Defining an Abstract Concept Using Specifics (A Persuasive Reflective Essay)

Alfred Hitchcock, the great mystery  and suspense movie director, extensively used a plot device in his films that he referred to as “the McGuffin.” It was usually something like a diamond necklace or a briefcase full of papers, but in actuality, the object itself was of no real importance; what was important was the actions and reactions that the McGuffin caused for the characters. It was the device on which the plot revolved. Within the borderland between creative non-fiction and persuasive academic writing lives a genre that uses personal experience as the impetus for an essay that intends to persuade readers that your definition of a term or abstract concept  is true, or at least understandable. In this genre, the story, that personal story, is the object on which the argument revolves―a non-fictive McGuffin.

This essay gives you the chance to define an otherwise difficult to grasp idea or term in the same way that professional writers who work in creative non-fiction such as Annie Dillard, Albert Goldbarth, and Sherman Alexie do―aslant, or circling around the point from a myriad of concrete details. This is a different sort of persuasive writing than the straight-ahead argumentation commonly done in Writing I or Writing II, but it is no less serious. Done well, it can be more persuasive than even the most statistic-laden research. It is also a common form for academic bloggers, people who are teachers, researchers, or professors who write about their work and interests on a blog, usually under their own name.

To begin, look at the readings about blogs. We will use them to talk about the form and strategic choices writers make in academic blogging. Next, look at the sample readings (emailed PDF). What elements do they have in common? In this genre, most have narrative elements, and the tone ranges from intimate to formal. Rather than reading these two essays as story only, print them out or digitally take a marker and mark the thesis statement (there will be one―guaranteed―but it may not be a single sentence) and any support for that statement, especially support in the form of anecdote or concrete details. This is the secret to success in this form: know that beneath the overarching metaphor or story the true purpose of the essay is to consider, then to persuade.

Successful Definition Essays will have the following ingredients:

Use of narrative or a metaphoric structure to give unity to an essay that otherwise tends to be non-linear.

An argumentative thesis: one that people do not all agree about. After writing the initial draft of your thesis, ask yourself the purpose of your essay. If your answer uses the verb “inform”” instead of “persuade,” your thesis is not argumentative.

Support in the form of anecdote or concrete details.

Source support is also permitted, and is often vital to the success of the essay.

If there are counterarguments, and there will be if your essay is sufficiently argumentative, answer them, taking care not to break the thoughtful, reasonable tone you strive to achieve.

A conclusion is also necessary―every essay needs a payoff: your audience demands it. No whimpering about “no one will ever really know”’ or “who’s to say what is right?” allowed. You know. You’ve just convinced your audience, so don’t undo all that careful artistry in the conclusion.

The above information is how the paper should be formated and written. I want the paper to be about how professors should provide clear and specific detailed criteria when a paper is assigned. This is for a Creative Nonfiction class.

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