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Writing Projects

Replica of Thoreau’s desk at Walden

Purpose and Audience: With each project, you will be developing and revising and refining the ideas that emerge in your reading, the journal, the blog, and our discussions. I expect that the project is a place for you to continue to project a thought (still in progress) and pay attention, but also to work more deliberately on perfecting your thought and attention in the shape and form of an essay published for other, interested readers. You will be publishing a version of each project on your blog. Consider this for your audience: readers out there, perhaps in distant lands, but kindred–interested in your interests in environmental writing, in these authors, but wanting and needing to understand your interests further.

Format: For any citations, use MLA format [in-text citation; works cited at end–refer to Purdue OWL]. Each project will be submitted to Canvas as well as posted to your blog. The copy uploaded to Canvas must include each of the following in order for me to read and grade it: [1] at the top (separated from the essay) an abstract of the essay [answering what’s the argument, what’s working, what else could you/should you do with this?]; [2]  Honor Code Statement at the bottom; [3] proper citation format (including works cited) for all citations. If you forget to include these, your project will be returned, and counted as late.

             Abstract: a short paragraph identifying  what the argument is, something in the essay that you feel is strong/effective (what’s working?), something you think you need to improve/develop (what else?), and something further you might do with this essay  should you return to this essay for the final project (what’s next?).

           Honor Code statement: I pledge my honor that I have completed this work in accordance with the Honor Code.

First Project: Deliberate Reading

Books should be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. [Thoreau, “Reading,” Walden]

Assignment: 4-6 page essay (double-spaced, standard font size, MLA format for all citations). Pursue a deliberate, critical reading of a passage from Thoreau’s Walden. The passage should be one that is of interest to you and that you feel is of importance to the meaning (or agenda or project or experiment) of Thoreau’s thinking and writing in the larger text; the passage could range from one paragraph to up to 2 pages. What is the particular significance of this passage and the larger meaning it contributes to or demonstrates? What words and images and ideas in the passage suggest that? The point is to read Thoreau and this passage as deliberately as it was written; to read and listen carefully and report what you hear and see in Thoreau by looking closely and reading slowly. What is deliberate in the writing and language, in other words, the poetics of this passage that is of significance, as you read it? What does a close, deliberate reading of Thoreau’s writing reveal about his environmental or ecological project that some might miss if they read his work too quickly? Three guidelines to follow:

  • Passage Connection: As a way to elaborate the larger significance or project you see evident in the passage, connect this passage to (and perhaps contrast it with) at least one other passage elsewhere in Walden. Remember, a key move in close reading is pursuing relations.
  • Language Connection: As a way to focus in on Thoreau’s deliberate use of language, include in your closer reading a reference to the etymology (or pertinent senses) of at least one word or phrase in the passage (use the OED) or to a poetic element of the language (use of particular figure of speech, poetic or rhetorical figures, etc.).
  • Critical Connection: Make a relevant, useful connection to one of the critical articles we have read (Buell or another critic). You can use this connection to elaborate the particular project you believe your passage represents; it might also help you clarify your critical focus/thesis–your argument as to the significance of this passage [Buell argues that Thoreau does X; this passage can be viewed in relation to X (or in contrast to X; or part X, but also partly not X) because…]. As a way to expand on the critical connections, think about course keywords that might elucidate the passages and ideas you are focusing on, and keywords that you can borrow from the critic.


Second Project: Two Views of the Same

Assignment: 5-6 page  (approx. 1000-1200 word) essay, double-spaced, standard font size, MLA format for all citations.

Two-Part Question: What is a significant  element or characteristic of Dillard’s vision as an environmental writer? How does Dillard’s vision, how she sees and writes about nature, compare or contrast with the vision of another writer we have encountered thus far?

Elaborate your reading of Dillard’s environmental vision by focusing on specific sections of Pilgrim and by making a specific connection to the other writer you have chosen; the connection should  help elaborate your argument regarding Dillard’s vision. Do Dillard and this other author offer “two views of the same” as environmental writers,  or different ways of seeing nature? Deliberate reading (quoting and closely reading key passages) is still important, as with the last project. This time, however, you will be giving further attention to how ideas and images move and potentially change, within and between writers. Attention, in other words, not just to the poetics of Dillard’s writing, but its rhetoric: the waves and well as the particles.

Another way to focus on the complex rhetorical element of Dillard’s writing, as well as your own is to remember the dynamics of counterargument: you will be arguing for understanding Dillard (and another writer) in a particular way, as having a particular vision. How might someone else read or see things differently? How might these writers and their visions be misunderstood–and therefore, how should we better understand them?


  • Internal Connection: In the first project we focused more on the “particle” of Thoreau’s text, close reading one central passage; with Dillard we can think  of her vision more as a “wave,” as dynamic thought/threads/imagery that reappear throughout her text. As such, you should show an iteration of her vision in at least 2 different chapters from Pilgrim. Be specific, once again, in focusing on the terms of the vision, the language and imagery used. Though I am not requiring the OED or use of a specific Keyword from the course, both are good ideas for you to focus your reading.
  • External Connection: The other author can help you consider Dillard’s perspective from a broader perspective: larger relationships or differences across time and scale.
    • Writers you might consider: Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Cooper, Muir, Burroughs, Leopold, William James, Rob Nixon
  • Critical Connection: To develop your argument and/or to deepen its development, make a connection to a secondary source (Buell or another critical source relevant to your focus). Though quoting from the OED is not required this time, it might also be useful to your argument.


Final Project: Small Waldens: Doing Ecocriticism

Description under Final Project [linked here]


Evaluation Rubric for Writing Projects 

In the liberal arts tradition, before there were courses in writing, before there were even courses in English departments, the curriculum focused on three related elements for composing a speech and (later) a written text: logic, rhetoric, and grammar.

We can think of those three elements today as categories that a strong writer works on when producing a composition and that an engaged reader expects from the composition when receiving it.  These three categories, renamed and elaborated below, provide the rubric we will use in developing writing projects and that I will use when evaluating the final versions of each project. Your goal, then, is the same goal I have with my own academic writing: strong, rhetorically successful, and aesthetically engaging composition of thought, ideas, and arguments.

[1]Critical Thinking [Philosophy]

  • Clarity of your thinking [10 points]
    • Articulates a stake and purpose for the argument/claim
      • Establishes appropriate context for argument
      • Pursues an arguable, specific answer to a question or a solution to a problem. In other words, argument answers: So what? Who Cares? What’s the difference?
  • Complexity of your thinking [10 points]
    • Uses keywords and terms effectively, providing new insights for conventional ideas, complicating simplistic ways of thinking about a topic (including your own assertions).
    • Effectively uses arguments of others (your participation in the critical conversation), including arguments other than/counter to your own.
  • Coherence of your thinking [10 points]
    • Refines and reiterates (threads) the thinking throughout the composition, including keywords of your argument.
    • Uses logic effectively, avoiding logical fallacies.

Elements to focus on while reading, responding, composting, and revising.

[2]Rhetorical Knowledge and Writing Process [Rhetoric]

  • Arrangement of the composition as a dynamic (not static) argument [10 points]
    • Effective paragraph structure:
      • Movement (transition) from effective beginning (introduction), middle (supporting readings, complications) and ending (conclusion)
      • Movement within each paragraph, from initial to closing sentence.
    • Effective introduction and conclusion
      • Setting up the context of your argument/focus and leaving the reader with implications for further thinking.
  • Development of the composition [10 points]
    • Deliberate reading/forwarding of ideas and texts in key moments:
      • Close reading/analysis of texts, including effective use of quotation, extending the interpretation and complicating the argument
    • Effective use of evidence in support of argument, moving from paraphrase and synthesis to interpretation
  • Revision of the composition[10 points]
    • Effective and active use of feedback and revision strategies in moving from initial drafts to final product

Elements to focus on while revising

[3]Awareness of Language and Conventions [Poetics]

  • Language [10 points]
    • Deliberate choice in words (precision, connotation) and syntax:
      • Attention to specific word choices and sentence style: such as passive and active sentences, varying long and short sentences.
    • Use of language, images, and rhetorical figures that impress, surprise, move, and effectively address the audience.
  • Usage [10 points]
    • Editing for misspelling, typos, missing words, incomplete sentences, fragments, punctuation and other usage errors;
    • Editing for violations of academic and print writing conventions that you have not consciously chosen for effect.
  • Audience [10 points]
    • Attention to the formal presentation of your narrative
      • Effective title, use of meta-commentary, and other ways of addressing the audience of your composition
      • Proper formatting, spacing, indenting, proper conventions for citation, following all expectations of the assignment.

Elements to focus on while editing.

[4]Focal Points [10 points]

For each project, there will be a focal point for that composition worth 10 points. These focal points are ways we will be thinking about approaching the project and ways to improve upon all three elements (philosophy, rhetoric, poetics) of the composition. In that sense, they are not separate elements of strong writing so much as lenses we will use to focus on our thinking, writing, and rewriting process, from compost through revision to completion.

Total: 100 points


Each of the categories will be worth 10 points. The scale I will use is the following:

9-10: excellent; the element is prominent in the composition, demonstrating a thorough and impressive grasp—ready to work on other elements from the rubric and/or to-do list.

8: strong; the element is mostly present and effective, demonstrating a good grasp with room to continue development to enhance effect—keep on list, but almost ready to check off.

6-7: emerging to proficient; the element is present in spots, but not effectively or consistently present, demonstrating an emerging grasp in need of further development—keep on list and follow up in conference.

4-5: weak; the element is mostly absent, not effective in the composition, demonstrating a limited grasp in need of more extensive development—keep on list and take into conference with me and/or writing center before next project.

0-3: insufficient; the element fails to be present or is not addressed as expected, demonstrating a poor grasp in need of immediate attention—plan a conference right away to discuss further what should be improved for the next project.

In my evaluation of your writing projects, you will receive from me comments that address some strengths and weaknesses of the essay, using this rubric of 10 categories. I will expect you to refer back to this rubric as a way to follow up on my evaluation and continue to improve upon your writing in the next project. I am willing to discuss questions about the overall grade you receive on a project, but that discussion will focus on strengths and weaknesses related to these categories. So be prepared to respond to my comments.

Overall: 100 points

  1. Clarity
  2. Complexity
  3. Coherence
  4. Arrangement
  5. Development
  6. Revision
  7. Language
  8. Usage
  9. Audience
  10. Focal Point
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