In a Tortoiseshell: In his essay, Jayaditya “Jojo” Deep analyzes conflicting research about the psychology of conspiracy theorists. In his introduction, Jojo details a hypothetical scenario that immediately captivates a reader’s attention and creates an understanding of how conspiracy theories propagate. Continuing, Jojo uses this hypothetical scenario to lay the context of his main conspiracy of study—Ong’s Hat—before explaining how this case sheds light on the related psychological literature. Continue reading
I recently turned in a midterm exam for my Choral Conducting course. It was not quite like any exam I had taken before. The first question asked me to imagine that I was standing on the podium, about to conduct some piece of my choosing, and to describe what I would do in the seconds before the opening measures of the piece. What signals would I give with my face, hands, and body to show the choir what sound quality I was aiming for?
Due to social distancing measures, I have yet to stand on the podium in front of a physical choir. However, I imagine that the intimidating silence right before a piece began would be akin to the rather hollow feeling that accompanies writing introductions for my academic papers. I find introductions difficult partly because they precede the main argument of a paper. Just as it is tricky to conduct the beginning of a piece, when there is no sound for you to respond to, in an introduction you have very little evidence, quotations, or analysis to work with. Even so, the first few moments of a piece are crucial in engaging your singers (or readers) and preparing them for what is to come.
My conducting class has taught me that when you’re standing on the podium, you should never actually approach a piece from square one. Your choir may be singing the piece for the first time, but it is crucial that you have thoroughly analyzed the entire score beforehand. The type of cue you give your singers will depend on the piece’s style and on its structure as a whole, right down to the final measure. This is why I recommend that you do some analysis of your academic sources—or even write your body paragraphs and conclusion—before beginning your introduction. That way, your opening sentences will align perfectly with the rest of your argument.
Last week while conducting by Zoom, I made a mistake that I often see in even the best students’ introductions: forgetting to provide orienting information. I was so nervous about the piece we were workshopping that I began conducting almost immediately after I was called on—it took me a few measures to notice that the student who was supposed to be singing had been caught off guard, and hadn’t even come in. My “preparatory gesture,” which is supposed to act as a cue, had been too sudden and unexpected.
Conducting provides a useful analogy for how to go about orienting your reader. A preparatory gesture should not only help singers enter on time, but also communicate the tone, dynamics, and tempo of the opening measures. Telling your reader what topics you will be cover is not enough: you should also tell them how you will be covering them. What is your “tone”—are you arguing with or against the grain? Are your claims bold and new (forte) or are you subtly adding nuance to another scholar’s argument (piano)? Will you be speeding through a plethora of sources, or slowly analyzing one text? With such questions in mind, writing an introduction does not have to be an ordeal. Your introduction can be short—a mere flick of the hands—and yet seamlessly guide your reader into the body paragraphs.
– Frances Mangina ’22
In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Katherine McIntire analyzes the Disney World theme park “Frontierland,” arguing that by relying on the historically inaccurate concept of the lone cowboy it promotes problematic values that are antithetical to Walt Disney’s philosophy. Her incredibly clear introduction orients the reader to the analytic work she plans to do and to the many sources she plans to consult while constructing her argument. By giving herself space to tease out the specifics of her primary source and the various key terms relevant to her argument, Katherine effectively lays the groundwork for her motive and thesis. Continue reading
One of the most difficult sections of any paper is its beginning. The expectation of an opening that captures and holds readers’ attention while still communicating necessary set-up for an argument is certainly daunting. Nearly all the concepts from the Lexicon must find their way into the start of a paper in the exact right quantities; lots of motive in an introduction is usually desired, whereas very little analysis is wanted or needed so early on. Couple this with the fact that there are infinite possible ways to start a paper, and it may feel downright impossible to accomplish successfully at times.
Rather than focusing solely on thesis or motive, this section highlights papers that successfully incorporate these terms while also orienting the reader, introducing necessary sources, and defining key terms. Pay close attention to the relationships between ideas in sentences and clauses themselves, since it is at this level where the beginning of a paper can truly finds its greatness.
In a Tortoiseshell: In the introduction to his junior paper in mathematics, Dylan Galt presents the motivating questions underlying his exposition of Stiefel-Whitney classes and cobordism, preparing the reader to appreciate the significance of the rich mathematics which will follow. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: Austin Davis’s “Pity the Poor Working Girl” looks into the Pittsburgh Nylon Riots, which rocked the city shortly after the end of WWII, and examines how this event exemplified broader tensions that were at play in the city and nation at large. This excerpt from the first several pages of the essay is a strong introduction that describes the event, clarifies its relevance, and transitions smoothly into Davis’s thesis.
In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper about the Palestinian Declaration of Independence of 1988, Sophie Evans’ original use of key terms — “the literariness of political texts” — allows her to flip the current scholarly discourse — what Edward Said calls “the worldliness of literary texts” — on its head. In the first few paragraphs of her introduction, Sophie constructs motive by orienting readers as to how the literariness of the Declaration, written by a prominent Palestinian poet, has been overlooked. She then argues for why and how her close reading of the literariness of political texts can be brought to bear on Palestinian history and even its political situation today.
The lens essay is a commonly-assigned paper, particularly in Writing Seminars. The prompt for such a paper often asks students to “critique and refine” an argument, to use a source as a lens through which to view another source and in the process gain a better understanding of both sources. This type of essay can be hard to explain and difficult to understand, so it is one of the most common types of essays we see in the Writing Center.
Recently, I read Y.J. Dayananda’s paper “The Death of Ivan Ilych: A Psychological Study On Death and Dying” which uses the lens technique. In this paper, Dayananda examines Tolstoy’s famous short story The Death of Ivan Ilych through the lens of Dr. E. K. Ross’s psychological studies of dying, particularly her five-stage theory. Dayananda’s paper features strong source use, shows how structure can be informed by those sources, and serves as a model for an effective and cross-disciplinary lens essay.
Dayananda establishes the paper’s argument clearly at the end of the introduction, setting up the paper’s thesis in light of this lens technique and providing the rationale (part of the motive) behind applying Ross’s study to Tolstoy’s story:
I intend to draw upon the material presented in Dr. Ross’s On Death and Dying and try to show how Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych in The Death of Ivan Ilych goes through the same five stages. Psychiatry offers one way to a better illumination of literature. Dr. Ross’s discoveries in her consulting room corroborate Tolstoy’s literary insights into the experience of dying. They give us the same picture of man’s terrors of the flesh, despair, loneliness, and depression at the approach of death. The understanding of one will be illuminated by the understanding of the other. The two books, On Death and Dying and The Death of Ivan Ilych, the one with its systematically accumulated certified knowledge, and disciplined and scientific descriptions, and the other with its richly textured commentary, and superbly concrete and realistic perceptions, bring death out of the darkness and remove it from the list of taboo topics. Death, our affluent societies newest forbidden topic, is not regarded as “obscene” but discussed openly and without the euphemisms of the funeral industry.
Dayananda then organizes the paper in order of the five stages of Dr. Ross’s theory: denial, loneliness, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This gives the paper a clear structure and places the texts into conversation with each other on an organizational level. As the reader moves through each stage, Dayananda combines quotations from Dr. Ross’s study and evidence from The Death of Ivan Ilych to show how Ivan Ilych experiences that stage.
Dayananda’s interdisciplinary close-reading of Tolstoy’s text through the lens of Dr. Ross’s study allows us to better understand what Ivan is experiencing as we learn the psychology behind it. As Dayananda writes, “psychoanalysis offers a rich, dynamic approach to some aspects of literature.” The only way Dayananda’s paper could have been strengthened is if the essay also argued explicitly how reading the literature critiques or refines the psychological text, as the best lens essays run both ways. However, overall, Dayananda sets up and executes an original and effective lens reading of The Death of Ivan Ilych.
–Paige Allen ’21
Dayananda, Y. J. “The Death of Ivan Ilych: A Psychological Study On Death and Dying.” Tolstoy’s Short Fiction: Revised Translations, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism, by Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoi and Michael R. Katz, Norton, 1991, pp. 423–434.
The New York Times’ Morning Briefing succeeds thanks to its writers’ deft skill with the art of introduction. Moreover, the briefing might be best described as a series of introductions, each leading the reader to one or more articles on a particular topic. Each section does what the best introductions do: presents the reader with a roadmap of the most important points in the overall news story. Furthermore, while the thesis is not always explicitly present in the Briefing section, unifying motives for all the links in each section usually are. They can be found in the titles of each section.
As an example, take one section from the Briefing published on Friday, November 3rd. Its title, “A Contradiction on Russia”, presents a contradiction, an excellent motivating move. From there the author hits on a series of key points that further elaborate on the motive. Within this framework the links embedded within the text of that section, read in the order presented, can be thought of as the body of the work.
The Morning Briefing’s tagline is “what you need to start your day.” Writers may find the same inspiration in the Briefing to discern what a reader needs to start their paper.
— Natalie Collina ’19
A contradiction on Russia.
• President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both said that they didn’t know of anybody in the Trump campaign who had been in contact with Russians. Court documents unsealed this week suggest otherwise.
The documents also mentioned Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign aide who was in the running for a senior position at the Department of Agriculture. On Thursday, he dropped out.
Today, Mr. Trump renewed his request that the Justice Department investigate the Democrats’ activity during the 2016 campaign, saying the American public “deserves it.”
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.