Definitional Argument Guidelines

What is true crime? This is the question you will answer in this carefully researched

and argued analytical essay that advances a specific and complex claim concerning

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the definition of true crime. Whereas in your previous essay, the literature review,

you primarily articulated what others have to say about true crime, in this essay you

will foreground your own voice and draw on the voices of others in developing your

own position.

The essay will in part be an answer to the question, “What do people talk about

when they talk about true crime?” But it will also involve an exploration of what

people don’t talk about when they talk about true crime, as well as what you think

might be problematic, fruitful, enlightening, or otherwise revealing about these

generic boundaries. In other words, what is true crime and why does answering this

question matter?

Some of the questions you might consider include, but are not limited to:

● What are the most common definitions of the genre?

● What assumptions about the genre tend to be made by those who discuss

true crime?

● What does true crime become if we define it through just one lens? What

does it become if we define it through a different lens?

● Is true crime a genre with objective and concrete boundaries, or is it more

dependent on context, audience, style, and/or structure?

● Should we come up with new or adjusted terms to account for grey areas and


● Does true crime intersect with other genres in a way that might help us

understand its boundaries?

● Are complaints about/praise for the genre dependent on particular

understandings of true crime?

● Has the genre been defined by those who produced canonical, “genre-

defining” texts? What is the result of this?

● Has the understanding of “true crime” changed over


In making your argument, you should provide analysis of at least three primary

texts (two must be books from our course, but the third can be a documentary or a

podcast) and draw from at least five secondary sources (they can be readings from

class, but this is not required). You can adapt portions of your writing from previous

assignments (live tweets, critical reflections, your lit review, and worksheets),

reframed and revised for this specific paper.

Technical requirements:

Final: minimum of five pages, double-spaced; worth 10%.

Format: MLA




● writer offers a thesis that is insightful and interesting, generated from a

meaningful engagement with the material and original thought.

● writer demonstrates an understanding of key perspectives surrounding the

subject matter.

● writer grounds their argument and analysis in a clear understanding of

scholarly, cultural, and historical context.


● claims move beyond the obvious and avoid binary thinking.

● primary and secondary sources are represented in their full complexity,

without ignoring grey areas or aspects that are inconvenient for the

argument being made.

● writer acknowledges caveats and counterarguments in advancing their



● paper is grounded in a precise, complex claim which is stated early in the


● each paragraph makes a substantive contribution to the development of that


● writer moves smoothly from point to point.


● writing is dynamic, varied, fluid, and distinctive with an original voice and

memorable phrases.

● writer avoids subjective, hyperbolic, and imprecise phrasing.

● writer introduces primary and secondary sources with helpful signal phrases

and in a way that makes clear how these sources augment, challenge, or

advance the claim being made.


● writing is almost error free and easy to follow.

● writer uses MLA format correctly.

● essay seems polished and not rushed or thrown together.

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