Persuasive Paper Debriefing

Since the individual comments on your persuasive papers are minimal, I suggest reading through these general comments. Some of them probably apply to your paper!

General Observations in No Particular Order:

  • One of the biggest problems I saw was that quite a few people simplified the quote they were responding to OR simplified the examples they used…or both. If the quote was TOO simplified, then the writer set up a straw man fallacy with his/her thesis, or ended up arguing something close to what the quote meant, but not really what it meant, and, therefore, was easier to prove. This, obviously, is a problem. In general, for all quotes, the most sophisticated papers were the ones that successfully qualified the quote in question.
  • I really expect more than two body paragraphs in a major AP paper! Especially when there is only ONE confirmation paragraph, which means there is only one paragraph actually arguing your position.
  • Most who didn’t get an A/A- were graded down due to lack of apt/convincing examples or just lack of specific examples period.
  • Most people who got an A- didn’t get an A because of lack of emotional appeal.
  • In fact, very few papers used any real emotional appeal (effective imagery/figurative language or schemes—even rhetorical questions)—esp. in the body of the paper.
  • Some papers had basic paragraphing issues—mostly people having two separate topics in a confirmation paragraph w/only one mentioned in TS.
  • If mechanics were poor, probably wouldn’t get over a 4.
  • Present tense isn’t necessarily the best choice for an argumentative essay—esp. one that focuses on historical quotes! (The technique is called NARRATIVE present for a reason.)
  • While most people probably ended up with slightly higher grades due to the holistic grading rather than the check list grading, the down side is that there were also probably fewer papers at 95% of higher. (OK, I know there were since no one got a 95% or higher!) It’s one of those yin and yangs of grading. Holistically, it is really hard to say, “Yes, this paper deserves the highest grade because there is NOTHING that could be improved in it.” Sorry.
  • To find out HOW one might get a 95% or above–or that coveted “9”–someone remember to ask me about the ox, the fox and the swan in class…

Here are some specific comments about problems that tended to be associated with the various quotes, and an example thesis that worked for each, if available.

“Loved than Feared”

  • The biggest problem that I saw with this quote is that people who were arguing it is better to be loved than feared used people like Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, Lincoln & Kennedy as examples of successful loved leaders.  The problem is that all of them were assassinated…so, yeah, you pretty proved Machiavelli’s point, not yours. The ONLY way one of these examples could be convincing is if you had CLEARLY redefined what is meant by a successful leader because, according to Machiavelli, it was one who retained power…which you need to be alive to do.
  • Some people forgot to put the quote in the context of  the piece—Machiavelli QUALIFIES his statement, by specifically saying when a leader couldn’t be BOTH loved and feared, it is SAFER to be feared. Ignoring this is a strawman fallacy.
  • Personal examples can be good, but must establish element of leadership to relate to Machiavelli. A few people used examples of personal relationships in which the parties were not leader/subordinate.

 “Public Sentiment”

  • The biggest problem with this quote was that a lot of people who wrote on it simply conflated “public sentiment” with plain old voting or the democratic process. This simplified the idea of the quote.
  • Another issue with this prompt is that the paper had to show some kind of cause-effect (public sentiment was against X, so therefore X failed, or vice versa). In some papers, the role public sentiment played was unclear–or just not really a factor at all.
  • A thesis that works from Simon Sun: “So while Lincoln was correct in saying that popular opinion determines success, the implications of such behavior are unpleasant and immoral.”


  • This seemed to be one of the tougher quotes to prove or disprove. The biggest issue I saw was that people neglected to demonstrate a cause-effect relationship with their examples of justice or injustice, similar to my comment above.
  • This quote also seemed to beg for some explanation in the narration paragraph. Specifically, what did King mean by injustice anywhere being a threat to justice everywhere? This is a very broad and abstract statement, so an explanation of HOW injustice could threaten justice elsewhere would have helped. Unfortunately, most people didn’t include any narration, or, if he/she did, ended up explaining/defining what justice or injustice was. But that isn’t the most challenging part of this quote.

 “Reluctant” vs. “Eager”

  • The biggest issue with this quote was, again, in the interpretation/understanding of it. Plato meant that those who don’t really want to lead make better leaders, NOT that those who are weak are better leaders—that doesn’t even make sense! Unfortunately, most people ended up using examples of weak leaders without even addressing whether or not that person had been eager to not to lead.
  • Also, a lot of people used examples of American political leaders. It’s kind of hard to argue any American political leader was good or bad because he was “reluctant” because, well, they had to RUN for office, so…no one is reluctant to lead in American politics!
  • A thesis that works from Vera Funk: “Therefore, if a leader’s eagerness to rule is fueled by ambition to promote the welfare of the state and not for personal gains, that state will flourish.”

 “Well-informed can be trusted”

  • This quote certainly produced some of the strangest arguments! Some people seemed to be arguing for excluding quite a lot of people from voting, which is weird for a democracy!
  • Related to this, people who wrote on this quote often misconstrued Jefferson’s quote and/or ignored the historical context it (i.e. It was Jefferson who insisted upon and is largely responsible for the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment!)—including what they should have remembered from summer reading!
  • Related to THIS, a lot of people actually ended up arguing that our current media suck rather than for or against whether well informed people can be trusted with their own government.
  • Could have used Thoreau’s ideas against Jefferson, but had to be careful since Thoreau’s arguments are a logical extension of Jefferson’s
  • A thesis that works from John Nowland: “Jefferson’s statement is true if ‘people’ refers to able leaders of good will. His statement, on the other hand, is false if he considers ‘people’ the common man.”

 “Ill-will vs. goodwill”

  • Like the cause-effect papers mentioned above, this quote essentially required a comparison/contrast essay—needed to show BOTH sides (people with goodwill vs. people with ill-will) in each example to be convincing. Most people did not do this.

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