Pick a subject, examine everything you know about it, arrive at an honest opinion. That probably sounds easy. It isn't. But it represents at least half the work involved in writing an essay. And most of it you can do without touching a pencil. The first axiom of the essayist could hardly be made clearer:
Think before you write. In other words, never sit down to write until you have thought long enough and hard enough about one subject to have an opinion about it—an opinion that you believe in and want to share, one that you can defend logically and honestly. Most writing skills are relatively easy to learn, but it is pointless to learn them—in fact, you will find it almost impossible to learn them—unless you have learned the first rule, the unbreakable rule, of essay writing:
Opinions always come first. And of course it comes first because, as soon as you have an opinion, you have something to say. That's the important thing: have something to say. Then you can learn how to say it. The skills come easily when you have a purpose for learning them. Have something to say—and if you really want to be heard, nothing can stop you from learning how to say it well.
To help formulate an opinion, ask how, why, and what questions.
Force yourself to question your position by carefully considering everything that can be said in FAVOR of an exactly OPPOSITE opinion. This might cause you to change your mind, but that is fine. You may have a STRONGER opinion AND you will have viewed BOTH sides of an argument. You will be more aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own opinion.
You should always check your easy topic against these two questions:
Can a valid argument be made against it?
Can I defend it logically against this argument?
Believe what you say!
LAW Chap 1 What is an Essay?
What is the difference between opinion and fact? A belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge, but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s mind; what one thinks; judgment.
How important are facts in an essay? Facts provide a framework or foundation. To convert the facts to an opinion, one must make a judgment about the facts.
Is one opinion as good as another? Explain your answer. Not all opinions are equally good. The best opinions usually have the most opposition. Value judgments (this is better than that) almost always have a clear-cut opposition.
Assuming that the writer has an adequate background in his subject, would American foreign policy be a good general subject for an essay? Why or why not? American foreign policy would be a good subject in general as long as you pick a specific topic for an argument. This is NOT a subject that most agree upon, therefore it would be interesting to many.
The titles below are grouped around particular subjects. Which title in each group would make the best essay topic? Why?
Sewing as a Hobby
Clothes You Make Yourself
Sewing is Suddenly “In”
How to Make a Pleated Skirt
Letter “c” because you could have an opinion as to why sewing is suddenly popular.
Cars for Teen-Agers
Driver-Training Programs Cost Too Much
Styling on the Latest Sports Models
Letter “f” because you could argue why the programs cost so much.
The Symbolism in Moby Dick
The Character of Ahab in Moby Dick
Moby Dick, America's Greatest Novel
Letter “l” because you have to argue why you think this is the best novel; others would disagree. Why Should Students Study Literature?
High Points in American Literature
Literature in Relation to History
Most Students Can't Read
Letter “p” because this would be controversial. However, one could make an argument about the level of reading today’s student have mastered. The Student Council is Outmoded
Student Councils and Student Government
The President of the Student Council
Your Student Council
Letter “q” is the only one that states an opinion.
What is the chief difference between a typical term paper and an essay? Most term papers just give facts, where an easy communicates your opinion.
What is the weakness in each of the following essay topics?
Edison Invented the Electric-Light Bulb
This not an opinion, but a fact. Teachers Should Explain Things Clearly
This would be a universally accepted fact. Science Has Influenced Modern Life
Again, this is a fact. A better topic would to be to make a value judgment (for or bad) about this statement. Safe Driving Should Be Encouraged
It would be ridiculous to try to argue against this statement. The Responsibilities of Students
A paper written from this statement would just give information. No opinion is stated. LAW Chap 1 What is an Essay?
Write a one-sentence opinion based on each of the subjects below:
laughter Only truly happy people laugh a lot.
art Art is a frivolous study for those who pursue the sciences.
fear Even the most courageous people have a sense of fear.
apples Apples should be a part of every child’s school lunch.
grades Grade and test scores alone should not be used to gain college admission.
fashions Todays fashions promote increased promiscuity among teenagers.
drag racing Drag racing promotes safety among car enthusiasts.
popularity Teenagers are more concerned about popularity than their academics.
shoes Closed-toe shoes should be required in all schools.
Choose one of your opinions, and list at least three facts that will support it. Grades
Grades and test scores do not fully depict an applicant’s academic ability.
An applicant’s outside activities can help a college to understand an applicant’s passion.
Applicants from disadvantaged groups might be discriminated against by the strict use of test scores.
Write a one-sentence opinion that is exactly the opposite to yours, and list three facts that will support it. (You may not agree with the opinion, but you must use convincing facts.)
Colleges should base admission on grades and test scores alone to create a fair and unbiased admission process.
Grades and test scores determine a person’s academic ability.
This is the only way for colleges to compare different applicants,
Test scores are objective and do not allow for bias.
Write at least two paragraphs using all the material you have written for #2 and #3 (the two opinions and both sets of facts.) You must reword the material to suit your purpose, but be sure to use all of it in some way, relating the paragraphs clearly so that the reader will understand why you favor one opinion instead of the other.
Grades and test scores alone should not be the determining factor in college admissions. The difficulty and rigor of classes across different high schools vary greatly. Additionally, course content is not consistent from school to school. Consequently, some students have access to a top notch education that will prepare them to score very well on standardized tests. This puts those in poorer quality schools at a distinct disadvantage. Furthermore, applicants from disadvantaged groups frequently come from poorer schools and have not had the same opportunity to take advanced honors or AP courses. These advanced courses not only boost grade point average but also help the applicant to perform well on standardized tests.
Those who advocate admission by grades and test scores alone propose that this is the only unbiased way to compare applicants from many different backgrounds. However, those students from under-performing high schools have not been given the opportunity to demonstrate their true academic ability. They have been hindered by poor instruction or lack of funds that would have allowed them to perform well on standardized tests. Accepting applicants on grades and test scores alone would create a bias toward those from affluent schools and would make attaining a higher education nearly impossible for those in depressed areas.
LAW Chap 1 What is an Essay?
Look up the following words in a dictionary. Find a synonym and an antonym for each word.
In your opinion, what is the meaning of the term “value judgment”? Use a specific example to illustrate. A value judgment is when a person uses facts to formulate an opinion about a subject. An example of this would be one’s opinion about the death penalty. A person could use facts about the death penalty in order to make an argument for or against this punishment.
In the chapter you have just read, the following two phrases appear: “the odor of mendacity” and “Scylla of dullness and the Charybdis of mendacity.” Look up the meanings of mendacity, Scylla and Charybdis. Find the text sentences containing these phrases and copy the complete sentences. Then, in your own words, explain exactly what the sentences mean.
“the odor of mendacity” An easy based on a dishonest opinion will always carry with it Big Daddy’s “odor of mendacity”, and nothing can disguise that particular smell.
Mendacity- untruthfulness. Big Daddy was a character in the play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and this line refers to the lies being told by his family. In an easy, dishonesty will be detected.
“the Scylla of dullness and the Charybdis of mendacity” But once you have done this, you can be secure in your belief, and it will help guide you between the Scylla of dullness and the Charybdis of mendacity.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the Scylla was a six headed monster on one side of a straight in the sea, and the Charybdis was a deadly whirlpool. The above sentence demonstrates the dangers of an essay- untruthfulness or dullness. Examining both side of an argument will help you to avoid the above dangers.
LAW Chap 2 From Opinion to Thesis
Every essay is an opinion, but not every opinion is a good essay topic. It is a good topic only if it can be boiled down to one arguable statement about one major point. This statement is called a thesis, and you arrive at it by a process of thinking that has five steps: first, by taking inventory of your information; second, by asking yourself general questions, or “wondering” about your material; third, by relating it to your general information and experience; fourth, by asking the yes-or-no question; fifth, by qualifying your answer to this question.
That qualified answer is your thesis. You know now precisely what it is you want to say—and that is the first long step in the path toward better writing.
LAW Chap 2 From Opinion to Thesis
What is the difference between opinion and thesis? A thesis is your opinion boiled down to one arguable statement.
What is the five-step process for narrowing a general subject to a thesis?
Take inventory-what do you know about the subject?
Look for relationships
Ask the yes-or-no question
Quality-what degree (always, never, many, most
What is the value of the yes-or-no question? It allows you to decide if your position is defendable. If you cannot answer “yes” or “no”, then you need to add a qualification.
Why is qualification of a thesis important? Qualifications allow you to indicate the degree of truth in your thesis.
LAW Chap 2 From Opinion to Thesis
At the top of a sheet of paper, write the name of some subject in which you are now enrolled. Then do the following:
Write at least five statements of fact about it.
Write at least two yes-or-no questions that occur to you in relation to these facts.
Write a thesis based on one of the questions.
Write an antithesis. (If your antithesis is not valid, write a new thesis. Keep trying until you are sure that both thesis and antithesis can be defended.)
Give at least one reason (or one piece of evidence) supporting your antithesis.
Give at least two reasons (or pieces of evidence) supporting your thesis.
Write a paragraph based on your thesis (#3). Include in this paragraph the point supporting the antithesis (#5) and both the points supporting you thesis (#6). Bear in mind that your purpose is to persuade a reader to agree with your thesis. Organize your paragraph in the way that seems to be best for this purpose.
LAW Chap 2 From Opinion to Thesis
Find a synonym to use in place of each of the italicized words in the sentences below. Rewrite the sentences if necessary.
Everything he had to say on the subject was contrary to all I believed, He is so arbitrary in his judgments that it is impossible to reason with him.
He is so random in his judgements that it is impossible to reason with him. Nobody believes that point is arguable.
Nobody believes that point is defendable. He was a small, meek-looking man, but he was a formidable opponent in a debate.
He was a small, meek-looking man, but he was a dangerous opponent in a debate. His impassioned plea fell on deaf ears.
His fervent plea fell on deaf ears. He was an indulgent grandfather.
He was a charitable grandfather. Nobody ever had a more unpromising start in business.
Nobody ever had a more disheartening start in a business. The words “principle” and “principal” are often confused because they sound alike although they are spelled differently and have different meanings. Sometimes the only way to master such words is to invent some private trick—a rhyme, a joke, any kind of nonsense that will help you remember their difference. It doesn't matter how silly it seems, if it works. One student, for example, wrote “I can remember that “principle” means rule because it ends like disciple” which reminds me of the Golden Rule.” It worked for him. What works for you? Write two or three sentences explaining how you keep these words and their spelling (and meaning) clear in your own mind. If you don't already have a trick of your own, make one up.
A “principal” could be your “pal” if you behave. A “principle” is a rule.
Write a sentence or two defining “status symbol” and giving a specific example of some kind of status symbol that a student might use. (Don't use an automobile as your example. Make it a status symbol that the student could wear or carry with him.)
A status symbol is an activity or possession that allows one’s social status to be displayed. A “DS” or an I pod touch are status symbols among today’s kids.
The full and final thesis is the thesis plus a list of the points that can be made against it and a longer list of the points in its favor. These con and pro points, listed separately for easy reference under the thesis, provide an organization chart for your entire essay. You should keep your full thesis statement on a separate card that is in full view all the time that you are writing. Use it, not as a rigid outline, but as a guide and a reminder. It will check your tendency to wander off course and will keep you constantly aware of the points you need to make.
The full thesis is a most remarkable and valuable device. Prepare it carefully, refer to it ofter, use it wisely. It will serve you well as you go more deeply into the structure of essays.
LAW Chap 3 The Full and Final Thesis
What are the three elements of a full thesis?
A full thesis consists of the thesis, points that can be made against your thesis, and points in favor of your thesis. Explain the relationship of the full thesis to the psychology of argument. The psychology of anargument is a reasonable, logical argument that incorporates the same elements as the full thesis.
Why should the full thesis statement be kept in view when you are writing an essay? A full thesis statement kept in view will keep you from wandering off topic and will be a guide as you write your essay.
How strictly should you follow the full thesis when you write your essay? A full thesis statement should serve as a guide and reminder. If you happen to think of a better point when writing, you should feel free to use it as long as it strengthens your argument.
LAW Chap 3 The Full and Final Thesis
Below are several thesis statements. Write a full thesis for each, using the form on page 37.
The search for popularity generally leads to self-improvement.
The search for popularity can limit a student's personal growth.
All girls are slightly crazy.
All boys are slightly crazy.
Competition for grades is a healthy influence on students.
Competition for grades is an unhealthy influence on students.
Using your full thesis statement as a guide, write an essay of at least five paragraphs on one of the topics above. You must work into you essay all the material suggested by your full thesis. Develop and arrange your paragraphs in any way that seems effective, bearing in mind that your purpose is to persuade the reader to agree with your thesis.
NOTE: Hold on to this assignment. You will use it again later.
Use each of the synonyms you have found for the listed words in a complete sentence. Each sentence must relate in some way to the problems of essay writing. Be as informal as you please—complain if you feel like it. But use the synonym, and be sure that your sentence bears some relation to essay writing. For example, you might write something like this, using “youthful” (the synonym for one of the words above):
It is a cruel and inhuman thing to curb my youthful spirit by forcing me to use logic in order to find a thesis.
Think of your essay as a structure, as something that you actually build according to a definite architectural pattern. You will find it far easier to say what you want to say when you have a sense of structure, for it imposes on your thoughts the discipline of logic, which in turn develops your ability to organize and to make relationships.
Every essay has three major parts: an introduction that states the thesis and that can be seen structurally as a triangle resting on one point; a middle section, structurally a large block made up of several smaller blocks or argument; and a conclusion, another triangle resting on a broad-based generalization related to the rest of the essay. Whether an essay is long or short it will have this structure, and you can learn specific techniques for writing each of the three major structural parts and relating them to one another.
Once you have mastered this structure you are ready for the really exciting part of writing: the study of style. That begins in the next chapter. Most of the writing you have done so far has simply familiarized you with your instrument. Soon you will discover what kind of music it can make. But be sure you know your instrument first. Stay with structure until you understand it thoroughly.
LAW Chap 4 Structure (part 1, pg 47)
What is the function of the introductory paragraph? The function of the introductory paragraph is to introduce the subject and come to the point.
“The introductory paragraph can be described as a triangle resting on one point.” Explain.
The introduction moves from general to specific. It introduces the subject in a general way, and then comes to the point. What is the psychological principle behind the practice of opening an introductory paragraph with a broad, noncontroversial statement? When a person is reading an essay, they do not want an opinion forced on them right away. You do not want the person reading the essay to feel bombarded by your opinion at the start.
What is the rule of thumb for writing the first sentence of the introduction? To begin thinking about an opening statement, start with one major element in your thesis (usually a noun) and make an observation about it in any way that the reader will find acceptable.
Explain the meaning of the statement that “the sequential logic—from buggy race to hotrod race—is obvious.” We can all understand that racing has always been a part of the human experience. The logic is that this is an activity that has been occurring for a long time, now, however, the machine has changed.
Why do students tend to use “bombshell” opening sentences? Why are such sentences nearly always failures? Students tend to utilize bombshell opening sentences in an attempt to be interesting. However, most sentences such as these nearly always fail because they highlight the absence of any real thought or imagination.
The author suggests that mastery of structure makes it possible for you to express yourself more freely. Explain how this theory might be applied to one of the following activities: dancing, gymnastics, painting, automobile design, dress design. In automobile design, a person must utilize certain laws of physics and a basic design in order to create a safe car. An engineer must work within this framework to create a working automobile. However, he is still free to utilize his imagination within the framework to create a completely new type of vehicle.