Writing a Real College Essay: Part 1 – The Assignment

in the next few videos I’m going to walk you through the process of writing a real college essay and when I say Weill I mean that it’s an actual essay assignment from an actual college course that is not taught by me and is not one of my classes in fact the assignment was for a communications class at a Canadian Community College program for graphic arts students I have the actual text of the assignment as well as an email exchange between the instructor and a student regarding the assignment topic in this video I’m going to show you the assignment and this exchange because it highlights a lot of the essay writing principles that we’ve been talking about in subsequent videos I’ll take over and walk through the process of researching outlining and writing a complete draft of this essay we have our Scrivener document open with our essay writing template all set up if this is your first exposure to this template I recommend going back and watching the two previous videos in the series that introduced this template now let’s open up the preliminary folder I’ve got a text document called the assignment which has a number of sub documents I’m using this to organize all the information we have about the assignment and any communications we might have about the assignment here’s the opening paragraph under rationale in your academic and professional career sound research and analytical skills will be required regardless of your program of study or employment situation the effective use of the resources available to you will be critical as will the skills involved in expressing your ideas in a clear accurate and organized fashion so this is just trying to explain why essay writing skills might be relevant to students pursuing a career in the visual arts now let’s look at the assignment wording write a four to five page research essay exploring a topic related to the field of animation illustration or design studies focus on a topic on which differing opinions can be held refer to the list of suggested topics for some ideas you must have your topic approved before you begin your goal is to provide your reader with both a general overview and your own informed assessment of the topic or issue so first off we know how long our essays supposed to be four to five pages is anywhere between a thousand and thirteen hundred words if we use the standard convention that a single double-spaced page with one-inch margins and a 12-point font like Times Roman has 250 words on it so in terms of length this is similar to the dream essay that I walked you through in the previous video and second we know that we’re being asked to write an argumentative or persuasive essay even though the assignment doesn’t use this wording explicitly the key is in the instructions to focus on a topic on which differing opinions can be held and to provide your own informed assessment of the topic the essay has to be on an issue on which there is some disagreement and for which reasons can be offered for against a particular stance on the issue and what you’re required to do is present and defend a particular stance on the issue that’s going to be your thesis statement and third we know that we’re gonna need to do some research and cite some sources in the essay since it’s called a research essay and under basic requirements here we’re told that we need a minimum of four significant sources we’re going to have to include copies of these resources in the final draft this reference to the GA s style guide is the term this institution uses for general art style guide there’s a style document that we’ll take a look at later but it’s basically APA style guidelines the APA stands for American Psychological Association if you want to learn more about different citation styles I have a separate unit in this course on how to cite sources and avoid plagiarism where I talk about APA style guidelines so that’s the final product that we need to deliver but this assignment is for a communications class where part of the goal of the class is to help teach students how to approach assignments like this so this assignment includes a lot of what educators like to call scaffolding lots of guidance on intermediate steps that are required to complete the assignment so if you’re in this class you’d be spending a good deal of class time working on the essay this instructor has added some intermediate deadlines that break down the writing process part one involves researching identifying sources and writing a detailed outline and this needs to be submitted three weeks in advance of part two which is the final essay due date now let’s look at what the instructor has included under suggested topics the following suggestions may lead you to an interesting topic for your essay consider doing some preliminary investigation of one of the following ideas and a bunch of ideas are listed below but first notice this line once you have selected a broad subject of interest to you you should begin the process of narrowing the focus to determine your essay topic remember that your topic must be approved by your professor before you proceed with your research so what the student actually has to do first before getting to the outline phase is they need to do some preliminary browsing and select a broad topic area and then specify a narrower issue within that broader topic and submit that to the instructor for approval this is actually a good thing and we’ll see why in a minute now here’s a list of suggested topics and you can see they cover quite a range but they’re all in areas related to art and design in some way you can see how the broad topic narrow topic distinction is being drawn culture and lifestyle is the broad topic graffiti or body art would be the narrower topic influence of Canadian artists is a broad topic the influence of Emily Carr or Robert Bateman would be the narrow topic now let me show you an actual student proposal for their research topic submitted to the instructor for feedback students were asked to identify a broad topic and narrow topic and a working thesis statement the student chose job prospects for fine art students after graduation as the broad topic for the narrowed topic the student wrote how many fine art students actually get work in their field and here’s what they wrote as a working thesis statement find our students often struggle with finding employment in their field immediately after graduating and end up giving up and pursuing something else because they underestimate how much time it takes to become successful and productive in that field students need to realize that learning is a lifelong process and the skills they acquire can be applied to things not immediately evident in traditional University offerings now I said that submitting this kind of proposal for review it’s often a good thing and here’s why if there’s a structural problem with your vision of the essay at this beginning stage it’s much better to catch it now at the outset than to discover it farther down the line after you’ve invested a lot of time on an essay that is structurally unsound so student submits this to the instructor here’s the instructors feedback these statements fine arts students often struggle with finding employment in their field and students need to realize that learning is lifelong process our more factual than arguable in other words I don’t think there is a school of thought that fine art students do not struggle or that students do not need to realize that learning is a lifelong process if you don’t have a point of view to support you don’t have the basis for a persuasive essay now the instructor is using the terms factual and arguable in somewhat odd ways but from a clarification it’s clear what’s intended to call a claim factual is to say that there is general agreement that the claim is true that it’s an agreed fact and by arguable the instructor means that there’s room for disagreement about the claim so the feedback that the instructor is giving this student is that in this proposal they haven’t identified an issue that anyone would disagree with and that this is a problem because an essential feature of a persuasive essay is that you need to identify an issue about which reasonable people might disagree so that there’s a reason for offering arguments in favor of one side or the other the instructor gears one more piece of feedback it’s not clear what you mean by skills they acquire it can be applied to things not immediately evident in traditional university offerings are you saying that the skills learned in the university program are transferable well this would be factual as well so here the instructor is asking the student to clarify this statement and that if all it means is that the skills learned in university programs can be transferred to other kinds of work this is obviously true as well I actually don’t think that this is what the students getting add but the point is that it’s unclear now as a student I might be discouraged to get this kind of feedback but I should also be thankful because it really is helpful and why is it helpful because it’s feedback about a fundamental structural issue not an issue of style not wording or spelling or formatting its feedback about what’s required for any good argumentative or persuasive essay that minimally you need to have something to argue about something to take sides on I know it’s obvious when you put it this way but this example just illustrates that for many students it’s not obvious not unless they’ve done some argumentative writing in the past and are familiar with the conventions of this form of essay writing in the next video I’m going to show you how the essay topic was revised and the results of some preliminary research

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