you were writing/revising? which(if any) of the peer or teacher comments did you find useful as you revised?

5.  Where, if at all, are you still having difficulties?  What other changes or additions might you make if you had an extra week of peace and quiet to work in?  What (if anything) might you do differently on your next essay?

6.  If you have questions for me, or would like me to give you extra feedback on a specific part of this essay, or if there is anything else you'd like to note about the essay or how you came to write it, please ask/explain.





Last updated June 2008. Email Shelley Reid