5 Steps to a 5: Writing the AP English Essay (2016)
Step 2. Determine Your Readiness
Chapter 4. Review the Basics of Rhetorical Construction
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: Become aware of the numerous rhetorical strategies available, including argument and synthesis
Understand the function of each of the major rhetorical strategies
Practice with each of the major rhetorical strategies
Check your work with each of the strategies
“Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.”
The second section of this book is like the stretching and aerobic exercises you do before you get down to the nitty-gritty fitness routine of building strength and flexibility and sculpting your muscles. So far you’ve been introduced to the first set of writing exercises in our training program: recognizing the four modes of discourse and writing examples of these (exposition, narration, description, and argument). Now, it’s time to become familiar with the next set of writing aerobics.
This second set of exercises will develop and strengthen your knowledge of rhetorical strategies.
Keep in mind that your familiarity with the professional terminology used in the course will contribute to your strength and flexibility when analyzing texts and writing about them.
The first term you must become comfortable with is rhetorical strategy. Simply, rhetoric is the method a writer or speaker uses to communicate ideas to an audience. And, you know what a strategy is; it’s a plan or a course of action taken to reach a goal. Therefore, a rhetorical strategy is the specific approach or approaches a writer employs to achieve an intended purpose. Before going any further, it’s important to understand what purpose is. Purpose is the reason why you or any other person chooses to communicate with an audience—the goal, the intended effect.
The basic purposes are:
• To inform
• To entertain
• To question
• To argue
• To elicit an emotional response
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Shakespeare, Strindberg, Steinbeck, or Sally Student; every author has a desire to explain, narrate, describe, or argue a specific topic. HOW the writer accomplishes this is called a rhetorical strategy.
Rhetorical strategies include:
• Process analysis
It doesn’t matter how long or short the piece of writing is, an author will use one or more of these strategies to develop an overall purpose. One of the writer’s first considerations MUST be the audience. For example, if a mathematician wanted to explain a mathematical principle to a general audience, the speaker or writer might contrast and compare several familiar objects or phenomena and narrate a personal story to illustrate the principle. However, if addressing a mathematics symposium, the speaker might choose to use process and analysis. It’s all a matter of choice and knowing who the audience is.
In this chapter we work with the personal essay form and prewriting activities using the rhetorical strategies in writing personal essays. If you can perform these exercises well, you can duplicate the process in formal, academic essays. In addition, you will be more easily able to handle essay assignments that ask you to analyze a given text.
The most frequently used rhetorical strategy is exemplification/example. Whatever the subject, course, level of sophistication, or audience, examples are of utmost importance.
The fundamental ways a writer can illustrate, support, and clarify ideas include referring to a:
• typical event
Here are two very brief excerpts from longer works that illustrate the use of examples.
Even very inconsistent discipline may fit a child to live in an inconsistent world. A Balinese mother would play on her child’s fright by shouting warnings against nonexistent dangers: “Look out! Fire! . . . Snake! . . . Tiger!” The Balinese system required people to avoid strange places without inquiring why.
—Margaret Mead, A Way of Seeing
The subject of this piece is obviously discipline, and Ms. Mead uses the example of a Balinese mother to illustrate how Balinese children are trained to avoid danger.
The new bread-and-circuses approach to mall building was ventured in 1985 by the four Ghermezian brothers . . . builders of Canada’s $750 million West Edmonton Mall, which included a water slide, an artificial lake, a miniature-golf course, a hockey rink, and 47 rides in an amusement park known as Fantasyland.
—David Guterson, “Enclosed. Encyclopedic. Endured. The Mall of America,” Harper’s Magazine
Mr. Guterson’s subject is a particular type of mall—the “bread and circus mall.” He chooses to exemplify what this type of mall is with the West Edmonton Mall.
Our first exercise is a practice in recognizing the use of examples when you see it. It’s easy AND quick. For our purposes, here, we are only going to concentrate on an excerpt. Just take your favorite magazine or newspaper and read what you ordinarily read in this periodical, and choose ONE of the articles to work with.
• The subject of the article is __________________________________________.
• The purpose of the article is __________________________________________.
• The audience for this article is __________________________________________.
• I’ve chosen to work with paragraph __________, and this paragraph uses (#) __________ examples.
Repeat this exercise with other readings until you feel familiar and comfortable with the task of recognizing examples when you see them. Also, be aware of the use of examples in your classroom texts. Remember that checking with a peer can be helpful to both of you.
This next exercise will work with your ability and flexibility to choose a subject and appropriate examples to illustrate it. Keep in mind that the only way a writer can honestly work with an idea is to choose something that is personally familiar or important. For example, suppose a writer chose the subject “my personal writing idiosyncrasies,” with the purpose of illustrating these quirks to a general audience. What could be some examples of personal idiosyncrasies? How about biting nails, playing with hair, tapping a pen, scratching the head, crossing and uncrossing legs, saying “okay” at the ends of sentences, brushing back hair, humming while writing, doodling using only circles . . . You get the idea.
Okay, it’s time for you to cite your examples.
• My subject is __________________________________________________________________.
• My purpose is __________________________________________________________________
• My audience is __________________________________________________________________.
• Possible examples of the subject are __________________________________________
Easy, right? The next step is to choose which of the examples would best illustrate and support the subject and purpose.
At this time, we would like to introduce you to “our writer” who will be authoring the writing samples we use throughout Chapters 3 and 4. He will be following the text and will complete the exercises just as you will. You will be able to read his responses and our comments on his writing.
So, our writer decides to use tapping a pen, brushing back hair, humming while writing, and doodling using only circles.
You already have your subject, purpose, audience, and possible examples in mind; now you need to choose which of these examples will BEST serve your subject/purpose. Most college level or AP essays are about 500 to 800 words long. You can’t cover everything in an essay of this length. So, you have to choose to work with a limited number of examples. Remember, our writer chose four. Go back to your list of possibles. Given the limits of this personal essay, which examples would you choose that would BEST support and illustrate your subject and purpose?
Good, you’ve chosen your examples. Now, you need to make some decisions about organization.
This is your next exercise. How will you present your examples to your audience? You can choose from among the following organizational patterns:
spatial (where it fits within a physical area)
chronological (time sequence, from first to last)
most important to least important
the one I want to emphasize first
the one I want to emphasize last
least important to most important
Because our writer’s purpose is to show the reader the quirky movements he goes through during the process of beginning to write, the choice is chronological order: brushing back hair, tapping the pen, doodling using circles, and finally humming while writing. Now, it’s your turn.
• I’m going to use the following organizational pattern: ________________________________
• In the order they will be used, my examples are: ______________________________________
You’re beginning to work up some writing steam now. Stay with it. Having chosen the organizational pattern and the examples that fit it, the writer is ready to construct the thesis statement. Let’s review. We’ve decided on a subject, purpose, audience, appropriate examples, and their organization. How does the writer let the reader know all of this in a single sentence? The writer creates a thesis statement or assertion.
Not wishing to give away all of the examples at once, our writer composes the following thesis statement: Before actually putting pen to paper, I perform a peculiar prewriting ritual. This sentence does its job. We know the subject—quirky prewriting activity. We are aware of the purpose—illustrate the ritual. We don’t know the specific examples that the writer will develop, but we are expecting some, and we are expecting these examples to be in chronological order because of the use of the word Before.
Following this demonstration, you should be able to construct a thesis statement that lets your chosen audience know the subject, sense the purpose, and recognize the organization of your examples.
• Here’s my thesis: _____________________________________________________________
Does this statement clearly indicate the subject/topic? _____yes _____no
Does this statement give the reader a clear idea of the purpose? _____yes _____no
Does this statement indicate the actual examples that will be developed? _____yes _____no
Does this statement hint at the examples that will be used? _____yes _____no
Does this statement give the reader an idea of the organization? _____yes _____no
With the answers to each of these questions in mind, you may want to revise your thesis statement.
• Here is my revised thesis: _________________________________________________________
If you were to read the complete essay based on our writer’s thesis, you would be asking yourself how well the writer performs each of the above exercises, and you would also need to ask yourself the following:
• Do the examples adequately support the thesis?
• Are the examples representative of indicated categories?
• Are the examples relevant to the purpose?
It doesn’t matter for which class or for which topic, if the requirement is to use examples to develop a subject, you can use these exercises in developing your presentation. If you can easily perform these exercises for brief texts, you can easily perform them for longer texts.
Another rhetorical strategy available to you is contrast/comparison (c/c). Next to exemplification, contrast/comparison is the most widely used method of development for essays in the academic world. As an AP English student, you’re already very familiar with comparison and contrast. Contrast is interested in the differences, and comparison is interested in the similarities. It’s rather important to know that the term comparison is often used alone when referring to both types of analysis. (Yes, it is also analysis because you are taking something apart.) Here are three brief excerpts that illustrate contrast/comparison.
If there ever were two cultures in which differences of the [uses of space] are marked, it is in the educated (public school) English and the middle-class Americans. One of the basic reasons for this wide disparity is that in the United States, we use space as a way of classifying people and activities; whereas, in England, it is the social system that determines who you are.
—Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension
Mr. Hall’s subject is the use of space, and, in this instance, he chooses to contrast different strata of English and American culture.
Different as [Grant and Lee] were—in background, in personality, in underlying aspiration—these two great soldiers had much in common. Under everything else, they were marvelous fighters. Furthermore, their fighting qualities were really very much alike.
—Bruce Catton, “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” The American Story
The subject for Mr. Catton is Grant and Lee. In this excerpt, he concentrates on the similarities between the two fighters.
Young men, in the conduct and manage of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few examples which they have chanced upon absurdity; care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniences; use extreme remedies at first; and, that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them; like an unready horse that will neither stop nor turn. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.
—Francis Bacon, “Of Youth and Age”
The subject of Bacon’s presentation is most probably youth and age, and in this excerpt the basis of comparison is the actions of young and older men with regard to success in business.
Our first contrast/comparison (c/c) exercise will involve your recognizing contrast/comparison when you see it. As with examples, this activity is quick and easy. Again, using your favorite periodical or newspaper, locate an article that seems to use c/c. Choose an excerpt from this article to work with.
• The subject of the article is ______________________________.
• The basis for comparison is ______________________________.
• The purpose of the article is ______________________________.
• The audience for this article is _______________________________.
• I’ve chosen to work with paragraph ___________________________.
• There are (#) ____________ items being ____________ compared __________contrasted ____________ compared & contrasted.
• These items are _______________________________________.
Repeat this exercise with other readings until you feel familiar and comfortable with the task of recognizing contrast/comparison when you see it.
A clear comparison depends not only on choosing two things that can be compared, and being aware of your purpose and audience, but also on a balanced organization. There are THREE primary ways to organize a c/c presentation: subject-by-subject, point-by-point, and the combination approach.
The subject-by-subject pattern presents the details about the first item and then the details about the second. For example, our writer wants to compare two film directors. The areas to consider might include subject matter, cinematography, handling of actors, or handling of script. The subject-by-subject method presents all of the points about the first director and then all of the points about the second. An example might look like this:
I. First Director
A. Subject matter
C. Handling of actors
D. Handling of scripts
II. Second Director
A. Subject matter
C. Handling of actors
D. Handling of scripts
On the other hand, organizing the presentation point-by-point, the writer discusses one point at a time, going back and forth between the two. The outline might look like the following example:
I. Subject Matter
A. First director
B. Second director
A. First director
B. Second director
III. Handling of Actors
A. First Director
B. Second director
IV. Handling of Scripts
A. First director
B. Second director
In longer texts, a writer may choose to employ a combination of these two approaches. But, it is rare to see this method of presentation in shorter pieces of writing.
No matter which organizational pattern you choose, make certain that you follow it throughout your essay.
This exercise will further develop your ability and flexibility to choose a subject for comparison, the areas to be compared, and the organization of the presentation. Remember to choose a subject that is familiar to you and of interest. You’ve seen what our writer has done; now it’s your turn to practice this exercise.
• I would like to compare _______________ to _______________.
• My purpose is to ____________________________________.
• My audience is ______________________________________.
• The basis for comparison is ______________________________.
• The points I could include are ______________________________
Before planning the organization, make certain to choose points that are relevant to both items being compared. Circle those points that you have decided BEST suit your subject, basis for comparison, and purpose.
• I have decided to use the_____subject-by-subject_____point-by-point approach.
• Below is a brief outline.
Don’t work in a vacuum. Share your ideas with one or more of your AP classmates. Share them with your AP instructor. The more input you can gather the better. The more practice you can fit in the better.
Our writer chooses to employ the subject-by-subject method, and the resulting thesis statement is: Sam Peckinpah and Ingmar Bergman are two film directors with completely different styles. This thesis is on target. We know the subject—Sam Peckinpah and Ingmar Bergman. We know the basis for comparison—styles of directing. We are aware of the purpose—to compare the two directors. We don’t know the specific organizational pattern at this time, but we could conclude that it will be subject-by-subject based on the way the sentence is worded.
Using this sample as a starting point, you should be able to construct a thesis statement that will let your reader know the subject, basis for comparison and the general purpose.
• Here is my thesis: _____________________________________
Does this thesis clearly indicate the subject for comparison? _____yes _____no
Does this statement indicate the basis for comparison? _____yes _____no
Does the statement give a general idea as to purpose? _____yes _____no
Does the statement give a hint of the organization? _____yes _____no
With the answers to each of these questions in mind, you may wish to revise your thesis.
• I’ve decided to revise my original thesis. Here is the revision:
If you were to read the complete c/c essay based on our writer’s thesis, you would be asking yourself how well the writer performs each of the above exercises, and you would also need to ask yourself the following:
• Are the points for each subject developed adequately?
• Are the points relevant to the purpose and thesis?
• Is each of the body paragraphs balanced, using the pattern established in the first body paragraph?
Here’s an exercise that may even prove to be helpful as you make decisions about which colleges you want to attend.
1. List those qualities you think are important in a college or university.
2. List the colleges that interest you.
3. Set up an organizational outline or chart just as you did in the last exercise.
You could choose to set up your comparison using college-by-college or quality-by-quality. Not only will you get further practice with the basics of contrast/comparison, but you will also be performing needed investigations to make an informed decision about your choice of a college or university.
Cause and Effect
You know about cause and effect. If you exercise your body every day, you will grow stronger and more flexible. If you perform the writing exercise diligently, your writing will become more clear, more mature, and more confident. That’s cause and effect (c/e). As a result of A, B occurs. This linkage of events occurs along a timeline. Whether you’re trying to figure out why your car is guzzling gas, the causes of road rage, the result of using hair spray as an insect repellent, the influence of one novelist on another, you are involved with cause and effect.
Below are a few brief excerpts that make use of cause and effect. When considering causes, keep the following in mind. There are
• primary causes,
• contributing causes,
• immediate causes,
• remote causes.
For example, if someone were to ask you why you’re applying to college, you could respond in any number of ways:
My parents are forcing me to apply. (immediate)
My grandmother went to college. (remote)
I want to have a successful career in ichthyology. (primary)
I like the sound of “college graduate.” (contributing)
The same situation holds true for effects or consequences of actions. There are primary and secondary effects as well as immediate and remote.
My parents will be happy. (immediate)
My kids will go to college. (remote)
I will be the head of a new Marine World. (primary)
People will respect me. (contributing)
Below are three brief excerpts which make use of cause and effect.
Some of this shift away from words—toward images—can be attributed to our ever-growing multilingual population. But for many people, reading is passé or impractical or, like, so totally unnecessary in this day and age.
—Linton Weeks, “The No-Book Report: Skim It and Weep,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2001
The subject of this passage is reading, and Mr. Weeks is interested in at least two reasons why the population is reading less.
Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, “I can take it no longer.” Mrs. Park’s refusal to move back was her intrepid affirmation that she had had enough.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s subject here is Mrs. Parks and the reasons she refused to move to the back of the bus. While we are not told in this selection the immediate cause of her refusal, we are certainly hearing Reverend King’s belief as to the primary cause.
In Ireland, as food historian Reay Tannahill describes it, ‘the potato famine meant more than food scarcity.’ It meant no seed potatoes from which to grow next year’s crop. It meant that the pig or cow which would normally have been sold to pay the rent had to be slaughtered, because there was nothing to fatten it on.
—Mary Talbot, “The Potato: How It Shaped the World,” Newsweek, October 12, 1991
In these sentences, Ms. Talbot’s subject is the Irish potato famine and, not only its primary result, but also its secondary effects.
As we have been doing, this exercise will build your strength in recognizing the use of cause and effect when you see it. Take the periodical you read most often and find an ad that really captures your attention and probably makes use of cause and effect. (Just a hint—almost every ad in existence uses c/e.)
• The subject of the ad is ______________________________.
• The purpose of the ad is _______________________________.
• The audience for this ad is ______________________________.
• The ad is more interested in ____________ cause(s) ____________ effects(s)
• From what I can deduce, the cause(s) in this ad is/are __________________________________
(Place a P above a primary cause, a C above contributing causes, I for immediate, and R for remote.)
• The ad indicates the following effect(s): _____________________________________________
(Place a P above a primary effect, an S for secondary, an I for immediate, and an R for remote.)
We recommend that you also do this exercise using your own textbooks, especially in the sciences and history. You’ll find that they are chock full of examples of cause and effect. This should provide you with myriad possibilities to practice, practice, practice, both alone and with your peers.
Okay, so you can easily recognize cause and effect when you see it. But, can you, as a writer, choose a subject and determine how you are going to examine cause and effect in relation to it? Well, work through this next exercise, and you’ll no doubt find it easier to do this choosing and deciding.
For example, our writer has chosen a subject—vegetarianism—and has decided to inform the reader about the effects that becoming a vegetarian has had on his life. Given this subject, purpose, and audience, the best course of action would be to emphasize effect. The question remains whether to choose one effect or several. To start the process, our writer lists all those effects which immediately come to mind: old friends and family think I’m weird; I become very good friends with my neighborhood greengrocer; I feel better; I have less guilt about food; I save money; I sleep better; I no longer fear being a vegetarian; I make new friends; I lose weight; I create my own vegetarian Web site; I add new shelves of vegetarian cookbooks to my library; my refrigerator looks like a large green salad. . . . Need we go on?
Knowing that a decision has to be made, our writer spends some time thinking about the list of consequences. “Do I want to concentrate only on the primary effect? Do I want to develop the primary, plus the secondary? Or, do I want to consider the immediate effect and forget about the remote ones?” The choice is made! Our writer will concentrate on just one effect—the response of his friends and family. This will entail both immediate as well as remote consequences. And, our writer is aware not to settle for one cause or effect when there could be more
Now you try it. We’ll give you the subject this time. Your subject is the popularity of a TV show, movie, rock star, book. (Choose one.)
• My specific subject is __________________________.
• My audience is _______________________________.
• My purpose is ______________________________.
I’m going to emphasize ____________ cause, ____________ effect, ____________ causes, ____________ effects.
• I believe I’ll use one or more of the following in relation to what I decided to emphasize:
Don’t write that thesis statement just yet. You still need to make some decisions about your organization. Do you want to present your ideas in chronological order, from most to least important, or vice versa? Our writer has decided to use chronological order. What arrangement will you use to organize your ideas?
_____ chronological ____________ most to least important ____________ least to most important
It’s now time to write that thesis statement. Our writer thinks, doodles for a while, scribbles a bit, writes a first draft, thinks, and finally writes the following revised thesis: My family and friends no longer see me as the potential Himalayan hermit they first imagined when they became aware that I had become a vegetarian. Notice the indicators of chronology: no longer, first imagine, when. Notice also that this sentence gives the reader fair warning that what follows is going to center on the effect on family and friends.
Okay. You have all of the needed information about your own subject in front of you. Your job is to compose your own thesis statement for a cause and effect presentation.
• My initial thesis is ______________________________________________________________
• Does this thesis statement clearly indicate the subject? _____yes _____no
• Does this statement make it clear to the reader that this is a cause and effect presentation? _____yes _____no
• Does the statement give the reader a general idea as to purpose? _____yes _____no
• Does the statement give the reader an idea as to what the emphasis will be? _____yes _____no
• Does the statement give an indication what the organization will be? _____yes _____no
With these answers in hand, you may want to revise your original thesis statement.
• Here’s my revised thesis: ________________________________________________________
If you were to read a complete cause and effect essay based on our writer’s thesis, as in any analysis of a text, you would ask yourself how and how well the author performs the tasks you have been practicing. You would also need to ask yourself the following.
• Have the causes and effects been clearly connected to the subject?
• Given the subject and purpose, are there any obvious or needed causes or effects that are missing?
• Is the organization appropriate for the subject and purpose?
Classification and Division
Classification and division are true work horses of rhetorical strategies. You can find yourself using classification and division for almost any purpose and for almost any subject. Basically, classification is the process of grouping items together that share important characteristics. Classification goes from specific to general, from small groups or examples to larger, more general categories. Division goes from the whole (general) to the parts (specific categories, groups, examples). It may be easier to visualize the difference between the two if we take a look at a football team. If I wanted to discuss the types of football teams, I would be dealing with classification. However, if I wanted to examine the organization of a football team or who is on the team, I would be using division.
Here are two brief excerpts that use classification and/or division.
Aaron takes me only to art films. That’s what I call them, anyway: strange movies with vague poetic images I don’t always understand, long dreamy movies about a distant Technicolor past, even longer black-and-white movies about the general meaninglessness of life. . . . Pete takes me only to movies that he thinks have redeeming social value.
—Susan Allen Toth, “Cinematypes,” Harper’s Magazine, 1980
Here is a rather interesting passage. Although the subject of the entire essay might very well be this writer’s two friends and informing the reader how she relates to each, this particular section is about the types of movies the two friends like: art movies and movies with “redeeming social value.” And, even though most instructors will advise you to choose a classification principle that has more than two categories associated with it, in this instance, Ms. Toth is referring to only two. Each of these will probably have subclasses.
I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language—the way it can evoke emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth. Language is the tool of my trade. And I use them all—all the Englishes I grew up with.
—Amy Tan, “Mother Tongue,” Threepenny Review, 1990
It’s quite obvious from this very short bit of text that Ms Tan’s subject is language, her purpose is to inform, and her classification is going to revolve around several types of English.
Now, you try it. Following our routine, the first classification exercise will provide you with practice recognizing classification when you see it. Take a close look at your history and science textbooks. We guarantee that you will find examples of classification in these books. Because you’re using a textbook, the purpose is obviously to inform a student audience.
• I chose to look in the following textbook: ___________________________.
• I located one, and its subject is __________________________________.
• The basis for the classification (classification principle) is ___________________
• There are_________________ groups within this classification principle.
Don’t stop with just one sample; try many, and get your AP classmates to do some with you. They’re easy to find and will give you and your peers valuable practice.
Not only do you need to be aware of the above guidelines, but you must also be certain that your groupings are:
Uniform—This is the principle on which the groups are created. It’s the umbrella under which all of your categories fit.
Consistent—All the categories truly fit into the principle you’ve created.
Exclusive—No category overlaps another.
Complete—All of the examples you’re including in your presentation are grouped into the appropriate category based on your purpose
As an example, suppose our writer decides to compose a humorous essay that classifies certain types of dogs.
The basis for the classification will be how dogs view themselves in relation to their owners.
The categories will be: (1) those who see themselves as king or queen, (2) those who see their owners as king or queen, and (3) those who see themselves as court jesters.
We may have a problem with number 3. Is it possible that 3 overlaps with 2? Yes. Our writer realizes that a court jester is under the control of the king or queen. So, it will be a subclass of 2.
Try this easy one yourself. Consider your friends as the subject for a classification essay.
• My subject is “my friends.”
• My purpose is _________________________________________.
• My audience is _________________________________________.
• My classification principle is _________________________________.
• My categories are: _______________________________________.
I’ve checked to see that all the categories fit into my principle of classification. ______yes ______no
I’ve made certain no category overlaps with any other. yes no
The next step in prewriting the classification essay is to consider the organization and the details. Think about how to present the material. Based on purpose and audience, decide among chronological, logical (how the groups relate to each other and to the classification principle), least to most important, or vice versa. That done, choose which details will BEST support the thesis and purpose.
With this information in mind, our writer chooses the logical approach for organizing his material and decides that the details will all revolve around relationships—dog to owner and owner to dog. Our writer creates this thesis statement: Anyone who has ever owned or been owned by a dog is familiar with the two basic categories of man’s best friend: dogs who believe they are kings and dogs who believe their owners are kings. The juxtaposition of dog, ownership, and king places the subject and principle of classification into a humorous vein for a general audience. Rightfully, the reader will be expecting the writer to provide subgroups and appropriate examples within each subgroup.
You’re next. Go back to your prewriting notes above. Consider that information, plus the need to decide on an organizational pattern and appropriate details.
• I’ve decided to use the following as my organizational pattern ____________ chronological ____________ logical ____________ least to most important
• I chose this organizational pattern because ________________________________________
• Some of the appropriate subgroups I should include are: _______________________________
• This is the first draft of my thesis statement: _________________________________________
Carefully read your thesis and ask yourself if the purpose is clear, if the subject and principle of classification are given, as well as an indication of the organization and possible subgroups. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself whether or not the first draft of your thesis statement needs to be revised. If it does, rewrite below.
• This is my revised thesis: ________________________________________________________
If you were to take a careful look at the work you’ve just done in the last section of this chapter, you could not help but notice that we provide you with instructions about how to do the prewriting work for the classification/division essay. This is a demonstration of a process that just happens to be the next rhetorical strategy we will develop. Process analysis is the method of describing how to perform a task or explaining how something works by breaking it down into the chronologically ordered steps that lead to the goal. We use this strategy quite often, from telling someone how to set the VCR, to cookbook instructions on baking a cake; from telling your friend how to get a particular teacher to allow him to hand in a paper late, to explaining to your parents why you did not do well on a math exam. You might have noticed that there may be two types of process analysis, and you would be right. Each serves a specific purpose.
Process analysis that is directive provides step-by-step instructions.
Process analysis that is informative explains how something works or is done.
Take a look at the following excerpts that use process analysis.
If you don’t know where to begin [the letter], start with the present moment: I’m sitting at the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday morning. Everyone is gone and the house is quiet. Let your simple description of the present moment lead to something else, let the letter drift gently along.
—Garrison Keillor, We Are Still Married
Mr. Keillor’s subject is how to write a letter. From this brief excerpt, it seems the process analysis will be directive because the author is beginning to give the chronologically ordered steps for writing a letter.
In personal situations, complaints may come the way of vague statements. . . . While there may be more serious relationship issues at hand, there is a specific way to help the situation. What you want to do is to have him get as specific as possible about what is bothering him.
—David Lieberman, Get Anyone to Do Anything:
Never Feel Powerless Again–With Psychological Secrets to Control and Influence Every Situation
Even the title of this author’s book gives a clear indication that we are dealing with process. Notice that the writer uses the phrase “there is a specific way.” This is a clue that this part of the text is using a directive process analysis. And, from other wording in this selection, informative analysis is also possible.
It’s time for you to try recognizing process analysis. As we’ve said before, you can find examples of this strategy almost anywhere. Why not use your textbooks, especially in such “lab courses” as biology, chemistry, or physics. That’s easy pickin’s. For more sophisticated practice, try locating examples in the magazines and periodicals you read. For every example you can pinpoint, determine the following:
• The text I found this example of process analysis in is _____________________
• The subject is __________________________________________.
• The audience is _________________________________________.
• The purpose is (What is the reader supposed to do with this information?): ___________
• The process analysis is primarily ____________ directive ____________ informative.
Our now famous writer is in a sarcastic mood and has decided to write a process essay about drivers’ tests. Because this will be for a general audience, and because the writer wants to be a bit humorous, the specific subject will be how NOT to pass a driver’s test. Going for humor, our author will use a directive approach.
You’re up! Think about important events in your life: holidays, birthdays, other celebrations. What processes are involved? Think about activities in your life, those you like and those you dislike: dining with your parents’ friends, meeting with your date’s parents, dealing with an angry teacher, enjoying a baseball game, eating pizza, and so on.
• My subject is __________________________________________.
• My audience is __________________________________________.
• My purpose is __________________________________________.
• My approach will be ____________ directive_____informative.
Whether it’s directive or informative, the process analysis should be in sequential (chronological) order. Aside from sequence, you also need to consider how much information your reader already has. This will determine how much or how little detail to provide. For example, if we’re writing about maintaining Harley–Davidsons, the type and amount of information we need to give an audience of motorcycle enthusiasts is quite different from the details needed for nonenthusiasts. (This would also strongly influence the purpose and choice of process analysis.)
Our writer knows that his audience is one that has experience as drivers; therefore, they have a good idea what a driver’s test is like. He decides to use the following steps in sequence.
1. Be on time.
2. Be familiar with your test car.
3. Greet your inspector.
4. Listen to the instructor at all times.
5. Keep your eyes on the road.
6. Keep your hands on the wheel.
7. Precisely follow the inspector’s instructions.
8. Say a prayer of thanks when you finish.
Step right up! You know your subject, audience, and purpose. Now, consider how much your readers already know about your subject. This should give you an idea about the type of information and how much added detail you must provide.
• The steps in the order I would like to use them are:
You don’t have to use all eight steps; in fact, you might very well use fewer or even more. This is all dependent on your purpose, audience, and length of presentation.
Once this is completed, it’s time to write the thesis statement for the process analysis. Our writer has thought about all of the prewriting activities so far and has written the following thesis: Having been through the trials, tribulations, and pitfalls of this American rite of passage, I believe I’m wise enough to advise prospective highway jockeys how NOT to pass their driver’s test. Drivers’ tests, a humorous purpose, a general audience, and a directive process analysis are all indicated in this sentence.
You can do this. Using the information from the prewriting you’ve already developed, try your hand at composing the thesis statement for your process analysis essay.
• Here’s the first draft of my thesis: __________________________________________________
As you have done with the previous strategies, carefully reread your thesis and complete each of the following:
My subject is clearly indicated._____yes_____no
It’s easy to see what my purpose is._____yes_____no
It is obvious that the process analysis will be directive or informative._____yes_____no
This thesis statement gives the reader a clear idea that what follows will be a process analysis essay._____yes_____no
Once you’ve answered these brief questions, you can easily see whether or not your first draft needs revision.
• Here’s the second draft of my thesis statement. _______________________________________
Remember to practice often and with your classmates. Feedback from others taking the AP English course can be of great help in honing your skills.
Now that you are up to speed with the all of the rhetorical strategies we’ve had you working with, you’re ready to refine your skills with the strategy of definition. Basically, a definition is the meaning of a word. However, you know and we know that it’s not this simple. For example, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve said to someone, “I don’t know whatyou mean.” And, we all know that the person who defines the word for us can choose to be denotative/objective, acting like a dictionary, or connotative/subjective, giving you her personal meaning and relationship with the word. So, if I asked you what the word educated means, you could provide a definition as if you were Webster’s Dictionary (denotative/objective), or you could define it the way you personally see and relate to it (connotative/subjective).
Here are two excerpts by writers who are making use of definition.
Being a hippie is not about putting a flower in your hair and dancing around in your bare feet. Being a hippie means approaching life’s obstacles in a way that promotes freedom, peace, love, and respect for our earth and all of mankind.
—Katherine Marie DiFillippo, “Love or Haight,” Making Sense, A New Rhetorical Reader
Based on these two sentences, it is obvious that Ms. DiFillippo’s subject is the definition of the word hippie. It is also quite clear that she is developing a connotative/subjective definition of the term.
. . . in a very real sense, crime is a legal concept: what makes some conduct criminal, and other conduct not, is the fact that some, but not others, are “against the law.”
Crimes, then, are forbidden acts. But they are forbidden in a special way.
—Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History
This excerpt from Mr. Friedman’s book clearly indicates the subject to be the meaning of the concept crime. At this point, it seems that the definition is denotative/objective.
If you take a close look at textbooks, you will find many, many examples of definition. However, the real challenge is finding examples of definition used in TV commercials and in the ads in the regular reading you do of magazines and periodicals.
Here’s a good idea. Collect examples of the various rhetorical strategies that you locate in your own reading. Identify each and underline key words or phrases that support your identification. You could also do this with ads you find in magazines. Place all of these excerpts in an envelope that you tape inside the back cover of this book. It will prove to be a marvelous review tool for you.
The objective and subjective distinctions aren’t the only things you need to be aware of when dealing with definition. You must consider the following.
Purpose (Do you want to inform or to argue a point?)
Audience (What do your readers know about this subject?)
Tone (Do you want to be serious, humorous, or a combination of the two?)
Developing the definition (Have you used one or more of the following?)
Classification or division
Cause and effect
Let’s assume that you have made all of the necessary decisions reviewed above. Where do you go from here? The first thing you must do is to construct a brief definition that states the word or concept, the class or group to which it belongs, and how it is different from all others in that category.
Therefore, the definition is: An SUV is a car that serves as a combination family car, pick-up truck, and sports vehicle.
Our well-practiced writer has decided to define the term bugdust. Term = bugdust, class = expletive, differentiation = original, personally invented so that the user can avoid using unacceptable four-letter words in tense situations. Our writer has also chosen a subjective, humorous approach to inform a general audience, and will use examples, cause and effect, and historical background to develop the definition.
Step up to the plate. Now, you choose a subject. How about choosing a word that has special meaning only to you, or to you and your family or friends? How about a current slang word?
• The word/phrase I’ve chosen to define is _______________________.
• The class of the word is _________________________________.
• The differentiation is ____________________________________
• My audience is _______________________________________.
• My purpose is to_____inform, or_____argue a point.
• My tone will be_____serious, _____humorous, or_____a combination of both.
• I would probably use one or more of the following to develop my definition:
_____ Negative comparisons
_____ Classification and/or division
_____ Cause and effect
_____ Historical background
Our writer has carefully thought about the subject and has written the following thesis statement: The expletive, Bugdust, is my personal substitute for the ever-popular, overused four-letter vulgarities. All of the needed information is present in this sentence. The reader is told the subject, the type of definition, and a very brief meaning of the term
Here’s your chance to come up with an appropriate thesis statement for your own definition essay. Remember the activities you practiced above.
• My thesis statement is: ______________________________________________________
Have you made it clear to your reader what the parameters are for your term?_____yes_____no
Is it also clear that your presentation will be objective or subjective? _____yes _____no
If you’ve answered “no” to either of these questions, you will need to revise.
• My revised thesis is: ________________________________________________________
We’ve saved two of the most creative rhetorical strategies until now so that you would have a great many skills to pull from your writing routine. The first of these is description. A writer uses description to recreate a person, place, thing, or idea in ways that appeal to the senses. We use description everyday in many ways, from readings in textbooks to telling a friend over the phone about a new jacket, from telling the insurance company about the damages to a car, to recreating a feeling of happiness.
The description can be either informative or impressionistic/evocative.
• An informative description is the one that is factual, practical, and to the point. (The house is a two-story, white colonial with a black roof, black shutters on the windows, and a red front door.)
• The impressionistic/evocative description appeals to the reader’s senses, intellect and emotions. (The wind moaned as if the night were in pain.)
Carefully read the following excerpts that make use of description.
I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of the rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of woodpeckers and the muffled drumming of wood pheasants in the remoteness of the forest, the snapshot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures scurrying through the grass—I can call back the prairie, and its loneliness and peace, and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky, with its wings spread wide and the blue of the vault showing through the fringe of their end feathers. I can see the woods in their autumn dress, the oaks purple, the hickories washed with gold, the maples and the sumachs luminous with crimson fires, and I can hear the rustle made by the fallen leaves as we plowed through them. I can see the blue clusters of wild grapes hanging among the foliage of the saplings, and I remember the taste of them and the smell. I know how the wild blackberries looked, and how they tasted, and . . . the pawpaws, the hazelnuts, and the persimmons; and I can feel the thumping rain upon my head, of hickory nuts and walnuts when we were out in the frosty days . . .
—Mark Twain, Autobiography
From the very first line, the reader is taken into the “deep woods” of Mark Twain’s memory. The author vividly recreates this woodland scene by means of impressionistic/evocative description such as “snapshot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures,” “solemn twilight,” “sumachs luminous with crimson fires.”
And this is how I see the East. I have seen its secret places and have looked into its very soul; but now I see it always from a small boat, a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning; like faint mist at noon; a jagged wall of purple at sunset. I have the feel of the oar in my hand, the vision of the scorching blue sea in my eyes. And I see a bay, a wide bay, smooth as glass and polished like ice, shimmering in the dark. A red light burns far off upon the gloom of the land, and the night is soft and warm. We drag at the oars with aching arms, and suddenly a puff of wind, a puff faint and tepid and laden with strange odors of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night—the first sigh of the East on my face. That I can never forget. It was impalpable and enslaving, like a charm, like a whispered promise of mysterious delight.
—Joseph Conrad, “The East”
Joseph Conrad is also recreating a locale from his memory. This scene is of his recollections of the “East.” Notice phrases like “impalpable and enslaving, like a charm,” “jagged wall of purple at sunset.” These are just two examples of the impressionistic/evocative description used throughout this excerpt.
Both of these authors illustrate what a vivid description can be. Not only have they chosen their subjects with care, but they have also completed several other important steps in composing a successful description. First, it is obvious that they chose a dominant impression they want their readers to feel. For Twain, it is a connection to nature, and for Conrad, it is a sense of strangeness and mystery. Second, they each carefully chose their organizational pattern. This pattern can be any of the following.
Chronological (time sequence)
Spatial (positions from a particular point of view)
Most noticeable feature (details in relation to this feature)
Importance (details used to reinforce the most important feature) Both Twain and Conrad use a spatial organization.
To give yourself practice recognizing these different types of description, the dominant impression, and the methods an author can employ to create a description, try a few of the following:
• Find an interesting photograph in a magazine or newspaper.
Determine the subject and ask yourself:
What is the dominant impression?
Do you think the photographer intended to be factual or evocative?
Is the photograph emphasizing sequence, location, a very noticeable feature, an important feature?
You can also do this with your own photographs. Search your albums and photograph collections. We’re certain you’ll find many from which to choose.
• As you’re reading your favorite periodical, notice description. Choose a specific excerpt and ask the same questions as above: subject, dominant impression, type, organization. You can also do this with the books you’re reading outside of class or for class assignments.
As for writing a description, suppose our writer chooses to describe a traffic jam on the way to entering a tunnel. The writer makes the following decisions:
The audience will be a general one.
The purpose will be to evoke the feeling of being caught in the jam. Therefore, impressionistic description is in order.
The organizational pattern will be spatial.
The dominant impression will be anger and frustration.
Take your position. Choose a person, place, thing, idea to describe. Make the types of choices our writer did above. Perhaps you’d like to describe your room, a favorite place, riding your favorite amusement park ride, winning a game, meeting your date for the first time, your favorite car, a frustrating experience, or so on.
• My subject is _________________________________.
• I will create a description that is ____________ informative ____________ evocative.
• The dominant impression will be __________________________.
• My organization pattern will be ____________ chronological ____________ spatial ____________ most noticeable feature ____________ most important feature.
Once these choices are made, you need to consider the language you will need to create the description. If you wanted to write an informative description of a house, you would use objective and denotative language—in other words, language that keeps the writer’s personal feelings, and so forth, out of the situation. Just the cold, hard facts are given, as in scientific journals, hard news articles, and accident reports. On the other hand, if you wanted to interject your personal attitudes, and so forth into a depiction of a house, you would choose primarily subjective and connotative language. A 1955 Chevy convertible can be a vintage, prized possession, or it can be an old, scrappy jalopy. Choices depend on purpose and audience.
Although a description can make use of both objective and subjective language, if an author employs subjective language, this can include figurative language, such as
Direct comparison (metaphor)
Indirect comparison (simile)
Our writer is “champing at the bit” to create his description of the traffic jam leading into a tunnel. Because the preliminary choices have all been made, all he needs to do is to compose the thesis statement. Here I am caught for the umpteenth time in the never-ending traffic jam that leads to the Lincoln Tunnel. I usually tap my fingers on the steering wheel, listen to the radio, and kind of space out. However, this time I feel like a piece of meat slowly being forced through a grinder to form a sausage. Okay. This is one unhappy, frustrated, and hopeless commuter. It is quite obvious from the predominantly subjective, connotative, and figurative language that this is an impressionistic description organized in a spatial pattern.
Practice time! Using your own prewriting information, compose the first draft of your thesis statement for your descriptive essay.
• My thesis is: ______________________________________________________________
Carefully reread your thesis statement and answer the following questions:
• My subject is clearly indicated. _____yes _____no
• It is clear that my description will be predominantly ____________ informative, _____impressionistic.
• My reader gets a clear indication of the dominant impression I’m going to work toward. _____yes _____no
• I’ve also indicated to my reader that the description will be predominantly _____objective, _____subjective.
• I’ve given my reader an indication what my organizational pattern will be. _____yes _____no
If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to revise your thesis.
• Here is my revised thesis statement: ______________________________________________
Our next-to-last rhetorical strategy is narration. Everyone loves a story and loves to be told stories. It’s in our genes. It’s one of those things that makes us human. And, it is one of those writing strategies that can really make an assertion “come alive.” In narration, a writer tells or retells a sequence of events within a particular time frame for a specific purpose. You know the routine. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. As a rhetorical strategy, a narrative can be of any length, from a simple anecdote to the complete presentation.
No matter what the purpose, time frame, or sequence, a narration needs a point of view. The choices include:
• First person (I, we, us),
• Stream-of-consciousness, an off-shoot of first person, allows the reader to enter the mind of the narrator and be privy to the working of his mind.
• Third person (he, she, they, them).
with third person objective, the narrator acts as a reporter;
with third person omniscient, the narrator knows all.
Can you identify the characteristics of narration we’ve just mentioned in each of the excerpts below?
One day General Littlefield picked our company out of the whole regiment and tried to get it mixed up by putting it through one movement after another as fast as we could execute them: squads right, squads left . . . etc. In about three minutes one hundred and nine men were marching in one direction and I was marching away from them at a right angle of forty degrees, all alone. “Company, halt!” shouted General Littlefield. “That man is the only man who has it right!” I was made a corporal for my achievement.
—James Thurber, “University Days,” My Life and Hard Times
In this first person anecdote, Mr. Thurber relates a personal tale that has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
My guardian angel was a light sleeper. He saved me from speeding cars, playground fights, and mercury splashing on my face. That was in fifth grade when we stole balls of mercury from the science teacher to shine coins and belt buckles. Finished, we closed one eye and flung the mercury at each other and giggled all the way to lunch.
—Gary Soto, “The Guardian Angel,” A Summer Life
Mr. Soto uses first person to narrate this brief episode that is obviously part of a much longer work. Even in its brevity, the story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
Writing a narrative demands its own special prewriting routines. Before composing a narrative, you need to decide on each of the following:
• The point to be made (commonly termed the theme)
• The point of view
• The temporal basis for the story (setting)
(plot) to the major sequence of events
• The major sequence of events
• The characters/people in the story
• The primary tension of the story (conflict)
• The major details necessary for the story
In James Thurber’s first person anecdote, a boot camp event is used to illustrate the old adage: the best laid plans often go awry. The time is the recent past, the setting a military encampment, and the sequence of events is quite clear. The tension centers on whether or not the general will succeed in confusing the company of men to whom he has given a series of marching directions. Although brief, details of the types of orders given, the number of men, dialogue and the indication of time, all contribute to the liveliness and believability of the story.
Mr. Soto tells his brief, first person episode to illustrate the childhood obliviousness of danger and repercussions of danger. The time is the recent past, the setting an elementary school science room, and the sequence of events is logical and clear. The tension centers around the fifth grade narrator and his friends playing with the dangerous metal—mercury. Soto’s details in this very short tale contribute to the sense of place and childhood abandon.
You are not going to write a complete narrative in this activity, but you will do some of the prewriting necessary to compose it successfully. Our writer has chosen to illustrate a combination of the two points made by Mr. Thurber and Mr. Soto. The best laid plans of a child unaware of consequences can go awry quite quickly.
To illustrate this point to a general audience, our writer uses the first person point of view to relate a story about his taking his father’s car without permission and without a driver’s license.
The time is the recent past, and the place is an urban neighborhood. The major sequence of events is as follows:
1. Parents take car to church.
2. Narrator walks to church and takes car.
3. Narrator plans to return car to same spot before the end of the service.
4. Narrator picks up friends.
5. Car runs out of gas.
6. Motorist offers to help but only to take narrator back to the church to meet parents.
We could go on, but you get the idea. The characters are obviously going to be the narrator, his parents, his friends, and the motorist, and, oh yes, the police and the pastor. The primary tension is going to revolve around getting the car back before the narrator’s parents leave the church after the service.
Get ready, get set. Go! This is now your practice time. You are going to do the prewriting for your own narrative. If you can’t immediately think of a point you’d like to make or a story you’d like to tell, how about an incident that you’ve either been a part of or witnessed that could be used to illustrate an aspect of being a student, a younger or older sibling, the oldest or youngest child, the only child, parental mishaps, getting even, the joy of winning, brotherhood, friendship, and so forth.
• The point I want to make is ______________________________
• To illustrate this point, I will tell a story that focuses on _____________________
• I will tell this story using the following point of view: _____first person _____third person objective, _____third person omniscient, _____stream of consciousness
• The major sequence of events: ______________________________
• The temporal basis of my story will consist of
The time: ______________________________
The place: ______________________________
• The characters/people in my narrative will be ______________________
• The primary tension will revolve around ______________________
Once this information is in place, you can begin to think about the opening that will contain your thesis. Our writer has written the following, which contains the thesis. I was tremendously angry that Mom and Dad would decide to ruin MY secret plans to accommodate their own needs. I would NOT be denied. Therefore, I schemed, without parental permission and without a driver’s license.
Pick up your pen, or put your fingers on the keyboard. What will you write to introduce your thesis?
• Here’s my thesis and the surrounding sentences that will get my narrative up and running. _____________________________________________________________
Do your thesis and surrounding sentences
• introduce your audience to the focus of the story? _____yes _____no
• give a hint as to the point of the story? _____yes _____no
• make it clear what the point of view is? _____yes _____no
• introduce the setting? _____yes _____no
• introduce the major character(s)? _____yes _____no
• give an indication of the tension in the story? _____yes _____no
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to revise.
• Here’s my revised thesis and the surrounding sentences.
A writer could use any of the previous rhetorical strategies to construct an argument. In a very real sense, ALL writing is argument because all writers attempt to have their readers believe and accept the point being made by their presentations. We argue with ourselves and the world around us countless times each day as we make our ways in life. There are those who draw a fine line between argument and persuasion; wherein, argument employs logical reasoning to get the audience to accept the assertion, and persuasion uses a combination of logic and emotion. For our purposes here, we use the term argument to cover both argument and persuasion.
You would construct an argument if you wanted: (1) to express you own assertion, (2) to qualify or oppose another’s point of view, or (3) to convince an audience to alter its own stand on an issue. Below are three brief excerpts from longer pieces. Can you identify into which of these three categories each of these selections belongs?
In sum, intercollegiate athletics has come to have too pronounced an effect on colleges and universities—and on society—to be treated with benign neglect.
—James J. Shulman and William G. Bowen, The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values
Shulman and Mr. Bowen are expressing their own opinion about the effect of intercollegiate sports on higher education and society.
But if we cannot ourselves hold to the principle that the right to express views must be defended even when the views offend listeners, including ACLU members, we can hardly call on governments to follow that principle.
—Abba P. Lerner, ACLU’s Grievous Mistake,” The New York Times, 1978
Based on this sentence, we can conclude that Mr. Lerner is qualifying an already existing position of others.
Institutions stop teaching and set aside entire weeks for [comprehensive final] tests. Some even give students extra days without classes before exam week to prepare. Legends of all-nighters . . . abound. Clearly, many alumni have fond memories of these academic hell weeks—of having survived and proved themselves. Yet maybe this great tradition is dysfunctional.
—Karl L. Schilling and Karen Maitland Schilling,
“Final Exams Discourage True Learning,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2, 1994
In this example, Mr. and Mrs. Schilling are making known to their audience their personal opinion about days being set aside for final exam prep on college campuses.
Recognition time! You should allow yourself some practice time recognizing arguments when you see them—their subjects, points of view and purpose.
1. The easiest thing is to go to your school newspaper and read the editorial page and the letters to the editor. This, alone, will provide more than enough practice material.
2. Want still more? Do the same thing with your local newspaper.
3. During election season, why not take a look at the TV ads of politicians running for office. This is a truly fertile field to harvest.
Once you know your subject, your purpose, and the type of audience you’ll be writing for, you can continue with the prewriting routine by deciding on what type of argument you’ll construct. Are you going to base it on your own reputation and experience? Will you construct your argument based on logic or reason? Or, do you want to appeal to the emotions of your audience?
Our writer is interested in the “winner takes all” versus the “proportional” forms of representation in government assemblies and parliaments. Based on his own experience, observation, and research, our writer has quite strong feelings about the value, honesty, and viability of proportional representation. He would very much like to defend his own assertion about the two different forms. He is not an expert in either field but has done some in-depth reading and has watched a number of Public Broadcasting specials on the topic. Because of this, he decides against using an argument that is based on his own experience and reputation in this area. Therefore, he must choose between the other two types. Because his audience is a general one and one with myriad opinions and backgrounds, our writer believes an appeal to logic and reason will provide his best argument.
Feel the ideas kick into gear. It’s time for you to take a stand. Choose a subject or issue about which you have a strong opinion.
• An issue/subject I have a strong opinion about is ____________________
• The purpose of my argument will be to_____express and defend my own assertion_____qualify or oppose another’s point of view_____convince my audience to change its mind or behavior.
• My audience is ______________________________.
• I will base my argument on_____personal reputation and experience,_____logic and reason, or_____emotions of the audience.
That done, the next steps include making a quick list of the following:
1. The reasons why you hold your strong opinion
2. Who would agree with you
3. Who would disagree with you
4. Reasons why they would disagree with you
A most important step involves your taking a careful look at these lists and determining whether you will use the inductive or the deductive approach to the organization of your argument.
To review quickly, inductive reasoning (specific to general) draws conclusions or generalizations based on specific examples/events that are truly representative of the general area being examined. Deductive reasoning (general to specific) is developed by presenting specific examples that are drawn from the generalization about the subject.
Our writer has made his list and has chosen to use the deductive approach to organizing his argument. His generalization is that the proportional form of representation is more democratic than the “winner takes all” form. His list of reasons why he holds this opinion, those who agree with him, and those who disagree with him will all provide the possible specifics to support his assertion.
What’s your decision? Think about your subject, and complete the following:
• Three major reasons why I hold this opinion are:
• I think the following would agree with me: __________________________
• These people or groups would agree with me because __________________________
• I believe the following would disagree with me: _______________________
• These people or groups would disagree with me because _____________________
• I have decided to use the_____deductive approach_____inductive approach.
This preliminary information will provide you with enough material to both compose your thesis statement and write your outline and first draft. For our purposes, we will only write the thesis. Our writer’s thesis statement is: Polls indicate that most Americans believe that when a politician wins an election, the true voice of the people will be represented in the government. However, true representation of the people’s voices lies in proportional representation. This is certainly not an emotional statement of our writer’s assertion, but it does indicate his strong position regarding representation in government. It also makes it clear that he knows there is a large number of people who would oppose him. Given the generalization made, the reader can expect a deductive argument.
Take a deep breath; consider your preliminary information; compose! That’s your task at this time. Just as our writer did, you need to think and to write the first draft of your thesis statement.
• Here is my thesis statement: ______________________________________________________
• My thesis clearly presents the subject and my position. _____yes _____no
• My thesis gives a clear indication that my purpose is to_____express my own opinion,_____qualify or oppose another point of view, convince my audience to change its mind or behavior.
• My thesis indicates that I will base my argument on_____my own reputation and experience,_____logic and reason,_____emotions of my reader.
• I indicate to my reader that my argument will be_____inductive,_____deductive.
If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, you need to revise. Rethink and rewrite.
• Here is my revised thesis: _______________________________________________________
Although you are not going to write a complete argumentative essay at this time, it is very important to review an absolute requirement for a valid argument. If you want your audience to accept your opinion, you must make certain to avoid logical fallacies. These errors in reasoning can easily lead your audience to suspect both your assertion and your support for it. Some of the most common logical fallacies are the following:
• Non sequitur argument: This Latin phrase means “does not follow.” This is the argument that has a conclusion that does not follow from the premise. (Example: Bob drives a Mercedes convertible. He must have a great deal of money and live in a mansion.)
• Begging the question: Here is a mistake in which the writer assumes in his assertion/premise/thesis something that really needs to be proved. (Example: All good citizens know the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Therefore, a test on the Bill of Rights should be given to all those registering to vote.)
• Circular reasoning: This mistake in logic restates the premise rather than giving a reason for holding that premise. (Example: Science should be required of all students because all students need to know science.)
• Strawman argument: Here is a technique we’ve all seen and heard used by politicians seeking election. The speaker/writer attributes false or exaggerated characteristics or behaviors to the opponent and attacks him on those falsehoods or exaggerations. (Example: You say you are for allowing only people over 21 to vote. I’ll never understand why mean, simple-minded activists like you are willing to deny democratic freedoms to millions of citizens.)
• Ad hominem argument: This literally means to “argue against the man.” This technique attacks the person rather than dealing with the issue under discussion. (Example: We all know that Romulus was forced to leave college. How can we trust his company with our investments.)
• Hasty generalization: A person who makes a hasty generalization draws a conclusion about an entire group based on evidence that is too scant or insufficient. (Example: The well-known computer expert found a virus in his own PC. All computers must be contaminated with this virus.)
• Overgeneralization: This is what we call stereotyping in most cases. Here, the writer/speaker draws a conclusion about a large number of people, ideas, things, etc., based on very limited evidence. (Example: All members of the Wooden Peg Club are not to be trusted.) Words such as all, never, always, every, are usually indicative of overgeneralization. It’s best to use and to look for qualifiers (some, seem, appear, often, perhaps, frequently, etc.), which indicate that the writer has an awareness of the complexities of the topic or group under discussion.
• Post hoc argument: This fallacy cites an unrelated event that occurred earlier as the cause of a current situation. (Example: I had an argument with my best friend the night before my driver’s test; therefore, I blame her for my failure.)
• Either/or argument: With this fallacy, the writer asserts that there are only two possibilities, when, in reality, there are more. (Example: Tomorrow is my chemistry final; therefore, I must study all night, or I will fail the course.)
Hundreds of books contain instructions on how to construct an argument, and your own AP English instructor will undoubtedly spend some time going over argument and have you write and analyze many samples. But, before leaving this rhetorical strategy, we would recommend that when writing, revising, and analyzing an argument, you check to see if the following are part of the presentation:
A General Checklist for Argumentative Essays
• A clearly developed thesis is evident.
• Facts are distinguished from opinions.
• Opinions are supported and qualified.
• The speaker develops a logical argument and avoids fallacies in reasoning.
• Support for facts is tested, reliable, and authoritative.
• The speaker does not confuse appeals to logic and emotion.
• Opposing views are represented in a fair and undistorted way.
• The argument reflects a sense of audience.
• The argument reflects an identifiable voice and point of view.
• The piece reflects the image of a speaker with identifiable qualities (honesty, sincerity, authority, intelligence, etc.).
In almost any college course, you will be expected to write essays and make presentations that develop your point of view on a particular subject while incorporating cited, appropriate sources in support and illustration of your position. This is known as synthesis. If you’ve completed a research project in high school, you are probably familiar with the process of locating sources and choosing and citing the ones you will use in your presentation.
Keep in mind that there are two types of synthesis:
• An explanatory synthesis is an essay that you’ve probably constructed many times. In it, you use sources to help your audience understand a particular subject. For example, you research blood diamonds and incorporate several sources in your presentation with the goal of having your reader become aware of just what blood diamonds are.
• An argument synthesis presents your position/point of view, which is debatable, on a topic that is supported by appropriate materials drawn from outside sources. Using the previous example, you might find yourself developing your position that the international ban on blood diamonds should continue even though mining these diamonds provides employment in a depressed area of Africa.
Given the nature of the AP English Language exam, it is most likely that you will be presented with a prompt that requires you to write a synthesis essay in the form of an argument. The synthesis essay requires you to use the skills you’ve developed in analysis and argumentation. We strongly urge you to review these skills developed in earlier sections of this chapter.
A General Checklist for Synthesis Essays
• Establish a position on the issue.
• Critically read all given texts and any introductory material provided.
• Annotate your sources.
• Select appropriate sources to support your position and purpose.
• Choose appropriate excerpts from each of the selected sources that will help develop the thesis.
• Summarize, paraphrase, draw inferences from selected material.
• Make certain you properly cite each source you incorporate into the essay.
• Construct a conclusion that clearly states a strong, final point.
A General Checklist for Critical Reading of Sources
Critical reading of texts specifically for the synthesis essay is an absolute must. It demands that you determine the following:
• intended audience
• type of source (primary, secondary)
• main points
• historical context
• authority of the author
• how the material is presented
• type of evidence presented
• source of the evidence
• any bias or agenda
• how the text relates to the topic
• support or opposition toward the thesis
Below is a recent court decision on cheerleading as a sport. Carefully read the text and complete the statements that follow.
United States District Court, District of Connecticut Stephanie Biediger, et al., Plaintiffs v. Quinnipiac University, Defendant
Memorandum of Decision
In March 2009, the defendant Quinnipiac University announced plans to cut three of its sports teams: the women’s volleyball team, the men’s golf team, and the men’s outdoor track team. Contemporaneously, the University pledged to create a new varsity sport, competitive cheerleading, for the 2009–2010 season. Those decisions form the basis of this lawsuit. Plaintiffs Stephanie Biediger, Kayla Lawler, Erin Overdevest, Kristen Corinaldesi, and Logan Riker are five current Quinnipiac women’s varsity volleyball players, and plaintiff Robin Lamott Sparks is their coach. Together, they allege that Quinnipiac’s decision to eliminate its volleyball team violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C.§ 162, et seq.) and the regulations adopted pursuant thereto (34 C.F.R. Part 106) (“Title IX”) . . .
Although the plaintiffs allege several theories for relief under Title IX, the parties agreed to sever and try independently the plaintiffs’ first claim: that Quinnipiac discriminates on the basis of sex in its allocation of athletic participation opportunities. The parties tried that claim in a bench trial held from June 21 to June 25, 2010. My findings of fact and conclusions of law are set forth herein.
I conclude, as a matter of law that Quinnipiac discriminated on the basis of sex during the 2009–2010 academic year by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities for women. Specifically, I hold that the University’s competitive cheerleading team does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute. Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX; today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students . . .
I find in favor of the plaintiffs on their first claim for relief in their first amended complaint. A declaratory judgment shall issue that the defendant, Quinnipiac University, has violated Title IX and the regulations promulgated pursuant thereto by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities to its female students.
Furthermore, Quinnipiac is hereby enjoined from continuing to discriminate against its female students on the basis of sex by failing to provide equal athletic participation opportunities . . .
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, within 60 days, Quinnipiac University shall submit to the court a compliance plan detailing how it will achieve compliance with Title IX and its regulations. That compliance plan shall provide for the continuation of the women’s volleyball team during the 2010–2011 season.
It is so ordered.
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut, this 21st day of July 2010.
Stefan R. Underhill, United States District Judge
1. Purpose/thesis of the text: ______________________________
2. Intended audience: ____________________________________
3. Main points: ________________________________________
4. Historical context: ___________________________________
5. Authority of the author: ________________________________
6. Type of evidence: ___________________________________
7. Source of evidence: ____________________________________
8. Any bias or agenda: ___________________________________
9. How text relates to topic: _______________________________
10. Does or does not support thesis: ______________________________
Critical Reading of Visuals Is a Must
As with the steps involved in the critical reading of written material, visuals also require critical analysis. The following are steps you should consider when faced with a visual text:
• Identify the subject of the visual.
• Identify the major components such as characters, visual details, symbols.
• Identify verbal clues such as titles, tag lines, date, author, dialogue.
• Notice position and size of details.
• Does the visual take a positive or negative position toward the issue?
• Identify the primary purpose of the visual.
• Determine how each detail illustrates and/or supports the primary purpose.
• Does the author indicate alternative viewpoints?
Below is a political cartoon related to the recent court decision on cheerleading as a sport. Carefully read the visual and complete the statements that follow.
BY PARKER, FLORIDA TODAY
1. Subject of the cartoon: ______________________________
2. Major components: ________________________________
3. Verbal clues: ___________________________________
4. Position and size of details: ____________________________
5. Point of view of the cartoonist: __________________________
6. Primary purpose of the cartoon: _________________________
7. How details illustrate the primary purpose: _____________________
8. Indication of alternative viewpoints: _________________________
If you want to turn the individual warm-up exercises suggested in this chapter into a full out workout, try this: Choose an artifact—something made by humans—and explore it using each of the rhetorical strategies we’ve just reviewed. With this artifact as your subject, write a series of thesis statements that make assertions about the item, one for each of these strategies.
This is a drawing of the artifact:
Here are the sample statements using the various rhetorical strategies:
Cause/effect: When I squeeze this little green, rubber ball, my hands tingle.
Classification: This is a green, hard rubber sphere that is used for hand exercise and rehabilitation.
Contrast/comparison: This green rubber ball is smaller than an orange but larger than a golf ball.
Exemplification: This ball was given to me by my personal trainer to strengthen my tennis grip.
Definition: The hand massager is a hard rubber ball with small rubber extensions around the entire sphere used to strengthen hand muscles.
Narration: One day my personal trainer Percival presented me with this perfectly precious green rubber ball.
Process: To get maximum benefit from the hand massager, grip it firmly in the palm of the hand and squeeze and release in 4 sets of 50.
Description: The hand massager is like a round, hard, flattened pinecone.
Argument: Everyone should own and use the hand massager.
Synthesis: I am skeptical about the recent statistics and anecdotes that claim that the hand massager will strengthen hand muscles better than any other device.
In this chapter, we have concentrated your efforts on a review of the rhetorical strategies and the skills connected to prewriting and constructing the thesis statement for a personal essay. We are certain that you will be able to apply these skills to the more complex task of composing a complete personal essay. And, if you can utilize these strategies in a personal essay, you can recognize and analyze them in the writings of others.