October 2009 Archives

Write the "con" side of the same argument that you wrote in P8. 200 words, uploaded to Turnitin.com.

I'm not asking you to change your mind about the topic you chose, but I am asking you to demonstrate your ability to construct a logical argument by presenting the best evidence against the claim that you made in Paragraph 8.

The purpose of this exercise is to give you experience seriously thinking about "the other side" of an argument. If you chose a topic for P8 that is non-obvious and debatable, you will have a much easier time writing P9. When you revise your draft of Paper 3, I will ask everyone to pay extra attention to beefing up the opposing argument. The experience of writing P9 should help you with that revision assignment.

If it turns out that there is not enough evidence to write against your thesis for P8, you may choose a related topic. You might have written your P8 on a thesis like "X is a good thing," which means the most obvious counter-argument would be "X is a bad thing." But if there isn't any credible evidence to support "X is bad," you might say, "Just because X has good qualities A, B, and C does not mean that X is a good solution to problem Y."

For instance, if you wrote "Hitler was evil" for P8, you would have a very hard time finding evidence that would convince a rational person that "Hitler was not evil." However, you might be able to write, "Although Hitler was undeniably evil, his twisted morality was not the sole cause of World War II; at the end of World War I, Europe created the economic and political conditions that led to World War II."

Due Today:

Essay 3 Draft

A draft of a 2-3 page persuasive essay. Upload to Turnitin.com.

Demonstrate your ability to use some combination of the rhetorical triangle (ethos, pathos, and logos) to support a non-obvious claim -- something that a reasonable person might disagree with.

Recall also the strategy we used in class on Tuesday, in which we tried to move from a paper that simply made an observation ("School lunches are an important part of healthy nutriain") to a paper that begins with a non-controversial claim, but proceeds to use that claim in a controversial way. ("Because school lunches are such an important part of healthy nutrition, all students should purchase their meals from the school cafeteria.")

Remember also to avoid simply making claims about the way things should be, or would be if you were in charge of the world.

  • Students should stop bullying each other.
  • Prices at the bookstore should be lower.
  • People should stop judging each other based on their skin color.
It would be very hard to find rational arguments in favor of any of these claims, so these would not be good thesis statements for this paper.

But consider instead, "Teachers who act as if bullying and being bullied are normal parts of growing up, and who decline to get involved when bullying takes place, fail to secure the kind of safe, comfortable learning environment that all children require in order to thrive."  This sentence doesn't come right out and TELL the reader "Bullying is bad" -- instead it makes an ethical and logical argument, equating a teacher's acceptance of bullying with a teacher's failure to teach.


Rather than simply stating beliefs and opinions, back up your claims with specific evidence. Avoid "Some people say..." or "It is usually the case that..."  It's enough to SHOW me one specific incident you witnessed, and draw appropriate conclusions from that incident. (Just because you saw one person do this one thing does not mean that all people do it, but you can at least share what you observed, on this one occasion, when this one thing happened.)

This class does not require any outside research; you are free to choose a topic that you can support with your own personal experience and common sense. However, if you should choose a paper topic that involves statistics, current events, or other specialized knowledge, please see SF Writer, Chapter 27, MLA documentation, for the proper citation method used in basic composition classes.

See also Chapter 18, "Strategies of Argument."

You can think of this as the "pro" side of a pro/con argument. A position would be some debatable claim that you can back up with evidence. As always, 200 words, uploaded to Turnitin.com.

A claim is debatable if a reasonable person would be able to point to credible evidence to back up an opposing (or alternate) position.

As I've frequently stated in class, this assignment is not looking for a bumper-sticker position that involves repeating slogans on ready-made controversies such as abortion, gay marriage, legalization of pot, or unrealistic portrayals of women in the media.

Avoid normative statements. "people should stop stealing" or "the government should lower taxes" are statements about what what you would make happen if you were ruler of the world. But a list of what "should" happen is not the same thing as a list of reasons for a position.

"Teachers should challenge their students." (A normative claim, not an argument.)

"If teachers do not challenge their students in the classroom, then the next generation of graduates will enter the world with the expectation that the surest path to success is to do what is safe and expected of them, rather than pushing themselves to their personal limits." (This states a position, rather than merely asserting what everybody ought to believe if you ran the universe.)

Due Today:

ILP Addendum

Use specific details from your MyCompLab results and exercises, and quote specific passages from your earlier and more recent writing assignments, to support a specific claim about your progress so far.

If you lost points because your ILP Midterm Reflection did not make specific mention to what you learned from MyCompLab, and/or because your reflection did not quote from your own papers to support the claims you made about what you learned, then you have the option of picking up a few extra points by completing this assignment.

Originally the ILP Midterm Reflection was supposed to be out of 80 points, but I've curved the grades by taking the score you earned out of 80 and reporting it as if it were out of 70. Thus, if you got a 60 out of 80, or 75%, I reported it as if you earned a 60 out of 70, which is about 86%.  
This is a new assignment that gives you the opportunity to make up those lost points. This assignment asks you to do the kind of writing you'll need to do on your Final Self-Assessment Essay.  (It's a good idea to practice it now, when the stakes are much lower.)

This is slot 11a in Turnitin.com.

Assigned Text:

SFW 12 c-e: Paragraphs

Assigned Text:

SFW 12a-b: Paragraphs

Since I won't see you until this assignment is due, I thought I'd provide more than the usual information about this paragraph.

What is a misconception?

I have no idea what your favorite flavor of ice cream, but that's not a misconception, because I have a blank in the space where that information should be. It's a misconception if, because one day I bumped into you while you were carrying a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, I wrongly believe it's your favorite flavor. In the example I'm using, we'll say you were holding someone else's ice cream. I had a perfectly good reason for assuming you liked mint chocolate chip, but I didn't have a crucial piece of information that you do have.

I might likewise have a good reason to believe that you like vampire stories, but you wouldn't really correct my misconception if you listed all the things you hate about vampires. When you correct my misconception, you focus on giving an alternate explanation for the evidence that I used to come to my perfectly reasonable -- but ultimately faulty -- conclusion.

Brainstorming exercise.
1) List examples of misconceptions.
2) Choose one, and associate it with a specific source. ("Some people" (as in "some people might say...") is not a specific source. "My cousin Shirley says..." is a specific source.)

My wife believes that sending children out into the cold will give them an infection. My wife would say that I had the misconception that sending a child out without a coat on a chilly day has nothing to do with whether they catch a cold. She would use as evidence in her favor specific memories of a time a child 1) went outside without a coat and 2) caught a cold. I would mention that our children also catch colds during the summer, when they never need to wear a coat, and in the deep winter, when they always wear a coat, and I would point out to her that the incidents of catching a cold aren't strictly related to incidents of going outside on a chilly day without a coat.

Words like "although" and "because" and "nevertheless" -- words that connect chains of thoughts in complex, logical ways.

I'm about to suggest a formula -- and remember, this is just a tool that you can use to make sure you are ready to start writing. Please don't just fill in the blanks and call it a day -- remember everything else you've learned about showing instead of telling, surprising the reader, using powerful verbs, avoiding filler, and going in depth with a small set of carefully-chosen examples, rather than giving a long list of the kinds of things that would "always" happen.

Okay, here's the formula, which is just a tool to help you make sure you are ready to start writing.

A specific, trustworthy, well-meaning source says X because of factors A, B, and C; however, source X is wrong, because D, E, and F.

"Some of my friends" is only barely better than "some people," but you don't necessarily have to say "Sally Smith of 123 Maple Street says...." You can say "A cousin of mine..." or "A guy I met on a bus last week said..."

My point is that I want you to write about a specific expression of the misconception -- some action or speech or writing that you witnessed that SHOWS the misconception in action.

You don't need exactly three reasons. Your paragraph could change that formula, so that you say "X is true because of D, E, and F, even though person Y says X is false because of A, B, and C."

Avoid simplistic, one-sided statements such as "Hitler was evil" or "Water is wet," because there's nothing controversial or complex about those ideas.

Hitler and water may be perfectly fine as TOPICS, if you can find a more nuanced STATEMENT -- the actual claim that you want to make.


I recently spoke with a student who kept referring to her rough drafts as errors. "I did that assignment wrong," she said. "I can never figure out the right way to do it." She was probably thinking of high school in-class essays, where the student's job is to spit back as many facts and vocabulary terms as possible, and where the teacher is willing to give points for almost any sign of cleverness, memory, or a willingness to apply the material to the student's own life. But a rough draft isn't meant to be perfect. The reason the portrait hanging in the art gallery looks so life-like is because the artist made numerous charcoal sketches, trying out and rejecting many different possibilities, before settling on the best pose. Your rough draft is a dry run; it helps you and your teacher see what strengths you can build upon, and what needs more work. Just as a lightening rod keeps the house safe, a good rough draft lets you channel the flow of your teacher's criticism, so you can get that feedback early, while there's still time to learn from it (and revise accordingly).

Note that the paragraph above does not follow the rigid pattern of the formula I suggested, but it should be fairly easy for a reader to fill it in.

To keep this example under 200 words, I had to cut this example:

The reason a summer blockbuster is paced so well, is that the director used a storyboard - a series of rough sketches to illustrate the script, rather like a comic book - in order to predict how much time and money to invest in crafting each scene.

Should I have kept the film example instead? I'm not sure. Now that I look at what I just wrote, I wonder if instead of comparing a teacher's criticism to a lightening strike (which is certainly how it feels sometimes), I should instead try to emphasize the idea that the rough draft is like the key that Ben Franklin sent up on his kite. He wanted that key to be struck by lightening, so that he could attract a bolt and learn from it. In fact, his experiment led him to invent the lightening rod, but I couldn't work that detail into that paragraph without going way over the word count.

So... it seems I've got more to say about the lightening example. Should I expand it, cutting something else to make more room? That's what writing a rough draft is all about -- it gives you the opportunity to decide what you can change, in order to make your good ideas better.

I think my paragraph would be stronger if I cut a few more words, in order to make room for some final statement that brought that specific student back into the story. I could do that by changing the last sentence so that it begins like this:

When I see that student again, I will tell her that, just as a lightening rod protects the house...

Persuasion involves taking a clear position on a controversial subject -- not just a shocking one, but rather something that rational people can and do disagree about. You will presenting your best case for your position, and address good arguments against your position.

This means presenting evidence.

In this class, I do not expect you to cite government studies, or academic articles, or scientific reports. Instead, I ask you to chiefly to refer to your own experience. You will SHOW, but no longer chiefly for the purpose of encouraging me to feel your emotions; instead, you will SHOW in order to tip an uncommitted reader over to your side.

Your task is not to belittle or insult "the other side." If you honestly cannot think of a reason why any rational human being would differ from your opinion, I suggest you choose another topic. You might be too close to this one.

Avoid peppering an invisible opponent with questions you don't plan to answer. Avoid whining. It's very easy to be AGAINST something... it's much more challenging (and more intellectually valuable) to argue FOR something.

Assigned Text:

SFW 11b-d: Rhythm

Due Today:

Essay 2 Reflection

Due Today:

Essay 2 Revision

Assigned Text:

SFW 11a: Style

Due Today:


Describe a change.

It can be personal, political, academic, athletic... any sort of change. Any change has a phase before the change began, while the change was taking place, and after the change is complete -- though you don't need to write one sentence on each, and you might want to begin after the change has taken place, and then flash back to the "before."

Every change takes place over a certain amount of time, but you may wish to rush through the change and focus on the results, or you may wish to emphasize the time span by taking the reader through the chronological steps.

Whatever you choose, remember to focus on one thing, rather than a list. Try to SHOW, not TELL, just as you do for all your other assignments.

Due Today:

Essay 2 Peer Review



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Recent Comments

Dennis G. Jerz on FSA Draft: Amanda, you can find the details on the workshop p
amanda on FSA Draft: what needs to be included in the final self- asses
Dennis G. Jerz on P7: Correct a Misconception: Okay, I've posted more information. If you still h
Ryan Murray on P7: Correct a Misconception: What is the topic of this assignment?
Dennis G. Jerz on Individual Learning Plan: Nathan, look on the day the assignment was actuall
Nathan Bennett on Individual Learning Plan: I can't see anymore of the instructions for this a
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