Voice Argument Writing Tip


Style (tip 3)

One important point about your adopted voice and its argument: You must at least pretend to believe it. Like Solomon and all great minds that ever contemplated the human condition, Martin Luther was right when he said that all of humankind are sinners and sin in every thought and deed and must necessarily sin, so far are we removed from God. His response was, he declared, to "sin boldly." Do not hide quivering under the bed. Do not shuffle shamefully onto the stage full of abject apologies. Be assertive, be bold, adopt a self-confident voice. Fake it if you have to. The cynics may be right. Our worldly institutions and values may all be relative and artificial constructs like the money in our wallets or the latest clothing fad. We live in the world "as if." To some that "if" is a constantly looming threat; to others it's a challenge.

Consider Ronald Reagan. He had no idea what he was talking about. He acted out the part of the self-confident leader, and he got himself elected president twice and was a fairly successful president despite himself. The only difference between Harvard students and community college students is that Harvard students think they are right even when they are wrong, and community college students think they are wrong even when they are right. The amount of prior knowledge or the ability to think are about the same, believe me. I've been there. The students who get into Harvard are the ones who adopted (or were given along with their trust funds) self-confident voices early in their careers and stuck with them. They are not self-confident because they are smart; they are what we call "smart" because they are self-confident. So be assertive. Don't be a wimp. The columnist George Will is a very good example, most of the time, of a fine essay writer. So is that crypto-fascist Pat Buchanan. Who can forget his description of Republicans deserting Reagan during Irangate as hyenas "heading for the tall grass" or his inflammatory suggestion at the 1992 Republican convention that "we take back our culture, block by block" or his description of his followers as "peasants with pitchforks"? What makes these phrases memorable? He has clear and definite (if misguided) opinions that provide him with the self-confidence to sin boldly.

So don't quibble and equivocate and hide behind excuses. Don't begin by saying, "In my opinion...," or "It seems to me that..." These give you away. They say, "It's just little old stupid me saying this and it's probably wrong, so don't hit me, please." That kind of cringing only brings out the bully and the sadist in me. I smell fear, and I pounce, pouring red ink like blood all over the page. Instead, sin boldly! Say "Beyond a doubt, George W. Bush is a communist dupe and an agent of the still-dangerous international communist conspiracy readying its UN black helicopters to herd us all into ditches and kill us like dogs." I know it's you talking; you don't have to tell me. I know it's your opinion; that is obvious. Make the best argument you can backed up by the best evidence and the tightest logic you can muster. Good luck.

Thank you.

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