Writing Assignments

Formal Writing Assignment #3: Final Essay

Proposal Due : no later than May 6th  (submit electronically via email to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu)

Paper Due: Friday, May 17th.  Please submit your essay by sharing it with jsylvor@gmail.com as a Google Doc or by emailing it to me at jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu. 

Give your file the name “Your Name ENG 2850 Final Essay”.  Your essay itself should have a proper title!

4-6 pages, double-spaced, with one-inch margins


Option One:  Traditional Essay

For this final essay of the semester, you will be bringing two texts into conversation with each other. Drawing on any two readings we’ve read over the semester, consider the complicated relationship between the individual and society as it’s explored in the works we’ve read.  What issues emerge when society’s demands are not in line with the desires of the individual? How do the authors we’ve studied see that struggle?

This is a very GENERAL suggestion.  You will need to use this broad prompt to guide you in creating your own topic or guiding question for this essay.


Step One: Formulate  and Submit Topic

Due by Monday, May 6th via email to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu

This is a broad subject, so you will need to narrow your scope in order to construct a tightly focused analytical essay. 

Your written topic should show how you’ve adapted the broad issue of the individual and society to suit the particular texts you’re discussing. For example, you might choose to think about the issue in terms of gender and focus your attention on the conflict between societal demands and individual desires as they relate to women in two of the texts you’ve read. (This is just one example; we could come up with many more!) 

Formulate your topic in the form of a single question you are asking about the two texts you’ve chosen.  Your question should include the two texts you are writing about.   Keep in mind that this is an analytical essay, not a descriptive one; be sure that your question is one that will yield analysis rather than description. This means not just letting us know what happens in the two texts, but also giving us a way of understanding or interpreting it.

One strategy you may find useful for coming up with your topic is as follows:

–What two texts do you want to write about? Here you should be guided by your own sense that two texts seem somehow to be connected or to have something in common.

  • What area of overlap or point of connection do you see between the two texts?
  • How might you turn that observation into a question you are asking about the two texts?
  • Once you’ve identified the question, be sure that your question is not a “yes or no” or “either/or” question and that it is a question that will yield analysis, rather than just description.

You may choose your texts from anywhere in the syllabus up to and including “The Metamorphosis.”  

Once you have emailed me your proposed topic (in the form of a question), wait to hear back from me.  If your topic is ready to go, you will get an email back from me that ends with “good luck with the essay.”  If I write back and ask you to adjust your topic, you will need to make the changes I suggest and then re-submit your topic. This process will continue until you have arrived at a topic question that will yield a focused analytical essay.

Drafting the Essay

I will be providing information in class about how to organize this comparative essay.  Your goal in this essay is to come to a deeper understanding of the two texts you’re writing about.  You will be backing up your assertions through the inclusion of textual evidence – both paraphrase and direct quotations.  Use simple parenthetical citations to identify the page number of your quotations where appropriate, being sure to use the same versions of the text that were assigned for the course.

Like your second writing assignment, this paper is a close textual analysis, based on your own thinking about the texts we’ve studied. DO NOT CONSULT ANY SECONDARY SOURCES OR MAKE USE OF ANY AI PLATFORMS (like ChatGPT) IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING THIS PAPER.  

Option Two:  Creative Alternatives

If you prefer to explore a more creative response to this assignment, you can bring two texts into conversation in a framework other than a traditional academic essay.  Here too, use the idea of the tension between individual desires and communal expectations as your jumping off point.

  • As in the traditional essay assignment outlined above, your first task is to identify two texts that seem to you to have something in common.  
  • Next, you need to articulate for yourself what it is that these two texts share.  What connects them?
  • Use that area of overlap or point of connection to imagine a way to bring the two into conversation.  

This “conversation” could take any number of forms.  Some possibilities include:

–an actual imagined conversation between two authors or two characters.  We could imagine them actually in the same room, talking, writing letters to each other, engaged in long text chain, etc….

-a contemporary reworking of the issues/themes in the two works you selected in a work of creative writing in any genre.

-an audio essay that responds to the prompt orally, rather than in writing.

-a visual essay that brings the two texts together in a work of visual art

These are just suggestions.  I am open to any creative format -as long as it reflects a serious, thoughtful engagement with the issues presented by your two texts.  

If you choose this route, your creative work should be accompanied by a brief (one page) “Artist’s Statement” that explains what you set out to do with this project.

Proposal Due: by Monday, May 6th.  Submit your idea in writing to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu.  Be sure to include the two texts you are bringing together, the connection between them you hope to explore, and the form your project will take.

Finished Projects Due: by Friday, May 17th.  Projects should be submitted electronically to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.edu or where appropriate, shared to our course blog.

Formal Writing Assignment #2 – Close Reading

2-3 pages, typewritten

Due:  Friday, April 12th

Submit:  Share as a Google Doc with jsylvor@gmail.com OR email as attachment to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu

For your second formal writing assignment of the semester, you will be practicing the skill of close reading that we have been working on all semester.  This means that your essay will be focused on doing a detailed analysis of a single passage.

Start by choosing a passage for analysis. Your passage should come from one of the following texts:

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener”

Leo Tolstoy, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”

Rabindranath Tagore, “Punishment”

You are looking for a passage  (it could be a whole paragraph or a portion of a paragraph)  that appears to you to be both significant and potentially complex or rich in meaning.  You ought to steer clear of any passages that we discussed at length in class.  In mapping out your close reading, you might want to consider the following questions. This list is supposed to be suggestive, rather than prescriptive.  That means that you should NOT feel like you have to answer ALL these questions!

  • What does this passage say?
  • Is there a meaning beneath or beyond the explicit message? What is it? How is it communicated?
  • What might the passage suggest about the writer’s motivations?
  • How do the writer’s style, imagery and choice of language create a tone or intensify a meaning?
  •  What specific examples in the passage (and additional passages) support these observations?
  • Are there particular words or phrases in your passage that require close attention and analysis?
  • Examine the passage in light of surrounding passages and the rest of the work.
  • What themes running through the work are evoked explicitly and implicitly in this passage?
  •  How does this passage fit—or not fit—into its immediate context as well as the work as a whole?
  • What insights into the work does it reveal?
  • What questions does the passage raise about the story being told?
  •  What conclusions can be drawn from this passage about the author and the text?

Think about how to organize your essay around the ideas or issues raised by your passage or addressed by your reading, rather than simply walking through it beginning to end.  One way to do this is to start with an outline in which each paragraph is focused on a particular idea you have about your passage.  Successful close readings offer a balance between close attention to the details of your passage and consideration of the larger themes of the work you are discussing.

Formal Writing Assignment #1 : A Personal Response

Length: 2-3 pages, 12pt type, double-spaced

Topic Due:  Monday, March 4th in class

Due:  Friday, March 15h.  

Your essay should be submitted to me as a Google Doc.  Please share it with jsylvor@gmail.com. While your essay itself should have an engaging title, please give the file the generic title: Your Name. ENG2850 Essay 1.  If you run into difficulties with this, send your essay as an email attachment to jennifer.sylvor@baruch.cuny.edu

For this first formal writing assignment of the semester, you will be choosing one of the assigned texts we have read together and identifying some aspect or element of the text that struck a chord with you.  

Your task in this essay is to offer your own personal response to that aspect of the text, thinking carefully about how to bring your own views and life experience into dialogue with the text you are writing about.  This assignment is asking you to clarify both your understanding of what the text is saying and your own thoughts.

Your first step in preparing to write this essay should be to select the text that you want to respond to.  Rather than going immediately to the text you enjoyed the most, I recommend thinking about which text you found yourself thinking about after we discussed it, which text you had a strong positive or negative reaction to, and which text seemed to have a relevance or resonance in your own life.  

Next, spend some time thinking (and perhaps free-writing) about the text you have selected.  Identify the issue, idea, or element that you want to focus on.  This will be your essay’s topic.

On Monday, March 4th, please come to class with your topic ready to submit in writing.  This can be handwritten or typed and should include the text you are writing about, your reason for selecting it, and idea you will be focusing on in your essay.  You can expect to receive your topic back with feedback from me on Wednesday, March 6th.

You will then be in a position to select the quotations you want to include in your essay, generate an organization plan for the essay, and begin writing.  I strongly suggest scheduling your work so that you have time to write a first draft, let it sit (ideally overnight), and then come back to it for revision.

Successful essays will:

  • Focus on a specific aspect or element of the text, rather than responding to the text in a more general way.
  • Use close analysis to try to understand what the original text is saying about your topic.
  • Show how your own thinking connects to the ideas explored in the literary text.  This might mean refuting an idea expressed in the text, concurring with the text, or elaborating on or extending the idea found in the text.
  • Give the reader an opportunity to get to know YOU and your own unique life experience and perspective.
  • Be well organized.  This means that each body paragraph will address a specific “sub-idea” related to your essay’s main topic.  That “sub-idea” will be expressed in the paragraph’s topic sentence.
  • Use the present tense when writing about the literary text. (i.e.  “Du Tenth throws herself into the river.”)
  • Include a minimum of three direct quotations from the text you are writing about.