1) Carefully read the essay instructions in the syllabus. There is lots of very concrete advice and everything you nee

1) Carefully read the essay instructions in the syllabus. There is lots of very concrete advice and everything you need to know about the formal expectations. You need to read these two pages in the syllabus and follow them in order to succeed on this assignment. The essay grading rubric, which details how these expectations translate into grades, is attached to this assignment and copied in “useful stuff”, where you’ll also find the link to a short instructional piece about writing good definitions.

2) Content Prompt (see syllabus for all formal expectations): Write a definition of the concept “life”. Think of it as making an argument/thesis/claim about the concept “life,” not a subjective opinion or a dictionary entry. Your thesis should specify how broadly or specifically you are defining life, e.g. “life for humans is…” or “life as a mammal is…” or “life in x text/for x philosopher is…”, but make sure it is neither just your own private life you are defining, nor a summary or of someone else’s concept, like summarizing the biological characteristics or describing a philosopher’s point of view (arguments are debatable claims, like saying “Plant and human life are not much different… here is why and how”).

A good approach would be to argue “life for x (e.g. humans) is… a (e.g. these biological characteristics), b (e.g. this philosophical idea), and c (e.g. this other thing),” where a/b/c each turn into a body paragraph and come from a different angle/perspective. Each of these should be supported by quoted evidence, but remember to pick reputable sources and not inspirational quotes. Use at least one of our course texts for that.

Please note that most definitions of life you have written so far would not be enough, mostly because they lacked concrete evidence, i.e. quotations from reputable sources. The paper is not about “the one, comprehensive right definition” (we’ve already figured out that that’s impossible), but about going beyond what a dictionary or text book can offer. You can argue for anything (just like Jabr did, but with quoted evidence) if you do it well, which means that you sustain its aspects with evidence (quotations) and explanations over the course of 1000 words (+/-100).

Pick one understanding of life for which you want to argue or an argument about the concept of “life” that you want to make. Remember that you will have to say enough about it to fill 1000 words. Think of the task as convincing someone you don’t know of your way of understanding the concept of life. It cannot be so subjective (“life is my family”) that nobody else could possibly be included or convinced and it cannot be so general (“we can’t define it,” “it’s the biological characteristics”) or tautological (“life is living”) that it cannot be sustained for more than a paragraph or backed up with evidence.
In order to convince, you need to give evidence (i.e. quote reputable sources, which can range from philosophy to science to literature… put keywords in the library search catalog & ask a librarian for help) and explain how this specific quote supports your argument. Quote at least one of the texts we have read in class so far in your paper (ideally more and, if you want, also others, but avoid Wikipedia or too many dictionaries; also check your sources and don’t just rely on one).
Make sure you explain everything well and in appropriate language, and don’t assume that I or anyone in this class is your reader (think of a stranger with no previous knowledge of the topic instead).
Avoid trying to argue for several understandings and jumping back and forth between ideas. Instead, plan out the structure of your paper: If this is my argument, what do I need to explain and prove for all it’s components, and which order makes this clearest? Or, where do I need to go and which steps do I need to take to make my point?
Re-read your own essay, use spell-check, and double-check whether you followed all instructions (quotations? word count? format?… read that section in the syllabus!). Test your argument on your roommate, your mom, your best friend… share what you’ve written to get feedback. It can only improve your paper.

Coming up with a thesis and organizing your thoughts is hard, so let us help you! Use the in-class exercises, office hours, etc. to run your thesis by us and your peers. The Writing Center offer lots of help too (link & info in syllabus). Remember that you get an automatic 5% grade bonus if you upload evidence of having gotten help with your paper from either of these sources. Don’t ignore the word minimum/maximum instructions!



Write 1000 words (+/

100 words), double

spaced, typed, with 1” margins all around and 12

point Times

New Roman font (papers that are

more than

100 words below/above the limit of 1000 will be deducted

half the missing/additional



your name, the date, the course, and the paper number in the header,


page numbers in the


Special characters in your file name will lead t

o upload problems.

Quote properly and list all of your sources under Works Cited at the end:


Chose and stick with a

citation style, like MLA




Content & Structure

Papers should make an analytical argument with evidence from

reputable sources for an unknown reader.

An introduction should

Propose one argument that responds to the prompt. An argument is a thesis that is debatable and is not

simply a or observation. Have no more than one main argument.


nclude the fo

llowing information about the main text




you are analyzing

or drawing


: the

title in italics, the author, publication date, and genre. E.g., “Franz Kafka’s

The Metamorphosis


is a

novella about a man who wakes up as a bug.”

Each body

paragraph should

Be organized around one sub

claim that helps support your main argument.

Give evidence for your sub

claim by quoting from your main text/source or sources. This includes

analyzing the quotations, i.e. stating which aspect of a quote suppo

rts your claim in which way.

Give necessary context to an audience that does not know



. Don’t summarize or describe the




, only what is necessary for your reader to understand the


you’re analyzing and be

convinced by you

r argument. Be brief. You can also make this part of your introduction.

Make sure the main terms of your argument are defined for your specific context. Don’t assume everybody

knows how you understand a term. You can do this “by the way” rather than dictio

nary style, e.g. “Life, in

its biological sense, is central to…”

A conclusion should

Summarize the paper’s argument, telling us what we learned about the text/source/


from your


State the stakes or implications of your analysis, i.e. tell us

what your argument changes about our

understanding of the text/source/


. That’s like responding to someone asking,

Nice point, but so what?

Why does this matte

What to avoid?


Avoid spelling mistakes and incorrect word choices

: Proofread and edit your paper, and use spell

check. Ask


to read your paper (Writing Center, preceptors, roommates…). Re

read it yourself, try it out loud!


Avoid personal reflection

: Avoid saying “I” or drawing from your personal experience. Instead focus on the


or sources

to analyze. This is an anal

ytical academic paper, not a personal essay.


Avoid generalizations

: Don’t make statements about “things all people do/think/agree on,” “stuff everybody

knows,” or “what’s normal.” Instead be specific and give evidence for all your claims.


Avoid letting quo

tations speak for themselves

: Always explain what a specific piece of evidence contributes to your



Avoid writing more because you have more to say

: Edit carefully and be succinct. This is part of the challenge of

paper writing. More is not better

. Follow the instructions to succeed.


Avoid writing for your teacher

: Write for a reader who is not familiar with the text

or context

(i.e. give them all

the information about the text or


they will need to understand your argument) and write in a ton

e that

is appropriate for a stranger and an analytical paper (i.e. no colloquial terms).


Avoid having more than one argument or focusing on too many texts

: Less is more. Go for a well backed

up argument

and an in

depth analysis rather than touching on this

and that superficially. This will also help with a clear



Avoid describing instead of analyzing

: Don’t give too much summary or and make sure you have an

argument that you back up with quotations.


Avoid giving Wikipedia or other


reputable sources as evidence

: The sources Wikipedia gives for its claims are

evidence, but Wikipedia itself can be changed by anyone and is not always in the best shape. The same goes

for study sites. Go for the printed word over the posted word for q

uality control, and favor .edu sources.

Google Books is a great resource, and so are the librarians next door. And when you use an online source,

cite it properly; don’t just post a link into your Words Cited list (see above).


Avoid inspirational quotes

. F

amous people or inspirational sayings can be great, but they are not evidence that

will hold up to analysis. The reader wants to hear


argument, supported by reputable academic eviden

Analytical Paper Rubric with Possible Percentage Points
Excellent (90+)
Thesis is clear, convincing,
original, and interesting.
Analysis is in-depth and
develops thesis in a
consistently excellent
manner. Readers will learn
something from this piece of
Good (80+)
Thesis is good, but could be
clearer, or more convincing,
developed, or innovative.
Analysis is generally indepth, but perhaps not
consistently so, or could go
further. Ideas may be good,
but perhaps not as insightful
or well developed.
Satisfactory (70+)
Thesis is not entirely
clear, convincing, or fully
developed. Thesis may
be too obvious or
general. There may be
more than one thesis.
May have more plot
summary, description, or
citation than analysis.
Needs Work (60+)
No arguable, clear,
or overarching thesis
and limited analysis.
Might not meet
expectations or the
terms of the
assignment on one
or more dimensions.
Unacceptable (59-)
No thesis and
analysis at all. Might
not meet
expectation or the
terms of the
assignments in
several dimensions.
Organizational plan and
connection to thesis is clear
at every point in the paper.
Paragraphs are unified,
coherent, and complete.
Transitions are smooth and
Organization and connection
to thesis are logical, but
could be clearer. Some
paragraphs may lack unity or
could have more logical
sequence. Some transitions
may be choppy or missing.
Organization and
focus are confusing.
Paragraph order may
be confusing.
Paragraphs may lack
unity, coherence, and
completeness. May
lack transitions.
Exhibits a discernable
organization, but may not
provide a clear
connection to the thesis.
Focus may be scattered.
Paragraphs may not
follow the most logical
order. Transitions may be
There are no
transitions, or other
Sentences and
paragraphs do not
follow a logical
Development and
Note: A paper will
receive a 0 if it is
plagiarized in
whole or in part.
Develops and explains the
aspects of its thesis clearly,
convincingly, and logically. All
assertions are supported by
fitting, quoted evidence from
reputable sources. Citations
are contextualized, explained,
and connected to the thesis.
Balances citation and
analysis well.
Develops and explains most
aspects of its thesis clearly,
convincingly, and logically,
with some exceptions. Most
assertions are supported by
fitting, quoted evidence from
reputable sources, but some
unsupported generalizations
may occur, or some sources
might be questionable.
Some citations may not be
contextualized, explained, or
clearly connected to the
thesis. Some parts of the
paper might not balance
citation and analysis well
Development and
explanations may suffer
from too many
unsupported claims, or
evidence, as well as
issues of logical
sequence, clarity, and
reader conviction. May
not engage with the
primary materials enough
or critically enough, cite
too much without
explanation, or make
assumptions and claims
without evidence.
Relies strongly on
generalizations and
may lack specific
references to the text
altogether, or may
paraphrase someone
else’s argument
without any
contribution of one’s
own. May draw on
questionable or illfitting evidence.
Development may be
insufficient in several
Thesis and
development for the
requirements of the
Generalizations may
be used in place of
analysis. May draw
on inappropriate or
offensive sources.
Note: Grammatical
errors such as
comma splices,
agreement errors,
and vague or
awkward phrasing
can obscure the
meaning of an
otherwise good
Sentences are fluent, clear,
and a pleasure to read. They
are generally free from issues
with word choice, syntax, or
style, although there may be
a minor error, or two, in the
Demonstrates correct
sentence construction,
clarity, and good flow for the
most part, although some
sentences may be awkward
or unclear. A few issues of
word choice, syntax, or style
may occur.
Persistent problems with
articulation, clarity, and
flow. May demonstrate
little sentence variety, or
vague or awkward
phrasing. May sound like
a spoken, not a written
piece, or have several
issues with word choice,
syntax, or style.
Parts of the paper
are difficult to read
and interpret clearly
or consistently. May
contain many errors
in sentence
construction or word
choice that obscure
the paper’s meaning.
Serious problems
with word choices,
construction, and
style obscure
meaning and make
this paper
inconsistent with
college-level writing
Mechanics of
Writing and
Papers will be almost entirely
free from mechanical errors
(spelling, usage, and
punctuation) and the formal
requirements for the paper
(double-spacing, etc.). Papers
will cite and use one
bibliographic style correctly.
A few minor instances of an
incorrect use of words,
misspellings, or punctuation
errors may occur. Papers
might have few and small
errors or confusions in their
citation and reference
system, or the formal
requirements for the paper.
May contain persistent
errors in spelling,
punctuation, or usage.
May have several bigger
errors or confusions in
the citation and reference
system (e.g. a list of links
instead of properly
formatted Works Cited
list), or the formal
requirements for the
May demonstrate
deficiencies in
punctuation, spelling,
and usage. May not
cite or indicate the
source of references
at all. May disregard
many of the formal
requirements for the
Contains numerous
errors in spelling,
punctuation, and
usage. Serious
problems with
citation and
referencing that
border on
plagiarism. May
disregard all the
formal requirements
for the paper.
Clear sense of individual
voice and awareness of
audience expectations, as
demonstrated by the paper’s
use of tone and an
appropriate level of diction for
an academic paper.
Mostly clear sense of
individual voice and
awareness of audience
expectations. Level of diction
may occasionally be uneven
or colloquial, or somewhat
inappropriate for an
academic audience.
Voice and diction may be
significantly inconsistent
with audience
expectations or the
requirements for an
academic analysis.
Paper may
demonstrate a
awareness of
audience and voice
for an academic
Serious problems
with tone, diction,
and sense of
audience, such as
inappropriate and
offensive language.

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