Writing for Influence
The Meaning Of…..
In previous work, your efforts were focused on the use of arrangement, and empirically verifiable fact as your stylistic tools. During those assignments, you had to eliminate all subjective language. This assignment, in contrast, will ask you to focus on subjectivity—to exploit and manipulate it, for the purpose of arguing the meaning of a word that may otherwise be taken for granted.
As you may have experienced when composing the Fact Paper, our ability to make an argument is limited when we cannot appeal to values. Contrary to the belief that values diminish the validity of an argument by rendering it mere opinion, values are a necessary part of argument. Indeed, they are the very heart of argument. This is the case in part because evaluative terms are notoriously difficult to define.
To establish what is meant by any evaluative word, we must rely on precedent and context. We can refer to authoritative sources such as dictionaries, but we must also take into account common usage and intent. In the case of words like hot, cold, short, or tall, there may be specific temperatures or heights that we can all agree define that term. There is no such widespread agreement for other evaluative terms, especially cultural values and principles.
Cultural values are key terms to which we appeal again and again when deciding a course of action. They are values that most people would agree are fundamental to our society, even if we cannot agree on their definition. Examples of cultural values are: freedom, happiness, efficiency, maturity, ingenuity, independence, health, security, life, criminality, responsibility, and sustainability.
This assignment is designed to give you practice in another technique of persuasive writing, that of defining a cultural value or other key term in such a way that seems credible to your reader. Your ability to credibly define your terms will help you to contribute to a range of public discourse in influential ways.
Identify a specific instance in a document, broadcast, or conversation in which the meaning an author assigns to a word is debatable. You are not looking for an instance in which someone uses a term incorrectly, such as using the word “antidote” to refer to a short story. Rather, you are looking for an instance in which a person applies a word to an object or situation and you disagree with the person’s evaluation of that object or situation; e.g., the killing of his sister for her sexual indiscretion and indecency was deemed a “mercy” killing. In the aforedescribed example, the author uses the word “mercy” to describe a compassionate act done for the other individual’s sake as a result of the compromise of moral values, and the implications on the family’s character. You may disagree that such an act was done out of “mercy,” and therefore take exception to the use of that word.
When you have your example, then answer for yourself the following question: Why is it important to dispute the meaning of that word? Your answer to that question will eventually become the thesis of your paper.
Begin your essay (in its body, and using all of the stylistic tools you’ve learned thus far), by: (1) summarizing your example, explaining what meaning the author suggested or connoted when using the word; (2) follow this by arguing why this is incorrect; (3) what the word should really mean (and why); (4) and then “prove” to me that the word really means what you say it means.
There are several ways to “prove” that the word means what you say it means. Those include: dictionary definitions, common usage, historical usage, trade/technical jargon, socio-economic history of the word, religious attributions, cultural context, and many others. In other words, use law, medicine, philosophy, history, religion, culture, slang, etc. to “prove” your stated meaning of the word.
Another strategy for establishing the meaning of a term is to define related terms. For instance, if you are establishing the meaning of maturity, you may also want to define experienced, responsible, and established.
After establishing a precedent for your preferred meaning, explain the difference it will make to use that meaning over another. In this section of the paper, you will want to provide specific examples of how the word’s meaning can or will influence decision-making and social action.
Conclude your paper with a proper, three part conclusion.
Your entire paper should make use of the skills learned (to date) in the course. See Style Tool Checklist.
You paper should be 5-7 buzzwords in in length, plus a separate cover page, and list of references. You will be graded in conformity to APA standards, the published rubric, and adherence to these instructions. Please include no fewer than seven peer reviewed references; you may have more references that are NOT peer reviewed, but failure to include at least 7 peer reviewed sources will result in scoring penalties. Even when you reference a dictionary available online (not peer reviewed), be sure to provide a complete citation for the text, including the names of editors and publishers.