Questions about composition

Here is an exchange I had with one of you who wrote in to me with some questions about the difference between argumentative and expository writing, the nature of persuasive language, and the use of time during the exam. I reproduce the questions and the answers below, so that all of you can have access to them.

doubt-1QUESTION 1

firstly, is there any difference between expository writing and arguementative writing? is there are difference in format?
and also, what are some questions that can come out based on these text types?

Yes there is a difference. In argumentative writing the point is to get your stand across to the reader and convince the reader that yours is the best stand. In expository writing the point is to explain something- no stand required. So if you are looking at format (by which I assume you mean structure), they are very similar, but there is an extra paragraph in the argumentative essay which is the counter argument/ rebuttal paragraph. An example of an argumentative question is “Handphones should not be allowed in schools. Do you agree?”. This requires you to choose one side and argue for it. An example of an expository question is “What are the pros and cons of allowing students to bring handphones to school?”. This requires you to explain both sides- it does not force you to pick one side. Of course, in the conclusion you can offer your opinion, but that does not frame your entire essay. Another example: “Democracy is the single best form of government that any country can have. What are your views?”. This is argumentative. Expository would be “What are the features of a democratic system of government?”.

doubt-2QUESTION 2
secondly, what does it mean by using “persuasive language” in editorials and how to use it?
In any kind of writing, persuasive language refers to the sort that is non-objective. For example, look at the following paragraph:
An excerpt from a critique of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”
He certainly has no doubts about his own importance. The trailer for the documentary states: ‘If you love the planet, if you love your children, you have to see this film.’ (1) Presumably those who fail to watch the movie are, at the very least, guilty of not loving their children. It does not specify what should be done to those who watch the film and disagree with it, but, given Gore’s intolerance to criticism, they must be risking eternal damnation.
Unfortunately for Gore there are good reasons to question the fundamental tenets of his faith. His account of the scientific consensus on climate change is willfully misleading. There is much about the science that is still debated and much that is simply not yet known. To the extent that there are problems caused by climate change there are other strategies to deal with it besides his favoured approach of mitigation.
Here is another paragraph from the same piece of writing
But even if climate change is a serious threat to humanity, it does not follow that Gore’s approach is the only possible solution, let alone the best. On the negative side, curbing carbon emissions, sometimes referred to as mitigation, has substantial disadvantages. Since fossil fuels are still by far the cheapest and most widely available form of energy, cutting back on emissions is likely to have severe economic consequences. Over time it is likely this technology will improve and others will play a larger role, but until this happens curbing emissions could damage existing economic capacity. It is even more of a problem for developing countries, since it makes it harder for them to industrialise.
Gore caricatures such concerns in An Inconvenient Truth as a love of money. He shows a picture of gold bars and says there should be no choice between them and ‘the entire planet’. Members of the privileged elite such as Gore often seem to find it easy to decry affluence – he is the son of a senator, attended an elite private school and went on to Harvard. But for literally billions of people, economic growth is essential if they are to achieve a decent standard of living.
If you look at the words and phrases in green, you notice that they are strong language that leaves you in no doubt about the writer’s stand. This is what persuasive language looks like. It conveys the writer’s opinion clearly.
Another illustration: let’s say there is a fight between two students in school and they go to see the principal. Obviously each thinks he is right. So when they are each given a chance to speak, each will argue from his own viewpoint. But the principal may then turn to a prefect who happened to have witnessed the fight, and the way the prefect describes the fight will be very different from the way either of the two students have described it. In terms of writing, the two students would be engaging in argument- two opposing sides (one for each). The prefect would be engaging in exposition (an explanation of what he saw- no opinion on any one side).

 doubt-3QUESTION 3

thirdly, about how much time should i spend on situational and free writing?
which should I spend more time doing?
My recommendation is that you spend more time on free writing, because you need to come up with the content, whereas for situational writing, the content has been created for you. So I would say 1 hour for free writing and 45 minutes for situational.

Do e-mail me if you have any other questions, or if there is anything about these answers that you would like me to clarify.


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