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Cal State L.A.


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Writing Requirement

The writing requirements for the course can be met in the following ways:

    1. Option A (Weekly Reading Responses): Complete four weekly reading responses (see schedule for due dates). Reading responses will be scored using a simple three-point scoring system.
    2. Option B (Argumentative Essays): Complete two short essays (approx. four pages each) that each present an argument about an assigned text. Essays will be scored using a standard essay scoring guide.
    3. Option C (The Combo Burrito): Complete two weekly reading responses and one short argumentative essay.

Weekly Reading Responses

Adobe Acrobat icon Reading Response Assignments Handout

Complete and submit FOUR reading responses during the quarter. Reading responses are due on the date noted in the schedule. No late responses will be accepted. In total, the submitted responses constitute up to 30% of the course grade.

General Procedure

Short response papers are due on the dates specified on the syllabus. Papers must be word-processed and handed in at the beginning of class (no email submissions accepted). Effective responses are generally around two pages in length (good ones can be longer or shorter and so can not-so-good ones).

Response papers may explore any aspect of the text that strikes you as interesting or puzzling, contrast the current week's text with one read earlier in the quarter, choose a passage of the text to close-read, or raise questions that you would like to develop in a final paper or to discuss in class. Because these papers are designed as warm-up for class discussion, they must examine the text assigned for the day on which they are due (rather than the previous week's); for the same reason, extensions will not be given on response papers under any circumstances.

The response is not a paper so you should not concern yourself with introductions and conclusions. You should, however, make every attempt to provide a coherent response and you should proofread and edit your work for clarity. Each response will be graded using the following simple scale:

1 inadequate; the response was submitted on time but fails to meet the terms of the assignment
2 adequate; the response was submitted on time and meets the terms of the assignment
3 superior; the response was submitted on time and goes beyond the terms of the assignment

Examples of Student Work

Adobe Acrobat icon "Seeking the Missing Piece": Response on Persuasion by Susan Tam

Adobe Acrobat icon "She was only Anne": Response on Persuasion by Alejandra Gonzalez

Adobe Acrobat icon Reading Response on Hard Times by Jake Kozak

Adobe Acrobat icon Reading Response on The Sign of Four by Sonia Cruz

Adobe Acrobat icon Reading Response on The Sign of Four by Diana Solorio

Adobe Acrobat icon Reading Response on The Sign of Four by Rick Zuniga

Click on the link below to look at some more exemplary reading responses produced by students for an earlier incarnation of this course. 

Argumentative Essays

Adobe Acrobat icon Some Suggested Topics for the Second Paper

Argumentative essays should focus on a single aspect of one of the novels and make a case for the importance of that aspect to an overall understanding of the text. Each essay should be four and no more than six pages in length and should focus on one novel studied in this class. An aspect of a text can be a particular literary device, image, pattern, development of a character, specific scene, or any other isolatable detail of the text. Topics will be provided, but in general there are a number of ways to start thinking about this type of essay, and students can use the following process to develop their own topics.

  1. Some people start with a theme, a pattern, an image, or even a word. For example, one could start with the theme of education (a pretty big topic in several of the novels), or the pattern of parents not caring for their children, or an image such as smoke of Coketown, or a word such as "persuade" which gets quite a workout in Persuasion. Of course there are countless variations on these themes.
  2. Some people start with a passage of text that strikes them as particularly rich in terms of language, or one which is otherwise emphasized by formal features (i.e. sophisticated rhythms, complex structure, heightened diction, "smoothness" in sound, particularly heavy punning, and so on), or one which seems particularly difficult.
  3. Some people start with a problem, either a problem area in the text, such as why is Dickens so obvious about utilitarianism, or a problem in the text such as why is Stephen Blackpool not a very interesting character, and so on.
  4. Some people start with a way of thinking about texts, such as how does it represent women, or what role does race, class and/or gender play, or how is power distributed, or what does the text say about the working class, or what claims about language or knowledge does the text make, and so on.

(Of course, good arguments usually make use of a combination of the above considerations.)

From these initial considerations a writer generates a topic. A topic is not an argument. Rather it is a field of investigation. So, for example, fathers in Middlemarch is a topic, as is one’s obligation to the past. Neither of these topics is an argument, because neither says anything about the subject. Here are a few possible topics:

         issues of genre or structure (how does a novel function as narrative? or how does a particular kind of plot function within a text made up of multiple narratives?)

         patterns of images or metaphors (for instance, hands, light metaphors or animal images and so on)

         recurring words (persuade in Persuasion, fact in Hard Times, and so on)

         themes (women’s speech, class aspirations, control and power, seeing and knowing)

         characters (specifically how a character’s language creates/defines the character)

Once you have a topic, spend some time planning a response to it. In other words, "try the topic on" to see how it fits. What specific parts of the text would you focus on? How do these passages fit the topic? What are some of the complications that might arise from a consideration of the whole text (i.e. the parts that you are trying to ignore because they don’t fit your argument), bearing in mind that complications can often be a source of the greatest interest for writer and reader?

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Last Update: 03/2/2015