English 1010

Essay One: Building Common Ground

The Assignment: Write a brief (3-4 pages) persuasive essay that supports an original thesis. One of your main persuasive strategies should be to build common ground with your readers by referring to values that you presumably share with them.

Guidelines: Think of a general readership, one composed of a variety of people with differing interests and beliefs but certain common attitudes and goals. Your classmates—a diverse group of people who find themselves in a similar context (receiving a college education)—represent a good example.

To succeed, your essay must support an identifiable thesis: a brief (usually one sentence, rarely more than two) statement of your main priority, the point you most strongly wish to support. The thesis should address a question derived from our first two groups of readings, the essays on civil rights from Perspectives on Contemporary Issues (and/or the presentations during the Martin Luther King Commemoration) or the essay(s) assigned by Group 1. Identify a specific question or disagreement that interests you from our discussion of these essays, and develop a statement that represents your view; remember that this statement should not try to cover everything, but takes on just one angle of the problem that the essays pose. Your thesis will probably change somewhat as you continue thinking through the issue, so your initial statement represents a “working thesis.”

Having developed a working thesis, think about reasons why some people might disagree with you. (If no one would disagree, you need to strengthen your thesis.) What reservations might some of your readers have? What might prevent them from buying into your thesis?

Here is where the appeal to values will be useful. “Values” in this context does not mean the same thing as “morals”; instead, it refers to ideas or things that are valued by people. For example, whatever their attitude may be toward capital punishment, most people probably value things like justice, fairness, respect for life, and reducing crime. (Of course, different individuals may define these things differently, which is part of the difficulty you face in this assignment.) Whatever your position, try to dig deep enough to find common ground that can be shared by even those who disagree with your specific conclusions.

You cannot, of course, persuade everyone that your position is correct, but by building common ground you are likely to be taken seriously, even by those readers who disagree.

It is very important not to assume that a typical readership shares all of your values. For example, most readers probably value the maintenance of healthy relationships, but individuals differ strongly when it comes to the specific topic of gay marriage. Assuming that your readers feel the same way you do about homosexuality (for example) is a serious error, and will be likely to antagonize many of your readers rather than building common ground with them.

Peer-editing draft: Due Thursday, January 24
Revised draft: Due Tuesday, January 29

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