Faculty Workshop

MOVING ARGUMENTS: BEYOND THE THESIS STATEMENT

FACULTY WORKSHOP

AUGUST 23, 2011

10:30 – 11:30 AM/GOLDSTEIN 100

Sean Meehan, Director of Writing

Argument is crucial to our academic culture.  Argument is a basis for the critical thinking and writing we expect students to develop in first-year writing and begin to master as they move through Writing Intensive courses and into their majors. Students, however, have limited, prior experience in secondary schools with what we think of as argument. There are two problems related to this limited experience with real argument (as opposed to school writing) that I will address in the workshop: [1]Student writing will often lack a thesis, even though many students will be able to define a thesis as central to academic writing; [2]If there is a thesis, it is static, not dynamic in a way that we value in academic work. The rhetorician Kenneth Burke connected this dynamic nature of argument to what he viewed as the underlying dramatic (in his terms, “dramatistic”) nature of all writing and thinking. “An essay,” he once put it, “is an attenuated play.”

The workshop will offer a focused conversation around this problem of the absent thesis in thesis-governed writing. I will also propose an approach I have taken in my English 101 and Writing Intensive courses, an extended analogy for thesis-based writing that I have found effective in emphasizing for students the dynamic (rather than static) nature of argument. Without giving too much of the plot away: I borrow from screenwriting the three-act structure of traditional film narrative as a model for what I call a moving argument. For this workshop I will emphasize two elements that students need to grasp and that they find difficult because they are—as they must be—counter-intuitive: [1]An argument or thesis can’t be wholly original; [2]A good argument in some form explores its own demise, that is, entertains a counter-argument.

I invite you to join me in this conversation.

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