The Critical Voice

When you write interpretive or argumentative essays, use a comfortable and careful voice, not so relaxed as in a journal, not so objective as in a laboratory report—unless you have a good reason to diverge from this middle point. For more formal situations, avoid contractions, first-person pronouns, colloquial diction, split infinitives, and the like—but don't use language you are uncomfortable with or try through pretentious words to impress. For informal situations, use conversational language, keeping in mind that readers look especially closely at your organizational scheme and use of evidence in analytic essays. If your essay is solid in these respects, you have some license with your voice.


1. Describe your experience writing interpretive and argumentative essays. What do you consider the most difficult aspect of interpretative or argumentative assignments?

2. List three local and three national issues about which you might write a position paper. About which are you most concerned right now? Write a paragraph on the topic of most current interest.


1. Select a text from this or another course you are currently taking and locate within it something that interests or puzzles you, or that you disagree with. Write an interpretive or evaluative essay about the text using your specific interest as a point of departure. Plan to end this essay with still another question that your readers themselves might pursue or puzzle over. In other words, end with an admission that more needs to be looked at; the writer herself or himself still has uncertainties.

2. Attend a play, concert, lecture, or other public event and write an interpretive or evaluative essay about your experience. Contact your local or school newspaper and see if they'll publish it.


1. INDIVIDUAL: Select any topic about which you are curious or have an opinion (informed or otherwise). Visit the library or a local museum and locate information which both supports and rejects your own ideas, or arguments about this topic. Take good notes and write an essay that synthesizes, interprets, or evaluates the information you found there. (You might reflect on whether this additional information in any way changed your mind or if it simply made you find more evidence to back up your initial opinion; write this reflection in your journal.)

2. COLLABORATIVE: Agree to disagree. In a small group, identify an issue, idea, or place about which you each have only a little information. Divide yourselves into research teams, go get some information, write it up, and share it with the group. Then, each of you take a deliberately different approach or slant on the topic and write a series of essays meant to be read in a colloquium, together, to air all sides of the issue. In class, present a series of such colloquia to entertain each other. Publish the results in a class book (see Postscript Three).

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