Essay length: 1,000–1,200 words
Weight: This assignment is worth 15% of your grade.
- Choose one topic from either List A: Personal Essay Topics or List B: Expository Essay Topics.
Note that within List B there are three subcategories: comparison-contrast, classification-division, and directional process.
- Begin your research. You might start with a general Google search and then a Google Scholar search, but you will also need to visit the AU Library databases to find sound academic articles.
When you’re first learning about a topic, Wikipedia might be an appropriate place to start, but always move on from Wikipedia. As an open-source website that anyone—with or without credentials—can contribute to, it is not sufficiently trustworthy for academic purposes. Therefore, do not quote or paraphrase Wikipedia. This is not a source your tutor will want to see on your citation list. Be equally careful of other questionable websites.
- Find two to six reputable secondary sources and review them carefully. At least one of these sources should be a peer-reviewed journal article accessed through the AU Library databases (unless your tutor has agreed to waive this requirement).
Hint: In Part 2, Section 1 of Acting on Words, read the segment “Primary and Secondary Sources” for a sound explanation of these types of sources. That section also provides helpful guidance on getting started with research and locating reputable sources. Your tutor will also be pleased to help.
- Based on the information you found in your research, as well as your own brainstorming, develop a straightforward thesis that is sufficiently limited in scope (meaning that you can do justice to it in a short essay).
- Create a very brief outline of the main points you plan to cover in your essay.
- Before proceeding further, ask your tutor to review your thesis statement and your very brief outline.
- Write the first draft of your essay. Your essay must be approximately 1,000 to 1,200 words in length (about four double-spaced typed pages).
As you write, integrate information from your research. Of the two to six sources you located and reviewed in Step 3, choose at least two (and no more than four) secondary sources to use within your essay, and then add quotations and paraphrases from them. Every time you paraphrase or quote, follow these four steps to cite and integrate the source properly:
- Introduce the source.
- Present the research.
- Credit the source parenthetically.
- In other words, include “quotation sandwiches” and “paraphrase sandwiches” in your essay. Don’t just drop in quotations or paraphrases from sources into your essay. (Some experts call these “hit-and-run quotations,” “dropped quotations,” or “floating quotations.”)
If your essay exceeds the length requirement, it might be returned to you for revision.
- Create a bibliography that lists every source you cited in your essay. (In MLA style, this page is titled “Works Cited,” while in APA style it is titled “References.”) Take this task seriously. We expect you to pay very close attention to detail and follow samples for each entry. We recommend the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) for all citation matters. Remember that your tutor is there for you, so if you have consulted the citation guidelines and still have questions, please ask for help.
Reminder: In ENGL 255, we prefer MLA format and citation style unless you have a specific reason for choosing another style. If you wish to use APA style, please speak with your tutor before proceeding.
- Thinking about your essay-in-progress, review the checklist “15 Common Research Errors in First-Year Papers” in Part 2, Section 10 of AOW, and consider whether your essay requires revision.
Unfortunately, citation generators will not necessarily produce correct results. Thus, we strongly recommend you avoid citation generators of any kind. Be aware that there is a citation generator on the Purdue OWL, but it belongs to an advertiser. If you are inclined to use a citation generator as a first step only, review “Using Citation Generators Responsibly ” on the Purdue OWL.
- Revise and edit your draft. You should have produced and edited at least one preliminary draft before you hand in the final copy.
- Consider using the Write Site’s coaching support . Your ENGL 255 tutor is not expected or encouraged to review your drafts, but reviewing drafts is one of the mandates of the Write Site.
- Review the assignment checklist and answer the questions honestly. Revise your essay further if necessary.
- When you’re ready, upload your assignment through the assignment drop box below, and then click “Submit assignment.”
List A: Personal Essay Topics
Although many of the sample personal essays in Acting on Words seem more like informal stories than essays, for this assignment, we ask that you use an essay structure to tell your story. This structure is described in Chapters 5–7 of AOW. It is essential that you use this assignment as an opportunity to practice your essay-writing skills in preparation for Assignments 5 and 6.
No matter which topic you choose, be certain that you consider your audience before you begin writing. There is little that is worse for readers than slogging through a personal essay that has no apparent purpose or relevance. Readers should be motivated in some capacity by your personal essay. In other words, we all have stories, but if we share them, we have to have a reason (as far as readers are concerned) for doing so. We tell personal stories so others can be encouraged, motivated, comforted, informed, and the like. So, ask yourself the all-important questions, “So what?” and “Who cares?”—and answer honestly. Ask yourself what, beyond sharing your own story, you want readers to know or feel or learn when they read your essay.
- Write a personal narrative essay. Be sure to focus on a single, well defined incident (i.e., with an explicit beginning, middle, and end) from which you learned something about yourself, another person, or life itself. “My life with my alcoholic father,” for example, is too big a subject for a short narrative essay, but “The time my father hit rock bottom” is very likely to be sufficiently limited. Good subjects for personal narrative essays include the following: a move, a death, a milestone birthday, a coming-out story, a significant anniversary, an experience battling racism or sexism, a gender transition, the loss of a prized possession, a moment of triumph or defeat. Your thesis should make a point about what this experience taught you. State this thesis clearly at the end of the introductory paragraph, and focus each body paragraph on one main point (or incident or stage) from the incident that supports the thesis.
- Write a personal descriptive essay about a person, place, or thing. Be sure to establish a clear dominant impression that conveys the point you want to make about your subject; this will serve as your thesis. All the details in your description should fit with this dominant impression. Try to include a broad range of sensory impressions: not just how your subject looks but also how it sounds, feels, smells, moves. State the thesis (the dominant impression) clearly at the end of introductory paragraph, and focus each body paragraph on one point (or characteristic or attribute) of your subject that supports the thesis.
Hint: It’s often easier to establish this dominant impression through contrast: the changes in a place or a person or the difference between what you thought something would be and what it actually was. (See “Two Ways of Seeing a River (PDF)” by Mark Twain for a good example of this approach.)
It’s also often easier to write an effective description of a person by describing a room or a location that you associate with that person. (See “The Boat” by Alistair MacLeod for a good example of this.)
You will probably include some narration in a descriptive essay and some description in a narrative essay. Remember, however, that the descriptive detail in a narrative essay should help you to tell your story, whereas a chronological narrative sequence in a descriptive essay should help your reader to get a picture of what you are describing.
This assignment requires you to incorporate research from at least two sources. You may question the idea of using sources in personal writing, since the personal essay is commonly understood to be informal whereas research methods and documentation techniques are associated with more formal, scholarly styles. Despite this general truth, many personal essays use quotations or paraphrases (or both) from a variety of sources. Some personal essays begin with a reference to another writer’s reported experience; this is a natural way to incorporate a source. Others incorporate small bits of information from reputable sources that add credibility in the form of background, context, or detail. The experience you get with finding and incorporating sources in this assignment will prepare you for the research you will be required to do in Assignment 5.
If you are writing a personal essay, you can use first-person point of view.
B. Expository Essay Topics
Reminder: In a comparison-contrast essay, identify similarities and differences, but establish a thesis that emphasizes either similarities OR differences for a specific purpose. We recommend a point-by-point comparison structure. Watch the video “Comparison / Contrast Essays ” for further explanation of this structure.
- Compare two high-profile professional athletes (or singers or actors).
- In a specific context (e.g., American culture), compare the fashion (or music or film or television) of two distinctly different decades.
- Compare two generations of North Americans (e.g., Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials).
- Compare the New Year celebrations of two very different cultures.
Reminder: In a classification essay, focus on identifying and describing types or categories for a specific purpose—and providing examples of each category or type. Watch the video “Classification Essay or Paragraph ” for an explanation of this style of essay.
- Choose one genre of music (such as jazz, blues, rap, country, or pop). Classify and describe two or three well-recognized sub-genres of this style of music.
- Choose one genre of film (such as thriller, romantic comedy, fantasy, science fiction, spoof, or space movie). Classify and describe two or three well-recognized sub-genres of this type of film.
- Taking either a serious or a humorous approach, choose one of the following subjects, and classify and describe two to four types:
- online daters
- home décor
Reminder: In a directional process (how-to) essay, focus on describing steps or stages in a process, emphasizing the order in which they should occur and a specific purpose for doing so. Watch the video “Process Paragraph and Process Essay ” for an explanation of this style of essay.
If you are writing a directional process essay, you can use second-person point of view.
- Explain how to buy a house, a condo, a car, a computer, etc., focusing on a particular goal such as acquiring a dream home, a well-located condo, a fast gaming computer, or an inexpensive car—or avoiding a “lemon.”
- Explain how to plan a successful vacation of a specific type (e.g., a trekking holiday, a cycling tour, a driving tour, a backpacking trip, a resort holiday, a volunteering vacation, etc.) in a particular country or region (e.g., Western Canada, Continental Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, Argentina, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc.).
- Explain how to improve your skills in a specific sport or hobby (e.g., golf, pottery, photography, painting, quilting, orienteering, baking, etc.). You will find it helpful to narrow the topic further: e.g., “How to improve your golf swing.”
- Explain how to successfully start up a specific type of business (e.g., a craft beer brewery, an Etsy store, etc.).
Checklist for Personal or Expository Research Essay
After you have drafted your essay, use the checklist below to evaluate how well your essay meets the requirements for Assignment 4, and—if necessary—revise your essay before submitting it for marking.
- Did you use MLA or APA guidelines to format your essay? Did you check your formatting against examples on the Purdue OWL?
- Is your thesis stated in the last sentence of the first paragraph?
- Is your thesis statement a direct-list thesis statement (i.e., does it contain an essay map or preview statement, a parallel-structured short list of the main points that will support your claim)? Watch the videos “Writing an Effective Thesis Statement ” and “Thesis Statements: Four Steps to a Great Essay ” for further guidance.
- Did you check that your thesis statement does not contain phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” “This essay will be about…,” or “My essay will explain…”?
- If writing an expository essay, have you used third-person point of view throughout? (Exception: for a directional process essay, you may use second-person point of view.)
- Does each body paragraph have a topic sentence, at least two supporting points, and a non-repetitive closing sentence?
- Did you use a transitional word, phrase, or sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph? Did you use transitional words and phrases as necessary to connect sentences within your paragraphs?
- Did you integrate research from at least two reputable sources into your essay?
- Did you introduce your sources properly? Did you present your sources according to MLA or APA formatting requirements? Did you credit your sources parenthetically? Did you discuss the quotation or paraphrase? (If you don’t understand these questions, please contact your tutor for help.)
- Did you check each use of research to determine whether you integrated it? (Make sure you have done the integration exercise in the Unit 4 lesson).
- Did you make sure that no paragraph (excepting the conclusion) ends with a quotation?
- Does the concluding paragraph reinforce the thesis and the main supporting points (without repeating the main points or the thesis statement word for word)?
- Does each in-text citation properly match the corresponding entry on the Works Cited or References page? Check this very carefully—remember that the first word of the citation must match the first word of the corresponding entry.
- Did you format the in-text and Works Cited or References entries correctly? Did you check each citation against an example from the Purdue OWL or another reputable up-to-date source?
- Did you revise very carefully for grammar and mechanics?
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