Tag Archives: editor's note

Spring 2022

Editor’s Note

The theme for this year’s issue of Tortoise, narrative, emerged from a section of our previous issue. Last spring, we defined narrative as that “certain something which makes it easier for a reader to follow the author’s argument from point A to point B.” In this issue, we hope to draw and build on this definition of narrative in scholarly writing.

Through the excerpts (as well as one full-length feature piece) that we have chosen for publication, we consider the stories we tell and the way we tell them in academic writing. How does good storytelling help us to craft a compelling argument? What role can “creative” techniques such as metaphor, setting, and imagery play in our academic writing? And reciprocally, how do the lexicon terms present themselves in creative writing?

Most of our pieces explore the role of storytelling in scholarly writing. Across papers from a wide range of contexts and disciplines — from writing seminar papers to a Comparative Literature JP to a close reading paper for the East Asian Humanities Sequence — we examine the narrative techniques that these authors employ to strengthen their use of lexicon terms. What happens when a writer conveys their motive through a vivid anecdote? Can we think of orienting as a kind of worldbuilding?

Although Tortoise typically publishes academic writing, in this issue we have chosen to include an Unconventional Genre section. This section features three pieces that fall outside what we might think of as traditional scholarly writing: a short story, a speech, and a museum exhibition statement. How do these more explicitly narrative-driven genres draw on conventions of academic writing in order to tell a story?

We hope that you will enjoy this unconventional issue of Tortoise and join us in exploring the intersections of scholarly and creative writing!

— Meigan Clark, ’22



In any piece of writing—academic or otherwise—orienting information is not a mere prelude to what follows. Providing just the right amount of context is crucial if the reader is to understand the argument. Both pieces in this section contain strong examples of narrative that rely on orienting for their emotional and argumentative impact. Akhila Bandlora’s paper orients readers in the theoretical literature surrounding racialized bodies to add to the reader’s “understanding of Black pain.” In her commentary, editor Diane Yang emphasizes Bandlora’s skillful differentiation of an array of scholarly sources. Similarly, in her essay, Meryl Liu provides relevant historical context to orient her argument in the larger narrative surrounding the non-reformist prison abolition movement. According to editor Owen Travis, Liu’s treatment of key terms in her orienting section provides a strong framework for her subsequent analysis.

— Frances Mangina, ’22

Motive, Spring 2022


Strong motive is generally a prerequisite for a strong argument. When authors respond to a particular puzzle or incongruity in their evidence, they narrow the scope of their argument and also clarify its implications. Papers with compelling motives often tap into broader personal or societal narratives. For example, editor Emily Wu points out that Sam Bisno’s paper builds on an incongruity in a painting by David Hammon to explore the artist’s storytelling and its relationship to the Civil Rights Movement. Ayra Maheshwari’s paper on air pollution in India and the accompanying editor commentary also focus on global motive. Conversely, in her discussion of Willow Dalehite’s paper on Irish music, editor Natalia Zorilla emphasizes the personal narratives that motivate Dalehite’s argument. Both Christina Cho’s and Owen Travis’ editor commentaries (discussing David Veldran’s paper for the Philosophy Department’s Aesthetics and Film Junior Seminar and Anais Mobarak’s paper on Hugo Chávez’s mythologization of Simón Bolívar, respectively) focus on scholarly motive. Despite their scholarly framing, both papers engage with the role of narrative in today’s society: the stories we tell, whether through film or political mythology, affect our ethical interpretation of our surroundings.

— Frances Mangina, ’22

Evidence/Analysis, Spring 2022


All the papers in this section are unified by their use of close reading, a particularly versatile form of analysis that can offer strong evidence for an author’s argument. Lara Katz’s paper compares the treatment of loneliness and powerlessness in two poems, one by Chinese poet Su Shi and the other by Japanese poet Ono no Komachi. Editor Jasmine Rivers explains how Katz breaks down larger pieces of evidence into close readings on a more manageable scale. William Koloc’s paper on Cloud Atlas is also grounded in close readings of a literary text, in this case a novel rather than poetry. In her commentary, editor Natalia Zorilla focuses on how Koloc combines a series of small-scale close readings to build a cohesive argument. Megan Pan’s paper stands out because it involves close readings of an anime show rather than a written text. Editor Diane Yang discusses how Pan’s close readings overlap with her use of analytic lenses and her development of global motive.

— Frances Mangina, ’22

Spring 2022, Unconventional Genre

Unconventional Genre

Starting in college, students are taught to employ the lexicon in the context of traditional academic papers. However, all three pieces in this section combine familiar argumentative methods with the powerful narratives evoked by their creative formats. In her imagined inaugural speech for the (fictional) opening of Princeton University Medical School, Nisha Chandra makes an argument about racial equity in medicine. Editor Alice McGuinness illuminates Chandra’s use of the lexicon, including her treatment of key terms, evidence, and structure. Shirley Chen’s exhibition statement for a hypothetical museum exhibit employs orienting and motive. In her commentary, editor Meigan Clark argues that Chen invites viewers to participate in the exhibition’s argument and scholarly conversation. Finally, editor Joe Himmelfarb discusses how David Smith’s short story “The Quarters” employs motive and methodology. 

— Frances Mangina, ’22

Spring 2021, Thesis


The central, and arguably most important, component of any essay is its thesis. There are far too many ways to discuss the construction of thesis to put in a single issue, but the pieces selected for this section showcase some of the possibilities. In her Comparative Literature essay, Paige Allen explores the relationships between various key terms — consumption, humanity, and monstrosity, to name a few — in order to construct a novel argument about what she calls “resistant monstrosity”; in her commentary on Allen’s essay, editor Tess Solomon points out how the various parts of the essay come together to lead the reader briskly and clearly to the main thesis. The excerpt of Paige Min’s her R3 on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory published here likewise provides a very good example of an an against-the-grain argument, which Ellie Shapiro explains and analyzes in her commentary on Min’s piece.

— Isabella Khan, ’21

Non-textual sources, Spring 2021

Non-Textual Sources

Depending on the discipline, we are often called upon to construct an argument based on a non-traditional source, whether based in film, visual art, music, or some combination of the three. Though this task can be daunting (still more so when the lexicon terms are still less-than familiar) it can also give new insight into the uses and relationships between the elements of the lexicon, as illustrated in Julia Zhou’s essay on Chinese dance Tiktoks. In her essay, Zhou uses screen-captures from the Tiktok videos to orient to the gender-bending patterns she describes; editor Natalia Zorrilla, in her commentary, walks us through Zhou’s effective use of orienting, showing us why the piece works so well.

— Isabella Khan, ’21

Narrative, Spring 2021


Perhaps the single most common request on Writing Center intake forms is for help with so-called “flow”. In practice, this usually leads to a discussion of motive, structure, or some other more concrete lexicon term; but in reading successful finished essays, it is undeniable that there is a certain something which makes it easier for a reader to follow the author’s argument from point A to point B. This sort of “narrative” is too unspecific to qualify as a bonafide lexicon term, but when done right, it can be very effective. In Jacy Duan’s junior paper on diversity in Hollywood, she establishes this “narrative” using a strong motive and effective orienting. In Julie Levey’s essay on the opera Brundibár,she likewise uses effective orienting to construct a compelling motive, leading the reader smoothly and effectively from evidence to thesis.

— Isabella Khan ’21

Evidence, Spring 2021


One perennial challenge of essay-writing is finding and incorporating good evidence into our pieces. For this issue, we showcase three examples of evidence-use from different disciplines. In her anthropology essay, author Ariadni Kertsikof illustrates the power of careful orienting in bringing out the value and depth of a given source; in her commentary on Kertsikof’s piece, editor Natalia Zorrilla explicates this orienting, showing us exactly why it is so effective. In Julia Walton’s junior paper on Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People, she shows us how a close-reading can mediate between granular, sentence-level analysis, and a larger discussion of the themes of a story, while editor Diane Yang parses Walton’s essay in terms of the Writing Center lexicon. Finally, in Noori Zubieta’s HUM sequence essay on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, she gives a further illustration of the power of good close-reading, while editor Annabelle Duval gives a broader context on the “close-reading” as a style of analysis.

— Isabella Khan, ’21

Cross-disciplinary analysis, Spring 2021

Cross-Disciplinary Analysis

Whether we write about neuroscience or politics, electrical engineering or comparative literature, there are certain common factors which nearly always distinguish “good” writing. Nowhere is this more apparent than in essays which bridge the gap between more than one discipline. In her R3 on the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Maya Chande uses “the quantitative world of statistical and mathematical thinking to giv[e] valuable insights on the very qualitative world of art and artists”, as she says in her commentary, while editor Malka Himelhoch shows us how Chande’s clear analysis grounds the discussion, and gives it more weight than it might otherwise have had. In her R3 for the “Gamification” writing seminar, author Theresa Lim uses both qualitative and quantitative measures to analyze the use (and misuse) of gamification in MyFitnessPal; in her commentary on Lim’s piece, editor Meigan Clark then shows us how this analysis allows Lim to make important contributions to the scholarly conversation.

— Isabella Khan, ’21