Sunday, September 21, 2008

Argumentative Essays

SPM ENGLISH WITH JUGDEEP KAUR GILL

ONE of the most difficult essays to write is one which involves argumentation and persuasion. This is because not everyone can present sound and compelling arguments.

It might seem easy to persuade someone to do something for you or to argue a point and defend it orally. But to do so in writing is a lot more difficult as you should be able to operate at a higher level €” in terms of thought, language and style.

In oral persuasions or arguments, the person you are speaking to is present with you. You use his/her body language and verbal cues to decide what to say next and how to say it.

In a written piece, you have to make use of words to convince your absent reader. Your must be able to influence your reader to see your side of the argument.

This is where clear and logical reasoning is crucial. This, however, does not mean that you should not attempt an argumentative essay. With proper guidance and practice, you should be able to handle an essay of this nature.

Argumentative writing

You should be able to look at both sides of the argument as this will help you present your case better.

You should have between three to five ideas/points to support your stand/point of view.

You should support each point with ample details. Use examples and illustrations to support your ideas/points.

Decide the order in which you want to present your ideas. For an effective essay, begin with the most important reason and end with one that is just as good or convincing

Sample question: Studying the literature component is useful. Do you agree?

Answer: 

The literature component was made part of the Malaysian school curriculum in 2000. This move was seen as vital as literature has untold benefits for language learners.

I strongly believe that studying the literature component is useful because it helps promote language learning, exposes students to a variety of cultures, improves thinking skills and gives us a better understanding of mankind.

To begin with, studying the literature component helps encourage language learning. Literature texts, be they poems, short stories or novels, can be used to teach grammar and vocabulary.

Grammar and vocabulary exercises generated from literature texts are more interesting and motivating. They not only help us improve our understanding of the language but also help us learn new ways of using language.

Exposure to new words, interesting phrases and literary devices such as metaphors, similes and personification show us how language can be used creatively. By learning the various literary devices we can even create our own examples of such devices.

Next, it cannot be denied that literature texts expose us to a variety of cultures. The short stories and poems studied in Form Four are written by foreign and local writers and through these texts we learn to understand and appreciate cultures and ideologies which are not similar to ours.

The poem Monsoon History, for instance, exposes us to the Baba Nyonya culture. The short story The Drover’s Wife exposes us to the hardships of people who live in the Australian bush.

Looking for a Rain God, which is based on a true story, exposes us to the hardships faced by the people in Botswana and how one family in particular succumbs to the old practice of ritual killing.

These and the other texts expose us to the lives of different people across the continents and also their ways of dealing with circumstances.

The authors force us to explore our beliefs and those of other people and by doing so we are able to understand people of other cultures.

Moreover, studying literature also helps us improve our thinking skills. When we actively engage with literature texts, we are forced to think about characters, themes and issues raised by the author or poet.

We learn to gather information not only from the text but also from our own observations, experiences, and reflections as well as those of others. We learn to view things from different perspectives. All these help develop our critical thinking skills.

Finally, literature gives us a better understanding of mankind. Great authors have, over the centuries, conveyed their insights into human nature through an amazing assortment of characters from all walks of life engaged in a variety of activities. These characters, from the virtuous to the despicable, help us understand the people around us. We might recognise some women around us who are materialistic like Mathilde from The Necklace or cruel like Ravi’s stepmother in The Return. Seeing such similarities can help us to understand and accept other people.

We cannot deny that there are immense benefits to be reaped from studying the literature component and Education Ministry should be lauded for making a wise decision to include it in the English Language syllabus.

Someone once said, “A man who does not read or reads little or reads only trash, is a person with an impediment.” Literature texts, be they classics or modern texts, help remove these impediments. They are living texts and we should not overlook the incredible wealth they offer us. 

[580 words]

The above essay is convincing because the writer has presented and argued his case well.

Structure of the essay

Let’s look at the structure/organisation of the essay.

This is a six-paragraph essay. It consists of a one-paragraph introduction, a four-paragraph body and a one-paragraph conclusion.

The introductory paragraph starts by attracting the reader’s attention and then advancing the main idea or thesis that is developed in the essay. The thesis statement is found in the third sentence €” I strongly believe that studying the literature component is useful.

Part of the thesis statement includes a preview of the points that are advanced in the essay and these points are listed in the order in which they appear in the essay (it helps promote language learning, exposes students to a variety of cultures, improves thinking skills and gives us a better understanding of mankind).

This particular essay advances four points to support the main idea. These ideas are:

i. To begin with, studying the literature component helps encourage language learning.

ii. Next, it cannot be denied that literature texts expose us to a variety of cultures.

iii. Moreover, studying literature also helps us improve our thinking skills.

iv. Finally, literature gives us a better understanding of mankind.

As you can see, each supporting point is in the first sentence of each paragraph. This is called the topic sentence. A topic sentence states the point that is elaborated on in the paragraph. Notice also that one paragraph is allocated for each supporting idea.

Each topic sentence is then supported by details. These details can be supporting ideas/examples or illustrations.

Look at how each paragraph begins (To begin with, Next, Moreover, Finally).

These transition signals help readers follow the direction of the writer’s thoughts. The direct and formal manner used also add to the overall effect of this piece.

The one-word essay is quite flexible as it allows you to decide which type of essay you are going to write about.

Take the topic ‘Beauty’. If you choose to write an expository essay, you can write about what women do to look beautiful, e.g. women’s quest for beauty through plastic surgery.

If you choose to write a narrative essay, you can narrate a story related to loss of outer beauty. And if you choose to write a descriptive essay, you can focus on describing things of beauty.

Common errors

Some common errors with directed and continuous writing are long introductions. An introduction should be one paragraph long. Some students tend to write two or three paragraphs. Sometimes you have many ideas but you have to be selective. You need to decide which to include and which to discard.

Some students often use incomplete sentences in their essays. Remember, every English sentence must have at least a subject and a verb, e.g. He ran. However, some students forget this and often use sentences without a subject or a verb.

Here are some examples:

i. The major cause speeding.

We can use such sentences in spoken English but not in the written form as the latter is more formal. This sentence can be written in several ways. One example: Speeding is one of the major causes of road accidents. (‘Speeding’ - subject, ‘is’ - verb, one of the major causes of road accidents - complement)

ii. My mother never lets me do the things I enjoy. For example, swimming, mountain climbing.

The second part of the sentence is incomplete. This sentence should be written, My mother never lets me do the things I enjoy such as swimming and mountain climbing.

iii. His partially grey hair and half moon glasses.

In this sentence, obviously something else is missing other than the verb. It should read, His partially grey hair and half moon glasses reminded me of my grandfather.

> Inconsistent use of pronoun

You should always check the expiry date of any food item you purchase. We must make this a habit whenever we go shopping.

Here the pronoun you is used in the first sentence but in the second it is changed to we. Remember to use the same pronoun throughout your essay.

> Incorrect placement of adverb ‘also’ with a modal verb

You also can cut down on sugar intake./ They also must get approval from the authorities/ We also should inform the authorities.

Here the adverb ‘also ‘ should come after the modal verb. It should read You can also…/ They must also…/ We should also…

> Incorrect usage of adverb ‘In conclusion’

Many students and adults make the mistake of using the phrase ‘As a conclusion’.

It should be ‘In conclusion’.

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