Essay Tip Sheet #2

Essay #2: Douglass and Corcoran on Learning to Read

The Writing Assignment

Your task in this paper is to discuss paths to literacy: Frederick Douglass, John Corcoran, and yourself. Find points of comparison and contrast, formulate a thesis, and support your thesis.

Hints for Success

  1. The prompt asks for a comparison/contrast paper, but don't write one of those pointless "many similarities and differences" essays. If you are simply listing their differences without using the information to make you point, you are only filling up space. Douglass was black and Corcoran was white. So what? Douglass lived in Maryland and Corcoran grew up in New Mexico. What difference does that make? Find similarities that you can use to make your point.
  2. This assignment also has elements of a cause/effect essay. What moved Douglass to learn to read? What moved Corcoran? Were there any outside forces or people that helped them on their way? Can there be similar causes in your own academic career?
  3. In the 1800s writers were proud of being able to use high-end rhetoric; nowadays, readers often look down on this skill as being too fancy or proud. Both writers had to speak to their audiences, so the language level differences might not be important to your paper. Do not criticize Douglass because the book he wrote in 1845 does not read like a newspaper article from 2018. The English language changed a lot over 173 years; if Douglass puts commas in places you would not, that is not evidence that he was stupid.
  4. Do not forget the part of this assignment that asks you to apply what you learned to your own academic career. "There is nothing I can learn here" is not an adequate answer—it is lazy and arrogant.

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Revised 12/30/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: