Paper Assignments

CRTW 201

Dr. Fike


Paper One: World View and FBIs

Acknowledgement: I have borrowed the term “FBIs” and the general outline of this assignment from Dr. Jo Koster. Grateful thanks also go to Drs. Bird and Macri, who give similar assignments.

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The purpose of CRTW is not to provide you with tools to shore up your preconceptions—to make you more elegantly agile in arguing for what you have always believed because someone told you to believe it. The purpose of CRTW is rather to encourage you to use the elements and the standards of critical thinking to move your thinking toward what Nosich calls “habits of mind” such as humility, courage, empathy, integrity, and fair-mindedness. One way to do that is to examine what underpins—what led up to—your thinking on a particular issue. We are calling these factors “FBIs”: filters, barriers, impediments; but also background stories, contexts, lenses, points of view, reasons, emotions, etc. Call them what you will, but we all believe what we believe because of something or someone. Remember HMXP 102’s point that knowledge is a cultural production? Your first assignment gives you a chance to think about how this principle works in your own case.

Here are two things—a fact and a problem. The fact: As Nosich writes, “We think in terms of concepts, and these inevitably shape our life to a considerable degree. Very often the concepts we think in terms of are ones we accept uncritically” (26). The problem: This assignment is your chance to respond critically to a major part of your world view: the concept of same-sex marriage (SSM) or some other belief that is important to you.


Topic vs. Focused Topic vs. Q @ I

Your topic is this question: What is your opinion on same-sex marriage (or some other issue)? Your focused topic is an example that will help you unify your work. A paper without a focused topic will receive an automatic F. You may not write about SSM in gauzy generalizations. An example in this case is defined as a specific gay person or couple. If you choose another issue, you must have a similarly narrow focused topic.

Alternative: If you prefer, you may write instead about your political ideology, a religious or moral belief, or some other conviction that is very significant to your world view or personal life. Just be sure that you illustrate whatever view you select. Other possible topics include capital punishment, government-run health care, gun control, illegal immigration, or some other issue that looms large in your belief system. If you pick a topic other than SSM, it is a good idea to check with me ahead of time. Two notes: 1) Again, you must have a focused topic, an illustration. Do not write about, say, gun control in general. 2) Abortion is a possible topic, but I would rather have you pick something other than that (reason: you are likely to defend your view, which runs contrary to the nature of the assignment, which is to figure out where it comes from).

Please understand the distinction between area of inquiry, topic, and focused topic. Marriage is an area of inquiry. SSM is a topic. A specific gay couple is a focused topic. Your paper must have a focused topic. If you cannot come up with a focused topic from your own experience, find one in the library or on the Internet. A segment of a news broadcast is a fine focused topic if it features a specific gay or lesbian couple. Just be sure that you summarize the clip properly (clip, not whole television series: say more about less). Obviously, the same imperative applies to written sources. Remember: Any sources that you use need to be cited and listed.

Let us say, then, that SSM is your topic. The paper’s purpose is not to argue for or against it but rather to understand and analyze the origin of your view—that is, where it came from, how it developed, what factors have reinforced it, which FBI most affects it. Here are alternative questions at issue: Why do you believe what you believe about a focused example of a particular topic? How did your view come into existence? How has one particular FBI influenced your view on an issue that is important to you?

For more on focusing your topic, see the technique in WA called “10 on 1.” Say 10 things about 1 thing. The one thing is your FBI as it relates to your focused topic. Remember that you must discuss the focused topic in every paragraph. For example, say 10 things about how religion influenced your view of SSM. Do not write about religion, your parents, your school, your home town, your relatives, and your friends. That is an example of "1 on 10," and it is not what you should be doing.


A No-Thesis Paper

There should be no thesis in your paper. That is because your paper should analyze, not evaluate. This assignment is an exercise in using the elements, not the standards, of critical thinking. There should be no thesis here, and I will evaluate you not on what your position is or on how well you defend it but on how well you explain how you arrived at it. Remember that you should analyze, not evaluate. Do not argue in support of your view. Do not argue against it either. Analyze how you developed your view of SSM. So in your introduction simply state your focused topic and intention in a statement of purpose. For example: I will use [a particular same-sex couple] to analyze how my parents [or my church or some other FBI] influenced my [positive or negative or mixed] view on same-sex marriage. State your intention to explore a question at issue and a focused topic. Do NOT make an evaluative statement (thesis). Nowhere in the paper are you required to justify or evaluate your view, and it is such justification or evaluation that must be in a thesis. But there is to be no thesis in this paper! One more thing: do not use brackets in your statement of purpose; they are in the example to indicate that you must fill in your own specifics.


Connections to Our Readings

You are required to weave at least one quotation from Nosich, chapter 1, into your paper. See especially the section on impediments to critical thinking. Ideally, the quotation will be one that you work with in a substantive manner throughout the paper, not one that you include to fulfill the requirement but do not comment on. In addition, you are required to use all 10 elements of critical thinking (Nosich, chapter 2) in the body of your paper. See figure 2.1 on page 49 as you explore your position on same-sex marriage. Also use the questions on page 68 to help you think through your material. Regarding page 68: Although items 1-10 do not constitute an outline for your paper, they may help you with your prewriting. You must also make a connection to Tompkins’s essay somewhere in the paper. Neither your connection to Nosich nor your connection to Tompkins needs to be in the paper’s statement of purpose. Here are some additional ways to incorporate Nosich:

Regarding Nosich, chapter 1, you must also use the SEE-I as you develop the body of your paper. For a description of SEE-I, see Nosich 30-34. See especially page 32: “Using SEE-I gives you a way to ‘fill up’ those pages—but without just adding filler. With every major point you are making in your paper, you can state it, elaborate on it, give examples, and top it off with an illustration that conveys the point.” You may use SEE-I in various ways.

First, you must have at least one actual SEE-I in your paper. For example, SEE-I may help you structure a paragraph. You may think of the four parts as being parallel to topic sentence, information, commentary, and significance. Here it is again in other words: What is the issue? What are the facts? What do they mean? So what? Second, SEE-I may help you structure large parts of your paper. State: name an FBI. Elaborate: tell your story. Exemplify: reflect on your story. Illustrate: tie things up, especially by making an analogy. However, every paper still needs at least one four-sentence SEE-I. Use the phrases in your book (in other words, for example, it is like). It is also a good idea to provide strong markers such as the following: S: so that your SEE-I is impossible for your professor to miss.

Also have a look at pages 190-95, “Critical Writing: Using the Core Process To Write a Paper.” Here Nosich outlines a series of steps that would be helpful to follow as you develop your paper. There are six steps: three for prewriting, two for writing, and one for revision. This section should cure you of the misconception that you can write your paper in a single stage.


Outline for Your Paper

Your paper should have a brief introduction. By “brief” I do not mean one sentence. The introduction should be a paragraph. More than half a page, however, is not necessary. You may want to look over WA, chapter 16, "Introductions and Conclusions Across the Curriculum" (on reserve at the library). Here is a key point about writing introductions: Do not start with a sentence that is universal. Start instead with a sentence that deals with one of the following things: your view, your focused topic, your FBI, Nosich, or Tompkins. Put your statement of purpose at the end of the paragraph. Remember: In CRTW a paragraph is defined as being at least 5 sentences long.

The body of the paper uses the SEE-I structure and the elements to unpack one of your FBIs. Use the elements to analyze (or as Dr. Koster says, “break down, dissect, scrutinize”) WHY you believe what you believe about your topic/focus. In particular, what filters, barriers, or impediments have affected your view of same-sex marriage? Bear in mind here, guys and gals, that I prefer papers that say more about less rather than less about more (again, see WA, chapter 10: do “10 on 1” rather than “1 on 10”). Write about one FBI, not several. For example, write about your church’s impact on your thinking about SSM; do not write about your church, your family, and your southern heritage all in the same paper. Do not write a 5-paragraph essay.

I require that you use the following outline of subheadings:

More needs to be said about the structure of your paper’s body. It should NOT be a list of impediments (do not say less about more). Nor should it be merely a story from your autobiography (“Here is what happened to me; therefore, I believe in SSM”). Nor should it say, “I believe what I believe because it says so in the Bible—case closed.” Your paper SHOULD be an archeological probing of why you believe what you believe (say more about less). For example, ask yourself why you favor gay marriage (or not). Talk about your answer. Then ask yourself why you think that. Repeat the process (perhaps using SEE-I to structure your development) until you cannot go any further. Note also that a strong concept like liberalism or conservatism may help you a great deal. Organizing this paper around a key concept is a good strategy. What Nosich in chapter 3 calls a “fundamental and powerful concept” may be a great addition to your statement of purpose and a helpful unifier for the body (you could mention it in your topic sentences).

For you people who think that all you have to do is quote scripture and say, “Case closed!”: First, read the piece by Morrow and Tyson in the 8th edition of the HMXP book. Second, if you quote scripture, you must explain WHY you interpret it a certain way. For example, if you quote the statement in Leviticus about killing homosexuals, why do you import that statement into your belief system without the following two things: regard for its original context and actual intention to kill anybody? Also, explain how you can profess a New Testament faith yet harbor an Old Testament ethic.

Lots of students have asked me how to organize/structure the archeology part of your paper. Proceed archeologically in the way that WA 101 suggests. “Like the other heuristics in this toolkit, this last one, ‘Seems to be about X,’ prompts you to move beyond potentially superficial explanations—to go deeper.” This sentence refers to technique #5: “Seems to be about X but could also be (is ‘really’) about Y.” In other words, do the following:

Why do I believe what I believe about SSM?

Here is an example of how you might use this technique in a SSM paper that centers on religion.

The conclusion requires metacognitive reflection (think about your thinking about your thinking). Broaden a little bit. Make an application. Do something with what you have written. For example, if your parents influenced your attitude toward SSM, did they also shape your thinking in other areas? Does their influence affect the way you view other authorities on other subjects? If you view SSM as you do because you do not like to disagree with others, what does that say about your status as a critical thinker? What critical thinking habits of mind (see Nosich 175-76) have you developed? Which ones do you still need to work on? What challenges do you face as you go forward in this course and in your life outside it? Step back and reflect on what your analysis in the body has taught you about your thinking.

Quick summary: You can think of your paper as having three sections: introduction, body (with 3 subsections: information, elements, archeology), and conclusion. However, it is not a good idea to use a 5-paragraph structure. Do not write about 3 FBIs and devote a paragraph to each in the body. It is better to pick one and try to get to the bottom of it. Think of the paper as intellectual archeology. For a caveat against the 5-paragraph essay, see WA, pages 7-8 and 209-11.



Note: Honors students should see the page-length requirements in their syllabus.


Feedback on Paper 1 (Fall 2011)

Here is a list of problems that I encountered as I graded Paper 1 during the fall 2011 semester.

Statement of Purpose: The assignment sheet provides a specific formula for the statement of purpose. By not adhering to it, you risked having unfocused, additively organized papers. If your professor tells you in writing exactly how he wants you to do something, it is a good idea to follow his instructions.

Organization: Rather than doing 10 on 1, you did 1 on 10—that is, said less about more instead of the preferred method, more about less. The result was an organization, both in the overall paper and sometimes within specific paragraphs, that was additive. A paper that flits from one topic to another is a shallow paper. The solution is to refocus and say more about less. You are then more likely to achieve a logical, organic organization, which is highly desirable. Remember: Your focused topic must be present in every paragraph. Also, do not talk about the following influences on your view of SSM: family, geography, media, politics, and religion. Instead, zero in on just one FBI and inquire more deeply into it. If you are tempted to use the 5-paragraph essay structure, be sure to see what WA says about this type of organization. I expect you NOT to write anything that resembles a 5-par. essay.

Use of Nosich and Tompkins: You must actually quote these sources. Once you have done so, it is a great idea to use the SEE-I strategy to develop the point that the writer is making. Almost no one did the works cited list correctly. Some listed Nosich’s book in correct format, but almost no one did Tompkins correctly. Here is how that entry should have looked [the entries have been updated to the 8th edition of the MLA handbook]:

Nosich, Gerald M. Learning to Think Things through: A Guide

    to Critical Thinking across the Curriculum. 4th ed.,

    Pearson Education, 2012.

Here is how you would do an entry for Tompkins’s text:

Tompkins, Jane. “‘Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the

    Problem of History.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for

Writers, edited by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky,

6th ed., Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2002, pp. 718-34.

I suggest that you type these entries into your paper. Better yet, handwrite and then type them. Otherwise, you may have a correct entry, but you still will not know how to do entries for a book and for an anthologized essay. If you just cut and paste them, you will not really learn MLA format.

Note: To avoid extra space between paragraphs or between WC entries, put the curser at the end of the line before the extra space, click the line spacing icon, and click Remove Space. You will probably also have to use this method when you create your header on page 1 and new paragraphs.

Development: Your papers lacked it. Often your strategy was to tell a story about the origin of your view on same-sex marriage. Okay, that is well and good. But you erred in thinking that telling a story about how you arrived at a conclusion on SSM is the same as analyzing your thinking about SSM. The assignment was to do the latter, but often your papers switched topics just when things were getting interesting. Having told your story, you thought that you were done; in my view, however, you had only just begun. Part of the reason for this disconnection is that you failed, almost to a person, to employ the SEE-I structure to develop your paragraphs and the elements to analyze your thinking. For example, I can count the number of analogies in a whole section of papers on one hand. You were supposed to use SEE-I to structure and develop your work as Tompkins does in the paragraph that we examined, and you should have at least begun to use Nosich’s vocabulary (chapter 2), but you did not do so. You must use all 10 elements in your paper.

Overgeneralization: I have stated—and WA backs me up on this—that focus is a crucial part of writing papers in CRTW 201. Yet you still did a couple of things that violated this all-important principle. First, you fell into what I call the Fallacy of All Previous Thought, in which you assume that, in order to open a paper, you must offer up generalizations or some kind of historical sweep. “Since the beginning of time, humans have,” etc. Yuck! That assumption is false. I would much rather have you begin the paper with a sentence about yourself, your focused topic, or one of your textual connections. Second, you used words and phrases like people, some people, most people, all people, other people, and each and every person—all of which are paper jargon, a crutch that is easy to use but deficient in meaning. If you had read my “Forbidden” handout, you might have registered my prohibition against such hollow language and various other things. 

Lower-order Errors: There were many glitches in your prose. Here are the most significant:

Example 1:

 Example 2:

Example 3:


Fall 2012 Feedback