CHAPTER 2 SUMMARY ESSAY ASSIGNMENT SHEET
Due Date: Sunday, OCTOBER 11 by 11:59pm
Length: 3-4 pages double spaced Times New Roman font
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This assignment requires you to write a critical summary of Chapter 2 of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Remember to pace your essay so that you’re covering Alexander’s subsections evenly and carefully. Indeed, Alexander’s subsections will help you organize your own summary of her work; this is because she uses these subsections to organize her own writing (so we should take advantage of this!)
Generally, writing a summary requires you to stay neutral—to offer neither opinion nor analysis. And according to the textbooks, a successful summary has five characteristics: brevity, accuracy, completeness, clarity, and neutrality. So be brief, read carefully, cover the whole chapter evenly, and be clear. It sounds easier than it is.
In particular, brevity is going to be a challenge since Alexander’s chapters are long, and you have only a few pages to summarize them. Alexander is a lawyer, and she never met a detail she didn’t like, plus she’s attempting to cover hundreds of years of history and politics in her chapters. That puts quite a burden on you to read well and to sift the major points from the layers of details and examples. Reading and re-reading will serve you well. Since this is a summary, I’ll ask you to avoid long direct quotations. I prefer that you practice, instead, clear and concise paraphrasing.
Completeness is also trickier than it sounds. Frequently, students will cover the first quarter of the reading in too much detail and then skim the rest too superficially or omit chunks entirely. Be sure you’re frontloading your work here with at least one careful reading of the entire chapter, and then aim for even coverage of Alexander’s subsections.
While writing these summaries you will find that clarity and brevity work together. In all of your writing, but especially in summative writing, your aim is to use as few words as possible to say as much as possible. You have plenty to do here; you don’t really have room for wordiness. We’ll talk about this in class and practice this kind of editing of your own prose.
Basic formal features of this essay to keep in mind:
Your introductory paragraph (your first paragraph) should:
Begin specifically (rather than with an overly broad or universal statement)
offer a good amount of very specific context and detail upfront regarding your topic. Remember, you are writing this summary to someone who has little to no knowledge about the topic, which means that you need to provide the details and contexts necessary to understand your summary. Writing never takes place in a vacuum—it always has an audience, and it is your job to understand and write to that audience.
end the first paragraph with a “summary thesis,” which is an argument/thesis statement that reflects or communicates objectively Alexander’s main argument in chapter one. So, here your “thesis” is, in fact, Alexander’s thesis (formulated and summarized in your own words).
Topic Sentences: Every paragraph after the introduction should employ 1-2 argumentative topic sentences that should simultaneously tell us 1) the topic of the paragraph in question, 2) the argument that Alexander is making regarding that topic. Think of the first 1-2 sentences of every paragraph as a way to organize your essay into distinct, clear and organized units of argument. Topic sentences are, in a way, “mini-theses” or “mini” parts or portions of your primary thesis—they explore and express one aspect of your primary thesis. Here is a simple way to think about this: the first 1-2 sentences of every paragraph are smaller versions of the thesis statement you offer at the end of the first paragraph. By making sure your first 1-2 sentences in every paragraph connect to your thesis, you are helping your reader understand the overall purpose and structure of your essay.
Last note: as I mention above, consider using Alexander’s subsections, which are “mini theses” of a kind, to inspire and organize your own topic sentences. Alexander is quite good at summarizing/organizing her points and arguments, so what better way to write your summary than to emulate the writer/expert in question? There are 5 subsections in the first chapter (and the last one is especially long). So, think about whether your summary of a subsection should be 1-3 paragraphs long depending on its importance and the amount of writing you think is necessary to do justice to that subsection.
BASIC FORMATTING GUIDELINES:
12-point Times New Roman font
Double Spaced throughout
Indent every new paragraph
Information that should appear left justified at top of document: Name, name of professor, class name and section, date
1 inch margins on all sides
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