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English Composition 1

Essay Assignment 1

Due Dates

ENG 1001-01 (Mon/Wed/Fri 8:00-8:50 a.m., E-214)
Wednesday, September 5
: Draft of at least 600 words due for peer critique.
Friday, September 14: Revised draft of at least 800 words due.

ENG 1001-05 (Mon/Wed/Fri 10:00-10:50 a.m., E-214)
Wednesday, September 5
: Draft of at least 600 words due for peer critique.
Friday, September 14: Revised draft of at least 800 words due.

ENG 1001-300 (Thurs 6:00-8:45 p.m., B-213)
Thursday, September 6
: Draft of at least 600 words due for peer critique.
Thursday, September 13
: 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. You can assume that your readers have seen the photograph or painting that is the subject of your essay. They are familiar with the photograph or painting but have not studied it as you have. 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 convey.

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 words.

Choosing a Subject for your Essay

You may choose any photograph or painting as your subject, with just one exception. Please do not choose the photograph Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange, which is the subject that we use here to illustrate 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 strangers.

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 Description

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.

To 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:

Your Analysis

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 Migrant Mother.

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 photograph Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange. Please read these pages carefully and try to apply the concepts as you work on your own essay.

Sample 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 speculate.
  4. 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 "Preventing 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 1930s.    

Helpful Resources

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:

When I evaluate your essay, I will assume that you have read the web pages linked above and that you are familiar with the information presented on the pages, so make sure to ask if you have any questions!

Please ask any questions that you have about this essay assignment!

This page was last updated on June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2012.