In a Tortoiseshell: In these first three paragraphs of her essay on revolutionary action in prison abolition, Meryl Liu provides powerful and efficient orienting for her readers. She introduces relevant historical events, gives context for the scholarly discussion, and defines her own key term that acts as a framework for the remainder of the piece. By illuminating a “unique and intriguing tension” Meryl captures the reader’s interest and primes them for the thesis of her paper, which follows immediately after the excerpt published here. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt of his short story, David Smith exemplifies how key elements of writing taught in academic contexts are essential to other, unconventional forms of composition. In particular, the author displays the role of motive, methodology, and conventions in a work of fiction.
In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt of her essay on Hugo Chávez’s mythologization of Simón Bolívar, Anais Mobarak demonstrates how best to establish scholarly motive when numerous texts are in conversation. Anais is clear and deft in her explanation of a tension that exists between two scholars, highlighting the relevant points made by each writer. She then plays peacemaker, suggesting a new lens through which to view Chávez and his complex relationship to Bolívar. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt, Willow develops a rich and multilayered motive for writing about the Martin Hayes Quartet’s album The Blue Room. She begins with a hook that orients the reader to the album and prefigures her motive. She then establishes an explicit personal motive, which is interwoven with her primary source motive. Having made her question clear, she deftly answers it in her thesis and later analysis. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In her exploration of two animated shows, Megan analyzes the erotic undertones present during the mental violation of a young female character. As she engages with this piece of evidence, Megan not only draws a compelling parallel but goes a step further to include detailed notes of visual design and its deeper ties to animated pornography, which ultimately ties to her paper’s global motive. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In his essay, Sam delves deeply into the implications behind David Hammons’s 1988 piece How Ya Like Me Now? At odds with the rest of Hammons’s works, which involve raw and compelling depictions of Blackness in America, How Ya Like Me Now? is a painting that portrays Jesse Jackson, a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement and lifelong activist for justice for Black Americans, as white. The following excerpt highlights the way that Sam layers motive from both his primary and secondary sources to create an exemplary introduction.Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: After establishing her thesis, Akhila moves towards orienting. Tasked with the tricky dilemma of introducing the reader to both the general subject area and the scholarly conversation that surrounds her work, Akhila deftly sets a foundation that allows a compelling argument to follow. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In her exhibition statement for a hypothetical museum exhibit, Shirley prepares her readers to encounter exicon terms visually and spatially. She provides her audience with orienting information on architectural estrangement, with clear motivating questions to guide audience members’ experience of the exhibited objects, with evidence in the form of the objects themselves, and with suggested routes of analysis in the way those objects are displayed in the exhibition space. Overall, Shirley’s exhibition invites hypothetical museum-goers to join a scholarly conversation on architectural estrangement and to find their own argument in the exhibited objects. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In his Writing Seminar R3, Arya Maheshwari uses correlation networks to model air pollution data gathered in India. This excerpt, which is a condensed version of his introduction, demonstrates how quantitative papers can effectively utilize global and scholarly motives to communicate the importance of their high technical studies to a lay audience.
Call me a geek, but since last summer, I’ve become steadily more obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, that’s the role-playing game of Stranger Things fame. Over the course of a campaign, D&D players narrate actions to their DM (Dungeon Master) and roll dice to see if the actions succeed; DMs narrate the results and shape a story. Since 1974, the game’s been through five editions and millions of players. Naturally, then, it’s accumulated quite a lot of jargon. I won’t subject you to a detailed explanation of why metagaming is bad or how you should choose a dump stat. But I do think that this kind of D&D jargon—and the process of habituating players to it—can teach one a lot about effectively using key terms. I have in mind three particular lessons from my first campaign
1. Start with the basics—and only the basics.
Say that you’re a brand-new D&D player, like me. When you build your first character, you need to understand a select few terms: for instance, class and ability score. These, after all, are terms that are directly relevant to building your character. At this early stage, you don’t need to know what a luck check is or what DC stands for. If your DM tries to explain these terms to you now, you’ll likely forget. The terms have nothing to do with building your character, so your focus is elsewhere.
Introducing key terms in a paper is much the same. When you decide what to define in your introduction, think about what the reader absolutely needs to know. If you’re a philosopher arguing that a diagnostic interpretation of the Florentine Codex is wrong, you’ll likely want to explain what the Florentine Codex is and what a diagnostic interpretation might say. You don’t need to define the key term that supports the second premise of your argument and only shows up three pages in. Doing so will make your introduction overly lengthy and probably confuse your reader.
2. Add in subsidiary key terms as needed.
Of course, this isn’t to say that you, a new D&D player, will never need to know what a DC is. In fact, you’ll need to know almost as soon as you roll your first die! Throughout the game, a good DM will anticipate your confusion and define new terms when they become relevant.
Unsurprisingly, you should do the same in your papers. Since you often won’t define all your key terms in your introduction, you’ll likely have to explain some at the start of a section or a paragraph. When you get to the second premise in your Florentine Codex argument, for instance, you might want your reader to know the Nahuatl word tlazolmiquitzli. While the term wasn’t necessary for the reader to understand the broad gist of your argument, it will be necessary for them to comprehend your specific analysis.
3. Consider the evolution of your key terms.
As you progress through your D&D campaign, some terms will take on meaning beyond your DM’s original definition. For example, when you chose to play as a bard, your DM might have explained that bards were performers who had access to magic. Through your rolls and your DM’s narration, though, you’ve realized that bards are also very bad at close combat—they get hurt very easily. Because they are great at performing, persuading, and deceiving, they often serve as the “face” of the party. Over the course of the story, then, the term “bard” has gained additional meaning for you.
Likewise, key terms can (and often should) take on new meaning over the course of an argument. Admittedly, some key terms are static: your reader won’t get much more out of “Florentine Codex” at the end of your essay than at the beginning. Others, however, are dynamic; this is especially true for key words that are crucial to your thesis. Your reader’s understanding of “diagnostic interpretation” at the start of your paper should progress as you explain what would be necessary to support such an interpretation and why those conditions do not obtain. An effective argumentative arc will make this key term evolution clear—no luck checknecessary.
-Natalia Zorrilla, ’23
 Your character’s main job, like being a bard or a cleric. Some classes use magic, and others are just really good at fighting.
 A number that determines what your character adds or subtracts from dice rolls. For instance, if you have a Charisma ability score of 8 (very low), your character will subtract a lot from rolls that determine whether people like them.
 Short for Difficulty Class, this is the dice roll you need to succeed in an action. A DC 15, for example, means you need a roll of 15.
 A dice roll that determines how lucky your character is. With a high roll, good things happen.