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Crafting the Essay (NCAA Approved)

Open to: Grades 7 - 12
Prerequisite: Qualifying verbal/reading score
Challenge Level: college freshman
Formats: Email, Web-based (NCAA approved), or Flexi-paced
Recommended School Credit: One-half academic year
Course Length: Session Based: 20 weeks (Fall & Winter); 12 weeks (Early Summer: Email only); 6 weeks (intensive Late Summer: Web-based only); up to 9 months (flexi-paced). Session Dates.
Course Code: CDW3 (web-based, 
NCAA approved), EMA3 (email), EM3F (flexi-paced)

Course Description

This most popular writing course uses the personal essay to explore narration, description, and reflection. Students learn to use vivid descriptions, specific details, figurative language, and variety in sentence structure. Students experiment with techniques for organizing paragraphs, transitioning between ideas, and composing effective beginnings and endings. Voice (consistent diction and psychology) and its interaction with audience and purpose are also examined.

In response to student essays, instructors comment on form, style, and content, generally holding students' work to college-level standards. Critiques explain successes and delineate problems needing further work. Sentence-level issues of grammar are not the main focus of instruction. Rather, instructors help students understand that the conventions of Standard Written English are part of what, for many audiences, marks a careful, learned writer, but that writing is always much more than that. Instructors introduce methods of revision, and several assignments are expected to be intensive revisions of essays previously critiqued.

Students seeking an NCAA approved course should enroll in the web-based format.

NOTE: Crafting the Essay challenges all CTY students in grades 7 thru 12, including those who already receive high marks in English literature or Language Arts classes.

Grammar Note

Skilled, careful writers follow the conventions of Standard Written English, but writing is much more than mere adherence to convention. Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning. Writing courses are not remedial. Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English.

Materials Needed

Students are not required to purchase any additional materials or texts for this course.

Course Details

Formats cover the same concepts, but differ in approach.

We set the schedule

In the email format,

students email finished essays to instructors and receive detailed critiques of those essays. Assignments in this format may be individualized to address a particular student's needs; thus, the assignments may vary by instructor and from student to student.
This format is best for independent, well organized students whose other commitments limit their available time.

The web-based format

provides a process-oriented approach. Students work through lessons and receive instructor feedback on prewriting exercises during the process of writing the essay as well as a detailed critique of the final writing assignment. In addition, students participate in a mandatory online peer review workshop in which they critique each other's writing. In the web-based format, although interaction is frequent, it is not real time. Interaction is conducted asynchronously, not via chat, I.M, or whiteboard. Students can work morning, noon, or night, so long as they meet the deadlines. Students deliver work by uploading it to a private space. They download instructor responses from the same place. Virtual classrooms are provided by a course management system.
This format is best for students who enjoy computer-mediated interaction, relish sharing their writing with an audience, and can commit adequate time to the work (see time commitment, below). Please review system requirements.

Students seeking an NCAA approved course should enroll in the web-based format.

You set the schedule

The flexi-paced format

uses a web-based course management system that delivers assignments, receives finished essays, and returns instructor critiques. Students and instructors use the course management system's messaging module to communicate. Because due date schedules vary by student, peer review workshops are not possible. As with the web-based format, it is not necessary for students and instructors to be online at the same time.

Students start the course on a set date and develop with their instructors a schedule to complete the course within the next nine months. Students submit one assignment at a time, allowing instructors two weeks to review and provide feedback before moving on to the next unit.

Although the flexi-paced format provides considerable flexibility, students must manage their time carefully to avoid rushing at the end of the course.

Integral to all formats is a substantial metacognitive dialogue with the instructor about writing.

Detailed Course Information - Web-based format (NCAA Approved)

Fourteen lessons are available. Ten are used. Each lesson culminates in one of three types of final writing assignments.

  • 4 short pieces (approximately 250 words)
  • 5 essay drafts (500-750 words)
  • 5 revisions (750 words)

Short Pieces (about 250 words)

Lesson 1: Freeing the Writer

Exercises in "thinking outside of the box" help students discover that there are other aspects of language besides the literal meaning of words.

Final Writing Assignment: Experiment with anthropomorphism.

Lesson 2: The Power of Detail

Exercises demonstrating the importance of evocative sensory detail in description, especially details evoking the lesser used senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Final Writing Assignment: Poem focusing on sensory description of a place.

Lesson 4: Elegant Sentences

Exercises demonstrate organic form (the interaction of content and form), the use of descriptive and metaphoric imagery, and appropriate use of diction and syntax.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise 6 sentences to make them elegant, and write a paragraph for each revision explaining the revision choices.

Lesson 7: Creating a Persona

Exercises demonstrate how to recognize a persona's convincing voice and consistent psychology, as well as a method for developing a persona.

Final Writing Assignment: Describe an event in the voice of a persona.

Essay Drafts (500-750 words)

Lesson 3: The Craft of Composing

Exercises demonstrate a composing process, a method for choosing significant actions to include in a narrative, and tricks for avoiding narrative gumption traps (editing traps, nothing to say traps, too much to say traps).

Final Writing Assignment: Narrate in chronological order how you got into the Writing Series.

Lesson 5: Turning Poetry into Prose

Exercises demonstrate freewriting, expanding prewriting through free association, and culling prewriting for significant themes. Develops the poem from Lesson 2 into an essay.

Final Writing Assignment: Write an essay that describes a significant place.

Lesson 9: Reflecting on Research

Exercises demonstrate how to research the meaning of the student's name, how the student's name was chosen, and how others feel about the student's name, as well as how to identify significant aspects of research.

Final Writing Assignment: Combine fact and feeling in a research essay about your name.

Lesson 10: Analyzing Events

Exercises demonstrate the use of cause-and-effect to analyze events, how to avoid the post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, and the difference between cause-and-effect and process analysis.

Final Writing Assignment: Write an essay about a major turning point in your life.

Lesson 14: Writing an Evaluation

Exercises demonstrate how to find and make explicit evaluation standards, how to choose an audience and a persona appropriate for that audience, and how to match evaluation standards of the audience and persona.

Final Writing Assignment: Write an evaluation of this course.

Revisions (750 words)

Lesson 6: Revising for Unity

Exercises demonstrate the use of outlines after the first draft, how to choose a narrative's best starting point, and how to create a catchy title.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise your draft narrative from Lesson 3 beginning either in the middle (in media res) or at the end (framed narrative). Also, comment on the instructor's comments about the outline made after the first draft.

Lesson 8: Polishing Your Prose

Exercises demonstrate the use of figurative language in sentence-level revision, the use of alliteration and consonance in paragraph-level revision, and the use of thematic images to restructure the essay.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise the descriptive essay from Lesson 5.

Lesson 11: Punching Up Your Writing

Exercises demonstrate effective use of sentence fragments, how repetition and parallelism create emphasis, and how to add excitement and action through the judicious use of vivid verbs and dialogue.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise the essay from Lesson 9 about your name, this time using fragments, repetition and parallelism, and vivid action for emphasis.

Lesson 12: Revising: Strategies & Tactics

Exercises demonstrate: checking for unity, coherence, and proportion; dialoguing with the instructor in drama-script format about decisions involving the Lesson 10 draft; using implicit and explicit transitions; omitting needless prepositions.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise the draft of your cause-and-effect your essay from Lesson 10.

Lesson 13: (Re)Shaping Your Writing

Exercises use the Lesson 7 draft to expand a persona scenario, then outline it after the first draft, edit for succinctness, and finally structure the draft for significance, testing for unity, coherence, and proportion.

Final Writing Assignment: Revise the draft of your built-out persona scenario to a narrative.

Lessons Link in the Following Pattern

Lesson 1:
Freeing the Writer

 

Lesson 2:
The Power of Detail

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 5:
Turning Poetry Into Prose

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 8:
Polishing Your Prose

Lesson 3:
The Craft of Composing

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 6:
Revising for Unity

 

Lesson 4:
Elegant Sentences

 

Lesson 7:
Creating a Persona

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 13:
(Re)Shaping Your Writing

 

Lesson 9:
Reflecting on Research

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 11:
Punching Up Your Writing

 

Lesson 10:
Analyzing Events

green arrow pointing right

Lesson 12:
Revising: Strategies & Tactics

 

Lesson 14:
Writing an Evaluation

 

Detailed Course Information- Email & Flexiformats

Assignment

Objectives

Description OR Anthropomorphic Essay

Finding a voice. Basic sentence and paragraphing skills. Essay structure. Concrete detail.

Work in Audience and Purpose

Selecting details and presentation for a reader and purpose. Playing with point of view.

Narrative

Selection and compression to make point. Characterization through story. Fun with perspective.

Work in Example and Illustration

Replacing general words and phrases with concrete counterparts. Selecting brief and extended examples for a point. Playing with verbs.

Revision of Narrative

Working toward conciseness. Learning self-critique, how to write about writing. Innovative introductions and conclusions. Fun with clichés.

Figurative Language

Taking risks in prose and an attempt at a poem. Fun with synesthesia.

Persuasion

Audience and purpose reprised. Getting something done with writing. Playing with style: Invitation to a dreadful event.

Self-Evaluation

Applying standards of excellence. Review and revision over previous papers. Lexomythology.

Essay Exams

General how-to rules. Practicum in taking essay tests.

Final Revision

Combining skills. Graceful use of figures. Refining self-critique.


Read a sample essay and instructor critique - web-based format
Read a sample essay and instructor critique - email format
Read an award-winning essay composed for Crafting the Essay

Time Required

Web-based format (NCAA Approved) 

  • 3 hours weekly for the 20-week sessions (Fall and Winter)
  • 2 hours daily Monday – Friday for the intensive 6-week session (Late Summer)

Email format

  • 2 hours weekly for 20-week sessions (Fall and Winter)
  • 3.5 hours weekly for the 12-week session (Early Summer)

Flexi-paced format

  • 4 hours per assignment, completed within 9 months

 

Summer Session Daily Calendars

Summer Schedules

Up to two weeks of vacation is allowed in the Early Summer Session. No vacations are allowed in the intensive Late Summer Session.

Down to Late Summer Session (6 weeks)

Sample Early Summer Session: June 4 - August 26, 2018 (12 weeks)

DATEDUE
 

Notes:

  • Work is due by end of the day, not start of the day. Students use the due day to complete work due that night.
  • Vacations are allowed (this session only). Students may miss up to two due dates but must negotiate with the instructor which two, if any, at the start of the course.
  • 10 assignments and 12 due dates allows each student to miss 2 due dates or to finish 2 weeks early.
  • When a student takes vacation, the schedule moves to later (#2 is due when #3 was due, #4 is due when #5 was due, etc.). Assignments cannot be moved out of sequence.
  • No textbook purchase is necessary.

Monday, June 4

Course begins
Students download materials from the course access page
Download the first assignment right now

Friday, June 8

Assignment 1 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, June 15

Assignment 2 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, June 22

Assignment 3 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, June 29

Assignment 4 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, July 6

Assignment 5 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, July 13

Assignment 6 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, July 20

Assignment 7 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, July 27

Assignment 8 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, August 3

Assignment 9 e-mailed to instructor

Friday, August 10

Assignment 10 e-mailed to instructor

Most students complete their course here, but those who took vacations may use the missed assignment due dates below to complete by August 26.

Friday, August 17

Makeup Assignment #1

Friday, August 24

Makeup Assignment #2

Sunday, August 26

Course ends
No work accepted after today

2 to 3 weeks after the course ends, students receive:

  • Certificate of Participation
  • Detailed, one-page course completion document

Sample Intensive Late Summer Session: July 2 - August 12, 2018 (6 weeks) Highly Interactive Web-based Format

DATEEVENT
 

NOTES:

  • Work is due by end of the day, not start of the day. Students use the due day to complete work due that night. No textbook purchase is necessary.
  • Vacations are NOT allowed and absences must be negotiated at the start of the course.
  • Eight workshops are required.

Monday, July 2

Course begins
Instructor Email arrives
Students download materials from the course access page
Download first assignment right now.

Tuesday, July 3

Reply to Welcome Thread
Post Personal Objectives for the course

Wednesday, July 4

Lesson 1 C-A-T Exercise Due

Thursday, July 5

Lesson 1 Final Writing Assignment (FWA) Essay Due

Friday, July 6

Lesson 2 Poem Exercise Due
Lesson 2 Object Description Exercise Due
Lesson 1 Essay Workshop Begins

Tuesday, July 10

Lesson 2/5 FWA Essay Due

Wednesday, July 11

Lesson 3 Learning to Lie Exercise Due
Lesson 3
List of Sequences Exercise Due
Lesson 2/5 Essay Workshop Begins

Thursday, July 12

Lesson 1 Essay Workshop Ends

Friday, July 13

Lesson 3 FWA Essay Due

Monday, July 16

Lesson 4 Analysis/Revision Exercises Due
Lesson 3 Essay Workshop Begins

Tuesday, July 17

Lesson 4 FWA Sentence Revision Due

Wednesday, July 18

Lesson 6 Virtual Stroll Due
Lesson 2/5 Essay Workshop Ends

Friday, July 20

Lesson 6 FWA Essay Due, with Virtual Stroll, Part 2 -- respond to instructor's comments with your final decisions

Monday, July 23

Lesson 6 Essay Workshop Begins
Lesson 3 Essay Workshop Ends
Lesson 7 Persona Scenarios Due

Wednesday, July 25

Lesson 7 FWA Essay Due

Thursday, July 26

Lesson 8 Figurative Language Exercise Due
Lesson 7 Essay Workshop Begins

Monday, July 30

Lesson 8 FWA Essay Due
Lesson 6 Essay Workshop Ends

Tuesday, July 31

Lesson 9 rough paragraphs due
Lesson 8 Essay Workshop Begins

Thursday, August 2

Lesson 7 Essay Workshop Ends

Friday, August 3

Lesson 9 FWA Essay Due

Monday, August 6

Lesson 9 Essay Workshop Begins
Lesson 8 Essay Workshop Ends

Tuesday, August 7

Lesson 10 FWA Essay Due

Wednesday, August 8

Lesson 14 Standards Exercise Due
Lesson 10 Essay Workshop Begins

Friday, August 10

Lesson 14 FWA Essay Due

Sunday, August 12

Last day of course!
No work accepted after today!

Lesson 9 Essay Workshop Ends
Lesson 10 Essay Workshop ends

2 to 3 weeks after the course ends, students receive:

  • Certificate of Participation
  • Detailed, one-page course completion document

Sample First Assignment

Demo


Crafting the Essay - web-based format

Students can view the lessons on the web or download and burn CDROM image. You can only view Lesson 1 from via this page.

Follow these simple steps.

STEP 1: Sound or No Sound?


When you click on lesson 1. Freeing the Writer, you will be asked, "Do you want to listen to the voice overs?"

  • Choose "No" and you will not hear sound but can view the text
  • Choose "Yes" and you will hear sound and view the text

STEP 2: Test for Flash plug-in, Launch the Course, & Choose Lesson 1: Freeing the Writer

When you click the link below,

  • We will detect whether you have Flash installed. If you don't, you will see simple instructions for downloading this free, small browser plug-in
  • If you have Flash installed (& you probably do), click on the link labeled Launch JHU Writing Tutorial--Crafting the Essay
  • Only Lesson 1 is viewable. Click on it. You can also explore Before You Begin, Appendix, and Glossary. Lessons 2 - 14 will give you a gray screen.
  • Allow up to 20 seconds of black or blank screen before the lesson begins
  • Click exit to leave the Lesson

View the Demo Lesson

Crafting the Essay - email & flexi-paced format

Welcome!

Congratulations on joining Crafting the Essay. This third level is for students who are at least in 7th grade and have a qualifying SAT/ACT/SCAT Critical Reading/Reading/Verbal score. This course develops clear communication through the familiar, or personal, essay. You explore strategies of narration and description, and you learn the revision process.

When to send your first assignment:

Your assignment must be emailed by midnight of the due date on the schedule your instructor sent in the introductory message.

Choose an Essay

You may write one of two essays for your first assignment. Instructions for writing the essays are below. Please read both sets of instructions carefully. Along with your essay, you are required to send an explanation for your choice. This explanation can be as long as you wish, but no shorter than 100 words. Acceptable explanations can range from why one essay seemed easier than the other to why one essay seemed more interesting to write than the other. We encourage strong opinions tactfully expressed.

ESSAY CHOICE ONE

BECOMING FUNCTIONALLY UNFIXED

You're probably asking yourself--what does this heading mean? What is functional fixedness?

Borrowed from psychology, functional fixedness is a term that describes our patterns of perception. These patterns are functional because they help us perform life's simple jobs. Because these patterns help us function smoothly, we use them repeatedly until they become a habit that is fixed.

Here is an example: You probably have a morning routine. You wake up, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your face, put on your robe, and go to the kitchen to eat breakfast. Whatever your routine is, you more than likely perform the same simple tasks in the same sequence every morning. You're functionally fixed in a pattern that helps you get through the morning without too much thought. After all, you're still a little sleepy--you don't want to have to think about what you're doing every morning.

But, sometimes that morning routine changes. When you go on vacation or if you go away to camp, you might discover that it takes a couple of days to adapt to the new way of getting up. You're functionally fixed! You need to get unfixed.

We are also functionally fixed about the way we use language. For example, when you see

CAT

you probably think of the furry, four-footed mammals kept as pets (Felis domesticus). That is because, in your daily life, most people who see CAT usually think "pet cat." But, in other peoples' daily lives, CAT might not mean that.

  • Circus folks and zookeepers probably think of lions, tigers, and leopards.
  • Sailors might think of a catamaran sailboat
  • Road builders might think of a Caterpillar tractor
  • Medical people might think of Computerized Axial Tomography (a CAT scan).

For each of these groups, CAT has become a different functionally fixed perception.

Depending on our perspectives and backgrounds, we can become functionally fixed in differing ways. Functional fixedness can become a habit or rut. Habits can be helpful, but they can also prevent us from seeing other possibilities.

Writers need to see beyond the familiar meanings of words, to think about language in new ways. When we are functionally fixed, we use language as if it only has meaning. But meaning is just the component we use most often. Becoming functionally unfixed about language is the first step in learning to write well.

Now, be functionally unfixed by taking this short quiz. Pick the ONE correct answer. Do not choose the ONE correct answer until you have seen all the choices.

CAT is:

  1. A word in the English language
  2. A word denoting the furry, four-footed mammals kept as pets (Felis domesticus) and its larger relatives
  3. A word denoting the abbreviation for catamaran sailboat
  4. A word denoting the name for Caterpillar® tractor
  5. Three letters of the alphabet
  6. A word representing a series of phonemes (sounds that are the smallest unit of speech)
  7. A word representing a series of phonemes used to denote the furry, four footed mammals kept as pets (Felis domesticus) and its larger relatives; and the abbreviation for catamaran sailboat; and a brand name of tractor; and -- you get the idea
  8. A set of curves and lines
  9. Pixels on a monitor screen
  10. All of the above and more

Hold this page up to a mirror to read the one, correct answer.

Answer

If you chose 10, you chose the one, correct answer, which is that there isn't one, correct answer.

MEANING AND FORM

Meaning, also called content, is only one component of language. The other component is form. What is form? Simply put, form is every aspect of language except meaning. Let me show you the difference between form and meaning.

Here are two passages with the same meaning.

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (King James Version of the Bible):

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

George Orwell's parody:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

What is different between the Ecclesiastes and Orwell passages? Which do you prefer? Most people will choose Ecclesiastes. They find it more pleasing because of its form. Everything from diction to syntax to figurative language distinguishes the fine prose of Ecclesiastes from Orwell's parody. (By the way, if you don't recognize words such as "diction" and "syntax," think of this as an opportunity to look them up in your dictionary.)

To get the one, correct answer to the CAT quiz, you have to be functionally unfixed enough to recognize that language is more than meaning. You have to recognize form, even if you don't know its name.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Playing with Language/Committing an Act of Anthropomorphism

Becoming functionally unfixed about language is the first step in learning to write well. When you are functionally unfixed, you are able to play with words and structure, to experiment with voice and style, to surprise yourself and your reader. Now let's see if you are able to free yourself from conventional notions about ways to use language.

Children are frequently very good at thinking in unconventional ways. You may remember assigning human characteristics to non-human objects when you were younger. For example, your stuffed animals may have had human emotions. And Jonny 2 x 4's best friend on the cartoon show Ed Edd N Eddy, is a board named Plank, with whom Jonny has frequent conversations. When we do this in writing it is called anthropomorphism.

Instructions:
  • For your first writing assignment, experiment with anthropomorphism. Choose an inanimate object in your room or house. Pretend you are this object and write from that object's [first person] point of view.
  • There is no maximum length required. Write as much as you want, but instructors usually expect essays to have a minimum length of about 500 words, or about 2 printed, double-spaced pages. Have fun with language.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Choose an object you are familiar with--your favorite chair, an earring, the mouse to your computer, a book on your nightstand.
  • Think about the object's function. Is it decorative? Practical? Entertaining? Necessary?
  • Decide on your object's personality traits. For example, does your mouse like being pawed by you all the time?
  • When writing in the first person, you're expected to use first-person pronouns (I, me, mine, and so forth).
  • You may wish to assign a gender to your object (but that's not required). In fact there are few requirements for this assignment -- and you've now read all of them.

Send or post to your instructor as one file, according to schedule:

  1. Your anthropomorphism essay.
  2. An explanation of why you chose to write this essay.

Do your best and enjoy this challenge. Your instructor is looking forward to the results.

ESSAY CHOICE TWO

WRITE:

An essay describing your most comfortable place. Since your readers do not know you and cannot see the place, you must emphasize the details that make it the most comfortable place for you.

There is no maximum length required. Write as much as you want, but instructors usually expect essays to have a minimum length of about 500 words, or about 2 printed, double-spaced pages.

When to send your first assignment:

Your assignment must be sent/posted by the due date specified in the introductory email.

What is an Essay?

Arnold Lazarus and H. Wendell Smith, writing in A Glossary of Literature and Composition (1983, Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English), define an essay as follows:

From the French essai, literally "attempt." Brief non-fiction reflections in prose. . . . As distinguished from the article or feature story, both of which, however informal, are devoted mostly to informing, the essay (also known as familiar essay and personal essay) is devoted to entertaining, or reflecting, or inspiring. It tends to be relaxed and philosophic, or witty, or poetic, or all of these at once. . . . The style of an essay is both informal and urbane--the voice of a civilized speaker in conversation with a civilized audience. . . .
In writing an essay, no matter how commonplace the topic, the writer strives for unusual treatment. An anecdote or a personal experience ("narrative hook") or an appropriate quotation may introduce feelings and opinions that are further illuminated and supported with appropriate examples. Above all, the reader is led to discover the main drift, attitude, theme. To qualify as an essay, in fact, the piece of writing must make a point expressly or by implication (109).

The English word assay also comes from the French essai. To assay is to "try" or to "weigh," as in assaying the contents of ore for gold. We might say that, in an essay, you are trying out ideas, weighing thoughts, with the intention of discovering which are most valuable, or useful, or important.

You present these thoughts in a familiar tone. There is no need to write "one" in place of "I." Writing is a bit like speaking to yourself, and you aren't likely to say to yourself, "One likes to write." However, essays are usually written for an audience larger than yourself. Since you do not know your instructor, you must assume your instructor fits Lazarus and Smith's description: "civilized." Civilized does not mean prissy, snobbish or unctuously suave. Civilized means someone who is well-read, urbane, knowledgeable about many subjects, and interested in what you have to say.

Civilized as instructors may be, they are not perfect people. Your instructor is likely to have fallen out of a tree (at least once) and burned the popcorn (several times). Because your instructor was once a beginning writer, you can be sure that your instructor has written imperfect prose (many times). When we attempt something, we do not always succeed, especially on the first few tries. Your instructor will be sympathetic to your efforts. Your instructor will comment on successes and suggest how to improve other areas.

You may be wondering what your instructor wants in the way of description. Most of the advice that follows was composed by writing instructor Greg Seagle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

How Do I Use Description?

The first rule in using effective descriptive detail is that there are no rules. If you can do something that's never been done before, and it works, the literary world will be your oyster (if not now, then maybe one or two hundred years after your death). There are, however, some favorably tested formulae for effective prose description.

  1. Don't merely tell us something, show us. "It was a hot day" may occasionally move us as terrific understatement or be useful in varying sentence length, but it's narration, not description. If you show us sweat, cracking sidewalks, that sort of thing, we'll see what you mean. Show, don't tell.
  2. Use specific, concrete images. "a snub-nosed motorboat" describes more precisely than "a little boat."
  3. Use the best nouns and verbs you can get your hands on. By best we mean not biggest, but most accurate. Precise nouns and verbs help you avoid stacks of adjectives and adverbs that weigh prose down. F. Scott Fitzgerald has his "snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore." "Bumped" is wonderfully concise; you could probably describe that action in twenty or thirty words, but Fitzgerald's seven words use the force of economy to create a concrete image.
  4. Select the few best details to describe what you want to describe. Art is not exhaustive -- Picasso drew a better boy in seven lines, perhaps, than he could have in thirty. The properly placed spider web may give us a better feel for a room than a minute description of floor and ceiling tiles. Imply a scene for your reader; don't map it inch-by-inch.
  5. Appeal to more than one sense. Usually, we give ample visual details of a scene or setting; sometimes we ignore aural, tactile, and other sensory details. For example, we can all see a "sky blue carpet," but look what happens when you add "that itches when I stretch out on it." Artistic selection is still called for: don't feel compelled to include at least one detail for each sense. For instance, you may want to emphasize one or another sense, or to avoid one strictly. Still, in general, appeal to more than one sense -- your descriptive picture will take on greater verisimilitude.
  6. Use sharp metaphors and similes, and use them judiciously. Fitzgerald describes curtains in a room blown "in at one end and out the other like pale flags," and he has them twist up "toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling." With some wonderful images -- precise and sharp -- he helps us visualize the scene vividly. That "frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling" is the properly placed spider web that keeps us from counting convolutions in the cornice-work. Still, don't get carried away in your metaphor-making. Metaphors ask your readers to compare one thing with another -- this is pleasing, to a point. Metaphors stacked on metaphors make readers work too hard; they might get lost, might lose the thread of your narrative.
  7. Don't wander off into descriptive limbo. If you're telling a story, readers don't want to lose sight of the story line. Keep your descriptions relevant to all your other literary purposes in a particular essay or story (theme and character development, for instance).
What Does Comfortable Mean?

Comfort to one person is agony to another. Hemingway wrote standing up, with his typewriter atop a bookcase. Proust wrote in bed. Some people get backaches from a too soft mattress, others from a too firm mattress. Some city dwellers need sirens and car engines to go to sleep. Some people can only sleep with the light on. Some people are allergic to wool; other people are allergic to man-made fibers. Obviously, your essay needs to show what "comfortable" means to you.

And physical comfort isn't the only kind. We speak of people who are comfortable with calculus, comfortable amid chaos, comfortable with themselves, and comfortable with their earnings. Your essay may want to discuss non-physical forms of comfort.

Thus, your essay is an attempt both to discover what comfort means for you and to communicate your discovery to the reader. This dual purpose might suggest that you write more than one draft of the essay.

What Is Revision?

In general, instructors expect you to write at least one draft and make significant changes to it before mailing the essay. Some instructors ask to see your earlier drafts, and others do not.

When writing a first draft, don't worry much about such niceties as spelling, punctuation, and subject-verb agreement. You'll clean those up later. The first draft is for discovering what you have to say: it doesn't matter how you say it, whether you say it perfectly, or if you say too much. The idea is to get lots of thoughts on paper. Author Annie Dillard claims, "It doesn't hurt much to babble in a first draft, so long as you have the sense to cut out irrelevancies later."

Revision happens after the first draft. Revision is the act of re-seeing, of perfecting your language and ideas. Painters will go through a series of sketches to get to the final vision they want on the canvas. The same is true for writers. With each draft or revision, the writing moves closer to a final vision. Many writers save grammatical and spelling corrections for the last draft.

In College Writing: A Personal Approach to Academic Writing (1991, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook), Toby Fulwiler provides two easily applied revision techniques.

  1. I read aloud to myself and listen for the places where the language sounds thick. (In the previous sentence, the first version read like this: "I read out loud to myself and am able to hear when a sentence is not economical." I didn't like the rhythm or precision and so recast it.) (127)
  2. In the following case, too many prepositional phrases slow down the reader:
    The success of a company can be attributed to the market analysis of the executives of the company.
    To rewrite this sentence I would go after the three "of" constructions . . .
    The company's success can be attributed to its executives' market analysis (128).

How much revision is "reasonable"? Those who seldom revise should do one more than they want to. Those who always revise may do one less. You know which you are.

In a perfect world, we would revise until the essay was perfect. Walt Whitman revised his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, ten times. But in the real world, we must stop revising when the assignment is due. To do well then, you should start writing when you get the assignment, not the night before it is due. (Instructors usually recognize rush jobs, though they don't always say so.)

Send to your instructor according to schedule:

  1. Your comfortable space essay.
  2. An explanation of why you chose to write this essay.

Do your best and enjoy this challenge. Your instructor is looking forward to the results.

Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.

 

This course requires that the student use a web browser with the Adobe Flash plugin. Note that many tablets and handhelds (particularly the iPad) do not support Flash and cannot view the lessons.

 

 

Reviews

  • "I have never been very confident about my writing and it always seemed like a very big burden to me. After going through this course though, I learned to enjoy the writing process, and I am much more confident about showing others my narratives. My teacher was amazing; she gave me tips and feedback that I would never have gotten in a school setting. Every assignment was original, with a unique prompt that made the writing even more enjoyable. I admit that I was slightly upset as I submitted my last assignment; I had been exposed to such fantastic techniques throughout my journey, and now that I had reached the final destination, I wish the journey were longer. . . ."

 

  • "I took the course by email, and it was fine because I did that for Writing Series Level 1 and 2. Ms. W was an awesome instructor and I really appreciate how she explained to me bit by bit how to become a better writer.

    "First of all, the class assignments really allowed me to become 'functionally unfixed.' Unlike most other coursework, these assignments weren't restricted by regulations. Instead, they triggered a creativity flow in my mind that empowered me to enhance my writing skills.

    "However, the assignments would have been pointless had it not been for the constructive teacher/peer feedback. I definitely appreciated the detailed and extensive teacher feedback, especially since the teacher was an experienced individual. On the other hand, the peer feedback remained relaxed and slightly constrained, an appropriate approach to commenting on fellow classmates' work. In the end, both styles allowed me to view my essays from totally different perspectives.

    "Hence, every hour I dedicated to writing and comprehending the basics of 'crafting the essay' was time well spent. By establishing goals, completing assignments, and posting/receiving feedback, I was enabled to adopt a higher writing standard."

 

  • "This was my second Writing course from CTY, and I couldn't have asked for a better instructor. Mr. M gave incredibly detailed feedback on each essay, and provided support throughout the course. His comments were very constructive, and he always began and ended his feedback with positive comments. This aspect of his response allowed me to feel confident and prepared to tackle the next paper, and his criticisms helped me improve my writing greatly. The class discussions were very informative, regardless of whether or not my essay was chosen, because reading the writing of others always helped me improve my own. His structure provided us with the ability to build upon what we had previously learned, but the variety of topics and styles permitted us to explore and enjoy the process of Crafting an Essay."

 

  • "My instructor gave me very useful feedback. I will use her feedback for writing in the future. The subjects given were a good variety and opened my mind to different situations. Overall, this course improved my writing tremendously."

 

  • "My instructor was amazing! She was acted like the real live person that she was, she was really sweet and she cared. I really liked having her. <3 <3 <3 "

 

  • "Not much tech-savvy needed."

 

  • "This course was very helpful to my education. I enjoyed the class most of the time--the only exceptions I remember as being up late at night working on my assignment, but that doesn't describe the class. What does describe the class is wonderful, interesting, and enjoyable. I liked looking at and commenting on the work of my peers."

 

  • "Teacher was very quick and engaging. Took time to look at my child's writing."

 

  • "Ms. W was a fabulous instructor. I have nominated her as an outstanding teacher."

 

  • "[Instructor's name] inspired our son to write better and gave him the confidence and tools to tackle new writing assignments for this new school year. M's 9th grade English teacher from high school last year made M believe that he couldn't write well, and as a result he dreaded all writing assignments. He now approaches writing assignments with confidence and was wondering whether Ms. D will be teaching any classes next summer. High praise indeed from a student who was dreading taking a writing course over the summer!"

 

  • "The instructor was very helpful. Re-writing some assignments is a great way for my son to learn how to become a better writer. I will definitely consider the next writing course for him."

 

  • "I am pleased with both the content and developmental aspects of the course for my son. He was not only challenged by the material and the instructor, but also with time management."

 

  • "Ms. W was excellent for my son. She gave some very good criticism in a positive way that made it easy for my son to accept and later utilize. Thank you!"

 

  • "A's teacher is very encouraging, my daughter has enjoyed the course very much, and we have noticed her progress in writing."

 

  • "Mr. L provided very thoughtful, comprehensive guidance and feedback to M which enabled her to pursue the course with enthusiasm."

 

  • "We were pleasantly surprised at how well the web-based environment worked. Also very happy with how the teacher address students as prospective writers and in a positive spirit always challenged them/opened unseen doors for improvement."