Workshop Sample: Advancing an Argument


Professor Meehan | English 101

Writing Project #1: Reflective Wreading

Purpose: To engage in the development and revision of a critical argument in writing that responds to a problem relating to the texts and ideas we are exploring in the course. In other words, you will be developing in each assignment a thesis-governed essay. In addition, the purpose in each case will be to focus in on a particular element of critical writing and thinking–the learning focal points: critical reflection, close reading, integration of critical arguments.

Format: The writing projects should be approximately 3-5 double-spaced pages (12 point font, standard margins), unless otherwise noted. For any citations, use MLA format [in-text citation; works cited at end–refer to Purdue OWL] Each project will be submitted to Blackboard as well as posted to your blog. The copy uploaded to Blackboard must include a brief self-reflection above the essay and an Honor Code Statement at the bottom.

Self-Reflection: 2-3 sentences identifying

[1]something in the essay that you feel is strong/effective and that you focused on in developing and revising this project (what’s working?),

[2]something you think you need to improve/develop, possibly add to your list (what else?),

[3]and something further you might do with this essay  should you return to this essay for the final project (what’s next?).

Honor Code statement: I pledge my honor that I have completed this work in accordance with the Honor Code.

Approximately means that a piece much shorter than 3, or much longer than 5, is in need of revision and rethinking for the purposes of the given assignment.

Audience: I am only the initial reader of your essay. Since we are emphasizing that writers seek to communicate their writing in a variety of public/published forms, you need to consider a larger audience for each of the essays–and let that audience inform your writing and revision. Generally speaking, your audience for these projects will be readers who are interested in what first-year students at Washington College are writing and learning. This means that they have a basic knowledge of this course and its assignments, but no specific knowledge of the texts you are discussing or ideas you are exploring. One goal of mine is to have you submit a final version of one of these essays for publication in a digital magazine I am developing for first-year writers at Washington College. Readers of that magazine will be: your peers, other professors on campus, your parents, future students–all interested in getting a better view of how first-year students at WAC think and write.

Topic: Develop a 3-5-page essay that reflects on, and argues for, your understanding of the significance of reading and/or writing. You have some models to consider (Graff, Birkerts, Harris) for how strong and engaging critical writing can be effective and deliberate in using autobiographical reflection to develop its focus on significant ideas. In other words, your essay should demonstrate your understanding that autobiographical reflection (at least the kind I want to read) does not mean merely writing about yourself—should not read like a resume.

◦                The question you will be answering in this essay (think of your thesis as the answer to this question): What is your view of the significance of reading/writing and how has that view been shaped by your experience as a reader/writer? In other words, what does it mean, from your perspective, to read and/or write? [I am leaving it up to you whether you want to deal with reading or writing or some combination of the two]

◦                Learning Focal Point for this project: Critical Reflection—developing significance and focus through reflection. As Harris argues (Rewriting), “coming to terms” with other texts requires strong reflection from the writer. One way you should focus your attention and your argument/thesis (or what Harris calls a “project”): cite and explain what Birkerts or Graff or Harris say about reading/writing–and use that to then focus on your own view in response.  Your essay must have at least one quotationin it (from either Birkerts or Graff or Harris), effectively incorporated into your “project” (argument/thesis) for this essay.

Some suggestions for developing your argument and its focus:

Identify and respond to a problem:

Use a critic to set up the problem: Although Birkerts argues that reading is X, in my view reading is Y.

Use your earlier self/views to set up the problem: Although I used to view reading/writing as ___, now I understand that ____.


Evaluation: Rubric for Writing Projects

In the liberal arts tradition, before there were courses in writing, before there were even courses in English departments, the curriculum focused on three related elements for composing a speech and (later) a written text: logic, rhetoric, and grammar. By the time Washington College was founded in the late 18th century, the term used for all three areas was Rhetoric: the art of effective and compelling composition

We can think of those three elements today as categories that a strong writer works on when producing a composition and that an engaged reader expects from the composition when receiving it.  These three categories, renamed and elaborated below, provide the rubric we will use in developing writing projects and that I will use when evaluating the final versions of each project. Your goal, then, is the same goal I have with my own academic writing: strong, rhetorically successful composition of thought, ideas, and arguments.

[1]Critical Thinking [the ‘logic’]

  • Complexity of your thinking:
    • A stake and purpose and complication to your thinking—answering: So what? Who Cares? What’s the difference?
    • Refinement of your thinking:
      • Elaboration of key terms, providing new insights for conventional ideas, complicating simplistic ways of thinking about a topic (including your own assertions).
    • Effective statement and reiteration (threading) of your thesis/argument throughout the composition.
  • Evidence and support for your thinking, your argument:
    • Effective and thoughtful use of texts and arguments of others—your participation in the critical conversation; effective address of arguments other than and/or counter to your own.
    • Effective use of logic and avoidance of logical fallacies.
  • Element to focus on while reading, responding, composting, and revising.

[2]Rhetorical Knowledge and Writing Process [the ‘rhetoric’]

  • Arrangement of your critical reading as a dynamic narrative (not a static thesis):
    • Paragraph structure:
      • Movement (transition) from effective beginning (introduction), middle (supporting readings, complications) and ending (conclusion) in your narrative;
      • Movement within each paragraph, from initial to closing sentence.
    • Effective introduction and conclusion:
      • Setting up the context of your argument/focus and leaving the reader with implications for further thinking.


  • Development of the composition:
    • Deliberate reading of ideas and texts in key moments of your narrative:
      • Close/slow reading of text, including effective use of citation/quotation.
    • Stylistic engagement of your audience/reader in the composition:
      • Ethos and pathos, in addition to logos.
      • Use of language, images and rhetorical figures that impress, enhance, surprise, move, and address the reader as well as your focus.
  • Elements to focus on while revising and editing.

[3]Conventions [the ‘grammar’]

  • Attention to deliberate and specific use of language:
    • Deliberate choice in words (precision, connotation) and syntax:
      • For example: passive and active sentences; varying long and short sentences.
    • Being specific with the medium you are writing about (print, film, digital) and the medium you are using (example: might you include an image in your text?).
  • Attention to cleanliness of your presentation:
    • Editing usage for misspelling, typos, missing words, incomplete sentences or thoughts;
    • Editing violations of academic and print writing conventions that you have not consciously chosen for effect.
  • Attention to the formal presentation of your narrative:
    • Effective title, possible epigraph (?).
    • Effective formatting, spacing, indenting, proper use of style conventions for citation.
  • Elements to focus on while editing.



For each project, there will be a focal point adding a fourth category to the evaluation and focus for that composition: reflection, slow reading, specificity, revision. These focal points are ways we will be thinking about approaching the project and ways to improve upon all three areas of the composition. In that sense, they are not separate elements of strong writing so much as lenses we will use to focus on our writing process, from compost through revision to completion.

Each of the four categories will be worth 25 points. The scale I will use is the following.

24-25: excellent; the element (for example: critical reading or development or presentation) is prominent in the composition, demonstrating a thorough and impressive grasp—ready to experiment with other or new items on list.

23: very strong; the element is present and effective, very good grasp—almost ready to check off list.

20-22: strong; the element is mostly present and effective, demonstrating a good grasp with room to continue development to enhance effect—keep on list.

18-19: proficient; the element is present in spots, but not effectively or consistently present, demonstrating an emerging grasp in need of further development—keep on list for next project.

15-17: weak; the element is mostly absent, not effective in the composition, demonstrating a limited grasp in need of more extensive development—keep on list and take into conference with me and/or writing center before next project.

10-14: insufficient; the element fails to be present and is not addressed by the writer, demonstrating a poor grasp in need of immediate focus—plan a conference right away to discuss further what could be improved for the next project.

below 10: not evident or not completed as expected


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