ias13 formal essay assignments

Assignment Overview

In this semester-long project, you are going to compose 3 drafts of a formal flatland essay and 1 Pecha Kucha presentation. Each of the essay drafts and the Pecha Kucha spaceland presentation will have specific assignments that ask you to build on prior drafts and ideas. The essay assignments will become more open-ended over time. The first essay is going to build on ideas discussed in class and in Raiders of the Lost Architecture blog posts. The formal essay will get longer over time, building from 7 – 8 pages to 13 – 15 pages. The Pecha Kucha will be about your ideas for the final draft.

The essays you compose will be Tuftean evidence presentations. That is, they will beautiful. In them you are to follow Tufte’s advice in Beautiful Evidence and “make[] no distinction among words, numbers, graphics, [and] images. It is all evidence, after all” (p. 61). Your essays should use Beautiful Evidence as a model text, employing the numerous beautiful evidence techniques that Tufte employs. You can use any composing or word processing application you’d like to compose the essays, as long as I am able to view it in PDF or Word format so I can comment on it. I will comment heavily on draft 1; you will comment heavily on each other’s draft 2.

APA citation is considered beautiful for these essays. As is Times New Roman font size 12. Pages with 1” margins all around are also considered beautiful. Double spacing is much more beautiful than single spacing. One space after a period and zero additional spacing after paragraphs will make the essay look beautiful.

The essays should be considered scholarly, with an audience that is intelligent but might not know about the topic(s) about which you are writing. In scholarly essays the thesis shifts from answering the question, “What is my essay about?” to “What am I going to do in my essay?” It is followed by a “So what?” statement, which answers the question, “Why is this important?” or “What are the implications of my discussion?” The essays will be written in what is known as the frame/case format. In this format, authors distinguish among the texts they are using in such a way that allows them to be used to maximum affect. The texts break down in two main categories.

Frame Texts
Frame texts are heavy in theory. The theory in these texts is used to frame the overall discussion. That is, authors use the theories in the frame texts to analyze the primary case texts. Their own beliefs or ideas about the case texts are not important; what matters is how those texts are understood through the frame (or lens) of the frame text. An example use of a frame text might be using Tufte’s theories on mapping to analyze a particular graphic presentation to determine it is beautiful.

Case Texts
The case texts are broken down into two subsections: primary and discussion. Primary texts are texts that have yet to be analyzed. These can include graphic presentations, first-hand accounts, testimonies, speeches, data, and so on. Discussion texts are used at various points throughout the essay to help support or complicate your ideas at that point in the essay. They help make the essay more complex, robust, and interesting. They are related to the issues discussed in the essay, but don’t have to be on the exact subject. An example of a discussion text might be one that discusses certain elements in electronic literature and could possibly used to complicate discussions of the interactivities of online infographics.

The formats here seem rather rigid—and in some ways they are. But, within that rigidity you will find the opportunity to explore in-depth rather than on the surface, and take advantage of the nuances held within complex ideas. Indeed, we are looking for complexity rather than simplicity; nuance rather than obviousness.

Assignment for Rough Draft 1

In “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died” (2002) and the accompanying online Interactives multimedia—“Inside the Towers,” “Chronology,” and the graphic, “Calls From the Trade Center”—Jim Dwyer, Eric Lipton, Kevin Flynn, James Glanz, and Ford Fessenden, report “a haunting chronicle of the final 102 minutes at the World Trade Center . . . built on scores of phone conversations and e-mail and voice messages. These accounts, along with the testimony of the handful of people who escaped, provide the first sweeping views from the floors directly hit by the airplanes and above.” In short, the article and multimedia attempt to provide written, visual, and aural evidence for what happened in the upper floors of the Towers between the times of impact and their ultimate fall.

For this assignment, I would like you to use Tufte’s ideas on evidence presentations to come to your own conclusion about which evidence presentations that accompany “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died”—the online multimedia interactives or the images as they appeared in the newspaper—function better as beautiful evidence. What does your conclusion say about the evolution of presenting and consuming information?

Do not disparage the reproduction quality of the graphics in the PDF of the original version of the article. To support and further your discussion, please also use Lakoff and Johnson’s ideas on metaphor and Robinson’s discussion of the history of writing. You may also bring in Nardi and O’Day if you find a place. But, do not use any texts from outside of class.

Assignment for Rough Draft 2

Your first rough draft asked you to experiment with a theory-driven writing format that was new to all of you. This rough draft is going to ask you to engage the same assignment as in rough draft number 1 (that is, use Tufte’s ideas and techniques on evidence presentations to frame and present your discussion of the “FTLatTD” articles and graphics) taking into consideration the comments I made on your (and your colleagues) drafts, as well as the following:

  • page length: 9 – 11 pages of text (the graphics you add are in addition to the written component)
  • this must be a complete re-write, not just an edit or revision of your first draft
  • the overall goal by the end of your discussion should be to make a point about evidence presentations in general and not just the ones in the 9/11 articles; that is, once you determine that something is beautiful or not, what are the implications? why does what you are discussing matter? (though for an assignment, we do not write essays in a vacuum; pretend like the world is reading and they want to know why all this is important in general and not just for the examples we’ve chosen)
  • the above implications should be mentioned/discussed in two places: in the one-sentence “so what?” statement; and in the final paragraph of your essay—this will force you to build to your final points
  • to support and further your ideas, you are required to bring in Lakoff and Johnson, Robinson, Moretti, and Lupton, but not before page 6 (and not necessarily in that order)—this will allow you to establish your Tuftean reading of the 9/11 article/graphics and then complicate them with additional perspectives
  • choose a font hierarchy that you think best goes with the work you are doing in this paper; use Lupton’s ideas on fonts as a guide, and choose a serif font for the body
  • you may not use the word “this” anywhere but in the thesis statement (“In this essay. . .”)
  • pay attention to parethetical citations; quotation marks before opening ( and period/comma after ending ): “. . . word word word” (p. 27). When no quotation, period/comma still go after the ending ).

Assignment for the Final Draft

Drafts 1 and 2 of this project asked you to become familiar with a particular format of essay: the frame/case essay. Frame/case essays are structured in such a way so you build on your ideas over the course of the essay, using particular theories to frame what you see happening in particular case texts. Other authors were brought in at certain points in the essay to help you further your ideas and, in most cases, complicate them by adding a new theoretical layer, a new bit of information, or a new context. Ideas and not examples guided the essays, leading you to a conclusion in which you discussed the implications of all you had just written. Texts were introduced in such a way so intelligent readers could understand concepts new to them and all terms had to be defined prior to using them to explain something. In the introduction, you stated what you were going to do in your essay (the thesis) and why what you were discussing is important beyond the scope of the class (the “So what?”). The result were sophisticated, nuanced, and interesting drafts.

The final draft of the formal essay is going to ask you to do all of the above, again, but to add more nuance and complexity by incorporating theories on the history of writing, metaphor, mapping, hypertext, ergodic literature, intermediation, code studies, and/or software studies to discuss the complex contemporary relationships humans have with mediated writing. That is, I’d like you to think about what role the complexity of mediated writing has when considering something to be beautiful. Many of you have discussed the interactivity of the online graphics. Now, I’d like you to add a more complex theoretical component to that discussion (which, in turn, will transform your overall essay).

Your final draft has the following constraints:

  • page length: 13 – 15 pages of text (the graphics you add are in addition to the written component)
  • this does not need to be a complete rewrite, but adding the new information will necessitate major changes to parts of the essay
  • it must be written using Tuftean evidence presentation techniques
  • you must have a thesis and so what statement, composed as discussed in class; here, however, you might need a thesis paragraph comprised of multiple sentences
  • choose 2 main frame authors, so you’ll be adding one of your choice to Tufte; both will need to be introduced in the introduction; the other frame author must be one of the hypertext/eLit/code studies authors
  • your goal is to discuss the implications of the complex contemporary relationships humans have with mediated writing on what one sees as beautiful evidence
  • the exact implications should be mentioned/discussed in two places: in a multi-sentence “so what?” statement; and in the final paragraph of your essay—this will force you to build to your final points
  • the “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died” will still be your main case texts, but you should also include other case texts we’ve read in class to complicate or expand on your understanding of what is happening in the 9/11 articles
  • you must include at least one author we’ve read from each week of the semester
  • choose a font hierarchy that you think best goes with the work you are doing in this paper; use Lupton’s ideas on fonts as a guide, and choose a serif font for the body
  • you may not use the word “this” anywhere but in the thesis statement (“In this essay. . .”)
  • pay attention to parethetical citations; quotation marks before opening ( and period/comma after ending ): “. . . word word word” (p. 27). When no quotation, period/comma still go after the ending ).

The key for composing this essay is to see how seemingly disparate ideas and texts can be used to help understand what is happening in other texts. So, for example, how theories on ergodic literature help one understand the relationships humans have with the interactive features of the 9/11 article. Or, how reading a generative poem complicates your understanding of how other texts are read. Though seemingly disparate, all texts exist within an interconnected system and how we read one feeds-back into how we read others, which feeds back on how we read the original, and so on.

Due Dates

3/7: Rough Draft 1 Due via Dropbox
4/11: Rough Draft 2 due via Dropbox
4/25: Pecha Kucha Presentations
5/10: Final Draft in PDF and .doc or .docx formats due via Dropbox

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