Contending with Issues


Argumentative writing is the oldest form we have in essays, and one in which students feel the most comfortable, because the outcome is clear: persuade your audience of your point of view. However, the way we've learned to write about issues sometimes oversimplifies the issues themselves. This essay will ask you to write about an issue you feel strongly about, but also that you encounter in the essays we read for this section. If there is another essay that you want to use for your topic in this section that we don't read as a class, let me know. The assignment will be to write an essay that combines your thoughts on a particular issue with those thoughts, facts, etc., presented by the author of the essay you've chosen to respond to. This is a persuasive essay, so you will be convincing your reader of your position on the issue, whether that is in agreement, disagreement, or partial agreement with the author of your topic essay's point of view.


When choosing a topic to write on, consider what you already know about the subject, and what you need to find out. Think about argumentative strategies, whether or not your audience will generally accept or oppose your perspective, and how to address that challenge. Remember to clearly define the issue, as well as what "slant" you want to place on the issue (this will help focus your issue if it is an unusually large one). Make sure your thesis, or position, is clearly stated. Your argument should be based on solid evidence and logical reasoning, as well as acknowledge the opposing point of view. Explore what caused this to be a controversial issue in the first place. Where did it come from? Remember that your tone can either gain respect from your reader or have them tune out completely.

Your topic will be chosen from the essays presented in the text.

"What's Wrong with Animal Rights" explores the way different organizations have reacted to the animal rights movement, and how the issue isn't as clear-cut as it appears or is presented to the public.

"Living Like Weasels" explores the idea of how we as humans do or do not listen to our instincts, what part they play in our lives, and how we view the idea of necessity.

"Stone Soup" explores the idea of the "nuclear" vs. the nontraditional family structure.

"Nobel Lecture 7 November 1993" explores our use of language, how it can be and has been used as a weapon, and what the consequences of language are.

"Growing Up Class-Conscious" explores the stigmas attached to the idea of class, and how that changes the way people interact with each other.

"The Word Police" explores the impact of politically-correct language.


You will develop your thesis following the tenet that a thesis is subject plus assertion. Therefore, you will be persuading your audience to the assertion you make about the subject. For instance, if I thought politically correct language was ruining the way we use language, I would use that idea in my thesis. I would use Kakutani's essay to start my thoughts, and to support my thoughts on the subject.


Your ethos comes from the essay you are responding with or against, and from your experiences and knowledge, no matter where from. You will not utilize outside sources except the text from the essay, which you must utilize and quote correctly.

First, develop how you feel about the topic. This might not be easy; as you see in some of these essays, the issues themselves aren't clear-cut, and neither are the authors' feelings on them. Many authors, in fact, are looking for a compromise on the issue, or looking for a different perspective to look at the issue with beyond the cut and dry. You may begin your development with "I agree/disagree with this author," but you need to move beyond that with YOUR OWN IDEAS in the essay. Your ideas, not the essay you read, should drive this essay.

As you freewrite, begin an outline, deciding on organization. What is most important to say about this issue? Should that go first in the essay? Should you move through ideas in a similar fashion to the author of the essay you're responding to?

Remember that your tone will play an important role in this essay. You don't want to offend or scare your reader away with too harsh or antagonistic language. Keep your tone assertive yet open-minded about the issue. You may feel like saying less "I" in this essay-go with that.

Use personal experience and your knowledge (observational experience or other knowledge) as your support base. Make sure to qualify how you know about what you know. Do not present yourself as an expert on something unless you are an expert on that something.

When revising, pay attention to wasted language-places that say "I think thatů" or "I believe" can be cut off-not the information itself, but the tag before it. We know you think or believe it' you wrote the essay. There are other ways we really waste language in academic writing, and we'll talk about those in class. Keep the language specific and vivid.

Remember, your conclusion is your "last chance" to win over your audience full of cynics. How will you shed new light on the subject? Take a look at other essays in this section for good ideas on how to end an essay.


Remember these things about your drafts:

Grading Criteria/Rubric

Does this essay have a clearly stated topic and position?
Does the author address the essay from the text, either using information from it to support his/her position or to present opposing viewpoints?
Does the essay effectively support the position with experience, knowledge, etc.?
Does the essay address opposing viewpoints in a respectful way?
Does the essay use an assertive, respectful, appropriate tone?
Has the author introduced and concluded the essay effectively?
Is the essay proofread and clear of editorial errors?

Due dates are detailed on each class calendar.

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