Becoming a Great Essayist

Course No. 2521
Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black, Ph.D.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
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Course No. 2521
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn what the essay is-and what it is not using examples from Aristotle to Michel de Montaigne to Edgar Allan Poe.
  • numbers Explore how to effectively use ethos, pathos, and logos in various forms of essay writing.
  • numbers Get numerous tips to recreate memories and turn them into fascinating pieces of writing.
  • numbers Discover the benefits to blogging and learn about the pros and cons of other forms of publication for your essays.

Course Overview

If you have a clever anecdote, an interesting memory, a new way to explain how something works, or an opinion on a social or political issue, then you have an essay in you. Unlike a novel, history book, or scientific publication, essays provide you with the versatility to express all the various facets that make you you. The concise and direct nature of an essay means that you may tap into your sense of wit, share your individual point of view, persuade others to your perspective, and record a part of your memories for future generations in as many distinct essay forms as you wish.

Discover the keys to unlocking your potential in essay writing with Becoming a Great Essayist. These 24 illuminating lectures explore numerous genres or types of essays, challenge you with stimulating writing prompts, and provide insights into how to get to know yourself like never before so that you may write honest, compelling, and GREAT essays. And because essays are so flexible in their style and function, the skills you build writing great essays may be applied to almost all other forms of writing.

Dr. Jennifer Cognard-Black, Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is your expert guide. Professor Cognard-Black—who is an award-winning author, a 2012 Fulbright Scholar, and a former student of the renowned author Jane Smiley—has an intimate, honest, and direct approach. She teaches you that the versatility and expressiveness of the essay make it an ideal medium for crafting stories and drawing perspectives out of even the most reluctant writers. As Professor Cognard-Black notes, “The essay has no fixed parameters apart from including a first-person narrator who is intent on telling the truth. An essay’s form and style is entirely dependent upon your purpose—and your audience. You get to create a new form, and adopt a new style, with each essay that you write.… Essays explore. Essays imagine. Essays digress. Their structures don’t have to have fixed rules.” The goal of a great essay is to connect a personal experience, an idea, or a memory to the world outside of yourself—and the first step is to look deep within your memories, knowledge, and opinions to find that experience. When mastered, the ability to write a great essay provides a solid foundation that allows you to move into other forms of writing with both confidence and skill.

The first step in your journey with Professor Cognard-Black is to redefine what the essay means. For many, the word “essay” brings flashbacks of the schoolroom. Whether you were the kind of student who couldn’t wait to get started or one who faced each writing assignment with a feeling of dread, this course will change how you think about and approach the essay. From the very first lecture, you’ll see how the five-paragraph essay you might remember is vastly different from the master-level essays you’ll review, analyze, and learn to create. You’ll get instrumental insight into what makes an essay great; learn how to work your own stories, perspectives, and memories into a compelling piece; and investigate what to do once you’ve crafted an essay that you want to share.

Essay Types: From Personal to Public

Since the 16th century, essays have served as a means of connection: a way to persuade others to a certain perspective, a medium to tell a story, and a written record of individual and national histories. The word “essay” comes from the French essai, meaning an attempt or a trial, which speaks to the flexibility of the form in both delivery and outcomes. The essay itself is a thought experiment which can employ a variety of lengths, styles, and genres, including political, personal, humorous, and historical approaches. Further, a well-written essay may evoke an assortment of emotions or reactions. These works, often short yet profoundly poignant, have the power to make readers laugh, cry, think, or change their opinions or actions. Even the delivery platforms are versatile—essays are published in journals and newspapers, anthologies and collections, blogs and web pages, and more.

When it comes to crafting a great piece of writing, Professor Cognard-Black begins with well-established principles derived from Aristotle, who believed that writers are most convincing when they create a strong ethos (or credibility), and then support this ethos with appeals to reason (logos) and emotion (pathos). Similar rhetorical strategies are still utilized today in creating compelling stories and arguments. Most importantly, essays use a convincing and honest first-person voice because the writer has a deep connection to the material that comes from living, witnessing, or caring profoundly about an experience. By merging what Aristotle calls the artistic proofs (the pathos of the essay, or the personal experience and thoughts, and the logos of the essay, or rationality) with the inartistic proofs (or research and data), your essay will come across as credible even to skeptical readers.

Over these 24 enlightening lectures, you’ll delve into the various genres of the essay.

  • Epistolary essays originated in the politics, philosophy, and theology of Greco-Roman rhetoricians. Letters or “epistles” are unlike any other means of communication, which is exactly what draws essay writers to them. Epistolary essays adopt elements that define the genre of the letter—its intimacy, immediacy, and materiality.
  • Polemical essays are essays that strongly support one side of an argument.
  • Historical essays draw from historical artifacts and scholars, as well as a writer’s ideas within her or his own historical moment.
  • Humorous essays, more often than not, focus on a predicament or a situation where something goes wrong. As Aristotle noted, laughing at tragedy may be cathartic for the writer and the audience.
  • Memoirs recall and meditate on the writer’s past, using that contemplation for self-reflection. A memoir essay must evolve from a writer’s intimate recollections of the past brought together with thoughtful reflections on those memories.

And because understanding what makes a great essay requires that you read great essayists, this course also contains a treasure trove of selections from famous and lesser-known writers. You’ll be introduced to some of the greatest essayists of the ages who have pushed the limits of how essays are defined, including:

  • Michel de Montaigne, whose 1580 collection Les Essais established the essay as a literary genre
  • Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, 18th-century British wits and protégées of Montaigne, who circulated their essays about manners and society in highly popular and somewhat scandalous periodicals
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American philosopher-poet, who wrote some of the first essays on nature and the environment
  • Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet, who created intimate essays through personal letters, often on the topic of what it means to be an artist
  • Virginia Woolf, an author who is widely considered one of the finest essayists of the 20th century, who wrote episodic pieces which have a dreamlike quality
  • Mary McCarthy, an American author, critic, and political activist, who used essays to articulate sharply observant and often self-scrutinizing points

You’ll also sample contemporary essayists hailing from diverse backgrounds, such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Barbara Kingsolver, David Sedaris, and Maya Angelou. In addition, you’ll have the unique opportunity to dig into the process of essay writing by looking at drafts of works in progress, including some from Professor Cognard-Black’s own students. Finally, each chapter will give you a chance to put into practice everything you’ve just learned.

The Right and Wrong Ways to Write

As you attempt to start writing your own essay, looking at a blank computer screen or piece of paper might be daunting. Professor Cognard-Black invites you to overcome this common stumbling block by considering that, unlike other forms of writing that are often strictly plotted or outlined, essays create their own forms as they go along. Aristotle called this process inventio or invention. This method means that you explore what the essay wants to say as you draft your piece. Rather than focusing on how precisely you want to form your thoughts into a specific structure on the page, you get to discover what happens as you get the raw material down—and this explosion of ideas and words becomes your first draft. As Professor Cognard-Black puts it, “The purpose of invention—of that first attempt to get your thoughts down on paper and give them a shape—is to explore and to discover what your essay wants to be about.”

The process of invention is specific to each writer, and so with each essay, there’s a certain version of truth or memory that is created. But striving for the truth is essential. Sometimes that truth will reveal flaws in a precious idea or shine a light on the imperfect sides of humanity—people you know, people you care about, even members of your own family—but maintaining the intention of honesty will help you create and sustain a strong ethos or credibility. Keep in mind that your truth is only one version of events; each situation you write about contains many possible truths.

Once the central purpose of each essay you write is clear, you then need a sense of direction as you revise. Opening sentences that preview the place, people, perspective, and purpose of your essays give your reader an invitation to join you on a journey into your chosen subject.

While the essay is a very flexible form, there are mistakes that will weaken your writing, which Professor Cognard-Black explains in depth. Known to rhetorical theorists as logical fallacies, these potential pitfalls are easy to fall into and will ruin your essay’s credibility. They include:

  • Faulty generalizations: when a writer makes a sweeping comment, reaches a decision based on too little evidence, or makes claims that are impossible to validate
  • Ad hominem arguments: its literal translation meaning “against the man,” this fallacy occurs when a writer attacks a person, rather than the idea under discussion, and occurs often in American popular culture and politics
  • Appeals to bandwagonism: when a writer attempts to win readers over to a specific opinion by claiming that it’s the most popular position

Another factor to consider is the length of your essay. While essays don’t necessarily have length requirements, they do tend to cut to the chase. To keep your writing concise, clear, and to the point, Professor Cognard-Black recommends cutting everything you’ve written in half between the first and second draft. If your essay is 6,000 words, cut it to 3,000. Don’t discard the excess copy, but do revisit your edited version after a few days. You may be surprised at how often you don’t need that extra text.

As you examine many types of essays, build a toolbox of abilities to help you polish and perfect your writing, and analyze samples of masterfully composed essays, you’ll find yourself exploring your own memories, opinions and stories in an entirely new way. The essay is, above all else, one of the most profoundly personal outlets for writing.

While the goal of this course is to provide you with fundamental abilities that will improve your essays, the skills you will learn also provide a foundation to develop any writing project you undertake. Becoming a Great Essayist is an unrivalled opportunity to advance your critical and creative thinking skills, enhance your ability to master a strong and persuasive style, and most importantly, allow you to get to know your own inner voice.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Steal, Adopt, Adapt: Where Essays Begin
    First, learn what the essay is-and what it is not. See how the practice of writing essays has evolved over centuries yet has remained versatile, and examine the many uses of essays across the ages. Numerous essayists find starting out to be the most daunting part of writing. Professor Cognard-Black alleviates these hesitations, using examples from Aristotle to Michel de Montaigne to Edgar Allan Poe on how to look both inward and outward to find inspiration and build the story you most want to tell. x
  • 2
    Memory Maps and Your Essay's Direction
    Much like a photographer who can change the angle, lens, lighting, and focus of a scene to evoke emotion from viewers, a writer colors an essay with his or her individual perspective simply by relaying his or her truth of it. This lecture focuses on looking at the world around you with a new lens, showing you how to convey those memories you've kept as an experience rather than just a recounting of facts. You'll travel down the streets of London with Virginia Woolf to explore her home as a stranger might, learning how taking on a new perspective can translate into compelling essays. x
  • 3
    Secrets, Confession, and a Writer's Voice
    One of the most remarkable consequences of essay writing is the illuminating insights you discover about yourself. The nature of the essay doesn't allow for plot building or outlines-you simply sit and write, which means the story takes its own direction. Professor Cognard-Black encourages this process of discovery and shares stories of how many an essay she started on one topic turned into a different piece in the end. Be prepared that essay writing may require you to face hard truths, confess long-kept secrets, or be bluntly honest with yourself, and learn why this honesty is the heart of a great piece. x
  • 4
    The Skeptical Essayist: Conflicting Views
    Many essayists find themselves doing an about-face as they write, sometimes because they may not have fully researched or thought through an idea before making claims about it. Essays that present conflicting views are not uncommon; Socrates would commonly switch sides in order to test all parts of an argument, and many others have followed his example. Learn how writing essays that provide both sides of an argument, even if you completely support one side and oppose the other, can help you to develop an elasticity of mind, expand your essay's range of ideas, and add to your ethos or credibility. x
  • 5
    The Reasonable Essayist: Artistic Proofs
    Professor Cognard-Black introduces you to artistic proofs, which are grounded in your expertise and colored by your own observations and experiences. The most important artistic proof in any essay is ethos-the writer's ethical appeal or credibility. She demonstrates how to effectively use ethos along with logos or rationality to bring reasonableness into your essays, which vital to writing effectively. You'll examine the work of a pair of writers who mastered the reasonable essay: Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. x
  • 6
    The Unreasonable Essayist: Strategic Irony
    After discussing the importance of presenting a reasonable essay, Professor Cognard-Black explores the world of unreasonable essays, often written for the sake of humor or irony, or to be provocative, such as Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal." You'll explore an example of an essay that showcases conflicting views yet remains reasonable, and then look at examples where unreasonable writers use pure demagoguery to play on readers' emotions." x
  • 7
    The Empathetic Essayist: Evoking Emotion
    Revisit Aristotle to master the craft of pathos-being able to express empathy for the subject of any essay. Learn how to elicit emotions from your readers while remaining authentic and not manipulative, cliched, or contrived. Reflect on honest and moving uses of language from Maxine Hong Kingston and Barack Obama, who once perfectly summed up the importance of pathos in a speech by saying, Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world[.]"" x
  • 8
    When an Essayist's Feelings Face Facts
    To help keep your essays from becoming overly sentimental, Professor Cognard-Black discusses pitfalls for writers to avoid. You'll be introduced to three examples of what rhetorical theorists call logical fallacies and then take on the challenge of an assignment that brings together emotional appeals with rational ones to achieve credibility, empathy, and candor. You'll examine Naomi Shihab Nye's ability to blend rational argument with compassionate anecdotes, then hear a very personal take on the concept of home" from Professor Cognard-Black." x
  • 9
    Unabashedly Me: The First-Person Essay
    The use of a first-person perspective in essay writing is a powerful tool that invokes intimacy, empathy, and witness. Ethos is more inherent in an I" essay because the person sharing the story actually experienced the events. Learn how to write concisely to avoid an "I" story becoming simply an outlet for your own feelings, instead using your emotions to develop a broader appeal that will interest and benefit others. Professor Cognard-Black also reveals how general tricks of the writing trade (for example, "show, don't tell") don't always apply when writing essays." x
  • 10
    Essayists as Poets: Tapping into Imagery
    This lecture opens by inviting you to walk into" a photograph taken by Alfred Stieglitz in 1893 and reflect on what you would feel, smell, hear, and taste if you were actually in the scene. Only after you've noted the reactions of those senses are you then invited to describe what you might see. Using imagery in essays does more than describe and evoke a scene, however. When done well, imagery can transport your reader to a specific time and location. Professor Cognard-Black provides examples of metaphors and sense-based descriptions, which are the most effective ways to employ imagery within essays." x
  • 11
    The Visual Essay: Words + Pictures
    Writing a visual essay requires you to detach yourself from how you have been taught to view images your whole life. Rather than passively observing and judging, you must challenge yourself to get into the visual. Repeated and lengthy viewings of visual artifacts are one step. Once you start writing, though, the goal is to not recreate the exact image that you saw, but instead to reimagine it-to view it anew. Professor Cognard-Black discusses an example essay by Barbara Kingsolver in which images enhance her writing, adding shape and color to her words. x
  • 12
    Writing Inch by Inch: From Draft to Polish
    Professor Cognard-Black guides you through Aristotle's process of inventio or invention, which is that period of discovery as you write your first draft. You'll examine openings from a number of published works, gaining a powerful toolkit that can help you craft the first sentence of your first draft. From there, Professor Cognard-Black provides a multitude of invaluable tools for revising, editing, and reviewing your writing until you've reached your final draft. x
  • 13
    Short Forms: Microessays and Prose Poems
    Learn how essays can break the rules of conventional writing, allowing you to design essay forms to match your needs rather than being forced to fit the rules of more conventional forms. Examine structures that reimagine the essay, such as the microessay and the prose poem or proem." Professor Cognard-Black shares her own students' work to explore what elements went into these examples to make them successful essays." x
  • 14
    The Memoir Essay
    A memoir is often confused with a personal essay, but Professor Cognard-Black shows you the difference, once again using examples from her own students' work. She then provides numerous tips to help you recreate your memories and turn them into fascinating pieces of writing. Learn techniques that allow you to get as detailed as possible in your descriptions while still maintaining a central focus and writing concisely. x
  • 15
    Lyric Essays: Writing That Sings
    From the Greek lyre," a lyric poem expresses a writer's thoughts and feelings through the intimacy of the first-person narrator, evoking a strong emotional reaction in the audience. Professor Cognard-Black demonstrates the similarities between a lyric poem and a lyric essay and shares a moving example of a lyric piece written by one of her own students that uses memory fragments and figurative language to synthesize experience into a kind of mosaic. A lyric essay does not focus on telling a chronological story, but instead is meant to share, vividly, the impressions that create a mood or an idea." x
  • 16
    The Epistolary Essay: Letters to the World
    Professor Cognard-Black reveals a common form of communication that is rarely thought of as an essay, though it often is: the letter. Coupled with an engaging activity, you'll see how a handwritten letter differs from any other form of direct communication. You'll explore the similarities between letters and the epistolary essay as they both speak to a specific audience and convey a strong sense of reality and veracity. Then, you'll consider passages from the best-selling book Between the World and Me, which is written as a letter to the author's son. x
  • 17
    Portrait Essays: People in Words
    One of the most important parts of portrait essays is to understand that any depiction of another person-whether a famous stranger or a family member-is also a depiction of the writer. With this lecture, you'll delve into this dynamic between a subject and its writer and examine this power struggle as it plays out in a portrait essay. Using examples from Truman Capote and Scott Russell Sanders, you'll see how your own anxieties and prejudices can come through in an essay focused entirely on someone else. x
  • 18
    The Essayist as Public Intellectual
    While public intellectual essays don't step outside personal reflection, they do grapple with social issues, often myth-busting popular beliefs. This style of writing is distinct from a portrait or lyric essay. Professor Cognard-Black demonstrates this difference through her own examples and those of well-known public intellectuals, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Salman Rushdie. You'll learn how to trade superficial terminology and over-the-top imagery for clear, simple, and direct prose without losing the engagement and pathos-based emotional connection to your audience. x
  • 19
    Polemical Essays: One-Sided Arguments
    Originating in the medieval period, polemical essays are the form for writers who wish to focus on a topic from one perspective only. They are often written to be deliberately polarizing. Refusing to shy away from volatile issues, it takes a strong writer to turn an antagonistic rant into a persuasive, polemical argument. Professor Cognard-Black shares examples of both well-written and overly strident polemical essays from authors such as Jonathan Edward and Laura Kipnis. x
  • 20
    Historical Essays: Past as Present
    See how non-artistic proofs are immensely important when crafting a historical essay, especially since history is subjective, and the way you tell the story shapes how it will be understood. The non-artistic proofs of research and data set the scene for a historical essay, which connects personal memory to a larger project of human history. Professor Cognard-Black shares samples of strong historical essays with a compelling use of non-artistic proofs from authors such as Maureen Stanton and Jeffrey Hammond. x
  • 21
    Humor Essays
    One of the most surprising insights into humor essays is the revelation that most humor comes from misfortune. This idea has been around for centuries, as even Aristotle noted that laughing at tragedy is cathartic for both the writer and the audience. You'll delve into how self-deprecating humor lends itself to creating ethos or credibility in this particular form of essay. Professor Cognard-Black provides a treasure trove of humorists to study, including droll examples from David Sedaris and Tig Notgaro. x
  • 22
    Nature Essays
    Nature essays can easily come across as unrealistic. Since the first nature essays were written in the 19th century, such pieces have often romanticized the natural world-but there is value in not sentimentalizing the great outdoors. Examining works by William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Deb Marquart, and Michael P. Branch, Professor Cognard-Black explores the various takes on nature that offer a balance between realism and idealism, between seriousness and the comedic. x
  • 23
    Food Essays: My Grandmother's Recipe Box
    Professor Cognard-Black shows you how a simple recipe is itself a story. As she explains, It sets a scene, forms a plot, arrives at a climax, and ends with a denouement." Recipes form the basis of edible essays, which start out as instructions and ingredients, but when you mix in personal connections between a dish and your own culinary culture, add a dash of imagery, and stir in the history behind the food, you've extended your recipe into a keepsake-a taste memory. Sharing examples from both the culinary and the literature worlds, Professor Cognard-Black demonstrates how food essays can be among the most delicious to create and consume." x
  • 24
    Sharing Your Essays: From Blog to Book
    The modern form of the essay may be seen daily in blogs, although not all blogs are essays-instead, many are no more than personal journals, rants, or fantasies without broader connections and appeals. Professor Cognard-Black provides examples of what components are required for a piece to be a fully formed blog essay. While looking at examples from her students and professional writers, including long-term essay blogger Robin Bates, you'll discover the benefits to blogging and learn about the pros and cons of other forms of publication for your essays. x

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Your professor

Jennifer Cognard-Black

About Your Professor

Jennifer Cognard-Black, Ph.D.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
Dr. Jennifer Cognard-Black is Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a public liberal arts college. She graduated summa cum laude from Nebraska Wesleyan University with a dual degree in Music and English. She studied under Jane Smiley for her M.A. in Fiction and Essay Writing at Iowa State University and received her Ph.D. in 19th-Century British and American Literature from The Ohio State University....
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Becoming a Great Essayist is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 76.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellant way to learn through guided example In my personal quest to generate form out of chaos with words this lecture series both compliments and supplements three previously completed GC series on writing sentences, fiction, or simply anything. However, what distinguishes this series from the others is an extensive use of context in cited examples from which one can appreciate and understand how ethos, logos, and pathos are engaged to produce effective coherent thought. This information can enhance ones writing style independent of chosen genre.
Date published: 2019-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring and Informative I listened to this book through Audible and it was a great inspiration during my winter hibernation and incubation of writing ideas. Professor Cognard-Black is engaging and fun to listen to. She offers valuable concepts, great writing examples, and good assignments for practice and application. Thank you for creating such a gem!
Date published: 2019-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Over the last decade, I have attended many wonderful conferences and workshops focused on the essay and taught by such luminaries as Robert Atwan, the Series Editor of Best American Essays. I have also published several memoirs in literary journals. With this background, I (immodestly) feared that this course might hold nothing new for me. However, I need not have worried. The course was exactly what I needed. It is outstanding in every way. Not only have Professor Cognard-Black's classes inspired me to work harder on my current essay; she has also stimulated my interest in writing about other subjects (such as recipes) or in other modes (such as the epistolary). The professor is enthusiastic, smart, and extremely knowledgeable. I listened to every lecture at least twice, learning more each time. Thank you for making this course available.
Date published: 2019-02-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not what I expected. I write short essays for a quarterly news letter. I purchased this course in the hope of improving my efforts. I get ethos, pathos and logos. What I didn't get was the need for all the dreadful examples which taught me nothing. I struggled through just over half of the course, and decided it was pointless to continue. I returned the course for a refund (which I'm still waiting on).
Date published: 2018-12-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too political If you have to go to a speech by Obama, and written by a paid partisan speechwriter, then you got a serious problem. Very disappointed that
Date published: 2018-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So very Helpful! This course has changed my perspective on writing and has helped me stop bad writing habits that were formed since grade school.
Date published: 2018-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Lectures Very good material, great, very knowledgable instructor.
Date published: 2018-05-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Conformist approach I purchased Becoming a Great Essayist about a year ago and while it offered some good information about structure, it was a guide on how to write rote politically correct propaganda, which is fine I suppose for those interested in safe, conformist approaches to social issues. The essays I prefer are a bit more dynamic and reflect cutting edge ideas on politics, culture and social movements. I also like interesting writing that has a resounding emotional impact as do essayists like Joan Didion. I couldn't help but get the impression that the instructor of Becoming a Great Essayist, Gognard-Black was more interested in achieving tenure and appeasing nervous parents with safe approaches to safe subjects then inspiring her students to write daring essays that examine social issues in a fresh and dynamic manner. Having said that, I intend to listen to at least a few of the lectures again because there is value in the content. Particularly in the lectures on taping into emotions and and nature.
Date published: 2018-04-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Real Essays I must be ignorant, but when I hear essay I think research paper or something relating to school. If one wants to improve their writing this will not help you. Who wants to know how to write a BLOG POST.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not what I was expecting I was very unhappy with purchase. Content/teacher was very light and did not appeal to me. I wanted something more like a upper level college course using great essayists as examples.
Date published: 2018-02-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I wanted to like this course... I really did. I was excited to take this course because good essay writing is a great way to learn ideas and view the world from other points of view. But, I grew increasing frustrated with many of Professor Cognard-Black's examples and references. Too often, she seemed to toss aside good, established, traditional essays in favor of essays based on race and gender (i.e. politics). And, her animosity toward some essayists (e.g. David Foster Wallace) seemed a little narrow-minded. Because, I normally continue my study of the subject after I finish the course, I appreciate referrals to blogs and books. But, there weren’t many that, in my opinion, were worth pursuing. For example, she highly recommended "Better Living Through Beowulf". What a great idea for a website; how to apply the ideas of great literature to your life through the eyes of a literary professor! Instead, the blog is very political and condescending to those who disagree with the author's point of view or politics. I expected much more. I’ve purchased dozens of courses from the Great Courses and the Teaching Company over the years – writing, literature, art, philosophy, religion, forensics. I was disappointed with this course. The delivery and content didn’t seem to meet the Great Courses standards.
Date published: 2018-01-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of good ideas I've had 1800 articles published, but only recently got interested in essays, so wanted to see what I could learn from this course, which turned out to be a lot. There are many good ideas about the different types of essays and this is a must for anyone who wants to write in that genre.
Date published: 2018-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 24 Well-crafted Essays Each one of Prof Cognard-Black’s 24 lectures is a well-crafted essay demonstrating her mastery of the writing skills she is teaching. Each also shows her warm humanity, her deep empathy with her students and her wide and sensitive reading of English and American literature. I finished my first listening with a hopeless ache to enrol in her essay writing course and enjoy her personal guidance as one of her students. The reality is, however, that such a high standard is set that I am intimidated to the point of giving up: writing an acceptable essay may be beyond my reach. Yet, the good Prof provides wise advice for getting out of this bind and refers to many good essayists on a wide variety of subjects. So it may be possible to avoid merely blogging personal experience without depth or structure, which would not please her. The next step, then, is for me is to commit thoughts to paper as they arise – even if merely blogging – read recommended essays that match my subject interests and knead my sandy clay into some sort of shape before listening through this course once more. And, of course: Thank you thank Prof Gognard-Black and TCC for this wonderful course.
Date published: 2017-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Becoming a Great Essayist Each lecture is itself a creative essay, truly beautiful in its exposition. This course provides excellent insight into those factors that differentiate a great essay from the poor or mediocre, providing a fuller philosophical understanding than the typical course on this subject. Perfect gift for a writer who wants to extend her writing skills into essays. However, while there are good contrasts between the excellent and less good essay, the biggest drawback results from the professor's distaste for the 5-paragraph essay format, a format that would make it easier to remember the entire process for creating a good essay. Also, more examples could have been included to show how to transform different types of mediocre essays into something great.
Date published: 2017-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Useful and Stimulating Course! This is an excellent course. Professor Cognard-Black provides a wealth of information relating to the various forms of essay writing, but what I enjoyed most is her wide breadth of knowledge--while learning about writing, one also learns about numerous other topics and viewpoints. In other words, the course is a wellspring of intellectual stimulation.
Date published: 2017-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging course I have completed several Great Courses lectures, and this is one of my favorites. Jennifer Cognard-Black is truly an inspiring teacher. I especially appreciated the way she used her own drafts and her students' work as accessible examples. She provided many good historical examples and leads to additional resources as well. She even made topics I was not excited about initially (such as writing about recipes) exciting. I plan to use some of the ideas I learned in the class in my advanced composition class this fall.
Date published: 2017-08-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Becoming a great essayist This is the worst course if you care to learn anything about writing
Date published: 2017-07-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Essay Course It will take a while to finish this course. It did get me writing, however, and overall it is okay for ideas. The lack of mechanics has been frustrating so far, as has the endless use of the pronoun "she." The examples are fine (although hard to relate to as a man sometimes). I trust the coursework will ultimately include nut-and-bolt mechanics, as well as anecdotal insight.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great. These products should be available everywhere in the World. Instead of donating billions to art, lets donate billions to introduce thinking and knowledge to every person in the World, regardless of age. The ready availability of all these products is remarkable. The tragedy is the limited exposure. Are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet aware of this opportunity?
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Becoming a Great Essayist I've just begun the course but I am enjoying it a lot. I do not aspire to be a "Great" essayist, I just want to learn how to do the kind of writing I like the most. As a side note, I have already ordered 3 new books to fuel my reading. I have one or two of those suggested. Anyway, it's a fun thing to do and I am enjoying it immensely.
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Tsunami of junk mail I truly enjoy the course I purchased but the tsunami of marketing emails from Great Courses overshadows any pleasure derived from the course
Date published: 2017-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like stepping into an MFA program! This video has vast range. Professor Elizabeth Cognard-Black is able to speak to both novices and advanced writers in a clear, helpful, and personal manner about an assortment of topics equivalent to the coursework of a MFA. She knows the traditions of essay writing as well as the genre's most lasting truths. Perhaps more than anything else (and there's so much in these fabulous lessons to choose from), she shows writers how to pay attention to the world and to their own lives and, by doing these things, how to capture an audience through trust and the appeal of an honest voice and heart.
Date published: 2017-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just OK I found this course to be not as useful to me in my endeavour to improve my writing skills as the Writing Creative Non-Fiction and Analysis and Critique courses were.
Date published: 2017-05-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from MONOTONOUS AND SHALLOW April 27, 2017: I've tried to stick with this but at times I just want to say 'stop!' - for instance I lived in Calcutta, India and worked among the poor so when I heard her talking about India in such a bland, banal way I almost choked. I did pick up some good pointers from her but I don't understand why she was picked to teach a course about 'great' essays...nothing she has said has been 'great' or has any depth; nor has anything she said been interesting. I don't like to say this but I have tried to keep on with this but I think I am going to return the course. Or should I slog through it until the end? Ordinary events and situations can be made to sound extraordinary if the writer has talent. As this woman read, she seemed to sigh every so often as if she was bored with herself. Maybe it's her reading voice...I don't know but I'll try to get on a but further just to give her a fair chance but so far - meaningless!
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Courses On Line I have purchased over a dozen courses and completed three to date. All of them have been excellent. I strongly recommend these courses to anyone who wants to learn from the experts!
Date published: 2017-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I was looking for! Although I haven't completed the course yet, I am really pleased with the quality of instruction, and the way the classes are structured. I have always 'played around' with writing, and wanted to learn how to express my thoughts in a organized and readable manner, so others could understand what I was trying to say. This course gives me the information I need to do that.
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Be careful with lecture 5 I was enjoying this course until I got to lecture 5. In it, Prof, Cognard-Black addresses what she refers to as artistic proofs, which takes her to inductive and deductive forms of reasoning. Three brief points; first, Prof. Cognard-Black seems unaware of the is-ought problem in logic and ethics since she derives normative conclusions from otherwise objective deductive arguments, meaning she draws conclusions containing information not in her premises. Second, and in the particular case of David Foster Wallace, she invokes cultural relativism in drawing a conclusion about Wallace without demonstrating the cultural relativism argument as sound in this case. Finally, her emphasis on writer ethos as a primary basis for assessing a writer's work implies the unvarnished legitimacy of ad hominen arguments without reference to conditions under which such arguments might be construed as defeasible.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Off to a good start I'm only part way in as I write this review, but so far, I'm very pleased with the lectures. I'm spending time with the video version of the course. I find it very well presented, and well produced. The content has been a mix of the history of the essay, the philosophies and concepts behind them blended with some realistic practical advice for getting into the genre. The lecturer's real world examples are especially helpful in contextualizing what she is sharing.,
Date published: 2016-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helpful course on writing This course had quite a bit of great information and it was presented in a way that was very organized and easy to follow.
Date published: 2016-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific writing course I am thoroughly enjoying moving through this course on writing essays. The lectures are clear and well presented. The 'homework' assignments make sense in the context of the lesson and I enjoy the writing assignments. The lecturer's personal examples and anecdotes add a great deal too. As a soon to be retiree (from a career in physics) and an aspiring podcaster and essay writer, I'll be sure to let you know if (when) i get something published. I believe I would sign up for an online course with this professor.
Date published: 2016-12-04
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