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Arcs of Coherence

How do I build coherence and connections beyond the length of a sentence? What is the difference (is there a difference?) between revising and editing?

Here is a final paragraph (319 Words). Let’s call this version 1

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has proven through strong correlation to have positive impacts on an individuals self understanding, commitment to social justice, self reliance, environmental concern, moral development, a greater sense of community, agreeableness and openness, and one’s sense of compassion and altruism. The connection to nature helps you develop into an active member of society. Being an active member of society does not only give you the ability to benefit yourself and ones around you, but globally can make the world a better place. The connection to nature on a larger scale can help the world become a better place in many ways, if more people developed this connection you would see more environmental care, which on a small scale could just be less litter, but this also means more environmental activists, and a greater ability to conserve land. With more people connecting to nature you would have a more accepting society, with better morals and activism in their area. This will result in a lowered division of classes, and more acceptance and help to the needy. This would happen through the virtue of compassion and self understanding instilled on a larger scale through the connection to nature. What the connection to nature essentially does is summed up well by Henry Thoreau when he states “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts”(Thoreau). The connection to nature gives you a more developed ability to make a difference in the world around us, which is, the highest of arts. Making a difference is something everyone can take upon themselves no matter how small, which will gradually lead to a global change. The ability to take this upon oneself is a virtue that everyone has the ability to develop, and the connection to nature is the tool that can bring it out upon anyone willing, up to the global scale.

Here is a revised version of the final paragraph. This version is broken out into four segments (160 Words). This is version 2.

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has a positive correlation with self understanding, self reliance, moral development, and environmental concern.

Spending time in nature also contributes to the social good: such as becoming an active member of society; committing to social justice; building greater sense of community, sustaining agreeableness, openness, compassion, and altruism.

These positive correlations, on a larger scale, can help the world become a better place. When more people have access to positive experiences in nature there is a greater probability of a more accepting society.

As Henry David Thoreau suggested as early as the nineteenth century, nature can motivate us to improve not only ourselves but also the world around us. For Thoreau, “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts” (). He understood that making a difference is one of the greatest arts we can contribute to the world, a virtue that everyone has the capacity to develop.

Here is an edited version of the final paragraph (167 words). This is version 3.

Connecting to the natural world from a young age has a positive correlation with self-understanding, self-reliance, moral development, and environmental concern. Spending time in nature also contributes to the social good: such as becoming an active member of society; committing to social justice; building greater sense of community; and sustaining agreeableness, openness, compassion, and altruism. These positive correlations, on a larger scale, can help the world become a better place. When more people have access to positive experiences in nature there is a greater probability of building and sustaining a more accepting society. As the nineteenth-century writer Henry David Thoreau suggests, nature can motivate us to improve not only ourselves but also the world around us. Thoreau says in Walden, “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts” (90). He understood what every generation needs to learn: that making a difference is one of the greatest arts we can contribute to the world, a virtue that everyone has the capacity to develop.

*Below is the source of the quotation: Henry David Thoreau. “How I lived, What I lived For.” Walden. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done” (90).

How do I end my paper?

1. Consider a conclusion that

  • leaves the reader with a memorable restatement or an explanation of why the argument matters
  • places the claim or purpose in a larger context

2.  Here are a few ways to conclude:

  • Summary (but more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question
  • Revisit claim (that is, do more than restate, as your reader is now more informed about the paper’s subject)
  • Relate to your reader (“Now it is up to you,” With this information, consider. . .”)
  • Use one of your sources, whether primary or secondary, or even turn to a new source, to capture the main point or nail down its significance
  • Say something new: point to broader implications, further lines of research or inquiry, unanswered questions, actions to take based on information provided in the essay

3. Some Examples

The purpose of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is not to convince a reader of anything. If there is one lesson to be learned from studying Emerson it is to never be definite about anything. Complacency in thought leads to limitations. Conformity attempts to suppress the individual. Emerson himself is never settled in his reasoning:

The deeper he went and the more he tried to grapple with fundamental conceptions, the vaguer and more elusive they became in his hands. Did he know what he meant by Spirit or “Over-Soul”? Could he say what he understood by the terms, so constantly on his lips, Nature, Law, God, Benefit, or Beauty? He could not, and the consciousness of the incapacity was so lively within him that he never attempted to give articulation to his own philosophy. His finer instinct kept him from doing that violence to his inspiration. (633)

With respect to social reform, Emerson knows that his greatest contribution is never to be settled in his own beliefs, and never to aspire to be settled. He will not tell his audience what to think. Telling people what they want to hear is never his purpose. The true action of Emerson’s life lies in his ability to provoke individual thought and action in others. One can only act off of one’s own convictions, and Emerson’s convictions are found in his beliefs that language grabs hold of interest, and inspires a person to think.


Longfellow’s attention to the aspects of fatherhood, and the roles that the father plays in society and in the home, are important in the changing culture of the family in nineteenth-century America. Longfellow was not afraid to show the development of the paternal figure during his time—even including in his poems flawed fathers and fathers managing households. In the nineteenth century, writers gave little attention to fathers or fatherhood, and there was a relative decline in the significance of fatherhood as well (Griswold 13). Longfellow’s contribution was to break out of these barriers and offer his readers poems that speak to fathers and the paternal roles that were being disregarded by so many.


From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, John McPhee defines nature as a place where people are. His portraits and place-based profiles of people consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; and his regional perspective offers readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural world. In his more recent books about geology, he invites readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar ways. For Bailey, McPhee’s later work is most importantly “about nature seen as completely as we can see it.” The consequences of McPhee’s project as a nature writer, from this point of view, are significant. For McPhee’s essential lesson as a nature writer is that our understanding of the natural world is something we must continue to shape as we broaden and deepen our inherently limited human perspectives.


A.R. Ammons insisted that the earth is not damaged and does not need to be saved. “If we would get off, it would recover itself beautifully in 25,000 years,” he explained in his interview with Schneider. He concluded that there is therefore really no reason to be concerned about the planet, “It can recover, but what we’ve done to it may cause us to eliminate ourselves.” His point is not that we should abandon responsible conduct as members of an ecological community. Rather he underscores that we know very little about the climate and the possibilities of the earth as a total complex. “It would be foolish of us to say definitively. We might even be doing some good and not know it. We may be stalling off the next ice age by raising the temperature a half a degree. Who knows? We don’t know.” For Ammons it is impossible to think nostalgically about the natural world. “I don’t think you can go back at all. I think that the only way to go is forward.”

When Ammons died from complications of cancer on February 25, 2001, he left behind a body of work that speaks to the distinctive role of poetry in a culture of entertainment, and information. Ammons believed that poetic discourse was a source for clarifying the possibilities of human life. As he explained to William Walsh, the poem “is a verbal construct that we encounter, learn from, make value judgments with, and go to sort out possibilities in relation to our own lives in order to try to learn how to live.” Ammons’s poetics accepts our desire for a more intimate and responsive relationship with the world in a more encompassing, if less certain, definition of what it might mean to live in the world on which our own existence depends.

Moving from One Place to Another

Every piece of writing has a beginning, middle and end. But how does your writing move from one place to another? Following the steps below will help you 1) “see” the structure of your essay, 2) determine whether or not your thinking is actually going somewhere (“developing”) and 3) build in steps that move your argument (and your reader) to a different place from where you started. If step three proves difficult, then you may want to return to the all-important questions: Where am I going? Where do I want to take the reader?

Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph in your essay.


  1. Introduction to concept of deviance and the use of deviance to understand acts of nonconformity.
  1. Discussion of the idea that deviance is part of human development and achievement
  1. The importance of looking at deviance from a neutral rather than a biased point of view.

Break your one-sentence summary outline into parts or sections.


  1. Introduction to subject of paper and inquiry, outline of key questions and debates, importance and consequences of observing deviance differently (paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  1. Examples of scholarly thinking that links deviance and creativity, examples of creative persons who have also spent time “behind bars” (paragraphs on Socrates, Galileo, Thoreau, King, Mandela)
  1. Deviance and the scapegoat figure, Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold and the music of Marilyn Manson.
  1. Write a transition from each part of the paper to the next.


“So while we see that Manson belongs to the Church of Satan, we must also note his Episcopalian membership as well, which is something very few of us take the time to discover” (Lowry 54).

“After laying the foundation of seemingly negative deviant contexts, we can turn the tables in hopes to better understand the other half, the positive effects of deviation.”

Examples taken from sample essay “Positive Deviance: Unmasking a Common Phenomenon,” Think, Write, Learn: A User’s Guide to Sustained Writing Projects, Phyllis Benay, Kirsti Sandy and Collie Fulford, eds., Littleton, MA: Tapestry, 2008. 92-100.

Writing With Sources

You have two weeks until the first version of your essay is due. Next week is dedicated to continuing your research and to practicing how to integrate source material into your emerging essay.

We will have our writing assistants visit the class and lead you in a writing workshop on using source material in your essay. Follow the link and read the chapter The Art of Quoting from Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein’s book They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (2006) before we meet next week. This brief chapter will serve as an introduction to the writing workshop and to the intensive work we will be doing with your source material for the rest of the course.

Looking ahead to what you need to do:

Week 7: Research Installment #2 is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 8 First Version of Essay is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 9 Spring Break
Week 10 Conferences: you have two conferences this week: you will be meeting with me to discuss your essay. And you will be meeting with our writing assistants Emily or Sarah to discuss your essay.

Please follow the schedule if you need more detail or contact me if you have any questions. Much of the work you are doing at this stage of the course requires you to work independently. If this is proving challenging to you, please be in touch so that we can help you develop strategies to keep moving.

Topics and Questions

Writing Projects Update: Most of you are struggling. Many of you are stuck. These difficulties are expected.

There are ways to begin moving through the challenges you are facing. First and foremost be clear that this course requires thinking and writing. And that is exactly what you are being asked to do.

Below you will find 1) a reminder about the area of inquiry in which all of your projects are developing: the search for wildness. While we spent most of the first weeks of the class exploring this term and concept, it is important that you have wrestled with this concept and come to terms with the presence of this search in our lives. I also include below 2) a framework for moving from a topic to a question. As you continue your process of seeking information you will be refining your area of interest. Remember that your area of interest is precisely that: what you are interested in. Without a genuine interest and motivation you are going to have a very, very difficult time with the work you are doing in this class.

Searching for Wildness: The search is to demystify the world as it is.

Enacting a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The acceptance of the place where we are: what we know, and what we can know, is never certain and always provisional, no matter how persuaded we and others might be by common understanding of certain phenomena.

This course web site has numerous explanations of wildness and resources for you to consult. Here is another, from a now familiar writer, Gary Snyder, from the “Preface” to his collection of poems No Nature:

No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no singular set ‘nature’ either as ‘the natural world’ or ‘the nature of things.’ The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is fluid, open, and conditional. (v)

We have also talked about E.O. Wilson’s concept of “biophilia” and here are two provocative comments from his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014):

“We are self-made, independent, alone, fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world” (26)

We exist as a result of millions of years of biological evolution: “For the real human story, history must comprise both the biological and the cultural” (28).

We have also talked about, with the help of others, the intellectual history of oppositions between nature and culture, nature and nurture, primitive and civilized, raw and cooked, and so on. You can continue thinking about wildness as well. Please, take advantage of the resources I have compiled for you on the course web site. You may also want to become familiar with the recent writing by professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Marc Bekoff, on “rewilding.” His application of a practice in wildlife conservation to human life is potentially very useful for some of your projects. Need to talk? Set up an appointment with me.

  1. Moving From a Topic to a Question

In class we will use the first two steps in an Argument Template (adapted from Booth, Columb, and Williams, The Craft of Research). Name your topic and then see if you can articulate the question you are hoping to answer.

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about _____

I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about human intuition (or direct or unmediated experience/consciousness of the world) and its relationship to belief

Question: I want to understand

I want to find out why people continue to believe in creation stories to explain the origin of and their place in the world

Below are two examples of projects that are on the move. In each of these cases the project is explicitly aligned with the larger questions about wildness and has moved from a general area of interest to a more specific question the student has defined and is trying to answer.

Area of Interest: “Industrial Tourism”

from Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968), Chapter 5: “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Park”:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

“Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!  Why not?  Jesus Christ… roll that window down!  You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it….  Turn that motor off.  Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!”

“Why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate…the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about what Edward Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

Question: I want to find out how tourism has diminished the deeper (and more transformative?) experience offered by places we designate as wild areas or wilderness

Sources: Books: Daniel C. Knudsen, Landscape, Tourism and Meaning; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind; Essay: Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”

Area of Interest: Loss of Wildness

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about the problem of losing wildness in our lives

Question: I want to find out why young people appear to be unaware of the consequences of losing touch with themselves and the world around them

Sources: Books: Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild; John Krakauer, Into the Wild (Christopher McCandless); Film: Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (Timothy Treadwell); Poem/Performance: Buddy Wakefield, “My Town”; Article: Standardized Testing; Report: Study of media use by 8-18 year old children in US.

Thank you bringing all of your materials to our next class. Our writing workshop will be dedicated to moving you toward other resources and information that will be useful for you.

Go Forth!

Meeting with each of you this week in conference to talk about your writing projects is an exciting time for me. You have read a book that has helped you think about nature and culture, you have taken part in class discussions of wildness, and you have considered questions that you might pursue during the next ten weeks.

I now need you to pull out your planners and look ahead to the schedule for the next few weeks. Below you will find an outline of the work you need to complete before spring break. Please go through the steps carefully and let me know if you have any questions.

1. Overview
Our individual conferences this week are dedicated to clarifying a question (or questions) to help you begin your research. Then, at our first class meeting next week, you will submit (in class, hard copy!) your first research installment. This document gives me a window into the work you have been doing. The first research installment will also help you prepare for the workshop with our research and technology fellow at our second meeting next week. This workshop will lead to the second research installment and the first version of the essay that you will complete before spring break.

Here is what the schedule looks like:

Week 6 Research Installment #1
Week 7 Research Installment #2
Week 8 Due: Version 1 of Essay
Week 9 Spring Break

The first version of the essay should be the best piece of writing you are able to produce. The first version of your essay will reflect your effort and accomplishment in the first half of the course and therefore I will factor the quality of your first version into the final course grade. The essay will also be read by many people. So do your very best to present a document worth reading so that you don’t end up wasting anyone’s time.

2. Research Installment #1
This progress report has a specific format that I detail on the writing page. You fill find there a link to a PDF file with instructions about the annotated works cited page (or bibliography) and the reflective letter

As I have said in class, we learn by doing. Hence it is important to me that you begin this process by searching for information on your own. Use the search strategies that have worked for you in the past. Pay attention to the decisions you are making about where to look, how you are using sources to find other sources, and where you are reaching dead ends or information that feels to be less reliable.

Remember that you should

  • search web and print materials; but please make every effort to include a range of resources
  • plan to spend at least five hours in the library researching and preparing your notes for the document; and set aside additional time to write the document
  • make sure that your Research Installment is presented exactly right with complete works cited entries using MLA style (see the examples on the instructions). If your document is not presented according to the specifications I will ask you to revise it. (See grading page).

3. Resources Page
After you have done some poking around on your own please spend some of your time this week familiarizing yourself with the Resources page on the course web site. At this point in the course, more specifically, you will find the “Integrative Thinking & Writing Research Guide” to be a useful portal for teaching yourself how to do effective and efficient searches:

  • The “Search for Background Info & Key Words” is helpful for poking and prying with a purpose.
  • The “Get More out of Google” post will help as you begin looking around using key terms (learn about and use Google Scholar)
  • The pages and video tutorials on how to search the library paper holdings (books, journals), how to search electronic databases and resources (EBSCO, E-Library), and how to asses the source (currency, reliability, authority, purpose)

We will be using these materials in our writing workshops in the coming weeks. And the Research and Technology Fellow who visits our class will be helping you harness the research tools and strategies we make available for you. But these workshops will be far more productive if you are already familiar with some of this material.

If you have any questions about the direction of your research, please let me know. I am happy to answer e-mails or to meet with you at any time I am able. Also, remember that the Mason Library staff is able to help you at any stage of the process as you seek and assess resources for your work in this course.