Good point: persuasion / argument

1. Plan & Research, Essays

Do you have a solution for a practical problem? Can you untangle a confusing question?

Can you make readers see a subject with new interest?

Persuade us.
Convince us.
Argue for your viewpoint.

Plan your topic

Make your topic specific enough that you can master a reasonable amount of information. Unless you have a distant deadline, there is no way to learn enough about commercial aviation, for example, to be effective unless you narrow your topic.

Ask questions about your topic until you find something that catches your attention. To return to the commercial aviation example: what role did the military play in the development? What early modifications led to the shape we now association with commercial airplane? How did the early years of commercial aviation inform current safety procedures? Are “puddle-jumpers” safe? Why can’t more airlines mimic Southwest Airlines’ success?

Write down as many questions as you can, and then find five more to ask. Look over the list to see if some of these questions share an angle (military use, safety modifications, consumer demands). If you seem to favor an angle, your topic lives inside there somewhere.

Once you have a narrowed topic, decide what exactly you want your reader to understand. This is your essay’s mission statement, so to speak. You should consult it when you begin designing a thesis, vetting evidence, and writing your conclusion.

Write it somewhere on your working draft:  type it into the custom header on your document (remove it only when you are ready to turn your essay in); write it up the side of your outline page or the notepad you are using while in the library or researching online; use a separate color of sticky note or color in a heavy border to make the mission statement easy to spot if sticky notes are how you keep tabs. Seeing your mission statement frequently will remind you to stay on track.

Find sources to supply your evidence. Wikipedia can certainly get you started thinking about a topic, but not all teachers will accept it as a source. For scholarly sources, consider tapping into the invisible Web.

Choose the evidence your readers will expect in support of your answer. Search out the facts that go with the who, what, when, where, why, whether, and how of your topic. Find the answers to whatever questions you think your readers might have, and then go an extra mile and find a few things your readers never realized they needed to know.

In other words, look a few pages further than the first page of Google returns. Are there non-profit organizations or niche museums or historical records sites associated with your topic? Has someone made their life’s work out of your topic? Can you find a documentary or a PBS program that touches on your topic or the era around it?

Research can be an eye-strain, but beware the trap of “Here’s what I found — maybe it’s enough.” Try to become your own reader for a moment:  Is there enough evidence for both the “for” and “against” aspects of the topic? Does the evidence lead to a new set of questions that could be asked (and that you will need to answer), and is that a sign your topic needs more narrowing? Did you remember to follow your experts’ words with an explanation of how they apply to your point?

Provide expertise

Be straight with your readers. No writing about the opposing view(s) of others using only “they” and “some people.” Name names. Cite the expert sources from both the “for” and “against” points so others can read what you read while researching your topic.

Show some respect

Be flexible, or at least appear to be. If you forget to acknowledge the opposite opinions in your audience, your effectiveness tanks.

Evidence knows no age group, but how you present the evidence does. Speak appropriately to your chosen audience. If, for example, you are writing on a topic for meant for teenagers, your examples and metaphors should be equally young:  Bieber, not Elvis. Lady Gaga, not Madonna.

No matter who your audience will be, don’t assume they have all the same information you do. Provide some background before debating the details. Set the topic in its time frame or place in history, remind readers of the early major player(s) if you will bring up more modern names later, tell us what has changed since the beginnings or describe the arc of progress. Finish your background with a detail or story that can serve as a transition out of the background information and into your points.

Wrap it up

Review your best point in new words and with new information. It can be a powerful fact or an emotional anecdote, but leave your reader with something not easily forgotten about your topic.

Exit the essay. Usually this means closing the loop on the idea expressed in the introduction. Echo your introduction, but don’t repeat it.

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