Learning Goals

Below are outlined some of the principal writing and analytical skills and essay elements we’ll focus on over the course of the semester. For the sake of convenience, I’ve grouped them into five broad aspects of writing (though some of these elements straddle 2 or more of these groups):

Writing with Purpose

  • Developing an arguable thesis or insight
  • Identifying a focus of analysis
  • Establishing a motive—explaining your purpose in writing by providing a context (by noting what idea or situation you’re responding to) or by identifying the puzzle, problem, or anomaly you will discuss and by implicitly or explicitly articulating the question that it raises
  • Attending to your audience by anticipating readers’ needs—orienting readers who aren't experts on the topic by supplying any background information such readers would need in order to follow the discussion
  • Strategically introducing, concluding, and titling your essay so as to highlight the point you want readers to come away with

Exposition: Presenting and Analyzing Evidence and Examples

  • Understanding what counts as evidence (which varies from discipline to discipline)
  • Vividly describing evidence, examples, context, etc.
  • Framing evidence: introducing quotations and following up with analysis of their meaning and their relevance to your discussion
  • Analyzing evidence/examples: interpreting evidence so as to connect it to the claim you seek to support (i.e. explaining how the evidence supports the claim)
  • Balance concrete and abstract language, specific examples and abstract generalizations or claims


  • Finding: Using the best available research tools to locate high quality materials
  • Evaluating source quality
  • Documenting: Knowing when and how to document the use of sources
  • Paraphrasing: Accurately representing and fully documenting source material
  • Quoting: Judiciously choosing when to quote and smoothly integrating quotations


  • Maintaining focus at the paragraph level—editing for paragraph unity (one main point per ¶)
  • Incorporating a topic sentence to sum up and clarify the main point of a ¶
  • Using transition language to connect one paragraph to the next
  • Differentiating ¶s so as to highlight the forward movement of your thoughts
  • Staying on Topic: Maintaining a consistent and explicit focus, so that each ¶ is clearly connected to the essay’s larger mission

Sentence Style

  • Using strong verbs to express action
  • Highlighting key characters by making them grammatical subjects
  • Reducing wordiness
  • Managing emphasis
  • Attending to word choice