HSS 403: Short essay and grading rubric
Due March 21, on a close-reading of one scene/moment from the subject of your final paper.
The main goal with this essay is to show me how closely and inventively you are looking at the material of your final paperâ€”to look at all the details in a given scene/moment/image, and to think about how they interact. You can re-use this material in your final essay, though to make the midterm essay cohere there will be differences between the two: you do want the midterm essay to stand on its own, to make a pointâ€”not just to be an excerpt from a longer paper.
Length depends somewhat on your particular topic and argumentâ€”some scenes will need more space to be adequately explained. Generally speaking, aim for at least four concise, double-spaced pages with a small, confined topic. You can always write more if you find yourself with more to sayâ€”and this is a chance to get feedback on a chunk of your final essay.
Strong essays will be grounded in concrete evidence, good attention to detail, sharp commentary, and extremely concise prose. They need to do a lot, in a small space: you must give the reader a vivid sense of what makes your chosen work distinct and of why itâ€™s interesting. Keep summary to a minimum: focus instead on linguistic or visual details.
For most of you, you should pick one single scene from the material youâ€™re covering in your final essay (use Corriganâ€™s sample essays as a model if youâ€™re writing about film; if youâ€™re writing about something more off-kilter and want advice, let me know). So, if youâ€™re writing about Aparna Nancherlaâ€™s stand-up you would pick one short monologue, to squeeze everything you can out of.
Below are five categories; each will be worth, at most, 20 points, for a possible total of 100 points.
1. Main point: Does the essay make a clearly stated, interesting, and original point?
2. Close reading: Does the author use specific details from the text/film/art they have selected? Do they move beyond just observing to analyze and explain why the comedian might have chosen certain words or images, why they made certain linguistic or stylistic decisions?
3. Organization: Is the essayâ€™s progression meaningful and clear? In other words, has the author developed a way of organizing the paragraphs so as to help orient and persuade the reader?
4. Concision: Is the authorâ€™s writing as efficient as possible? Does the author make each of their sentences add something new and interesting to the paper?
5. Mechanics: Does the author use words, spelling, and punctuation that are appropriate for standard written English? Has the author carefully proofread the essay? Do they cite consistently, thoroughly, and clearly?
I do not care what citation style you useâ€”whatever your own field uses is fine, as long as the reader can go off and find your sources. You probably donâ€™t have to use sources for these short essays at all: it would be better, in such a small space, to stick with the primary text. But if you do use a secondary source, you should make sure that your citation style is consistent, and that the reader has all the info needed to go track down what you quote or refer to.
Again, if you use language or ideas or facts from another person or an online source, give them credit.