Rationale: Clear and coherent writing is a skill that you develop through practice. It is for this reason that this course is made up of a number of shorter assignments across the year rather than a small number of assignments at the end of the year.

In a course like this, where a wide array of themes and topics are addressed, smaller, targeted assignments is even more appropriate than in courses where a series of themes are developed across the course of a term.

Goals: The assignments are designed to ensure that you are keeping up with course material, not simply completing the material but identifying and understanding the key concepts. They are also designed to refine your writing skills with regard to three areas: 1) synthesizing and explaining complex material; 2) analyzing and critiquing concepts and forms of argumentation; and 3) applying concepts and theories to empirical phenomena.

Assignment structure:

3 Précis, covering one reading from three different weeks, 2-3 pages in length (see below for further explanation). Each précis is worth 10% of your final grade.

3 critical responses, cover one of the readings from three different weeks, 3-4 pages in length (see below for further explanation). Each critical response is worth 10% of your final grade.

3 short applications of concepts, 4-5 pages in length (see below for further explanation.) Each application essay is worth 10% of your final grade.


  1. Only one assignment can be handed in for each week of readings.
  2. Précis must be for the readings from that week (i.e. assignment about week two readings due at beginning of class in week two.) The other assignments are due the following week.
  3. Your lowest grade will be dropped.
  4. You may submit the assignments in any order, but you are accountable for ensuring that you submit assignments that fulfill the above breakdown (i.e. 3 précis, 3 critical reponses, 3 application essays.)
  5. Please see course policies for information regarding late assignments, failure to submit assignments, academic honesty.


Assignment Descriptions:

Précis: This is a brief text (2-3 double spaced pages) that summarizes the key points and the structure of the argument of a longer text. You will be expected to condense the argument of the texts we are reading in class (on average between 15 and 25 pages in length) into a shorter overview of the text. This does not simply consist of pulling quotations or point form notes, but is a summary written in full-sentences that communicates the key points of a text. For further information look here.

Critical response: A slightly longer text (3-4 double spaced pages) that briefly summarizes and evaluates a text with regard to the claims and argument it makes. Texts should be evaluated with regard to the structure of their argument (is it logically coherent) or the nature of their evidence (do they support their claims? Or, in the case of excerpts, would it be possible to support their claims with evidence?), style (what kind, or genre, of text is this? does this contribute or detract from the efficacy of the argument being made?) The emphasis should be on the analysis/evaluation rather than the summary (which should not take up more than 3/4 of a page.)

Applied Essay: A short essay (4-5 double spaced pages) that briefly summarizes a set of concepts (two per essay) drawn from class readings (supporting these summaries with relevant citations), briefly outlines an empirical context, example or case, and explains how these particular concepts explain and clarify this empirical example. Only 1/3 of the essay should consist of summarizing the texts or outlining the context, 2/3 of the essay should consist in explaining the relevance of the concept to the empirical example and applying the concept as an explanatory tool.