Syllabus for Fall 2009: Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

  • English 302H05 (Mon/Wed, 1:30-2:45 pm, Robinson A125)
  • English 302H07 (Mon/Wed, 3:00-4:15 pm, Robinson A245)

    Dr Ellen Moody. My homepage address:; for Course Materials, go to e/emcourse.htm. My preferred email address is:

    Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

    This is an advanced writing course. In some ways it may remind you of the introductory college freshmen writing course you took a few semesters ago. We will talk about how to write plainly and clearly, about the ways of constructing arguments, about how to synthesize materials to compose a research paper, about punctuation, documentation -- about, in short, everything we can think of having to do with writing essays; and we will read and discuss full- length books, stories, and essays.

    The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills to write about imaginative literature and film in such a way as to cover all the aspects of the arts in our culture: words, music, pictures, landscape, architectural spaces. We will delve into how artists transform their experiences into art and how readers and viewers respond. We will deal with "high" and serious art and pop culture. We are looking to see how our memories of books, films, music, pictures, buildings and landscapes have helped to make us what we are today. Since there is no specific art prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any art form: you do not have to have taken a film study course to do well here. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college.

    Required Texts (in the order we will read them)

    Optional Book

    Films We will study:

    Required Writing:

    You are required to write three essays; to pass an open-book midterm exam and open-book final exam (which will take the form of writing essays in class on the books and films and answering short answer questions outside), and to give one short talk.

    First Essay (#1)

    Writing About Art. You asked to go to a museum and describe a painting, sculpture or other artefact defined as art or craft that you see there. You can also describe a building if it's one that has been made by an architect with aesthetic values in mind or if it's a historically preserved building. See online models.

    Second Essay (#2)

    Writing about Music. You can asked to write an essay in which you describe a piece of music. We will discuss how to go about this and use the online models.

    Third Essay (#3)

    In Search of Lost Time

    Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages. For this one you can go well over the limit if you want to (say 7 pages).

    This is to be a researched essay and may be regarded as "the term project." I ask you to find four sources beyond your chosen book. Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth, about popular series books for girls, is the sort of book you might read for research into syndicated series and girls' books.

    Here is a full bibliography of books on children's literature to help you.

    The essay will include:

    An Annotated Bibliography: As part of the researched essay, you will be asked to hand in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography provides short summaries and evaluations of the books and essays used in a research paper. The skill of synopsis will be reviewed. Models will be provided.

    An Abstract: You will also be asked to hand in an abstract of your own essay. We will in class learn to and practice the art of writing abstracts, of summarising, paraphrasing, and writing synopses.

    The Short Talk

    Talk is primary and writing secondary. I believe everyone can learn to write more clearly and enjoy writing more if he or she would only learn to talk on paper, to use the real language he or she might use in the classroom or any other natural situation which demands a certain coherence. Much of the advice you will find in John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. A good writer must learn to think of his material as something he is really communicating to someone else. The success of a communication in whatever media is measured not only by how the reader or listener receives it, but by whether the reader or listener truly understands and can apply to themselves what the artist has to say.

    Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent ten minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of our books which is due the day he or she is scheduled to talk upon. The talks will begin the third week of the semester. Fundamentally what you must do is invent a clear instrumental thesis-statement about the topic connected to your text and/or film, and develop it coherently and concretely.

    The whole class will listen and try to respond; their response will tell the student whether he or she has made him or herself clear; the ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened when he or she or another student talked will (it is hoped) teach everyone something about the basis of writing -- again, clear thinking in clear language which comes naturally to the speaker-writer.

    Each student is asked to hand in an outline or cards (hand-written or typed) which he or she used to talk from, and I will return this material with the grade for the talk in the following session.

    Open Book In-Class Writing

    For the midterm, you will be asked to write about the texts and films we've covered up to that point: A Month in the Country,Bel Canto, and The Namesake. I will hand out a sheet of 20 short answer questions for you to type the answer to at home on Trimble, Writing with Style, and these three books. For the final you will be asked to write about the texts and films we've covered after the midterm: The Girl Sleuth, Daisy Miller, Sense and Sensibility, and Reading Lolita in Teheran. I will again hand out a sheet of 20 short answer questions for you to type the answers to at home on all four books.

    There is a specific format for writing reviews of books and films which we will learn about. You will have the choice of writing one of the in-class essays in the review format or of following the literary essay with guidelines format. The writing in the course is generally intended to provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge books, films, essays and all research sources. They are also intended to make you think about what is the best way to express analytical, evaluative, and appreciate ideas about art. Such essays usually include some or all of the following points:

    1. the book's context and intended audience;
    2. its thesis or theses;
    3. your evaluative statement about this thesis and the book's content;
    4. a synopsis or summary of its contents;
    5. an analysis of the book to reveal how the author's background or biases help or hinder the author and the quality of the evidence.

    We will discuss how a film review usually includes some or all of the following points:

    1. the film's producer, director, intended audience, and (if applicable) screenplay;
    2. its perspective (or "message");
    3. your evaluative statement about this perspective;
    4. a synopsis or summary of the story or literal content of the film;
    5. an analysis of the film's techniques (presentation of characters, use and juxtaposition of scenes, use of music), dialogue, use of real actors, and particular ending to discuss how well or poorly the film conveyed its perspective.We will discuss the various approaches taken towards literary works and how a good literary or filmic review usually includes some or all of the following points:

    Obviously the midterm and final will test whether you have read all the assigned books with care, watched all the assigned films with sophisticated criteria in mind, and to reward those who attended class and listened to the short talks. But they are not "jump-through the hoop" exercises in which I try to catch you in literal mistakes. They are intended to provide opportunities for learning about more kinds of writing in the arts.

    Reading and Class Attendance:

    Assumptions behind this course : I think that 1) something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; 2) good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; 3) people who write well are often people who read a lot; and 4) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time; so:

    1. Classwork : I want everyone to attend class faithfully, to read all the books, and to participate in class discussions. I ask that you limit your unexcused absences to a minimum; I regard weeks of absence as one basis for a failing grade.
    2. Writing Assignments: I have allowed ample time for 1) writing and revision of each essay; for 2) discussion of student models to help you see what is expected and give you ideas on how to go about a particular task; and for 3) the class as a single group to listen to, analyse and comment on one or more of the essays someone in the class has written. I will try my best to write comments on your essays which can help you how better to organize your thoughts, correct your grammar, and write lucidly and engagingly.


    By the end of the term there should be seven grades for each student on my roster. These I will average together to form the final grade. I should have three grades for the three essays, one for the short talk, one for the midterm and one for the final, one for the short talk. All shorter assignments (the proposals I ask for, any in-class writing) will be averaged together to form a seventh grade. If you hand your essay in late, the grade will be pulled down one element for every session, it is late. You must give your talk on the day cited on the short talk schedule so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day. If you do not give your talk, you must take an F and that will be factored into your final grade.

    For the final grade for the course I take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; and 3) if you came for help if you needed it in planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing and revising it. A teacher can tell when an essay or short talks is done with care, is something really thought about, something for which a genuine self-educational effort was made. I respect serious hard work and reward it when I see it. I will also reward someone whose work improves.

    The Problem of Plagiarism:

    DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Plagiarism is defined by the GMU English Department as follows:

    '"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient."

    If I discover that you have plagiarized, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department. I am serious about this.

    How to contact me outside class:

    Without an appointment:

    Write to me by e-mail. My preferred address is I look at my gmail during the day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide thorough commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.

    You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. However, remember that I am on campus only on Mondays and Wednesdays; the secretaries will not call me and simply put notes in my box. Also, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way: no-one stands guard over the boxes. If you send an essay through an attachment, it doesn't always come through. The securest speediest way to get a late essay to me is still to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.

    With an appointment Private conferences are available by appointment on Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:30 to 1:30, Robinson A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.

    Other Help Outside Class

    The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:

    "The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."

    To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to


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    Contact Ellen Moody.
    Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
    Page Last Updated 19 August 2009.