Questions to ask as a check after
completing a draft
These questions are not substitutes for
the guidelines available on other pages. Always consult the
guidelines before and during writing. This check list
provides questions aimed at the most common weaknesses that appear
in the biographical papers. If you can answer them all
affirmatively, you are probably in good shape.
Is my paper well organized? Okay, this may be
obvious, but we all lose track of this at times. To succeed
as a paper, the biography needs structure and thematic
focus. We each want to ask, what is the main point
I have to make about the role of gender in my life? Give
the paper a center. Organize around this. Avoid a
flailing series of vignettes. And remember to sustain
that organization with appropriate transitions.
Have I presented a realistic portrayal of my life (and
family)? A good biography shows the successes and the failures, the good and the bad, the reasons for pride and those for shame. Everyone's life is inconsistent;
everyone's identity includes contradictions. No one's
parents were feminist saints; few were simply sexist
devils. No one's family history is an unblemished
harmony. None of us are purely charming examples of gender
goodness, however we might conceive it. Get real.
Is my gender autobiography truly
biographical? Does that sound odd? When
writing our autobiography, we want to consider these
questions. Have I shown the biographical significance of
every event or circumstance I describe? We can all describe
many gender-influenced events, personalities, and relationships
we have observed that do not have any significance for
our own biography. Most of these we
want to edit out. We also want to check each
biographical event or circumstance we describe and make sure that we
have considered why it is biographically significant. Did it
channel our choices? Was it part of a pattern that left an
imprint on our personality? Beyond the assessment of each
individual part, do the parts add up to a (gender) biography.
Does a reader come away with a clear portrait of our gender identity
and history, and understand the influences and choices that led us
Have I explored causes? Have I left in parts
where I describe events, circumstances or outcomes without any
link to causes or explanations? Remember the
importance of how and
why. Explain, explain, explain. Yes,
each of us "has" gender. Yes, each of us is typical in some
ways and has had typical experiences. Yes, each of us is also
atypical in some ways and has had atypical experiences. We
need to consider both the typical and atypical aspects of gender
in our identities and developmental experiences, seeking to
explain why this pattern exists for us and explore what it
means. Similarly, everyone has preferences, everyone makes
choices. They are an important part of our
biographies. However, they are not self-explanatory.
They do not simply burst forth from our souls; they are not gifts
of the gods. They grow out of experiences and circumstances
and can be explained. Try.
Have I edited out all unsubstantiated
opinions? We need to avoid statements of the form
"I believe X" or "I think ..." with disregard for the research and theory we have
studied. Perhaps we all have times when we are a bit
anti-intellectual, clinging to beliefs that have no empirical
support or defy logic. Still, if we have good sense, we keep such
disregard of reason out of our analytical work.
Save it for rants with friends over a drink. In short,
using identified themes or key ideas from our course is a good
idea; using unsubstantiated generalizations is not.
Have I shown knowledge and understanding of the course
materials? Have I double checked my possible
misinterpretations or neglect of course materials?
We must build our gender biographies using
the materials we have read this semester. We want to ask:
how do the important circumstances and dynamics surrounding
gender in my developmental experiences and in my present life
represent the processes examined in the class materials and how
do they not? Why? Use quotations and citations
effectively. (Among other things, this means that we should
consistently show (1) what is the relevant argument in the
materials we cite or quote and (2) how is that argument related
to the autobiographical analysis.) Remember also, as
discussed in the guidelines, making statements that contradict
arguments in the readings without defending those statements is a
serious flaw. This is an analytical, scholarly piece.
We are responsible for knowing all the material we read and
referring to it when it applies.
Have I avoided being superficial about the role of
socialization? This is such a common mistake that
it deserves special note. If we write that our gender is a
simple reflection of our parents' socialization, it makes us
sound as if we missed most of the class. We must try to
think a little further and dig a little deeper.
Have I double checked the citations and
bibliography? While each student is free to choose
among the standard styles for citations and bibliographies,
one must be selected and used consistently and
accurately throughout. If a paper neglects an accurate
citation or bibliographic entry, any argument depending on them
is wrong and will count as a serious flaw during