Nuts and Bolts

In our writing workshop today we went over titles, introductions, claims, organization, and conclusions. Here are the notes from class:

Titles: How do I write an effective title?

An effective title will most often have these elements:

  • Will grab the attention of a reader
  • Will interest potential readers in what you have to say
  • Will provide a clear sense of the subject and context (authors, key terms, books)

Here are some examples:

Satrapi, Spiegelman, and Sacco: Confronting Cultural Crisis Through the Art of Comics

A Blog of One’s Own: Women and Authorship in the Digital Revolution

Dramas of Solitude: Narratives of Retreat in American Nature Writing

Songs of Ourselves: The Use of Poetry in America

The World is Blue: How are Fate and the Oceans are One

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

2. Introductions: Where do I begin?

  • Define Context: Describe a general understanding of the idea/topic (“a recognizable intellectual context”)
  • Create a disruption of that general understanding (will usually involve a word such as “however,” “yet,” “but”): this is where you come in, and is the path from what “they say” to “I say.”
  • Follow the disruption with a clear and specific claim that will organize the content and guide the reader through the remainder of the essay

Here are two examples from early versions of ITW essays:

When you listen to people talk about science and religion you are likely to hear that they are incompatible. People will say “the two contradict each other” or “science is based merely on fact while religion is based in belief or fiction.” However, this common belief that science and religion are incompatible is fueled by the lack of knowledge and understanding of a complex relationship between two ways of thinking about the world. The purpose of this paper is to argue that science and religion are harmonious rather than antagonistic. I will use Richard Dawkin’s outlook on religion to clarify what I take to be a fundamental misunderstanding of doubt and faith.

Increasing evidence of what we call today the Ice Age changed the nineteenth-century world view of nature: it modified scientific assumptions, challenged religious beliefs, and stimulated the popular imagination. However, the most significant change was how people thought about time. An increasing attention to mountains as alluring places, and the new idea of attaining the summit as a significant achievement, brought the human imagination closer to nature’s timeline than ever before. This gap between nature and culture re-established itself in the twentieth century. Technological innovation improved people’s lives at the same time it obscured the growing gap between the “deliberate pace of nature” and the “impetuous and heedless pace of man” (7). Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring urges its readers to reconsider their lives as a part of the natural world by re-examining the pace of modern life.

3. Claims: Consider “They Say, I Say”

Here are a few elements of an effective claim:

  • Your take on the subject
  • Debatable (not both sides but rather acknowledge multiple sides of an issue)
  • Complex
  • Justifies what you are doing (significance of what you are doing)
  • Visible and well deliberately placed in the essay
  • Well constructed sentence or sentences (clarity)

Here are some examples from ITW papers:

From Social Networking to Productive Classroom Work: Special Technology for Special Children

Of course, with every technological advancement there are downfalls, but I think it is of the utmost importance for people to understand what technology is doing for these children. The positive benefits outweigh the negative when it comes to technology in special education classrooms.

The purpose of my paper is to inform people of the more positive, unknown, benefits to technology and its advancement. Acknowledging the fact that there are negative affects such as distraction and decreasing social skills when it comes to technology, I try to show how the positives outweigh the negative. Exploring many different kinds of assistive technologies and their purposes, I hope to help the readers become more optimistic. My paper is essentially an informative essay, but still touching on the opposing arguments.

Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports

Youth sports can be damaging to children (Counter: Youth sports are valuable in many ways; Counter to counter: Youth sports can be made more valuable if necessary precautions are taken) My research paper is written on the rising epidemic of overuse injuries in youth sports.  My paper is not written to undermine youth sports programs in the United States, but it is instead written to enhance the program.  The point of my paper is to emphasis the importance of educating the young athletes, parents, and coaches.  While there are many positive rewards and benefits to youth sports, there is definitely room for growth in the programs and improvement of the safety of the programs.  With more than half of the youth sport injuries being in the category of overuse injuries, there needs to be more education available to prevent these statistics from growing.  My paper also discusses treatment for already sustained overuse injuries. Youth sports could be made safer and the programs better if there is more knowledge.  There should be more knowledge and more education available for parents, players, and coaches.  While programs today do have education and certification programs, not all sports have these requirements, and ones that do have certification program requirements could be more in depth.

4. Organization and Transitions: How to Move 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?

1. 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.

2. Discussion of the idea that deviance is part of human development and achievement

3. The importance of looking at deviance from a neutral rather than a biased point of view.

2. 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.

3. 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.

5. Conclusions: How do I end my paper?

Here are a few suggested ways to conclude:

  • Summary (but more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question. So you are saying that
  • 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. . . “)
  • 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

 Here is an example:

From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, nature for McPhee is a place where people are. His sensitivity to the multitude of ways humans carry out their lives has broadened our thinking about nature and the role of humans in the natural world. His portraits and place-based profiles of people will consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; his astonishing number of regional studies, moreover, will continue to offer readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural environment. The more recent books about geology, finally, will continue to invite readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar, if potentially enabling 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. 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.


Writing from Sources

Here are notes from Wednesday’s class, our second workshop on writing with sources:

Quote only when absolutely necessary. Make sure, too, that a reader understands why the quotation is relevant, and don’t count on a quote to make a point for you.

Identify the speaker or writer of the quotation. Usually precedes the quoted material. (“Showalter says, . . .)

When you introduce a quotation, consider using verbs other than “says”: “Argues,” “adds,” “contends,” “points out,” “admits,” “comments,” “insists.” Or, with just the right verb, consider the use of a transitional phrase: “In an apparent contradiction, Showalter goes on to argue. . . .

Distinguish between short and long quotations. Enclose short quotations (fewer than four lines of type) in quotation marks. Set off long quotations (more than four lines of type). Do not use quotation marks. To set off a long quotation, begin a new line, indent ten spaces from the left margin, and double space throughout. Note well that long quotations need adequate introduction and are most often immediately preceded by a full sentence ending in a colon.

Don’t introduce a long quotation into the middle of one of your own sentences. Too often the reader will get lost as you transition from your own writing into a long quotation. It’s better to use a short introductory tag (as described above) and then follow the quotation with your own sentence.

Embedded quotations (that is, a quotation embedded into a sentence of your own) must fit grammatically into the sentence of which it is a part.

Quote accurately. Check your quotation for accuracy at least twice. If you intend to add or substitute a word in the quotation (to conform with 5), enclose the words in square brackets. Indicate omissions of material with an ellipses (three periods, with a space between each period). If you omit words at the end of sentence, indicate the omission with three periods (an ellipses) and end punctuation (a period).

Use punctuation correctly. Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Semicolons and colons go outside quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation points and dashes go inside if they are part of the quotation, outside if they are your own.

Use single quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation. “Listening to the conversation following Bradley’s speech, I overheard an audience member say that she had ‘never encountered such a frank and honest politician.’ She went on to say, ‘I don’t know what to make of him. But I like him.’”

Enclose title of short works in quotation marks. Longer works should be underlined or italicized.


More on McCandless

In a recent essay published on a New Yorker blog Jon Krakauer returns to the question about the death of Chris McCandless. In “How Chris McCandless Died” he writes the following:

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I stumbled upon Ronald Hamilton’s paper “The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandless,” which Hamilton had posted on a Web site that publishes essays and papers about McCandless. Hamilton’s essay offered persuasive new evidence that the wild-potato plant is highly toxic in and of itself, contrary to the assurances of Thomas Clausen and every other expert who has ever weighed in on the subject. The toxic agent in Hedysarum alpinum turns out not to be an alkaloid but, rather, an amino acid, and according to Hamilton it was the chief cause of McCandless’s death. His theory validates my conviction that McCandless wasn’t as clueless and incompetent as his detractors have made him out to be.

The comments that follow Karakauer’s most recent New Yorker piece are another indicator of how this story remains alive in people’s lives. Hamilton’s essay is of interest as well.


Reading and Thinking (1)

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies (Frank)


“It remains an astonishing, disturbing fact that in America – a nation where nearly every new drug is subjected to rigorous scrutiny as a potential carcinogen, and even the bare hint of a substance’s link to cancer ignites a firestorm of public hysteria and media anxiety – one of the most potent and common carcinogens known to humans can be freely bought and sold at every corner store for a few dollars.”

“…lung cancer incidence in men increased dramatically in the 1950s as a result of an increase in cigarette smoking during the early twentieth century. In women, a cohort that began to smoke in the 1950s, lung cancer incidence has yet to reach its peak.”

“The art of medicine is long, Hippocrates tells us, “and life is short; opportunity fleeting; the experiment perilous; judgment flawed.”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods (Nicole)

(From the “Introduction”)

“Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.”

“Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom—while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Wellmeaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields. In the patent-or-perish environment of higher education, we see the death of natural history as the more hands-on disciplines, such as zoology, give way to more theoretical and remunerative microbiology and genetic engineering. Rapidly advancing technologies are blurring the lines between humans, other animals, and machines. The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct—that we are what we program—suggests limitless human possibilities; but as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.”

“Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.”

“Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature—is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives. The following pages explore an alternative path to the future, including some of the most innovative environment—based school programs; a reimagining and redesign of the urban environment-what one theorist calls the coming “zoopolis”; ways of addressing the challenges besetting environmental groups; and ways that faith-based organizations can help reclaim nature as part of the spiritual development of children. Parents, children, grandparents, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, environmentalists, and researchers from across the nation speak in these pages. They recognize the transformation that is occurring. Some of them paint another future, in which children and nature are reunited—and the natural world is more deeply valued and protected.”

Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud (Kristina)


And how shall we speak of love
except in the splurge of roses, and the long body
of the river
shining in its silk froth;

and what could be more wonderful
than the agility and the reaching of the fingers of Hannah,
who is only seven days old;

and what could be more comforting than to fold grief
like a blanket—
to fold anger like a blanket;
with neat corners—
to put them into a box of words?


When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields,

consider the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Alex and Cory)

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

“The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”

“I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. Nature is well adapted to our weakness as our strength. The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis.

John Epstein, The Sports Gene (Rob)

(Summary from

“What does it take to become an elite athlete? The intuitive answer for most of us is that it probably takes some lucky genes on the one hand, and a whole heck of a lot of hard work on the other. Specifically, that we may need to be blessed with a particular body type to excel at a particular sport or discipline (after all, elite marathon runners tend to look far different than elite NFL running backs, who in turn tend to look far different than elite swimmers), but that beyond this it is practice and diligence that paves the way to success. When we look at the science, though—as sports writer David Epstein does in his new book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance—we find that the story is much more complicated than this.”

Fall 2013 Book List

Frank Bacarella: Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies
John Cagno: Oliver Sacks, The Mind’s Eye
Kevin Civiello: Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Alex Clarke: Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or Life in the Woods
Kylie Coffee: Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Joe Cortese: Sylvia Earle, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One
Becca Costello: Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
Kristina Cottone: Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud.
Corey Crater: Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or Life in the Woods
Dalton Finley: John Krakauer, Into the Wild
Nicole Haley: Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Amanda Kunkel: Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
Allison Middleton, Linda Hogan, Solar Storms
Abbey Milonas: Paul Erlich, The Population Bomb
Mallory Pierce: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Hannah Soucy: John Krakauer, Into the Wild
Katelyn Terry: Christopher McDougal, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe of Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Lindsey Terry: Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
Rob Wishart: John Epstein, The Sports Gene


Lecture on Thoreau

 Keene State College Department of Environmental Studies


Thoreau: Self-Taught Watershed Scientist

Robert Thorson, PhD

Professor of Geology, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut

Thursday, September 5, 2013, 4:00-5:00PM—Morrison 110

This talk will preview Dr. Thorson’s new book—Walden’s Shore—which explores Thoreau’s understanding of hard reality, not as metaphor but as physical science. Dr. Thorson will describe Thoreau’s astonishing understanding of New England landscapes, relating specific passages from Thoreau’s writing with the underlying physical science, including hydrology, river geomorphology, bedrock geology, limnology, meteorology, and glaciation. By unifying the physical science with the literature, this talk is founded in Thoreau’s fundamental idea of unification between head and heart.

Dr. Thorson is a professor of Geology at UConn, with appointments in the Geoscience and Honors programs, and is the author of several books. His first book—Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls—is a regional bestseller and Connecticut Book Award winner for nonfiction. His second book on signature landforms—Beyond Walden: The Hidden History of America’s Kettle Lakes and Ponds—precipitated keynote speeches to national lake management associations, a freshwater road trip titled “Walden to Wobegon,” and the creation of a website in support of small lake conservation. Dr. Thorson advocates for the preservation of historic landscapes, speaking at venues ranging from small historical societies to the NASA Engineering Colloquium. He is an opinion journalist and has published nearly 500 columns and essays. His newest book is due to be released by Harvard University Press in December 2013, and it can be previewed on their website at

For more information contact

Renate Gebauer ( or Denise Burchsted (


Thinking and Writing is an introduction to college-level reading, thinking, and writing. As a student in this course you can expect to spend a good deal of your semester wrestling with the thoughts and words of others, building your own point of view, and learning to make use of feedback to improve your writing.

india.pune.mar.08 079

“Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild,” Henry David Thoreau (Pune, India, March 2008)

This Thinking and Writing course is organized around the concept of wildness. The term wildness encompasses most everything in the physical universe—from the teeming microorganisms in our bodies to the unfolding realm of the cosmos. It is the real world, the world to which we belong. The phrase “search for wildness” describes the act of seeking awareness of this world–of seeking an understanding of the expression of the wild in nature and in culture.


Community space and garden, Brooklyn, New York, summer 2012

The search for wildness takes many forms: it takes shape in individual questions about the meaning and purpose of human life; it gives rise to collective stories, myths, and purpose; it is organized in the cultural activities of natural history, spirituality, science and mathematics; it is pursued through historical and comparative studies of nature and/or culture; and it generates utopian and post-apocalyptic fictions about the ways human technologies are transforming the world.

The poet Gary Snyder defines the search for wildness as a practice: a deliberate sustained and conscious effort to become more aware of yourself and the world. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is going on?

Photo Mark C. Long, near Juneau, Alaska, Summer 2006

Above Juneau, Alaska, summer 2006

From the pursuit of a more “authentic” life by Chris McCandless to scientists building our understanding of the human biome, the search for wildness is the conversation of our time.

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006, photo Mark C. Long

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006

I am confident that this course will challenge you in new ways. My work will be supporting you as you meet these challenges. I am looking forward to working with you.