Course: WRI 134
Instructor: Brendan Wright
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumAs every course in the writing program, the main goal of “Talking Politics” is to teach its students about the basics of academic writing and different essay styles that they might encounter throughout their life at Princeton. Even though this course is called “Talking Politics”, you will not be talking as much about politics as you would about how others talk about politics. You will dig deeper into different rhetorical methods and strategies, as well as choice of words in several political contexts. One important thing to know from the beginning is that writing seminars teach you how to write well a SPECIFIC kind of essay - not necessarily how to write well in general. Many departments don’t follow all the writing program’s guidelines and encourage you to write in a different style (e.g. philosophy), but this class will definitely help you build the foundation of your future academic writing. The class is divided into three main sections. In the first section, you will learn how to identify something worth writing about in “The Peloponnesian War” and formulate an arguable thesis that can be supported with evidence and presented through the lens of either Plato’s “Gorgias” or Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”. In the second section, you will learn how to find a gap in a scholarly piece about different aspects of political discourse and address it with different examples from a politician’s speech of your choice. In the third and last section, you will create a research paper on a topic related to discourse in politics of your own choice for which you have to find sources and evidence by yourself. There are three main essays you will be graded on, one for each section and for each of which you will write two versions - draft(D) and revision(R). The first version is not graded by itself, but it will count towards your participation grade (10%). The first essay has 5-6 pages (15%), the second essay 7-8 pages (25%) and the third essay 10-12 pages (35%). The rest of your grade is made of the research proposal (5%, which represents “selling” your idea for the research paper) and the dean’s date assignment (DDA, 10%, a more open piece of writing about a word that you would like to change or take out of the language).
Learning From Classroom InstructionThroughout the semester, I have identified some different types of sections that “Talking Politics” is made of. The first ones are the “let’s debrief the reading” sections. Here, prof. Wright facilitates a discussion about the content in the assigned readings. If you didn’t understand a certain part of the text you had to read, this is the time to ask for help. If something seems a bit off to you, that might be a sign of a great motive for your next paper! Either way, it is important to take advantage of those sections because they are the ones where prof. Wright engages with the students the most. The second type are the lexicon sections. This is when prof. Wright stands up and writes some definitions on the board. I personally found those sections to be the most helpful in my time at Princeton after finishing the writing seminar. They make you understand what are the elements that every academic paper should have, no matter what the subject you talk about is. These sections are also common throughout all writing seminars, so, whether or not you choose to take one writing seminar or another, you will encounter them for sure. The third type of sections are the “let’s look at what others did and see what works and what doesn’t” sections. Here, prof. Wright brings different sections from essays written by students who took the course in the past and lets the current students critique them. This strategy is helpful since it gives students an example of a similar academic level from which they can adopt the good parts and learn how to avoid the bad parts. Something to keep in mind is that these examples are never the best or the worst - and this is exactly the reason why the professor picks them. You will discuss them in class, so pay attention and make sure you make note of what prof. Wright considered “good” - you might want to integrate that in your own writing. One of the most common activities that you will hear everyone talking about are the “let’s critique what your peers have written”. This is when the students in the class, four for each section, bring their drafts and everyone comments them in something similar to a focus group. If your peers judge your essay, make sure to take notes. Some of the comments made might not be that helpful, but some might give you insights on how to begin your revision. If you have to judge someone else’s writing, don’t be shy! Say whatever you want to say, even if it’s not always positive. The writing seminars are safe spaces and everyone wants to say as much as they can to get a good participation grade. Last but not least, you will have your private conferences. There, you will meet with either only your professor or together with him and some peers and discuss your draft(s) before the revision is due. Here, make sure you make note of ALL the notes that prof. Wright makes. Since attendance is mandatory, you will have to go to all the classes and conferences. One of the most important things to know about Prof. Wright is that he values class participation a lot. If you get the chance to speak, you should do it! Don’t be afraid that you might say something wrong - a lot of students do, but you have to be a part of the discussion if you want a good grade in the class.
Learning For and From AssignmentsSomething that you will hear a lot at Princeton is that “you always have something to do for your writing seminar” - and it is as true as it can get! There are assignments for almost every class, whether it’s readings, drafts or actual essays. First things first - do the readings! Even if you think you can “trick” the professor to think you did the reading when you didn’t, you will have to come back to it anyways because you will need to use ideas and even quotes from it in your essay. If you leave your reading for later it will just slow you down. The longest one is actually the first reading. If you can, read “Gorgias” before the beginning of the course. It is due on the second class and, as the first week is always tough for all your classes, it will save you a lot of energy if you come prepared. Then, each reading in about 20 pages long. It might be hard if you are not familiar with politics or if English is not your first language, because some texts are very specific. If, however, you really don’t like the reading, check the prompt of the essay you have to write - it will tell you exactly how many texts you will actually use. For the first essay, you will only need “Gorgias” OR “Rhetoric” as a lens, so if you don’t like or understand one of them that well, don’t worry! You can always write about the other. The same thing applies for the second essay, where you have to choose only ONE scholarly work and ONE speech to write about. With this tip, try to focus your reading. Skim the pieces you don’t need for your writing and carefully read the ones you need. It will save you a lot of time. The written assessments come in a variety of forms and knowing how to stay on top of each of them is incredibly important. The first category are the pre-drafts. They are made to “force” you to start your essay. Some students have the impression that, since you will not submit them on Blackboard, they don’t matter. They might not matter that much for your grade (prof. Wright only checks for completion and not the actual writing - you will usually workshop drafts with your peers), but they do matter for your actual essay. A good pre-draft is a good start for an essay. If it is good, you won’t have to come back and review it later and that will save you so much time. One pre-draft will be graded - the research proposal for your last essay, so pay attention to that. Then, there are the drafts - D1, D2 and D3 - which will probably take you the most time to write. The key is to not let the idea that these essays are not actually graded to blur your vision. The more you work on your drafts, the less you have to work on your revisions. One technique that I discovered while working is to keep your drafts as simple as possible. Focus more on the ideas that you want to talk about and less on the writing itself. You can always come back and change the wording of a phrase, but you will have to start from scratch if the ideas are not good. Start by brainstorming for a good motive - something that intrigues you for real, something that doesn’t add up in your mind. Then comes the hardest part - finding an arguable thesis. If you found a good thesis, half of your work is done! Don’t be afraid to go to office hours once you have your thesis set and ask prof. Wright what he thinks. He will not tell you exactly if what you have is good or bad, but he will give you some ideas on how you can improve it. One thing to keep in mind is that your essays should be as specific as possible. What helped me keep is specific was thinking about this - if someone reads your essay and all the names you mentioned in it are replaced by neutral pronouns, they should still be able to recognize the text you are writing about. The revisions (R1, R2 and R3) are the better versions of your drafts. The key here is to listen to all the relevant feedback that you are getting from the professor and your peers. Again, prof. Wright will not be too explicit in his feedback, but he will point to some areas that need to be changed and those are the areas you should focus your time on. The reason I said you should make sure you have a great motive and thesis from the beginning is because you don’t want to get to the point when you have to start a 12 pages essay from scratch. Last, but not least, you will have to write response letters for other peers’ drafts. My best advice would be to create a template for those letters with aspects that you want to focus on. Then, just replace the blanks with specifics from that person’s essay. For example, “I found your structure to be …” or “Something I would work on for the revision process is …”. Apart from the common assignments for all the units of this course, you will have to write one dean’s date assignment of about 5 pages. Don’t stress too much about it - the point of this assignment is to boost your grade! That is why its structure is less strict than before. Let your imagination do its thing!
External ResourcesOne external resource that everyone talks about is the writing center. The writing center is a “tricky” resource because it is mostly run by other students. In my experience with it, I have found writing fellows who are incredibly good and really helped me shape my essay in a good way, but also fellows that didn’t really know what was going on in my essay and kept talking about basic stuff that I already knew for the entire hour. If you use the writing center as your main resource for this class, always make two appointments - this will give you a better chance of finding a good fellow that can help you with your essay. Come prepared and guide the conversation - you only get 50 minutes with the fellow. If they go off topic, don’t be afraid to stop them and tell them what you really want from them. It is your appointment after all. Ask about the magic thesis statement (if they don’t mention it from the beginning, which they might do). It is pretty helpful when checking if your thesis makes sense. Another resource for this course, as for all classes, are office hours. They are not long - usually 15 minutes - so they are good for short, straight to the point questions. If you want to ask a broader question, I suggest emailing prof. Wright or talking to him after class. Something else to be aware of are citation machines you can find online. They are permitted by the honor code and will save you a lot of time. Zotero is a great citation machine that will format your bibliography in whatever citation style you want for your essay. For the first two essays you might be able to cite everything by hand, but you will DEFINITELY need some help with your research paper.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionThis course will take a lot of your time. There is not a lot of reading involved, but the reading is quite challenging, especially if you are not familiar with specific political terms and ideas. If you are looking into Politics of Public and International Affairs as your tentative major, I think this class suites you. You will learn a lot, for sure! Prof. Wright is a very good politics teacher and working with him will definitely benefit you. If you are not really into Politics, I don’t think this is the right course for you. Try to find a writing seminar on a topic you like, because the lexicon content you will learn and the structures of the assignments are common throughout all writing seminars. The topic is very important because you will write about that in all your essays, so make a good pick! The grading in this course is very strict - way stricter than in other writing seminars - so if you know academic writing is not your best quality, try another seminar. Last, do not take this class in a semester when you plan to take five courses - this is what I did and it wasn’t at all a pleasant experience, since I didn’t manage to have free time at all!