Thursday, April 24, 2008

Expat Living: Assay at an Essay

Writing that Essay
It's all so logical...
(Image from Free Dictionary)

My most recent language column appeared in yesterday's "Expat Living" section of the Korea Herald (April 23, 2008), a newspaper -- as you will recall -- that does not allow links to specific articles, which provides me at least one good reason for posting the article here on Gypsy Scholar.

You'll find no poetry in this particular language column . . . sniff. Yes, it's sad, but I was asked to tone down the poetry since most people don't generally read poetry because they find it difficult to understand.

Well, that's what they said. They also said that people are bitter, cling to their guns, their religion, their xenophobia (oops, foreign, elitist word), and their anti-trade sentiment (um . . . somewhat of a mixed message, that). Who ever knew that poetry could be so alienating.

So, anyway, I wrote the following, very prosaic piece on 'logical' writing:
"The what and the why of theses"

Because students learn best through writing, I require my students in nearly every course to write a research essay supporting a thesis.

People often complain about difficulty in composing their essay's thesis statement, but the basic statement is really quite simple. On some topic that you have chosen, ask yourself two questions: "what?" and "why?"

That might sound obscure, so let me provide an example.

Put yourself in Aristotle's shoes and suppose that you want to write some piece debunking Socrates, your philosophical rival's teacher, whom your rival portrays as having faced death courageously by anticipating an afterlife.

Reflecting upon these views, you ask yourself what you think and then, because you are Aristotle, you reply with the claim that Socrates is mortal. Next, you ask yourself why you think so, and you give as your reason the fact that Socrates is human.

You then compose your thesis statement by conjoining your claim to your reason: "Socrates is mortal because he is human."

Note that this has the following logical form: A is B because A is C.

That sounds fairly reasonable, but a concessive clause might further establish your reasonability: "Although Plato defends the soul's immortality, Socrates is mortal because he is human."

Not an especially impressive example, perhaps, but one of my students has already accounted for the statement's intellectual deficiencies by noting that we often fall short of using our intellectual gifts to their fullest:

Although humans have good brains, many people don't use their brains well because they don't recognize the importance of using their brains well.

To help this student use his own brain well, I have tidied his grammar and spelling, but I suspect that he needs to do some hard, brainier thinking before this thesis statement can capably sustain a semester-length research essay.

I will grant that his thesis statement has the proper logical form, but that alone does not suffice, as two more examples demonstrate. For instance, one student, perhaps having considered the oft-expressed comparison of sports to battle, takes that comparison perceptibly further:

Although military strategy and position are different from soccer strategy and position, soccer is similar to war because it has strategy and position.

I rather like this argument's redundancy, though I am not quite clear on what "position" means . . . but at least my insufficient understanding means that I still have something to learn from this student.

The other example -- a thesis statement that I rather fancy -- comes from a student with ecological concerns:

Although many people say that it is not too late to prevent global warming, the earth will be destroyed because it is already getting hotter.

I have noticed this myself. March was noticeably warmer than February, and if this trend continues through April and beyond, I expect that we will be suffering considerable heat by early July and utter destruction by early August.

If this student and I are truly lucky, the foretold destruction might occur even before grading.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at - Ed.
Regular readers will recognize that I have again cannibalized a previous Gypsy Scholar post. Once again, I defend myself with the justification that the work put into my blogging ought to have some practical benefit for me.

So there.

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At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too many people exhibit their xenophobia by taking to the couch and overindulging in corn chips, and then these same people voice their reliance on the solution by holding onto their guns.

Would that pass muster?

(I just need a "free thesis statement" Prof.)


At 8:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Where's your because-clause? Forget not the "why" to the "what"!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I know, I know, too many students.


At 10:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anyone else ever noticed that armpits smell like corn chips?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Eliot said...

I'm currently writing my thesis and it's giving me hella lot of pain. But it's intellectually challenging, and rewarding at the end. 그래서 저는 화이팅을 계속해요. 하하. 한국말 알죠? ^^;

Yeah, if you find my blog entries at Everything Kimchi worthy of a technorati fav, or a blogcatalog linkex, please don't hesitate to do so. I shall return the e-love. Cheers!

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Elliot, thanks for visiting. I expect that your thesis is rather more extensive than what I'm requiring from my undergrad students in my writing courses.

Keep on fighting, however. No, I don't really know Korean, but I made out some of what you wrote and then got help from my wife on the rest.

I'll try to take a look at your blog, but I haven't done much to alter my blog roll in quite some time. I guess that I ought to clean it up, get rid of dead links, that sort of thing...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:00 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

I think, therefore, I am. I am because I think. I think because I can. I can because I am.

At 5:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thoughts (a Fragment)

"I think, therefore I am," quoth she to me.

But what happens if your mind goes blank?

And quoting others takes no thought, I think.

To put another's words in verse is worse

than staying silent, or so I believe.

(And yet, my words turn back on me...)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:13 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Ah, but I am a girl and more,
men can never even the score,
I have everything in my purse,
Same song, different verse.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Remembered conversation:

"A man can never win an argument with a woman," he said.

"Why not?" his friend asked.

"Women have a secret weapon," came the reply.

"What's that?" inquired his friend, looking interested.

"Irrationality," he explained.

(Note: No creatures were harmed during the filming of this sequence . . . can't vouch for afterwards, though.)

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have noticed that there really is Global Warming. It's called "Spring." And I think it is going to get warmer, before it gets colder. I plagarized these words from Vice President Cheney, speaking at an annual get together by the press.
This wasn't the maiun theme of your post, but it's interesting to note that scientists aren't agreed on the cause of the current warming trend. Some say this is a recurring cycle caused by sun spot cycles and other things, and that it hasn't been so long ago that some were predicting another ice age.

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I predict a brief warming trend for some four months, followed by cooling -- in the northern hemisphere -- and severe cold in northern areas for about 3 to 6 months, depending upon local circumstances.

Just think of it as our annual little ice age...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thinking processes seem to be degenerating.....Does that mean that I am about to be "ain't?"
I need to be careful, or I will start to bring up the second law of thermodynamics, which could lead to depression. Popeye may have said it best........."I yam what I yam, and I am Popeye the Sailor man!" So I am what I am, or I is what I is. We have to accept the cards we are dealt, and other banalaties. And all this proves my first point, doesn't it?

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It may very well, Uncle Cran. Only time will tell.

Jeffery Hodges

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