Why Fight Writing Tip

 

Why Must We Fight?

In anything you write, you need to be making an argument. This doesn't have to be an angry confrontational argument. Nor does it have to be profound. But there must be some point to it all, some message you are trying to get across. If you cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with what you are saying, then your paper is not an argument. A paper saying the sky looks blue on a sunny day is not an argument. A paper arguing against wifebeating or racism is equally pointless. Who would disagree? You need to go beyond safe conventional moralisms and say something. Instead of merely denouncing wife-beating, argue that alcohol taxes ought to be raised to pay for federally funded women's shelters. That'll get you into an argument in any bar in America.

Presenting and then resolving a conflict is the classic approach to writing any paper. Start off with a problem or a question or a mystery. A body lies mutilated in the biology lab: Whodunit? Lord Cornbury, one of the colonial governors of New York, used to solicit sailors on the docks while dressed in full drag: Why wasn't he ashamed of his behavior? Why can't that wimp Hamlet make up his mind? What complex secrets lie behind the innocent smile of the blonde in the movie? Why is dark always thought of as evil? Remember the Latin phrase Cui bono , not Cher's late ex-husband but a question asked of bills introduced into the Roman Senate, "To whom the good?" Who benefits from this? Who is helped by this, and who is hurt, and why? Because we live in a cause-and-effect universe, every aspect of any text, whether historical, literary, or psychological, contains mysteries waiting to be revealed. Despite the arrogant posturing of academics and scientists, psychologists and economists, human behavior is still a complete mystery. Any activity involving human beings is thus loaded with unanswered and often unspoken questions. All you need to do to come up with an argument is to be as innocent and evil as a child who won't stop asking "Why?" Remember that every event and statement is an effect, and that every effect has a cause. If the reason for an author's or a character's words is not obvious, seize that as your opportunity to argue for your own interpretation. Such mysteries need to be solved.

Having a solution to your mystery, or an answer to your question, at the end of the paper is always helpful, but even that is not necessary. To lay out a problem, to ask penetrating questions, to explore some of the possible answers, to report on another person's suggested answers, can by themselves be worthwhile endeavors. But we teachers do want our students to take risks and to try to express opinions of their own.

 
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