Workshop Sample: Moriah Purdy

Samples from Moriah Purdy’s English 101

Project 2: Literary Analysis of Jane: A Murder


We’ve been discussing our own writing processes at length in the first assignment as we begin to heighten our own self-awareness as authors. We’ve attempted to describe roadblocks, and difficulties and have begun to clarify our sense of how and why we write the way that we do. As you’ve learned about yourself, your own habits and moves have been informed by a variety of experiences. This, of course, is true for all writers.


Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder, is a hybrid text with poems, literary excerpts, re-scripted conversations and correspondence, elements of memoir, and much more. From the get-go, it’s clear that, despite the title, Nelson’s approach to handling the mystery surrounding the murder of her aunt is not your typical approach to the murder-mystery narrative. Nelson’s moves and motives certainly take advantage of our expectations for what a murder-mystery should look and feel like, however, so it’s precisely that interpretive context you’ll make use of in this essay project (see Writing Analytically for a refresher on interpretive contexts, if you need one).


Guidelines for this project* 


  • Offer an argument that answers the following question: How does Nelson’s treatment of conventional murder-mystery storytelling affect your interpretation of Nelson’s purpose for writing this book? To do so, you’ll want to focus on the moves Nelson makes. Specifically, how and why does Nelson fulfill, contradict, and/or exploit our expectations for what a murder-mystery text should be? How and why does Nelson reference and make use of those expectations to shape her project?  Feel free to refer to the Law and Order SVU episode and our in-class analysis for help identifying murder-mystery conventions.
  • Identify a point of tension your argument works against. Tension in an argument allows you to counter other possible interpretations or assumptions, which means that there is something at stake in your project. Without something at stake, a thesis statement will often come across as observation or reaction rather than a contestable idea. Elements of tension in thesis statements often begin with turns of phrase such as “Although…” or “While it might seem that…” so that it is clear to your reader the idea/issue/assumption you are working against in your essay.
  • Practice close reading and textual analysis to support your claims. Your essay should demonstrate close and effective reading and analysis as evidence for your claims. The details you cite should include Nelson’s formal and structural decisions as much as specifics at the language level. Remember to refrain from non-analytical moves such as pre-judging, generalizing, and/or over-personalizing.




  • Your essay should be the equivalent of 3 to 5 pages (around 900 to 1500 words). The final will be due on October 9th.
  • The essay will be worth 20% of your final grade.
  • Working drafts (around 600 words, due September 25th), peer review (September 27th), and one-on-one conferences (October 4th – 6th) will help you in the writing process for this essay. Peer review and conference reflections will count as in-class writing.
  • As always, see the Course Projects page for general instructions and for details on the criteria by which essays will be evaluated. Note: Attending to the guidelines above will count toward the “appropriateness” category.


Evaluation Criteria


Writing projects will be assessed on the following five criteria:


  1. 1.     Appropriateness: The components of this criterion will change/evolve depending on the individual project. An appropriate response to the assignment will include all of the key components as outlined in the guidelines for each individual assignment’s prompt. This criterion, in part, assesses how carefully you paid attention to the prompt. Note: not meeting this criterion will inevitably affect your ability to succeed in the other areas. 
  2. Sophistication of the thinking (the complexity of the idea/argument). The level of complexity and nuance in your thinking will always be rewarded. You should use the writing project as an opportunity to solve problems and increase the depth of your thinking. This, in part, demonstrates that you are taking on the assignment with genuine interest and investment. The argument (the result of this thinking) should make it clear to the reader what is at stake in the essay. Ambitious, difficult ideas will always be rewarded over simplistic ones, even if the ambitious idea isn’t fully realized in the essay.
  3. Logical presentation of the thinking (organization and transition). The organization of the essay must follow a logical pattern for the reader. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself: “What have I already presented to my audience? What do they need to know next?” Take your readers on the journey of your thinking, and make sure they feel secure and guided through it (make your implicit ideas explicit in your details). Your essay should answer “so what?” at every turn. Rather than “proving” yourself right you should make use of your evidence to complicate and expand (to add new energy and momentum) to your argument. In other words, your argument should evolve as the essay progresses.
  4. Genuine engagement with the writing process. Each phase of your process (working drafts submitted for peer review, drafts presented to conferences, and revisions) should demonstrate that you are invested in the task of further developing and complicating your thinking, and that you have taken advantage of the strategies you’ve learned, the time afforded, and the feedback provided to you. Remember: revision is re-thinking. Additions or mechanical corrections alone will not demonstrate improvement.
  5. Adherence to academic convention and stylistic proficiency.  Written work submitted for grading should exhibit language that is deliberate and grammatically sound. Academic conventions for the introduction of quotations and citations should be followed cleanly and accurately. Language should be free from typos and other mechanical slippage. This criterion also accounts for adherence to the aforementioned “logistics” above.


When I evaluate your essays I will provide two kinds of feedback: First, I will assign the values of “highly successful,” “successful,” “adequate,” “poor,” or “absent” for each criteria above, and secondly I will write a substantive terminal note which will summarize and qualify my assessment of your success in these areas, ask questions that came up during my reading, and offer suggestions for revisions and future thinking. Although there are always negotiations to be made in determining the overall success of a written work (see note on ambitious arguments above), together these approaches to feedback will help you interpret how I arrived at your grade. In general, essays deemed “highly successful” in all areas will receive an “A,” essays deemed “successful” in all areas will receive a “B,” and so forth. Remember, all formal assignments may be revised for an improved grade. 



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