Monday, June 30, 2014

How to write almost anything (argument edition).

            One of the most important jobs that History teachers are tasked with is the teaching of argumentative writing.    Through writing, students learn that history is an argumentative discipline and more than just a list of disconnected facts or a description of what happened.  Historians – and history students – make active decisions about what to study, how to study it, and what counts as history.  This is especially evident in the argumentative essays.  Building on methods taught to me by my first department chair and history teaching mentor, Helen Grady, I have developed a system for essay writing.  This post is an overview of the system, and I’ll be breaking down each of the component parts in the subsequent four posts. 

            Today’s post is simply an overview of the system, which I call the ACRE system.  ACRE is an acronym.  It stands for: 

A rgument
C larity
R epetition
E vidence 

If you can master these four elements: argument, clarity, repetition, and evidence, you can write almost any argumentative essay. 

“But wait,” I hear you cry across time, space, and the intertubes, “how can good argumentative writing be so easy that it only requires mastery of four simple elements?”  It’s simple. 

First, an argumentative essay has to have an argument.  Second, the reader needs to be able to recognize the argument and follow it.   Finally, an argument needs to backed by good, solid evidence.  If we look at the four ACRE elements, we see that the argument part is covered by the A.  The reader being able to follow the argument is covered by C (for clarity) and R (for repetition). Evidence is, of course, E.  Anybody who masters these four elements will be able to write clear, persuasive arguments. 

“But wait,” I hear you cry across time, space, and the intertubes (because my hearing is excellent and let’s face it, you are kind of predictable), “what about style?” Style is not an element in this system.  High school students are often overly concerned with style.  In trying to sound smart, they use convoluted language and their poor readers have to struggle to understand what the high school authors are saying.  Also, high school students are often writing under time pressure.  I tell my students they can work on the style of the paper only after they cover the other bases first.  They rarely have the time to do this.  Finally, someone, somewhere invented the awful notion of “the hook” and told students to start their papers with it.  For my students, that often means writing the hook first and building their paper around it.  This is entirely backwards.  The argument should dictate the hook and not the other way around. 

The next post in the series will cover how to construct an awesome argument through a two-step brainstorming process. 

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