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 read books by scientists and about various aspects of science or the practice of a specific discipline. Since there is no science prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any single science or group of sciences, even if a fairly large number of students in the class are majoring in a particular science or group of sciences. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college.
You are required to write three essays outside class; to write two book reviews and one film review in class (these are in lieu of a mid-term and final); and to give one short talk (in class). There will be a take-home test. There will be no quizzes or closed book exams.
Writing About How a Machine or Scientific Process Works or About the Composition of a Objects which has been designed and built (or created) by people. The basic aim of the science essay is often explanation, and the basis of good scientific writing an ability to use scientific and technical or complicated English in ways that a reader can understand. So the first of our two essays is an exercise in which you use technical language and/or scientific concepts in order to explain something in a clear and engaging manner. Here are some suggestions for suitable topics:
How an airplane flies; or why a building doesn't fall down (you can use any kind of building); or how some aspect of the Internet works or how to use a computer; or how any of the following work: a radio or TV or car or roller coaster or ferris wheel or bicycle or vaccuum cleaner or coffee-maker or microwave oven or zipper or other household or personal appliance (e.g., eyeglasses, hearing aids, a wheelchair, food-processor, thermometer, doorknob). Then there are fax machines, xerox machines, elevators, subway systems, the internal combustion engine and sewing machines. You can explain objects which need man at the helm to operate them, like sailboats or cranes, because to make these work the individual using them has to have mechanical and scientific knowledge of nature.
The sort of object or process you are to choose is something which is man-made or depends on knowledge, manipulation, or transformations of nature which are done by people. It can therefore also be an object that is the result of a mechanical, chemical or other artificial process initiated by man (e.g., glass or steel).
You can also describe the process by which the object has been made or its history. If you are a humanities or social science major or would prefer to try something less technically-rooted, you can also explain processes which use things which occur in nature and which we use with little transformation by man. Cooking is not only an art; it is based on knowledge of nature. How did people learn to brew beer? What's wine? There's an important history behind the invention and use of ropes; there's an equally revealing history behind the invention of uses of ice or cloth.
And remember a machine or man-made object need not be made of metal or plastic, and it can be used for aesthetic pleasure or emotional uplift: you can explain how any musical instrument works or the history of how it comes to take the form it does. A ballet-shoe is a man-made object which enables women to dance on the edge of their toes. Furniture and toys may be included.
Your object need not be something technologically sophisticated; it can be a light-bulb or a pencil or a fountain pen. You can look at obsolete or older inventions: the windmill or a medieval knight's armor; you can go to the beginning of the industrial revolution for objects like the spinning jenny You can explain the process whereby a book is made or history of book-making.
You can also explain intellectual inventions like calendars.
You can write this satirically. Pretend you are a person from a community with no knowledge or experience of such objects and use your description to criticize the society which uses such objects. You can write this personally: tell how you or other members of your household or school use the object. In all cases, you should have a thesis-statement and a context. You should in the essay include the reason why your reader ought to know how your machine or process works. You don't want your reader to be asking him or herself, 'why should I read this?'.
To those who are saying to themselves, 'I'm not a scientist, I don't know the first thing about how things work. I turn the key in my car and it goes, period', I say, come in at the level that is natural to you and that will be natural to a college-level reader.
Remember clarity is a special concern in the natural sciences and technical writing. Your aim is to transmit technical information accurately and in a way that the reader will understand sufficiently to be able to use what he reads. The intent here is to practice using language which is jargon-free and analogies which actually help readers to visualize and explain something.
It is suggested you do some minimal research, and, therefore, you must document your sources and all verbatim quotations or paraphrases. We will review documentation before this essay is due. You may of course do research, but if you do please make sure your source is reliable and respected e.g., the Encyclopedia Britannica or a specialized encyclopedia in the relevant field is a wonderful source, but junk like World Book , Colliers, are not acceptable. If you take information from the World Wide Web or an e-mail group of any kind, be prepared to verify the expertise of the person whose e- mail you are quoting or the respectability of the host of the website whose information you are relying upon. Length: minimum 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.
Writing About Genetics, Race, and Nationalism and Geography. You have two choices.
The idea would be to research and to discuss some aspect of his book; we will cover the book in class through short talks. The subjects offered will include: evolution; genetics; migrations of people (mapping human history), the development of different cultures; race (what is it?); cultural and scientific uses of research into genetic markers and DNA mitochondria.
I have chosen to read this novel, examine the screenplay and see the film with you partly because it is the community text and both book and film are very good. It is also relevant. Ondaatje's story dramatizes race conflicts, cultural and ethnic nationalisms, migrations of characters (quite literally); its themes are a kind of fictionalization in modern terms of the subjects Olsson deals with as science. You can write about these subjects as they are treated in the novel; you can write a comparison of the novel and screenplay; you can write a comparison of the novel and film. While these last two choices would lead you into writing film criticism (which we will learn about in class), I will not accept is simply an essay on the film or screenplay. Your essay must be centered as much on the novel as on the screenplay or film.
It is suggested you do some minimal research, and, therefore, you must document your sources and all verbatim quotations or paraphrases. The English Department will have a website which is supposed to have good information; I will provide a short bibliography of works on Ondaatje, on the history behind the novel (Count Laszlo Almasy, exploration in deserts, geology societies at the turn of the century, spy-adventure-romance novels), and on science topics that Olsson treats. The same remarks about clarity, checking the value of sources, and length that apply to Essay #1 apply to Essay #2.
The Science of Medicine. Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. Our last book is on the science of medicine, and the goal in writing about the subject itself is to go into in -- with as much depth as we can -- a single area of science that is important to us all and is a huge industry in our society that employs many scientifically-, and technically-educated people. I ask you to write an essay about how a specific illness, or problem someone has which is treated medically, is experienced in our society, from both the viewpoints of the patient (or customer) and the physician (or anyone who practices some form of medicine). This will require that you understand the illness or condition the individual has, how it relates to what we define as health, its aetiology, and the treatments that are offered to help the individual cope or get better.
This is to be a researched essay, but you are also encourged to use personal experiences. Length: minimum 3-5 double-spaced typed pages.
Four good sources are required, but they may include Gawande's Complications You can also use as a source experts or people who have had the illness you are writing about. The point is not to do original research (which you probably do not begin to have time for), but to learn to integrate the researched materials you use into a cogent argument.
The 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.
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. Most science and technical manuals advise the teacher to schedule short talks on topics taken from scientific issues or subject matter. A technical writer must learn to think of his material as something he is really communicating to someone else. The success of the communication of a technical writer is measured not only by how the reader or listener receives it, but by whether the reader or listener truly understands and can make use of what the technically-educated people say or write.
Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent ten to fifteen minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of the four 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 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. I have provided a model in the form of a typed-out transcript of the talk one student gave on "Richard Feynman's Definition of a Good Experiment".
Analysing Science Writing and Film. You will be asked to write two book reviews and one film review in class. If you become a successful professional in any field, you may find yourself asked to review books, articles and films. The mode will be "open book:" you can bring any books, notes and a good draft to copy out if you like.
Together with the take-home exam on Trimble, the first review takes the place of a midterm exam. It is to be on both Feynman books when we finish reading them and is to be written in class.
The second book review and the film review take the place of a final exam. For the second book review, you have a choice: if you wrote your Essay #2 on Olson's Mapping Human History, you are asked to write your book review on Ondaate's The English Patient; if you wrote your Essay #2 on Ondaate's The English Patient, you are asked to write your book review on Olson's Mapping Human History. The film review is to be on a choice taken from the following films which we'll see in class: 1) David Attenborough's 1979 Life on Earth: A Natural History; or 2) Axelrod's Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude; or 3) Margaret Edson's Wit.
There is a specific format which is followed which we will learn about. We will discuss how a good book review usually includes some or all of the following points:
It is difficult to educate the general public about the natural sciences and applied technology. One way to do it is through film. We will discuss the difficulties of translating science as a topic into moving pictures and what are the means used by film-makers to overcome the technical problems as well as the problem of attracting audiences not well-educated in science. We will also discuss how a film review usually includes some or all of the following points:
The reviews are intended to test whether you read all the books with care, watched the films with attention, and to reward those who attended class and listened to the short talks. They will provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge books and films.
I will hand out a 10 question short answer test on John Trimble's Writing With Style. The answers required will not be a single word, but you should not have to write more than a short paragraph to answer each. I will hand it out shortly before the first book review is due. You write the answers at home and bring them in to class on the day of the midterm exam.
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; and 3) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time.
I have observed that people who write well are often people who read a lot; so:
By the end of the term there should be eight 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, two for the in-class book reviews and one for the film review, and one for the test. I will grade each piece of work separately. So you will get 1 grade each for the midterm book review, the take-home test, and the final book and film reviews. The three essay grades and the short talk grade will be weighed more heavily than the grades for the take-home test, two book and film reviews. I also give grades for the plans; they tell me how much thought and work you are putting into the paper; if you are working on it; they substitute for diaries; at the end of the term, I will factor them in as "class work." The short talk is due on the day set; if you miss an in-class writing, you must make it up at home (but it must be printed out, not hand-written); if your essay is 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 also I take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your plans and 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. I have no way of producing a number or letter grade for this; rather if you have come to class, participated, done the reading, worked hard on the papers, I will give you the benefit of the doubt if your average for the eight grades comes in either above or below a specific grade. 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 reward someone whose writing improves. In my courses, process and product count.
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 suspect you of, or catch you at, plagiarising, 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.
Without an appointment:
Write to me by e-mail. My strongly preferred address is Ellen2@JimandEllen.org Please do not write to me at email@example.com. I rarely look at that address and cannot take attachments through it. You can write me 24 hours a day at Ellen2@JimandEllen.org; I look at my mail at least twice a 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 ( ) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. My office is Thompson Hall 131. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. Remember that I am scheduled to be on campus only on Mondays; 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 safest 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, 2:30 to to 4:20 pm in Thompson Hall 131. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.
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 http://writingcenter.gmu.edu.
In Class: Course introduction: explanation of syllabus. Short talks and Essay #1 explained. The class will watch Ralph Leighton's The Last Journey of a Genius.
Outside Class: Read for next week Trimble, Writing with Style , Chs 1-8 . Go to my homepage (see above for URL), hit "Teaching", then print out, read and bring to class student models of "The Great American Scream Machine" and "The Golden Gate Bridge", From Dictaphone to Disc, and a a typed-out transcript of the short talk one student gave on "Richard Feynman's Definition of a Good Experiment". Read also Richard Feynman, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! , Parts One and Two (pp 1-97), and What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?, Part One, pp 1-102. Be prepared to be assigned one talk for the term from one of the five books (see Short Talk schedules for choices and dates).
In Class: Short Talks Given Out. We'll discuss Trimble: What is a Thesis; Line of Argument; Openers; Middles; Closers. How to Write and Fill a Paragraph; What is a Paragraph; How to Link Them. Go over student models. In-Class Describing a Machine. Introducing Mr Feynman.
Outside Class: For next week For next week read Feynman, SYJ, Parts Two through Four (pp. 113-237). Plan for #1 is due.
In Class: PLAN FOR #1 DUE. Short Talk 1: RFeynman, boy and young man: The Qualities that Make up the Good Scientist (SYJ, Parts 1 & 2, WDYC, Chapter 1); Short talk 2: RFeynman's criticisms of abuses of authority particularly at Los Alamos (i.e., his stories about counterproductive uses of secrecy), but you may include stories exemplifying this theme from elsewhere in the book thus far (so from SYJ, Parts 2 & 3, especially "Los Alamos from Below" and "Safecracker Meets Safecracker" and WDYC Part 1); Short Talk 3: RFeynman's Definition of a Good Experiment (make strong use of "A Map of the Cat", "A Different Box Of Tools" "The Amateur Scientist" from SJY and "It's as Simple as One, Two Three" from WDYC)
Outside class: Finish WDCY, Part Two (pp. 113-248) and SYJ, Part Five (pp. 237-346); read Trimble, Chs 9-12. You should be working on Essay #1 which is due Mon March 1st.
In Class: Short Talk 4: RFeynman's ideas on what is real scientific learning: what ought to go on in a classroom, be in a book &c (e.g.,"O Americano Outre Vez" and "Judging Books by Their Covers" in SYJ and relevant Letters in WDYC); Short Talk 5: Mr Feynman Goes to Washington: Why some NASA officials are driven to delude themselves and mislead the public ("Mr Feynman Goes to Washington" and "Appendix F" in WDYC); Short Talk 6: A World of Pseudo- and Corrupt Science and the Value of Science (Feynman's "Cargo Cult Learning" and "The Value of Science." I will hand out the take- home test on Trimble.
Outside Class: Essay #1 is due; print out, read and bring to class student models for the book review, one on Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and Mark Ridley's Darwin Reader and the other on the two Feynman books, and the on-line popular book review by Michael Swaine. Read Steve Olson, Mapping Human History: Genes, Race and Our Common Origins, Introduction and Part One, Chapter One ("The Human Pageant" and "The End of Evolution" (pp. 1-31); bring The English Patient to class.
In Class: ESSAY #1 is due. How to write a book review. In class we'll begin talking about next two books and the coming paper. We'll talk about the politics of science, cultural and class prejudices, and how human culture affects the theories and practical uses of various sciences and their applied technologies. The class watches. Axelrod's Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude.
Outside Class: Prepare to write book review of two Feynman books in class. Read Olson, Mapping Human History, Part One, Chapters Two and Three ("Individuals and Groups," "The African Diaspora and the Genetic Unity of Humans", pp. 32-69); bring to class student models for comparison of book and film: on A Month in the Country, Novel and Film: The Power of Mise-en- scène versus Landscape and Dialogue; on Last Orders, Novel and Film: "Mise-en-scène versus Verbal Imagery; "Shifting Points of View versus Ensemble Cast and Flashbacks").
In class: First Third In Class Paper: A Book Review of Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! and What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?. This will not take the whole of the class session. We'll spend the second part of the session going over the models for comparing a book and film, discuss the technical elements of film, and we will watch as much of Attenborough's Life on Earth as time allows.
Outside class: you should read Olsson's Mapping Human History, Part Two. "The Middle East" (pp. 73-119); if you have it, the screenplay of The English Patient. If you are planning to write your Essay #2 on Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, read the novel this week; it might be wise to see the film, The English Patient on your own too. If you are planning to write your Essay #2 on Olsson's book, and have the screenplay, I suggest you read Antony Minghella's The English Patient.
In Class: Short Talk 7: "The Human Pageant" and "The End of Evolution" (pp. 1-31); Short Talk 8: "Individuals and Groups" and "The African Diaspora" (pp. 32-69); Short Talk 9: "Encounters with the Other" and "Agriculture, Civilization and the Emergence of Ethnicity" (pp. 73-105).
Outside Class: Finish reading Olson's Mapping Human History (pp. 124-238)
In Class: PLAN FOR #2 DUE. Short Talk 10: "The Great Migration and "Sprung from a Common Source" (pp. 123-54); Short Talk 11: "Who Are the Europeans" and "Immigration and the Future" (157-90); Short talk 12: "Settlement of the Americas" and "The Burden of Knowledge" (pp. 193-220); Short Talk 13: "God's People" and "The End of Race" (pp. 106-19, 223-38).
Outside Class: If you haven't already done, read as much of Ondaatje's The English Patient as you can.
In Class: The class watches and discusses the film adaptation by Anthony Minghella of Michael Onjaatje's The English Patient.
Outside Class: If you haven't finished The English Patient, do so.
In Class: Short talk 17: Discuss the novel's treatment of the female characters (Hana and Katharine Clifton, Miss Morden, Miss Swift) concentrating on the relationship of Hana and Katharine to the "English Patient." Do you think this is a sexist book? Short Talk 18: Discuss the novel as one where peoples of different race, ethnic and cultural group are intermixed? How does it critique nationalism? Short Talk 19: Compare the film to the book: how is the plot- design (story) changed significantly? You can use the screenplay.
Outside Class: Finish Essay #2 due April 19th. Read, print out, and bring to class and models for Essay #3: "Improving Life with Arthritis"; "Ritalin and ADHD"; "Unraveling the Mystery"; and "Cesarean Childbirth: A Modern Convenience?"; print out and read Instructions and do "Practice I".
In Class: ESSAY #2 DUE. We will go over student models for #3 and research essay will be explained. The class watches two-third of Mike Nichols' and Emma Thompson's film adaptation of Margaret Edson's play, Wit.
Outside Class: Read Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, Introduction, Parts One and Two up to "A Queasy Feeling" ("Fallibility and "Mystery," pp. 3-145). Print out and do Practice 1 for the Abstract and bring to class. Start researching and thinking about a topic.
In Class: Short Talk 20: "The Education of the Knife" and "When Doctors Make Mistakes" (pp. 11-74); Short Talk 21: "Nine Thousand Surgeons" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" (pp. 75-105); Short Talk 22: "Full Moon Friday the Thirteenth," "The Pain Perplex" and "A Queasy Feeling" (pp. 109-45). We will discuss how to write an abstract and how to write an annotated bibliography. We finish seeing Nichols' and Thompson's Wit.
Outside Class: Finish Gawande's Complications: read teh rest of Part Two and Part Three ("Mystery" and "Uncertainty", pp. 146-252). Also bring to class Olson's Mapping Human History and Ondaatje's The English Patient Print out and do Practice II for Abstracts. Plan for #3 due next time.
In Class: PLAN FOR #3 DUE. Short Talk 23: "Crimson Tide" and "The Man Who Couldn't Stop Eating (pp. 146-83); Short Talk 24: The Mistreatment of Vivien Bearing in Wit. Short talk 25: "Final Cut" and "The Dead Baby Mystery" (pp. 187-207); Short Talk 26: "Whose Body It is, Anyway" and "The Case of the Red Leg" (pp. 208-52) We'll go over abstracts for Practice II. Review for final all three books (Mapping Human History, The English Patient and Complications) and all three films (Life on Earth, Lost at Sea, Wit).
Outside Class: Write Essay #3 which should be prefaced with an abstract and include an annotated bibliography of 4 sources. Prepare to write in-class 2 book reviews and one film review.
ESSAY #3 DUE (it should have an abstract and annotated bibliography). In class writing of two book reviews, either Olson's Mapping Human History or Ondaatje's The English Patient, depending upon which book you used for Essay #2. The film review is to be on a choice taken from the films we see in class: 1) David Attenborough's 1979 Life on Earth: A Natural History; or 2) Axelrod's Lost at Sea: The Search for Longitude; or 3) Margaret Edson's Wit.