Building a factual argument: This is how it’s done!

You have probably wondered how does Dr.Camaj grade our papers in this class. For the sake of transparency I am publishing here each criteria in my grading rubric alongside some resources on how to learn to reach the maximum quality and evaluation for your work.

Your work will primarily be evaluated on:

• clarity and quality of expression.
• appropriate use of supporting facts/evidence.
• integrity of argument/opinion.
proficiency in use of grammar, punctuation, spelling and AP style.

So what does all that mean?

Clarity of expression

Your writing must be free of language-use errors: no grammatical, punctuation, spelling, word use or style errors will be tolerated. At this point in your career, you simply can’t be making such errors. Work containing language-use errors will not receive high grades. Readers, viewers and Web browsers will not find your opinion credible if your ability to use the language is not credible. So vacuum your copy. Make sure your copy is clean.

But clarity of expression is more than producing clean copy. Good editorials and commentaries use language with a sense of elegance. Does that mean “elegant language” should be used? No. It means thoughtful, emotive opinion pieces are braced with language that conveys moral purpose, argumentative precision and emotional power. Usually, such language is straightforward (even blunt), simple and clear. Be aware that good writing has a sense of cadence, rhythm and pacing that underscores the message.

For examples of work that demonstrate clarity of expression, see:

Tobacco lobbyists have earned their pay” by 1997 Pulitzer winner (editorials) Michael Gartner.

What the hell were her parents doing?” by 1997 Pulitzer winner (commentary) Eileen McNamara.

Of America as a splendid junk heap” by 1998 Pulitzer winner (criticism) Michiko Kakutani.

Read the work of 2005 Pulitzer commentary winner Connie Schultz of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writing about the underprivileged.

Read the work, particularly “Poor little big man’s pity party,” by the 2007 winner of the commentary Pulitzer, Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Use of supporting facts/evidence

Opinions unsupported by appropriate facts and evidence will not receive high grades. Opinion writers cannot simply write whatever pops into their minds. If writers believe that all politicians are liars, then they must provide evidence that all politicians are liars — a tall order. Editorials, commentaries, blog postings and reviews are news stories first: Facts are required to support any analysis or opinion.

For examples of how facts, carefully interwoven with opinion, produce strong editorials, see:

Fit places for learning?” by 1998 Pulitzer winner Bernard Stein.

The political dimension” by 2001 Pulitzer winner David Moats.

The endangered West” by 1996 Pulitzer winner Robert B. Semple Jr.

Making Chris take his ‘meds’” by 2002 Pulitzer winners Alex Raksin and Bob Sipchen.

Disparities on death row” by 2003 Pulitzer winner Cornelia Grumman.

John C. Bersia of The Orlando Sentinel wrote a 10-part editorial series attacking predatory lending practices. The series —”Fleeced in Florida” — resulted in changes in lending practices and won him the 2000 Pulitzer for editorial writing.

The strength of Bersia’s work lies in his original reporting. Research thoroughly the topic on which you offer analysis or opinion. Your readers expect it. So do I.

A powerful series by 2005 Pulitzer winner Tom Philp of the Sacramento Bee calls for restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley in California, dammed to provide water. It is the sister valley of Yosemite.

Read the series by 2006 Pulitzer winners Rick Attig and Doug Bates of The Portland Oregonian on abuses inside a forgotten Oregon mental hospital.

Examine the editorials of 2007 Pulitzer editorial winners Arthur Browne, Beverly Weintraub and Heidi Evans of the New York Daily News “for their compassionate and compelling editorials on behalf of Ground Zero workers whose health problems were neglected by the city and the nation.”

Integrity of argument/opinion

This follows naturally from proper use of facts and evidence: Your editorial, commentary or blog post must “make sense.” It can be controversial. It can be an opinion I would vigorously denounce. But your constructions of opinion must be sensible. The work must flow naturally and logically from one step to another. Arguments will be inspected closely to see if they’re warranted by dint of supporting facts and evidence. Make no assumptions; make no assertions. Always make arguments.

For examples of editorials that meet this standard, see:

The crime of hatred and the crime of silence” by Bernard Stein.

Don’t stop free speech; just enforce the laws” by 1997 Pulitzer winner Michael Gartner.

The campaign speech you’ll never hear” by 2001 Pulitzer winner Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Naked Air” by 2002 Pulitzer winner (commentary) Thomas L. Friedman.

Reinventing California: Yank the ‘for sale’ sign” by 2004 Pulitzer winner William R. Stall.


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