Category Archives: Spring 2017

Analyzing a medium, Spring 2017

What is Truth? The Relationship between J.S. Bach and Arvo Pärt Considered from their Respective Versions of the Johannes-Passion

In a Tortoiseshell: This excerpt exemplifies a successful attempt to find an appropriate language to analyze a medium that might at first seem resistant to description — music. The author is able to justify his unusual method, describe and problematize the melodic lines of two very different pieces of music, and use that analysis to argue about the pieces’ respective influences.

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Motive, Spring 2017

Farming the Future at Princeton

In a Tortoiseshell: Sam’s paper contains a strong example of motive and the steps one must take to establish the importance of a paper’s line of inquiry. Considering sustainability as service, this passage demonstrates the logical progression of motive from global problems to more localized, solvable issues. From this progression of “macro” to “micro” motive, we gain a greater sense of the paper’s scope and relevance to the larger issues at hand.

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Framing, Spring 2017


Everyone wants to make an argument that matters—literarily, artistically, historically, politically, socially, culturally… the list goes on and on. For undergraduates just beginning their academic career, however, this is no easy task. The “so what?” factor is always looming over us, whether we’re writing a ten- to twelve-page research paper during freshman year or a several hundred-page thesis.

What’s the significance of my argument? What does it add to the scholarly conversation? How is what I’m saying new and exciting, not just to a scholarly audience, but also to the world? Framing tackles all these questions. It’s the art of contextualizing your argument in some broader sense that makes it fresh, meaningful, and perhaps even vital. But framing, although its proportions can be gigantic—in some cases changing the world and our understanding of it—is actually a very delicate process. Framing pervades almost every aspect of the well-written essay. Some common aspects include the orienting of key terms and context, the motive of the argument, and an extension of the thesis. But for all this theoretical ideating on what framing is and where it surfaces, it’s easiest to see how and where framing works when it’s in action. We’ve selected three essays that, in addition to developing a specific and refined argument, take their arguments to the next level by framing them within appropriate contexts—film, literature, philosophy, politics, and urban planning, to name a few.

In “Media Mediation in 1990s Slacker Comedies,” Sam Bollen ‘18 adeptly orients the reader to the scholarly and colloquial concept of “slacker,” applies this definition and its implications to the genre of slacker comedies, and undertakes a close reading of exemplars of the film genre with substantial explorations of outside sources. He thus turns a seemingly trendy and one-dimensional topic into a captivating and nuanced argument worthy of debate.

In “The Filtration Metaphor: An Analysis of Delays in New York’s Line Extension,” Jonah Hyman ’19 uses a case study of delays on the 7 line extension to present a new model to describe “megaproject forecasting and communication.” Jonah immerses himself into the case study, maintaining a focused objective of extrapolating the specifics of the study to future applicability.

Lastly, in “A Curious Case of Political Critique: The Detective Genre in Rodolfo Wash’s Operation Massacre,” Lara Norgaard ’17 engages in a close reading of Operation Massacre. But she goes beyond a close reading as well, investigating the surrounding political context of Argentina in the 1950s to ultimately classify the novel as a literary innovation and a critical form.

Against-the-grain arguments, Spring 2017

A Pool of Thought: Modest Water’s Mighty Work in ‘To the Lighthouse’

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper about introspection in To The Lighthouse, Carolyn Kelly’s against-the-grain approach to Woolf’s novel examines the significance of smaller, less obvious details as they recur throughout the text. In the first paragraph of her introduction, Kelly constructs motive by orienting readers to how water imagery in To the Lighthouse is typically read. She then disrupts this context in the following paragraphs, illustrating why and how her close reading of overlooked bodies of water in the text can shed light on Woolf’s large project.

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Motive, Spring 2017

A Wave for Hillary? Feminism and the Generational Divide in Democratic Women Voters

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt from Pragya’s writing seminar research paper (the “R3”), she analyzes the generational split in female support for Hillary Clinton during the November 2016 election, This introduction is a great example of how to approach a risky, controversial topic by grounding the argument in data, engaging with the existing literature to build an original theoretical framework, and motivating it all with relevance to current events. 

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Against-the-grain arguments, Spring 2017

“Curiouser and Curiouser”: Discouraging Female Agency and Curiosity in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper about female curiosity and agency in Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland excerpted below, Julia Schorn adopts an against-the-grain approach to mainstream feminist readings of the beloved children’s story, arguing instead that female agency and curiosity is actually discouraged in Wonderland. By both orienting us to these mainstream readings and close reading the text to differentiate herself from them, Schorn’s particularly strong motive calls the entire establishment of Alice scholarship into question.

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Spring 2017

Spring 2017: Editor’s Note

Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy is an annual journal that publishes excerpts of student scholarship from within the Princeton community. Showcasing writers from all disciplines and levels—both Princeton undergraduate and graduate students—we emphasize the writing process as much as its “finished” product.

Tortoise curates excerpts of exemplary academic writing with reflective commentaries on the research and writing methods underpinning the prose. Tortoise’s ambition is thus not only to share student writing with a wider audience but also to demonstrate how it works and how it was developed.

The Spring 2017 issue focuses on pieces that are “risk-taking”—works of academic writing that engage with the scholarly conversation in unconventional and surprising ways. From essays that consider against-the-grain arguments regarding Alice in Wonderland, to academic considerations of The Great British Bake Off and the video game Assassin’s Creed, Tortoise’s 2017 issue takes the reader on a journey that makes stops across the world map, all while using the analytical framework of a variety of disciplines. Within these digital pages, learn about subjects with contemporary relevance, ranging from the refugee crisis in Greece to local analysis of the inner workings of a Princeton dance troupe. While our range of risk-taking subjects is eclectic, all of our articles are paired with insights into why these pieces are model examples of academic writing. So strap on your harness, jump from the plane, and release your parachute when it’s time to return to Earth. Tortoise is ready for takeoff.

Risk-taking, Spring 2017


In the context of writing, risk-taking is about going against the established methods of writing. It’s about trying something new at the risk of falling flat. It’s about the freedom of going your own way with the threat of no return.

Before I spout another platitude not unlike one delivered by Matthew McConaughey at the wheel of a Lincoln Town Car, I want to emphasize that risk-taking in writing may strike some as cliché, but it’s absolutely necessary to change the game of the writing form and create new, useful paradigms for organizing prose. What would fiction look like without Ernest Hemingway, who dared to write more by writing less, thereby advocating the “tip of the iceberg” approach to spare prose? What would the world be like without the writing of Princeton’s own John McPhee, whose meandering nonfiction has opened up an entire field to literary journalists, as well as given us more than enough information on the geologic history of North America in the volumes that make up his Annals of the Former World? Who knows who will follow the poet Anne Carson, who has created her own genre of classical meta-prose poems through works such as Nox and Autobiography of Red?

It takes guts to change the way people think and write about things. While this whole issue is full of essays that strive to do just that, in this special “Risk-Taking” section of Tortoise, we spotlight the pieces that best embody the elements of risk-taking, which in this sense means works of academic writing that engage with the scholarly conversation in unconventional and surprising ways.

In Noah Hastings’s “How intentional anachronism changes identity processing via history in Assassin’s Creed,” the author takes an unconventional approach to the popular video game by interrogating the conflicting imposed cultural identities on the game’s protagonist, Altaïr. Not only does the piece take risks in its analysis of a traditionally nonacademic genre, the video game, Hastings’s analysis of the protagonist’s stereotypically “American” features is compelling as much as it risks stereotyping itself.

On the other hand, Hayley Roth’s journalism feature, “The Classroom Cure: Greece Struggles to Educate a New Generation of Refugees,” takes excellent fieldwork collected in Greece and tells a compelling news story. It does so through the employment of creative nonfiction techniques, which, although going against some of the genre’s conventions, creates a more powerful story, better capable of conveying the gravity of the refugee crisis in Greece.

Next, we feature a critical essay called “Volcanoes and Detectives,” which discusses the techniques of some of my own more off-the-wall essays that I’ve composed over my four years at Princeton. Through a critical reading of some of their components, we can see what aspects of them worked more effectively than others.

Lastly, in “Dead end or Dividend,” editor Myrial Holbrook considers an essay in which she attempted to analyze a passage from Cicero, an effort that fell victim to the intentional fallacy. Again, here is a moment when risks overwhelmed the risk-taker.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride. In the next few pages, dart across rooftops with Altaïr, witness the sobering scenes of the refugee crisis, and then read about some of my more bizarre (and not very successful) academic essays. It will all be in good fun.

Abstract, Spring 2017


An abstract is more than just a summary of key points and ideas. While an abstract certainly does touch upon key takeaways, it essentially functions as a condensed account of a paper. Moreover, an effective abstract’s key concepts are carefully structured to capture the essence of the paper.

So what does this ideal abstract structure look like? An abstract should first clearly outline the problem the author is trying to solve. To borrow the terminology of the Writing Program’s Lexicon, this would mean that the abstract establishes the motive. This is essential for establishing the relevancy and necessity of one’s paper; in reading the abstract the reader should immediately be able to identify the problem at hand. From there, the abstract should present the author’s thesis as a response to this problem so that the reader can immediately grasp the author’s approach to the issue. This is not only accomplished through the succinct presentation of the thesis but can also consist of a short discussion of the methodology employed and the initial results and conclusions arrived at from such an investigation. As a result, the author not only presents readers with the problem, the respective solution, and the approaches to rationalizing this solution, but also establishes the relevancy and importance of the paper for the target audience.