Response Paper Guidelines

Assignment #1

Response Paper Guidelines

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1. Each paper must be typed and printed, and at least 500 words and no longer than 750 words (about 2 – 3 double-spaced pages). Use 1 inch margins. Submit on time or points will be taken off (see syllabus for more information).

2. Use appropriate spelling, grammar and punctuation. Make sure to use the spell and grammar check functions in your word processor before submitting your paper to me! Even better, proofread your essay for clarity and style. Good writing requires revision! Try reading the paper out loud to yourself to revise before submission; sometimes it’s easier to hear when sentences or phrases don’t sound right than to see it while reading.

3. Each response essay needs a thesis. For the reading response essays, simply respond to a question that I have given you and your answer to the question will be your thesis. Always include your thesis in the first paragraph.

4. Use specific evidence or examples from the assigned readings to support your thesis. Put your ideas first in these papers and defend your analysis and interpretation of the readings with specific examples from the readings.

5. Rather than only quoting from the readings, try to paraphrase information to support your thesis. However, when you use quotes, use SHORT quotes from the reading to support your thesis. Avoid block quotes of more than 2 lines.

6. Whether you quote or paraphrase information from the assigned readings, to get a passing grade on these assignments, the paper MUST include citations in MLA format. 

In-text citations: MLA

MLA format follows the author-page method of in-text citation. This means that the author’s last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in the text. The author’s name may appear either in the sentence itself or in parentheses following the quotation or paraphrase, but the page number(s) should always appear in the parentheses, not in the text of your sentence.

• Example 1: Wordsworth stated that Romantic poetry was marked by a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (263).

• Example 2: Romantic poetry is characterized by the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (Wordsworth 263).

• Example 3: Wordsworth extensively explored the role of emotion in the creative process (263).

The citations in the examples above, (263) and (Wordsworth 263), tell readers that the information in the sentence can be located on page 263 of a work by an author named Wordsworth.

For more information on MLA citations, check out this website.

Additional Writing Tips for the Response Essays:

• Avoid “I think”, “I believe” or “In my opinion”, just state what you think is your thesis and then defend it with examples/evidence from the reading or from other sources of personal experience or what you have learned in other classes   

a) For example, AVOID: “I believe that Pocahontas was not in love with John Smith.” 

b) Instead, TRY: “Pocahontas was not in love with John Smith because it was more likely a ritual display by Powhatan’s daughter to incorporate John Smith and the English as one more tribe in the Powhatan confederacy.”

• I absolutely encourage you to develop your own ideas and to take a different viewpoint than what is presented in the readings or in my lectures. However, regardless of your viewpoint, defend your ideas with specific evidence.

• Do not end paragraphs with quotes. Don’t let quotes speak for themselves. Anytime you have a quote, make to sure to introduce the quote and to explain it in your own words after the quote.

Writing a Thesis in a History Paper

This text is taken from: Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History

Developing a thesis

A history paper, like many other kinds of academic writing, usually takes the form of an argument in support of a thesis — a statement that reflects the conclusion you have reached about your topic after a careful analysis of the sources.

Since the thesis is the central idea that drives a history essay, it is important that you understand exactly what a thesis is. Imagine that you have been given the following essay assignment.

Discuss the Role of nonviolent resistance in the Indian independence movement.

As you develop your thesis statement, keep the following in mind.

What a thesis is not:

• A thesis is not a description of your paper topic. Although your reader should not have to guess what your paper is about, the thesis must do more than announce your subject or the purpose for which you are writing. “This paper is

about the role of nonviolent resistance in the Indian independence movement” is not a thesis statement; nor is “The purpose of this paper is to describe the methods Mohandas Gandhi used to gain India’s independence from Great Britain.” These sentences merely restate the assigned topic.

• A thesis is not a question. Although historians always ask questions as they read (see 3a for advice on active reading) and a thesis statement arises from the historian’s attempt to answer a question, a question is not, in itself, a thesis. “Why were Mohandas Gandhi’s methods successful in the movement to achieve India’s independence from Great Britain?” is a valid historical question, but it is not a thesis statement.

• A thesis is not a statement of fact. While historians deal in factual information about the past, a fact, however interesting, is simply a piece of data. The statement “Mohandas Gandhi led the movement for India’s independence from Britain” is not a thesis.

• A thesis is not a statement of opinion. Although a thesis statement must reflect what you have concluded, it cannot be a simple statement of belief or preference. The assertion “Mohandas Gan-dhi is my favorite political leader of the twentieth century” does not constitute a thesis.

In short, a thesis is not a description of your paper topic, a question, a statement of fact, or a statement of opinion, although it is sometimes confused with all of the above. Rather, a thesis is a statement that reflects what you have concluded about the topic of your paper, based on a critical analysis and interpretation of the source materials you have examined.

For the assignment given above, the following sentence is an acceptable thesis.

From the moment that Mohandas Gandhi decided to respond to force with acts of civil disobedience, British rule of India was doomed; his indictment of British colonial policy in the court of public opinion did far more damage to the British military than any weapon could.

You should note three things about this statement.

What a Thesis is:

• First, while the thesis is not itself a question, it is an answer to a question — in this case, the question posed above: “Why were Mohandas Gandhi’s methods successful in the movement to achieve India’s independence from Great Britain?” A thesis usually arises from the questions you pose of the text or texts as you engage in active reading.

• Second, the thesis is specific. In attempting to answer the historical question raised above, the writer did not make a broad generalization like “Gandhi was successful because people thought he was a good person” or “Gandhi succeeded because the British were treating the Indians badly.” Rather, the thesis makes a specific claim: that the contrast between Gandhi’s use of civil disobedience and the use of force by the British had a significant impact on public opinion.

• Third, a thesis is always a debatable point, a conclusion with which a thoughtful reader might disagree. In other words, the thesis makes an assertion or a claim that sets up an argument. It is the writer’s job, in the body of a paper, to provide an argument based on evidence that shows his or her reasons for reaching a particular conclusion and that will convince the reader that his or her thesis is a valid one.

The thesis, then, is the heart of your paper. It presents what you have concluded about the topic under discussion and provides the focal point for the rest of the essay.

Constructing an argument

One reason you might find it difficult to develop a thesis statement is that you feel hesitant to come to independent conclusions about the meaning and significance of the materials you are working with. After all, what if your interpretation is wrong? It often seems safer just to reiterate the topic, or ask a question, or state a fact with which no one could argue. But, as noted in 4c, to write an effective history paper, you must be willing to reach a conclusion about your subject that could be challenged or debated by an intelligent reader. While this may seem intimidating, keep in mind that historical issues are seldom clear-cut and that professional historians, working from the same sources, often disagree with one another or form different interpretations. It is unlikely that there is only one correct point of view concerning the topic you have been assigned or only one correct interpretation of the sources you are examining. You do not need to convince your readers that your thesis or argument represents the only possible interpretation of the evidence. You do, however, need to convince them that your interpretation is valid. You will be able to do this only if you have provided concrete evidence from reliable sources in support of your argument and have responded honestly to opposing positions.

Tips for Writing Paragraphs in History Papers

Constructing Good Paragraphs in History Writing

A basic paragraph structure that works well in historical writing goes as follows:

• Sentence 1) topic/thesis sentence • Sentence 2) points of evidence/examples from readings that support the thesis of

main point  of the paragraph • Sentence 3-100) additional points of evidence/examples from readings that support

the thesis of main point  of the paragraph • The last sentence) of each paragraph should be a conclusion sentence and/or sets

up a transition to the next paragraph FOR EXAMPLE: The textbook by Nash is often written in this way. (You can use the textbook as a model if that helps)

Then, Read:

1. Davidson and Lytle, “The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Salem”(I have attached this reading materials)

Then, write a paper which responds to one of the following prompts (Focus your paper on answering one of the prompts. Do not answer all of the prompts):

1. Which interpretation of Salem did you find the most convincing and why? Make sure to explain why you found some reasons more convincing than others.

2. Early in the reading, the authors talk about choosing the scale/scope of a project. Why is it important to consider scale in historical investigation?

3. How do historians get at the internal human thoughts of those who lived long ago? In other words, how do they get at their internal and personal “mental worlds”?

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