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Definition Essay Essay

Below is the definition essay assignment due on Tuesday, January 15. If you would like a word document that you can save as a separate file, the link can be found here: Definition Essay.

Every word in our language has a meaning; however, not all words or concepts have concretely defined meanings. These are typically what we would refer to as abstract words or concepts. Such abstract words or concepts are often specifically defined in the context of the person using the word, and it is important as a writer to be able to explain to your readers how you are defining these words and concepts to avoid confusion and misunderstanding in your essays. For example, writers have attempted to define the various Constitutional Amendments for their own purposes for decades, and how they interpret these amendments affects our understanding of the position they are taking in their arguments. Also, it is often necessary to define cultural attitudes (what do emo or goth really mean?), religious beliefs (what the Koran teach or why are Passover or Hanukkah important to the Jewish faith), or racial identification (is the correct response Hispanic, Mexican, Latino/Latina, or Mexican-American and how do those outside the race know?). Definition helps explain these words or concepts more clearly.

Sometimes, however, we simply need to define what something is so that the reader understands it the same way we do. This is what your definition essay will do. Just like Sayoh Mansaray’s “The Offbeat Allure of Cult Films,” which you should have read for class, your first assignment will define a particular sub-genre of movie, music, or television program. In other words, you need to choose a sub-genre you find interesting and define it for the reader, using both examples of the sub-genre and sources that will help you define the particular sub-genre you have chosen. In other words, help your readers understand this group in a new and interesting way like Mansaray does.

You are free to choose a genre that interests you, but don’t pick broad genres. This assignment will only work if you narrow your choices to a single, but recognizable sub-genre like Mansaray does. For example, on television, drama is too broad of a category to cover. Cop shows, court room dramas, domestic dramas, and medical shows are all dramas with distinctive features. Therefore, focus on one of these sub-genres of drama rather than drama itself.

Even though medical dramas, like Gray’s Anatomy, House, and Scrubs, all start with a different premise (or distinctive group of characters), they all build on the same basic needs to maintain the medical drama genre: hospital setting, plots centered on patient care, character conflicts based on patient or hospital administration conflicts, and pivotal moments focused on medical trauma, the correct care to provide, or potential death. Therefore, the medical sub-genres can be easily developed and defined by the specific criteria listed above.

The same applies to movies. If you choose to examine movies, something like horror films is too broad. Saw and Nightmare on Elm Street both have the basics of a horror movie, but they are very different genres of horror movie. Nightmare on Elm Street has the supernatural bad guy, the girl who always opens the door, the boy who has to save her, spooky use of music, close ups on disappearing props and closed doors, but it is also both formulaic and campy.

Saw, on the other hand, dwells heavily in a psychological world of pain and torture and draws attention for its particularly graphic images, making it more of a psychological thriller. Yes, Jigsaw is the bad guy, but his way of attacking his victims and the presentation of the horror are dependent on psychological fear not formulaic plots and campiness. These movies are, therefore, very different sub-genres of the horror movie genre, but either sub-genre could be examined for this essay.

Music also has various sub-genres. Yes, there is rock, but there is also Brit rock, grunge rock, and death rock just to name a few. Country music, for example, is often panned because all of its songs seem to focus on the theme of breakups and beer drinking. Yes, there are songs in country music centered on these themes (in fact the sub-genre is beer drinkin’ songs), but there is a lot more to country music than that and many more sub-genres you could focus on. Your job is to examine the genre you choose and define it for us.

In Mansaray’s essay, she defines her sub-genre, cult films, by first establishing a set of criteria, and then providing examples of various movies that illustrate these criteria. You will basically do the same thing for the sub-genre you have chosen. In this case, you must establish at least four criteria. Then support these criteria with at least three specific examples in the genre: examples from three different cop show episodes, three different death rock bands’ songs, three different campy horror movies. You can use present and past examples of the sub-genre, but keep in mind that examples in some sub-genres may have changed over time. In order to build your definition, you need to examine at least six sources.

Three must be sources to help you establish the criteria for the genre; three should be examples of the genre itself. For example, if I am writing about country beer drinkin’ songs, I will use three websites that discuss beer drinkin’ songs or country music genres in general to help me establish my four criteria for beer drinkin’ songs. Then I will use three examples of beer drinkin’ songs such as “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” by George Thorogood, and “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” by Mark Chesnutt, to illustrate my criteria. You can use personal CDs or DVDs, lyric sites, videos, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, or sites dedicated to the shows, movies, or artists you are using as examples.

I have provided you with three sites below to help you choose your sub-genre and begin to establish your criteria (one each on movies, television, and music). You will need to find two more: If you are defining a film genre, you should use AMC Filmsite by Tim Dirks. If you are defining a television genre, you should use The Museum of Broadcast Communications. If you are defining a music genre, you should use All Music by Rovi.

our paper should be 1000-1500 words (4-6 pages). It should be typed, following correct conventions of punctuation, grammar, and MLA format. You must also follow proper citation requirements and include a works cited page. By Tuesday night, January 8, your topic is due to the discussion board for approval. By Wednesday night, January 9, your outline and source list are due. By Thursday night, January 10, your completed draft is due to the
discussion for peer critique, and by Sunday night, January 13, the critique of your partner’s paper must be completed. The completed essay (properly typed, cited, and formatted) is due in class on Tuesday, January 15.

Reading Responses

Below is the reading response assignment you will use the entire class to respond to the readings in this class. There is a reading response due at every class meeting except the day of the final exam. If you would like a word document that you can save as a separate file, the link can be found here: Reading Responses.

Becoming a critical writer means also becoming a critical reader because proficiency in one, typically leads to a proficiency in the other. Critical reading means not just skimming though a text to get the gist of it but actively engaging with the text. To do this, critical readers examine the texts they read by asking questions, evaluating ideas and evidence, and connecting the text to their own experiences. Therefore, you will be asked to actively read several texts from the textbook, summarize each text, evaluate the effectiveness of the writer’s argument, and connect the text to your own understanding of the topic.

The best way to actively read a text is to read the text through once to get a sense of what the writer is arguing, how you feel about his/her position, and how effective you feel the writer was at achieving his/her purpose; then you should read the text again, annotating important points, evidence, and passages that will help you dig deeper into understanding the text, question the writer’s position, and show strength or weakness in the writer’s argument.

Each reading response is THREE paragraphs in length (which is roughly two pages). Each paragraph should be focused on a different skill. The first paragraph should be a complete summary of the text. A summary is a retelling of what the text is about presented in YOUR OWN WORDS. It should NOT contain any passages quoted from or similar to the original text since the paragraph should be in your own words. Because a summary is in your own words, no quotes or phrases from the author should be used. Focus on making the summary a unique retelling that clear overviews the entire text. I recommend you read the text first then write your summary without looking at the text as you write. At the very least, your summary should clearly incorporate the thesis (or main point) of the text, the overall concluding arguments drawn in the text, and all the main points in between that support the text.

The summary typically follows the same organization as the original text does by presenting the points in the order they are made in the original, and because it is intended to highlight or overview the text, it should be shorter than the original text. Your summary should always open with a brief introduction to the text being summarized that includes the title, author, and thesis of the text along with an identification that a summary of this text is to follow , such as “A summary is as follows…,” “in summary,” or “to summarize….” Writing a strong and complete summary shows that you understand the opinions and purpose the writer intended correctly which in turn shows strong comprehension. Many students find it easier to summarize the text when they first outline the text in their own words, but this is not required.

The second paragraph should focus on evaluating each writer’s argument. Look at the purpose, audience, and appeal you believe the author intended and how successfully the author accomplished these things by analyzing (breaking the text down into smaller parts) and evaluating how well you believe each author developed his or her argument. There are several things that you can examine in this paragraph and which you chose will depend entirely in how the author has written his or her essay. Here are some suggestions:

1. You can look at the tone of the argument. Often writers create a persona when they write, so examining the style can help understand why a text is effective or not. Tone can be found in many things: the word choices; the organization; the repetition of ideas or phrases; the use of reoccurring punctuation, such as dashes, colons, or question marks, and the way words are put together. 2. You can look at the style of the text. Some writers are known for their style while others vary their style often, and even though tone is part of the style, a writer takes a particular approach in how he or she tells the story in the text. Style comes through in whether the writer is serious or humorous; whether the writer has chosen to be straight forward by focusing on the facts or poetic and flowing by presenting figurative language that uses metaphors and similes, vivid description, catchy dialogue, and specific word choices that create images around the facts.

3. You can look at the evidence. Examining what the evidence is and where it comes from helps us determine if the writer is trustworthy. Evidence can be found in many things: professional and personal opinion; surveys and studies; statistics; personal experience (the author’s or someone close to them); organizational reports and findings; the facts of the case. You can look at the type of evidence that is being used and determine if the evidence works to build the argument and if it is trustworthy and valid. 4. You can look at what the author focuses on (or more often what the author leaves out). Maybe the author is looking predominately a one side of the argument; maybe the author fails to develop a point to your satisfaction; maybe the author mentions something you think should be given more time in the argument; maybe the author relies too much who he or she is instead of building the argument on fact; or maybe the author doesn’t make his or her point as directly (or maybe more directly) than you think he or she should.

All of these options help to build the way the author chooses to appeal to the reader. We will talk about the three different types of appeals as the semester progresses, but if you can analyze these choices in every text you read, you are well on your way to understanding how appeal works and how writers often use appeals to move their readers in important ways. Regardless of what choices you chose to analyze in each paragraph, you must support your analysis with four specific examples from the text you are writing about. In other words, this paragraph should show that you can analyze the texts and speak with some critical authority about how effective each text is while also being able to show that you understand how the writer’s choices influence the text and its tone and appeal.

Finally, the last paragraph will focus on how you connect to the text you are writing about. This connection to the text will take many different forms depending on your own experience, understanding of the topic, or agreement/disagreement with the argument presented in the text. Typically, responses about the topic first identify what the author has said, and then how your experience or opinion connects to what was said. Responses about the argument also draw conclusions about how effectively each author persuaded the reader to accept his/her position or how accurately and fairly the writer presented his or her information, and your responses should be supported with personal experience and examples from the text. I understand that not all of you will have personal experiences dealing with every topic presented and that not all of you will be informed adequately about every topic to know if the author has presented the topic completely or accurately.

However, I do expect that at this level of college writing, you are able to respond to the text and its topic with some critical opinion based on how you feel about what you’ve read and your own personal experience and analysis. For example, you may not know first-hand about animal cruelty and you may never have experienced it up close in your lifetime thus far, but at this point in your education, you should be able to read an article in a newspaper about a group of people who have been mistreating animals and form an opinion about this topic as a result. You should also be able to read an argument in favor of a particular training technique used on animals and make a determination for yourself if you believe that this technique is animal cruelty and support that with why you believe this based on the argument you have just read and your own opinions.

Also, even if you have no knowledge of the topic before you read a particular text, you should still be able to form an opinion about whether or not you enjoyed reading the text or if you found the text to be effective and why. This is what I mean when I ask you to respond. No, I don’t expect you all to have immediate knowledge about everything, but I do expect you to be able to form a personal and critical opinion about each text you have read. Such critical opinion is what critical writing is all about. Because such critical personal connection is important to critical reading, I will not accept responses that state something like, “I don’t have any opinion on this text” or “I have nothing to respond to in this text.” Every text can be responded to although I do admit that you have to look deeper in some texts than in others.

With the exception of the first reading response, all responses are due as listed on the course schedule at our face-to-face meetings. There will be ten responses in all, and all responses must be TYPED, following correct essay format using MLA style and correct grammatical conventions. All responses must be supported with examples from the text you are writing about, and you should cite ALL of your examples from the texts with a page number from the text directly following the reference whether the examples are quoted, paraphrased, or summarized. Each response is worth 15 points.

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