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HONRS 320 Tips and Tricks

Essaying through Great Questions

Honors 320 is the capstone to the Honors Program coursework and students often say it is one of the most rewarding classes they have taken at BYU. The course is designed in a way to encourage independent inquiry through class instruction, group discussions, and individual research. Creating a Great Questions Essay is a process that requires hard work, dedication, and introspection. During Honors Advisement sessions, it is common for incoming students to ask about this course and the Great Question essay requirement. To help answer these questions and to get advice on how to succeed in the class, we sat down with some of this semester’s Honors 320 Teaching Assistants to get their perspectives.

What is the Honors Great Question Essay?

“In Honors 120 we see other professors asking great questions in their field. In the 200 level classes students experience the research of great questions that professors in two different fields are asking, and then in 320 you get to ask your own question and look at it from the perspective of three different disciplines.” - Bayleigh Cragun“Probably the biggest misconception students have is that sometimes they think the class is part of preparations for your Honors thesis. That is not the case at all… This class builds upon the skills and experiences you’ve learned in your previous classes and gives you a chance to dive into a broad, great question you are interested in.” – Bryan Samuelsen“What is the 320 essay? The buzzword version that I use is creative non-fiction. It is helpful to get used to the idea that this isn’t just a research paper where you are conducting your own experiments or analysis; it is creative writing grounded in reading and applying other people’s research.” - Rebecca Russavage“The essay is your personal exploration, in writing, of an issue or a question you have. That’s what essaying is all about: learning about that process, going forth, a journey. So this essay really is a description of your personal journey with your own question. The class focuses on teaching how to communicate your journey, and to do it persuasively.” - Bryan Samuelsen

What are the “best practices” for success?

Get your ideas out on paper. “You have all these thoughts in your head, and I think about this issue all the time… I never wrote those thoughts down. So when it came to my GQ essay I had to go back and search for the resources or things I had read and write them down. I wish at the beginning of my essay, or even before that I had been more meticulous about writing down my thoughts and questions.“ - Bryan Samuelsen

"Write whatever comes to your head! Engage in that exercise as you go through the process of writing your essay. Anytime you come across something cool, write it all down. Have an ongoing draft of even completely disjointed thoughts and then you can see how something could relate to something random, like butterflies! Have an open google doc where you just write down all your thoughts and there you go- you have the start of your first draft!” - Rebecca Russavage

Write about something that matters to you. “Choose something you really care about, and not just something you think will resonate with the class. If you choose something you care about, you will put in so much more effort. I chose questions I thought about a lot and I was interested in finding answers in those disciplines. It made my research more enjoyable because I wanted to see what other people had to say.“ - Bryan Samuelsen

Use your strengths; start with a field you are passionate about. “You can use what you know! Some people feel like they can’t use their major as one of their three research disciplines, but it can be hard if you don’t have grounding for any of your three fields. You are interested in your major and your great question, so they probably have relevance to one another. You can use your major or a field you are familiar with to build the foundation, and then find the other connections.” - Bayleigh Cragun

Put in effort at the beginning, and it will pay off. “Treat your first draft like your final. Submit as much as you can for your first draft because your later drafts will be infinitely better. It forces you to write what you think, and get it all out on paper.” - Madison Allred

Start researching early. “Research as soon as possible. I mean hitting books and talking to professors. If you don’t have a stack of books on your desk that make your roommates worried by their titles, you are doing something wrong.” - Rebekah Pimentel

Use your own voice; be yourself. “Don’t try to write in a way that is similar to anyone else’s style; write like yourself. You will be most successful if you find your own voice.” - Bayleigh Cragun

Work smart. “Get enough sleep- we are Honors students and are more likely to run ourselves into the ground and do too much. Understand when you need to take care of yourself... You can accomplish this by planning and not procrastinating.” - Rebekah Pimentel

Find a friend to swap papers with. “I found a friend in the class, started chatting about our papers after class, and then started trading our papers back and forth. There is a required peer review but for me this process was ongoing and was a lot more dialectical. My paper benefitted from his, and his paper benefitted from mine. It was an ongoing conversation over text and email about our essays. This sustained peer review that wasn’t institutionalized was a huge asset. Use your fellow honors students, take advantage of their brains, they have things to teach you!” - Rebecca Russavage

Focus on the experience and the grade will come. Don’t worry about your grade; if you do the work the grade will come. The teachers aren’t trying to fail you. If you put your heart and soul into it, the paper will come. Explore something you care about, make the interdisciplinary connections, and search for your own voice; the grade will follow.” - Bayleigh Cragun