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Write Good Essay Commentary

Argumentative Essay/Commentary

From the University of Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/685/05/):

The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic, collect, generate, and evaluate evidence, and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.

Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that s/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.

Handouts:

General Resources:

Rhetorical Appeals (Logos, Pathos, Ethos)

Toulmin Argument

Rogerian Argument

Counter Arguments/Perspectives

Writing commentary is undoubtedly the most difficult part of writing any essay.  All other parts of the essay are more formulaic in nature.  There are standard rules for how to write a thesis statement, a topic sentence, a blended quotation, etc.  But when it comes to commenting on evidence, there isn’t one set way to do it.  In fact, there are many, many comments one can make about a piece of evidence, and no two people will explain the same piece of evidence in the exact same way. Likewise, the exact same piece of evidence can be used to prove two disparate arguments. Nothing shows this is true more than the literary analysis essay.  

If you were to give your students the exact same thesis statements and quotations to use for an essay, you would be amazed at how different the essays would actually turn out!  How can this be?  This occurs because the writer’s voice comes through the commentary.  It is within the commentary that students share their original thoughts and unique insights about a piece of literature.  This presents a challenge for students who are often left asking what to write, and it can be tricky to teach students how to write commentary without putting words in their mouths.  

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