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Get the current SECRET questions here!  

See a sample S.E.C.R.E.T. here!



What Is a S.E.C.R.E.T.?

These are short, but substantive writing and critical thinking projects to help students develop skills in synthesizing material from class discussion, books, films, lectures, etc.; in explaining important terms and concepts; in applying critical thinking to evaluate the legitimacy of ideas; in reflecting upon new material and how it fits into existing world views; in expanding on material presented by adding your own ideas and definitions; and in contributing to theory or developing new theories about phenomena.

S.E.C.R.E.T. questions will be made available prior to the due date indicated on the syllabus.   You will generally be provided with several choices of questions and will be asked to choose one to write about.  You must write no more than three pages, not including a title page (if you choose to have one) and a Works Cited page (required).  For detailed formatting instructions, see http://www.marthabianco.com/Courses/Cities/checklist.htm.


How to Write a S.E.C.R.E.T.

For best results, follow these guidelines:


Think of each S.E.C.R.E.T. as a mini analytical research paper.  It is not something that one can do in a day or two.  The S.E.C.R.E.T. questions are posted about seven days before the paper is due.  Therefore, follow this suggested work plan for best results:


(Note: “Day 1” would be the day after the S.E.C.R.E.T.s are posted)


Suggested Writing Schedule

Day and Activity




Thesis, Background, Initial Prewriting


¨     Use the lecture guides and your class notes as a guide to help you work through the readings to identify material related to the questions.  As you do so, narrow down which question interests you the most, but be sure not to ignore other material that might be relevant.

¨     Check out any required or recommended online sources (especially academic, scholarly sources)

¨     Take a short break.

¨     Check out any other online sources.

¨     Engage in brief prewriting activities (see How to Write a University Paper).

¨     Take a break (at least an hour).

¨     Engage in more prewriting to help identify your thesis and/or main point(s), narrow your discussion, and identify elements for your outline. 



Outline Preparation

¨     Prepare your outline by organizing your prewriting.

¨     Continue to look for information from the readings, lectures, discussions, or your own independent research to substantiate your ideas, provide operationalizations for terms, and inspire your thinking process.

¨     Take a break.

¨     Refine your outline, eliminating topics that are only vaguely related or do not connect logically with the overall thesis.

¨     Eliminate redundancies and weak, vague ideas. 



First and Second Drafts

¨     Writing directly from your outline, begin a first draft.  Do not worry about paper length or word count at this time.  Focus on writing your paper and adhering to your outline and the task before you (presenting and substantiating a thesis).

¨     Perform a spell and grammar check to begin eliminating wordiness, colloquialisms, weak phrases, passive voice, and basic spelling, punctuation, and grammar problems. Correct your errors as well as you can at this time.

¨     Print out your paper.

¨     Take a break.

¨     Read through your paper, checking it against the editing and grading form and looking for ways to reduce length, if necessary. Edit your paper manually and correct any spelling, punctuation, typographical or other writing errors as you catch them. 

¨     Prepare a second draft

¨     Revise your paper based on your first spell and grammar check and read-through.  Print it out.  Do nothing else this day.



Third Draft

¨     Read your second draft that you printed out on Day 3.  Is it perfect?  If not, repeat steps the last three steps from Day 3.

¨     Take a break.

¨     Begin formalizing citations within the text and creating your Works Cited page, according to MLA style (see Hodges’ Handbook or the quick reference guide). 

¨     Create the first draft of your Works Cited page.

¨     Print out everything.

¨     Take a break (at least an hour).

¨     Proofread your entire paper, making sure this time that citations within the text are correct and that they have a corresponding entry in the Works Cited page. 

¨     Proofread your Works Cited page for format.  Make corrections manually.

¨     Prepare a fourth draft.

¨     Perform a spell check and grammar check; make sure your paper does not go beyond three pages.

¨     Print out your paper.  Do nothing else today.



Final Draft

¨     Read your final paper.  Manually edit any remaining problems.

¨     Prepare your final draft and a title page (optional).

¨     Print out your paper, including title and Works Cited pages.  Set aside.  Do nothing else today.



Final Paper

¨     Read through your printed-out final draft.  Is it perfect?  If so, staple it together and put it into your pocket folder or peer-editing envelope.  If you are turning in a version for peer editing, make sure your name does not yet show on the paper anywhere; use your ID only. If you are using a folder to turn in the final version, make sure any previous assignments are also in the folder. You’re finished!  If it is not perfect, go on to the next step.

¨     Make manual revisions and then make the corrections in the computer processed version.  Perform a spell check.  Print it out.  Take a break.

¨     Repeat first two steps until perfect.


Turn in Paper

Turn the paper in and take a day off. J