In the lesson, our professor Rebekah Hendershot goes through an introduction on the argumentative walkthrough. She starts by explaining where to find the prompt and analyzing it, then discusses what the big idea is, the scoring guidelines, the sample essays and tips for the argumentative essay.
The prompt offers a little background information: the context of the quote (a book by Alain de Botton called Status Anxiety) and the main idea of the book (that the job of the humorist is “to convey with impunity messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly,” and that this makes humorists vital to society).
The prompt has a focus: you are to defend, challenge, or qualify “de Botton’s claim about the vital role of humorists.”
The prompt makes a demand: “specific, appropriate evidence” to support your argument (whatever it is).
Reading the Text
The text mostly summarizes de Botton’s argument rather than quoting it. That’s good for you because it helps you nail down the main idea, but it’s bad for you because it means you’re dealing primarily with the summary rather than the author’s actual words.
That said, this prompt helps you out more than some others by suggesting lines of thought for you: “cartoonists, satirical writers, hosts of television programs, etc.”
Keep in mind—this prompt is about humorists, so you’re more than welcome to use your favorite comedian as an example, but you must engage with de Botton’s argument that such humorists are vital.
Thus, if your favorite humorist is obscure, you might not have a very strong argument for the vital role he or she plays in society.
Remember, you’re being asked to defend the point or challenge it or qualify it. You don’t have to choose your real opinion—just the stance you can argue most convincingly.
What’s the Big Idea?
Go back over your underlines and your notes. What is de Botton’s main idea?
In short, it seems to be that:
Humorists not only entertain but convey controversial and necessary messages;
This function makes them vital to society.
Do you agree, disagree, or fall somewhere in between?
Note that a score of 9 is reserved for essays that meet the 8 criteria but are unusually good—and that a good essay, in this case, will “effectively defend, challenge or qualify de Botton’s claim about the vital role of humorists.”
The descending scores of 8, 7, and 6 are allotted according to:
The use of “appropriate and convincing” evidence and explanations
Note that this essay gets right to the point—the thesis statement comes early and is prominent.
This essay also begins its support examples from history and high culture—the references to Louis XVI and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Readers may not have heard of the latest Comedy Central star, but they’ll have heard of these.
The reviewer praises the language, structure, and organization of this essay—those last two are especially important because of the mechanical errors (“humer”) that get in the way of the first one.
The student also gets to have a little fun by throwing in references to The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live once his or her credentials are established.
Let’s look at Sample 3B, which earned a 7.
This essay also has its main idea up front, and also uses examples from high culture—in this case, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.
While this essay is briefer and doesn’t go as deeply into the subject as 3A, its prose style elevates it above a mere 5 or 6—see the “We’re laughing because we are appalled” line.
The caliber of the evidence also raises it above a 5 or 6 essay.
Let’s look at Sample 3C, which earned a 3.
The principal sin of this essay is vagueness. This writer uses the most general, fuzzy terms possible—“Today satire is comedy, a different name and a different style with the same objective, to make people laugh.”
This writer is also in the habit of making assertions without adequately supporting them, and claiming the existence of those assertions as support (“Humor helps society to function, allows us to move past the negatives in life.”). This is a logical fallacy known as begging the question.
Tips for the Argumentative Essay
Language, language, LANGUAGE! Good prose is the difference between a 6 and a 7!
Make sure the underlying structure of your argument is sound. Align your elements and make sure you haven’t committed any fallacies. Just as good language can elevate a weak argument, a strong argument can elevate problematic language.
Use examples from high culture as well as low, and establish your writing credentials as early as possible.
Don’t make assertions without presenting evidence to back them up.
Be as specific as you can. Vagueness kills.
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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