Writing Assignment 1
Re-introduction of the Wolf in the Southwest
Writing Assignment Guidelines
YOUR WORK AND YOUR WORDS MUST BE YOUR OWN
You are encouraged to discuss your ideas with classmates and others, but every piece of work that you submit with your name on it MUST be your own work, explained in your own words and reflecting your own understanding of the material. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. This means do not use the same words used by others to describe or explain something. Do not merely download or copy text verbatim from the internet or published materials. When you work together with other students, you will naturally discuss concepts in similar ways, but each of you is a unique individual who must obtain a personal understanding of course concepts. Write things down in words, phrases, and sentences that are yours and yours alone.
As always, no quoting in this class, ever, with or without the quotes.
In this class, writing is expected to be:
- in proper grammatical form
- spelled correctly
- free of typographical errors
- expressed in complete sentences
Other Style Points
- Paragraphs: The primary unit of an essay is the paragraph, each one being about a distinct point. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, which states the main (and hopefully only) topic of that paragraph. The topic sentence can go in various places (beginning, middle, or end) depending on several considerations, but it usually leads off a paragraph. Other sentences in the paragraph amplify, illustrate, or expand on the topic sentence, but they do not raise unrelated points that might be good to make in the essay but should be made in their own paragraphs.
Transition words can be effective for getting from one paragraph to the next. Common transition words include however, additionally, furthermore, therefore, and indeed. One philosophy of writing says that transitional words are just wasted space and should be strictly eliminated, and it's true that they can be over used. However, without transitions the logical flow from one paragraph to the next might be unnecessarily obscured from the reader.
While no single rule about paragraph length exists for all possible writing situations, reasonable norms can be stated for typical academic essays. One sentence is too short, while one page is probably too long. A topic sentence followed by a few amplifying sentences is good, with slight variation in length between paragraphs just to break any monotony the reader might develop from reading cookie cutter paragraphs.
- Passive vs active voice: An on-going debate about passive vs active voice rages back and forth on a regular basis. Pro-passive arguments center on the notion that the subject of a sentence is often not of primary interest, rather the verb or the object are more important; passive voice eliminates the subject, letting other parts of the sentence take center stage. Pro-active arguments include the idea that the passive voice is clunky and can result in unduly twisted sentences; active voice is more direct, shorter, better. Justifications exist for using both voices in an academic essay, but their differences are real and should be exploited purposely, not accidentally. Take the following example:
Passive: The tree-ring samples were crossdated.
Active: I crossdated the tree-ring samples.
By saying that I crossdated the samples, the active voice unintentionally implies that if someone else had crossdated the samples, results might have been different (it might not have been done correctly). WHO did the crossdating is not important, rather it is only important that crossdating was done, whoever might have done it. Thus, the passive voice is not only appropriate here, it is preferred.
Passive: Mistakes were made; let's not quibble over who made them.
Active: I made the mistakes; I should be fired.
Sometimes a person just has to take responsibility, and the active voice allows for that.
- Ambiguous pronouns: Pronouns are often used in place of common or proper nouns, either for brevity or for variation. Unfortunately, pronouns are sometimes used so far away from their nouns that it can be hard to know what a pronoun refers to. Try not to misplace pronouns too far away from what they represent.
Also frustrating for a reader is when a pronoun is used adjacent to two different nouns that it might represent, making the pronoun ambiguous. Consider this example:Ranchers hate wolves because they eat meat.
Just exactly who or what is represented by the pronoun "they" in this case? This may seem ridiculous and far-fetched, but ambiguous pronouns constitute a plague in academic writing. Writers, of course, know what their pronouns refer to, so it's a hard thing to catch unless an independent person proofreads the essay.
- that vs. which: While not everyone acknowledges that there are differences in meaning and interpretation in the use of that vs. which, these two words do differ when used to begin modifying clauses. For example:
- The wolves that eat cows .
- The wolves, which eat cows .
In case #1, there are some wolves that eat cows but there are other wolves that may not eat cows. In case #2 (note the requisite comma), all wolves eat cows and there are no other wolves to consider. Which is often unwittingly used incorrectly, hence the suggestion when proofreading to "go on a which hunt."
- Speaking vs. writing styles: It is often presumed that we can write just like we speak. After all, we usually speak clearly, so if we just write what we would otherwise say, our essays should be perfect. It turns out that speaking enjoys many advantages over writing, including body language, adjustments for the audience, pacing, etc. In writing, the writer and the reader are not usually together, and this makes writing different from speaking. In particular, many things we say perfectly comfortably are not effectiveand perhaps not even appropriatewhen written. A couple of real examples from past wolf essays:
- Like, well, ranchers should just get over it, you know?
- The wolf is just a sorry-assed loser in the grand evolutionary scheme of things, so let it die.
- Empty phrases: An easy trap to fall into is to fill in an academic essay with phrases, or even whole sentences, that at best add little to the point or worse aren't necessary at all. Such phrases can be dubbed "empty." Consider this example:
- A survey was taken by wildlife biology specialists from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to determine how people feel about reintroducing the wolf into the Southwest.
This is all true, but empty in the sense that the reader wants to efficiently know the results of this survey, not just that the survey was done. Consider this alternative:
- The majority (58%) of people surveyed support reintroduction of the wolf (USFWS).
In this case, the reader gets the important data immediately (58% support), and all of the empty phrase of above is essentially implied without having said any of it.
Wolf Re-introduction Home Page
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Main Office: (520) 621-1608, Fax: (520) 621-8229
Comments to Paul Sheppard: sheppard @ ltrr.arizona.edu
Copyright © 2000-2015, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona
Revised -- October, 2015