Appendix J The Sophomore Essay
Tutors vary widely in the ways that they provide staged assignments leading to the completion of the
Sophomore Essay at the end of the course. Some have students start finding articles and even complete
an annotated bibliography of five to ten sources by the end of the fall term;others accept topic propos-
als in the fall but defer nearly all other work until the spring. Virtually all,though,begin having students
read on their topics and start constructing outlines, at least, before the end of spring break, and many
tutors require several parts of a draft or even an entire first draft before spring break. For those in the
one-semester Psych 971, the schedule is of course more pressured. Experienced tutors suggest that you
structure your assignments so as to give students the maximum amount of feedback from you on the
general direction of their Essay before the first draft; this saves you the effort of providing feedback on
hopelessly unstructured efforts and your students the embarrassment of grades they did not expect.
Experienced tutors say it is essential that by this point students understand the sorts of thesis arguments
that make sense to psychologists and the types of support that are considered acceptable;if students do,
then they can avoid wheel-spinning and put their initial efforts on the hard but more productive task of
mastering the literature and analyzing its implications in writing. First drafts require gentle correction
and encouragement; with that behind them,students can work constructively to build upon their initial
efforts, restructure their approach when necessary, and strengthen their development of an eventual out-
come of which they will be proud.
Advice on choosing a Sophomore Essay topic from Erin Driver-Linn
Erin offers this advice for students thinking about what sort of thesis to write, but we find the advice
works equally well for sophomores struggling over choosing a sophomore essay topic.
Toward the thesis: How to help students figure out what they're interested in
by Erin Driver-Linn
Not infrequently, Sophomores and Juniors who are not yet affiliated with a lab will say, "I want to do a
thesis, but I don't think I should because I don't know what I want to study." Here are some dialogue
gambits that I've used, depending upon the student, to try to help them discover and hone their inter-
First step: Reassure.
a Almost anyone who has worked on a difficult project has felt directionless or unmotivated at one time
or another. In fact, I've felt this way myself and been able to get over it.
b It isn't necessarily clear that just because a driving question has not yet emerged,that it won't.
Abstract problems take a long time. Focusing questions is hard work. You know how to work hard and
it is just a matter of sussing out the process.
c There are different phases to the process of producing an original work;one of the hardest phases is
the first, when there is likely to be a lot of amorphous interest (interested in too many things to focus)
and/or a lot of ignorance (interested in something about which you know little to nothing).
Second step: Assess.
a Why don't you tell me a little about the things you are doing. You can learn a lot about your interests
by comparing what you actually do with what you say you like to do. For example, I say and believe
that I like philosophy, but if I have a good novel and Nietzsche on the night-stand, I finish the novel
and another before returning to "Beyond Good and Evil."
A TF's GUIDE TO TEACHING WRITING FOR PSYCHOLOGY