Most of the writing you will do in college is argumentative. Scholars engage each other through written arguments and attempt to persuade others to accept their point of view. And, of course, persuasive writing has its place in politics, public policy, in business, and even in our personal correspondence.
Scholarly writing often has a “call-and-response” quality, with one scholar stating an argument and making a main claim that is then responded to by other scholars in their discipline. We’re going to take our cue from that process. We’re going to respond to Professor Cal Newport’s TEDx Talk, either furthering his argument, or countering it in some way, or using it to launch our own related argument. Newport says in the video:
“Social media brings with it multiple, well-documented, significant harms. And we actually have to confront these harms head on when trying to make decisions about whether or not we embrace this technology and let it into our lives.”
Is he right? Is his call to quit social media justified? What thoughts does his argument evoke in your mind?
Whatever your position, make sure you focus on fairly articulating counterarguments. Fairly representing the arguments of others in academic discourse is a very important move. You should build a strong argument for your position but articulating counterarguments and dealing with them fairly is a hallmark of good argumentation. The difficult part, of course, is to figure out how to deal with counterarguments you find convincing.
You will need to do additional reading and research to flesh out your understanding and gather material. Fortunately, a lot has been written on the impact of social media. It’s a good bet that many newspapers, journals, and thinkers have wrestled with the issue and written about it. You only need to have a minimum of three direct quotes (with at least two quotes from non-internet sources) from sources but the sources need to be quality sources and the quotes need to be properly framed and integrated into your essay.
Your argument should have a clear position and should, again, address counterarguments. Be clear about why the reader should care about your position and why they should accept it. Consider audience carefully and be clear about what you want them to believe and do. Let’s imagine the audience as national and comprised of adults who are reasonably informed and conversant with social media technology.
As always, take pride and joy in your writing. Let me hear your voice in your writing. Work hard to write in cumulative syntax and incorporate the tools we’ve discussed in class. Do not plagiarize; anything that comes from an outside source must be in quotes or offset and clearly cited in MLA format.
Remember that you are writing for a public audience and not just for yourself. Your thesis, your sentence maturity, and your handling of counterarguments should be your primary focus as you craft this essay.
The Cal Newport TEDx Talk video can be found at:
Don’t Forget to Think
Remember: this is an argumentative paper, not a general survey or summary of an issue. You need to take a stand and support that stance with evidence/sources. As a college student you are making the transition from high school writing to college writing. College writing demands more of your mind, more careful, sustained focus on progressively more difficult questions. So, clear, varied, sophisticated prose style is half the battle. The other half is genuine thinking and insight. That kind of thinking takes time and mental discipline.
There is an important connection between writing and thinking, a connection we saw right at the start of the course when we listened to and responded to the RadioLab story about Susan Schaller and her student Ildefonso. In her book Forming/thinking/writing, The Composing Imagination, Ann E. Berthoff writes:
Up to a point, writing can be explained and taught as a skill. And it can be demonstrated, as dovetailing the joints of a drawer can be demonstrated. Composing means working with words, and, in some ways, that is a skill comparable to working with wood. But woodcraft is not just assembling some pre-cut forms, nor is wordcraft gluing statements together. Composing is more than a skill, though the writer must be skilled with words and syntactic structures, just as a cabinetmaker has to know how to use a gimlet and an auger. Composing is more than craft, and it requires more than skill, because working with words requires working with meanings, and meanings are not like walnut planks or golfballs or bulldozers or typewriters or anything else that simply requires skilled handling. Learning to write is not a matter of learning the rules that govern the use of the semicolon or the names of sentence structures, nor is it a matter of manipulating words; it is a matter of making meanings, and that is the work of the active mind. (11)
We’ve spent much time building our skills with sentence parts and syntactic structures. That preparation is important and necessary but we should not lose sight of how enmeshed writing is with thinking. One of the most common weaknesses in the writing processes of my students is insufficient time. They compress their process to the last minute and the first casualty of that decision is thinking. In a spread out, recursive writing process, we think things and then we write them down. The writing down makes us think some more and our thinking changes. We note the change and rewrite what we first wrote. The rewrite then prompts more thinking. . .and on and on. Give yourself time to think and make sure you take that time to think and write and think and write. You don’t figure out what you want to say before you begin; you figure out what you want to say as you write and reflect.
When we think we compose: we put this with that; we line things up; we group and classify and categorize; we emphasize or pass over, start and stop and start up again, repeating contradicting, hedging, declaring and questioning, lying and denying. (10)
So don’t forget to give yourself time, time to explore and ask questions and to write and rewrite and to overhear yourself and discover what you think through your writing.
Sources- You will need to incorporate the work of outside sources. At least two of your quoted sources should be non-internet sources. All of your sources should be vetted for quality and suitability for scholarly writing.
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