Saturday, September 22, 2007

Critical Writing Sample Woes

Ruby is in a problematic scenario dealing with composing a critical writing sample:


I've started an essay that is a close reading of a novel I really liked, but I'm concerned that I don't know the rules for a critical sample: should it have citations of other research? compare more than one work of literature in answering a question or problem? engage with literary theory (of which I know little)? what point of view should it be written in (eg, is first person prohibited)?

**don't shoot me if i'm off the mark on this one. it's been awhile since i've sat in an English lit course. i would advise against writing it in first person; although, i could be wrong.

**i think it all surrounds what you have to say in reaction to reading the novel. do you spot themes, patterns, literary archetypes, and techniques within the novel you're reading? you could always do a character analysis. these are just suggestions.

**perhaps, you could write a thesis statement and go from there with supporting arguments, discussions, and pull quotes from the novel as examples and support. you don't necessarily have to use secondary sources.

13 comments:

Marc said...

Ruby,

Are you still in school? If you are, head down to the writing center. They have tutors there who can give you direct advice on almost every aspect of your paper. They won’t bite. Writing centers are for everyone. I know many students that bring their Master’s thesis into the writing center for advice.

I submitted two scholarly papers for my critical writing sample. I did both of these papers in advanced Literature and History courses when I was an undergraduate. Each professor gave me a large amount of feed back about my ideas and the quality of my writing. This helped me immensely. I would recommend you go this route if it is available to you.

JoeyD said...

I'm assuming that if they are looking for a critical writing sample, then you would need to analyze the primary work through the "lens" of one or more critical perspectives (i.e. Said's Orientalism; Foucauldian analysis; Lacanian psychoanalysis; Derridian deconstruction; Butler's gender criticism), and include some secondary sources to support your claims. However, I'm writing from the perspective of a MA in Literature. As an undergrad (years ago), I remember taking a ground-level critical theory class that basically covered very general overviews of the major critical theories (Marxism; feminism; a brief overview of New Historicism, etc.), so if a school is considering an undergraduate for acceptance into their program, then they probably wouldn't expect you to execute a perfect post-structuralist examination of _Dubliners_.

I've found that the _Case Studies in Literary Criticism_ series provides excellent summaries of the major "schools" of criticism, along with critical essays that stand as examples of what a "feminist" or a "psychoanalytic" analysis should look like. Norton Critical Editions of classic texts also contain representative texts from various theoretical viewpoints. (Personally, while I appreciate the philosophical background that the study of "theory" has given me, I think that a lot of it is useless; I'm dying to get into a MFA program so that I can pursue what I consider the superior and more socially relevant types of "creative" writing).

Sean said...

while im no expert [and have set a goal for next weekend for a due date to pick which schools im applying to for my MFA] i asked a similar question to a former teacher of mine who's gone through a program. you're better off (i think) doing a critical review of what the writer's doing in the work. talk about characterization, the writing as an "Artifact" for lack of a better term. reverse-engineer, see what makes it tick, and talk about it. i dont think pulling out LitCrit would be nessecary, as you're looking at an MFA program versus an MA. we analyze (i think) the nuts and bolts, not, perhaps, the global impact and multiple readings of a work.

M. Ramirez Talusan said...

i agree with sean. i think a close reading would be fine, paying attention to a craft issue such as point of view or character development...

JoeyD said...

I stand doubly corrected. This blog is an invaluable resource. Thanks to all who take their time to coach us on our respective writing endeavors.

Proteus_thinker said...

is it okay to write a critical sample about a rather less known book ? Or is it always required that you should write about books which might be widely known?

Vince said...

Selecting a lesser known book is not out of the question; and infact, it might have its advantages. I don't think anyone wants to read a critical analysis of a cliche' choice. I think it can work for or against you. It might have more underlining appeal if the title doesn't pop up as much in the pile of applications. The committee does have to read it.

Mongk said...

Many schools ask for a critical writing sample because applicants may be teaching candidates for 100level expository writing courses. More than anything else, I'd make sure that your paper has a recognizable, arguable claim (that is, a thesis that specifically outlines what you're going to be arguing in your paper). Additionally, they'll be looking at your use of evidence (textual, quotes, research, etc.) in support of that claim, and that you're able to develop and sustain some sort of logical movement from beginning to end. Intertextuality (looking at a work through the lens of another) is a plus.

A lesser known book is fine, as long as it's worthy of that kind of scrutiny. It's not the book that matters--but the process of looking closely at ideas, developing an argument, and supporting it with verifiable evidence (quotes from the text, secondary criticism, etc.).

Sorry, I don't mean to freak anyone out. I had to go through this (and eventually teach this course) as a first-year MFA. Hope it helps.

PS--I'd suggest writing about a work that is lesser known for several reasons. One, there's less of a chance that you retread certain critical cliches. And second, if you do, in fact, stumble at some points in your essay, those stumblings will be less noticeable if your reader is unfamiliar with your selected text.

Proteus_thinker said...

Thanks ! I think I'll pick out a less known book...This blog is a great help ! Thank you guys !

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