Editing Workshop: Signals for Argument

When you make an argument in writing you are participating in an ongoing conversation. One of the primary ways that conversation takes place in writing is when you quote other critics and views, bring them into your argument, and in some way work off them: come to terms, forward, counter, take an approach. Because this conversation is taking place in your writing, it is important that you clearly identify things such as: who is speaking, which part of the argument you agree with, where you would disagree. These signals are words and phrases that you can revise and edit into your essay. I adapt the following templates from the book They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

Introducing Quotations: X states (argues, believes, asserts), “………..”

Explaining Quotations (a way to begin your follow up): In other words, X believes…..

Signaling Agreement/Disagreement

[Disagreeing with reasons] X’s claim that  ___________ rests upon the questionable assumption that _________.

However, by focusing on ________, X overlooks the deeper problem of ___________.

[Agreeing with a difference] X’s view of ____ is useful because it sheds insight on the difficult problem of __________.

[Agreeing and Disagreeing] Although I agree with X up to a point, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that __________.

My feelings on the issue are mixed. I do support X’s position that ________, but I find Y’s argument about _________ equally persuasive.

Entertaining Objections

Of course, many will probably disagree with my assertion that _________.

Yet some readers may challenge my view that _______. Indeed, my own argument seems to ignore _________.

Yet is it always true that ________? Is it always the case, as I have been arguing, that __________?

Although I grant that _______, I still maintain that __________.

In classical rhetorical, this introduction of a counterargument is called Procatalepsis or prolepsis–refuting anticipated objections.

Anticipating/Responding to Flaws/Fallacies in your argumentation. A counterargument is also a type of qualification–where you can tell your reader that you are not guilty of logical flaws or fallacies such as a “false premise” or “false dichotomy.” or “anecdotal fallacy.” In fact, that might be how you respond to an objection and turn back to your argument, by pointing out a fallacy in the other argument. Here is a description of some of the most common fallacies that can get you into rhetorical trouble.

Useful Metacommentary (ways of talking more directly to your reader about your argument)

In other words, _________.

Essentially, I am arguing that _________.

My point is ________.

My conclusion, then, is that __________.

Saying why your argument matters (template for larger implications/resolution)

This argument has important consequences for the larger issue of ___________.

Although X may seem of concern to only a small group of _______, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about ________.

A poorly signaled argument can often lead problems with logos (evidence, logic) known as logical fallacies. We have focused on counterargument with the third writing project as a way to strengthen our logos, our handling of evidence. Recall that “countering,” as Harris terms it, doesn’t mean simply letting “the other side” have a say or merely disagreeing with an opposing view. That may be how argument on cable television (unfortunately) works these days, but it isn’t what academic argument is about. Rather, countering means locating a thread or idea or implication in another’s argument that will be useful to the development of your own argument. This oppositional or contradictory thread may be useful in locating a potential weakness of your own argument–a point that your reader might expect you to consider and possibly refute. The thread may well point to a weakness in the other’s argument that you can use to elaborate your own. In other words, you might find language in an argument that you don’t agree with but can put to work.

Given this view of countering, I have suggested that focusing on counterargument can serve as an effective revision strategy. After completing a draft that focuses on developing your argument, you can revise your argument by giving more time to the terms of another’s argument that contends or contradicts your own. One way to evaluate this other argument–and by extension, to reconsider the structure of your own–is to pay attention to its logic. That’s where reference to logical fallacies (from our previous workshop/post) can be useful.

Conclusion

The conversation of your argument ends with the conclusion, of course. But as we have seen throughout the semester, it is important for raising implications that both reiterate the argument and give the reader somewhere to go, to take your argument into their next project (and thus continue the conversation when you are gone).

Here are some additional ways to think about weaker and stronger conclusions (borrowed from an Inquiry and Analysis (AAC&U) that applies equally to the sciences and social sciences as it does to the humanities.

Very Strong: Conclusion presents a logical extrapolation from the inquiry findings

Strong: Conclusion responds specifically and solely to the inquiry findings.

Average: General conclusion presented that applies beyond the scope of the inquiry findings because it is so general.

Weak: Ambiguous, illogical, or unsupportable conclusion regarding inquiry findings.

 

Some additional digital tools for editing to consider–ways to go hyper with your text!


Workshop: Counterargument

In addition to our reading into countering in Rewriting, this page from Harvard’s writing program on some of the basics of counterargument is useful. If countering in general terms means challenging or resisting or–as Harris puts it–finding the useful limitations of a critical perspective or assumption, then counterargument is when the writer turns the countering onto his or her own perspective. It is a rhetorical move in critical writing–useful in exploring, anticipating, and answering the limitations of one’s own argument.

An argument, as we have seen, in effect is a counter to a previous argument (or view, idea, understanding, position) that you believe is limited, in need of further thinking, if not rethinking. Thus, counterargument helps us clarify our argument and its stakes–the problem that we are addressing and responding. For a reminder, recall this discussion of stakes in an argument, and the ways that you might counter others, as well as counter your own argument toward clarifying and strengthening what you are arguing for:

1. Challenge an initial read.

2. Challenge a published view.

3. Explain an inconsistency, gap, or ambiguity.

4. Explain unexpected conclusions.

5. Intervene in a debate.

6. Point out how a piece of evidence encapsulates a larger issue.

7. Point out how an insignificant moment is actually critical.

8. Point out the limits of the existing literature.

9. Point out a problem others don’t usually see.

 

We also have as a model for countering the three basic moves that Harris identifies in his chapter in Rewriting:

  1. Arguing the other side
  2. Uncovering values
  3. Dissenting

Here is an example of counterargument (placed as last body paragraph) by Shana, a writer from a previous class.

For this project, counterargument is an element that needs to show up in your essay, a rhetorical element we are developing. However, counterargument can also be useful as a composting and revising strategy, as you move from ideas, to outline, to draft, to revised draft. It gets at one of our 4 revision questions: What Else? Imagine another perspective that is out there, or a different perspective from yours, or a perspective that your emerging argument responds to (a basic need for any argument or thesis). In other words, considering counterargument can help you sharpen the focus, purpose, stake of your argument and essay. So use the counterargument exercise (what’s the opposite of my argument? who disagrees with me and why?) to go back to your thesis and refine; to draft out an introduction; to revise one or more of your body paragraphs (strengthen by further complicating); potentially, to find a different and stronger argument.

If the opposite of your initial thesis/hypothesis turns out to be stronger or more compelling than your thesis, that’s a good thing–and a good thing to know in time to revise and change your essay and argument.

Further Reading: Logical Fallacies

Below are some common errors in logic that you might find in another’s argument (and therefore useful for countering) or may well find in your own. These errors are known as logical fallacies. In general, we engage in a fallacy when we move too quickly in our discussion, fail to qualify what we say, or admit that our own argument has limitations. Or worse: when we say or do something deceptive in our argumentation. In rhetoric, logical fallacies are bad for ethos, even though they can be good for pathos (for example, argumentum ad populum).

Ad hominem: At the man; attacking the person instead of his or her argument.

Ad populum: At the people; appealing to the people’s emotions, prejudices, etc.

Ad Authoritate: Appeal to authority; using a celebrity rather than expertise as authority.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: After this, therefore, because of this; faulty cause and effect, jumping to conclusions.

Non sequitur: It does not follow; conclusion does not extend from the argument.

Circular logic: Begging the question; using a statement to prove itself.

False dilemma: Giving only two options in a situation when others may be possible.

False analogy: Argument based on incomplete comparison.

Faulty generalization: A conclusion that inappropriately makes a claim for all based on conclusions about a few.

Hidden premise: An unexpressed assumption, hidden agenda.

Reductio ad absurdum: (reduction to the absurd); argument in which a position is refuted by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence.

Special Pleading: Basically, invoking a double standard–arguing that a particular case is an exception to the rule based on an irrelevant characteristic that is not in fact an exception.

Tu Quoque: Turning the criticism back onto the critic.

For a comprehensive listing, see Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies. Also this discussion of Logos and Logical Fallacies from Purdue OWL.


Electronic Literature: polymorphous possibilities

In the electronic poem “the dreamlife of letters,” the phrase “polymorphous possibilities” floats and twirls around the screen. The poem is grouped in the Ambient text section of the archive. This type of text is described in this way:

Work that plays by itself, meant to evoke or engage intermittent attention, as a painting or scrolling feed would; in John Cayley’s words, “a dynamic linguistic wall-hanging.” Such work does not require or particularly invite a focused reading session.

I think this particular text, and this kind of text (ambient), represents something larger about electronic literature that you are likely to experience as you explore this new media type of literature this week. “Dreamlife” is interested in “letters.”  All verbal texts are, to some extent. Some texts more than others. This one takes its interest more deliberately, and perhaps (so I might argue) more fervently, than many others. When you read–or watch–this poem, you witness the polymorphous possibilities of language. The poem reminds us, it seems to me, of the fact that any poem, any text, is made of such things. And made from the possibility of making and unmaking words and combining and moving letters.

It doesn’t “invite a focused reading session.” This is true. And yet, poetry is hard for many people, readers and non-readers alike. Consider the poem “Poem” by Charles Bernstein–a well-known, academic poet (and a co-founder of the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo). Is it so different from “Dreamlife”–except that it is static? Might we think of reading “Dreamlife” more like listening to a song: moving and morphing along? Does the poetry (or more broadly, the literary) reading experience need to be difficult? Must it be a focused reading session? What about, instead, an experience of reading? “Ambient” suggests that the environment and the experience of the text and its reading (its watching, its playing…) matters more than a conventional view of focusing on the meaning within a text.

Focus is a concern for Sven Birkerts; it point to a difference between linear print texts and many, if not all, of the electronic literary texts available at the archive. But what if focus implies, or derives, from participation rather than concentration? Isn’t poetry difficult, in part, when we are sitting too quietly or silently, waiting for it to speak to us? Consider some of the Oulipoems [constraint-based texts] which invite reader activity while also working something like a mad-libs game. It might surprise you, but these computer-generated texts are based on print poems from the mid-twentieth century, including the famous “Hundred Thousand Billion Poems” by Queneau. Andrew Piper refers to this group of poets in his chapter “By the Numbers.”

Can or should the experience of reading literature be something like a game? Or an algorithm? Can composing literature–poem or story or essay or argument–be processed like information, combined and re-combined like numbers or letters in a slot machine? What if it already is?

Or, perhaps hypermediacy means the hyperactivity of print culture, rather than its disappearance. Recall what Murray says–electronic text is the child of print culture. Here is one text, as sort of nightmare of digital communication: Out of Touch.

A text by Moulthorp (the hypertext author Birkerts reads in his chapter) titled Radio Silence–showing an interest in the ideas of play (rules for reading) and the interest in pattern.

A well-regarded hypertext–that emphasizes a different kind of linking nonlinearity: The Jew’s Daughter.

For some further exploration of how a text might be composed algorithmically, using a random text generator, consider The Apostrophe Engine. Can a machine compose a poem? That question is a version of the Turing test or the imitation game devised by Alan Turing. Check out this version of the test applied to poetry Bot or Not. You could experiment with your own version of machine composition. Put a word like “Poetry” into a text; then proceed to select the first or second word suggested by your text program, and continue to do that. Is the result poetic? literary? Is it a composition?


Birkerts, Murray, and the Process of Narrative

In his chapter “Hypertext,” Birkerts continues his exploration of the differences between print and electronic texts, between words on a page and words on a screen. In “Into the Electronic Millennium,” he emphasizes the difference as one between linearity (print) and association (electronic)–earlier in the book, this opposition was described as  depth versus shallowness. Here, turning his attention to a literary hypertext created for a digital environment (Moulthorp’s Victory Garden), he continues the opposition, focusing it on a difference between process and product. As he puts it succinctly,

Writing on the computer promotes process over product and favors the whole over the execution of the part. (158)

Moving forward from page to screen, he believes, we move backwards from the book as a product to the process of writing and producing it. Along with this “profound” and “consequential” shift from literature and product to writing as process, Birkerts argues, “provisionality” is promoted and the traditional goal of the writer (he mentions the French novelist Flaubert) is lost. Attending to this loss, the reader of the book, turned into “process” at best, at worst a “sophisticated Nintendo game,” loses his or her sense of the private self (164).

These are familiar  keywords Birkerts uses in his argument: process, product, privacy, provisionality, perfection, potential. My criticism and concern for the implications of his argument might best be focused by adding another ‘p’ word to his list: pedagogy. It seems to me that in worrying about the ways that writing’s process becomes, potentially, revealed in a digital or electronic environment, Birkerts really worries the potential that anyone might become a writer. Here, my disagreement with Birkerts sharpens most into focus. In my view–recall, I am a teacher of writing, and a writer still learning my trade, as every writer does–provisionality and process are necessary ingredients for learning. One learns by learning the process; one writes by producing writing, not by having written, by having a product. The reader is always ready to turn into a writer, as Walter Benjamin put it in his essay on the “Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility.” We thus participate in writing. And participation is yet another concern, and another ‘p’ word, that Birkerts discusses. Instead of that, he wants to return to a time when the author perfected his writing by creating books that, in Birkerts’ phrasing, overpowered the reader.

In the chapter on “Countering,” Joseph Harris identifies three main ways of disagreeing or creating “critical distance” with another idea.

  1. Arguing the other side: Showing the usefulness of a term or idea that a writer has criticized or noting problems with one that she/he has argued for.
  2. Uncovering values: Surfacing a word or concept for analysis that a text has left undefined or unexamined.
  3. Dissenting: Identifying a shared line of thought on an issue in order to note its limits.

In my countering of Birkerts above, I am engaged in parts of all three moves, though primarily #1, recovering the word “process” from the way Birkerts dismisses it. What type of countering does Murray present in her chapter?

As we explore more directly hypertext fiction and poetry this week, consider some basic background for hypertext fiction of the sort that Birkerts encounters. It is from that massive hypertext encyclopedia you know well, Wikipedia. Consider that as both the problem and potential of hypertext literary reading: what if novels or poems read like entires in Wikipedia: in what ways does that change literature? Here is the entry for Hypertext Fiction. We can also think back to McLuhan’s argument, one that I think Birkerts clearly has in mind, though he doesn’t directly quote from: the medium is the message; all media work us over completely. Birkerts believes that the author, not the medium, should be working the reader over. Hypertext, for him, is too much medium, not enough message. I assume he would say the same about the electronic literature archive–where the process, not the product, is on view in the ways the texts are described and categorized.

Do you agree? I agree somewhat. This means that I find both uses and limits in his argument that help me to think about ways to develop my argument by forwarding elements that I agree with, but also ways to complicate my argument by addressing places where I don’t agree–where I can anticipate how he would object and provide a response.

For a view and vision of hypertext literature that can be said to disagree with the vision of Birkerts (and strongly) by way of agreeing, consider Shelley Jackson’s essay “Stitch Bitch.” There she argues favorably that hypertext is “what we learned to call bad writing.”

Some rhetorical observations:

  1. Note the way Birkerts forwards the definition (from the Coover article he quotes) of hypertext promoting “co-learners” and “co-writers,” and then uses that to dissent. This is a version of counterargument that begins with the concession–giving time to what you don’t agree with or will oppose, before turning to the refutation, why you argue against it. (p. 153)
  2. Note how he forwards McLuhan and his “basic premise,” but then counters it (signaling it twice with the word “but) by asking further questions he goes on to answer: the screen is not a difference in degree, but in kind. (p. 154)
  3. Note the way Janet Murray forwards Birkerts in her epigraph, using it as a contrast to McLuhan. Though she never directly refutes Birkerts, his voice is part of the concession she later offers and then refutes when she emphasizes that the computer is not the enemy of the book, but its descendant.

Further reading link: Here is video of the debate between Birkerts and Murray on Literature and Technology that Janet Murray mentions in her updated preface.

 

 


Frankenstein Project 2 Guidelines (revised for remoteness)

Writing Project #2

Forwarding Frankenstein: The Pathos of Writing

Project 2 guidelines, slightly adapted for Spring 2020 change in schedule. For anyone without your Frankenstein text at home with you, you can directly quote from (and cite) and reread this electronic version of the 1818 novel (the edition we read in class). For this project, forwarding (including borrowing and extending from Shelley’s novel) is key. We are remote from each other at the moment, but a strong, persuasive project will not be distant or remote from Shelley’s text or your argument about it.

For suggestions on drafting, revising, and editing, see my posts below this one.

Jill Lepore asks: Are we ready for the truth about Frankenstein? As we have seen, particularly with help from the annotated edition, grasping the truth or the true story of the novel is not a simple matter since the author forwards so much material into her creation. That makes it a perfect case for an argument that will rely upon close/slow reading.

 

Your task is to develop a 5 page essay that argues for the truth of Shelley’s Frankenstein by demonstrating how that truth is forwarded through one or more of the many stories or intertextual materials that Shelley stitches into the novel.   What purpose does this borrowed material serve in the novel? Why confuse the novel with these ideas and words from others? Any one of the options below would be enough for your project; I recommend that if you address more than one, you do not go beyond 2 or 3. Here is some of the forwarded or intertextual materials you might consider:

  • Prometheus
  • Milton, Paradise Lost
  • Genesis (Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, Fall)
  • Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Dante, Inferno 
  • Volney, The Ruins
  • Goethe, The Sorrows of Werter
  • Plutarch
  • Percy Shelley, “Mutability”
  • Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey
  • Mary Shelley‘s 1831 “Introduction” and autobiographical/psychological material from her life.
  • Texts and ideas from her Parents: William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Texts and ideas from Science: Erasmus Darwin, Davy, Paracelsus and other scientific figures identified by the annotations.
  • Any textual materials within the novel: the letters, the different narratives (characters telling their tales: for example, Safie’s story)
  • Any other ideas and historical material identified by the annotations that interest you: the context of slavery and abolition in early 1800s; politics related to French Revolution.
  • Film Forwarding (Reverse Intertextuality): A film’s forwarding of the novel (for example: Branagh’s version, or the  use of Frankenstein in “Blade Runner.” [keep in mind that you still need to make an argument: this would not be a film review]

The keys for your selection should be that it is a passage of the novel that you have noticed for its complications, one that interests you as a reader and writer, and one that you believe can help illuminate something significant about this novel. Significance means you will be focusing on interpreting ideas you think are important in the passage (and the novel), not summarizing the plot. We can think of these numerous intertextual moments (from the title onward) as doors that readers might pass by or decide to open. Your essay will open one of those doors and argue for the significance to this novel of what’s there. In general, your argument/thesis will answer this question: What larger significance does this intertextual passage illuminate?

Guidelines:

 

  • Learning Focal PointPathos. We will focus on ways that the close/slow reading and illumination of texts and their implications enhances the pathos of our writing: this means effectively reading and forwardinganother text within the text of your writing; complicating (in the good sense) our critical vision and development of ideas in our writing. In this sense, you are working on your own intertextuality–and can learn from the ways Shelley uses intertextuality to develop a more complicated story/novel–even argument. Or to use our keyword from Harris: you are ‘forwarding’ Frankenstein by paying attention to the text and its implications–borrowing from it as well as extending it. You should do a slow reading of the relevant passages from the novel that will help the development of your argument.
  • Argument: You will argue for why and how you think the forwarded or intertextual material illuminates a truth of the novel that readers might not otherwise understand. Your claim will thus respond to this critical problem: what does a reader miss if he or see passes too quickly by this material or fails to understand what Shelley is forwarding? what’s at stake in creating the novel with this material? For example: Why should it matter that a reader understands the implications of the novel’s subtitle—“the modern Prometheus”?
  • Development: Two areas for your own forwarding.
    • [1]As a way to develop the argument, you should bring into your discussion multiple passages from the novel (directly and indirectly quoted) that support your interpretation.
    • [2]As a way to extend your interpretation, or perhaps clarify the problem or premise for your argument, you must forward at least one quotation from one of the  critical sources we have used in our reading: The Annotated Frankenstein(the Introduction or one of the many annotations) or the essay by Jill Lepore, “The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein’.”
      • For anyone without your Annotated Frankenstein, you could refer to the Lepore article, or to this short version of the editors’ introduction (Levao and Wolfson) published online–it gives you ideas to work with concerning the “range of implications” in Shelley’s novel.

Pathos of Editing: stitching a more fluid essay

http://www.exophagy.com Frankenstein (1910 film)

Image via Wikipedia

In addition to being a poor reader and reviser, Victor Frankenstein, Shelley’s stand-in for the creative artist, the writer, the one who toils in the workshop of filthy creation, appears to be a bad editor. Think of it: if he had taken a bit more time to consider the presentation of his creation, the work that he had stitched together from parts (as any creative work is), might he have saved himself some heartache?

This editing workshop focuses on how we control and create the fluidity (often called ‘flow’ by you) of an essay that is not naturally or originally there. It is made, not born. And one key place we control and create this fluidity is through control of our sentences.

  • Sentence Variation:
    1. look at your sentence length: hit return at the end of each sentence in one or more paragraphs: turn your prose into poetry; the point is to bring out the buried voiced (the origins of poetry, of writing) of your sentences.
    2. we are after variation: not all long/complex; not all short and sharp–a fluid movement between the two.
      1. think both Hypotaxis and Parataxis.
      • Close-Up
        • Experiment with using the power of shifting to a short, sharply focused sentence as a way to highlight your thesis statement. It is like moving in for a dramatic close-up on your critical vision. It can tell your read: pay attention to these keywords and ideas throughout the essay–a way to provide the thread the reader takes with them.
      • Sentence Combining: fluidity and variety in sentence style derives from a more specific grasp of the kinds of sentences and sentence parts we have at hand. You can combine shorter, simpler sentences in several ways, including compounding and subordinating. For more practice, visit the Sentence-Combining page of Guide to Grammar and Writing.
  • Transitions
    • between sentences within a paragraph (the point from above), and between paragraphs. Look at the transition sentence (the first sentence of the next paragraph). Work on weaving the reader’s path (or the thread of your thesis) into the next paragraph.
      • use transition signals (think of the way we need to do this with a speech or public presentation): “Yet another example of this irony of dark creation is evident in the creation scene.” Or by contrast: “Unlike the darkness of creation we see with Victor, the creature presents a vision of light…”
  • Weave your quotation into the paragraph: quotations need to be effective, not just accurate.
    • remember to provide context/introduce the quotation (don’t throw quotations at the reader)
    • leave the page number for the parenthetical citation; don’t introduce the quotation with the page number.
  • Meta-Commentary.
    • We will be returning to this in later workshops. For now, think about places where you can add in a sentence that will help clarify things for your reader by letting the reader know what you are thinking.
      • “in other words”; “By irony of dark creation I mean…”; “Let me reiterate the point made earlier:….”; “What do I mean by …?”
      • also think of transition words: however, although, despite, that or this [point, idea]
  • Specificity.
    • Edit out phrases that leave things the argument or idea or specific reference vague. Sometimes this is a matter of selecting stronger verbs and more complex nouns; sometimes, this is a matter of substituting for some of the pronouns we use too frequently (it, he, she) or too loosely (this, without a reference to what this is: this idea of creation…). It is also a matter of editing for more specific verbs. Consider, as one tool for getting a better grasp on the implications of words (as well as relations, synonyms), using the Visual Thesaurus or Wordnik
    • For a good poetic example of specificity that matters for an argument, read Robert Pinsky’s “Shirt.”

Revision Workshop: Development and Arrangement

Our focus in the second project is on close/slow reading: reading for the implications in a text–and effectively getting implications into our own writing–thereby enhancing the pathos of our argument. The texts we read are more complicated than we might think; we want our own texts, our writing and response to those complicated texts, to reflect that level of complication. Our first step in workshop will be to do close reading to work on the development of the argument–and then using that development to refine and revise the thesis. As an analogy for what slow reading means, how it emerges through rereading and revision, consider an example from film: the shower scene from Hitchcock’s “Pyscho,” one of the most famous scenes in cinema history; you can also look at this close reading of the shower scene from “Psycho”. This is where we look closely, and look again, for what’s working in a passage as well as for what else we might see/argue (which is also to say, what else we are not seeing or thinking). Looking and reading closely also means reading slowly. I think of this climactic scene from Blade Runner and notice how patient the film is in slowing down at this important moment.

The second step in revision will be to make sure that our more developed thesis is effectively threaded through the essay–an aspect of the arrangement of the essay.

Students often say they need to work on their organization. It is, however, not always clear to them what organization means–or more to the point, how it is stitched and structured into an essay. I emphasize organization as a matter of revision and, in many cases, of some simple stylistic choices that “thread” an argument: keywords (beginning with a title), basic transition words that signal continuation while also emphasizing–this idea, this passage, but, however. A critical essay, we know, needs a thesis; an effectively organized essay often just needs more conscious attention to its transitions and keywords–to the ways the writer can move the reader through the essay. For an example, consider this review in NYTimes Book Review of Edward Hirsch poetry by Peter Campion. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Between Ordinary and Ecstatic

Contemporary American poetry is sometimes panned for being mundane. With all the splendor and terror in the world, why should we care about some guy’s memories of high school, or the quality time he spends with his cat? Glancing over it, you might suspect that Edward Hirsch’s poetry would lend evidence to this view. Hirsch will begin a poem with a line like “Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater” or “Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge.” Neither opening seems to burn with that hard, gemlike flame.

But in Hirsch’s work, things are not always what they seem. Certainly, his poems work to dignify the everyday. But they do more than that. What makes Hirsch so singular in American poetry is the balance he strikes between the quotidian and something completely other — an irrational counterforce, the “living fire” that gives its name to his new selected poems.

That phrase appears in “Wild Gratitude,” the title poem of Hirsch’s 1986 volume. On its surface, the poem seems to be about, well, a guy spending time with his cat. But as he listens to her “solemn little squeals of delight,” he begins to remember the 18th-century English visionary and madman Christopher Smart, who in his most famous poem, “Jubilate Agno,” venerated his own cat, Jeoffry. The memory leads to a chain of associations, and the poem ends in a nearly epiphanic moment:

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry — and every creature like him —
Who can teach us how to praise — purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

This passage could stand as an emblem for all of Hirsch’s poetry. Literary and allusive, but also domestic and intimate, as it rises toward praise, Hirsch’s voice resounds with both force and subtlety.

One of the pleasures of reading the new selected poems is the chance to see that voice develop and then range freely and surprisingly. Most poets are hot one minute and cold the next, depending almost on the day of the week. But Hirsch is worth reading chronologically. He not only gets better with each new book; he also provides a kind of model for the growth of poetic intelligence…[goes on in the next paragraphs to review briefly those books included in the selected poems.]

One strategy to test for this thread: use the highlighting tool. Highlight in yellow the words/phrases of your thesis (somewhere from your introductory section). Then read through the draft and highlight in green wherever key statements/reiterations (in other words, threads) of that thesis show up in the body of the essay and in the concluding section. Next, using yellow, highlight parts of the body and/or conclusion where the thesis/argument is being extended: that is, keywords of the thesis are not being repeated, but the argument is being developed, elaborated. Finally, go back and highlight in red any phrases and passages in the draft that seem to wander from the focus, that seem to be a different or new argument–not a reiteration or extension of the original argument.

Another practice technique to make the signals and structure of your argument more transparent to the reader, consult this discussion from Harvard’s expository writing program on Topic Sentences and Signposts.