For the first part of this assignment, think of a subject you would like to write on having to do with “Consumer Culture.”
Writing 122: Guided Writing Assignment
The audience, Question at Issue, and Enthymeme
(Due at start of class on Monday, 10/20/14)
In this first Guided Writing Assignment, you will spend time refreshing your memory on the
subject of good essay construction. The skills practiced here (particularly those related to
The audience, Questions at Issue, and the Enthymeme) will help you construct the first version of
your essay on Consumer Culture. This assignment is 5% of your Total Final Grade.
Though not required, you are welcome to use any material from this exercise in Essay 1.1. Note
the pattern, in this class, of smaller assignments often helping you to produce material or practice
writing techniques in anticipation of your longer assignments. This is not an accident. Make the
best use of these assignments that you can. 🙂
Part I: Choosing & Narrowing a Thesis
For the first part of this assignment, think of a subject you would like to write on having to do
with “Consumer Culture.” This could be a subject closely related to the one you read about in Signs
of Life in the U.S.A. or something else entirely. In the past, I have had excellent papers on topics
that have ranged from modular cell phone technology, to why we should ban “I [heart] boobs”
breast cancer awareness bracelets in area high schools, and beyond. You can write about
anything as long as you have a convincing consumer-culture-related reason for doing so.
If you are having trouble thinking up something to write on, try coming at the problem from a
different angle. Think of something you love and know a lot about already (motorcycle riding,
international travel, British TV, rap music, etc.), then examine that topic for things relating to
how (or why) it is consumed by those involved with it. For example, if you know a lot about
rap music, you might decide to write a paper about the ways rappers establish credibility in their
songs and compare that to the ways politicians (or the makers of a product) try to establish
credibility in prime-time TV ads. Alternately, focus on the Question at Issue as a way to
brainstorm topics. What hotly debated questions about consumer culture bug you or inspire you
the most? Your particular answer to the QAI will be your enthymeme/thesis sentence.
For part one of this exercise, list three potential topics and devise both an arguable Question
at Issue and an Enthymematic thesis sentence for each. Remember that an Enthymeme has
two parts: (1) Your Assertion and (2) Your Best Reason for Believing It. The formula for an
An enthymeme is A+B [because] A+C, where A is the shared subject of both clauses, B is the
predicate of the Assertion, and C is the predicate of the reason. You will have 6-7 pages for
each essay in this class, but that space gets eaten up fast when you dig into a complex
argument, so make sure that both parts are as specific as possible. For each Enthymeme,
write the Major Premise (placeholding subject+C+B), the Minor Premise (A+C), and the
Conclusion (A+B). Revise the enthymeme if the Major Premise is unlikely to be agreed upon.
Part II: The “Hook”
You’ve seen this trick before: The camera fades in on a business-suited man lying flat on his
back in the jungle. The man is unconscious, but as we watch, he wakes up and looks around,
confused. He doesn’t seem to know where he is or how he got there. He is cut and bruised.
Two airplane bottles of liquor fall out of his jacket pocket. Before he (or we) can make sense of
it, he hears screaming in the distance. Not knowing what else to do, he runs toward the sound,
bursting out of the jungle onto a beautiful sandy beach. He stares, transfixed by the turquoise blue
surf for half an instant before the cries draw his attention to the left…where he sees the massive,
smoking wreckage of the airplane he was on until it crashed. We watch the man dash over to
help, unable to look away because we want to know what happens next.
This is the opening to the pilot episode of TV’s Lost. The shocking plane wreck is what we call
a “hook,” an initial attention-getting device that convinces viewers to become interested in the
show and watch it for longer than the moment it takes them to figure out it isn’t the rerun of Law
& Order: SVU they were searching for.
We use hooks in essay writing as well. The purpose and overall effect is pretty much the same
as it is for Lost. You ask a question that demands an answer (“What would you do if a doctor
said you had one week to live?”), tell an intriguing story (“There I was, dangling from a cliff on
Mount Everest…”), paint a vivid mental picture that tugs at the reader’s imagination (“Blood
spatter smeared the wall like bad impressionist painting…”), or say something shocking that the
reader can only put into context by reading the rest of the paragraph (“For five short minutes, I
was a superhero…”). If you’ve done your job right, the reader will humor you for a paragraph or
two out of curiosity, long enough to get him or her interested in the substance of your paper.
Hooks tend to appear only at the beginning of essays. This is because the hook is a bit cheesy at
heart. It is a gimmick—immensely useful if done well, but a gimmick none-the-less. In movie
terms, the hook is rather like a surprise car bomb explosion. One bomb is shocking, even gut-
wrenching. Fifty in a row become old hat.
For part two of this exercise, develop “hooks” that will grab your readers’ interests and lead
them into the enthymemes for your subjects from Part I. You may have to write several
sentences—or perhaps a paragraph or two—to pull this off. Just look at how long it took me
to describe the hook to Lost above. Three hooks in total.
Part III: Topic & Transition Sentences
A “topic sentence” is usually the first sentence in each paragraph, and its function is the same as
the thesis for your overall essay. Topic sentences tell you what the paragraph will be about.
Theoretically, the reader should be able to look at one and know, instinctively, what sort of
examples, arguments, or other material he or she will encounter in that block of text. When it is
time to transition to a new idea or expand in a substantial way on the ideas of the current
paragraph, good writers will signal that they are moving on to a new paragraph with what we call
a “transition sentence.”
The purpose of a transition sentence is to prepare the reader for whatever comes next so that it
will not be a shock when the new material arrives. The hope is that your reader will be able to
move smoothly from notion to notion and paragraph to paragraph without having to navigate
sharp, concentration-breaking jumps in your train of thought. This is what I have tried to
accomplish above. Note how both paragraphs in this section start with topic sentences. In the
first case, I wanted to talk about what topic sentences were, so I started with a basic definition of
that term. This paragraph talks about transition sentences, so it begins with a definition of that.
Both are connected by the first paragraph’s final sentence, which anticipates what this paragraph
will be about.
For part three of this exercise, sketch the paragraph-by-paragraph outline of an essay that
might come from one of your thesis sentences above. You may organize your hypothetical
essay any way you want, whether this means Five- or Six-Paragraph Essay structure or
something more original that you devise yourself. In the place where each potential
paragraph will go, write the topic sentence that will govern its content. Below it, include a
transition sentence that might help you move smoothly from the ideas in that paragraph to the
ideas in the next.
Part IV: Counter Argument (A.K.A. “Spin Control”)
Whether you do it all at once or bit-by-bit throughout the essay, you should always address
potential counter-arguments in your writing. Counter-arguments include anything that intelligent
readers of the opposite viewpoint might say to disprove or discredit your ideas and the examples
you use to back them up.
For example, when I teach the Declaration of Independence and why its author, Thomas
Jefferson might have removed the section denouncing slavery, we talk about how slavery was so
closely interwoven with the American economy that sweeping it away all at once might have
crippled us financially. We talk about how this act would have alienated many rich businessmen
who relied on slave labor, and whom Jefferson was relying upon for support against England. In
addition to all this, Jefferson was a slave owner himself. Skeptical readers of the Declaration
could have labeled him a hypocrite and used that as an excuse to stop taking his argument
All of the above are counter-arguments that naysayers might have used to criticize Jefferson. He
chose to deal with those arguments by simply removing the offending passage—a sad but
possibly necessary choice. Though he could have addressed the opposing viewpoints openly,
explaining why we didn’t need slavery and how the American economy would survive, doing so
would have run the risk of further fracturing the very people Jefferson wanted to unite against a
more pressing threat. Imagine what it would have been like to fight the Revolutionary War and
Civil War all at once. We might never have come out of that conflict as a nation!
Fortunately, the stakes are rarely this high when we write essays for class, so we can and should
confront the concerns of our opposing audience members directly. You will gain an opposing
reader’s trust by taking the time to fairly summarize what he/she believes and why, and you will
go perhaps the greatest distance toward really convincing them to adopt your views by actually
entering into conversation with their best reasons for believing differently.
For part four of this assignment, spend some time imagining who your opposing audience
might be. Who are these people, generally speaking? What do they do? What do they value?
Where will they compromise and where will they never give ground no matter what you say?
Write a brief paragraph (four to five sentences) describing this audience. Then, imagine three
arguments this audience might make against the point of view in your thesis (or any of the
examples you plan to use, which have found their way into your outline). Write these
potentially-damaging arguments down and, below that, suggest how you will counter them in
your essay. In other words, write how you will explain that your audience’s concerns are
either irrelevant or less important than they imagine.
Part V: Conclusion Paragraphs
Though your high school teachers may have encouraged you to simply restate your thesis and
main points in the conclusion, this restatement is often unnecessary. Common sense tells us that
if we have already said a thing well enough once, we do not need to say it in exactly the same
way again. Instead, we should look for something else to do in the conclusion—some way to
make our argument even more successful instead of retreading old ground.
For part five of this exercise, write a paragraph of about ten sentences speculating on what
you will do to enhance your paper in its concluding paragraph(s). You have lots of options
here. The conclusion is a great place to add what business writers call a “Call to Action,” in
which you tell your readers what you would like them to do next. This telling could come in
the form of a gentle suggestion or an outright command, depending on the urgency of what
you want them to do. Conclusions are also great places to reframe the issue for your
reader—to step back and look at the “big picture.” What are the consequences of not thinking
or doing what you suggest in the essay? Why would readers be better off adopting your view,
in whole or in part?
|Academic Level||College (3-4 years: Junior, Senior)|
|Number of Pages||2 Page(s)/550 words|