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Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything

Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything

Course No.  2133
Course No.  2133
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

For thousands of years, writing has been a powerful way for us to communicate with one another, to share our distinct thoughts and ideas through the power of words. Even in today's technologically saturated 21st century, we still express ourselves in writing almost every single day. And oftentimes, we write to argue our viewpoints, persuade others that we're right, and share our unique experiences and perspectives.

But all writing—whether it's a powerful essay, a persuasive letter, a detailed business report, or an autobiographical story—is at its most effective and memorable when it's built on the fundamental critical and analytical skills that transform your words from "good" writing to "great" writing. Regardless of your subject, your goal, or your occasion, these skills are the heart and soul of engaging and effective writing. They include the ability to

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For thousands of years, writing has been a powerful way for us to communicate with one another, to share our distinct thoughts and ideas through the power of words. Even in today's technologically saturated 21st century, we still express ourselves in writing almost every single day. And oftentimes, we write to argue our viewpoints, persuade others that we're right, and share our unique experiences and perspectives.

But all writing—whether it's a powerful essay, a persuasive letter, a detailed business report, or an autobiographical story—is at its most effective and memorable when it's built on the fundamental critical and analytical skills that transform your words from "good" writing to "great" writing. Regardless of your subject, your goal, or your occasion, these skills are the heart and soul of engaging and effective writing. They include the ability to

  • organize your thoughts into a coherent piece that never leaves your reader behind;
  • make a persuasive argument rooted in solid facts;
  • draw on the styles and characteristics of various literary genres;
  • make responsible use of research materials and outside resources; and
  • avoid common grammatical errors that could cost you your credibility.

You'll find the secrets to these and other concepts and methods for clear and strong writing in the 24 accessible and practical lectures of Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything. Delivered by Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University—whose work with students involves the art and craft of analytical and persuasive writing—this course immerses you in the elements of successful writing. With its engaging literary and everyday examples, inspirational prompts, and unforgettable insights, Analysis and Critique makes the perfect reference guide for both professional and casual writers.

Five Literary Genres, Endless Insights

One of the essential keys of effective writing: understanding literary genres and the ways their unique styles and characteristics can shape and inform your own voice. Professor Armstrong spends the first lectures of her course guiding you through the five major literary genres and the ways some of their most enduring examples can show you the path to stronger persuasive and critical writing.

  • Fiction: By learning how to actively read a range of short stories and novels by authors including Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, you'll strengthen your ability to understand how a writer creates his or her "voice," and how a writer conveys particular information to his or her audience.
  • Essay: Of all the literary genres, the essay is the richest resource for studying the characteristics of a powerfully written argument. You'll discover how essays such as Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" demonstrate effective strategies for starting, organizing, supporting, and concluding your arguments.
  • Poetry: Somewhat surprisingly, poetry has much to offer nonpoetic writers looking to strengthen their craft—especially its command and flexibility. In examining the work of poets such as William Carlos Williams, John Donne, and e. e. cummings, you'll learn how to tap into the power of figurative language, careful word choices, and dramatic word ordering.
  • Drama: Speeches, conference papers, and other writing intended for oral presentation offer their own set of challenges to everyday writers. By using selected excerpts by William Shakespeare, history's greatest playwright, Professor Armstrong gives you invaluable tips for mastering the art of tone, timing, and delivery of writing meant to be spoken out loud.
  • Autobiography: Writing that draws on your life to achieve a goal or enhance your credibility isn't as daunting as it may seem. Detailed looks at excerpts from autobiographies by Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, and others offer helpful hints about how much personal information to include, how to take the most effective approach, and more.

Frequently, the lectures are enhanced with writing prompts and practice examples—such as rewriting a passage in five different styles or writing an idea from different narrative perspectives—designed to help you better understand how to use and apply the insights found in these five genres.

Explore the Fundamentals of Rhetoric

From there, Analysis and Critique turns to a series of lectures that focus on the art of rhetoric (the foundation of argumentation) and the ways it can help you adapt your writing to a variety of different situations. And make the most of them.

Rhetorical ideas are so deeply woven into the fabric of Western culture that it's easy to miss out on opportunities to maximize their benefits in your writing. Knowing this, Professor Armstrong not only explains them thoroughly but also shows you how to use them regularly and systematically to make your writing stronger and more persuasive. Some of the most applicable rhetorical concepts you explore in this part of the course include

  • deductive reasoning, a form of reasoning that moves from the knowledge you already have to the knowledge that has yet to be discovered and articulated;
  • commonplaces, which are well-known words and phrases that can easily communicate your theme or topic to your audience; and
  • pathos, which works to inspire emotion in your readers (particularly feelings of sympathy).

The increased awareness of classical rhetoric you gain from these particular lectures will go a long way to helping you become a stronger writer by calling your attention to the basics of compelling analytical writing. You may never use terms like "commonplaces" and "pathos" in your actual writing—but understanding how they work will enhance the importance of what you write and the way you write it.

Get a Step-by-Step Guide to the Writing Process

What about the act of writing itself, which can often be daunting to the most seasoned writer? You can be drafting a work presentation, a cover letter for a job application, an editorial for your local newspaper, or a persuasive letter for a public official—in any case, knowing how to approach the act itself can reap many rewards.

The final section of Analysis and Critique is a fascinating, step-by-step guide through the writing process. With her keen eye for providing helpful strategies and using real-world examples, Professor Armstrong provides answers to frequently asked questions about each of writing's four major stages:

  • Researching: How do you determine what your research goals are? Where should you look for reliable sources of information? How do you narrow your research focus?
  • Writing a First Draft: How long does a productive brainstorming session last? Why is it OK to write a deliberately bad first draft? What are good ways to conquer writer's block?
  • Editing: How long should you wait before you start editing your writing? How can you tell when you've used too many quotations? What grammatical errors should you watch out for?
  • Rewriting: What makes a rewrite different from an edit? What specifics should you pay attention to in rewriting? How do you recast supporting points to better fit your argument?

Writing Made Effective—and Fun

As a university professor with years of experience, the instructor of a general education writing course at Purdue University, and a distinguished editor, Professor Armstrong spends nearly every day in the company of writing—both good and bad. She knows which techniques work and which do not. She knows the common pitfalls, concerns, and fears that most writers have. And she knows just how important effective writing skills are in expressing yourself successfully to others.

But even more important than her experience working with writers and her knowledge of the craft is the way Professor Armstrong makes writing feel like a fun process of self-discovery. Her lectures are always engaging, always accessible, and always filled with information and takeaways that you can use any time you need to write.

So tap into the power of effective writing with Analysis and Critique, and learn what it's like to have a masterful and supportive instructor standing right by your side as you learn the ways to write about practically anything.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    How to Write about Anything
    What makes a particular piece of writing "good"? As you explore Professor Armstrong's roadmap for the course, examine how a range of writing samples—including an essay by Virginia Woolf, poetry by Homer, and even a short note from a teenage girl to her mother—demonstrate essential aspects of effective writing. x
  • 2
    How to Be an Effective Reader
    Active, insightful reading skills are essential to any writer's success. View the craft of writing from the reader's perspective and train yourself to recognize nuanced moments and ideas in literary texts, including Moby-Dick and Le Morte Darthur, as well as the subtleties hidden within a practical set of driving directions. x
  • 3
    How Literature Can Help
    Investigate the dominant characteristics and conventions of five major genres of literature: prose, poetry, drama, essay, and autobiography. Then discover how, when used properly and with restraint, the distinct approaches of these genres can offer you a strong foundation and helpful inspiration for all sorts of writing projects. x
  • 4
    Shaping Your Voice
    Focus now on prose—the most common form of writing people engage with. Why is a writer's voice such an important part of his or her work? How can you create a distinctive voice? What can authors like Hemingway, James, and Salinger teach you about the varieties of narrative styles? x
  • 5
    Knowing Your Reader
    A common danger for a writer is not respecting your audience. Learn how to avoid this pitfall by deducing the intended audience for Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," and by closely reading student essays that miss, misjudge, or offend their intended readers. x
  • 6
    The Art of the Essay—How to Start
    Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" are two of the most famous argumentative essays in the Western literary tradition. Using their opening passages, examine why it's so important that your opening argument be specific, be substantive, and pass what Professor Armstrong calls the "What?/So What?" test. x
  • 7
    How to Organize an Argument
    Continue unpacking "A Modest Proposal" and "Civil Disobedience" (along with Paine's "Common Sense")—this time to learn how to write an organized and effective argument. Once you've mastered this skill, you'll be able to more effectively guide your readers, as well as avoid structural flaws that may distort your goals. x
  • 8
    Supporting Your Argument
    To write persuasively, you have to effectively explain your supporting evidence. Three skills you focus on in this lecture: explaining how a piece of evidence works in your favor; providing a direct connection between your evidence and your conclusion; and acknowledging the arguments of others to strengthen your own. x
  • 9
    Finishing Strong
    Enhance the way you finish essays with three key strategies. A "negative consequences" conclusion underscores the negative things that can happen if readers fail to support your argument. A "no viable alternatives" strategy suggests that alternatives to your proposal aren't likely to work. And the "positive consequences" strategy emphasizes new possibilities. x
  • 10
    The Uses of Poetry
    How can poetry help you write better, even when you're not writing poems? Here, Professor Armstrong uses poems to show that how you arrange your words can have as much of an impact as what they say. Also, delve deeper into the importance of tone and poetic devices like metaphors and similes. x
  • 11
    Poetic Diction and Syntax
    Continue your exploration of poetry and the ways it can enliven and strengthen writing. With the aid of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lewis Carroll, and e. e. cummings, grasp how specific words (with their literal and associated meanings) can make your writing more engaging—especially when they are used in an unconventional order. x
  • 12
    Drama—Writing Out Loud
    With Shakespeare's help, discover how to tap into drama's potential to transform you into a stronger, more confident "out loud" writer. Approaching your writing as something to be read out loud can, unlike other literary genres, clue you in to awkward turns of phrase, extremely long sentences, and other potential writing pitfalls. x
  • 13
    What You Can Learn from Autobiography
    Analyze excerpts from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography for strategies to use when you are called to write about yourself. These include confining personal information to the areas of your interests, abilities, and achievements; striking a balance between self-promotion and association with others; and presenting your failures as a part of your personal development. x
  • 14
    Writing and Leadership
    Autobiographies are rich sources of knowledge for understanding how leadership styles and skills are developed and honed. Explore the crucial link between autobiographical writing and leadership with the aid of both Franklin and Frederick Douglass. Also, look closely at the potential benefits of using selective emotional expression in your autobiographical writing. x
  • 15
    The Rules of Rhetoric
    In the first of three lectures on using classical rhetoric to fashion your identity as a writer, investigate four widely used rhetorical concepts. These include commonplaces (pieces of truth wrapped in easily recognizable language), stasis (the general agreement between opposing parties about the terms of the argument), and deductive reasoning. x
  • 16
    Invention and Arrangement
    Turn to two broader areas of classical rhetoric: invention and arrangement. Invention refers to the process by which you generate your arguments. Arrangement refers to the way your argument is organized. Both, as you'll learn, center on seizing opportunities to write the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. x
  • 17
    Ethos and Pathos
    Finish building your rhetorical tool kit by looking at ethos (the perception readers have of your reliability) and pathos (the feelings of emotion you inspire in your readers). Using literary and everyday examples, Professor Armstrong demonstrates how the best persuasive writing—whether it's a speech or a job application—strikes a balance between the two. x
  • 18
    Finding What You Need
    One practical concern of writing is research. Where do you begin? How do you build an effective research schedule? What are some clues that online sources are reliable? And at what point should you stop researching and start writing? Learn the answers to these and other questions in this lecture. x
  • 19
    Using What You Find
    Now that you've learned how to find information, figure out the best ways to use it. Some of the tips and techniques you explore here include how to take effective notes, how to build your research on the work of others, and even what to do when you uncover scholarship that counters your argument. x
  • 20
    Getting Started—Writing First Drafts
    You've got your topic. You've done the research. Now it's time for your first draft. Do you write for a time limit? Do you just throw out all your ideas onto the page and return later? Do you get a writing partner? Find out which of these and other methods work for you. x
  • 21
    Editing—Finding What's Wrong
    Editing what you've written is just as important, if not more so, than actually writing it. In fact, this stage of the writing process can make the difference between a piece of writing that's just okay and one that's great. Here, consider two major approaches to editing: the line-by-line approach and the holistic approach. x
  • 22
    Rewriting—Fixing What's Wrong
    Learn how rewriting can dramatically reshape and strengthen your work as Professor Armstrong takes you on a paragraph-by-paragraph revision of a short essay. Then, finish the lecture with vital tips to keep in mind when rewriting your work, such as clearly stating your thesis and always spelling out points. x
  • 23
    Avoiding Common Errors in Grammar and Usage
    Subject-pronoun disagreement. Misused apostrophes and commas. Dangling modifiers. Commonly misspelled words. Finally learn how to avoid these and other frequently made errors in grammar and usage. Any successful writing should be attentive to these errors—no matter what you're writing or whom you're writing to. x
  • 24
    The Power of Words
    In this inspirational final lecture, sample three particularly fine and engaging examples of writing—Thoreau's Walden, Shakespeare's sonnet number 130, and an obituary in The Economist—that bring home some of the many invaluable lessons, strategies, ideas, and advice you've learned and which ones you can use any time you write. x

Lecture Titles

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Dorsey Armstrong
Ph.D. Dorsey Armstrong
Purdue University

Dr. Dorsey Armstrong is Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, where she has taught since 2002. The holder of an A.B. in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Duke University, she also taught at Centenary College of Louisiana and at California State University, Long Beach. Her research interests include medieval women writers, late-medieval print culture, and the Arthurian legend, on which she has published extensively, including the 2009 book Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur: A New Modern English Translation Based on the Winchester Manuscript and Gender and the Chivalric Community in Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, published in 2003. In January 2009, she became editor-in-chief of the academic journal Arthuriana, which publishes the most cutting-edge research on the legend of King Arthur, from its medieval origins to its enactments in the present moment. Her current research project-Mapping Malory's Morte-is an exploration of the role played by geography in Malory's version of the story of King Arthur.

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Reviews

Rated 3.6 out of 5 by 49 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Comp course from a solid professor This course was like auditing a well-taught Composition 101 or 102 -- one where the professor actually teaches content every week (vs. the common TAs giving direction and peer-reviews of papers). The professor has a new topic for every lecture, and she seems very familiar with the questions and confusions the average student tends to have. She makes an effort to honor the title of writing about “anything,” and not just creative writing – she includes clear examples of how her topics do apply to very practical writing (instructions, memos). She teaches with clarity and enough zest to keep me awake. The content is within reach of an older high schooler, useful to the tutor or homeschool parent trying to teach/evaluate writing, handy as a writing review for those of us who are out of school and have had some basic techniques slip between the cracks, and a solid course for those who need to write convincingly in their daily job. May 20, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by TOUGH TO REVIEW As one earlier reviewer asked, who is the audience? Dr Armstrong has obviously worked hard to give us an outstanding review of writing fundamentals as well as excellent examples to illustrate her points. However, it's not clear to me exactly what TGC had in mind in positioning this course. While I've never seen any numbers, my intuition tells me a majority of the purchasers of TGC products have at least some exposure to college education and possess a desire to keep their minds challenged as they move along in life. For that component, especially if their education was in the liberal arts, I would say these lectures probably d have limited interest. My ratings don't apply for those individuals. Rather, they are addressed to two special groups in an effort to be helpful to those deciding whether to purchase this series. Most college teachers I've met freely discuss the challenges of dealing with freshmen handicapped with inadequate secondary schooling, especially the command of the English language. Here, Dr Armstrong's fresh style and relaxed delivery would appear to be immensely helpful. There is also a special category in TGC inventory for high school level courses. It needs more selection balance away from math, in my opinion, and this series of lectures could be included there. The level of Dr Armstrong's delivery and illustrations should be easily digestible by motivated high school seniors. It might be a good step in accelerating their progress as they begin college. Thus, parents or those involved in guiding young people in educational matters may give this series thorough consideration. There's another smaller group (engineers? premeds? etc) I don't want to leave out. These are the ones whose course work was so heavy and concentrated they didn't have the luxury of dipping into liberal arts courses while undergraduates. They also may find this series useful. As the heading indicates, I've found it difficult to review this series of lectures because I think it's important enough to be properly ranked where it can be most useful rather than to butt it up against much of the fare offered by TGC. Dr Armstrong does an excellent job especially since she had limited exhibits included. I felt her hand motions and the occasional rolling of her eyes as she emphasized a point might be particularly appealing to teenagers. I don't have any underfoot now on which to test that theory. To sum up, this series warrants serious consideration by specific categories of prospective users. May 25, 2011
Rated 3 out of 5 by Good but could improve I am a new author and was looking to improve my writing style. This course makes some good points and I was excited about it but I am sorry to say lost my attention in some of the lectures. I have run into this before when very very simple material, at times, is drawn out, over intellectualized and put on a pedestal in a such a way that looses the audience, they simply disconnect. Most people connect best with pragmatic, direct to the point style of teaching. After all life happens outside of a university classroom and that is what majority of people understand and also want to read about, if you have lost their attention you have failed in bringing them into your world and point of view. On the upside I did learn certain skills I did not have before which was good but this is a course that requires your full attention so you can condense what is being said. Have to give a mixed review here. August 17, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by This is one of the best courses from the TC I speak to a wide range of audience from doctors, scientists, business people, and lay population. I found essentially lecture useful. I find myself before giving a talk reviewing about 1/3. The instructor actually teaches rather than lectures, uncommon for the teaching company. June 7, 2014
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