How to write an Anthology

In my previous experiment, I tried shortening the content of my personal narrative origin piece to fit within 200 words but retain its emotional impact. For my next experiment, I would like to take this idea further and really distill the emotion and story of my personal narrative in the form of a Rupi Kaur inspired anthology.

Rupi Kaur is one of my all time favorite poets, and my favorite books of hers are Milk and Honey, and The Sun and Her Flowers. In both books, she combines poetry, prose, and simple drawings to deliver powerful messages about her life to the reader. I think that by converting my origin piece into an anthology similar to Kaur’s, I could have a very cohesive project that conveys both the story and emotional aspects I want, while also following my desire to make my origin piece more short and concise. This shortness and conciseness is what I think will draw more interest from the readers.

In a Writer’s Digest entitled “Hearing Voices: 6 Steps I Used for Creating an Anthology,” the following steps are listed for writing a powerful anthology:

  1. Find a unique theme
  2. Set Goals for Your Anthology
  3. Create Guidelines for Contributors
  4. Search For A Publisher
  5. Call For Submissions
  6. Secure Release Forms

Okay, so this is a pretty easy list to accomplish considering numbers 3-6 don’t really apply to what I’d be trying to accomplish. In my last experiment, I opened up my project to include the stories of friends and family. After considering doing the same for this Anthology, I decided I would like to keep this experiment exclusively my own. I would do this in order to, as step number 1 advises, “find a unique theme,” which in this case would be my own story.

As for number 2, “Set Goals for Your Anthology,” my goal would be to express positivity in the face of one of my most tragic memories. Rupi Kaur divides her writing into 4 parts: the loving, the breaking, the hurting, and the healing. I would try to do something along these lines to draw my theme together (though the actual divisions of the story are TBD).

In another article by The Writer Mag, called “How to create a salable anthology proposal,” it is suggested that the idea should be made “razor-sharp” and “unique.” Both of these goals can be accomplished in my anthology’s case by tailoring the compilation to my personal story and the things I learned from it.

I think the biggest challenge of writing this anthology will be staying on a single topic and making it a theme that a wide audience can relate to, as Rupi Kaur does in her anthologies. In Writer’s Weekly, on writing an anthology it is important to know who your target audience is. In my case, my target audience is all who have lived through what they would consider a tragic experience. I need to be able to take a personal story and open it up to a larger world view. Though this aspect seems intimidating, I think with more research (and re-reading Rupi’s books a few more times) it could be accomplishable.

Personal Essay

Summary of Stage One:

For this semesters experiment process I elected to rewrite a blog post I wrote this past summer. This blog post was part of a weekly blog post requirement assigned by Michigan LS&A in order to receive a scholarship for my summer internship. This was not my best piece of writing and I think it heavily had to do with the fact that I had a time limit and it was restrictive to what they wanted. I am interested in exploring this piece of writing in a personal way, which I can discuss my emotions more as well as go into more detail. I think it would be interesting to see this piece as a personal narrative that really displays my summer in Croatia.

How to Write a Personal Narrative:

Honestly, when I decided that writing a personal narrative was the approach I was going to take to tell my story of my summer in Croatia I really didn’t know what exactly I was going to do. I knew that a personal narrative required some sort of story about my life, but wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to need to do. According to online sources, this is what I should do:

  1. Focus on a memorable event/moment in my life
    1. While Wikihow suggests I think about a time I ‘struggled with body image in high school’ or ‘my disastrous 15th birthday party’, I have decided to stick to my topic. I do think this advice is important because it is easier to focus on one thing than try and explore multiple things for a shorter narrative (
  2. Include Certain Elements
    1. Characters: ME!
    2. Tense
    3. Voice
    4. Conflict
    5. Descriptive language
    6. Make your point
      1. This is the most important advice because it states that I shouldn’t say something basic, but I should really look into the story I am trying to tell and the most important aspect of that story (
    7. Body Paragraphs
      1. “Show, Don’t Tell”
        1. Good story telling includes details that help the reader understand exactly what the writer experienced, and this website suggests that I explain all of my senses not just what I saw (
      2. Passage of Time
        1. I am going to try and incorporate what happened over time, and not just over one day. I plan to discuss my experiences and interweave the important moments amongst my overall feelings
      3. Making the introduction interesting
        1. Give the readers the hook: I have to make my essay very interesting because it is important that I get people to actually read it, and want to read it 

The part that I am most worried about is the conclusion of my essay. I think that it is really difficult to write a conclusion to something that is about my life, as it is completely concluding my experience. That is something I am most worried about but am excited to tackle.

How to Write an Academic Article

Image result for forrest gump waving gif

Stage 1 Summary

Hey everyone! Ok, so in contemplation of which origin piece to select, I felt really fortunate to land on my first essay from my English 125 class, entitled “Checklist.” I wanted to started off my freshman year with a creative spin, so I resorted to what I knew best – checklists. As you can imagine, the essay was structured as such, with each list followed by a narrative account. It felt right, except for the fact that at the bottom of each list was always a box left unchecked – a certain goal that was frustratingly unattainable. At the time, I thought that this structured organization and rigid system of goal setting was flawless, but, you will come to find out that at the end, I seriously consider dropping this way of approaching life.

The last sentence of the essay reads: “☐   Leave the checklists in the past.”

Image result for gasp gif

I’ve realized that the main problem with this piece is that it is, well, unfinished. I have not made up my mind and, as I continue to follow down this structured path in my current life, I am left uninformed as to whether or not I am doing myself any justice. So, for this stage I would like to delve deeper into the underlying psychology at play here. More clearly, I’d like to tackle a research/academic paper in lieu of a strictly personal narrative. And, at the end of it, I’d like to walk away with something ~scientific.~

Image result for science gif

How to Write a Research Paper

Ah, yes – the dreaded land of academic articles and research papers. We all have encountered them and their esoteric jargon, but how do we actually go about writing them? Do we just throw a slew of fancy words against the page and hope they sticky? Probably not (though, that might be what BuzzFeed would suggest). So, in an effort to avoid that, I’ve contacted the source directly – that is, academic articles on how to write academic articles. It’s a match made in heaven.


  • From A Guide to Writing a Scientific Paper: A Focus on High School Through Graduate Level Student Research” I’ve learned the proper formatting for such papers. This guide, provided by Renee A. Hesselbach, details the importance of providing an abstract – one that could in fact stand alone. Throughout my experiences, I’ve always found these to be incredibly helpful – perhaps even too helpful – so I will definitely need to find just the right amount so as to deter my audience from focusing exclusively on the primer.


  • Additionally, from Harvard’s Writing Center’s “A Brief Guide to Writing the Psychology Paper,” I’ve learned that the majority of sources used will be empirical reports found in journals. It also mentions that, whenever possible, I should cite articles from peer-reviewed journals (meaning that the journal requires that the article be reviewed by experts in the field before it is published).


  • And, lastly from Columbia University’s “Writing a Research Paper” I’ve learned the importance of something that I once though to be, perhaps, very trivial. Here, it stresses that the title must be specific enough to describe the contents of the paper, but not so technical that only specialists will understand. Given that I don’t want my paper to be used by really niche groups – but rather, well, everyone – it’s important that I not overlook the fact that the title should be appropriate for the intended audience (in hindsight, I suppose I knew this, but I now will be giving it much more thought and attention).


Lastly, in order to be effective, it would be helpful to have a specific research question. For this, I think what I am targeting is something along the lines of: “Do checklists – as they pertain to everyday life – increase anxiety and ineffectiveness or do they allow for increased happiness and productivity?”


That is all for now; if you’ve gotten this far, thank you! And, if you have any experiences with checklists, I’d love to hear about them!

Image result for harry potter waving gif

How to Write Modern Social Science

Experiment 1 Stage 2 — Aayush Patel

Stage 1 Summary

                For my experimentation processes this semester, I have chosen to revisit a personal free-write piece from my junior year of high school that analyzed the historical consequences of having a “money-based” society and addressed whether a society without any concept of money was feasible. Because this piece was a free-write and my teacher had let us essentially ramble, there is no clear genre that I intended to replicate for this piece. However, my natural free-write tendencies led to this paper becoming more of a social/philosophical narrative argument with some signs of a research paper. And I’ll be honest, I thought I was hot shit in high school and my writing reflected that. I can just remember my arrogance as I wrote this paper and marveled at the beauty of my own philosophical thoughts. Now that I look back on it with a more humble outlook, I still think “DAMN I’M GOOD!” Just kidding. I really need to filter out my arrogance in this free write because it smells loud. That is only partially related to the genre experiment, but mostly a personal thing I want to improve on. In general, I’m really interested in seeing how my personality change in the last 3 years is reflected in this experimentation process.

Ultimately, I have the opportunity to transform this paper into any genre I want because the topic of a moneyless society can be tackled in so many variations, which is a blessing and a curse. For this first experiment, I want to experiment with modern research papers that present social research with a blend of objective and subjective arguments (think Freakonomics). This task will require me to conduct academic research on my topic and also find a unique balance between an academic tone and argumentation.


How to Present Modern Social Science

Since the 2000s, the social science genre has spiked as a result of a movement to incorporate authorial perspective in presenting research within these fields (economics, sociology, psychology, history, etc.). I believe that Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point has likely lead this movement. These authors unique ability to present social research in an attention-grabbing and creative way has inspired researchers to rethink how they present their information. Their success in challenging societal misconceptions about real estate agents, sumo wrestlers, drug dealers, crime reduction policies, suicide, and abortion all within three-hundred page books is directly related with their success in incorporating their own perspectives with their research. Dubner and Gladwell excel at storytelling, drawing comparisons, and identifying real examples of their research’s conclusions about society. There’s no wonder that the Freakonomics podcast is now one of the most popular podcasts in the world, with Dubner in high demand by University seminars around the world (He was Michigan last year). The success of this social science presentation format has continued even into more current times. A look at the NYTimes Bestsellers list features dozens of books written by scientists and researchers, something that would not be possible if these individuals continued writing boring academic papers alone. Angela Duckworth, the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, entered the bestsellers list by presenting research on mental toughness and the importance of persistence towards personal goals. However, she supplements on concrete research with examples of how industry leaders, successful millionaires, and professional athletes all incorporate her work in their daily lives. This influence has even trickled into the more general science field. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry simplifies exactly what I am claiming about this genre transformation. The title alone suggests that a complex and dense subject matter like astrophysics will be presented “for people in a hurry”. This means limited jargon, less math, and most importantly, Tyson’s own perspective on his information. The global success of all of these novels suggest that the trend towards concise information and narrative tones in research is still continuing.

Here are some common themes in successful social science novels:

  • Select a general societal theme to emphasize and wrap your research around these themes. Freakonomics essentially focuses on incentives and the importance of analyzing hidden factors in social issues. Incentives are addressed by comparing real estate agents and sumo wrestlers. Hidden factors are discussed by analyzing the relationship between abortion and a reduction in crime. In other words, come up with things that sound flashy and will make your reader feel like they acquired specialized knowledge (even though they are just learning examples of general knowledge). You can trick your audience into thinking that they learned more than they actually did if you follow this essential rule.


  • Build on sub-themes over the course of the book to make audiences feel like the information is becoming more specialized as the book progresses. Gladwell chooses three laws of epidemics during the first part of his novel and briefly describes each of these laws. However, he chooses to present these three rules in an order of simple to most complex in order to make the audience feel like his research is becoming more scientific over the course of the novel. The idea of few people having a lot of social influence is simple, but the Power of Context (discussed towards the end of the book) is not. If your book isn’t getting more difficult to understand over the course, you’re kind of insulting your audience’s intelligence. Reward them for making it to chapter 10 by teaching them more complex ideas.


  • Avoid academic jargon if possible. Explain in simple terms and concrete examples if you are going to use jargon. The main reason modern social science is thriving is because authors have learned how to make knowledge more understandable and have distanced themselves from esoteric language. If your table of contents seems to be focused on too much jargon, you’ll scare readers away before they begin. The more simple your language, the larger your audience. This does not mean you sacrifice your academic integrity or dumb down your work (not entirely). Just build up topics slowly and provide common examples of principles and theories related to your field.


  • Stay away from getting too detailed about the empirical methods and math that were used to draw the social conclusions your research leads to. Readers who care will stick to academic journals anyways. Yeah, math is probably essential in defending your discoveries. But the average global audience will probably shed a tear if you try mentioning some calculus or your extremely complex empirical methods with little footnotes everywhere. Leave all this stuff for the actual academic publications. If readers are more interested into the method behind the madness then they’ll seek out the finer details on their own. Just focus on your themes and takeaways if you want to keep your readers awake by the end of chapter 1.



  • Provide your own concerns and feelings about your research to show the audience your human side. Nobody likes reading textbooks, so don’t write a textbook. You can still be your usual self and maintain your academic integrity. Loosen things up with personal anecdotes, humor (even though you’re probably not funny if you do research), and emotional responses to the case studies you decide to address.


Good Luck and Welcome to the genre Bandwagon!



How to Write a Vignette

My origin piece is a poem I wrote in high school for an assignment based on the Allen Ginsberg poem “C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization Eat More Grease.” The goal was to focus on themes of excess, like Ginsberg, so I wrote about makeup in the context of high school and adolescence.

If I’m being honest, it’s a terrible piece of writing. My knowledge of free verse poetry was limited to what we’d covered in class. The structure is a glaring indication that I had no idea what I was doing. The purpose is vague and undefined. Then there’s the fact that the Ginsberg poem I based my poem on was written for spoken word. I cringe at the idea of my poem being read, much less read aloud. Not to mention that it’s riddled with teen angst.










Yeah, it’s not great.

Despite all that, I think there is a salvageable topic among the wreckage here. For my first experiment, I want to write a collection of vignettes about the culture surrounding makeup and beauty. I’ve only attempted to write vignettes once before for an assignment after reading Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, which is the only vignette collection I’ve read. I did what anyone does when they aren’t sure what something is. I typed “vignette” in Google, and my search produced two definitions:

  1. “a brief evocative description, account, or episode.”
  2. “a small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border”

The word “vignette” is familiar to a lot of people as a tool in Instagram’s photo editing.

The setting blurs the edges to draw the eye to a specific focal point of the image, which is not far from the definition of “vignette” as a literary device or genre. Vignettes are not limited to written word. They can also be used in photography or even in film like in Sam Wright’s 11-vignette comedy, Coffee and Cigarettes. The HGTV website even uses vignette as an interior decorating technique in guide called “8 Tips for Making Beautiful Vignettes.”

For my experiment, I will be focusing on written vignettes like in House on Mango Street, but no matter the medium, all vignettes have a few key qualities:

Vignettes must have a singular focus. defines vignette as a short essay, focusing on a particular moment, mood, setting, or object. In vignette photography, this quality is a literal one, with the focal point of the image being sharp against a blurred background with darkened edges. In written vignettes, like in House on Mango Street, each vignette is focused on one thing, like a particular character, or the house the narrator lives in.

Vignettes can be fiction or nonfiction, but they have to be short. advises that, while there is no hard cut off, a vignette should not be longer than two thousand words. Some of Cisneros’s vignettes are as short as a few hundred words. However …

A vignette is not a short story or flash fiction.

According to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, a vignette is distinct from these genres. Where short story and flash fiction require defined structure and plot, a vignette is more about leaving an impression through “poetic description.”

If part of a collection, it should have a unifying thread.

A collection of vignettes should have a universal theme running through each piece to tie them all together. Each snapshot should somehow relate to the others to create a bigger more complete idea.

Bonus vignette fun facts:

  • The word “vignette” comes from nineteenth-century French writers who drew images of vines on their title pages.
  • The app Vine originates from the word “vignette,” since (if you’re using the definition loosely) Vines are essentially 6-second video vignettes.

Putting it all together:

Here is an excerpt from the vignette “My Name” from Cisneros’s House on Mango Street.

Cleary, the vignette has a singular focus: the narrator’s name. It only goes on for a couple more paragraphs, so it’s short. Cisneros uses poetic descriptions of the narrator’s name, Esperanza, to give an impression of her character. While the unifying thread isn’t necessarily clear from reading this one excerpt, I know from reading the whole collection that two major themes in House on Mango Street are gender and identity, which are woven into this piece.

I think the biggest challenges for me will be breaking away from the framework of plot and structure and being intentional with my details. Exploring my topic through the frame of a vignette will allow me to strip down the topic to a universal theme. Moving forward with these guidelines is at least a step in the right direction of that goal.


How to Write Fiction

When I was little, I used to thrive off the idea that one day I’d be the best fiction author. I didn’t want to be the president, didn’t want to save lives as a doctor or fly into outer space for NASA. There might have been a veterinarian phase, but for the most part, it was always being an author. I was going to write the best fiction anyone had ever read.

But as I got older, it moved from fiction to non-fiction, and then poetry. After a while, it became nothing.

(Not actually nothing, just nothing to do with writing.)

So when I got to college and joined the newspaper, it was almost like a step backwards for me. I somehow rediscovered the little girl who enjoyed writing, and now basically does it for a living (never mind that it’s articles and PR briefs.) For my origin piece, I wanted to use an article I’d written that I thought would benefit from experimentation — how far could I go with word choice, how can I change the story, how could I broaden my horizons?

Because of this, I think it would be kind of cool to go full circle and revisit fiction again.

I want to combine my origin piece (an article) with what initially dominated my reading as a child. I feel like they’re basically complete opposites, so this assignment — AKA “How to Write Fiction” — seems perfect.

Where articles seem very structured and straightforward with hard facts and data, fiction is really whatever you want it to be, with you being the reader or writer. There’s so much wiggle room in fiction because your options are endless — which, sometimes, might even seem like a drawback considering how expansive your opportunities are.

Because of this, it’s probably important to get a solid layout down for how to actually write good fiction. For me, having too much freedom with writing is sometimes more detrimental and overwhelming than helpful. To figure this out, I read an article from the Slate called “What are the Qualities of Good Fiction Writing?” The great thing about this article that a lot of “how-to” articles don’t do is that it teaches the good qualities of fiction by telling you what not do through beginner mistakes. And this girl is the QUEEN of beginner mistakes.

A lot of the tips are general writing tips, similar to this article by the New Yorker describing eight rules you should follow for good fiction writing. However, as you get to the more advanced mistakes, you see more comprehensive issues to stay away from — lurching tones, nonstop action, bland characters with no pitfalls, etc.

Although it seems obvious, this is really great advice for fiction writing, because it’s so broad and open and free that you feel like you can do anything — including creating perfect characters and nonstop action. But as a reader, that kind of material is sometimes hard to digest, and focusing on little things like making your protagonist afraid of mosquitos can actually be really helpful.

In another article by the HuffPost, a “Top 10” piece (classic!), I looked for employment of these tactics in fiction but was met with a stunner of a first line that I think says more about good fiction than a lot of other lists:

“One thing that’s great about short stories is how quickly they can ruin your life.”

Okay, pretty accurate. If I’m writing a story so impactful it can ruin someone’s life (in the best way a story can ruin it), I feel like I’d be pretty happy. But as great as it’d be to ruin someone’s life (in a good way), the basis of the article pretty much said that everyone has different tastes; something that can destroy one person’s life may not even make a dent in another.

I feel like this is a pretty good basis for fiction writing because it basically tells you everything is a go and sometimes it’ll work, sometimes it won’t. As long as the reader can latch on to your mosquito-fearing protagonist, or literally anything, chances are good you can make a connection with your audience.

In an article through the Writer’s Digest, one important idea also stood out to me for writing good fiction — try starting your story with tension. Often times (in my young writing days when I thought 16-year olds exemplified the ideal generation) I’d have a hard time starting stories. There’s so much detail you have to include, so much buildup for your characters.

And here’s this article that’s just kind of like screw it. Start in the middle of your battle with some random dude garnering an eyepatch trying to steal a precious gem ( @ Jumanji ) or in the middle of your fictional Greek mythology exam that you’re about to fail.

That’s kind of the beautiful thing about fiction — as long as you make it somewhat attachable for the reader, chances are, you could make just about anything a good story.

How to Write an Open Letter

My origin piece was originally an academic research argument that examined racial bias effects the way people differentiate between graffiti and street art. Although the paper briefly touched upon gentrification and it’s impact on the development of street art, it did not dive deeply into the concept of gentrification (that could be a whole separate research paper and I tried to stay on topic and not exceed the 20 page limit). For this experiment cycle I aim to study gentrification, what it means, how it is effecting our cities and different view points on gentrification. Currently I do not have a strong opinion on the topic (because I feel I do not know enough to form one), but hopefully my research will enable me to form an educated opinion. For this cycle I am going to write an open letter from a teen growing up in Harlem.

According to my good friend Merriam-Webster, an open letter is a published letter of protest or appeal usually addressed to an individual but intended for the general public.

How to write an Open Letter: 

Dear People Reading My Blog,

If you are not a member of the Sweetland Writing Program, thanks for checking this out and being interested in what a bunch of college students minoring in writing have to say. If you are a member, Hi! Anyway here’s my letter on how to write an open letter. Here are a few things I learned from “An Open Letter To Anyone Thinking About Writing An Open Letter”. First I’m sorry you’re pissed off, upset, mad, or emotionally charged, but take that energy and turn it into passionate energy – get it all down on the paper because you can. This isn’t addressed to anyone specifically, but oh it is. All though my “Dear _________” is a general population, I know exactly who I am talking to and although I may or may not know you personality I want you to hear what I say loud and clear. My introduction of you may be harsh and objective but I am passionate and I do not mean to beat around the bush and be careful to offend anyone. I am going to say exactly what I want how I want (with all the emotions that come with it). When writing an open letter, be careful because you have just become subject to possible open letters. If you are going to ignite the flame be ready to fight the fire. Here’s some more things I learned from reading open letters. 

Open letters use a lot of “I” and “you” because although I may or may not know you. I am not going to explicitly say your name, or else the letter isn’t very open. Open letters can be numbered to organize thoughts like this or they can be a series of paragraphs, or one long one. Open letters often use bold or underlined words to emphasize their strongest points. Although not all have a valediction at the closing, or are signed by the name of the author, I believe the strongest most powerful open letters have an ambiguous targeted valediction (like the one used to sign this letter). Good luck writing an open letter in the future and I hope this helped.


A girl attempting to write and open letter

How to write a photo essay

My origin piece is something that I wrote in English 125.  It was a deeply personal narrative, but I felt like a lot of the things that I discussed–family history, self-esteem, and lack of confidence–were universal themes.  My plan for my experiment is to change this personal narrative into a photoessay that reflects how these feelings are universal, and shows the extent that we change who we are.  My idea is to create a persuasive photoessay that shows photos on Instagram and the same photos pre-filter.  Ideally this would result in a visual that shows people being more honest about who they are.

So here we go…How to write/create a photoessay


To start, I’ve already learned that the guidelines for the genre photoessay are very vague.  According to WikiHow, photoessays are great if they are centered around a narrative.  I think that my narrative will start off with photos that are very edited and slowly progress to revealing more of who I actually am.

Essentially I want to show how my photos go from this version (which is never seen):



to this version (which was posted on Instagram):


Everything about this process eliminates the flaws, the personality, and the honest truth about who I am.  It makes a gray, cold, and cloudy day seem warm and vibrant.  I’ve been trying to edit my photos less and less, but it’s not something that I am always consciously thinking about.  I don’t know how many of these photos I want to do, but I also want to show how selection is just as important in the process.  I might show all the photos from one night and show how there’s about fifteen that we took but I only posted the one that I look the best in.

I’m fear that people might not understand exactly what it is that I want to do, but this ad from Google is really close to my goal.  I have seen this ad replicated different times and know that I could really make a compelling argument based on replicating the format.  Mine is not an advertisement, but as the Digital Photography School says, placing specific images in a planned order to make a point is a unique quality of the photoessay.  I would have these unedited/edited versions of myself and also include photos that I feel really reflect my personality.  Anyway, if you’re trying to get a sense of what I’m doing, the video below is a good start.



I love how saturated in emotion this ad is, and I feel like it really captures the entire year of 2017.  Like I said, I’m not trying to create an advertisement, but a photoessay will really allow me to create a multimedia project with text and music that ideally will illicit some of the same emotion felt in the ad.

I also plan to copy one of the ads that Apple used for their new iPhone.  Similar to the ad above, it uses music to create a feel and pace the entire ad.  I want to replicate the same kind of beat that the ad created to really get a certain vibe.

I know that I have defined the photoessay as some loose genre, but that’s because it is.  Time Magazine, in a article titled, “How Photographers Are Changing the Definition of the Photoessay,” describes the loosening definition of the genre and emphasizes the importance of a narrative, photos, and possibly text or music.

I fully expect my photoessay to contain photos and videos that aren’t my own, as I want to make this a piece that shows it’s more than just on person.  Hopefully I’ve done a decent job explaining where I want this to go, but feel free to shoot me any questions if there’s still confusion.

How To Write an Investigation Essay

I have decided to take a college essay about what running means to me and turn it into an experiment for stage 2: a test of how running affects me and relates to various realms of my life, from my mood to writing to my outlook and general happiness. I want to reconnect with my body and mind through this experiment by challenging myself to run a little more for seven days straight, probably going from 1 to 7 miles. Through this experiment, I expect to find old feelings reemerge: nostalgia, an ache in the calves, frustration when I don’t feel as strong as I might like to, relief. I will set up a journal format and answer several specific pre-written questions each day along with free writing. I want to investigate what running means to me on a physical, spiritual, historical and deeply personal level, and connect that back to a larger idea of why people run and what the physical act, sport and cultural relevance of running says about us in the world.

How to Write An Investigation Essay

         Last semester in my English 325 class, I was tasked with writing a so-called “Investigation” essay. After reading several experimental essays, like one by Ann Hodgman where she tries eating different types of dog food and reflects on our relationship with our pets, and one by George Plimpton about pressure and talent while briefly playing in the New York Philharmonic, I still could not come up with an experiment of my own that felt profound.

What did I want to test about my world? What questions lay unanswered before me? I couldn’t figure it out.

Long story short, I sort of copped out and wrote about college parties — which wasn’t really an investigation at all. Meanwhile, during our peer review workshops, it occurred to me how to conduct an experiment. I could investigate running. I could test how it places me into a greater family, local and world community. I could question what it does to my body.

Here is how to write an investigation essay, courtesy of my rubric from 325, and the internet:

From my 325 rubric, courtesy of Patricia Khleif:

“Your experiment need not be quite so elaborate as those of the published authors. As long as your experiment is safe, legal, and feasible within the timeframe and constraints of the class, you have a lot of room to explore.”

Keywords: Safe, legal and feasible. Make sure your experiment can occur without major consequences including harm to yourself, harm to others, prison time, a million dollar budget, etc. Sometimes the riskiest experiments seem exciting, but realistically you can make a small change in your life and see big results — minus the risk of jail time or a hospital visit.

“This essay, then, ”integrates the personal with the journalistic:
each writer has a distinctive voice and presence, along with a question that clearly preoccupies him, as he explores a broader social or cultural phenomenon.”

While you investigate this subject on a personal level, in terms of writing, it is important to weave two types of voice together. There is a poet in me, and a journalist in me. The cross product of this is often the personal essay, this time the experiment. I seek to place myself in a greater social picture while also focusing on the nuances of my own actions and thoughts.

From the article “What makes a successful personal experiment” by Matthew Cornell:

“Taking action. Finally, each experiment is a manifestation of personal empowerment, which is a major success factor in life. While health comes to mind (do difficult patients have better results?), I think generally the more we take charge of our lives, the closer we get to happiness”.

Designing for surprise. If the product of your experiment was not very surprising, then maybe you should question your choice of what you tried. Exciting experiments probe the unknown, which ideally means novelty is in store. Fill in the blank: “If you’re not surprised at the end of your experiment, then __.”

In terms of personal experimentation in general, Cornell says it is important to take charge of our lives, literally by taking action. This is required in an experiment. Instead of sitting at our computers and musing, we must do something and then sit at our computers and muse. It is important to generate content by actually setting guidelines for yourself and completing them, even if they must vary a little due to circumstance, which you should include in your explanation of your experiment.

Cornell also says to design for surprise. Like any and all experiments, it is important to write a hypothesis before hand to imagine what might happen. But if you already know what is going to happen, what is the point? Set yourself up to be surprised, try something new, go the extra mile (ha ha get it). If you don’t walk away with a new perspective on anything then the musing will be difficult.

From Wikipedia page on self-experimentation: 

“Examples in classic fiction include the tales of The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In each case the scientist’s unorthodox theories lead to permanent change and ultimately to self-destruction.”

Re: safe, legal, and feasible. But even so, testing things out can be scary. I personally hate change. So listen to yourself and take it slow; no need to uproot everything you’ve known in a day and completely alter your life.

From the article “4 Ways to Mix up your running routine” by Jeff Galloway:

“Get off autopilot.”

This applies to running and to life.

Experiment 1, Stage 2: how to write a short story

My origin piece is a paper I wrote about Bruce Springsteen and his role in American culture and politics. For my first experiment, I want to turn the paper into a short story. Obviously, I can’t turn the whole paper into a short story, because there are many different sections and trying to shove them all into one short story would be way too chaotic.

For my research about how to write a short story, I came across a lot of similar advice. From a website called
“The Write Practice”, I found this infographic (



So, there’s that. I don’t know, that timeline ( and basically all of the stuff I found) seemed super unhelpful. I think part of this is because I’m in two classes where we’re reading metafiction, and so regular short stories just seem boring to me right now. Like, where is the self-consciousness about the construction of a narrator?? Anyway, there are still some aspects of the short story genre that I think I need to take into consideration, even if I do attempt to make some sort of metafiction-y and unconventional short story inspired by what I’ve been reading in my other classes.

So, how do you write a short story?

  1. character: most short stories have characters, and Springsteen’s songs, while they are about places, are also really about the people to whom certain places have value. Creating fictional characters is an important aspect of the writing process, and one that might happen before a writer begins or emerge organically as the story unfolds.
  2. create a mood: a good short story will use characters and setting to create a world that has a particular emotional landscape. This is particularly important in short stories, because there is limited space (compared to a novel) to develop themes.
  3. story arc: generally, a short story will have a beginning, a period of rising action, a climax, and period of falling action, and a conclusion. However, authors often play with this basic setup in order to emphasize narrative tension.
  4. simplicity: short stories are usually pretty simple in terms of number of characters, plot, and themes. This is mostly because of the limited length of a short story (although there is not set length). Obviously, simple doesn’t mean bad or not complex, but the type of multiplicity that you can often see in novels is just not feasible in most short stories.

I read some short stories to see how well these conventions apply to actual examples in the genre. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry seems to fit pretty well (characters, mood, story arc, simplicity). However, some more recent short stories were less clearly attuned to these conventions. The Yardman by Bonnie Jo Campbell is way less interested in a story arc. Instead, Campbell focuses on language to create a mood and develop characters. Lastly, Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian has all of these conventions. I found that it was not the adherence to or divergence from convention that made a short story appealing, but rather the author’s use of language to create a self-contained and absorbing world in a short space.

This makes me think that the challenge of creating a short story will be to render my created world in a way that resonates with the reader. In another class I’m taking right now (English 317), we are reading a lot of Rust Belt literature, which I think has some similar ideas/themes as Bruce Springsteen’s music (relationship between work and identity, loss of employment, etc). I think that looking deeper into how those writers struggle with these topics will be a major part of my next step (the annotated bibliography).