Posted: 2011 Comments



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Contributor: C. Yarnoff, The Writing Program, csy771@northwestern.edu

Posted: 2011

Comments: The assignment description includes explanations of how to formulate a strong thesis, organize and support ideas, write an interesting introduction and conclusion, etc., depending on the topic chosen.
Topics for Paper on Symposium
Write a four-to-six-page paper on one of the topics below.

  1. Choose a view of love presented in Symposium with which you disagree. Write an essay explaining and supporting your disagreement.

  2. Write an essay contrasting two views of love proposed in Symposium.

  3. Pretend that you are a guest at the symposium and are asked to speak on love in relation to goodness. Write your speech, referring to other speeches as needed.


An explanation of how to approach writing on each topic appears on the following pages.

Approach to Writing on Topic One
Here’s how to approach writing on topic one, “Choose a view of love presented in Symposium with which you disagree. Write an essay explaining and supporting your disagreement.”



  1. Thesis. Your thesis will be a statement of what you find to be wrong with the symposium speaker’s view.

  2. Audience. Keep your audience—the people in our class—in mind as you write. We’ve all read the book, so you don’t need to offer general summary and background. However, we don’t necessarily agree with your thesis, so you do need to explain it clearly and support it persuasively. In addition, you should quote from Symposium as needed to demonstrate that it says what you say it does.

  3. Organization. Organize the body of the essay in an easy-to-follow way. There are at least two general methods of organization:

    1. Present one rationale offered by the symposium speaker with whom you disagree and follow it with your refutation. Then present a second rationale and refute it. And so on.

    2. Present the symposium speaker’s argument in a sustained way in the first part of the essay, and your refutation in the second part.

Whichever method you use, make sure that one idea leads logically to the next. Avoid stringing ideas in a haphazard way.

  1. Support. Support your argument with clear reasoning, cogent evidence, and attention to counter-arguments:

  • Clear reasoning involves explaining the logic behind your own ideas and the logical fallacies, contradictions, and omissions in the symposium speaker’s argument.

  • Cogent evidence can be of three kinds: (1) studies in psychology, sociology, ethics, etc. (be sure to provide citations to sources of this evidence); (2) personal experience; and (3) examples from literature and mythology.

  • Attention to counter-arguments involves your addressing what the symposium speaker would likely say to challenge your ideas.

  1. Topic sentences. Begin each paragraph with a thesis-related topic sentence that enables readers to follow the logical flow of your argument.

  2. Introduction. In the introduction, capture your readers’ interest and present your thesis clearly. Avoid beginning with broad, obvious generalizations about the book or life. Instead, talk about the specific topic of your paper in a way that is likely to interest your readers.

  3. Conclusion. Restate your thesis—not your entire argument—in a thought-provoking way. It may help if you imagine readers saying “so what” about your thesis; your goal is to answer that “so what.”

  4. Style. Write concisely and engagingly. Wordiness and cliché are sure ways to turn off your readers.


Approach to Writing on Topic Two
Here’s how to approach writing on topic two, “Write an essay contrasting two views of love proposed in Symposium.”


  1. Thesis. Unlike topic one, if you write on this topic you will not take a position for or against a view of love. Instead, you’ll analyze the differences in two speakers’ views. You’ll also explain your view of why the two speakers differ as they do, e.g., their different underlying assumptions or life experiences. Your thesis will be a statement of the overall difference and the reason for that difference.

  2. Audience. Keep your audience—the people in our class—in mind as you write. We’ve all read the book, so you don’t need to offer general summary and background. However, we don’t necessarily agree with your thesis, so you do need to explain it clearly and support it persuasively. In addition, you should quote from Symposium as needed to demonstrate that it says what you say it does.

  3. Organization. If you are making a point-by-point comparison between the two speakers, use a back-and-forth organization. If your comparison is more general than that, discuss one speaker in one section of the essay and the other speaker in another section, emphasizing contrasts as you proceed. You’ll most likely place the discussion of why the two speakers differ in the final section of the paper, although you could place it in the first section if you think that’s more logical.

  4. Topic sentences. Begin each paragraph with a thesis-related topic sentence that enables readers to follow the logical flow of your argument.

  5. Support. Because this essay focuses on comparing two speakers’ views, your support will come from Symposium, not from outside research or experience. Whenever you make a claim about a speaker’s viewpoint, support it with a quote or a paraphrase. Keep in mind that often you don’t need to quote an entire sentence or paragraph; instead, you just need a clause, a phrase, or a portion of the paragraph. Finally, be sure to explain how each quote illustrates your point.

  6. Introduction. In the introduction, capture your readers’ interest and present your thesis clearly. Avoid beginning with broad, obvious generalizations about the book or life. Instead, talk about the specific topic of your paper in a way that is likely to interest your readers.

  7. Conclusion. Restate your thesis—not your entire argument—in a thought-provoking way. It may help if you imagine readers saying “so what” about your thesis; your goal is to answer that “so what.”

  8. Style. Write concisely and engagingly. Wordiness and cliché are sure ways to turn off your readers.

Approach to Writing on Topic Three
Here’s how to approach writing on topic three, “Pretend that you are a guest at the symposium and are asked to speak on love in relation to goodness. Write your speech, referring to other speeches as needed.”


  1. Thesis. Unlike the other two topics, if you choose this topic you don’t need to state your thesis explicitly. However, your audience should be able to understand your thesis about love and goodness by the time they have finished reading your speech.

  2. Audience. Keep your audience—the people in our class—in mind as you write. We’ve all read the book, so you don’t need to offer general summary and background. However, you should refer to other speakers’ views as needed in order to distinguish your view from theirs.

  3. Organization. For ideas on how to organize your speech, review the organizational methods of the various speeches in Symposium.

  4. Topic sentences. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that enables readers to follow the logical flow of your speech.

  5. Support. Support your ideas with clear reasoning, cogent evidence, and attention to counter-arguments:

  • Clear reasoning involves explaining the logic behind your own ideas and the logical fallacies, contradictions, and omissions in any arguments by other speakers that you refer to.

  • Evidence can be of three kinds: (1) studies in psychology, sociology, ethics, etc. (be sure to provide citations to sources of this evidence); (2) personal experience; and (3) examples from literature and mythology.

  • Attention to counter-arguments involves your anticipating and addressing what other symposium speakers who disagree with you would likely say to challenge your ideas.

  1. Introduction. For ideas on how to begin your speech, review the introductions of the various speeches in Symposium.

  2. Conclusion. For ideas on how to conclude your speech, review the conclusions of the various speeches in Symposium.

  3. Style. Work on creating a style that is distinctive and that sounds well when read aloud. To get ideas on possibilities for style, read aloud to yourself passages from the symposium speeches.


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