20 Module 5: The Words We Wield to Work for Peace- Argumentation Part I

Module Introduction

In module two we discussed how narration, the telling of stories, is perhaps the most typical way that humans interact with language and so is probably the most comfortable mode of writing for many because it comes so “naturally” to us. We also considered perspective when we talked about storytelling; every person approaches the world from a certain point-of-view, and the words he or she uses to express that position both construct that perspective (after all, language is the vehicle for our thoughts) and reveal it to others. When we tell stories, we invite others to experience our point-of-view and to empathize with our perspective. In other words, language serves as the great connective tissue that allows us to commune together and build understanding.

And yet, even as language pulls us together, the singular nature of perspective pulls us apart. Though we share the world, each of us only truly experiences it from our specific position, and it’s impossible for us to truly inhabit another person’s point-of-view (that’s why language is necessary in the first place!). This distance can lead to misunderstandings, especially because our words can be interpreted in a variety of ways that we can’t control.

Moreover, we are not simply communicating beings that forge communities; we are also physical bodies struggling to survive and competing for resources. When that struggle intensifies, our singular perspective focuses more and more on self-preservation. In the direst of such circumstances, physical conflict and violence erupt as we act on the world in order to defend our place in it. Even when overt physical conflict can be avoided, communication becomes difficult under duress because our perspective is in jeopardy; though we often are quick to express how we feel about important issues that affect our well being and are desperate for others to understand our position, we are less likely to listen to others when we fear for our survival. In these moments we wield our words like weapons; we shout for our space and refuse to acknowledge the perspectives of others whom we now perceive as threats rather than fellow storytellers.

In these moments it’s easy to forget that each and every one of us has survived thanks largely to a community forged on language and mutual understanding. Human infants must be nurtured, for we cannot fend for ourselves in our early years. Thanks to the cooperation that language has afforded us, we have built societies where successful child rearing, though always difficult and never perfect, is commonplace. In other words, our perspectives that contest for survival are themselves indebted to the negotiation, cooperation, and compromises language allowed our forbears to make. When we lash out without discussion or deliberation, emphasizing our individual power at the expense of others, we forget our communal roots and risk everything. When language breaks down, society is at risk. When society is at risk, human survival in general is jeopardized. However, as mortal beings we live in danger and seek self-preservation, often at the expense of others. How can we reconcile these uncomfortable truths?

An absolute reconciliation is impossible, for existence costs and sometimes survival instincts override our best intentions. However, for the sake of the human species, and in the honor of those who have built the cultures and institutions that we inhabit (and due to which we persist), we must not abandon our responsibility to communicate. This module will explain just how that responsibility takes shape in a specific kind of writing: argumentation.

Argumentation means taking a position on a social or political issue while directly engaging other points of view. Of all the writing types we’ve encountered so far, this one is perhaps the most difficult because it requires that we detach from our primordial desire to overcome obstacles by using force. In other words, though writing an argument, like all writing, expresses an author’s perspective and in some sense imposes that perspective on an audience, it also requires that the author directly entertain perspectives other than his or her own in order to build community. This is as difficult as it is uncomfortable, for it requires not only that we explain why we believe something (and often we have trouble establishing our own reasons for thinking a certain way!) but also that we understand why someone else believes otherwise.

In addition, once we have considered what others think and why, effective argumentation requires that we figure out what kinds of examples might build consensus for our perspective. When we are arguing about important social and political issues, it is often not enough to merely explain our own personal experiences as evidence for our beliefs. Thus, argumentative writing also entails documenting outside sources to augment one’s position and persuade readers to agree. This module will discuss some of the kinds of evidence that are most convincing; the next module will focus on exactly how to present that evidence in a paper. (1)

Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Identify the characteristics of argumentation, including the interplay between logic and emotion
  • Identify enthusiastic, undecided, and contentious audiences and how each shapes a writer’s argument
  • Identify the importance of integrating an opposing viewpoint as a persuasive tactic
  • Identify the kinds of evidence used to support the reasons that explain an argumentative thesis
  • Identify fallacies, including ad hominem attacks, either or arguments, post hoc fallacies, and hasty and sweeping generalizations
  • Compose an argument using the steps of the writing process (1)

Readings

  • Online Learning Units

Lecture Content

ENC1101 Learning Unit 5:

Academic Argumentation: Constructive Collisions vs. Everyday Bickering

Arguments in general aren’t uncommon at all. We use our language to conflict with those around us all the time; we argue about food, sports, in-laws, entertainment options, scheduling, money issues, and just about every other element of our lives, and we do so constantly, largely because our perspectives on life don’t line up. These everyday arguments don’t usually lead to agreement, for most people insist on the correctness of their point-of-view, and many of these small-scale conflicts end with neither party being satisfied and the louder or more insistent arguer being the “winner” by default.

Academic arguments are similar to these commonplace “real world” scuffles in that they are also emotional affairs. However, unlike everyday arguments, academic argumentation requires that such emotional investment be counterbalanced by clear-headed explanations of an arguer’s logic , the reasons for his or her position, and the presentation of theevidence that supports those reasons. When we bicker with each other outside the classroom or boardroom, we often raise our voices and express our passion without caring much to truly explain ourselves, sometimes because we secretly realize that our reasoning is faulty or that we don’t really know why we feel so strongly about an issue. Because academic and professional argumentation is civil and attempts either to build consensus or to elicit understanding (or perhaps both), this kind of illogical, unfounded aggression is out-of-bounds. (1)

Arguing to an Audience: Three Types of Readers

Though the “rules” of academic argumentation are meant to promote civility, argument itself assumes controversy and opposing points of view about matters of political and social importance, so emotions are still very much a part of the picture. The amount of emotion you pour into a written argument, however, largely depends upon the audience you are trying to reach. Keep in mind, though, that every academic argument must to some extent include sound reasoning and appropriate evidence, regardless of its receiver. The rightbalanced of that emotion, logic, and evidence, however, will vary according to your anticipated reader(s). Let’s consider the three types of audiences you can expect to approach in your academic and professional careers, as well as the balance of emotion, reasoning, and evidence required for each. (1)

Enthusiastic Audience

An enthusiastic audience is one that already agrees with your point-of-view. In reaching out to these readers, you are trying to fire them up about the subject and perhaps encourage them to take action on your side’s behalf. Imagine a politician giving a speech specifically to his or her base and you’ll get a bit of an idea how this might look (though when writing an academic argument you are likely to be more concerned with evidence and reasoning than many politicians are when giving speeches!). When writing to an enthusiastic audience, you can rely heavily upon emotional language, and the burden of proof for your reasoning is much lighter; though you should still explain your logic, you can do so without presenting quite as much evidence and can include more personal experiences to support your claims. This is obviously the easiest audience to convince, but it is also one that you are least likely to confront in college or at work (alas, life often works that way). (1)

Contentious Audience

On the other hand, a contentious audience intensely disagrees with your main idea. Contentious readers are hard to reach because they are easy to upset and require a massive amount of convincing; just imagine your own reaction to those who disagree with your most cherished beliefs, and you will have a sense of how these readers will approach your writing. Whereas an enthusiastic audience will enjoy the passion you feel for your position, a contentious audience will resent your emotional connection to it. Thus, you must rely almost entirely on your reasoning and your evidence when writing to contentious readers if you want to make any inroads with them, and usually the most you can hope for is that they will at least consider your perspective. (1)

Undecided Audience

Finally, and perhaps most importantly when it comes to academic and professional writing, the undecided audience is one that on the whole has not made up its collective mind. You should assume that an undecided audience is capable of considering both sides of an issue and that is likely to ask questions that anticipate an opposing point-of-view in regard to the reasons you give for your position. However, this audience has an open mind and is willing to consider your perspective as long as it is presented in a reasonable, well-supported manner. You can be emotional with such an audience up to a point; indeed, you want them to know how important the issue is, and you want them to stay interested, so passionate writing has a place here. On the other hand, you don’t want to overdo it or this audience will see you as being overly biased and may stop trusting you. You thus have to walk a fine line with the undecided audience, carefully balancing your emotions with a clear explanation of your logic while providing plenty of relevant evidence to support your cause. Unless you are explicitly told otherwise, this is the audience to whom you should address your academic and professional work. (1)

How to Start Developing an Effective Academic Argument

In many ways, argumentation is another kind of example essay; you will have a main point (a topic sentence) that makes a claim about an issue (your subject matter), and you will support that claim with examples and specific details. You also likely will use emphatic order (building to your most important point, like arguing to a jury) to best convince your reader of your position.

However, unlike basic example writing, academic argumentation requires that you provide more than just personal experiences as evidence for your claim. This is because you are writing about a controversial topic that evokes strong feelings, and educated audiences will want to see factual evidence for your position before they are willing to believe you; readers, especially contentious or undecided ones, won’t be satisfied with just personal stories about the topic, even if they are relevant ones.

In addition, academic argumentation necessitates a discussion of the opposing point-of-view so that your writing doesn’t seem overly biased. Remember, since you are likely writing to an undecided audience that is smart enough to question everything and to consider both sides, you want to make sure to get ahead of the game and appear both knowledgeable and studious.

In fact, because you need to understand both sides of an issue before you start writing, it’s a good practice not to throw in too quickly with one side or another. Unlike, say, developing your thesis statement for a piece of critique writing or for an in-class essay, coming up with a main idea for an argument paper should not stem just from a gut reaction you have about the topic. That can provide a starting place, of course, but before you truly commit to your main point, you should read up on the issue and seek out plenty of information from sources that are as unbiased as possible and then decide on your thesis statement.

Now we come back to the tricky logic of perspective that we’ve been discussing since module two: every written or otherwise reported account about the world always represents a particular point-of-view. Even the most careful reporter or scientist is still approaching the world under a particular set of circumstances and with a particular agenda; such is the fate of humanity. In a sense we live in a hall of mirrors in which we ourselves are mirrors, too, all of our reports reflecting the light of the world back and forth, with the origin of that light source lost to us. Some of those mirrors are more distorted than others; in current media, for example, most of us know that Fox News refracts a conservative political perspective, while MSNBC refracts liberal America’s point-of-view. Though both sources claim to tell the truth, if you watch the one you don’t agree with, you will be quick to see bias in everything that’s presented. Just remember that someone who has a different political perspective will see the same bias in your favorite news channel!

That’s not to say that nothing on Fox or MSNBC is worth watching or even worth mentioning in your paper, but keep in mind that as soon as you cite from one such source, a well-informed reader will immediately have misgivings about that information if you don’t balance it with, say, a mention of the other organization’s take on your topic.

As a general rule, academic audiences are likely to be less troubled by information provided by the Associated Press (a news organization that provides stories to other news outlets all over the world and that prides itself on being as objective and unbiased as possible) and by .org and .edu websites (which are run by non-profit and/or educational institutions) than by information from .com sites that seek to generate “clicks” and receive advertising dollars in return for traffic. In addition, information gleaned from peer-reviewed articles published in academic journals is considered highly believable because it is vetted by experts in the disciplines for which those articles are written. Many of these excellent sources can be found in your college library’s database system, which you can think of as a curated collection of sources that work well as evidence for argumentative assignments. (1)

Fallacies: Dodging Devious Discourse

Some of the more biased sources of information you may encounter might rely upon fallacies to convince you of their positions. Fallacies are illogical arguments disguised to look like sound reasoning. Salacious arguers have a vast number of such fallacies at their disposal to trick readers into believing their claims. In order to help you avoid falling for these kinds of tricks, a list of some common fallacies, along with explanations and examples, is provided below.

ad hominem attack

This fallacy occurs when an arguer attacks the character of an opponent rather than his or her ideas. Example: Mr. Smith’s tax policy is obviously unsound because it is proposed by a man who is a serial adulterer with an alcohol problem.

either/or fallacy

This fallacy occurs when someone insists that a decision can only have one of two choices even though the situation is far more complicated than such a forced choice implies. Example: Taking military action in the Middle East comes down to this—either you support our brave troops going into battle or you are a coward who hates the United States.

post hoc fallacy

This fallacy takes place when someone assumes that one thing caused another thing just because it preceded that thing. This kind of reasoning ignores all of the complicated factors that can affect a situation. For example, imagine that after a casino moves into an area, a large number of break-ins are reported at convenience stores. It might be true that people drawn to the casino are causing these crimes, but just assuming this is true might ignore other developments, such as the new police reporting system that makes reporting a crime easier and that enables police officers to keep better records, a system that was implemented right after the casino moved in.

sweeping generalization

This is when someone makes a claim that haphazardly groups a massive number of people or things into a single category. Any time an argument begins with “all” or “every” or tries to make an argument about a group that is widely diverse, it is immediately questionable. Example: Women are dangerous drivers.

hasty generalization

This fallacy is similar to a sweeping generalization, but it is when someone makes a giant claim based on very slight evidence. For example, imagine that in a low-income area where residents have lived in poverty for decades and many have suffered and died with little to no hope for success, a single resident has gone on to become the CEO of a major company. Arguing that this person’s success definitively proves that poverty plays no role in one’s chances for success completely ignores the much more common struggles faced by the vast majority of the people who have lived there throughout the area’s history, most of whom have not improved their station.

These are just some of the fallacies you may encounter as you read up on the topic for an argument paper and attempt to construct your thesis. Be careful to question everything, and make sure not to use fallacies in your own arguments; if you do, savvy readers will stop trusting you, and your character will be compromised. (1)

ENC1101 Learning Unit 5.2

Reading: the Words We Wield to Work for Peace – Argumentation Part I

Introduction

In this module we discussed how to take a position on a social or political issue while also engaging other points of view. This is a difficult kind of writing, so it will be very helpful to see some effective examples. For this module and the next, we have included students’ argumentative essays so that you can see not only how well-written academic arguments are constructed but also what the formatting of such papers look like. The essay in this module follows the APA format; the one in module six will follow the MLA format. (1)

Reading

Select and read this argumentative essay, “ Concealed Carry on Campus .” (1)

What to Look for

Just reading over the essay in this module will be an enlightening experience, for you will not only be able to follow the logic of the paper as it builds its case but you will also be able to see citation in action. The author uses various methods to bring outside sources into her argument, sometimes to present evidence and sometimes to directly engage other academic voices who are involved in the discussion over the controversy in question. You will notice that every time such an outside voice is presented, the author includes all of the necessary information to give that voice proper credit and to inform the reader about the source; this is called in-text citation. Then, at the end of the paper, a references page is included listing all of the information readers need in case they want to find and read those sources themselves. (1)

The Essay’s Introduction

The organization of an argument should be clear from the outset, and this paper is very well organized. Note that it has a two paragraph introduction ; the first paragraph provides the essay’s hook, presenting a short narrative related to the topic in order to get readers interested. The second paragraph provides basic background on the controversy being discussed, and the last sentence of the second paragraph clearly presents the paper’s thesis:

Thus, though allowing students to openly carry weapons would be a mistake, they should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus if they complete an annual training course set in place by the school and adhere to a set of specific standards. (1)

The Essay’s Body Paragraphs

After the two paragraph introduction, the next four paragraphs make up the paper’s body . Each one of the paragraphs presents one of the author’s persuasive points. Take note of the transitions used to help lead the reader from paragraph to paragraph:

  • Paragraph two starts with first of all , indicating that the author is going to make her first point.
  • Paragraph three starts with secondly , indicating that the author is moving to her second point.
  • Paragraph four starts with on the other hand , indicating a shift to the opposite point of view (what the opposing side thinks about the issue).
  • Paragraph four starts with a reference to the next step that must be taken if her ideas are to be put into action, further clarifying how committed she is to the process she is laying out here.

Pay close attention to the evidence and reasoning in these body paragraphs; in each one the author clearly presents a point about the controversy and then cites sources and explains the logic behind her thoughts. This combination of logical explanation and in-text citation, combined with the emotional appeals she makes to the reader, help build the essay’s persuasive power. The essay also takes advantage of emphatic order; she builds her case as she goes, interacts with and refutes her opposition’s points (especially in paragraph four where she meets the other side head-on), and ends the body by pointing out practical advice for moving forward after implementing her policy recommendation. (1)

The Essay’s Conclusion

The essay’s concluding paragraph reiterates its main point without being repetitive. It also offers a final citation that relates a published author’s emotional statement to the essay’s overall claim, thus lending even more credibility to the position being taken. However, the author is very careful not to be overly biased or insulting to the other side; the very first sentence of the conclusion admits that there “will be no perfect solution” to the problem being discussed. In this way, she is able to be civil and build community with her audience, even if many of her readers may disagree with her premise. Remember, argumentative papers don’t have to completely persuade their audiences to be successful; if they can help establish understanding between the two sides and present possible solutions that at least seem plausible, they have served an important purpose.

You may want to come back to this short overview after you have read the essay in order to deepen your understanding of the paper and thus of argumentation in general. With practice, you, too, can build a credible argument and help maintain civility in our increasingly hostile world. (1)

ENC1101 Learning Unit 5.3

Sentence Structure

Language

Language is made up of words, which work together to form sentences, which work together to form paragraphs. This module will focus on how sentences are made and how they behave. Sentences help us to organize our ideas—to identify which items belong together and which should be separated.

So just what is a sentence? Sentences are simply collections of words. Each sentence has a subject a verb which may express an action or may link the subject to more information, and punctuation. These basic building blocks work together to create endless amounts and varieties of sentences. (29)

Parts of a Sentence

Every sentence has a subject and a predicate. The subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun, or phrase or clause the sentence is about, and the predicate is the rest of the sentence after the subject.

  • Einstein’s general theory of relativity has been subjected to many tests of validity over the years .
  • In a secure landfill, the soil on top and the cover block storm water intrusion into the landfill (compound subject)
    • There are two subjects in this sentence: soil and cover .
    • Notice that the introductory phrase, “In a secure landfill,” is not a part of the subject or the predicate.
  • The pressure is maintained at about 2250 pounds per square inch then lowered to form steam at about 600 pounds per square inch (compound predicate)
    • There are two predicates in this sentence: “is maintained at about 2250 pounds per square inch” and “lowered to form steam at about 600 pounds per square inch”.
  • Surrounding the secure landfill on all sides are impermeable barrier walls (inverted sentence pattern)
    • In an inverted sentence, the predicate comes before the subject. You won’t run into this sentence structure very often as it is pretty rare. Most of the time you will find the subject at the beginning of the sentence. (30) (31)

Direct and Indirect Objects

Direct Object

A direct object—either a noun or a pronoun or a phrase or clause acting as a noun—takes the action of the main verb (e.g., the verb is affecting the direct object). A direct object can be identified by putting what? which? , or whom? in its place.

The housing assembly of a mechanical pencil contains the mechanical workings of the pencil.

  • In this sentence the workings are what the pencil contains.

Lavoisier used curved glass discs fastened together at their rims, with wine filling the space between, to focus the sun’s rays to attain temperatures of 3000° F.

  • In this sentence the discs are what Lavoisier used.

The dust and smoke lofted into the air by nuclear explosions might cool the earth’s atmosphere some number of degrees.

  • In this sentence the atmosphere is what might be cooled.

A 20 percent fluctuation in average global temperature could reduce biological activity , shift weather patterns , and ruin agriculture . (compound direct object) (30) (31)

  • In this sentence the activity patterns , and agriculture are what could be reduced.

Indirect Object

An indirect object—either a noun or pronoun, or a phrase, or clause acting as a noun—receives the direct object expressed in the sentence, so it is only indirectly affected by the sentence’s verb. It can be identified by inserting to or for .

The company is designing senior citizens a new walkway to the park area.

  • The company is not designing new models of senior citizens; they are designing a new walkway for senior citizens. Thus, senior citizens is the indirect object of this sentence.

Please send the personnel office a resume so we can further review your candidacy.

  • You are not being asked to send the office somewhere; you’re being asked to send a resume to the office. Thus, the personnel office is the indirect object of this sentence. (30)(31)

Note: Objects can belong to any verb in a sentence, even if the verbs aren’t in the main clause. For example, let’s look at the sentence “When you give your teacher your assignment, be sure to include your name and your class number.”

  • Your teacher is the indirect object of the verb give ; the assignment is for the teacher.
  • Your assignment is the direct object of the verb give ; it is what is being given.
  • Your name and your class number are the direct objects of the verb include ; they are what must be included. (30) (31)

Phrases and Clauses

Phrases and clauses are groups of words that act as a unit and perform a single function within a sentence. Neither phrases nor dependent clauses are complete ideas. A phrase may have a partial subject or verb but not both; a dependent clause has both a subject and a verb (but is not a complete sentence). Here are a few examples (not all phrases are highlighted because some are embedded in others):

Phrase

Electricity has to do with those physical phenomena involving electrical charges and their effects when in motion and when at rest . ( involving electrical charges and their effectsis also a phrase.)

In 1833 , Faraday’s experimentation with electrolysis indicated a natural unit of electrical charge , thus pointing to a discrete rather than continuous charge . (to a discrete rather than continuous charge is also a phrase.)

Clauses

Electricity manifests itself as a force of attraction, independent of gravitational and short-range nuclear attraction, when two oppositely charged bodies are brought close to one another .

Since the frequency is the speed of sound divided by the wavelength , a shorter wavelength means a higher wavelength.

There are two types of clauses– dependent and independent:

  • A dependent clause is dependent on something else: it cannot stand on its own.
  • An independent clause, on the other hand, is free to stand by itself. (30) (31)

Common Sentence Structures

Basic Sentence Patterns

Subject + Verb

The simplest of sentence patterns is composed of a subject and verb without a direct object or subject complement. It uses an intransitive verb , that is, a verb requiring no direct object. In the following sentences, note that only the subjects and verbs are highlighted. The other words are non-essential phrases or modifiers:

  • Control rods remain inside the fuel assembly of the reactor.
  • The development of wind power practically ceased until the early 1970s.

Subject + Verb + Direct Object

Another common sentence pattern uses the direct object :

  • Silicon conducts electricity in an unusual way.
  • The anti-reflective coating on the silicon cell reduces reflection from 32 to 22 percent.

Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object

The sentence pattern with the indirect object and direct object is similar to the preceding pattern. Note that if a sentence has an indirect object, it always appears in front of the direct object:

  • am writing her about a number of problems that I have had with my computer.
  • Austin, Texas, has recently built its citizens system of bike lanes.

Compound Predicates

predicate is everything in the verb part of the sentence after the subject (unless the sentence uses inverted word order). A compound predicate is two or more predicates joined by a coordinating conjunction. Traditionally, the conjunction (joining word) in a sentence consisting of just two compound predicates is not punctuated.

  • Another library media specialist has been using Accelerated Reader for ten years and has seen great results .
    • Note that there is no comma in front of and here because it is joining compound predicates.
  • This cell phone app lets users share pictures instantly with friends and categorize photos with hashtags .
    • Note that there is no comma in front of and here because it is joining compound predicates.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is made up of two or more independent clauses joined by either a coordinating conjunction (and, or, nor, but, yet, for) and a comma, an adverbial conjunction and a semicolon, or just a semicolon. Always remember that a semicolon has to separate complete ideas. If you use one, read the word groups on either side to make sure each one is a complete idea (all independent clauses are complete ideas!).

  • In sphygmomanometers,too narrow a cuff can result in erroneously high readings, and too wide a cuff can result in erroneously low readings.
  • Cuff size thus has a major effect on blood pressure results; therefore, one must be careful when setting the apparatus up.
    • In this sentence, therefore is an adverbial conjunction that follows the semicolon.
  • Some cuffs hook together; others wrap or snap into place. (30) (31)

Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences occur when two or more independent clauses are improperly joined. One type of run-on that you’ve probably heard of is the comma splice , in which two independent clauses are joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction ( and, or, but, etc.).

Let’s look at two examples of run-on sentences:

  • Choosing a topic for a paper can be the hardest part but it gets a lot easier after that.
  • Sometimes, books do not have the most complete information, it is a good idea then to look for articles in specialized periodicals.

Each of these has two independent clauses. Each clause should be separated from the other with a period, a semicolon, or a comma and a coordinating conjunction:

  • Choosing a topic for a paper can be the hardest part, but it gets a lot easier after that.
  • Sometimes, books do not have the most complete information; it is a good idea then to look for articles in specialized periodicals. (32) (33)

Common Causes of Run-On Sentences

We often write run-on sentences because we sense that the sentences involved are closely related and dividing them with a period just doesn’t seem right. We may also write them because the parts seem too short to need any division, like in “She loves skiing but he doesn’t.” However, “She loves skiing” and “he doesn’t” are both independent clauses, so they need to be divided by a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Thus, this sentence should be written like this: “She loves skiing, but he doesn’t.” (32) (33)

Correcting Run-On Sentences

Before you can correct a run-on sentence, you’ll need to identify the problem. When you write, carefully look at each part of every sentence. Are the parts independent clauses, or are they dependent clauses or phrases? Remember, only independent clauses can stand on their own. This also means they they can’t run together without correct punctuation.

Let’s take a look at a few run-on sentences and their revisions:

  1. Most of the credit hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer, however, I do have at least some hours the University will accept.
  2. Some people were highly educated professionals, others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.

Let’s start with the first sentence. This is a comma-splice sentence. The adverbial conjunction however is being treated like a coordinating conjunction. There are two easy fixes to this problem. The first is to turn the comma before however into a period. If this feels like too hard of a stop between ideas, you can change the comma into a semicolon instead.

  • Most of the credit hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer. However, I do have at least some hours the University will accept.
  • Most of the credit hours I’ve earned toward my associate’s degree do not transfer; however, I do have at least some hours the University will accept.

The second sentence has two independent clauses. The two clauses provide contrasting information. Adding a conjunction could help the reader move from one kind of information to another. However, you may want that sharp contrast. Here are three revision options:

  • Some people were highly educated professionals, while others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.
  • Some people were highly educated professionals, but others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries.
  • Some people were highly educated professionals. Others were from small villages in underdeveloped countries. (32) (33)

Sentence Fragments

Fragments are simply grammatically incomplete sentences—they are phrases and dependent clauses. These are grammatical structures that cannot stand on their own: they need to be connected to an independent clause to work in writing. So how can we tell the difference between a sentence and a sentence fragment? And how can we correct fragments when they already exist?

Keep in mind that length is not very helpful when determining if a sentence is a fragment or not. Both of the items below are fragments:

  • Before you go.
  • Ensuring his own survival with his extensive cache of supplies (food, water, rope, tarps, knives, and a first aid kit). (34) (35)

Common Causes of Fragments

Part of the reason we write in fragments is because we often use them when we speak. However, there is a difference between writing and speech, and it is important to write in full sentences. Additionally, fragments often come about in writing because a group of words may already seem too long even though it is not grammatically complete.

Non-finite verbs (gerunds, participles, and infinitives) can often trip people up as well. Since non-finite verbs don’t act like verbs, we don’t count them as verbs when we’re deciding if we have a phrase or a clause. Let’s look at a few examples of these:

  • Running away from my mother.
  • To ensure your safety and security.
  • Beaten down since day one.

Even though all of the above have non-finite verbs, they’re phrases, not clauses. In order for these to be clauses, they would need an additional verb that acts as a verb in the sentence. (34) (35)

Correcting Sentence Fragments

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

  1. Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week. And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.
  2. The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful. The best ideas that they had heard in years.

Let’s look at the first example. “And made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product” is just a phrase. There is no subject in this phrase, so the easiest correction is to simply delete the period and combine the two statements:

  • Ivana appeared at the committee meeting last week and made a convincing presentation of her ideas about the new product.

Let’s look at the second example. The phrase “the best ideas that they had heard in years” is simply a phrase—there is no main verb contained in the phrase. By adding “they were” to the beginning of this phrase, we have turned the fragment into an independent clause, which can now stand on its own:

  • The committee considered her ideas for a new marketing strategy quite powerful; they were the best ideas that they had heard in years. (34) (35)

Parallel Structure

What exactly is parallel structure? It’s simply the practice of using the same structures or forms multiple times:, making sure each part is written in a similar way. Parallel structure can be applied to a single sentence, a paragraph, or even multiple paragraphs. Compare the following sentences:

  • Yara loves running, to swim, and biking.
  • Yara loves running, swimming, and biking.

The second sentence is a smoother read than the first because it uses parallelism—all three verbs are gerunds (running, swimming, biking). On the other hand, in the first sentence contains two gerunds (running and biking) and one infinitive (to swim). While the first sentence is technically correct, it’s easy to stumble over the mismatching items. The application of parallelism improves writing style and readability, and it makes sentences easier to process.

Compare the following examples:

  • Lacking parallelism: “She likes cooking, jogging, and to read.”
  • Parallel: “She likes cooking, jogging, and reading.”
  • Parallel: “She likes to cook, jog, and read.”

Once again, the examples above combine gerunds and infinitives. To make them parallel, the sentences should be rewritten with just gerunds or just infinitives. (34) (35)

Course Assignment: Writing an Argumentative Essay

This assignment relies upon information provided in both modules five and six, so make sure you read module six online Learning Unit on citing academic sources before you get too far along. However, we wanted to give you the assignment now so that you have its requirements in the back of your mind as you learn about how to bring sources into your paper correctly.

Using the information in modules five and six as a guide, write a 2 to 4 page (500-1000 word) argumentative essay about the use of social media in contemporary society. You may either argue that it is beneficial to modern life or that it is destructive. To do so effectively, you must:

  • explain the controversy over social media in your introduction (give necessary background information)
  • present a clear thesis statement that announces your position on the issue
  • present the reasons you believe your position to be true in your body paragraphs
  • support those reasons with fair and convincing examples and evidence from your personal experience and from the sources you have read
  • address at least one of the opposition’s points (perhaps using information from the sources to do so)
  • cite at least two of the outside sources with which you have been provided (below), using either the MLA format or the APA format for in-text citations; your paper should have at least two effective and correct citations total (if you only have two, each one should come from a different source)
  • include a works cited page or a references page (depending upon whether you are using the MLA or APA format)

Here are the links to and the basic citation information for the provided sources:

POSITIVE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Title: “Is it time for science to embrace cat videos?”
Author name: George Vlahakis
Website Title: futurity.org
Date Published: 17 June 2015
Source URL: http://www.futurity.org/cat-videos-943852/

Title: “#Snowing: How Tweets Can Make Winter Driving Safer”
Author Name: Cory Nealon
Website Title: futurity.org
Date Published: 2 December 2015
Source URL:http://www.futurity.org/twitter-weather-traffic-1060902-2/


NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Title: “Using Lots of Social Media Accounts Linked to Anxiety”
Author: Allison Hydzik
Date Published: 19 December 2016
Source URL:http://www.futurity.org/social-media-depression-anxiety-1320622-2/

Title: “People Who Obsessively Check Social Media Get Less Sleep”
Author: Allison Hydzik
Date Published: 16 January 2016
Source URL:http://www.futurity.org/social-media-sleep-1095922/

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English Composition I by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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