These kinds of assignments show that you’re doing the reading and thinking about how to relate them to each other and our discussions. Obviously you can do this in our class meetings as well, but this gives you yet another forum to show that you’re learning. And to help me give you the most appropriate grade for your effort at the end of the term.
In terms of the writing itself, the assignments encourage/force you to focus on the clarity and concision of your thinking and expression. It’s a super useful skill that you’ll frequently employ in your future career, whatever it is.
You must use only bullet points (and sub-bullets) to articulate your ideas. Bullet points by definition are short and to the point; don’t write small paragraphs.
Bullet points does not mean sentence fragments. Use complete sentences.
Make interesting and sophisticated observations in each bullet point.
Strive for both concision and clarity. This is really difficult.
Be sure you create and follow a logical structure and progression to your bullet points. A random collection of ideas will be frowned upon.
General formatting checklist
One page maximum
11 pt. Times New Roman (or very similar serif font)
1” margins on all sides
Your name on top; do not bother noting the course, me, etc.
Everything should be single spaced, but put a blank line between bullet points
Tips for success
Be specific. Something like, “Railroads were important to Chicago’s development” tells me little more than you have a pulse. Don’t waste our time, please.
Provide specific citations. This forces you to double check your own memory and interpretation of the readings, and helps you avoid making false claims. In your references to the readings, use page numbers.
Paraphase. Avoid full quotations (short phrases are fine), since you want use all the space for your own thinking.
Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what you think is most important! That’s part of what you’re being graded on.
Revise, revise, revise. Once you have a complete draft of everything you want to say, you are about 50% done. Set it aside (and budget time for this!), then come back and economize your prose. Remove simple sentences that force you to be unnecessarily verbose.
1 (initial idea): There was a cat. The cat was black and it chased a mouse, which was eating cheese.
2 (revised prose): The black cat chased the cheese-eating mouse.
Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing shine.
It is always worthwhile to talk about these things in class; don’t hesitate to ask. Email is OK, too, especially for quick questions.
fred gibbs ∗ history department ∗ university of new mexico