Final Essay Guide

Final Exam Question

You are a hotshot journalist who has been asked to write a smart 1800-word op-ed on food and technology. What are the key themes people should be thinking about? Don’t just state that history is important or recite course topics. DESCRIBE WITH EXAMPLES how history helps us think more critically about food and technology.

Assignment Goals

This assignment will show me that you’re able to use the course material to make smart arguments about the future of food using historical precedents.

As a comprehensive final exam, your answer should draw from the entire course to show me how much of the material you’re now able to use. Your essay is to an extent an opinion piece, but I care less about what your opinion IS than HOW you support from course material. In other words, you can argue anything you want—there’s no right or wrong answer per se—but you need to make a coherent argument supported by course material.


Pausing the obvious for a moment: Your audience is NOT ME as your professor who is grading your paper. You’re writing to a broad audience and trying to get them to think more critically about food and technology.

DO NOT simply provide a prose version of the syllabus outlining the topics we covered. Think thematically and synthetically. I’m looking for you to highlight WHAT you think are the most important themes/topics we’ve covered AND explain WHY they are the most important.

If you just recite facts or historical tidbits your learned at some point this term, your audience (including me) will not be impressed. They want the big picture. The so what. The who cares. What kinds of issues are important for this person to think about that they probably haven’t considered or maybe have thought about only superficially?

Organizational advice (not really optional)

Your paper must make a coherent argument throughout, not just randomly drift from topic to topic in the hopes of mentioning everything that you think I might be looking for. I’m definitely not looking for that! Make a case for what you think are the most important big picture themes this semester—don’t just describe some topics we’ve covered or keep repeating that history is important. EXPLAIN HOW AND WHY IT IS.

GIVE SPECIFIC EXAMPLES! Don’t write a whole paragraph about olives making people sick. So what?!? Write a paragraph or more about consumer trust, industrial growing pains, or the role of the media, in which you mention olives making people sick as a specific historical example.

References and Citations

Anything in your text that refers to a specific point or idea (and obviously direct quotations) should a have parenthetical page reference. These show me as the grader how you are using course materials in your review. Use author/date format like (Gibbs, 75). When we’ve read more than one thing from an author, cite a short title of the work as well, like (Jenkins, Food Fight, 33). Do not cite entire works without a page number or page range—that doesn’t tell me anything other than you looked at the syllabus for 5 seconds.


These are a chance to show off you’ve learned from the course, connections you can make between topics, and how you can apply the course in your future thinking about food. But I’d also love to hear about any topics you found especially interesting or boring!

Tips for success

  • Think thematically and synthetically. Have I mentioned that?
  • Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what you think is most important!
  • Maintain a narrative thread. Make sure each sentence flows from one to the next. Abrupt changes in topic, tense, style, etc, are quite jarring for a reader. This is almost impossible to do well when drafting your initial ideas (unless you are an extremely talented writer already), so look to improve this aspect as you revise.
  • Be specific. Give a specific example to illustrate your general point whenever possible. Never, even mention only that something relates to something else. You must explain how and why and the significance of the relationship. This is probably the biggest weakness with most essays.
  • Paraphrase. Avoid long quotations. Use all the space to develop your argument!
  • 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 or bullet points that force you to be unnecessarily verbose. See the revision guide. Revisions are hard! But they are the only way to make your writing—and your THINKING—shine.


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