West Chester University
Home Notes for Effective Writing I Notes for Introduction to Literature
~~ Notes on Purpose ~~
Suppose your goal is to write on the topic of "freedom." What are your choices regarding "purpose"?
If you had an expressive purpose for the "freedom" assignment, You may have written something like:
came like a whirlwind that year when I met Jim.
All of these topics invite personal, expressive stories that come from the writer's recent or remembered experience. These topics are ready to be recalled and related into vivid, descriptive, engaging prose that readers can consume with interest because they are human, too. You may write something they can relate to, and that they appreciate hearing from another person. You may be the one to give voice to a feeling someone previously had trouble articulating.
The rhetorical strategies you use to develop expressive essays tend to be description and narration. The style that's usually appropriate is 1st person (I, me, my, myself, etc.) because you want the reader to focus on you. The first person point of view helps you achieve that.
While we're on the subject of "point of view," consider the difference between these two statements:
 I thought his
speech was horrible.
In the first statement, the 1st person point of view, the "subjective style," places the emphasis on what the writer thinks, and no justification is really necessary; the reader is probably willing to extend the benefit of the doubt because everyone's entitled to an opinion, and expressive essays are all about sharing opinions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. However, in the slightly different second statement, the third person, or "objective style" places the emphasis is on the speech, and if the writer doesn't provide justification, the reader is bound to lose patience with the writer who just likes to mouth off opinions that sound objective without backing them up. So the writer has to EXPLAIN--the speech was horrible BECAUSE it went on too long, was composed of cliché after tired cliché, was full of empty, undeliverable promises, and seemed targeted at people who aren't intelligent enough to ask simple, critical questions, like, "If you are pro-education, why have you consistently voted to lower the budget for educational programs that might help bring experienced teachers to inner-city schools?" So this 3rd person point of view, this "objective style," which EXPLAINS, is more appropriate for an objective purpose.
If you had an expressive purpose for the "freedom" assignment, you might have arrive at a topic like one of these:
is a prison; freedom is the frontier.
These topics invite the reader to follow along as the writer explains what he/she means by the idea expressed. The paper will likely stay focused on the ideas discussed, and rarely, if ever, get personal.
Other objective kinds of topics might be:
· What does
moral freedom mean?
· The existentialists believe that external value systems (organized religion, secular ethics, etc.) are inherently meaningless and that the only way to cope with the terrifying prospect of complete moral freedom is for individuals to assume responsibility.
Or you may want to interpret:
· Freedom, like the song says, is "just another word for nothin' left to lose." To be free is to be free of all constraint, including moral constraint.
In each case, you
are maintaining some objective distance from your topic, and the purpose of
your writing has shifted from expressive to expository--from writing that's
focused on you, the writer, to writing that's focused on ideas, subject matter.
Notice the absence of 1st person references in these examples. They are all
written in the 3rd person to keep attention on the subject matter and not on
When you write with a persuasive purpose you're trying to convince your readers to change their minds about something. You may even be trying to get them to act in a way they wouldn't have before. Sometimes it's not enough to simply express or explain your point of view--you want to change somebody's mind or their behavior. Both of these goals may be very difficult to reach. Just try to think of the last time you convinced someone that you were right in a disagreement. Wasn't it hard? Parents fight this good fight all the time, trying to convince their children to listen to them! Unless you're comfortable being a tyrant, you struggle with it, trying to convince through logic and reasoning. Of course it never works with kids! But it's supposed to...
Persuasion is a powerful life skill. And when you think about it, you're bombarded with persuasive messages every day in the form of advertisements. Politicians advertise themselves. Buy me, vote for me. It's an endless mantra in America. What are the ads that break through? Which ones are actually persuasive in some way? The ones that least annoy you? The ones that make you feel represented? The ones that entertain your libido? Chances are that your reasons for being persuaded by an advertisement have very little to do with logical reasoning or evidence, as they might in an ethical, above board argument. Because that's not what an ad tries to do. Ads persuade people by making them feel a certain way. Ad makers hope their audiences will check their brains at the front of the set while viewing ads. The whole process is degrading, irrational, and manipulative. But we have to live it every day, because advertising is what drives our whole economic system, which is fast becoming a global economic system. Hello capitalism. Hello world capitalism.
But as Americans we also live in a free (supposedly), democratic (supposedly) society in which issues can be and are debated, and rational arguments are put forth by responsible people who have the public interest in mind. And it's the citizen's duty to consider these arguments and decide which is the more rational and sane, which has the stronger logical stance, and the most compelling evidence. The citizen has the last say.
If you can understand an argument, if you can recognize when you ought to be persuaded and when you ought not be persuaded, then you can construct one as well. Or perhaps it's the learning to construct a sound argument that best teaches you how to recognize one.
In either case, when you write persuasively, you are attempting to blend the expository mode (explaining, informing, analyzing, interpreting) with an argumentative strategy--stating your claim, defending it with logical reasoning and various kinds of evidence, anticipating counterarguments and refuting them. You are always focused on readers who disagree with you, trying to find convincing evidence that will persuade them to change their minds, trying to ease them down a new road with a logical line of reasoning.
An argumentative topic based on the "freedom" assignment may have sounded something like this:
is every living person's birthright.
These topics are each debatable in some way. The writer tries to win the debate through logical reasoning and evidence, resorting to emotional appeals only as a supplement to sound reasoning, never as the main show.
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