Session 7 (10/29/14): Recap and Assignment


1. We briefly reviewed the plan for paper completion

2. We reviewed what a thesis statement is. Takeaway:  A thesis statement is the main claim that serves as the foundation of most academic papers. A strong thesis statement must be both debatable and narrow. For a detailed overview of how to develop a debatable, narrow thesis, refer to this Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab post.

3. We engaged in a step-by-step process  designed to help us move from a broad topic to a tentative thesis statement.

First, we discussed what a tentative thesis statement is. The tentative thesis statement is an initial claim that serves as your guide for further research. During the course of further brainstorming, analyzing, and researching, you will come across new information, your opinion will evolve, and your thesis statement will evolve accordingly. For more on the phases of thesis statement development, refer to Hunter College Writing Center’s helpful explanation: Stages of the Thesis Statement.

For our class exercise, we looked at an example of a progression from general topic to strong thesis statement (see below – click to enlarge).

Above, I provided an example based on the very first TED Talk we watched, “The Danger of a Single Story” (Adichie, 2009). Based o my synthesis notes, I decided on the topic of “the single story as a tool of oppression.”

  • STEP 1: I turned my topic into a question: “Throughout history, how has the single story been used to perpetuate oppression of minority populations?”
  • STEP 2: I shared with the class that I would be writing a five to six page research paper in response to my question. The class felt that I would not be able to adequately answer this question in five to six pages, so I needed to narrow the scope of my question. Rather than try to write about all “minority populations,” I chose one group: Japanese-Americans. Rather than try to write about Japanese-Americans throughout history, I chose to focus on point in time: World War II.
  • STEP 3: I revised my question by substituting the specific concepts for the general ones. So my question became: How was the single story used to perpetuate oppression of Japanese-Americans during World War II?
  • STEP 4: Before doing further research, I turned my narrowed question into a tentative thesis statement: During World War II, the single story was used to turn the American majority against Japanese-Americans.
  • STEP 5: Guided by my tentative thesis statement, I made an initial outline and conducted research.
  • STEP 6: Based on my research and further brainstorming, I was able to refine my thesis statement, which became: “During World War II, the U.S. government used propaganda to promote a single story of Japanese-Americans, which in turn played a central role in the American majority’s acceptance of Japanese-American Internment.

We then went through the same process with one student’s research question. We found, however, that we didn’t know enough about the topic to formulate a tentative thesis statement. For this student, the process may have looked more like this:

Developing a Thesis Statement_blank_two steps

When you don’t know enough about a topic to form a tentative thesis statement, start with your revised question, conduct initial research, and formulate a tentative thesis when you know a bit more about the topic.

4. We discussed this week’s assignment. (See below.) 


  • Write your working thesis statement. (Refer to the “Developing a Thesis Statement” process above if helpful.)
  • “Sketch” your paper, using the Dartmouth resource as a guide. (See the section “Sketching Your Argument.”)
  • Develop a rough outline of your paper. (See example below.) This outline should include:
    • Your thesis statement.
    • Essay page length.
    • Major sections. (Think of these as “buckets” into which you will be putting the information you gather.)
    • Page length of each major section.
  • Continue conducting research, as needed, to gather support for your thesis.
  • Bring your essay sketch and rough outline to class next week.


Sample Rough Outline:

Thesis: During WWII, the U.S. government used propaganda to promote a single story of Japanese-Americans, which in turn played a central role in the American majority’s acceptance of Japanese-American Internment.

Total length: 6 pages

I. Introduction (.5 pages)

II. Historical Context (1 page)

III. Propaganda & Impact on American Attitudes toward Japanese-Americans (2 pages)

IV. American Reactions to Japanese-American Internment (1.5 pages)

V. Conclusion (1 page)


Questions? Email Sarah at

Session 6 (10/22/14): Recap, Assignment, & Further Reading

RECAP: What did we do?

1. We discussed the assigned article, “The Science of Success” (Dobbs, 2009).  We reviewed the concept that inspired the article: the orchid hypothesis. According to the article synopsis, the orchid hypothesis is “a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success” (Dobbs, 2009). While acknowledging that the orchid hypothesis is intriguing and has implications for each of our own lives, more than a few of you also voiced concerns about connections or conclusions, whether stated or implicit, that the author is perhaps too quick to draw.

We discussed how David Shenk, author of the blog “The Genius of Us All,” similarly voiced valid concerns. Shenk gave the Dobbs article high praise, but he also objected to Dobbs (mis)treatment of dandelions.  Shenk writes,

We can recognize certain extraordinary orchid alleles without rhetorically ghettoizing the other alleles as not-very-plastic dandelion weeds. After all, the studies you cite are presenting population percentages — they are not showing a clean separation between individuals with or without the alleles. Clearly, as this science marches on, we’re going to be stumbling onto specific genes and combinations that seem to have a particular influence in one direction or another. But as we do, I think we need to be careful not to overstate their lessons. We don’t want to leave readers with the impression that, without a particular allele, a person is protected from being depressed or barred from having super-talent. 

So Shenk cautions Dobbs against misleading readers, against implying that dandelions somehow got a raw deal or even that “orchids” can be cleanly separated from “dandelions” when it comes to people (vs. individual genes).

You each made your own astute observations regarding the article’s limitations, and several of you have based your paper topics on those observations.

 2. We reviewed a few ways to determine a paper topic. We discussed how one of the best ways to make the essay-writing process engaging (i.e. more fun) is to choose a topic that matters to you (the writer). We also discussed how you can save yourself time and frustration by choosing a topic that originates in the course material. So the task is to find where your own interests and the course material intersect. To do this, try one or more of the following:
  • Look through your notes for ideas. Find a topic that matters to you and is relevant by searching your notes from course readings and lectures.  Even if there is seemingly nothing about an assignment that appeals to you, you can usually find a gold nugget buried somewhere in your synthesis notes.  Look back and identify any personal reactions or questions you recorded.  Look to see whether you starred or underlined anything you found intriguing.  This process of following your synthesis notes can lead to ideas for a fruitful, relevant topic.
  • Freewrite.  Take five or ten minutes to write whatever comes up for you around the text/topic.  Try not to worry about the mechanics of your writing (e.g. spelling, grammar, structure), and try not to judge your ideas.  After you have finished, read over your writing.  Identify an idea that would lend itself to further exploration/investigation.
  • Answer a series of personal response and/or critical analysis questions. If you prefer a more structured approach, try answering a series of personal response questions about the text/topic to stimulate your thinking.  There are links below to resources that provide such questions.
  • Engage a friend in a conversation. If brainstorming alone doesn’t appeal to you, try engaging a friend in a conversation about the assignment.  Instead of writing your answers to personal response questions, discuss them with a friend.  Your conversation may very well lead you to a topic you want to write about.

A final note: You can also save yourself time and frustration by choosing a topic that is specific but leaves room for exploration.  To test your idea, turn it into a question.  The scope of the question should match the size of the assignment.  In other words, if you are asked to write a 5 to 6 page double-spaced paper, you will not want to try to tackle a question that will require 10 pages to adequately answer.

A solid question with an appropriate scope can also serve as the basis for further research and analysis, which you will likely need to do before you can finalize a thesis.

3. We discussed the plan for this course for the remainder of the semester and the final assignment. For more details, see the individual posts: Class Schedule: Oct 29 – Dec 10  and  Niteo Final Assignment. Final papers are due in class, December 3.

4. We discussed the assignment for this week (see below).



  1. If you have not already determined a topic for your paper, do so using one or more of the strategies listed above.
  2. Once you have determined your topic, turn it into a question. If you had already devised a question, refine it to be suitable for the length of your paper.
  3. Identify, read, and annotate any sources you will be using.
  4. Email me, Sarah, at with 1) which essay option you have chosen, 2) your question, and 3) link(s) to any source(s) you will be using (if available online).
  5. Read this post from the blog “The Write Practice.”



If you are interested in reading more on the orchid hypothesis, here are links to more David Dobbs material:

Neuron Culture (David Dobbs blog)

Beautiful Brains (2011 Dobbs article published in National Geographic Magazine)

The Social Life of Genes (2013 Dobbs article)

David Dobbs posts on


Class Schedule, Nov 12 – Dec 17

Below is a rough outline of the plan for the remainder of our class sessions. Please note that the paper due date has been moved to December 10th.

Today, November 12: Structuring Your Paper, cont.

HW: Create a detailed outline. Due November 19th.

November 19: Writing Your Introduction & Conclusion

HW: Complete your first draft. Due December 3rd.

November 26: NO CLASS

December 3: Revising Your Draft

HW: Write your final draft. Due December 10th.

December 10: TBD


December 17: TBD

Niteo Final Paper (due December 3)

Choose one of the options below:

OPTION ONE: Response Paper

Write a two to three page response paper on “The Science of Success” (2009) by David Dobbs.  Your essay should include[1]:

  • An accurate, concise summary of the article
  • Well-developed statements about the article’s ideas or quality
  • Reasons and evidence for your statements

[1] From Troyka, L.Q. and Hesse, D. (2013). “Effective Response Essays.” Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers. p. 235.

For more resources on how to write a response paper, see below:

Tips on Writing a Good Response Paper

Handy Dandy Guide to Writing a Reaction Paper

Writing a Reaction or Response Essay

OPTION TWO: Text Analysis

Writer a four to five page analysis of “The Science of Success” (2009) by David Dobbs. Choose an analytical approach from “Advanced Power Tools for Opening Up a Text” Williamson (2009).  Your essay should include:

  • An accurate, concise summary of the article
  • A well-developed thesis statement
  • Evidence from the text to support your statement.

Depending on your approach, you may choose to include outside sources.

For more resources on how to write a textual analysis, see below:

How to Write an A+ Text Analysis

How to Write a Critical Analysis

OPTION THREE: Research Paper

Write a five to six page research paper, using “The Science of Success” (2009) by David Dobbs as a jumping off point.  The paper topic can be of your choosing, though the paper itself must include:

  • An accurate summary of the Dobbs article (can be brief, depending on your focus)
  • A well-developed research question
  • Information, from the text itself and from at least two outside sources, that addresses your question

Your sources should be reliable and make a substantial contribution to your paper.  In other words, using a Wikipedia entry alone is not sufficient, and a definition from the dictionary is not significant enough to be counted as a contribution from an outside source.

For more resources on how to write a research paper, see below:

The Documented Essay/Research Paper: General Guidelines

Evaluating Internet Sources

Writing a Research Paper

Session 5 (October 15): Recap, Assignment, & Learning Resources

RECAP: What did we do?

  • We briefly discussed the future trajectory of this semester. I expressed my hope that everyone walk away from this course with at least one solid piece of writing. We agreed that in an effort to achieve this goal, we’ll all read one text, which we’ll then use as a jumping off point for a paper. To make the process easier and less stressful, we’ll use each of the following classes to work on successive steps toward creating a finished product (an essay).
  • We briefly reviewed the assignment from last week.
    • Class members shared which articles they chose. Not everyone wrote a summary, so I encouraged everyone to continue to practice that skill. It will be essential to any writing you do in the future because a) it’s a solid method for testing whether you understand the point of the text, b) it will help you to better learn and retain the information, and c) including a summary in your paper will give you legitimacy with your reader (i.e. it will demonstrate that you read and understood the text you’re writing about).
    • Acknowledging that the annotation process we explored last week was involved, I reviewed a simplified version that includes only three columns: a) “What It Says” (i.e. main points/content), b) “What It Does” (i.e. function within the text), and c) “Your Thoughts” (i.e. what we have been referring to as the synthesis column). Developing your annotation skills requires practice, and through that practice, you’ll determine what methods work best for you. That said, the three aforementioned columns will give you a solid foundation for understanding the text.
  • We reviewed ways to begin to analyze a text using the short Economist article “Child-Free Businesses: Nippers Not Wanted.” We discussed how analysis, in general, is breaking something down into its component parts, characterizing those parts, and evaluating the quality of the parts. Any text, whether literary or scientific, written or visual (i.e. a photograph) can be broken down into parts. In your annotation, you likely already identified a number of the structural components of the text (i.e. the main points, thesis statement, evidence presented, etc.). Depending on what aspect of the text you wish to explore in depth, you may also be identifying and examining other components. Oftentimes, analysis involves uncovering what is not being said in a text. Some components that you can focus on to help uncover what is unstated in a text include the author’s choice of examples; choice of language, tone, and rhetorical devices; and inferences and assumptions being made by the author. For example, in their reactions to the article we read today, some students honed in on what they thought may be the author’s implied opinion. They noted that while the title made the article seem that it would be about banning babies from bars, the writer’s tone (arguably disdain), use of rhetorical devices (e.g. sarcasm and a picture invoking a sense of annoyance), and choices of examples (portraying parents in an unflattering light), perhaps betrayed that a) the author was biased toward not allowing babies in bars or in any public establishments and/or b) that he finds entitled hipster parents to be the real problem. Others argued that the writer was being impartial, and a case could potentially be made for that as well.
  • We discussed the assignment for the upcoming week (see below).


Step 1: Read the Atlantic article “The Science of Success” by David Dobbs (2009). Your annotations should include at least three categories: 1) what the text says (i.e. content/main ideas), 2) what the text does (i.e. how each part functions), and 3) your own reactions to the text (i.e. synthesis notes).

Step 2: Select one aspect of the text that is compelling to you and that you would be interested in further exploring. (Tip: Look to your synthesis notes for ideas). You might want to analyze some aspect of the text itself; perhaps you found some structural element to be problematic. For example, author David Shenk takes issue with Dobbs’s use of metaphor. You might be less interested in exploring the article in depth, and you instead may wish to use it as a jumping off point to discuss a related topic. An example of this is Professor of Political Science Christopher Kukk’s reference to the aforementioned Economist article AND the Atlantic article in this blog post. Whatever direction you choose to take, you will be expected to summarize the Dobbs article in your final essay – so take good notes!

Step 3: Construct a question that will help you further explore the topic you have chosen. For example, if you are interested in analyzing the construction of the text itself, you might ask “Does Dobbs’s use of personal narrative further or undermine the objectives of this article? How so?” OR If you want to explore a related topic, like molecular psychiatry, your question might be, “What are some other advances that have recently been made in the the field of molecular psychiatry, and how have they influenced views of human behavior?” You will be using this question next class to identify additional sources for your paper.