Tutor profile: Leonard C.
I have to write an argumentative essay on a social or political topic. But I have no idea where to start.
First, remember that the writing process has three parts: brainstorming, drafting, and editing. Not even professional authors simply sit down and write essays or stories without prep work. Let’s start with some brainstorming, often called “listing”. Write down a list of all the topics that you have some interest in. Are there any political issues you care about? Any laws or policies you think should change? Any part of our political system that needs improvement? You can also brainstorm based on your hobbies or personal interests. What do you do for fun? What are you passionate about? Are there any problems or issues in those interests? As we make this list, remember that you don’t solely have to focus on negatives, but can also make an argument out of something positive that isn’t totally proven or convincing to everyone. Some examples: Video games, negative: possible influence on violent behavior, addiction issues, monetary issues, causing obesity or other health problems. Video games, positive: e-sports industry, creating new friendships and communities, use in training and learning, safety vs. other sports. Once we have a topic chosen, we can brainstorm that further, by creating a list of all the parts or arguments about the topic.
I’ve been assigned to write an essay on George Orwell’s short story, “Shooting an Elephant”. The assignment requires I “critically analyze the story’s plot, theme, character, or use of language”. I have no idea where to start.
Start by closely re-reading the story. Underline passages you think are important or interesting, circle and look up any vocab or phrases you’re unfamiliar with, and write notes in the margin on your thoughts on the text. Next, remember that “critical analysis” or literary criticism, doesn’t mean saying something negative about a story, but making an interpretation of it. Tell us why it is good or bad, due to how its parts (characters, plot, language, etc) operate. The next question to ask yourself is: did you like it? When answering this, think about what passages you found beautiful or terrible. Or what pieces of dialogue you found moving, fascinating, or boring. What events in your own life did the story remind you of? If you’re analyzing plot, start by asking yourself, what kind of plot is it? Does it start, timewise, in the middle of the actual story? Does it have the five necessary parts Aristotle describes in Poetics: an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouncement? Most important, does the plot keep you reading? Did it lag in any place, or did each event seamlessly lead into the next? When analyzing the language of the story, ask yourself, are things described mater-of-fact or ornately? Do you find the language impressive, beautiful, or boring? Does it use metaphors, similes, or figures of speech (alliteration, personification, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, etc)? How does this language make the story realistic and moving? When analyzing character, one simple way is to analyze their morals. Are they a good or bad person? Do they learn something from their experiences? Are they reliable, do they tell the reader the truth? Do they come to an important realization about life? How do the events of the story cause this change? Finally, themes are the deeper ideas, meanings, morals, or motifs an author creates in a story. Ask yourself, what themes does the story deal with? How does it create them through the character and plot? Themes are usually abstract nouns: freedom, equality, betrayal, hate, loneliness, etc. What lessons about the world is the author trying to teach their audience?
My teacher keeps marking me down for run-on sentences. What does that mean exactly? How do I fix that?
A run-on sentence is one in which two independent clauses run together without a conjunction or punctuation. It is also probably the most common writing error I see in native speakers. Why? Because in spoken language, we don’t notice run-ons so much, but when they’re put on the page, they’re very confusing. They’re also rarely caught by grammar-checks. How to fix them? Here are a few strategies: 1. Read all your work out loud or have a friend or parent do it. If you or they start running out of breath reading a sentence, it probably is a run-on and needs fixing. 2. There are many rules for commas, but if you follow this simple one, you’ll catch a large majority of them: “Use a comma when there’s is a light pause and drop in pitch.” 1 3. Study the sentences of your favorite authors. How long are they? Where do they punctuate or use conjunctions? Read more journalism, literature, even a cookbook to get an idea of good sentence structure. Your friends' posts online or text messages do not count. 4. Study and practice! Do the hard work of understanding how sentences work, and practice fixing example run-ons. For those in high-school or starting college, Susan Fawcett’s Evergreen is a great guide. 1 Trimble, John. Writing with Style. 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall, 2000, pp. 111.
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