What did you say? Writing Dialogue

Computer hackers and cyber crime conceptWhen composing a narrative essay, dialogue is an essential component for creating an engaging story. Without the spoken words, the reader can’t “hear” the characters (the real people who you are introducing to your audience) and get to know them. Simply summarizing what a character said isn’t as engaging or interesting as direct dialogue between characters.

When composing a narrative, you’ll most likely be re-creating conversations from the past. Don’t get too caught up in whether or not you recall exactly what was said. That is less important as how you portray the people in your narrative with their language, mannerisms, and other characteristics of their speech. When trying to decide exactly where and how to incorporate written dialogue, there are 3 essential questions to ask yourself before you begin:

  • Is it AUTHENTIC?

  • Is it ESSENTIAL?

  • Is it DOING MORE THAN ONE THING?

 Is it Authentic?

Authentic dialogue realistically portrays the person speaking. If it’s authentic, the spoken words will sound exactly like the person would sound in real life. This doesn’t mean you have to incorporate slang in every sentence, but it does mean that the diction, word choice, phrasing, and other stylistic choices can easily be attributed to the person who is speaking in the narrative. It shouldn’t be too formal or precise. Below is an exchange of dialogue between a son and his mother:

“Jason,” my mother asked, “what were your activities and pursuits at your elementary school today?”
“I had a full day of activities, Mother.  My teacher was quite stimulating, and recess was especially delightful,” I said.

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? Most likely, an exchange between a mother and young son might sound something like this:

“How was school today?” Mom asked.
“It was okay, I guess.”

The first example obviously sounds stilted and formal, unlike how most families speak. The second example is more realistic. Some writers might choose to even use slang in their speech, such as “I dunno,” or “Kinda good,” but be very careful of overusing phonetic substitutes, as it becomes a bit tedious to read and runs the risk of characters sounding illiterate.

Is it ESSENTIAL?

“Hi Jim. How are you?” I asked.
“I’m fine. How are you?” Jim said.
“I’m fine,” I said.

Holy cow, this is BORING! An exchange like the example above is not essential to the narrative. It’s not really doing anything toward moving the narrative forward or showing any kind of characterization of the speakers. Compare this with the following exchange:

“Hey Jim,” Todd said, his voice almost a whisper.
“Hey Todd–everything okay?” Jim asked, concerned.
“It’s my dad,” Todd said, breaking down.

In this exchange, the everyday-ness of the previous example is avoided. There may have very well been niceties exchanged, but in written dialogue, the writer must compress time and get to what’s essential. Here we get tension, we get emotion, and the narrative is propelled forward. Which leads us to essential element #3.

Is It Doing More Than One Thing?

Dialogue, whether in fiction or nonfiction, isn’t meant to simply allow characters to “speak.” If this is all it’s doing, then it isn’t doing enough.

Dialogue should draw a characterization. This means that the dialogue works to show traits of the person speaking, or the relationship between the speakers.  What they say, how they say it, and the tone they use provides the reader with lots of information they wouldn’t get otherwise.

The following excerpt is from Beloved by Toni Morrison, an expert at characterization through dialogue. Notice in this example that Morrison mostly avoids using phonetic spellings, but simply drops words to characterize the speakers:

“Something funny ‘bout that gal,” Paul D said, mostly to himself.
“Funny how?”
“Acts sick, sounds sick, but she don’t look sick. Good skin, bright eyes and strong as a bull.”
“She’s not strong. She can hardly walk without holding on to something.”
“That’s what I mean. Can’t walk, but I seen her pick up the rocker with one hand.”
“You didn’t.”
“Don’t tell me. Ask Denver. She was right there with her.”

In this exchange, Morrison avoids speaker tags, except in the first line to set up the exchange. The “he said, she said” can take away from an otherwise engaging exchange, and here, it isn’t necessary. Also notice that the two people speaking have distinctly different styles, so it’s easy to differentiate each speaker from the other.

Consider everything the following bit of dialogue is doing:

“What’s the capital of Spain?” Jerry asked, pausing over his crossword puzzle.
Susan looked up from her book and rolled her eyes. “Madrid, duh.”
“Why are you so sarcastic all the time?” Jerry slammed his pencil on table. He
looked like he was going to cry. “I don’t think I can take much more of this.”

Poor Jerry! You can cut the tension with a knife! What’s going to happen? Several things are happening with this dialogue-

  1. Characterizes speakers
  2. Shows relationship between characters
  3. Creates tension
  4. Moves narrative forward

When you’re writing dialogue for your narrative, consider why you are incorporating each exchange and know what your purpose is for including it. If it isn’t essential, leave it out.

There really are no secrets to writing effective dialogue, but knowing who your characters are and why you’re incorporating every exchange will help in determining what to leave in and what to take out. Avoid phony or forced speech, and use speaker tags thoughtfully. When you’re finished, read your essay aloud to “hear” what you’ve written. Try reading some essays or short stories to see how other writers do it. Follow these steps, and you’ll be writing dialogue like a pro!


Below is a brief reading list of some of the greatest writers of dialogue you might study.

“Hills Like White Elephants” – Ernest Hemingway.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” – Raymond Carver.

Anything by Elmore Leonard or John Steinbeck.

The Rhetorical Triangle: Identifying Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

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The great philosopher, Aristotle, was fascinated with how rhetoric functions. How an individual says something, the emotion, tone, and sentiment used, conveys as much or more meaning than the actual content of the message. Aristotle defined the three key persuasive appeals of logos, ethos, and pathos, and the theory of rhetoric was born.

The concept of the rhetorical triangle is often foreign to most beginning writers; however, the components that make up the rhetorical triangle— logos, ethos, and pathos—are crucial elements to most forms of academic writing. Most casual readers, however, do not always recognize these elements of persuasive argument. However, to be a critical reader and informed audience (as well as a successful writer), it’s essential a reader and writer keep a keen eye toward the elements of these persuasive techniques.

How do we come to understand these appeals as we, writers and readers, construct our own persuasive writing? Let’s break each down to its simplest form, and consider how each are used.

Logos

The Greek logos, means word or reason.  Logos is often referred to as the idea, message, reason, or text. Logos relates to the premise, or foundation, of an argument. When an appeal of logos is in the text of an argument, the writer is appealing to reason. As we deconstruct (or construct) an argument, consider if the writer or author has presented an argument with a strong claim (thesis), and reasoning (support).

For logos to be effective, an argument must contain the following:

  • a clear and consistent claim
  • logical reasons
  • effective evidence

For a claim, or thesis, to be effective, it should be specific:

The U.S. should increase funding to prevent underage drinking, as youth are at higher risk of death due to excessive drinking, are more likely to binge drink, and related economic costs are skyrocketing.

In this example, the thesis is clearly stated, and the reasons are clear. But what kind of facts will back up this claim?

Including reliable facts, such as statistics, testimony, surveys, experiments, and even personal experience, is essential for a successful logical appeal (logos). Look at the following statistic. Would a reader interpret this as strong support for the previous claim?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.
(https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm)

The audience, or reader, must determine if this stat is from a trustworthy source. The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, a government agency, and is highly respected. Most readers would probably consider the source quite trustworthy, and not question the data.

Are the facts clearly defined?

An inquisitive reader might wonder what exactly the data means by economic costs, and how they measure those costs. This would need clarification and explanation. But the data source that is used here would most likely be considered credible, as it comes from a government agency with a strong reputation for reliable research.

Ethos

Greek for “character,” ethos refers to the writer’s (or speaker’s) perspective and credibility. A writer can develop ethos by utilizing effective tone and style; incorporating strong evidence and support; and including fair treatment of opposing views.

When constructing an argument, consider how you, as the writer/speaker, are communicating your message. Questions to consider when determining if ethos is successful include

  • Is the writer knowledgeable on the subject?
  • What are his or her qualifications?
  • Does the writer sound credible?
  • Has the writer presented strong reasoning and support?
  • Is the writer’s tone suitable for the purpose, such as the word choices?
  • Has the writer demonstrated respect for the opposition, or merely declared it invalid?

Television personalities, politicians, and athletes are often used in advertising to promote a product. While the public often admires famous individuals, does that mean we should automatically believe what they say—or sell? Would you put all of your money in an investment solely because an Olympic athlete has promoted the product? Would you follow a trendy diet because a famous TV personality says it’s the best diet ever invented? The writer’s credibility and how he or she has presented the facts weighs heavily if an argument is to be successful.

Pathos

Ethos-Logos-Pathos

Pathos, Greek for “suffering” or “experience,” refers to an appeal based on emotions. Many (if not most) politicians use emotional appeals in their arguments: the story of a family who is struggling to make ends meet to push for tax cuts; the image of a glacier breaking away in the arctic to enact tougher environmental measures; the story of a homeless family to push for more affordable housing.

Another common situation pathos is used is fundraising campaigns. Direct mail solicitations almost always rely on pathos to play on the readers’ compassion, whether it be fundraising for polar bears, rain forests, or orphanages.

These types of emotional appeals have been highly criticized, as they are in many ways a form of manipulation, and are often used to mislead the audience. However, effective arguments almost always use appeals to emotions such as fear, sadness, fury, distress, or hope. It’s up to the audience to be well-informed and critical, taking an active approach to analyzing each part of an argument to confirm its validity.

For an effective emotional appeal, the writer must first understand exactly who their audience is and what motivates them. What are their values and beliefs?

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that often one aspect of a text could include all of the rhetorical appeals. They work together, overlapping to strengthen the argument. Remember that as you analyze other writing or are building your own argument, each appeal in the rhetorical triangle—logos, ethos, and pathos—carries some responsibility for the success—or failure—of the argument.

 

 

Works Consulted

Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Sixth ed., Boston, Bedford St. Martin’s, 2016.

“Underage Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Aug.  2018, Atlanta, GA., https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm. Accessed 15, Apr., 2019.

Bridging the Gaps: All about Transitions

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With any type of essay, the writer’s job is to help guide the reader from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph. Effective transitions in an essay act as a bridge for the reader along their reading path, helping the reader to connect sections of texts and relationships between ideas.

When to Use Transitions

A good transition will turn disconnected thinking into a more unified thought. You might use transitions to signal a comparison (similarly, likewise) or contrast (however, nevertheless), to signal an example or a quote (to illustrate, for instance), to signal cause and effect (therefore, accordingly, as a result), and to signal opposition or rebuttal (however, despite, on the contrary, regardless). The chart below shows some commonly used transitional expressions:

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(chart from Writingcenter.unc.edu)

Transitions in Research Papers

Certain signal words and phrases are used to connect sentences and paragraphs. “Even though” is often used to introduce a contrast.  “For example” is a common transitional phrase that often proceeds a direct quote or paraphrase in a research essay, as in the example below:

Even though there has been a small but steady decrease in the estimated number of smokers globally since 2000, it’s a different matter when it comes to vaping. For example, the number of vapers has been increasing rapidly – from about seven million in 2011 to 35 million in 2016 (LaVito, 2018).

Without the transition phrase “for example,” the sentence flow would sound abrupt and choppy.

Another instance when transitions are especially beneficial in research papers is when introducing the argument’s opposition and rebuttal:

While the military continues to see the number of reported incidents of sexual assault steadily increase each year, they say that surveys they’ve carried out indicate the number of victims is declining. However, many disagree with how the military is analyzing the data. According to Navy Capt. Lory Manning, the military must not rely on an increase in reporting as a sign of progress. Despite the data showing the number of sexual assault victims is declining, it could also mean that more assaults are occurring (Cohen, 2018).

In the previous example, without the transition words to bridge the flow of ideas, the paragraph would be uneven and confusing. Try reading the paragraph without the transitional words in bold. How does it sound?

Let’s take a look at the following paragraph, which incorporates transitional expressions therefore, such as, and however to bridge the sentences and clarify the ideas:

Deciding on a college is often a difficult decision for students. Therefore, most school counselors try to provide students with different resources, such as assessments and college brochures. However, counselors need to provide students with more resources in order to help them make a more informed decision about what college to attend.

In this example, the transitional expressions aid the reader to understand relationships between sentences and their ideas. While the sentences wouldn’t technically be incorrect without transitional words, the flow would be abrupt, and the reader would have to work harder to make connections.

To summarize (transitioning to conclusion!), by incorporating transitional words and phrases into your writing, you’ll create a smooth reading experience for your audience and turn disconnected ideas into a cohesive whole.

For more practice with transitions, visit

Purdue Owl’s exercise on transitions found here.

 

 

References

Cohen, Z., & Browne, R. (2018, April 30). US military sees spike in sexual assault reports. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/30/politics/dod-sexual-assault-report-2017/index.html.

LaVito, A. (2018, October 23). As vaping surges, teen cigarette smoking ticks up after decades of decline. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/22/ teen-cigarette-smoking-ticks-up-as-vaping-surges.html.

Transitions. (2019). Retrieved March 16, 2019, from https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/transitions/.

 

 

Poetry Analysis

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“Poems are a form of music, and language just happens to be our instrument—language and breath.”

—Terrance Hayes

 

Writing a poetry analysis is one of the most dreaded assignments for students. Poetry is often intimidating to the untrained reader and it often takes time and practice to learn how to critically analyze a poem. Once you understand some of the basic principles of literary analysis and learn some simple poetry vocabulary, writing poetry analysis won’t be so daunting.

First, let’s review some vocabulary that we’ll be using –

Basic Vocabulary

Below are some basic poetic devices that are commonly used in analysis. Some you may be familiar with:

Simile: Comparison using like or as.

Metaphor: a direct comparison.

Tone: the emotion that the speaker uses when he/she talks

Personification: human qualities attributed to non-human objects

Imagery: A way to create pictures with words, often using sensory detail

Alliteration: Repetition of the same consonant sound

Assonance: Repetition of the same vowels sound

Stanza: A grouped set of lines in a poem

Now that you’ve learned some simple vocabulary, let’s look at some ways you might analyze a poem.

Title

The first thing you read is obviously the title. This is your first clue as to what the poem might be about. The title often reflects the subject of the poem, so come back to the title after you’ve read the poem to analyze the connection to the content.

Close Reading

To begin, it’s important to read the poem several times, at least 3. Each time you read a poem, you might find something different you didn’t notice from previous readings. Try reading it aloud. Take note of words you are not familiar with so you can look them up later. Circle nouns or phrases that stick out to you.

Who is the Speaker?

Don’t confuse the speaker or narrator of the poem with the writer. The voice could be that of the writer, expressing thoughts or feelings, but not necessarily.

The speaker of the poem may be an old man, but the person who wrote the poem might be a twenty-year-old. Is the speaker a man or woman? Is he or she addressing someone in particular? Is there more than one speaker? What is the speaker’s mood? Angry? Cynical? Happy? If you can easily pinpoint the mood, how did you know?

Do you have any clues as to the main idea the speaker wants to communicate?

What is the Subject?

The title might be the first clue to the subject of the poem. If you’re still confused, ask yourself simply, “What is the poem about?”

You could uncover clues to the subject by the speaker’s tone. What is the speaker’s attitude about the subject? Angry? Hurt? Resentful? Sad? Scared? Joyful?

What is the Situation?

Is there an event in the poem the speaker is reflecting on? Or is the speaker simply discussing a memory? The weather? A long lost love?

Often, but not always, a poem tells a story. Did something happen? Does the speaker want something to happen? Why is the speaker talking about this?

Structure

How is the poem organized or divided up? You might be familiar with traditional stanzas, or several groups of 4 or 5 lines each, but there are as many different ways to organize a poem as there are poets. A poem might have numbered stanzas, or each stanza line may have no end punctuation and flow into the next stanza.

Poems are a unified piece of writing, and for the most part, don’t jump in topic from stanza to stanza, but are usually connected in meaning. You might see some kind of link in emotions, ideas, or images, a common thread that runs through each stanza. Do you notice any common thread?

If there are no stanza divisions, try looking at the poem line by line or sentence by sentence. Do you notice any patterns of repeated words or images?

Theme

The theme is the central idea of the poem, and often the theme conveys the poem’s message. As you put all of these ideas together, what does the poem mean as a whole? What do you think is the “take away” or the big “so what?” of the poem?

Language and Imagery

The conclusions you draw about the poem will come from the language and imagery of the poem. So it is imperative to understand the denotative meaning, as well as the connotative meaning of the words.

Denotative Meaning: This is the literal, or dictionary definition of a word.

Connotative Meaning: This is the emotional or associative meaning of a word. For instance, a snake is often associated with evil. Hollywood is associated with glamour. Blue birds are associated with happiness. The color white or a cross is associated with goodness or holiness.

Poets rely on language and imagery to convey meaning. Understanding the denotative and connotative meaning in language is important to understand the meaning of a poem.

Final Thoughts

This is only the tip of the tip of the poetic iceberg on how one might analyze poetry. Once you learn a few simple terms, you’ll find there are dictionaries devoted to poetic vocabulary. One good resource can be found on the Poetry Foundation’s website, who has a large glossary of terms, found here. Another good source is Poets.org.

Writing about poetry can be challenging, but learning a few simple terms and strategies will hopefully take the fear out of your next poetry analysis.

Practice!

Considering the questions above, analyze the following poems-

Tattoo by Ted Kooser

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

Kin by Maya Angelou

We were entwined in red rings
Of blood and loneliness before
The first snows fell
Before muddy rivers seeded clouds
Above a virgin forest, and
Men ran naked, blue and black
Skinned into the warm embraces
Of Sheba, Eve and Lilith.
I was your sister.

You left me to force strangers
Into brother molds, exacting
Taxations they never
Owed or could ever pay.

You fought to die, thinking
In destruction lies the seed
Of birth. You may be right.

I will remember silent walks in
Southern woods and long talks
In low voices
Shielding meaning from the big ears
Of overcurious adults.

You may be right.
Your slow return from
Regions of terror and bloody
Screams, races my heart.
I hear again the laughter
Of children and see fireflies
Bursting tiny explosions in
An Arkansas twilight.

 

Analysis Essay Thesis Statement

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The term, “analysis” comes from the word, “analyze,” which is the “the process of studying or examining something in an organized way to learn more about it, or a particular study of something” (Cambridge.org). In high school or college writing courses, you might be asked to write an analysis on anything from a long work of literary fiction, a poem, or even media like advertisements or music videos. Regardless of what type of analysis you plan to write, you’ll focus on breaking down the subject into specific components for a close inquiry.

At the most basic form, a literary and other analysis will lead the writer to look deeply into a text to focus on one or more elements. For example, you might decide to analyze the main characters in a work of fiction, or compare and contrast the protagonist with the antagonist. In a poetry analysis, you might focus on the use of imagery, the rhyme scheme or rhythm, or use of metaphor. In a media analysis of a print advertisement or video, you might study the use of design, including typeface or color, signs and symbols, facial expressions, clothing, or actions of the people or figures.

The Analysis Thesis

An analysis essay requires the writer to make a claim or argument. What is the central idea you want to communicate? Therefore, just like an argument essay, a carefully constructed thesis is essential, and will create a road map for the essay’s organization.

To develop an analysis thesis statement, the format will look something like this:

In (title of work), (author) (verb, such as illustrates, shows) (element of work).

So to fill in the blanks, a thesis could be. . .

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor incorporates the literary technique of foreshadowing to build suspense throughout the narrative arc.

Another optional format might look like this:

(Author) (verb, shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story).

Edgar Allen Poe illustrates the theme of death and afterlife in “The Raven.”

As you can see, once you have a well-defined thesis, the essay organization will unfold as you lay out the components you’ll analyze.

Advertisement Analysis Thesis

For an advertisement analysis, there are numerous components that could be analyzed, from the way the ad is photographed, the action of characters, to the underlying message the ad conveys, so it’s important to narrow your focus.

As you consider your ad analysis thesis, ask yourself some questions as you brainstorm:

What values or beliefs does the ad communicate?

What are the underlying assumptions the ad is communicating?

Does the ad perpetuate sexual, gender or other stereotypes?

What does this ad tell us about American culture?

Once you choose your point of analysis, create a thesis that reflects the elements of the ad you will focus on, similar to the previous examples:

Ex. 1: In the Gillette razor ad, the images of handsome male athletes conveys the implicit message that consumers of the product will become more strong, attractive, and masculine.

Ex. 2: In the Hallmark commercial, pathos is used to convey a feeling of loneliness and isolation that creates an emotional response in the viewer.

Ex. 3: By using slender, white, and young models, the Cutie Lash ad perpetuates negative female stereotypes.

Other Tips

Once you have a strong thesis, you will organize the essay around your main point or points of analysis. An analysis is considered a formal paper, so keep your voice out of it, and offer well-supported facts and examples from the text or ads. An analysis essay is a great way to show off your critical thinking and reasoning skills. Spending some time developing a strong thesis statement will start you on the road to success.

Understanding Writing Assignments

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Writing assignments can often be difficult for new students to understand. The academic jargon used by professors often sounds like a foreign language! Learning how to translate complicated assignment directions is the first step to put you on the path to writing success.

Breaking it Down

The first thing you’ll need to do when given a new writing assignment is to consider what the instructor’s expectations might be, so put it in context. Are you reading a chapter on a specific type of writing, maybe a chapter on summarizing or persuasive writing? It’s a good bet the assignment is related to the assigned readings.

It’s obvious to state that you should read the assignment carefully, but if you’ve read it five times and still don’t get it, then what? Look for clues, and the clues are in the verbs.

VERB: a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence.

The verbs are the key to unlocking the mystery of the assignment. In writing assignments, the verb will tell you what kind of thinking or writing task is required. Some common assignment verbs are describe, examine, explain, and compare.

(Click here for a thorough list of academic writing verbs from Ashford University Writing Center)

What Exactly is a “Research Paper”?

It’s not uncommon to receive a broad, vague assignment such as the “research paper.” Defining the research paper will reap a glut of responses, such as . . .

A research paper is an argument.

A research paper is an analytical essay.

A research paper is informational.

A research paper is the same as a persuasive paper.

A research paper is your opinion about something with quotes from experts.

Let’s break each of these answers down.

A research paper is an argument: True, it can be an argument, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an argument. Your instructor might simply want you think seriously about some issue, and present your research findings. (See “informational” essay.)

A research paper is an analytical essay: True, sort of. An analytical research paper is different than an argument, in that the writer poses a research question he or she intends to “analyze,” but has taken no position on. In this type of research paper, the writer is simply exploring the topic thoroughly and possibly evaluating the research, or exploring a problem. Some instructors might even ask you to write a research paper to evaluate the existing research on a topic. This type of essay is often referred to as a meta-analysis or literature review.

A research paper is an informational essay: It can be, but in order for a research paper to be solely an informational essay, like the analytical essay, the writer will take no stance on the topic. The term “informational essay” is sometimes used interchangeably with “analytical essay,” as the point is to simply present information as opposed to take a position and persuade the reader to agree with you.

A research paper is my opinion about something with quotes from experts: This type of research paper would be considered an argument essay or persuasive essay (terms used interchangeably) , in that the objective is to persuade the audience that your position should be supported. Any time you see something like “offer your opinion” or “argue your point” this translates to “Argument Essay,” which is persuasive.

However, this is where a close reading of the assignment and taking the assignment in context of the class gets tricky. Your instructor might simply want you to write an opinion essay by arguing a point, but include no research. This is similar to an op-ed, or opinion editorial, in a newspaper. So if it’s labeled “research paper” it’s a good bet that you are to include expert quotes from research.

Other Guidelines May Help Determine the Assignment Objective

Your assignment might have directions that state such requirements as Follow MLA or APA guidelines; include Works Cited; include source information in-text; or peer-reviewed sources required. These are all academic-speak for OUTSIDE RESEARCH REQUIRED. You’ll need to include either direct quotes, summary, or paraphrases from experts, or ideally, a combination of all. Most likely, when this type of research is required, your instructor expects an argument/persuasive essay, with an argumentative thesis.

Concluding Thoughts

While it’s essential to learn key terms and concepts in academic writing, it’s quite common to become confused when trying to decipher a writing assignment. If you’ve exhausted all efforts and are still confused, don’t hesitate to ask the instructor to explain the assignment and their expectations. Even requesting a sample student paper is acceptable, and many instructors will offer sample papers with the assignment.

If you are still in doubt and the instructor fails to respond to your question? With few exceptions, you are probably being asked to make an argument. Convincing your reader of your argument is often the main goal of academic writing across disciplines, and often the end goal in college writing classes.

What are your thoughts? Have you had an assignment that was impossible to understand? Terms or directions that were confusing? Share your experiences!

Top 5 Research Databases for your Research Paper

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When writing a paper that requires quality research, sifting through online databases offered by your college library can feel overwhelming. Depending on your topic, focus, and requirements, you’ll often need to sift through pages and pages of database lists for the information you need. This can often be the most time consuming part of writing a college-level research paper – and you haven’t even started writing yet!

Begin at the beginning. What is your topic? What is the specific focus of your topic? Knowing the answer to these very important questions can help you to narrow the focus of your database search.

Several of the most popular research databases are multi-disciplinary, meaning regardless of the area of your research, you should be able to find good, quality research on a variety of subjects. Multi-disciplinary databases are like the Wal-Mart of information: they offer lots of research from a diverse assortment of source material. Read on to learn more about the top 5 databases for college-level research and what sets them apart from the pack.

1. Academic Search Complete – EBSCOhost.

If you’ve ever written any kind of high school or college paper that requires scholarly research, you’ve likely been introduced to Academic Search Complete (formerly Academic Premier), better known as EBSCOhost. This multi-disciplinary database houses nearly 6600 full-text periodicals, including magazines, newspapers and journal articles from most all academic disciplines, as well as over 6000 peer-reviewed journals. EBSCOhost has several different versions that include Complete, Elite, Premier, and Alumni Edition. Subjects include everything from psychology to vet science; about any topic you need research for, you’ll most likely find it here.

The only drawback of EBSCOhost? Too much information. Use your search terms carefully, narrow your focus, or you’ll likely end up with hundreds, if not thousands of results. The search page allows you to do field searches to limit your results to full-text articles only, peer-reviewed only, specific academic journal titles, author, and dates, among others useful limits.

 2. Google Scholar

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This online search engine allows you to find scholarly resources on the web. Once located on the web, you can often click a link that leads you to a specific database where you can find the article. Google Scholar is also multi-disciplinary, allowing users to search across many disciplines and sources that include articles, books, theses, and even court opinions. If you’re at a loss of where to begin, you can start with a wide focus with Google Scholar, and narrow down to specific databases from there.

One of the best features of Google Scholar is the search feature that allows you to locate the complete document through your library or on the web. In the right margin, a link will appear if the full-text is available as a PDF, or in your library’s database.

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Though you might get an overwhelming amount of results with Google Scholar, you can also limit the results with a few key features. As you can see in the example above, the search terms, “underage drinking” hit with 38,700 results. By narrowing the years of publication, “Since 2018,” the results narrowed to just over 2000. Those results were then cut in half again by narrowing the search to “How to reduce underage drinking.”

3. Opposing Viewpoints in Context

One of the best databases to research both sides of an issue, Opposing Viewpoints provides the pros and cons of controversial contemporary issues. The database Includes full-text magazine and newspaper articles, as well as summary overviews of topics, statistics, and even links to relevant websites.

A quick browse of the issues covered in OV includes anything from police brutality, affordable housing, health care issues and reality television. Literally any topic you can think of, OV offers both sides of the debate. This is a great place to begin if you’re unsure of the position you want to take on an issue.

4. SIRS Issues Researcher

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Like Opposing Viewpoints, SIRS Issues Researcher offers opinions on the pros and cons on current debated social issues. Thousands of full-text magazine and newspaper articles are available exploring current events that include social, scientific, health, historic, economic, business, political and global issues.

Publications in SIRS include books, magazines, newspapers, websites, as well as government documents and many other resources. SIRS offers “Essential Questions,” or a key question on a current topic. For instance, a quick search on the subject of college environments turns up “How should college administrators respond when free speech on their campuses could lead to protests and violence?”

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You’ll see 2 viewpoints, with links to full-text articles of the results. Also on the results pages you’ll see a “Research Guide” PDF link. This cool feature offers a 6-page questionnaire to help guide you through the entire research paper process, a valuable tool.

5. Statista

Need statistics to round out your research? Statista probably has what you need.

The database boasts immediate access to over one million stats or facts, including consumer survey results and industry studies from more than 18,000 sources on over 60,000 topics.

  • Need to know the total population of the US? 329.85 million.
  • The country with the highest cell-phone subscription? China, followed by India and Indonesia (US is 4th).
  • State with the highest cancer rate in the US? Kentucky.
  • Leading US sales (in dollars) of chocolate? M&Ms.
  • Country with the highest drunk driving rate? South Africa, followed by Canada and the US.

While stats and facts won’t necessarily meet your minimum research paper requirements, including shocking statistics can often make your argument compelling and convincing.

Final Thoughts

When beginning research on an academic paper, don’t fall into the rabbit hole of over-researching your topic. Pick a few key databases that offer peer-reviewed and highly reputable research. Focus your search on key topics or specific points you hope to make. It’s not necessary, and often a waste of valuable time and energy, to endlessly browse online research. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with Google Scholar, and narrow your focus from there. Choosing a few key databases will give you what you need from the mountains of online content to write a well-researched paper.

Developing the Narrative Essay

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Narrative essays are often one of the favorite writing assignments for students. We can write from our own experience and knowledge, sharing a pivotal moment from our lives. Still, many writers find it difficult to take jumbled thoughts and memories and compose a well-crafted essay. So where to begin?

A narrative essay should not only entertain, but also communicate a lesson or message that the writer has learned through that experience. Retelling an event from too large of a time period can lead to an overwhelming amount of information to narrate, so it’s best to choose a topic for a narrative that is a small moment in time, one pivotal event or experience.

Start from the Beginning

The introduction of your narrative should capture the readers’ attention. Introduce the “characters” and set the story in time and place. Incorporate a strong “hook” that will pull the reader into your story. The hook will create a sense of urgency, making the reader feel they have to keep reading to see what happens next.

Though a narrative essay and an argument essay have little similarity, they do have one thing in common: they both will have a thesis. Even though a narrative doesn’t argue a position, it still will present a main idea or a point that you hope to communicate to readers through your story. A thesis can be an overall theme or lesson learned, either stated plainly or implied through the events and outcome of the story.

Examples of a narrative essay thesis statement:

Death is an inevitable part of life.

Perseverance is more important to success than education level or work experience.

Life experiences leave lasting memories that money can’t buy.

It’s easy to envision a story that demonstrates each of the statements above. Do these statements bring an event to mind for you?

Organizing a Narrative Essay

After you’ve introduced the people in the story and set up the event with a strong hook, the body paragraphs come next. Body paragraphs should include descriptive detail as the narrative moves forward in chronological order. It’s essential in narratives to incorporate sensory detail, utilizing all five senses throughout the narrative. Descriptive detail should create a vivid image in the readers’ minds. Rather than say, “I was scared,” describe your actions instead. For example, “My stomach dropped like a lead weight and my heart felt as though it would pound out of my chest.”

Consider where dialogue can be included throughout the story. You’ve introduced your characters, so hopefully their personalities show through and now the dialogue will help to show their personalities even more.

Moving the narrative forward can be tricky. It’s important to use transitions throughout, and breaks in paragraphs will work to indicate a shift in time or place. As you incorporate dialogue in paragraph “scenes,” you’ll also break paragraphs to indicate a shift in speaker. Each new, indented line indicates a new speaker. Notice in the examples below how action is shown along with the dialogue:

“I’m not leaving without you,” Kirk said, holding out his hand.

Shelly hesitated as the bus rolled to a stop. “I can’t leave my brother. He’ll be lost without me.”

“He’s a grown man,” Kirk said, his voice rising. “He needs to grow up, and you can’t do it for him.”

When deciding when to incorporate dialogue, always make sure it’s working to move the narrative forward and show emotion of the characters. Leave out inconsequential dialogue that isn’t speaking anything meaningful or important, such as,

“Hi. How are you?”

“Fine. How are you?”

BOR-ING!

Concluding the Narrative

If you’ve told your narrative in chronological order, the concluding paragraphs will offer a resolution. Here, the reader should gain understanding of what the writer has learned or why the story is important. By the conclusion, the main point should be clear through the narrative story.

Narrative essays can be fun to write and read. Choose a small moment in time and re-create the event through descriptive detail, incorporating sensory details to show the reader what you experienced. The reader should finish a narrative essay and feel as if they were there in the moment with you, feeling the same excitement and emotion. If they do, you know you’ve done your job.

How to Identify Sentence Fragments

 

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A sentence fragment is simply an incomplete sentence, meaning, more words are needed to make a complete thought, sort of like a puzzle missing some pieces. Even though it sounds simple, fragments are one of the most common sentence-level errors for English language writers. To identify a sentence fragment, let’s do a short review on exactly what qualifies as a sentence.

A complete sentence requires an independent clause. An independent clause is a group of words with a subject and a verb. For example, “John drives racecars” is a complete sentence. Even though it’s short, it has a subject (John) and a verb (drives). When you read an independent clause, you don’t require additional information to complete the thought. Below are other examples of short, independent clauses:

  1. The boat sank.
  2. Sara hates bowling.
  3. His shirt is torn.
  4. A storm is coming.
  5. She pet the dog.

A sentence is a group of words that contain at least one independent clause. All of the examples above are complete sentences, and all independent clauses.

A fragment, in contrast, is a group of words without an independent clause. It may look like a sentence, and even be quite long, but it is not a complete thought. In everyday speech, we often talk in fragments, but in writing, a fragment is an incomplete thought, often lacking a subject or verb. Below are some examples of sentence fragments:

  1. Even though I drove downtown.
  2. Being quiet in the library.
  3. Cars honking all night long.
  4. Stinging jellyfish on the beach in Florida.
  5. Smothered in gravy with a side of bacon.

The sentences above begin with a capitalized word and end in a period, but it takes more than that to make a complete sentence!

If we were going to turn the previous examples into independent clauses or complete sentences, we would need to add either a subject, a verb, or both.

  1. Even though I drove downtown, I couldn’t find the bookstore.
  2. I am being quiet in the library.
  3. I heard cars honking all night long.
  4. Stinging jellyfish swarmed on the beach in Florida.
  5. I ate biscuits smothered in gravy with a side of bacon.

What other ways could you create complete sentences in the examples above to correct the fragments?

Identifying Fragments in Paragraphs

It’s often easier to identify sentence fragments when they stand alone, but it gets more difficult when they’re hidden in a paragraph. Can you identify the fragments in the following paragraph?

American football is a sport played by two teams. With eleven players on each team. It’s played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, which is the team controlling the oval-shaped football. The offense attempts to advance down the field by running or passing the ball. While the defense, which is the team without control of the ball, aims to stop the offense’s advance. The offense must advance at least ten yards in four downs, or plays. If the offense succeeds in advancing ten yards or more and are given a new set of four downs. They will maintain possession and attempt to move the ball down the field. Attempting to score a touchdown, worth 6 points, or a field goal, worth 3 points.

Could you identify all of the fragments? Check below to see if you were correct. The red bold sentences are fragments:

American football is a sport played by two teams. With eleven players on each team. It’s played on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, which is the team controlling the oval-shaped football. The offense attempts to advance down the field by running or passing the ball. While the defense, which is the team without control of the ball, aims to stop the offense’s advance. The offense must advance at least ten yards in four downs, or plays. If the offense succeeds in advancing ten yards or more and are given a new set of four downs. They will maintain possession and attempt to move the ball down the field. Attempting to score a touchdown, worth 6 points, or a field goal, worth 3 points.

Tips for Avoiding Sentence Fragments

  1. Read your sentence out loud. You’ll hear a sentence-level mistake when you’ll often overlook it when reading silently.
  2. Does each sentence have a subject and a verb? If you are unsure, identify the subject – a person, place, or thing being discussed – and verb – a physical or mental action, or state of being.
  3. Watch for sentences that begin with “-ing” phrases (being, thinking, doing); these often create sentence fragments.
  4. Sentences that begin with words that denote time – while, during, after, since, before, etc. – will always require (at least) one dependent clause and one (at least) independent clause. Make sure the thought is complete.

 

More Practice

Correct the following fragments:

  1. Growing up in a large family in the Appalachian Mountains. He feared that a college education would be an impossibility.
  2. Scientists have repeatedly warned us. To stop polluting our water before it is unsafe for human use.
  3. After delaying several weeks, Jeff finally began his paper. On the same subject of legalizing marijuana in the US.
  4. The planet Venus, known to have a rough surface scarred by volcanoes and quakes.
  5. Opera is one of the most appealing of the arts. Although it is also one of the most complex and difficult.
(Exercises from Reviewing Basic Grammar: A Guide to Writing Sentence and Paragraphs; 7th Edition)

The Art of Writing an Argument

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If you’re a high school or college student, at some point you’ve most likely been assigned an “Argument Essay.” While most of us know the simple definition of argument, many individuals new to academic writing are often confused as to what exactly defines an argument. Defining what an argument is not is a great place to start.

An argument is not a debate. Politicians debate, hoping to come out a winner. With an argument, there are no winners and losers. The foundation of an argument is a desire for truth. For an argument to be successful, there must be cooperative inquiry, or consideration on both sides of a position. The outcome of a successful argument is to find the best solution to a problem as well as the best course of action.

In writing an argument, finding solutions to conflicts or complex problems and an effective course of action, the writer must appeal to reason. You, in writing an argument, can only present an effective argument if you clarify and support the reasons you present in favor of your position. This is often referred to as the “because clause” that supports the claim.

Often when closely studying reasons, the writer will re-examine their own line of reasoning as well as their long-held beliefs and assumptions. They might have to rethink their line of reasoning if their argument is not persuading their intended audience. As the argument becomes clearer, the writer can begin to more effectively appeal to their audience’s values and beliefs, and develop reasons that appeal to that audience.

Let’s break this down into a common dispute. A sixteen-year-old wants to stay out as late as she wants. The parents say no. A dispute ensues.

Daughter: BUT I’M SIXTEEN AND ALL MY FRIENDS STAY OUT AS LATE AS THEY WANT!

In this line of reasoning, the unstated assumptions are that (1) The age of sixteen automatically renders teens responsible enough to stay out late and (2) this family’s rules should be dictated by what other family rules are. Not a very effective argument. Why? A poor line of reasoning.

What might be a better line of reasoning to convince the intended audience (parents) that their sixteen-year-old should stay out so late?

Taking the values and beliefs of the audience into consideration, the daughter might appeal to their assumption that she is too young or immature to stay out so late.

Daughter: I should be allowed to stay out late on a trial basis because I need the opportunity to demonstrate my maturity and show you I won’t get into trouble.

In this example, the daughter needed to clarify her reasons to appeal to the values of her intended audience, her parents.

The parent in the example held an underlying assumption that the daughter was too young and immature to stay out so late. Once the daughter appealed to this belief with a more effective line of reasoning, her audience could be more effectively persuaded.

Consider your topic, and especially how you are going to appeal to your intended audience. What are their underlying values and beliefs? How will your line of reasoning best appeal to those values and beliefs.

Practice creating effective supporting reasons for an extremely disagreeable audience with the claims below.

  1. Video game manufacturers should be allowed to sell games without restrictions on age.
  2. The Electoral College is obsolete and should be abolished.
  3. Medical marijuana should be legalized nationally for distribution and use in all 50 states.

 

Works Consulted: Writing Arguments. Ramage, Bean, Johnson. Pearson Education, New York, 2004.