Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Conventions: opinion+support=persuasive writing

The notion of conventions applies to a number of aspects of writing. Basic style and structure are one of them. In our culture, we tend to value something called a "clear style," that is, a style which uses active voice, short sentence (usually 24 words or less), action verbs, and sentences which begin with their subject and verb and continue on from there. Such sentences are called "right branching" sentences. You can read some good tips on such writing here: http://www.northernstar.info/nina/highschool/write.html. The basic structure of a claim backed up with warrants is a convention of academic writing. Learn how to apply this structure, and you're half way toward being a college trained writer. This is why I want you trying out this structure in your writing about the outcomes.

The upshot?

When you discuss the outcomes, provide examples from your own writing. For instance, a student makes the claim he does a decent job of focusing on purpose, and he then develops this claim by adding a sentence where he explains more specifically what he means. This is a good job, but a claim is always made stronger by providing specific examples. He could point to a place in his writing where he gets off topic. He could point to a place where he got off topic and caught the problem in one of the revisions of a paper. He could cite the example or include it as a quote. Use such examples, and your writing goes from just a good, specific claim to a claim backed up with evidence and additional good reasons for your reader to believe you. Provide two are three such warrants--the magic number in our culture is three, and you are in the sweet spot.

Aristotle called this connection between opinion and evidence one of the essential structures of writing which tries to persuade its audience to believe, and it still marks the major difference between those who are academically trained and those who are not. Listen to the folks around you in everyday conversation, and you'll soon hear dozens of opinions expressed. Then listen for how many of these opinions are backed up by good reasons, evidence, or warrants. If you do the same exercise in a group of professionals or, for that matter geeks---folks who are passionate and knowledgeable in specific areas--you'll hear them providing additional clarification *and* backing up their opinions. You can look at both of your own writing when describing the process of creation in your field for examples of this kind of writing. You know your topic. You are passionate about it. You back up and clarify your claims. You learn more from listening to such conversation and reading such writing. It tends, although not always, to be more interesting.

The upshot? Whenever you find yourself speaking professionally or in the academy, strive to: 1) clarify your claims and opinions; and, 2) back up your opinions. Make it a Kiazen goal to make opinion+support a habit in your speaking and writing.

Your audience may not know why your opinion is worth more than others, but they'll respond to the difference, offer you more respect, listen to you, and pay you more. Why? Because you're speaking in a way they associate with expertise and training in your field.

In any event, you need to do it in 101 and as you write responses to the bulleted items in the "WPA Outcomes Statement," because it's part of my job to teach you to think,

opinion+support=good writing.

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