Elements of an A essay
The essay opens with moderately general statements immediately rooted in a discussion of community and/or the play Antigone. Example of a first sentence: “Upon first reading Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone, a reader might think the play is primarily about laws and obedience.”
The opening paragraph does not include any unsubstantiated sweeping claims, such as “In today’s society, people should follow the law….” or, “Laws exist to be followed…”, or, “Since the dawn of time, people have gone against laws…”
The opening paragraph does not begin with a sentence suggesting that what follows is a summary of the play—e.g., “Antigone is a play about a woman who breaks the law to bury her brother.”
The word community and the title of the play are mentioned and discussed in the introduction. (Note: You can assume your reader—me—to be very familiar with Antigone and your secondary sources; this means you do not need to provide extensive summary of either.)
From the very beginning, the reader knows when the writer is referring to the play versus the character. (Note: this is accomplished through one simple formatting strategy.)
The introduction’s sentences build off one another; ideas are advanced and narrowed through the correct use of transitions.
The introduction presents the ideas/concepts from the secondary sources. You might mention the secondary sources, either by title or author. If you do not mention the texts or authors in the introduction, you should mention them early in the second and third paragraphs.
The opening paragraph narrows to a specific, arguable thesis that applies terms/concepts from the lens texts onto Antigone.
Example: “Antigone and Creon are tragic characters because they both exhibit what twentieth-century German psychologist Erich Fromm called malignant narcissism. These characters’ self-love and pride reveal them to be loyal only to themselves, which, in turn, results in the destruction of the community.”
Note: In this hypothetical thesis, one of the assigned critical source authors is Erich Fromm. From the thesis, we can determine the writer will apply Erich Fromm’s definition of malignant narcissism within analyses of Antigone and Creon. The mention of loyalty in the thesis suggests the other lens text—in this case, Sebastian Junger’s discussion of the importance of loyalty in sustaining community in Tribe.
Note: In papers like these, it’s customary for the writer to frame his/her analysis with explanations of terms as discussed in the lens texts. Thus, in this particular essay, the writer would first explain Erich Fromm’s definition of malignant personality, being sure to use key words that s/he will return to when s/he analyzes the two characters.
The writer would then explain Junger’s notion of community and the role loyalty plays in community. Near the end of these paragraphs, the writer would offer some final sentences explaining how someone with malignant narcissism threatens community and loyalty.
Each paragraph begins with a topic sentence signaling the development of thesis. The writer accomplishes this by using exact words/synonyms of/from the thesis in the topic sentence. (Someone unfamiliar with the essay could see a list of topic sentences and derive the thesis from the topic sentences.)
Paragraphs develop their main idea by following the MEAL structure: main idea, evidence and analysis, link back to larger claim. (An alternative to MEAL is PIE: point, information, explanation. MEAL is preferable for this essay so as to ensure analysis and that paragraph’s sub claim is linked back to thesis.)
Each paragraph focuses on one idea, although the writer should not produce a page-length paragraph. No reader wants to confront a solid block of text. The writer should find a place to split the paragraph into two.
Paragraphs contain minimal summary of sources; rather, body paragraphs consist of close analysis of the play supporting the contention that Antigone and Creon undermine community and loyalty through their malignant narcissism. The analysis is supported with textual evidence—e.g., passages, lines, etc.
Analysis applies key concepts from the lens texts within paragraphs. In this case, the analysis would be the mental states of both characters and how their actions/words undermine loyalty, which then weakens/destroys community.
The reader knows when the writer is referring to the play versus the character. (Note: this is accomplished through one simple formatting strategy.)
Between paragraphs and within each paragraph, the writer uses transitions to help the reader understand how ideas are related.
The writer uses several strategies to incorporate evidence: paraphrasing, summarizing, partial quotes. (Quotes over three typewritten lines are used sparingly, if at all.)
All source material is fully framed following TSIS guidelines.
All source material is documented with in-text parenthetical citations and according to MLA specifications.
Sources cited in essay appear on Works Cited page.
Sources on Works Cited per MLA specifications for type of source.
Conclusion is not formulaic—that is, conclusion not a mere restatement of main claim.
Conclusion might do one or more of the following: convince readers why the discussion matters; include a provocative insight or partial quotation from one of the sources; propose a course of action, a solution, or questions for further study; point to broader implication.
Quality of Analysis
Quality of analysis is sophisticated, original, and highly insightful. Ideas show evidence that writer expanded beyond his/her comfort zone. Analysis exhibits deep engagement with concepts from texts and class discussions. (This is a very difficult for the writer him/herself to measure.)
Writing projects an intellectual and confident tone: no use of first and second person; no hedging; no stated intentions (“In this essay, I will….”); use of declarative sentences; minimal use of adverbs; sophisticated and precise word choice.
Grammar and Mechanics
Note: It is TCC English dept policy that essays exhibiting five or more serious grammatical errors should automatically fail. Serious errors consist of the following: multiple sentence fragments, minimal or no punctuation; essays that clearly have not been proofread or read aloud and edited for clarity.
Grammar is correct. Correct use of punctuation and spelling.
Sentence mechanics are correct: no run-ons; fragments; comma splices; no dangling/misplaced modifiers; no subject-verb disagreement; no pronoun-antecedent disagreement.
Sentences are clear and concise: dominant use of active voice; no redundancies; dead wood; windups; expletives.
Note: Merely because you think your essay meets these criteria does not mean the quality of your essay is an A.
However, here’s some advice that may help you get closer to that ever-longed for grail: well before the deadline, you will have read and re-read the texts deeply; you will have participated in class discussions, exhibiting enthusiasm and intellectual humility. You have taken intellectual risks when it comes to analysis in class (and in your essay).
If you do the above, when you begin drafting your essay, you are more likely to produce thorough and (hopefully) profound analysis.
These behaviors themselves, however, do not automatically result in an A essay, as your essay must also exhibit that you can produce grammatically and mechanically correct sentences.
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