At the beginning of WR 112, students need to write a formal, argument-driven academic essay on one of the short, anthologized essays that have been assigned. (Consult the sidebar here for notes on the essays currently used in WR 112.) Scaffold the assignment with a series of reading journals, summaries, claim-writing workshops, and other pre-writing assignments as you see fit, and walk students through a process of peer review for their essay. Some instructors prefer to give specific essay prompts for this assignment, while others prefer to leave things more open-ended and allow students to pursue any interesting line of analysis that occurs to them.
to combine and build on your summary and analysis skills; to develop an argument-driven academic essay about a text and support a claim through close analysis of selected passages; to engage in the writing process by planning, drafting, revising, responding to peer and instructor feedback, and editing; to write a coherent, well-structured academic essay of 3-4 pages (750-1,000 words).
- Note that this essay is a 3-4 page argument-driven analysis of a single text we have read together in this class. You may want to meet with me (in office hours or by appointment) and/or a Writing Center ELL tutor sometime between today and the day the final draft is due to discuss your draft of the essay. Please note that you must make your appointment with a tutor in advance (see the syllabus for information on tutors).
- Choose one of the following topics/texts as a starting point. These questions are only a guide; remember that you must create a thesis statement of your own for whichever topic you choose. You are strongly encouraged to submit your thesis statement (claim) and initial ideas to me by email or in office hours before writing your entire first draft. If you would prefer to write on a different text, please discuss with me first.
- As you have read, Cole previously tweeted his thoughts on the subject of the Kony 2012 campaign. Why, then, does he write this essay? You will need to go beyond the mere surface-level answer to this question and closely analyze his argument, point of view, and diction. To what extent is his essay necessary, or can (should) his tweets stand on their own? Why? Begin by identifying what you see as “new” in his essay, and why you think it is significant.
- Analyze Polanki’s essay. What is this essay really about? Consider the key themes of the essay (gender roles, socioeconomics, traditional values, modernization, etc.) and build an argument, walking a reader closely through the essay and showing evidence from multiple points in the text, about what the essay is really about. Do not write a mere summary. You may of course discuss a theme that is not on this list. You will need to consider alternate points of view in order to make this argument effectively.
- Is Gleiser a tribalist, by his own definition? Do not (as for all other essay topics, as well) use outside sources; instead, confine your discussion to the essay at hand. What tribe does Gleiser belong to? How does he demonstrate that through his choice of evidence, use of logic, diction, and argument? How does his own tribal nature lead his essay to be ultimately optimistic, pessimistic, or something in between, and why does it matter?
- Create a topic of your own on another text we have read. You must see me in office hours or by appointment to discuss your topic if you choose this option.
- Develop an arguable claim for your essay, and construct a coherent, clearly-written paper making an argument for your claim, using everything you know about effective paragraphing; reasons, evidence, and counter-arguments (acknowledgment and response); quotation, analysis, and explication of the text; academic diction; and MLA-style citation.
- Ensure that your paper has an effective academic title; a three-part introduction identifying the text (title and author) and offering common ground to readers, complicating that common ground with a problem statement or question, and claiming something that a reasonable reader of the text might potentially disagree with; strong body paragraphs with topic sentences and well-introduced quotations; a concluding paragraph that answers the “so what?” question; and clear and correct sentences.
Notes on Writing Effective Claims
- A claim is a generalization–an assertion about the text–requiring proof or further development. It combines topic with point of view. The claim presents the controlling idea of the paper. An effective claim is sharply focused and limited enough to be covered in the prescribed length of the essay. A claim must also answer the question: So what? Why/how does this issue matter to readers?
- So…what does it mean to make an argument about a text? Arguing about a text involves interpreting the text and defending the interpretation as reasonable. The goal of such an argument is to clearly explain a point of view (our thesis) about the text to convince readers that this point of view is valid based on evidence within the text. The kinds of arguments we will be making about texts do not involve research, nor are they opportunities to vent personal beliefs about a topic. Rather, they involve reading closely and exploring multiple ways of understanding how a text works. In formulating an argument, we make a claim about the text, a claim that attempts to explain how a particular element of the text functions within the text. We are seeking insights into how the text works, how a particular element contributes to (or possibly detracts from) its meaning.
- Therefore, an effective claim should be…
- 1-2 sentences long at the end of your introduction paragraph
- Debatable (your claim should not merely be a statement of fact or summary: you need to take a position on the text under analysis in your paper)
- Interesting (focus on the most interesting elements of the text/topic that you’re analyzing)
- Clear and specific, using direct language and presenting reasons for your position
- Try to avoid the following types of claims:
- The “discussion” thesis or “announcement” thesis
PROBLEM: The purpose of this essay is to discuss Roberts’s analysis of the evolution of English. (OR: In this essay, I will discuss Roberts’s analysis of the evolution of English and his use of history and examples.)
SOLUTION–Improve the thesis by taking a position: Roberts’s analysis of the evolution of English is a clear and objective historical account.
- The grandiose generalization
PROBLEM: Douglass’s narrative is the most powerful account of a slave’s quest for education that I have ever read.
SOLUTION–Avoid the value judgment, narrow the focus, and stick to points that can be proven: Douglass’ courage and inventiveness in attaining education make his experiences unusual during slavery times.
- The vague thesis
PROBLEM: Douglass has a different view on the role of education.
SOLUTION–Get specific: Douglass presents a compelling view of education through his use of personal narrative and emotional appeal.
- The “discussion” thesis or “announcement” thesis
Notes on Planning Your Argument: Claim, Reasons, Evidence
- Introduction: Since your paper is not long, you will only want to have a few sentences of very strategic background. This background should be primarily taken from the essay to which you are responding. You will then interrupt the “status quo” established by this essay by drawing attention to a tension that can lead directly to the central claim of your paper.
- Claim: Your claim must be arguable–you must be able to imagine a counterargument. This opposing stance does not have to be the exact inversion of your claim and it does not have to be as convincing an argument as you believe your argument to be–but it has to be possible. Your claim needs to respond to a specific aspect of the other essay’s argument and either:
- Agree but incorporate pertinent new evidence in order to expand the writer’s ideas
- Disagree and clearly explain why
- Agree and disagree in specific ways or reframe the central question / debate
- Reasons: You don’t necessarily need to list out your main reasons as part of your claim, but each of your body paragraphs should be clearly focused on a specific reason that supports your claim.
- Evidence: You will support and explain the central focus of each paragraph with evidence. Although in any situation you will be responding to your chosen essay and providing evidence, depending on the specific structure of your claim, your paragraphs will take different forms. If you are agreeing with the essay writer’s stance and adding new examples, your body paragraphs will mostly consist of these examples and your analysis of them. If you are disagreeing, you will quote more specific points from the essay and acknowledge and respond to those points. If you are both agreeing and disagreeing, you will also likely quote quite a bit from the essay to which you are responding.
Download a printable copy of these notes on claims and arguments here.