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Assignment 1 Topic Development

The following activities will help you to explore a possible topic for Assignment 1 as well as conceive a developmental strategy to write it.  However, you are not required to keep the topic you leave with today, even if you've already decided on an assignment topic. This exercise is strictly exploratory.

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In a previous class period, you were asked to write about why one of your own passwords is (or would be) "sacred," and what that means. Taking your inspiration from this, free-write for 10 minutes about what's sacred and/or powerful about your own name. What do you know about the origins of your name? What's interesting about it? How does it bias others about you? How does it influence you? What are your name's good points? What are its drawbacks? If you could change it, would you, and, if so, how would you change it?  

Because your free-writing will neither be read by others nor evaluated by your instructor, it it doesn't have to be well written. In fact, it doesn't even have to be written in English if another English would be easier for you. Regardless, once the timer starts counting down, don't stop to revise or correct your writing. Just keep writing continuously for 10 minutes.

When your instructor asks you to stop writing, review your free-writing for several minutes. Underline or put an asterisk (*) next to the three most interesting details or statements. These should be ideas that stand out because they make you want to follow up with more explanation, illustration, or other interesting ideas. 

I. Topic Assertion

Open to a blank page in your notebook or take out a clean sheet of paper. Drawing from these several most interesting details in your free-writing, take approximately 5 minutes to compose an assertion about your own name and what makes it—or could make it—"powerful." (Don't write in the margin.) You don't have to interpret "powerful" to mean something good if you don't want, but your claim should have the following two halves:

  1. an announcement of your topic: the specific "thing" this essay will be about (not just your name, but an idea about your name); and
  2. your claim of value about it: the general opinion, insight, or interpretation about your topic (and not just an obvious fact). 

Once you have finished, write the phrase "Topic Assertion" beside it, in the left margin.

II. Explain

Skip a line under your Topic Assertion and take 5-10 minutes to explain and/or define it. However, DON'T use any specific examples. (Those will come later.) Just clarify for your readers what you mean by your announced topic and by your claim about it. 

When you're done, write the word "Explanation" in the left margin.

III. Illustrate

Skip a line under the explanation. (When you rewrite this exercise into a working draft of your paragraph, though, there won't be any skipped lines; it will be written as just one continuous paragraph.)

Take a couple of minutes to think of some memorable examples of the idea of your name: where it came from; how it's perceived; how it has been influential to you; how it biases others; how you relate to it; etc. Obviously, in a single paragraph, you won't want to include ALL of these examples, so pick just a couple that are the most interesting or compelling.

Next, look back at your Topic Assertion and your Explanation. What are the key words in your topic point? What specific words or terms did you use in your explanation of your topic point? Underline these. 

Using some of the words you underlined, introduce, detail, and describe at least one example of your topic. Remember, the goal of this paragraph should be to discuss what's sacred or powerful about your own name, so be sure that, whatever you write in this part of the exercise, it connects back to your Topic Assertion using some of the the words you underlined. (If you really can't find the right underlined words to use, then revised your topic point and explanation later to anticipate the example you describe here.)

IV. Interpret

Skip a line and write the word "Interpretation" in the left margin.

It's a common rookie mistake to think that a paragraph should end after the example. In fact, the most important part of an expository paragraph is yet to come: the interpretation. Just as you need a stage of explanation to clarify a topic point, you need a stage of interpretation to clarify the importance of your support. In fact, this is where most of the intellectual work of a paragraph gets done, and where readers are most likely to participate in a discussion of your topic.

Take a minute or two to consider why you feel your name is sacred (or, alternatively, why you feel it is cursed).

Then, write down several sentences that expand on one or more of the questions you might have raised while brainstorming examples. How is your name perceived? How has it influenced you? How are others biased about it? How do you feel about that, for good or for bad? (When you revise this into your working draft, you can, if you want, add or change the questions you answer in this stage of paragraph development.)

V. This Way to the Egress

Whether it's a stand-alone paragraph or just one paragraph in a full essay, it's important to end your paragraph in a way that gives your paragraph's topic a sense of completion. You can accomplish this by repeating the topic point in different words (which is usually boring and expected), or you can end on a dramatic and personal note that shows readers how you, the writer, are invested in your topic.

Skip a line and write "Conclusion" in the left margin. Then, take a few minutes to write down one or two sentences that express how you feel about the importance people put on names, in general. Is it a good thing or bad? Do people place too much value on names? What are some of the advantages or drawbacks to the way we let names influence us? What final word of caution, or final message, can you give to the reader.

(As with other parts of this exercise, you're free to change the strategy of your conclusion and its content when you revise this into a working draft of the assignment.) 

Preparing Your Conference Draft

As you prepare your working draft, remember that this is NOT supposed to be a full essay. It's just one single, continuous paragraph. However, look for ways to repeat the language of the topic assertion to create transitions from one stage of development to another. This creates cohesion. Don't be afraid to reorganize and rewrite sentences within each stage of paragraph development to make the grammar better and to make the sentences "flow" better.

Bring a working draft of your paragraph to your scheduled conference next week. Your conference appointment is available as a secure PDF on the Assignment 1 Resources page.

Note: Your conference draft must be typed and printed. Don't bring a handwritten draft or show me your laptop computer. It's important that I have a hard copy of your draft to write my corrections and comments on. Your draft should be in MLA document format. 

You're encouraged afterward to find a quiet place to sit down and record your notes from our conference meeting. Use this to devise a strategy for revision. (Work that is not revised when submitted on the final due date will be returned to you ungraded.)

As always, feel free to e-mail me with any questions:

Last Updated: 09/05/2017


Karl J Sherlock
English / Creative Writing
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