I talk with English doctoral candidate Semilore Sobande about knocking out those papers in humanities classes-- without knocking your head against the wall (too much). Get ready to laugh and learn! You can find a transcript for this episode on the episode website (hosted on Buzzsprout).
If you'd like to follow Semilore on social media, find her on Twitter @shemiliana. If you would like the transcript to this episode, you can find it on the podcast's website https://www.buzzsprout.com/2097929/ Simply select the desired episode and click the "Transcript" tab beside the Show Notes.
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Britt Threatt, host (BT)
Semilore Sobande (SS)
00:00 BT: Here we go! *Laughter* My gosh.
00:04 Intro music
00:10 BT: Hello writers! I’m Britt Threatt and you’re listening to “College Writing, Actually” where we talk about the how-to and how-come of college writing and writing instruction every other Wednesday while school is in session. Today I’m joined by Semilore Sobande, a graduate student in the Brown University English Department and tutor in the university writing center. Thanks for joining us, Semilore.
SS: Thanks for having me.
BT: So we’re doing a trilogy of episodes on “how do you actually write a research paper in the disciplines.” Semilore, you’re starting us off with “how do you actually write a research paper in the humanities."
SS: Intimidating but I will try my best.
BT: It's fine. It's gonna be great. And don’t worry, writers. Even though Semilore and I both have English backgrounds, we’re going to talk about the humanities at large, not just English papers. And I have to say, even though I love writing, it’s only in grad school that I’ve realized how complex it can be and it has made me really appreciate simplicity.
01:02 SS: Yeah, definitely one of the things I feel like I've learned the most about writing in my own personal process is that we tend to think of writing as this really complicated process instead of simply accepting that it's simple but a little messy. Which is to say sometimes it's not straightforward but in my experience there are like steps and tool you can use that are pretty much always helpful and are always gonna guide you through a process that is gonna change but like it's also the same in a lot of ways.
BT: Yeah. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. That’s a really important perspective shift. It's not necessarily complicated but it is certainly messy. And of course writing is a recursive process, which means that it’s cyclical. It's developmental. You progress and then you return to refine to progress and then you return to refine and then you do it all over again. So it can seem immediately too much. and I often find talking with writers about tools to manage stress and organize their ideas pre-writing is as important as anything the paper will eventually say.
02:05 SS: Yeah. For me what has been the most helpful-- and I don't always follow this because sometimes I do rush myself, but for me what has been the most helpful is setting some of those tool and tips for pre-writing. So setting a timeline has been super helpful. This has been super important like when I'm writing larger projects. So like a final paper. If I'm applying to a fellowship. Right now, I'm writing-- theoretically-- my dissertation and like setting a timeline to be like "okay, when do I wanna have an outline out? When do I wanna have a first draft out?" That kind of thing makes it so much easier to manage my stress throughout the process, because I've broken it up into little chunks.
02:48 BT: Okay, like internal...let's not say "deadlines" because that could be triggering for someone. Like "deadline? Where?"
BT: Like internal milestones.
SS: Yeah, like internal goals. Like, you know, like instead of saying "I have a twenty page paper due three weeks from now," I can be like "oh, okay, three days from now I wanna have collected a lot of my sources." Or "seven days from now I wanna have like a really rough outline of what I'm gonna say."
BT: Got it.
SS: And that way my brain isn't so preoccupied with this giant project. it's more like "okay here are these bits and pieces." Which is something that I've learned through-- like I have ADHD so that's a lot of it-- but it's been super useful to think of like using timelines, using outlines, which I know a lot of students feel like they have to use, but for me using an outline is so much easier because it's like "okay, what am I gonna say and when am I gonna say it?" As opposed to looking at a blank page and stressing out two days before the deadline.
03:48 BT: Mercy.
SS: And just like allowing it to not be perfect as well. Like letting go of that perfectionism. Involving my friends and peers. I'm lucky in that I don't actually mind people seeing my writing, but that's not true for everybody.
SS: But like stuff like co-working with people. Stuff like even just bouncing ideas off of people. Even if it's not your official writing. That's been so helpful for me and having that support system so like I'm stressed about it but my friends are like "oh okay, you've written a paper before."
BT: You're not new to this. You're true to this.
SS: You can do it. You've written an application before. You've written a [inaudible] before. You can do it and it's not the end of the world if it doesn't come out like the perfect way you want. And then of course, obviously obligated to give a shoutout to university writing centers.
BT: Whoop whoop!
04:41 SS: Incredibly useful. Super useful to have someone else's eyes on your work that doesn't know you that's been through multiple people's kind of writing experiences. And also, I feel like a lot of students I see have this idea that they're like the only person in the world who hates writing conclusions when the reality is everyone hates it so it's a good way to get perspective too.
BT: That is true. That is true. Yeah, no. Definitely everyone--intros and conclusions confound writers globally, so... And that’s good grounding so thank you for those opening thoughts. Managing stress and organizing consistently I find what writers stumble over, right? Even if they are not clocking it as like "this is an organizational issue" it's just like STRESS! And it's like "right..."
SS: It's organization.
BT: It's organization! If you felt more prepared, if you knew how it was gonna get done, you wouldn't be feeling...
05:42 SS: You wouldn't be feeling this way.
BT: You wouldn't be feeling this way, my friend. You wouldn't be feeling this way. So thank you for that good grounding. So we've just set the stage with a word on pre-writing, organization, stress-management. Now, writing a paper in the humanities. Semilore, how do you actually??
SS: Well, apart from organization, which I do wanna say I feel like people's relationship to organization is always like "oh, I have to do it in order to write a good paper or a solid paper" or like "I'm a bad person if I don't do it." It's really about your own comfort.
SS: That old saying "a stitch in time saves nine." It will literally just be...allow yourself to have peace. Which I think is the first idea. But for me, the way I think about is...so I taught a Comp class last year. It was lovely. It was wonderful.
BT: Okay! Professor! C'mon Professor Sobande! Teach us!
06:43 SS: Teach us! No, but I noticed while teaching Comp, a lot of the same issues came up because a lot of people have the same concerns about writing and a lot of these are my own concerns about writing so this is very much how I think about writing papers. Obviously, I do most of my writing in literature but I've tried to generalize a little bit to kind of all humanities disciplines and what they're oriented towards. So this would be like Lit, History, with an asterisk some interdisciplinary studies as well.
BT: Religious Studies perhaps.
SS: Religious Studies perhaps. An American Studies, if you will.
BT: If you will.
SS: But this is how I approach research papers when I'm being really deliberate.So after organization for me brainstorming is a really important component. A lot of the time I feel like you get a prompt and it's really overwhelming.
07:44 But brainstorming is such a good space to give yourself that kind of moment for imperfection to say like "oh I don't really have this idea all the way flushed out yet. Let me write it down. Let me put it in a voice memo. Sometimes I do that kind of thing.
BT: Voice memo. Okay, you talking to yourself!
SS: I really do talk to myself a lot.
BT: Get into it, writers!
SS: Yeah, like voice memo and then going back to look at it and being like "oh okay here's what's useful and here's what's not." And then a lot of times I feel like students are like "okay how do I even start thinking about something like that?" And it doesn't have to be anything super--like we said-- super complicated. It can be like why am I interested in this? What stuck out to me? A lot of the things I sometimes tell my students is "why are you bothering to write about this?" Because obviously, even if you have a prompt, you choose an angle. You choose a moment. What about that moment is interesting or useful to you?
08:44 And then after I do a little bit of brainstorming, I try to come up with a really loose argument, which is to say "okay, here's what I'm interested in talking about. After that, and I know that sometimes people don't do this but I would recommend it. After that, I tend to look for sources. You can write a thesis first. I find that in a research paper. Like a paper where you're expected to consult secondary sources-- well primary and secondary sources-- a lot of the times, if you have that super constricted thesis before you actually look at the source material you end up getting ahead of yourself. So what I do a lot of times is I look for sources--university library, great resource both I like to use the online because I'm lazy.
BT: I'm an online girl!
SS: I'm an online girl.
BT: I am!
09:41 SS: I love using the online resource but if you go to your university library in person, librarians are super helpful, super nice. They're literally the best people on the planet.
BT: They really are.
SS: Dewey Decimal System super confusing. Don't need to understand anything about it other than once you locate your book, look around because sometimes there's useful books surrounding it. And for me, what I do is, obviously I'm looking for peer-reviewed content. I use keywords a lot. So I'll be typing in...my first chapter has to do a lot with Caribbean literature and haunting and so if I'm looking for something on that, I'll be like "Caribbean", "haunting" and then I'll go through what the list of the what the library has. I'll read abstracts or summaries. So..
10:33 BT: Time-saving.
SS: Yeah. Don't be afraid to sift through material. I feel like people think-- and I do also have it of being like "oh, I have to read everything here." But a lot of it is like "is this something that speaks to your argument?" Yes or no. Look at the abstract. Is it still something that speaks to your argument? Yes or no. Then you read the paper. Read over the paper. See what kind of arguments are being made. That sort of thing.
BT: And I would say, if I could interject. That's super...the abstract, super useful. Do not neglect the abstract so you don't have to read the entire thing until you know that you wanna invest that time. For books, the introduction gives you the encapsulation, absolutely but I have learned a trade secret.
11:21 BT: Girl, read a book review.
SS: Oh my gosh, the book review...cause they were not lying! They were not lying! I didn't learn that until I wanna say-- and I still don't be doing it. Sorry. Just to be honest. I really should. I wanna say it was my first year of graduate school. Someone was like "read the book review." Because the book review will tell you exactly what happens in the book.
SS: And it'll usually tell you in a way that's shorter than the introduction.
SS: And a lot of times the book review is a little bit easier to get a hold of than the book.
SS: So especially if you're working with a book before 2005-- shout out to my humanities girls who actually do have to work with content before then-- but that book review will sometimes be digitized. And so you can look up the book review, see what's what and then be like "is this something I request or look for in the stacks or is this something to move on?" No, book reviews are so...
12:24 BT: Do not sleep on them.
SS: Do not sleep on them.
BT: They...I cannot remember the last time I saw a review that was over three pages.
SS: No. They're not.
BT: Like, they're very short. They're very succinct and it will give you the-- especially if you're working with a paper and you're like "oh my gosh, they want me to write about posthumanism and all these different things." If you're working then with books that are then like Posthumanism in the Age of Marx.
BT: That could be really intimidating. Even if you're like, "oh yeah, I've read the book and I still don't get it." I would read a book review, because it's still gonna give you the concepts way more broken down, way more simplified. So book reviews are useful for a lot of things but certainly while you're brainstorming, you're just trying to rally the troops, book reviews, abstracts, do not sink a lot of time into reading it yourself. Someone else has already read it and processed it for you. Use them.
13:16 SS: Use them. And sometimes book reviews are so wonderful because they'll even have other sources in them.
BT: It's like a little breadcrumb trail.
SS: Yeah, a little bread--actually, I lied. I think I used a book review the other day. And I think it was super useful because someone was talking about...someone was talking about...it was so tangential. Someone was talking about a book I was interested in. Their citation of another book and they were like, "I think this argument works here, here, and here." And so then I was able to be like "oh okay, I actually don't need this book I thought I was interested in. What I need to be reading is this other book. Or like I had a read the book review of a book I had already finished. And the book review mentioned something else and I was like "oh my gosh, I didn't realize that that was the move it was making."
14:07 SS: So book reviews, so so helpful. The other things that are helpful, and I used to hate them, annotated bibliographies.
SS: I really-- don't get me wrong: I actually hate to say it. But like a very casual, you know. Not anything fancy. For me, an annotated bibliography usually looks like page number, quote or summary, and then why I think it might be useful in like a little Google sheet or an Excel spreadsheet.
SS: But that stuff is so incredibly useful. Even if you just take notes on pieces you need to use. Taking notes on sources will usually be useful because a lot of times you'll come back to them. Which is to say like, I wanna say I took extensive notes on Absalom, Absalom when I was in my senior year of college. And now I'm writing about it for my dissertation and the way I'm just going back to the book notes because I don't wanna figure out those two-hundred word sentences.
SS: It's incredibly useful. And it's the research part of the research paper.
15:15 Music interlude
BT: Yes, okay. So we've got university resources from the library. We've got peer reviewed content: abstract, book reviews, and annotated bibliographies.
BT: Okay. We press on.
SS: The third I think that a lot of us talk about is building arguments and using, obviously, the evidence. And the one thing that I feel like everyone asks is how to write a solid thesis. That's the one main question that I feel like literally is always being asked.First of all, relax in the fact that you're not the only who's having trouble writing their thesis. But for me, when I write a thesis, the foremost thing in my mind is "what do I want this piece of writing or paper to prove?" What do I want it to prove? What do I want it to include?
16:08 Which is to say that a thesis is very much the TL;DR, like "too long; didn't read." If you were-- if I was just gonna spit out a theory for what was happening, boom, thesis. So what I like to include in those is the object you're arguing about. So in literature we say object or text. But in humanities, basically what you're talking about. So like, if you're a historian you might be talking about a historical event. For my part, I'm usually talking about a novel. Occasionally, like the other day-- not the other day. I wrote it like a year and a half ago. I was talking about a music video, like that sort of thing. What are you talking about? And in a lot of senses you wanna get really specific so it's not just like "what novel are you talking about?" Like what are you talking about in the novel? What are you talking about in the historical event?
17:09 What are you talking about in the music video. That kind of thing. Then, too, what you think the object is doing. That sounds a little, I think, counterintuitive but why do you think it matters that we look at...you know, say something that a lo of people talk about it when it comes to novel is plot. What does the plot matter, right? What does the imagery matter? What is the imagery doing? Why do we even talking about the imagery? In a music video for example, you might say "oh, the way this music video is shot really references this particular kind of art/film movement."
BT: Okay cultural studies. Come on in here.
SS: Well, you know. I'm listening to my friends instead of muting the group chat. But like, you know, thinking about what makes us talk about a certain object, right?
18:11 SS: And then finally, how you can tell. And this is the part that I think is a little bit difficult for students. Which is to say, "okay you've said the imagery is--" I don't know why I can't think of a single argument. For example, I think I wrote a paper once in, oh my gosh, once in undergrad that was "oh I think hip hop is actually not that distant from poetry." Which is really a shallow argument. But let's go with it. And so I was like "oh, hip hop is not distant from poetry" right and that's what the argument is doing but how can I tell? Right? And that was something I struggled with for a long time. Which is like "what about hip hop makes me think it's not that distant from poetry?" Is it the way hip hop is constructed? Is it that way they're using imagery or, this is like a strict poetry class? Is there like the usage of
SS: Like rhyme.
BT: Come on.
19:14 SS: Rhythm, meter, all of that. And so those are like the, I'd say, the basis of your thesis. Which is what's gonna clue your reader into "okay this is the argument they're making and this is why they think it works." Right?
BT: So what I hear you saying is that you do wanna drop some specifics. Right?
BT: Like you don't need a spoiler alert for your thesis. Like...
SS: You want some specifics.
BT: You-- yes, you don't want to be like surprise!
BT: In paragraph three. It's like "wait, what is this?"
BT: Right? Like if your reader is surprised by something that you did, you need to back it up and do some signposting. Right, which basically is just a clue about what's coming down the road. And your thesis is the biggest signposting tool you have, so if you're gonna have paragraphs talking about rhyme, meter. If you're in history and you're like "actually, the clothes that women wore, the stitching, the way the men would da-da-da" whatever.
20:14 SS: How did you know I was a fan of that kind of history work?
BT: You know? You know? I'm just saying. The clothing, right? If your argument is based on clothing. If your argument is based on "well, women and the private sphere", "well domestic work in the 1800s." Right? The thesis is the time-- really the introduction paragraph-- but the thesis is the time for you to hone in on the specifics of what are you talking about? Are you talking about sentence structure? Are you talking about the kind of clothing? Are you talking about where something happened? Are you talking about who was present or who often is seen as invisible-- which is an oxymoron. But like if you're getting into that oxymoron then let us know!
SS: Then let us know!
BT: You really wanna drop some specifics so that we understand not just what you're arguing but how you're gonna argue it and that's where you let the specifics come through.
21:03 SS: Yeah. Because I feel like there's...and we'll get to this a little when I talk about introductions and conclusions.
BT: My goodness.
SS: I feel like the impulse is to be like, "I have to perfect my thesis first" and that's not true.
SS: A lot of the time I feel like if you're writing a research paper, especially as an undergrad-- I say especially as an undergrad not because there's a huge gap between undergrad and grad research papers. It's just that grad research papers can be 25 pages and so the girls can write a paragraph that's a thesis versus...
BT: Undergrad usually you don't have to that. And you know what, revel in that. Revel in the innecessity of it. Take heart.
SS: Which is to say that a lot of times you can usually write something casual, finish your paper, and then go back and refine the thesis. Like you're not gonna get arrested.
22:02 I know. It just feels like it sounds scandalous. I'm like "you do not have to write that in order."
BT: Yeah. Which is a good point for writers to remember. Writing papers is not linear. It's recursive, right? So you may get to that first paragraph and be like "I don't like this argument." Or "this is a shallow argument." Or "actually, I was looking at a counterargument and I was like hold up, that's pretty compelling." Right? You may get there and be like, "I need to go back and revise my thesis. Revise your thesis as many times as you need to for it to reflect what you actually are doing or what you even have done. Right? If the paper is done, then you're in the perfect position to go back and say what you're about to do in your thesis because it's already done.
SS: Literally. I think the thing is, the reader has a particular experience. The writer is not having that experience.
22:54 Music interlude
SS: So briefly about the body paragraphs, 'cause I feel like that's also something. Less so than the thesis. The way I think about body paragraphs is actually taken from my teenage dirt bag years as a debater.
BT: Not my teenage dirt bag years.
SS: Which is to say, in debate one of the things they really toss at you is claim-warrant-impact. Like when you're constructing contentions. And I think a modified version of that is useful for writing body paragraphs which is claim-evidence-interpretation-impact. Which is, the way I think of it is like the claim as what are you arguing. Which is usually in your topic sentence. I feel like topic sentences intimidate a lot of people, but the way I think of a topic sentence is like "what is the paragraph about?"
23:45 Evidence is like when you introduce "okay, how can you prove it to me?"
SS: Like where are you getting this from? And a lot of time I feel like this comes from the object. It comes from that secondary source material you worked with. So that can be like paraphrasing stuff. That can be a quote. That can even be an image depending on what kind of paper you're writing. That's the evidence.
Interpretation-- and this is what I feel like sometimes students miss--which is to say don't just me a quote. Tell me why it matters.
BT: Yes. You know? Flesh that out.
SS: Tell me what it means. Tell me what it means, right? Pretend like I don't know what's going on-- which often, to be really blunt, I don't. But like, if you took a quote from a book for example, why does it mean anything? How does it prove your claim, right? Don't be like "Exhibit A..."
BT: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C! Like, what? Can we stay with Exhibit A for just a touch longer? Yes.
24:45 SS: And then the thing that rounds out body paragraphs and I think makes them really strong is impact. Because I feel like one of the things we think about is like "oh okay claim-evidence-interpretation, yeah that's in its own argument" but you're writing a larger paper. So why does it matter that the claim you made gets made for this body paragraph, right? So if you're writing something like, to use the hip hop and poetry example, if I'm writing something like "hip hop often has really complicated rhyme schemes." And then I gave you the evidence. I interpreted the evidence. I need to come back at the end and be like "okay, here's why it matters that hip hop has rhyme schemes for when we're talking about hip hop potentially being part of poetry. Here's why that thread matters to my overall argument."
25:41 I think as long as you're kind of-- you don't have to be really strict with it-- but thinking of those four steps, you'll pretty much always cover any argumentation requirements that humanities people will have.Because that's what a humanities paper is really concerned with. Here's the overall argument. Here's the object of study. How are we breaking it down? How are we looking at that argumentation?
BT: Yeah. Yeah and to step on the interpretation thing an extra time, because I see students struggle with interpretation so much because interpretation really is analysis.
SS: It's hard.
BT: It's hard! It's hard, y'all! It's hard for everyone that's writing, so you are not alone. But the difference between-- summary is-- honestly, if you gave a quote it's either/or.
SS: It's either/or.
26:34 BT: If you are going to give the quote, you do not need to then follow up by summarizing what just happened. We were there. So that is either/or. You know, choose. And then the interpretation is the bridge to the claim. If you are giving a quick little snippet of Kendrick Lamar or something. And like "oh okay, I wanna look at how "Swimming Pools" is a perfect example of the correlation between-- or even the relation between poetry and hip hop. They're just two different art forms on a continuum of rhythm and meter." First of all I think that would be part of a thesis, right?
BT: 'I think that--" or not "I think." "Poetry and hip hop are two artistic forms on the same continuum of rhythm and meter." Okay great. Well now we know you're gonna talk about rhythm and meter. Thank you. That's it. Right? And then your paper proves that. And you give us a poem that shows that. Here's how rhythm and meter are working here. We see similar elements in Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" here and here. Right? Okay. So this complicated idea of x, x, and x what are the cultural impulses of that, right? You can talk about so many things.
27:47 Just talk about the things. So whatever made you say "oh it's Kendrick Lamar." Whatever made you say Kendrick Lamar and Shakespeare have any business in the same sentence, cool. Tell us why. So you give us the example and then you say "well what's going on here is... The same way Shakespeare is talking about these cultural moments and is giving us neologisms--" that's a new word-- "...neologisms--"
SS: Ooh, come on!
BT: Hello. I'm here. ."..neologisms to express things that had been potentially inexplicable" or whatever "is the same way that Kendrick is talking about cultural moments, is talking about internal battles, is talking about x-x-x and giving it to us with these pithy rhymes like so." Right? So you don't wanna just give us "Swimming Pools", the moment "Swimming Pools" is talking about, the battle "Swimming Pools" is talking about, what that battle represents, why it's important... You want to really, really flesh it out and if you struggle with analysis, just answer the question not only of "why should I care" but why should I care for this argument?
28:49 Right? Your analysis does not exist in a vacuum. Whatever you said about Shakespeare in the previous paragraph, if you're saying they're on a continuum then your analysis needs to be responsible to explicating that continuum.
BT: Right? So your analysis really builds. The deeper into your paper you get, the easier the analysis should be because it's building. It's a thread that's going through the entire paper. Right? And so definitely think of the analysis as answering the "why should I care in relation to this argument" and "how can I connect this analysis that I'm doing right now to analysis that I've already done in this same paper?"
SS: Yeah. And the ironic thing is the analysis, a lot of times, is something you've already thought through because you picked it.
BT: Right. Right.
SS: Which sounds kind of trite but it's a lot of hip hop songs. It's a lot of hip hop girlies on the table to choose. You picked "Swimming Pools" for a reason.
SS: Tell us why picked "Swimming Pools."
29:43 BT: Yes! Yes.
SS: You know? And if you're working with a quote tell us why picked the quote. Why did you pick this section of this music video? Why did you pick this section of this historical event? And it's like, yes sometimes you're given a prompt. Sometimes it's very...occasionally you'll have very tight close reading exercises.
SS: But even then, it's again going back to those basic brainstorming questions: what stands out to you? Why does it stand out to you? Thinking of analysis as that and taking the time to build upon analysis. And that's the thing. I think analysis is always going to be the thing that takes the longest.
BT: Yeah. So, you know, plan for that in your internal milestones and benchmarks. Plan to spend time sitting with that material.
30:35 SS: Yeah, and also looking at your sources. If your sources are doing analysis too.
BT: Yes! Don't plagiarize, but pay attention! Pay attention. I can tell you, even history. Man...there's so many good history books that I've read recently. Particularly in Black women's intellectual history. I'm trying to think about my favorite. That's difficult. Let's just go with one that's first in my mind.Righteous Discontent by Evelyn Higginbotham.
SS: A classic.
BT: A classic.
SS: A literal titan.You said Righteous Discontent. I said "not the classics!"
BT: Hello! Oh my gosh, Professor Higginbotham. Ooh, she teaching us. So, in Righteous Discontent, right, analysis-- first of all, that book. You see-- you heard the excitement, right?
31:26 One thing you have to know is, part of just the "oh my gosh" of Righteous Discontent is historical context.
BT: Before she even gives us this iconic term of "respectability politics"...that's chapter seven in a seven chapter book, okay? That's the end. Before that, she is saying "let's look at this called the Women's Era" which is otherwise called the Progressive Era, depends on the historian. "Let's look at this moment of 1880-1920 and women's clubs." What are the women's clubs that are it? What's these auxiliaries? What is this-- what's this Baptist National Convention? What is this-- what are the things going on? Don't skimp on that, because that's gonna be the basis for your analysis. She couldn't have said a word about Victorian sensibilities in chapter seven and how they interact with grassroots activities if she hadn't given us the grassroots activists in chapter one and these women's clubs and how they are positioned.
32:31 Yes, race obviously but also gender roles, right? Also, the behavior. Also, the way the home is set up. And so analysis can often be like "oh, I have to make this super incisive point," but don't skimp on setting up the room.
BT: If you're in history, set up the moment. How do your favorite historians introduce you to your point? Right? How do they bring you into the room before they get to that quote that you love so well, how did they set up where that quote landed like that? Because you can waste a good word, now.
BT: Like, if you don't set up the room...
SS: You can waste a good word!
BT: It's like "oh, I feel like that was really important but I don't know what they're talking about." This poor soul. Right? Like you have to get your reader ready to receive the blessing. Analysis is the blessing. Don't skimp on setting up the room, though. You gotta prepare them to receive it. What I want you to see if you're in the humanities is truly the world is your oyster! Whatever your field is, analysis just calls you to pay good attention.
33:30 BT: Right? So just pick something, stare at it, write down everything you see, write down what those things are in their component parts, and then write down what they are as a composite image. Right? What do they create and what is important about how they are put together and the effect that they are trying to have.
33:49 Music interlude
BT: So we spent a lot of time on analysis, but that's because it's good.
SS: It's important.
BT: It's very important.
SS: I would argue that analysis, I feel like-- and this is something that is I feel like unique to humanities papers-- analysis is really the most important part.
BT: It is.
SS: Which is why sometimes, I be working with my friends in social sciences and I be like banging my head against a wall like... I be like "well, I collected the evidence." And they're like "aren't you almost done?" I'm like "NO!"
BT: I'm almost about to begin.
SS: I'm almost about to begin. The analysis is where the meat of the material really is because it's what's your content in a lot of ways. That's where your content really is, is in the analysis. So I feel like yeah.
34:44 BT: Yeah. A lot of time needed to be spent. So I would say after all of that, if you think about-- right, 'cause I'm all about things that you can take from particular episodes-- you wanna find who you get that excited about. Right? What makes you be like "whoo! Now that was a good piece of writing. And then go look at-- in your field, right. Because humanities is broad. Look for your English folks. Look for you historians. Look for your religious studies scholars. Because, not for nothing, religious studies be out here snatching wigs as well.
SS: Ooooh for sure!
BT: Snatching entire wigs. Like I really just be sitting down listening to them talk because they be going in. So look for who snatches your wig and then-- or your, what do men wear? Toupee!
BT: Or your toupee, as the case may be hello! As the case may be. Look for who snatches your hair piece and then look at how?
35:46 What's your favorite part of it? How did they set it up? You have a five page paper, you have an eight page paper, you have a ten page paper, figure out "okay, I really like the historical grounding in it." And really in the humanities, regardless of what discipline you are in, you're gonna need historical grounding. It doesn't matter if you're about the history of the Black church, if you're doing about historic women's club movements. You're gonna need history. It doesn't matter what the point is. You need to tell us how we got there. What is this moment contextually mean? That is history. History is the context. And so look at "okay who is re-- how are they doing that set up?" And then see how you can replicate the structure of that in your own paper. If it's a five page paper and you're like "okay I'ma need some history. I'ma need to introduce the text, whatever the text is. Whether it's an actual novel. Whether it is a historical event. Whether it is a piece of religious writing. Whatever it is.
36:48 I'ma have to contextualize it. I'ma have to introduce it. I'm going to have to specify a particular part of it or an element of it and then I'ma go into this interpretation. Right? You can do that in a one page paper. You can do it in a ten or a twenty. That's when a outline is really, really helpful.
SS: I was about to say. Yeah.
BT: Really, really helpful. And there are lots of kind of outlines, just to be clear. There's a traditional pre-writing one that probably looks like "Roman numeral 1, 1a, 1b" whatever. Right, like there's that. There are also visual outlines which can be really helpful for helping you see spatially how this is gonna get done. How long should I be spending on the context? How long should I be spending on the introduction of this text or object, event, person, whomever, whatever? How long should I be spending on the analysis or each body paragraph, right? How long do I have for each point and then when should I begin to wrap it up so I can conclude strongly?
37:39 So what that looks like is, if it's a five page paper let's say. You just draw five rectangles. Not super tiny. Not a whole page either but just like enough where you could write a little bit in the rectangles. And then you number them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It's a five page paper. Mark off the first 25% of page number 1 because that's like your name, the professor's name, date, whatever. So already you're like "oh! It's not a full five pages." It's four and three quarters.
BT: Okay, we've already won. So you begin to see how much space you're going to have and if you're in humanities that use footnotes, you've won again.
SS: You've won again.
BT: So you get to see you have to actually write and then you may see "oh, my introduction is probably gonna be the entire first page." Depending on how long your introductions tend to be.
38:28 BT: Maybe it'll be half a page. Maybe it'll be three quarters of a page, which we know three quarters of a page is your whole first page because of headings, yay! So you see that. You see "okay, how much do I need for point 1, point 2?" And you literally just draw lines to segment space in the paper throughout the paper and jot down in bullet points what you want to happen in those areas. And it lets you see what you wanna talk about, but also how long it should take you roughly and I have found that really helpful to students to just see "how am I gonna eat this elephant?" A visual outline can be really, really helpful for showing you a plan of execution.
39:04 Music interlude
BT: So you've got all your analysis done. You've got your body paragraphs done. Whew, you tired! You're at the conclusion...Semilore, what they do?
SS: Give up. I'm sorry. They don't give up. They don't give up!
BT: Never give up!
SS: Never give up! For me, I think of a conclusion as like...the way I described it to one student. I realize I read a lot. Partially because I'm an English major but also because I like trashy romance novels and one of the things about a trashy romance novel is that it'll always have that little epilogue at the end.
BT: They do!
SS: They love a little epilogue.
BT: They do.
SS: Everyone's happy. Everyone's married. Blah blah blah and you're getting the next couple.
BT: You are! Oh wow. You eat these books. Yeah. That is..wow. Can confirm. Can confirm.
SS: If there's one thing I've read... it's romance novels!
40:06 BT: Spillers, Hartman, and also!
SS: And also! But the point is I feel like thinking of a conclusion like that is actually very helpful. So a lot of times I feel like when students talk about conclusions-- when I talk about conclusions even-- there's an anxiety of "I just don't wanna repeat the introduction paragraph. I don't wanna repeat the thesis. I don't wanna go into summary again." And it's like, it's not really about summary, right? It's almost like a highlight reel. Which is to say, what are the highlights of your paper? What's important that we remember about your thesis? What's different now than when we started your paper in terms of your argumentation? So here's a great place to be like "we saw the impact of rhythm. We saw the impact of rhyme." That kind of thing.
40:58 SS: And then that last part is...some people call it "implications." Some people call it "impact." Some people call it "so what?" But kind of I think of it, again, like in an epilogue sense. Like "oh okay now we're looking at the next couple." Which is to say, now that I've read the whole paper, what am I thinking about differently? And so that can end with a question. That can be like "oh this opens up a new line of thinking." That can be like "here's kind of the final moment you should have. In my opinion, conclusion endings are actually quite flexible. Sometimes when people think of implications they go too far in like "this is how the world should change." But...
BT: Slow down.
41:48 SS: Just like slow down. It's very much like okay, what has changed after reading this paper is how I would think of that conclusion. And so the conclusion is actually the second to last thing I like to tell students to write, with the absolute last thing-- and you can write it before. You can write it first if you want. But the absolute thing actually, writing that introduction or refining that introduction. But a lot of times I feel like people place a lot of weight on the intro and conclusion when they're approaching the paper. When the reality is, in that first draft process, in that outline process, your intro and conclusion are actually gonna be the least important parts.
BT: Yeah. Yeah. Your intro-- I've heard people say that your intro and conclusion should mirror each other. I don't agree. I don't agree. I think they're related but they're not fraternal twins. I mean they're not identical twins.
42:44 SS: They're not identical twins. It's like...it's like eyebrows.
SS/BT: They're sisters. Not twins.
BT: Okay, right. They're related but they're not identical. So you wanna focus heavily in humanities papers on analysis. We have stomped that dead horse-- poor thing-- into the ground.
BT: So focus on analysis and then you want your introduction to prepare the reader for the analysis. And you want your conclusion to help them process that analysis. Like how do you-- what's a succinct way to say that in a way that opens the door to more thought, right? Not says completely new things that you've never mentioned in your paper but says "in light of those things, this." Right? In light of THOSE THINGS...this thing.
43:30 So that is all. We have said a whole bunch. Definitely bookmark this episode to replay it or to replay portions of it as many times as you need. Thank you so much Semilore for coming and talking to us.
SS: It was fun!
BT: Yeah! Share it with friends you think would benefit from these quick tips. I do have a College Writing, Actually Twitter. It’s just the name of the podcast, “College Writing, Actually”, real easy.
If there are other questions or topics you want me to consider, definitely feel free to DM that account and make sure you hit that follow button to stay up to date on forthcoming episodes. Alright, we out of here. As always, y’all write on.