From Problem to Persuasion Academic Essay

Reading: Problem Identification

We encounter problems in every aspect of our lives. On a personal level, we are constantly working on such things as mending relationships with friends and family members, managing a hectic household, and addressing health concerns. In our professional lives, we also encounter problems on a daily basis, both on a small and a large scale. For example, if you are a teacher, you may spend one class period managing poor student behavior and then spend the next class period scrambling to figure out how to finish your lesson plan before the bell rings. There are also the larger scale issues that you may deal with, particularly if you teach in a public school system, such as reconciling the tension between government mandated initiatives and your own beliefs about what works well in the classroom.

In response to these types of industry specific problems, researchers are continually investigating ways to fix these issues. The results of such research will impact the types and availability of careers in various fields, while also impacting people’s personal lives. For example, in the fast food industry, many companies are responding to society’s evergrowing interest in “eating clean” and “being green.” Takeout containers are made with recycled materials, and many fast food chains are ceasing to use artificial colors and ingredients in their food. Individuals in the food industry now feel the pressure to join the “clean and green”movement in order to attract and maintain customers. And as with all change, debate follows. There will always be dissenters from every viewpoint

Introduction to Persuasion
In this course, you will practice the art of persuasion. You will think about a problem in your field of study/profession that has at least two clear arguable sides and compose a persuasive argument that clearly states your point of view on the issue. Your goal is to convince the audience to adopt your viewpoint. In order to do this, you will make a claim—an assertion with which your audience might disagree—and then support that assertion with evidence. The examples in the video show us how argument and persuasion can function successfully (or
unsuccessfully) in everyday life. Although the examples provided are in the first person (since they are examples from everyday life), the premise in persuasive writing is the same:

be respectful of potentially opposing positions

use logic to ground your stance

be clear, concise, and precise in the presentation of your argument, using indicator words such as

“must,” “should,” “support,” “because,” or “oppose” to present your core argument
Opposing Viewpoints

When making a persuasive argument, it is also important to factor in any counterarguments or opposing viewpoints, and consider how to respond to them. Most topics generate a variety of positions, not simply two positions that sit in direct opposition to each other. In fact, it is helpful to picture the potential positions on any given topic in a circular format rather than imagining two distinct points at opposite ends of a straight line. Few topics lend themselves to such an oversimplified black and white division. As most topics are complex and layered, some of the most potent arguments can be found in the grayer areas. The more complex issues give rise to multiple points of view along a continuum, something writers need to keep in mind. When you freewrite, you acknowledge that there is a wide range of thesis statements that you might settle on. Give yourself some space to think through your topic.
Take, for example, the topic of sex education in public schools. One position on the topic is the “absolutely not” position held by some people due to their religious and/or moral ideologies. According to this position, sex education should never be taught in America’s public schools under any circumstances. Opposing the “absolutely not” position are a range of positions, not just one. Here are only four of the many possibilities:
Yes, sex education should be taught in public schools, depending on what material is covered.
Yes, if it concentrates on abstinence.
No, if it concentrates on abstinence.
No, if it begins in elementary school.
If you are writing on sex education in public schools, you will have to be familiar with all of the positions on both sides of the argument. Additionally, you will need to understand the reasons people hold these positions. Refuting any opposing position is impossible if you are unfamiliar with the issue as a whole. The first step in composing a persuasive argument is to brainstorm topics for your written piece. The next few pages in the module will help you get started.
Reading: Brainstorming Ideas
Below you will find explanations of three specific methods for brainstorming ideas—freewriting, looping, and clustering.
Freewriting is a technique that every writer should have in his or her toolkit as he or she plans to write. The process lets you just begin writing without feeling like the writing you do at that moment needs to be effective, meaningful, or even good. Even though you’re not creating finished writing, freewriting allows you to do the important work of exploring your topic and your interests without worrying about creating a polished product. It’s simply a way to get thoughts down on paper. As you freewrite, you choose a topic, set a time limit, and see where the topic leads you. The most important part of freewriting is to make sure that you turn your editorial mind off. Spelling and grammar don’t matter, and you don’t have to worry about writing a coherent piece with an introduction and a conclusion. After you’re done freewriting, you’ll read over your writing again and find the parts that can be expanded upon or that hold your interest the most.
Remember that a freewrite is not a draft—it is part of the prewriting stage. In most cases, you won’t use a single phrase from your freewrite in any writing that you turn in. Writing that you turn in should be polished and focused; freewrites work best when they aren’t!
Instructions for Freewriting

  1. Decide whether you write faster when writing on paper or typing on the computer. If you use the textbox on the assignment page, your freewrite will be recorded in your notebook.
  2. Decide on a topic before you start. The topic can be general (“driver’s education”) or it might be more specific. An example of a more specific topic might be either of these two topics: “how driver’s education improves driving” or “why states should pay for driver’s education for all drivers, regardless of age or citizenship status.”
  3. Click the begin timer link.
  4. Start writing and don’t stop. Write anything that comes to mind about the topic. Let your ideas run free without worrying about where the ideas are going or whether they are “right” or “wrong.” There are no “bad” ideas at this stage. Don’t correct for grammar or sentence structure; this is not the time for your internal editor to take over! Write down bullet points if you want. Then stop when your time is up (feel free to finish a sentence or two if you’re in the middle of a thought). Be sure to hit save if you’re using the provided textbox.
  5. Finally, read over your writing. This is the most important part! Look over your writing and ask yourself these questions to see if you can find some idea that is worthy of more indepth thought or research.

Freewrite Example #1
Poetry is art. Not art made from paint, but art found in combinations of words. Poetry has infiltrated politics. “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” JFK maintained. Former New York governor Mario Cuomo once said politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. It will be interesting to see if his son, the current New York governor, brings poetry to his governing style. He’s already brought romance—New York State doesn’t have a First Lady. It has a First Girlfriend! Governor Andrew Cuomo isn’t married. But he does have a girlfriend. She’s famous in her own right and is no doubt richer than the governor. She has built an empire based on cooking. In particular, she’s famous for semi homemade cooking. She uses some store bought food and combines it with homemade ingredients to save time. Her technique makes it seem as if the whole dish is homemade.

There’s been some talk about the appropriateness of having her live in the Executive Mansion in the state capital of Albany. Most New Yorkers, though, seem to like the idea of having a beautiful and successful woman sharing the top political spot with the governor. Who cares if they are not married. Sandra Lee grew up very poor. She says her childhood ended when she was 11. There was a lot of tragedy in her life. But, she overcame it all. By age 25, she was a millionaire. She lost everything, though, and a few years later, she had to start all over again. She’s a bestselling author13 books. In her books, she talks honestly about her abusive childhood and about mistakes she has made. She doesn’t look back though and doesn’t take a “pityme” approach to life. Instead, she’s made it her mission to help feed America’s poor and hungry. A lot of people admire her. Me, too.

Follow-Up Questions
Do I stay on topic in most of the writing, or do I shift to another topic? Am I more interested in my initial or my new topic?

ANSWER: I did move around a bit, from poetry to politics, to a Governor’s girlfriend who likes to cook. And the cooking led me to think about people going hungry in America, which is something I think about a lot.

What words are repeated in my writing?

ANSWER: Repeated words: “Poetry,” “cooking” and foodrelated words.
Which of my ideas can be backed up with research during the subsequent research process?
ANSWER: There’s bound to be a lot of information about the poor in America and about hunger in America, too.

Can I identify one or two questions that most of my freewrite responds to?

ANSWER: Why are so many people “foodies”? Which celebrities are trying to help the poor?
Freewrite Example #2
“War is hell.” Fyodor Dostoyevki said this. It’s not only hell for those fighting the war, it’s also hell for people in the countries being fought in and fought for. It’s hell, too, for the taxpayers who have to finance the war. Think about what war does to the mind of a soldier. It’s estimated, for example, that a third of all homeless people are men who fought in Vietnam. How do we every repay their sacrifice? The price tag for the war in Iraq is $3 trillion. We’ve spent millions every single day since that war began. What have we gained? We know what we’ve lostlives and money and the good will of countries that see us as an aggressor. Could the money be better spent? No doubt. It could be used, for example, to build roads. Or, spent to strengthen our crumbling infrastructure. The work would give jobs to thousands who are now unemployed. With their earnings, people could pay their mortgages and buy things they couldn’t afford before. This would help prop up the sagging economy.

Economy and Dostoyevski are linked in the subtitle of a book I had to read for an economics paper. It’s by Susan McReynolds. The title is Redemption and the Merchant God. Sometimes putting two things together yields some really interesting results. You wouldn’t think Dostoyevski had much to say about economy. I guess it’s like the old saying “Opposites attract.” What else can I say about opposites? I guess they are what makes life interesting. So, if you take an old maid like Emily Dickinson and have her write about something passionate, like the poem “Wild Nights,” that makes for an interesting combination, because it is so unexpected. I’m sure I’m not the only one who likes to be surprised by the unexpected. That’s probably the basis of all the horror movies that have ever been made. Speaking of which, the classic with Jack Nicholson about that old hotel was really frightening. I remember screaming out loud in the movie theatre. It’s not surprising that it was so scary, because the book on which the movie was based was written by Stephen King. And King, before he was rich and famous, used to dig graves in order to make a living. There are a lot of things I’d do if I was starving, but I don’t think I could ever dig graves, especially not in the middle of the night. Beyond being dirty work, literally dirty work, it’s so spooky.
Follow-Up Questions
Do I stay on topic in most of the writing, or do I shift to another topic? Am I more interested in my initial or my new topic?

ANSWER: I talked a lot about war, which led me to the economy, which led me to talk about opposites and finally to the creepiness of Stephen King. His story made me think about my own career, which is obviously pretty important to me.

What words are repeated in my writing?

ANSWER: I used “war” quite a bit, but that may be because my brother is in Iraq and I think about the war every day. I also talked about the economy. Another repeated word is “opposites.” Which of my ideas can be backed up with research during the subsequent research process?
ANSWER: I can find tons of information about the war and also about economic conditions. I should also be able to do a lot of research on the topic of getting a job and earning money.

Can I identify one or two questions that most of my freewrite responds to?

ANSWER: Some questions that come to mind are: Are there indications the economy is turning around? I have to earn a living in a few years. What kind of job am I going to have? As you loop, it may feel as if you are going in circles, but by asking the right questions, you’ll find that you’re heading somewhere important.
Looping refers to freewriting sessions performed in succession. The purpose of looping is to take the ideas you discover in your freewriting session that seem most worthy of exploration and freewrite again on those ideas. The process allows you to refine your topic into a more narrow and realistic topic. To loop your idea, take the idea that emerged as most important in your initial freewrite and do another freewrite—following the freewriting instruction steps previously outlined—with that idea as your starting point.
Remember that the most important part of freewriting is reflecting on your writing. So, after your loop, be sure to ask yourself the same reflective questions you asked during your initial freewrite.
Freewriting Questions
After you finish freewriting, read your writing carefully to decide which ideas are most worthy of exploration. As you read over your writing, ask yourself these questions:
Do I stay on topic in most of the writing, or do I shift to another topic? Am I more interested in my initial or my new topic?
What words are repeated in my writing? Words that you repeat are likely to indicate an interest in that particular aspect of the topic?
Which of my ideas can be backed up with research during the subsequent research process?
Opinions can help point you toward an interest, but if your freewrite consists only of opinion, you may need to conduct another freewrite that focuses more on facts, you may want to conduct a preliminary search, or you may need to pick a new topic.
Can I identify one or two questions that most of my freewrite responds to? If you can, you might have found yourself a research question.
If you’d like to compare a freewriting session against a looping session, compare the loops below to the freewrites from above.
Looping Example #1
Feeding America’s poor won’t be easy. Not with one out of seven of us living at the poverty level.  It’s especially bad for kids. I mean, how can a kid concentrate on learning when he hasn’t eaten in two days? When you think about how much food goes to waste every single day in this country, you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem. Just think about the food fights that go on in cafeterias all over the country. With that wasted food alone we could probably feed all the poor people. And I know a lot of people let vegetables sit in their refrigerators until they rot and then they have to throw out all that food. Also, just think about all the restaurants that throw away food every single day. You’ve probably seen homeless people doing “dumpster digs.” I know I have. At least, they are getting some nourishment out of what’s being discarded, but who’d want to eat food that’s mixed with garbage? I think we should have more public service announcements to make people aware of what they are wasting. That would be a first step. Maybe parents could also be advised not to put so much food on their kids’ plates at suppertime. That would solve two problems; the food waste problem and the obesity problem. Then, we could use the money that is saved to help the hungry more than we do. It’s true that some celebrities like Sandra Lee have started a campaign, but not everybody watches her on the food network channel. I guess we need more celebrities getting the word out. I know the President and First Lady are working on this and that’s helping a lot. But there’s really a lot to do. There are food banks, of course. But we really need more than famous people getting the word out. We need the average Joe thinking twice about waste.
Follow-Up Questions
Do I stay on topic in most of the writing, or do I shift to another topic? Am I more interested in my initial or my new topic?

ANSWER: I really did focus on the poor and how much foodwaste there is in this country. I also talked about what famous people and ordinary people can do to solve the problem of people going hungry. What words are repeated in my writing? ANSWER: “Poor” (poverty), “food,” “waste,” “celebrities.”

Which of my ideas can be backed up with research during the subsequent research process?
ANSWER: There has to be a lot of data about poverty in America and also wasted food. I could also learn more about Sandra Lee and what people like her are doing to help.

Can I identify one or two questions that most of my freewrite responds to?

ANSWER: What are celebrities doing to help the poor? What can the average person do?
Research Question
Topic: Feeding the hungry
Research Question: What are the characteristics of an effective antihunger program?
Looping Example #2
What will I do to earn a living? Right now I’m studying liberal arts and there are a lot of possibilities in front of me, assuming I don’t change my major. There are a lot of things I know I wouldn’t dono matter how much money I could make. Even if I was desperate, like Stephen King, I wouldn’t dig graves to earn money. I also wouldn’t do anything that would harm animals. And I would never steal from people the way Madoff did. But, as a liberal arts generalist, especially a generalist with some computer skills, I could probably enter any field I wanted to. There really are a lot of choices. Plus, I could always learn on the job. Most businesses have orientation and training programs that help new hires learn what they need in order to do a specific job. And, a lot of places will actually pay for employees to take additional college courses. Of course, I could pay for further education myself if I had to. I could get a Master’s Degree or some other degree that would help me get promotions once
I’ve started working. Plus, there’s always stuff I could learn about on my own by doing research on the Internet or by taking some online courses. Things are changing so fast that I’d probably have to take additional courses anyway. Take electrical engineers, for example. I read that by the time they graduate, half their knowledge is obsolete. So maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about what I’m learning right now. Instead, I should concentrate on getting a good solid academic base, rather than a narrow or toospecific body of knowledge. Being able to communicate well is critical for career success, no matter what field I choose and I’ve always had A’s in my written and oral communications classes. Being a good problemsolver is important, too. I like challenges and have often been complimented on my analytical skills. Another thing that’s going to serve me well are my people skills. Everybody tells me I’m both a good leader and a great team player. So, I guess, now that I think about it, I won’t have to dig graves. I should be able to get any job I want…assuming the economy is better by the time I graduate.
Follow-Up Questions
Do I stay on topic in most of the writing, or do I shift to another topic? Am I more interested in my initial or my new topic?

ANSWER: I did stay on the topic of my futurework I’d like to do and work I definitely wouldn’t do.

What words are repeated in my writing?

ANSWER: “earn a living,” “money,” “job,” “learning”

Which of my ideas can be backed up with research during the subsequent research process?
ANSWER: I should be able to research jobs in general, especially those available to liberal arts majors. I’d also have to find out what skills are required for entrylevel jobs in certain industries.
Can I identify one or two questions that most of my freewrite responds to?

ANSWER: What jobs does a liberal arts degree lead to? How soon does knowledge become obsolete?
Research Question
Topic: Job economy
Research Question: What can one do with a liberal arts degree?
Clustering is another method of brainstorming ideas. You can use it by itself, or you can organize some of the ideas you discovered during your freewrite. Clustering Write the topic or research question in the center of a piece of paper. Just as in your freewrite, your topic can be general or specific. Fill up the paper with related ideas or concepts. Try to represent your ideas using words or phrases rather than sentences unless a sentence jumps out at you. Clustering is a way to stimulate the organizing part of your writing process without forcing you to get everything on paper in a linear fashion. It’s easier to see the relationship between ideas if you keep the sentences to a minimum. If ideas seem similar, group them together. If they seem different, or even opposite, separate them. You can draw lines between the main idea and other ideas as you discover relationships between them. You can circle individual ideas or groups of ideas.

Don’t scratch anything out. You don’t need to worry about the entire cluster making sense as you draw it; you’ll have time to do that when you outline your ideas. After you have created your cluster, ask yourself these questions about the result. Are there parts of the cluster that express certain relationships? Relationships might include cause and effect, reasons why something is good or bad, or parts of a proposed solution to a problem. Explaining this relationship might drive your research and research paper. Are there parts of the cluster that don’t seem to fit in with other parts? If they don’t fit, can you figure out how you might fit the pieces together? Or are the ideas just too different to discuss in one paper? Are any regions of the cluster undeveloped? If so, are they undeveloped because you don’t know much about that part of the topic? Does that part not interest you as much?

Choosing a specific topic that you don’t know much about within a general topic that you are familiar with can help you maintain your interest in your topic, so underdevelopment of a section in your cluster doesn’t mean you should abandon that idea. But it’s also good to pick a topic that you have a lot of interest in already. Based on the cluster that you have created, can you guess at what a working thesis or research question might be? Your research question will ask a question that can be answered with reasons that you can support with research and evidence.

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