Advice of a veteran English teacher
Begin by reading "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words" by Paul McHenry Roberts (available through Blackboard).
Your Writing Task:
Choose one (and only one!) of the following
- In the Roberts essay, how did the imaginary
student proceed with writing the essay on college football? Do you
regard the author's description of this hypothetical attempt as
exaggerated, or does it strike you as true to life? How does it
compare with your own attempts at writing essays?
- Do you think the "D" allegedly earned
by the essay on college football is overly harsh or is it deserved?
Justify your answer.
- The author advises that you list the
arguments that come immediately to mind on a topic and then never
use any of them. How do you think the author would reply to the
objection that a student might deeply believe in one of the clichéd
arguments on the list?
- Roberts has taken two risks. One is that
students will misread this as an essay opposing football (it's
not). The other is that they will miss the humor. Write an essay in
which you discuss how this essay is tailored to its target audience.
(Of course, to do this, you will have to figure out who the target
audience is and what kind of writing will appeal to them.)
Hints for Success:
- Your essay will need a thesis and a
structure. It also needs an introduction which makes sense even to a
stranger who has not read the Roberts article. Do not assume that
every possible reader has a copy of his article and of this
- If you are convinced that the Roberts
article is arguing against having a football team, that shows you
have only read the first 872 words of a 5141 word article—and have
missed all the material at the end about how to write a better
paper. Go back and read the rest. Don't stop after you have read
only the first 17%. (Even those first 872 words contained rich hints
that the article isn't just a rant against football. Pay attention
to what you are reading.)
- If you are expecting all college writing to
be as colorless and boring as the instructions for changing your
oil, you need to open your mind to the world of humor and satire.
This article is an excellent example of humorous writing that isn't
exactly belly laughs or obscene jokes, and Roberts did it for a
reason. It really is possible for a smart, well-informed person to
make a joke—don't call him an idiot.
At the top of your paper, indicate which of the four prompts you are responding to. If you just generally chat about (or get angry about) the Roberts article without responding to one of the four prompts above, your paper will not be graded and will be returned with "Is readable but did not respond to the prompt" circled on the grade sheet. (And of course, if you go off to some other topic unrelated to the Roberts article, you will get the same response.)
Length: The equivalent of a three-page paper. A three-page paper should be between 880 and 1060 words long, not counting title, your name, etc.
Format: Standard MLA format. (12-point Times Roman type, double-spaced, 1" margin all around, MLA header.)
Submitting the paper:
- The English Department wants electronic copies of all your essays this semester, so please upload the final product to the drop box in Blackboard. Some students (especially those who use Google
Docs) have trouble figuring out how to do this, so ask if you are uncertain how to proceed!
- If you have any trouble getting the Blackboard upload to work, simply print a copy and bring it to class.
- Evaluating your opening paragraph: Bring in a printed rough draft of your paper Friday, November 3, 2017
- Final copy: Monday, November 6, 2017
This essay is worth 75 points.