Posts Tagged persuasive writing

An example of nuance

Rendering of human brain.

Use this! (Image via Wikipedia)

Getting something better with less effort sounds like a dream – but that’s what we covered last week. Recap it now to revise how to grab the freedom you are given when writing essays and using that freedom to its full advantage.

So how did you go in the challenge? Did you notice examples of nuanced arguments made in real life? Or nuanced discussion points that you could’ve raised, but didn’t? I promised an example of how to use the nuanced argument strategy, so here it is. It’s an essay question that you might find in an English assignment.*

The example:

“Q: The main purpose of a film is to entertain the audience. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?.”

  1. You can argue ‘yes, the main purpose of a film is to entertain the audience’ by using examples of humour, suspense etc.
  2. You can also argue ‘no, the purpose of a film is not to entertain -it’s to educate’. Or you could go as far as saying ‘the purpose of a film is to indoctrinate – or solely to make money’. Those are extreme positions, though – good luck arguing them.

A nuanced argument: elegant and sophisticated.

  1. one nuanced argument would be to define “entertain[ing] an audience” to include feelings of horror and pity, as well as happiness.

Tip: I thought of this idea by looking at the key word “entertain” and asking what that implies – and doesn’t imply – and what it could imply with a slight stretch of the imagination.

Another nuanced argument would be that through the emotional film techniques (entertainment) a higher purpose is achieved: conveying a deeper message about society, humans as individuals etc. [launch into an amazing thematic topic sentence here!]

Tip: this was triggered by looking at the keyword “purpose”.

It’s all about analysing the question really. Just do it in an open-minded, even quirky way.

NB: Nuanced arguments don’t have to be full paragraphs – they can be smaller points within paragraphs too, but I find they are often important enough and big enough to justify a full paragraph length of explanation.

I’m sure there are other ways you could approach that question, but it’s important to answer it in a way that’s unique to you. As long as it’s reasonable and you can back it up with evidence and express it well, of course. So let your uniqueness peep through the academic façade of your writing. Write on!

*based on a true assignment question. Some of the words may have been changed to protect the identity of the film mentioned, to comply with all relevant legislation, and to completely alter the meaning of the original question.

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Pimp your paragraphs

DSC_0386

Image by Kiran K. via Flickr

The paragraphing techniques that we’ve covered have been the basics – the foundations, the bare essentials. Now let’s put some power into your paragraphs – soup them up – so they don’t just survive, but thrive.

There’s one powerful technique that I use to ‘pimp paragraphs’. I like this technique because it looks good, allows you to express more of what you personally think, and makes the essay-writing task easier. It also gets you more marks.

Ready?

You can get all that by using what I call ‘nuanced arguments’.  (In case you noticed it on the diagram, the “x” doesn’t mark a spot where treasure is buried – then again, metaphorically…) .

So what is a nuanced argument?

We looked at how paragraphs can be based around concepts that agree or differ with a stance framed by the question. But different interpretations don’t necessarily have to be opposites; they can sometimes be due to re-defining a concept. That right there was an example of a nuanced argument! It’s going into more detail and explaining how something similar or linked is actually different. So before you can synthesise this into your essay, you have to analyse some differences.


What are the benefits of using “nuanced arguments”?

  • Get more kudos (and therefore marks)

Markers generally like this sort of unique insight in an essay – it shows higher level thinking and is more engaging. Just make sure that you can back it up with evidence and it’s not straying outside of the question’s scope

  • Be more creative, not a stuffy academic

So many more options are open to you when you aren’t simply arguing “yes/no” or “for/against” – even the “how strongly” dimension is still limited compared to nuanced arguments…

  • Be more opinionated.

… which also means you can be more opinionated! (Some of you will really like that, I’m sure).

Nuanced arguments also make your job easier for many essays because you don’t have to fit the teacher’s thoughts into your own words, or struggle to come up with the ‘right answer”; you can write your own opinion, which you’ll know better and sooner than any other opinion. Best of all, markers prefer to read a fresh take on something (as long as it’s still well written and you back up the argument with evidence).

Don’t you want to take advantage of this technique? Here’s an idea: stay alert this week; see how many nuanced concepts you notice in real life – how many levels of precise interpretation you can identify. Once you start noticing them, you can pick them up everywhere. It’s great practice for essay writing and critical thinking in general. Also think about examples that you could use in an English essay. I’ll give you an example next week and we can compare notes, OK? All the best.

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Is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Over the last couple of months I have looked at how to write brilliant introductions and conclusions and there seemed to be a lot of similarities in the purposes of the sentences in their respective formulae.

So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise? Vice versa? Or are they very different beasts?

Well lets take a look at the formulae again:

Are introductions and conclusions similar or not?

The Formulaic Introduction

Sentence:

1. Hook them!

2. Set the scene

3. Show you’re smart

4. Give the game away

5. Sum it up

The Formulaic Conclusion

Sentences:

1. Re-state the scene

2. Answer the question

3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

5. End with a bang!

At a surface level each sentence of the introduction pairs up with a sentence from the conclusion. So we will chronologically go through the introduction and pair it up with the sentence from the conclusion that it is most similar too:

Introduction – Conclusion

1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!

Similarities: both sentences are broad like the extreme ends of a Greek column and should be powerful.

Differences: the first sentence of your introduction introduces the broad topic only; in addition the last sentence of the conclusion contains what the essay argued with regards to the broad topic. Also,  the first sentence of the introduction is neutral whereas the final sentence of your conclusion most probably is not.

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene

Similarities: both sentences have the same purpose – introduce/conclude what the essay will/has talk(ed) about. Also, they both use the same or similar signpost.

Differences: just the tense.

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

Similarities: both have the same purpose – show your intelligence, but…

Differences: …they achieve this is very different ways. The third sentence of your introduction does this by talking about the context of the essay, whereas the twist makes a judgement call on the evidence and information presented in the body of the essay.

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question

Similarities: both deal with the essay’s argument; however…

Differences: …the way it does this is slightly different – in the introduction you state your argument, whereas in the conclusion you go one step further by comprehensively answering the essay question and concluding your argument.

Introduction in disguise? Sort of.

5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!

Yes we have already compared “End with a bang!” but since it’s the last sentence of the introduction, let’s see whether it is similar to the last sentence of the conclusion:

Similarities: both have the same purpose – sum up the essay, and use the same or similar signpost.

Differences: tense and with “End[ing] with a bang! You need to, well, end with a bang…

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Based on this analysis we have two “Yup’s”, two “Nope’s” and a “Sort of”. Though the last sentence of the conclusion, “End with a bang!” is most similar in function to the last sentence of the introduction, so really there is just one key “Nope” – the two sentence 3’s: “Showing you are smart” and “Delivering a twist”.

Both have a similar purpose, so next week we will look at an example of an essay’s introduction and conclusion and I’ll provide my answer to the question.

In the meantime, what do you think – is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Photo Credit:  Top – 1. Lazurite 2. Unhindered by Talent 4. DraconianRain all via Flickr

Bottom – 1. Unhindered by Talent 3+4. thombo2 5. mudcu.be all via Flickr

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Paragraphing – an example (and a coffin)

Coffin icon

Weird? I know. The example essay will explain why this image is here… (Image via Wikipedia)

In previous posts, we’ve looked at how to structure paragraphs to produce coherent, compelling, and persuasive essays.

To recap quickly:

Once you’re comfortable with what each individual paragraph should do, you can master the art of arranging them effectively. We looked at both chronological ordering and ordering paragraphs by similarities and/or differences.

These topics are quite abstract. Enough to do your head in; after all, I’ve been writing lots of paragraphs about how to write paragraphs! So here’s an example of how I ordered paragraphs in one of my essays (we first saw part of this essay in the second “SEX” post). I’ll show you the ordering and the basis on which the paragraphs were constructed by reproducing the first and last sentences of each paragraph. (See how useful topic sentences are?). I’ll write comments in normal text underneath the italics of the example.

[Introduction]

The poem opens with direct speech: “’I’m rising five’”, exclaims the character in the poem.

Nicholson shows us how when we are young we lack knowledge outside of our uncomplicated small-scale experiences; and don’t recognise how carefree our lives are – we place the utmost importance on growing up.

The start of my essay’s body discusses the start of the poem; the overall method of ordering is chronological as you will see. Note that in the first sentence I begin the paragraph by focusing on Techniques, then the evidence throughout the paragraph this leads to a Thematic closing topic sentence.

Our early years present us with so many opportunities, Nicholson believes.

Soon his life’s opportunities are left behind him: opportunities are left stranded by humans every day.

The paragraph both began and ended with a Thematic focus. Between the topic sentences there was still Technical content, though. It’s important to have good Technical content to back up your arguments and make them more convincing.

As we mature, our perspectives change.

The boy’s mentality is shown throughout the poem by using the same line-placement technique. It is like a chain of reasoning, but this results in a rather chilling conclusion….

Notice that even in the closing topic sentences of this thematic paragraph, I refer to a chain of techniques that reveal the evolving perspectives of the boy. This further reflects the chronological ordering that is the basis of my essay’s analysis. This poem lends itself to the chronological approach because it’s theme is about progression and growing up.

NB: I don’t think I’d be so creative now to end a paragraph in a formal essay with ellipsis, but I got away with it that time. 😉

Positive images are still used for a while, though.

The space that is left unused means that the stanza lacks the detail of the previous, more densely packed stanza. This could reflect how blank and empty our lives are when we incessantly worry about the future.

Here I used a different approach to link to this paragraph. A link is made based on a similarity. The previous paragraph set up expectation of a progression, but I choose to emphasise the similarity of the imagery (so it’s a Technique focused paragraph again). This gives the reader a clear overview of what to expect, while still making the current point clear; aim for clarity in your essay.

Although the form of the poem is comparatively erratic in the previous stanza, the next is more traditional in layout – it is here that a subtle shift in the mood of the piece can first be detected.

It is ironic that people often desire to be younger again when they are adults – this backs up the poet’s argument that we need to make prudent decisions about what we do with each day; once we have decided, we can never get that day back again.

Another new approach to mix things up: this time a contrast is used to link the paragraphs. “Although” is a great linking word to use to signal a difference in the next paragraph. “On the other hand”, “however”, “in contrast”, and “nevertheless” are a few others. Experiment with them to find ones that work for you – the ‘fit’ often depends on the specific situation.

By the last stanza, Nicholson’s motif of the fruit trees has developed into an extended metaphor for the human life cycle.

The future holds the same fate for all of us: death. Nicholson reminds us not to be excessively captivated by the future.

[Conclusion]

(There. So now you know why there’s a coffin as the image for this post.)

Back to chronological linking of paragraphs after a little variety to add interest for the reader.

Often, my closing topic sentences are more creative and expressive than my opening topic sentences. I also prefer to close with a theme – and the sentence I leave in the reader’s mind at the end of each paragraph can target emotional responses (without becoming a poem or novel itself; it’s still an essay).

 
So there it is – ah, I’m at my word limit. ‘Bye for now’.

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The Spectrum

No, this isn’t about politics, don’t worry. It is about opinions and arguments in essays, though.

In my last post, we looked at a simple method of ordering paragraphs: sequentially like the way content appears in the text. Along with the advantages, chronological ordering comes with a downside: it’s tempting to recount what happened in the text, rather than analysing the way the text was constructed and the deeper messages it conveys. The last thing markers want is yet another summary of the plot. They have sparknotes for that – and they’ve probably taught it so many times they can spout it off in their sleep – backwards – and with their hands tied behind their backs. Use chronological ordering to tie your technical and thematic analysis together in a logical manner. It’s not an invitation to stop thinking.

However, chronological ordering is just one method that you can use. The following ‘family’ of methods is modelled on the ‘Spectrum Diagram’ above.

  • Similarities
  • Differences
    • (nuance)

Essentially, all these methods structure your essay around concepts – usually themes and techniques in a Literature Essay.

Similarities and Differences

The spectrum diagram depicts the flow of the essay through the paragraphs. The spectrum itself represents the grounds of the debate, as set by the question. Opinions, individual concepts, arguments – and the different schools of thought that you discover in your research – can be placed on this spectrum.

Tip: to have a more convincing argument, look at alternative interpretations and arguments, as well as your own.

Structure your argument by balancing the different opinions and pieces of evidence. So some paragraphs may re-enforce each other (move in the same direction), while others may differ and take the reader back along the spectrum of opinion in the opposite direction. These paragraphs can be more persuasive, because the arguments are clearer; they form the very backbone of how the essay’s ordered. However, you have to very clearly communicate where the evidence is found in the text, since it’s not in chronological order. Also, remember to order the paragraphs with the end goal of being persuasive. Your paragraphs should link together in a meaningful journey, not just meander through some interesting but irrelevant concepts.

Ordering paragraphs to lead readers through stages of an argument is a more adaptable method than chronological ordering; every essay question will invite you to discuss concepts. You can mold the content more freely. However, it can take a little more thought to write using this method – but that can be a good thing. Done well, this can impress the marker and give you more persuasive power.

Perhaps it’s time to try a slightly more sophisticated paragraphing and ordering technique?

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Constructing your conclusion

1. Re-set the scene 2. Answer the question 3+4. Deliver a twist 5. End with a bang!

Over the last few weeks we have looked at where the content of your conclusion comes from, the one thing you should never include in your conclusions and the one thing you should.

Now we will put it all together to create a formula for your conclusions like we did with the introduction.

Sentence 1: Re-state the scene

Aim: Summarise your essay broadly, what did it do?

Start with a signpost such as “This essay has [examined/considered/discussed]…”

This sentence is essentially the past tense version of Sentence 2 in your introduction. Don’t copy it word for word though! Paraphrase it, show you understand what your essay has done.

Sentence 2: Answer the question

Aim: State the broad conclusion to your essay’s argument – what has your essay proved?

Carry on from Sentence 1 and move into specifically what your essay looked at and finish up the sentence with your broad answer to the essay question. This sentence can sometimes get quite long so don’t be afraid to split it into two sentences. However, as we keep stressing, be concise! The marker will have read tens if not hundreds of essays – you want your conclusion to stand out.

It is similar to Sentence 4 in the introduction.

Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist

Aim: Make your conclusion interesting and demonstrate your knowledge and understanding to the marker.

Everything you need to know about the one thing you need to include in your conclusion can be found in my previous post.

Since this is such an important part of the conclusion it usually takes up a couple of sentences. It has a similar purpose as Sentence 3 in the introduction.

Sentence 5: End with a bang!

Aim: To summarise your conclusion.

Be succinct and concise. This is the last thing the marker is going to read; you want them to remember it. So start with a signpost, “Overall…” and end with a bang!

It follows along the same lines as Sentence 5 in the introduction.

This formula is a great guide for writing your conclusions and is based off Ian Hunter’s book.

Next week we will look at an example of this formula in action.

Photo Credit: 1. Unhindered by Talent 3+4. thombo2 5. mudcu.be all via Flickr

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When is simple good?

Pocket watch, savonette-type.

Image via Wikipedia

When is simple good?

Now we’ve covered ways you can decide what goes in each individual paragraph. This post will go over ways you can order the paragraphs. Knowing what makes a good order of paragraphs will also help you plan the essay in the first place.

Each mini-argument that becomes a paragraph should fit in with the rest of the mini-arguments. The main thing is that you’ve got to lead your reader through your arguments. Make it flow. If it’s a nice easy journey, they’re more likely to like you and your arguments.

There are ways of achieving this gentle persuasiveness. Here’s one strategy that I use.

Chronological ordering

This is when you write your first paragraph about the first part of the text, or the first part of a model, or the first historical development in your topic. You then write about the second part of the text etc. until you have finished analysing the text and sum up your argument in your conclusion. This is simple to do, so it is probably the best one to practice on. It is also usually clear for the reader and is particularly well-suited to character development and plot-driven questions. If you’re writing an English Literature essay, choosing a chronological ordering for your paragraphs may speed up your analysis as well, because you can simply go through the text in order. So besides being easy to write, chronologically ordered essays can be simple for the reader to understand too, if the question, text, and your overall argument serendipitously complement each other using this method.

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, simple chronological ordering of paragraphs is good where you want to write a solid essay quickly – like when you’re in an exam. However, what other ways of ordering paragraphs can you think of? And when is simple bad?

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Essays for generals (Part VI) – paragraph foundations

Plan your paragraphs to get maximum impact.

Individual paragraphs affect more than just the ‘mini-arguments’ in those paragraphs; they also affect the persuasiveness of the entire essay. This is because flow of the essay is based on how the paragraphs link, which is in turn driven by the conceptual basis on which they are built. So it’s important to outline paragraphs well – but what conceptual basis can you use to create paragraphs?

There are at least two methods you can use.

  1. Thematically
  2. Technique-based

Thematic grouping designs paragraphs to show a range of themes. A drama’s themes of loyalty/sacrifice and greed/cruelty can be discussed based on examples, regardless of when the various examples of the themes appear in the text.

Technique-based grouping creates the paragraphs to emphasise your technical analysis. For example, you could structure your paragraphs around how a reader’s response changes as the poem progresses.

The method of ordering your paragraphs depends on what you want your essay to emphasize, so everything comes back to the essay question (as usual). If the question asks what attitudes towards nature a novel conveys, then a thematic basis of creating paragraphs would work well; if it’s about the techniques the poet has used to communicate the deeper message of the poem, then technique-based paragraphs might be best.

Use the thematic and technique-based concepts of how to design paragraphs in order to write clearer and more focused paragraphs. This style of paragraph design also makes it easier to link the paragraphs overall, which we’ll cover in a future post. Besides the two methods mentioned above, what other foundations could use to plan paragraphs?

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Essays for generals (Part V) – divide and conquer

WWII Divide and Conquer 5

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome back, generals.

Today’s briefing covers an important lesson: effectively deploying your regiments to get more marks. This clever trick not only helps you when you’re planning your paragraphs, but it also helps you adapt as you write (as long as you’re using a word processor).

Tip: combine similar and related ideas into single paragraphs; split paragraphs that are too large.

Too many students feel that they have to write paragraphs based around the way the concepts first came into their heads and then got scribbled in a margin to make a bullet-point plan. This is not the case. Don’t be restricted by your first thoughts. You have the freedom to experiment and change how they’re put together and expressed.

For example, say your essay is about marketing and you have a paragraph on one mini-argument. It’s about how using advertising is crucial in supporting a broader marketing strategy, say. If this has ended up as a huge paragraph, you have two options:

  1. Cut it back
  2. Split in two

You could consider splitting the advertising paragraph into one about advertising in traditional media and one about online advertising, perhaps. Splitting a humongous paragraph retains more information in your essay, but it also ensures that all of that information is easier to read. I suggest “cutting back” egregious paragraphs as much as possible first, though. Cull out the unnecessary words, thoughts, phrases – and even full sentences. Make your essay clearer by removing written clutter.  If you streamline your big paragraph first, you may find that you don’t need to split it after all. However, even if you still split the monster paragraph later, you have higher quality content to split.

Conversely, if you had two small paragraphs on these topics, they will probably make a stronger case together – you may have to adjust your topic sentences, but once that’s done, the new ‘super’ paragraph will be all the more persuasive with it’s ‘extra’ pieces of evidence. Here’s an example of a paragraph with opening and closing topic sentences.

Combining and splitting paragraphs gives you more flexibility when you’re planning – and writing – your essay. It’s a useful strategy to employ if you want to unlock all the potential of your writing by structuring it in paragraphs that persuade your marker.

Now, go forth and “divide and conquer”.

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Introducing Conclusions

Over the last few weeks we have talked a lot about introductions and body paragraphs which leads us nicely to the third and final part of an

Introducing Conclusions

essay: the conclusion.

Many people find writing conclusions difficult, but they do not need to be.

The purpose of your conclusion is to sum up your essay and nearly everything you need for your conclusion you have already written. You are taking all the arguments, information, and evidence you have presented throughout your essay and are tying it all together.

The introduction is there to hook, the body paragraphs to persuade, and the conclusion is there to convince.

The marker should, after reading your conclusion, see how all your points and mini-arguments work together to answer the essay question, convincingly.

So before you start your conclusion you need to refer back to your:

  • introduction – did you write about what you said you would?
  • body paragraphs – how does what you wrote answer the essay question convincingly?

If the answer to either of those questions is ‘No’ then you need to go back and fix them up. You cannot write an effective conclusion without being able to answer ‘Yes’ to both these questions because this is where you will draw your content from.

Just as a poor introduction will lose you lots of marks, so too will a poor conclusion. In fact, if written well, your conclusion can gain you a lot of marks by aiding the marker’s understanding of what you have written in your body paragraphs.

So just because you are sick of writing after 2500 words of introduction and body paragraphs or you are running out of time in your exams, doesn’t mean you can write a half-arsed conclusion and you’ll get away with it.

Over the next few weeks I will look at how you can write effective conclusions which will give the marker no choice but to award you a top mark.

Photo Credit m.gifford via Flickr

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