Writing Projects

Purpose:  The reading, discussion, journal and semi-formal writing (blogging) you will be doing inform the  more formal writing projects you will complete. This is a course, ultimately, about the craft of nonfiction, specifically essay writing.  So these projects are, in effect, the “exams.” As a W2 course, I have designed each assignment to make the writing process a more visible and intentional part of the course—for you to engage in the creative process of essaying while you also engage in the critique of the essay as a genre and literary form.

Audience: Essay writing may be personal and even intimate—but it is also in key ways public. In this sense, you will be challenged (as every essayist is) to consider your writing in relation to audience. We will attend to this in class workshop (attend to revision and editing) where I will invite you to give more time to this outside of class.  With the final project, I will also encourage you to take your writing beyond the primary audience of this course (myself and the other students, your blog) and consider working toward publication in one of our campus venues such as The Medium, The Collegian, or The Washington College Review or a publication beyond campus.

Format: For any citations, use MLA format [in-text citation; works cited at end–refer to Purdue OWL]. Each project will be submitted to Canvas as well as posted to your blog. The copy uploaded to Canvas must include each of the following in order for me to read and grade it: [1] at the top (separated from the essay) an Abstract of the essay [answering what’s the argument, what’s working, what else could you/should you do with this?]; [2]  Honor Code Statement at the bottom; [3] proper citation format (including works cited) for all citations. If you forget to include these, your project will be returned for you to include the proper format, and counted as late.

             Abstract: a short paragraph identifying  what the argument is; something in the essay that you feel is strong/effective (what’s working?); something you think you need to improve/develop (what else?); and something further you might do with this essay  should you return to this essay for a larger project or possibly submit it for publication (what’s next?).

           Honor Code statement: I pledge my honor that I have completed this work in accordance with the Honor Code.


Writing Project 1: The Philosophy of the Essay

Topic: Your philosophy of the essay–the philosophy of what an essay is, was, should be.  We have seen that a popular topic for an essay is the philosophy and purpose of essay writing itself. Question: What makes an essay an essay? In other words, What is your definition of what an essay is and should be? How is that informed by what we have read in the course? Imagine that you are Montaigne or Emerson or Lopate or Dillard or Shields  writing your own “Philosophy of the Essay.” Or, like Porter, imagine you are writing a critical introduction to an anthology of essays for use in a course such as this. What’s your philosophy of the essay?

Guidelines and Requirements:

  • 5 pages (double-spaced, normal font and margins; approximately 1000-1250 words). Not an absolute limit: this means (as you revise) an essay considerably shorter or considerably longer may need some further revision.
  • In developing your answer, discuss and evaluate (with direct quotation) at least 2 of the essayists we have studied in Part One–as examples of what an essay is or should be or should do. These quotations could refer to ideas (philosophy) about the essay; they could also point to examples (rhetoric and poetics) that you have in mind for how essays work.
  • To guide your focus on the particular elements of the genre of essay writing we are studying, you are required to use in your discussion at least two keywords identified in class discussions thus far (and/or listed on the course Keywords page) or defined by Porter in his glossary (included with his “History and Poetics of the Essay”). Put this critical terminology to work, to help you elaborate and complicate your critical reading.
  • Your evidence can include critical reflection on your personal experience with the essay. In other words, you can use the personal pronoun. But remember, as with any essay, you are making an argument (not writing your resume); in this case, the argument is for how you think we should understand the essay genre.

W2 Learning Goal Focus: the logic/critical thinking of our writing—effectively presenting and supporting an argument, developing the logic and critical thinking of an essay. This means that your essay should make an argument for your own philosophy of the essay (in relation to philosophies that precede yours), not merely review elements of an essay. Keep in mind as well the dramatic elements of essay thinking, particularly the basis of an essay as some response to a problem, conflict, or exploration of a tension, complication. Consider: what’s a problem or tension in views of the essay that you are responding to in your philosophy of the essay? How might your views and your philosophy be countered by other views–and how would you respond to that counter?

Writing Project 2: The Rhetoric of the Essay

Topic: The Essay as Persuasion–the exposition and structure and support of an essay’s focus and argument in longer form. In Part 2, we consider the essay in longer forms and focus in on the ways the essayist supports and documents and explores her/his focus, makes it compelling, instructs and informs her/his audience. In other words, we give our attention to the essay as rhetorical project and will compare the work of Dillard, Douglass, Kaysen, Savoy. Question: What makes for a compelling or convincing or persuasive essay, particularly in the longer format of a book? If you leave a work such as Teaching a Stone to Talk, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,  Girl, Interrupted, or Trace persuaded by the author’s focus and exploration of the topic (whatever the topic), what makes the essay compelling and informing? If it fails to convince or inform, why is that? In focusing your argument about these two authors and texts, you can organize your response in different ways:  a comparison (how the two are compelling for similar reasons, despite different topics); or a contrast (how the two are compelling for different reasons); or a judgment (how one is more compelling than the other because of the different rhetorical strategies).


  • 5-6 pages (double-spaced, normal font and margins; 1250-1500 words).
  • To support your own argument, you must deal with at least two of the four authors (Dillard, Douglass, Kaysen, Savoy) we have been reading. Close reading is important: direct quotation, effectively woven into your argument and exposition, is expected.
  • To guide your focus on particulars of essay writing we have studied, you must bring into your discussion at least one of  the rhetorical, philosophical, or poetic elements of the essay genre we have explored that are listed on the Keywords page. Use this rhetorical knowledge of the essay to elaborate your argument and organize some of your own thinking and writing.
  • To provide the conflict needed for a good essay, you must engage in counterargument at an effective place in your essay in order to strengthen your own rhetoric.

W2 Learning Goal Focus: the rhetoric and rhetorical knowledge of our writing—effectively organizing and developing and supporting the focus and exposition of your essay, from introduction, through the body of the essay, into the conclusion. We are focusing on how we make our own writing compelling, convincing, informing.

Writing Project 3: The Poetics of the Essay

Topic: The Essay as Entertainment–poetic and creative innovations in contemporary and new media forms of the essay. We have been exploring new forms and experiments in the essay—video, radio, digital, lyrical, documentary. Do these more “creative” and “mediated” versions of essay writing break from the tradition of the essay, or continue it? Is there a different philosophy and rhetoric of the essay at work in this poetics, or a continuation of the old in newer forms? Rather than have you answer this question with regard to one of the mediated texts we have read, I challenge you to make a new media essay (or at least the beginnings of one), paying attention to how that new media essay breaks from and/or continues the essay tradition, giving particular attention to the poetics of the essay (new and old).

Evaluation: This project will count as an expanded blog post–giving you an opportunity to boost your blog grade, while also experimenting with some new media thinking and technology, see if it is something to explore in the final project.


Option 1: Multimedia Essay. Create a video essay, audio essay, photo-essay, hypertext, podcast or any other form of digitally mediated essay. The essay can be on any topic, and need not be complete. For video or audio, aim for 2-3 minutes (the beginnings of what could be a longer essay). For hypertext or photo-essay, aim for several pages.

Option 2: Journalism/Documentary. Create a treatment or plan for a long-form essay (any topic or issue) that might be a documentary film, a podcast, a TED Talk, etc. Your treatment should be at least 2-3 pages, explaining what the essay will explore and how the medium of the essay (film, podcast, presentation) will play a role in its effect.


W2 Learning Goal Focus: Knowledge of Conventions: the poetics/grammar/style of our writing—effectively presenting our essay in the multimedia form of language.

Final Project: Publishing the Essay

Topic: Our culminating project challenges and invites you to put everything together. Develop and prepare for publication a 7-10 page essay [in the case of a video or radio essay: 5-7 minutes]. You have the option to expand upon and substantially revise one of the essays you have begun with a prior writing project, or you begin a new essay with a topic, focus, purpose entirely of your own choosing. Whatever you do, I expect to see (and will be evaluating) your effective integration and ample understanding of the philosophy, rhetoric, and poetics of the essay that we have studied.

Guidelines: 7-10 pages (1500-2250 words). In addition to the final (7-10 page) version of your essay you will submit a 1-2 page Preface that should include the following: [1]discussion of what this project is and how it reflects your learning from the course, with specific reference to at least 2 of the authors and (minimum) 2-3 of our course keywords; [2]identification of a publication that would be suitable for your essay and to which you might submit it with further revision or development.

Writing Intensive Focus: putting it all together—the philosophy, rhetoric, and poetics of thoughtful, compelling, creative essay writing.

Project map:

Step 1: Initial proposal.

A 2 page proposal of your ideas (submitted to Canvas):

  1. Focus–what is your project? What do you have in mind (subject to change) for what this essay will be about (its philosophy), how it will work (rhetorical elements), what it will do (poetics)? In other words, what are you planning to essay.
  2. Mentor: Identify one or two mentors (course authors) for this project, what you might learn from them as essayists (style, how they write, what they write about, how they think); make specific reference to an example from their essaying that will guide your work.
  3. Keywords: Pick 3-5 course keywords that seem at this point most relevant to your project; define them briefly by pointing to an example from one of the texts we have read and/or an element of your project that will demonstrate that keyword.
  4. Further Reading/Research: Do some research relevant to your topic and provide an abstract of one of your further reading texts–what’s in it, what interests you about it for this project, how you might use it or be informed by it?
  5. Sample Paragraph: Try out some of these initial ideas in a paragraph, see where it takes you.
  6. Questions (and some initial answers): What’s working (what do you see as a strength of this project)?: what else do you need to consider, develop, explore, rethink, complicate? What’s next (and what aspects do you need/want some help with)?

Step 2: Presentation of Work in Progress.

You will present to the class, in a 2-3 minute presentation and discussion (think somewhat formal: in front of the class, but not giving a speech), a summary of your proposal and work in progress. This is a chance to share where you are going, also to ask for some collective feedback.

Step 3: Drafting

A draft of your work in progress. Need not be a full draft, yet; should be at least 3 pages, enough to give your readers a sense of where you plan to go. This is something you can also use in conferencing with me.

     Step 4: Publication of your final project.

You will publish your final version of the project on your blog. You will also submit a copy to Canvas. And, in your preface, you will identify a publication venue where you might submit this essay, with some additional development or revision, for publication.


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