The Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan archive offers a rare opportunity to explore the writing and thinking process of one of the most prolific science writers of the 20th century.
Dictation, Transcription, Hand Edited Revision
One of the most exciting things about collections of personal papers is the ability to review drafts and revisions of significant books and articles. Early drafts are a way to understand how books developed in the minds of their creators. You can read and review some of Carl Sagan's drafts and ideas online in this collection; including The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, and his novel Contact. Carl Sagan was an extensive reviser of his work, for example, this digitized draft of Pale Blue Dot is the second of twenty full drafts in the archive. Each of those 20 drafts is heavily annotated with edits, revisions and changes.
You will notice these drafts are not hand written, but are covered with cross outs and handwritten revisions. These drafts, everything from grant proposals, correspondence, and his books and articles, were dictated to cassettes and transcribed. For example, listen to some of these digitized sections of an audio cassette that contains parts of Sagan's novel Contact and this dictated section of an exobiology grant proposal.
This audio recording is part of the first draft of Carl Sagan's novel Contact. Sagan dictated most of his writings. You can see the next stage in his process in this draft of Contact he annotated and revised. Contact chapter three: Dictated section of novel. 1984. Manuscript Division.
Sagan's writing process involved a constellation of technologies and people. When working on books in the 80s and 90s he would dictate sections, which were transcribed for him. He would then mark up print outs of the transcripts and edit, revise and assemble them into drafts. You can find evidence of this process in the dates in the upper corner of some of these draft pages in Pale Blue Dot.If you scan through the different sections of the draft, you will notice that the dates change throughout. The result of this constellation of composition technologies and media is a stunning level of access into Sagan's writing and thinking process. A small number of examples documenting this process have been digitized for this online collection to provide a sense of the kinds of materials that exist around many of his writing projects.
Building Toward Books
Carl Sagan wrote a considerable amount of shorter pieces for magazines and periodicals. Many of those essays would later become sections in his books. For example, the essay the "Gift of the Apollo" becomes part of Pale Blue Dot. Collectively, the archive provides extensive access to traces of the Carl Sagan's extensive intellectual enterprise.
A Torrent of IdeasExploring the archive reveals that Sagan was constantly developing ideas for possible projects. You can find ideas for a textbook written on the back of an American Academy of Sciences envelope, alongside a partially completed to-do list of urgent projects, ideas for more than a hundred ideas for children's books that answer why questions, like "Why is the Sky Blue?", as well as a hand drawn diagram representing all of space and time. He wrote, co-wrote or edited over 20 books, published a dizzying array of scientific papers and wrote regularly for Parade Magazine.
Scientist's notebooks offer an opportunity to study their ongoing thought process. You can find a few examples of these kinds of artifacts in the collection. For example, Carl Sagan's ongoing ideas and reflections in notebooks from histime in college, for a brief period in a notebook in the late 1960s, and on particular topics, like this notebook on Jupiter's Moon Titan.
Sagan was not generally in the habit of keeping a notebook of his running thoughts and ideas. However, the archive does contain a fascinating recording of his running thoughts and ideas in a set of folders called "Ideas Riding." These folders contain a running account of a range of ideas off the top of Sagan's mind. Like most of his writing, they started out as dictated tapes. A selection from the mid-60s through the 90s has been digitized to give a sense of the diversity of his interests. These include everything from the properties of clouds on Venus, to the potential value of an astronomical observatory on Mars, to ideas for a science fiction novel involving the CIA and the NSA investigating UFOs, and musings on the possibilities of interstellar communication as music.
Reading this kind of material offers a way to get a feel for his sense of humor and scientific interests. Inside these "Ideas Riding" folders we find the origins of a number of his works, for example, in this note he suggests two different potential names for the television series Cosmos, then tentatively called "Man and the Cosmos." He considers renaming it "There" [with some subtitle] or "Cosmos" [also with some subtitle]. The final name for the series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is the name he settled on and the show that made him famous.
Together, this archive provides an intimate look at some of Sagan's most well known works in early stages. It's a chance to understand not only what Carl Sagan thought, but how he became one of the modern ambassadors of science to the general public. This online collection represents only a tiny fraction of the archive - it's just the tip of the iceberg. Consult the collection's finding aid and plan a visit to the Library of Congress to explore the rest.
The purpose of an informative essay, sometimes called an expository essay, is to educate on a certain topic. It is not for giving an opinion or convincing someone to do something or change his beliefs. In addition to being informative, it needs to be interesting.
Structure of an Informative Essay
The basic structure of an informative essay is very simple. It needs to have a beginning, middle, and end.
- The beginning needs to present the topic and grab the attention of the audience. It needs to include the focus sentence for the entire essay.
- The middle will be the main bulk of the essay and it will contain all the important facts that you are covering. This is where the audience will get their questions answered. Remember to answer these questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
- The end is a conclusion where you will summarize the essay. It should spur the reader or listener to learn more about the topic.
Here is an example of the beginning of an informative essay:
As you are listening to me, you might not think that today is the day that you will save a life. It is quite easy to save a life any day and it only takes a little bit of your time. I’m not talking about being a paramedic or fireman; I am talking about donating blood.
Here is an example of a closing:
So that now you know how easy it is to donate blood, it’s time to take action. After all, you have plenty of blood, so why not share? When you do, you will feel good about yourself and you will save a life.
Subjects of Informative Essays
Informative essays, sometimes called expository essays, can be used for many purposes. They can compare viewpoints on a controversial subject as long as they don’t include the author’s opinions. They may analyze data, like in a cause and effect situation, or educate the audience on ways to do something, like solving a certain kind of problem.
- An informative essay might explain the pros and cons of the death penalty, using statistics on crime rate reduction as a pro and statistics on innocent men being found guilty as a con.
- An informative essay might analyze whether lack of education is a cause of homelessness by using statistics and information about the educational attainment of homeless men and women.
- An informative essay might educate the audience on how to open a bank account.
Informative Essay Titles
To help you get a better idea of the different types of informative essays, here are some possible titles for this type of essay:
- Understanding the Link Between Cholesterol and Heart Disease
- How to Buy a House
- Understanding Your Credit Score
- Defining Poverty in the City of Chicago
- The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
- The Importance of Regular Daily Exercise
- The Causes of Global Warming
- Reducing Carbon Emissions with Alternative Fuels
- Cost Savings of Hybrid Vehicles
- Understanding Geothermal Heating and Cooling
- Why Cleaning Your Ducts is Important
- Qualifications of Contractors
- How to Get your Commercial Driver's License
Steps in Creating an Informative Essay
Most of the work on an informative essay is done before you actually sit down to type. Here are the general steps to take:
- After you have chosen the topic, you will need to research and gather all the pertinent details on that subject. You need to ascertain what you already know about the subject and then decide what you would like to know.
- You will need to make a list of the important facts and then list the main steps in your paper. Make sure all your facts are accurate. You will need to write a topic sentence for each fact and write a focus sentence (thesis statement) for the entire essay.
- Create an outline that will organize your facts in a logical way. Then you will be ready to make your first draft.
- Editing is an important step for any writing project. Reading your essay out loud will help you notice places where the writing is awkward or unclear. If possible, have someone else read it and give you their ideas for improvement. Of course, you will need to pay attention for grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and other errors.
An informative essay is the best way to explain something that is complicated...in an uncomplicated way.