Shaping Information


Oftentimes, essays want to move past the personal, but not lose sight of where information is coming from. In this essay, you'll explore issues that are important to you but that are abstract in nature, such as aspects of your identity, group or cultural dynamics, and other concepts that link people and belief systems together. This essay will rely on your ideas about how you define this concept, how you are connected to your community and world with that definition, how that definition has changed for you, or been challenged by others. In short, this essay will offer a personal definition of an abstract concept, while considering all the complexities with that definition and the other definitions of that concept.


Choose a concept that you care about, are interested in exploring, and that is complex enough to show critical thinking. Think about the concepts explored in the essays we read for class, such as racism, pride, death, science, etc. The authors explore these concepts in specific, real ways, without relying on a lot of abstract language. They get at their definitions or problems they have with the normal presentation of that word.

For your topic, try all the labels of identity we're used to, and explore how you see yourself fitting into, contradicting, or problematizing those labels. For instance, the label feminist brings a lot of stereotypes and history with it. In my essay about feminism, I might explore what it meant to me, how that definition has changed over time for me, but also how the stereotypes don't paint an accurate picture, but did come from somewhere.

Also, think about all the -ism nouns we've got: racism, sexism, etc. Try thinking in terms of areas of our lives: politically, there is conservatism, liberalism, and others; multiculturalism, homelessness, sickness, etc. There are many concepts out there that may seem cut-and-dry on the surface, but really mean something different to everyone.

Then there are all the other abstract nouns out there-pride, risk, honesty, language, etc. Consider all of these for possible topics.


Remember that a thesis is a subject and an assertion about that subject. You've got to have something more specific to say than just "racism is bad." What kind of racism are you talking about? Why are you talking about it? What do you have to say about it in relation to your experiences (whether direct or observational)? In other words, what is your definition of the concept?


Develop your ideas by starting with what you think of this concept right now. Why do you think about it in the way you do? Because of the influence of people around you, because of the way TV shows us this concept, because of a particular experience you had at some point in your life?

This essay can concentrate on an aspect of your identity and how you have come to define yourself in that way, how you also problematize that label (for instance, I consider myself a feminist, but I shave my legs and wear makeup), and how people perceive you in that role. This kind of essay will depend on your personal experiences and on outside references to influences, like movies or tv shows, books, etc. There are larger considerations than just YOU in this essay-like the community around you, the world's perceptions, and how they do and don't agree with your perceptions.

You may also be concentrating on another kind of abstract noun not related to identity. Again, you will want to explore your personal experience with this concept, how you define it, how your definition has changed over time, why this is the way you define it, how you see others defining it, etc.

Since this essay hinges upon your personal experience and observations of the concept, you may want to explore why you believe the definition is what it is. What experiences influenced the way you see this concept? Has your definition ever changed? Because of what? This is where you can start stepping out to observational experience. For instance, I might want to write about how my definition of terrorism has changed because of the way I experienced the Oklahoma City bombing, and how that has its similarities and differences to the September 11th attacks. Remember, you're not doing research on this, so make sure you're only presenting your ideas on it.

Free-writing will help on this essay. You will need to think 'outside the box' on this; it is important to connect to something outside the self on this one. But it is your ideas that are driving this essay forward.

This essay may depend on chronology (how your definition has changed over time) for organization, but it may also depend on how the ideas link together. Outlining both before and after you draft can help you see where ideas need to go. In the event of writing an essay about an aspect of your identity, you may want to organize by your definitions/perceptions followed by the way you see the world seeing this part of you. For instance, in my feminism essay I might offer how I see myself as a feminist, and how I challenge the typical definition of feminist, and then I might describe how I see different definitions come from different communities of people.

Look at our model essays for ideas in organization and in how to support your definition.

Your conclusion should "shed new light" on your subject, without repeating yourself or adding new information.


Remember these things about your drafts:

Grading Criteria/Rubric

Does the essay have a clearly identified focus in the form of thesis?
Does the author offer clear explanation of his/her definition of the concept?
Has the author used detailed, clear evidence and/or example to show the definition?
Does the essay address definitions that come in conflict with his/her own? Does this lead to complicate the concept in an effective and clear way?
Has the author used an appropriate tone (not defensive but exploratory)?
Is the essay well-organized?
Is the essay proofread and clear of editorial errors?

Due dates are detailed on each class calendar.

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