Writing 109HU--The Final Project

The object of the final project is to write a piece of extended research on the European Enlightenment. Its elements include a prospectus, an outline, a rough draft, an oral presentation, and a final draft. Here are some details about each step:

Prospectus, due May 2: This will consist of a one-page description of the topic and methodology of your essay. It should show the sequence of steps you intend to follow in developing your ideas and conducting your research. It can often start with a question or with a preliminary observation. Keep in mind that your project must prove an arguable thesis, and that you should never begin an investigation with your mind already made up about what you will find.

Outline, due May 18: Once you have conducted a substantial amount of research, you should start shaping your essay. This outline does not need to be either formal or complete, but it should reflect your thinking about the topic up to this point. It will also reveal what areas need further investigation, and enable you to begin writing, although you may not have finished your research. You should also have some idea of your thesis—it will provide you with the direction you need to work efficiently.

Rough Draft, due June 6: A rough draft is just what it sounds like—rough and unfinished. I do not recommend typing it directly into the computer. Writing it out by hand first will give you a chance to think, circle, draw lines, cross out, rearrange, and sketch in a way that a computer screen would inhibit. If you do not write it out longhand, at least print it out so you can write on the draft itself. However you do it, remember that experienced writers make far more substantial changes between the rough draft and the final draft than inexperienced writers, often rearranging, rewriting, and creating large sections. The transition between rough and final drafts contains much of the work of writing. Have respect for it and do not take short cuts.

Oral Presentation, June 6, 8: The oral presentation gives you an opportunity to tell your peers what you found and how you found it. In addition, it will enable you to present yourself as a researcher to interested scholars.

Final Draft, due June 12: The polished, fully documented, carefully considered result of your work.


What am I going to write about? Many of you are concerned about your topic selection, and you should be; finding and developing a topic is both difficult and important. However, it is also a vital and often neglected writing skill. Allow yourself time to do it right. Begin by asking questions and thinking about what interests you, then focus, sharpen, and narrow the topic as much as you can. Good writing generally consists of finding large meanings in small things; some of the most important essays begin by looking at a small, apparently insignificant element of a much larger question. Good luck, and talk to me or email me if you have any questions or problems.