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English Composition 1
Essay Assignment 1
Wednesday, August 30: Draft of at least 600 words due for peer critique.
Monday, September 11: Revised draft of at least 800 words due.
Essay 1: Analysis of a Photograph or Painting
For Essay 1, you need to describe and analyze a
photograph or a painting of your own choosing in an essay of at least
800 words. Your job is to help readers understand and appreciate
the photograph or painting. Your paper should describe the work
vividly and draw conclusions about the meaning that the work
seems to express.
As with all of the essays for the course, your essay should
be written in a
formal voice and should have at
least five paragraphs, including an introduction with a clear
thesis statement and a conclusion with a restatement of that
thesis. The minimum required length of the revised draft is 800
Choosing a Subject for your Essay
You may choose any photograph or painting as
your subject, with just one exception. Please do not choose
by Dorothea Lange, which is the subject that we use here to
the writing process.
Try to choose a subject that interests you. You have
literally millions of subjects that you can choose from. As we all know,
there are paintings and photographs of just about everything imaginable.
You can choose a photograph that you took or that a friend or a
family member took, but please be careful if you take this approach. If you have
a highly personal subject, it might be a challenge to make that subject
interesting and meaningful to readers who do not know you. You are writing this
essay not just for yourself but for an audience made up of people who do not
know you. You have to think about what will be interesting and meaningful to
The Internet is an excellent source for paintings and
photographs. Linked below are just a few of the many Web sites that feature photographs or
paintings. You may choose your subject from one of these Web sites, or you may
find it elsewhere. For additional resources, just try
searching the Internet with such search
words as "art," "paintings," or "photographs."
Your essay should include
descriptions of the photograph or painting. You need facts to
support and develop your ideas and interpretations, and your
descriptions will be those facts. Do not try to describe
everything in the photograph or painting. Focus on describing
the important parts, the parts that help reveal the meaning
according to your interpretation and that help you support the
ideas about the work that you present.
Your descriptions will also help make your paper interesting
to readers. If you describe the specifics of the photograph or painting vividly and accurately,
your readers will be able to "see" exactly what you see based
only on your description.
help you describe your subject well, you should use specific and
concrete language, avoiding much vague and abstract language. You
might also consider using a few metaphors to describe the
subject, using something familiar to your readers to help you
describe something with which your readers may not be familiar.
For more information about
description, see the following resources:
You will need to go beyond just describing the photograph or
painting. You also need to analyze and interpret it. Your description of the photograph or
painting should help lead you to discover its meaning, and the
descriptions will help you support the ideas about the subject
that you present.
Important! For each descriptive detail you consider
including in your essay, you should ask yourself a simple
question: "So what?" Why is what you are describing important?
What does it mean? In your essay, you should avoid including
descriptive details if you do not explain their importance.
While there may be no
"right" or "wrong" interpretation of the
painting or photograph you write about, there is quite a
difference between a weak and a strong interpretation. Your
analysis will be strong, and thus convincing to readers, if you
draw logical conclusions from the details, making clear
connections between your interpretation and the specific details
of the photograph or painting, and if you organize and explain
your ideas clearly and logically.
You do not have to be an expert
on photography or painting to write a strong essay for this
assignment! Don't worry about trying to use the jargon of an art
critic in your essay. Instead, work on demonstrating skills
essential to all effective writers: the ability to observe,
describe, analyze, think, and present ideas well.
Organizing Your Essay
For this essay, and for all essays in the course, you should follow the
guidelines for organizing and developing your ideas that are explained on the
Web pages linked below:
In this type of essay, it is usually most effective to begin each body paragraph
with some insight into the painting or photograph--some idea that you think is
suggested by the work. Then, in the rest of the paragraph, you would describe
the parts of the painting or photograph that you think suggest or support this
idea. This format is outlined below. Notice that this is the approach that the writer takes in the
sample essay on
- Topic sentence
a sentence identifying the main idea about the photograph or painting to
be developed in the paragraph.
- Fact 1
a specific description of some part of the photograph or
painting that supports the idea in the topic sentence.
your explanation of how Fact 1 supports the
main idea in the topic sentence.
- Fact 2
a specific description of another part of the
photograph or painting that supports the idea in the topic sentence.
your explanation of how Fact 2 supports
the main idea in the topic sentence.
- Fact 3
a specific description of another part of the photograph or
painting that supports the idea in the topic sentence.
your explanation of how Fact 3 supports the
main idea in the topic sentence.
You can see this kind of organization better illustrated in some of the
course Web pages linked above.
The Writing Process
For most people, writing an essay is a
process that involves several distinct steps. The Web pages linked below
illustrate the steps that one writer takes to complete an essay about the
Mother, by Dorothea Lange.
Please read these pages carefully and try to apply the concepts as you work on
your own essay.
The sample essay linked below is exactly the kind of essay that you will be
writing for this assignment. Of course, everyone has a unique writing style, but
the sample essay can be useful as a model for such things as how to present a
strong thesis statement and how to organize and develop ideas effectively.
Problems to Avoid
Below is a summary of a few weaknesses in essays that sometimes come up when
students work on this assignment:
- Lack of focus on the painting or photograph itself. For example,
a student once chose as her subject a photograph of firefighters raising the
American flag at the site of the terrorist attacks in New York on September
11. In an early draft, much of the essay was about the terrorist attacks,
their effects on the American people, and the bravery demonstrated by the
emergency workers on the day of the attacks. Only a small part of the essay
had the photograph itself as the subject, with most of the essay having
September 11 as its subject. Remember that the subject of your essay should
be a painting or photograph and that you should remain focused on explaining
the ideas suggested by the painting or photograph and on describing the
specific parts of the subject that support the ideas. Every idea that you
present in your essay should be supported by the specifics of the photograph
or painting itself.
- Lack of sufficient description. Each idea about the painting or
photograph presented in your essay should be supported with plenty of
descriptions of the specifics of the subject. One problem is that a
paragraph might be filled with ideas about the subject but might not include
enough description of parts of the painting or photograph to support and
develop the ideas that are presented. A good example is a paragraph on the
ideas suggested by the colors in a painting, without any of the specific
colors identified in the paragraph.
- Use of speculation. Speculation occurs when ideas are presented
for which there is not sufficient evidence. In terms of this essay
assignment, speculation sometimes occurs when students seem to make up
stories about what is depicted in the painting or photograph without
sufficient evidence to support the ideas. One good example occurred in a
student essay on
Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. In the essay, the student
claimed that the two figures in the background have just thrown a body into
the water and that the main figure in the painting is frightened because he
thinks that the men are coming to do the same to him. This is speculation
because there is not sufficient evidence in the painting itself to prove
that this is true. You might have heard the word "speculation" used in
courtroom dramas on television. A lawyer might stand up during a trial and
say, "I object! That is speculation!" Of course, in the courtroom, lawyers
have to present ideas that they can support with specific evidence: they
cannot just make up stories. This is also true of your essay. Like a
lawyer, you are trying to prove some points in your essay by presenting
supportable propositions and the facts to back them up. Avoiding speculation
is especially important: your essay should demonstrate the important
critical thinking abilities involved in supporting and developing ideas with
specific evidence. These abilities are not demonstrated if you only
- Plagiarism. Later in the course, we will use
information from sources in essays and will discuss how to use, cite, and
document the information correctly, but because we have not yet discussed
how to do this, you should not use sources for your essay. The words and
ideas in your essay must be your own, without any wording or ideas from
sources. Plagiarism can occur if words or ideas from a source are presented
in an essay without proper credit given to the source of the information.
Even if you take ideas from a source but put those ideas into your own
words, you still need to cite the source of your information and need to
include a Works Cited page giving the publication information for your
source. To avoid plagiarism, do not research your subject by reading
information about it. For examples of plagiarized essays submitted for the
course in the past, see
Plagiarism from the Web: The Suspects."
However, as long as you use your own wording, you can present "common
knowledge" about your subject without giving credit to your source. Common
knowledge involves well-known facts about your subject, including such
general information as the year when a painting was completed. In our
sample essay on
Migrant Mother, common knowledge could include the name of the woman in the
photograph and the information that the photographer, Dorothea Lange, worked
for the U.S. government to document the plight of migrant workers in the
The information below is
important for all of the essays that you will write in the
course, and you will need to demonstrate a familiarity with the
information on the web
pages to do well on your essays. You
should read the web pages linked below carefully:
- Expectations for All Essays: Obviously, it's important to be familiar
with the expectations for assignments.
Proper Format for Essays: This page is especially
importance considering that you are working on your first
essay assignment in the course.
Started on Essays: This page offers step-by-step
instructions to help you get started on your papers.
and Developing a Persuasive Essay: This page provides
vital information about organizing and developing persuasive
essays. This information applies to all
of the essays you write for the course.
and Developing Persuasive Paragraphs: This page provides
valuable information about organizing and developing each
body paragraph of a persuasive essay. The information on this page applies to
of the essays you write for the course. Do your best to
understand this material and to apply it to your own writing!
and Grading Criteria for Essays: This page tells you
what I look for when I evaluate papers and should
help you focus on strengthening different aspects of your
Checklist: This page gives you a list of many specific
things to consider as you take your papers from rough drafts
to final drafts.
Please ask any questions that you have about this essay assignment!
Copyright Randy Rambo,