Final Essay Guide – REVISED Apr 27

Final Exam Question(s)

Answer EITHER of the following questions (pretty much the same question to me):

  • What can we learn relevant to our present food system and about our relationship to food by studying the history of food and technology? Don’t tell me history is important. I know that. EXPLAIN what the history of food and technology teaches us that is actually useful.
  • What are the most important themes we’ve discussed this semester in terms of thinking about the future of food? You need to explain WHY they are the most important!

Format Options

Given that we’re adjusting to our online-only format by writing more executive summaries, and because you’re all obviously working hard to refine your executive-summary-writing skills, it makes sense that the final exam can take the same format.

Now there are TWO format options:

  • ~2400-word ESSAY (the original plan)
  • 4-to-5-page, ~1600-word EXECUTIVE SUMMARY (same formatting you’ve been doing)

Use whatever format you think will allow you to say the most about what you’ve learned in the course. I think they are equally difficult, but in distinct ways. Don’t pick the executive summary just because there are fewer required words—I expect a much higher density of information, so it because easy to run out of space and not say very much.

Assignment Goals

This assignment, in either form, shows that you’re able to summarize key course themes and use the course material to make smart arguments about the future of food using historical precedents.

As a final exam, your answer should draw widely 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 back it up. 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 historical evidence and examples.

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.

Formatting Requirements

  • EITHER a ~2400-word essay (regular paragraphs, etc) or ~1600-word executive summary
  • 11 pt. Times New Roman (or very similar serif font)
  • 1” margins on all sides
  • 1.5 line spacing for essays, or standard executive summary format
  • Don’t forget your name!


Pausing the obvious for a moment: Your audience is NOT ME as your professor who is grading your paper. It’s someone you want to impress who asks you what you learned in your food technology class. 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? Again, think thematically and synthetically.

Organizational advice (not really optional)

There is no set organizational structure like the book reviews. But 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! To be succinct: 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.

Again (and again), think thematically and synthetically. And 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.

Tips for success

  • Create a thread. Make sure each sentence or bullet point naturally 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.
  • Don’t dwell. You want to give a lot of analysis in a short space, so most points you’ll want to make should get compressed into a couple sentences. Don’t write a whole paragraph about, say, the writing being repetitive. “Despite the repetitive writing, the author makes the important point that…” OR, conversely: “Despite the interesting analysis of consumer trust, the repetitive writing challenges the reader’s will to continue reading.”
  • Paraphrase. Avoid long quotations. Use all the space to develop your argument!
  • Be selective. You can’t fit everything worth saying into your essay. Choose carefully what you think is most important!
  • Think thematically and synthetically. Have I mentioned that?
  • 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.


Email ASAP and email some more if need be.