Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2023
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1409
[email protected]

Intermediate Seminar:
Critical Thinking through Reading and Writing Analytically

Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.

- David McCullough

Course Description

In this course, we will develop skills for critical thinking and expression by analyzing written texts and writing about them. Professors often tell their students to think critically, but they less often tell them how they can go about doing this. Thinking critically, however, is a skill that is developed over time and, like most stills, gets better with practice. Moreover, developing an analytical approach is one of the most important things that should be learned in university.

By working through a series of reading and writing assignments, students taking this course will learn a toolkit of practices that can be applied to critically evaluating things like texts, movies, images, and so on. At the end of the term, these skills will be applied in writing a final paper.

Students who take this class should expect to do a fair amount of writing (one to two full pages per week, plus two papers), to engage in class discussions and to present their ideas and their writing to the class.


Students who complete this class can expect the following results:

  • Development of a critical stance
  • Acquisition of skills for interpreting texts, images, movies, etc.
  • Knowledge of a set of techniques that can be used in analysis
  • Skills for engaging in constructive debate with others
  • Improved writing
  • Required Texts

  • Writing Analytically, 6th Edition, by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen (Boston: Wadsworth, 2011). This edition is currently out of print, but is available as a used book from many sources.
  • Grading

    Class participation (presentations, discussion) 20%
    Weekly writing assignments (1-2 pages) 40%
    Papers (Two papers, each 3-5 pages) 40% (1st = 10%, 2nd = 30%)

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week we will discuss each other’s work and give feedback and constructive criticism. Students are expected to read the textbook, submit all of the assignments, participate actively in the discussions, and to submit two papers (the second of which will be a revision of the first).

    Classroom Etiquette

    The classroom is a place where students can share ideas and different points of view. You do not have to agree with your fellow students, but you must listen respectfully. If you disagree with someone, focus on the ideas not the person. When someone is talking, including the instructor, you should listen – or at the very least make the appearance of doing so.

    Please follow basic rules of decorum – do not sleep, eat, or carry on individual conversations in class. Finally, DO NOT use mobile phones, smart phones, or laptops in class. (Unfortunately, a large percentage of students use their laptops to do unrelated things during class, and this distracts both them and everyone aroud and behind them.) I will be very strict about enforcing the rule about devices and laptops, so if you feel that you must use devices, I encourage you to enroll in a different class.

    Class Reading

    Each week there is a reading assignment from the textbook. We will not discuss all of it in detail, but you should do the reading completely. The important thing is to understand enough about the reading to be able to do the assignments. We will also do some of the reading together in class.

    Feedback and Criticism

    In this class, we will focus on giving each other feedback and criticism. Criticism is difficult both to give and to accept. We will focus on giving constructive criticism. This means instead of focusing on what is wrong with an argument or a piece of writing, we will focus on how it can be improved. When you are giving another student feedback on their ideas or their work, you should mention what you think is good about it, and then mention ways in which you think it can be made better. Even if you completely disagree with what the other has done, you should try to think of ways that it can be improved, instead of dismissing it outright.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Oct 9

    General Introduction

  • Reading: Chap. 1.
  • Week 2: Oct 16

    Analytical methods I: Noticing detail

  • Reading: Chap. 2, especially pp. 23-26 and 36-39.
  • 1st Assignment: (1) Read “Try This 2.2” on p. 26. Do the exercise for one of the examples they suggest. Be prepared to present a copy of the material that you used in class. (2) Do “Try This 2.6” on p. 38. Use three (3) of the sentences below:

    1. “Man is the child of customs, not the child of his ancestors.”

    2. “The greatest problem of communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished. ”

    3. “A bureaucrat is one who has the power to say ‘no’ but none to say ‘yes.’”

    4. “A gentleman is someone who never gives offense unintentionally.”

    5. “Cognition modifies the knower so as to adapt him harmoniously to his acquired knowledge.”

    6. Some other interesting sentence that you have found.

    Conference trip: Oct 23

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 3: Oct 30

    Analytical methods II: Working with patterns

  • Reading: Chap. 2, especially pp. 26-35 and 39-52.
  • Images: For pp. 34-35, take a look at these photographs by Camilo Vergara, Fern Street 1979, 1988, 1997 and 2004. Many of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs are available on his website.
  • 2nd Assignment: Do “Try This 2.4” on p. 32. Follow the example given on pp. 21-31. In particular, after you have done all five steps of the method, write a few paragraphs explaining what you found. (Note that the expression “healthy paragraph” in the instructions for The Method, on p. 27, means long paragraph. So, you should write one paragraph at step four, and then two more at the end, summarizing how The Method worked, and what you found.) Be prepared to present a copy of the material that you used in class.

    Week 4: Nov 6

    The functions and limits of analysis

  • Reading: Chap. 3
  • 3rd Assignment: Do the 3rd “Assignment” on p. 83, about a neighborhood in Tokyo. Use your own “go to sentence,” as discussed on pp. 39-42.

    Week 5: Nov 13

    Analytical methods III: Uncovering assumptions

  • Reading: Chap. 4, especially 85-99.
  • 4th Assignment: Do “Try This 4.3” on p. 94. Be prepared to present a copy of the material that you used during class.

    Week 6: Nov 20

    Analytical methods IV: Similarities and contrasts

  • Reading: Chap. 4, especially 99-104.
  • 5th Assignment: Do “Try This 4.7” on p. 101. Be prepared to present a copy of the material that you used during class.

    Week 7: Nov 27

    Applying a theoretical lens

  • Reading: Chap. 5
  • 6th Assignment: Do the 3rd “Assignment” on pp. 130-131, applying Visser’s ideas of ritual to some other behaviors regulated by manners.

    Week 8: Dec 4

    Making interpretations plausible

  • Reading: Chap. 6
  • 7th Assignment: Do the 2nd “Assignment” on pp. 148-149, about analyzing a magazine cover. Please turn in a copy of the magazine cover with your assignment.

    Week 9: Dec 11 (First paper due)

    Addressing common topics

  • Reading: Chap. 7
  • 1st Paper: Write a 2000-3000 word essay on a subject that interests you. Use as many of the techniques that we have studied so far as you can. You should write your paper in normal prose. You can, and should, use the excercises that we studied in class, but they should not appear directly in your paper. The paper should be double-spaced, with wide margins. (You may write a paper that will be the final assignment for another class.)

    Week 10: Dec 18

    Reasoning from evidence

  • Reading: Chap. 8
  • 8th Assignment: Using the instructions for the 1st “Assignment” on pp. 189-190, mark evidence (E) and claim (C) for every sentence in the paper you turned in last week. Read through the whole thing, and mark each sentence as either evidence or claim, using either bold type face, or the track changes feature in your word processing program. In ambiguous cases, try to sort out which part of the sentence is evidence and which part is claim. Turn in the copy of your paper all marked up with E’s and C’s.

    Week 11: Dec 25

    Analyzing arguments

  • Reading: Chap. 9
  • 9th Assignment: Do the 1st “Assignment” on p. 205. Write an analysis of the two logical fallacies that you found. Are there any logical fallacies in the paper you wrote? If so, use these.

    Holiday: Jan 1

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Jan 8

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 12: Jan 11 (Thurs) (Make-up class, different day, different time)

    Effective use of evidence

  • Reading: Chap. 10
  • 10th Assignment: Look at some of the images from recent news on the BBC website: NEWS in pictures. Do “Try This 10.1” on p. 215, using one of the images you found. Please submit a copy of the image along with your analysis.

    Week 13: Jan 15

    Developing a thesis

  • Reading: Chap. 11
  • 11th Assignment: Do the “Assignment” on p. 254.

    Week 14: Jan 22 (Second paper due)

    Conclusion and presentations

  • No Reading.
  • Reading: Chap. 13
  • 2nd Paper: Submit a substantial rewrite of your first paper. (If you feel that your first paper does not merit rewriting, you can submit a new paper, using the techniques we have been studying.)