College Writing Tips: Count Your Arguments

My teaching career began in the fall of 1997 when a faculty member experienced a heartache about a week before the semester began. During the intervening years between then and today, my peers, colleagues, and even those in business & industry, have noticed a tremendous decline in people’s ability to write.

Recently, I spent many hours grading writing assignments. These writing assignments ran the gamut from “short answers” to “essay” to 3 page response-type papers. My response papers are based on listening to two podcasts. One podcast is an economics podcast discussing the geographic traits of snack food. The other podcast is a mesmerizing account of a couple of Americans traveling throughout a South Asian country.

The more I read, the more patterns in writing emerged. Not just patterns in though; writing involves considerable thinking. I tend to reason writing reveals thinking, how a person thinks, how a person organizes thoughts and information. Writing reveals a considerable amount of information about a person, and I can understand how writing makes people nervous. I’m nervous merely writing this post, but I’m dealing with it.

Writing for higher education doesn’t have to involve the level of stress people attach to writing assignments. Understanding some simple concepts, requirements, goals, and using the education which was provided from ages 6-18 (maybe 16 in Kentucky) can alleviate anxiety surrounding writing.

I am going to walk through some of the common errors I find in writing. Not only will I identify errors but I’ll explain how to adjust thinking processes to help direct attention to formulating better academic responses to writing assignments.

College Writing Tip Five: If you say “four reasons,” then you better have four reasons.

Some writing errors should never happen. These particular writing errors should never happen because most people writing can count past four. Some students remember some of the high school English and writing courses to establish a thesis statement to open a paragraph. Such a thesis statement might go something like:

“In the creation of a good map, four elements must be considered.”

The author of the above sentence has set the stage for a discussion of a good map by informing us there are a minimum of four essential elements which bind together a good map. Thus, the author needs to follow through and communicate four elements of map creation. The number of elements should also be apparent to the reader.

Proof-readers of textbooks miss these details, as well. Good textbook authors will open paragraphs with leading details, communicating in advance we are about to receive some important information.

“Jerusalem is perhaps the most hotly contested city globally. Jews, Muslims, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians all vie for access and responsibilities. Due to the number of different factions with interests in controlling the city, especially the Old City of Jerusalem, three plans are currently being evaluated to ensure all parties have fair and equal access to the world’s holiest city.”

“The first plan involves turning the management of the Old City of Jerusalem over to a United Nations management group. While the composition of the management group has yet to be decided, the management of the Old City by a disinterested 3rd party could provide a potential solution. A plan suggested by a non-partisan group of Christian and Muslims suggests the creation of governing council comprised of member of each of the four quarters of the Old City. In essence, the Old City of Jerusalem would be managed as a “city-within-a-city.” Such a plan is not completely without precedent; Vatican City is an example of such a city.

“Each of the proposed plans has proponents and critics. Many people would prefer outside governance, such as the UN proposal. Other vocal groups rankle at the notion of having outsiders control a city held to be the spiritual center of the world by three religions. Time will tell whether any of the three proposals will be implemented, or, perhaps, a fourth proposal will win out.

If you did not count three plans, good; there are only two plans discussed. Poor proofing and editing by authors and publishers alike generate frustration among students and educators. Such errors are typically easy to find.

How hard is counting three or four arguments?

Next: “Make Sure Your Arguments Are Consistent and Congruent.”

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