Essay Writing Argument

An argument paper is the type of paper most often assigned in college classes today as it involves a high level of critical thinking. In an argument paper, you develop your own claim about a text, or about an issue that is covered in many texts, and you back up that claim with evidence. Your claim is your thesis, and that thesis cannot be a fact or a question (although you may well begin your paper by asking a question that you answer in your paper. As is true with most forms of academic writing, the key to a good argument is development of your thesis with strong examples that you explain clearly and fully. You want to make your case to your reader; think of yourself as an attorney in a courtroom, persuading a jury that may or may not be inclined to agree with you!

The structure of an argument is traditionally three-part: an introduction in which you present your thesis and introduce any source texts important to your paper, body paragraphs in which you support your argument with specific evidence that you explain clearly and fully, and a conclusion that wraps up your paper, perhaps reiterates your thesis (though not word for word!), and leaves your reader with something to think about.


English 102

Assignment: Write a critical essay (5 pages minimum) in which you make an argument concerning the impact of some type of television programming on its audience.

[Instructor comments appear in bold, italic font within brackets below.]

Broadcasting A Plague

I really didn’t want to do this. Given all of the different types of programming there are, I was hoping that I could write about something a little more unexpected. But then I thought about it a little more and realized that I’ll probably never get an opportunity like this again. Before too much longer, reality TV could very well be gone. It will either die out like all fads, or be replaced by something else. I might as well take this opportunity to write about reality TV in its current incarnation while it’s still relevant. When you consider some of the other types of shows that people enjoy (talk shows for example), the popularity of reality TV isn’t all that surprising. It seems that people simply enjoy watching other people perform various activities. Television networks realize this and the number of reality shows has grown considerably in the last few years. Unfortunately, this type of programming has turned into something more than harmless entertainment. Reality TV can be harmful to those who participate in it, those who watch it, and to television in general. [Creative intro and clear thesis! While your tone is informal and some instructors might object to the use of “I” in a formal argument paper, you introduce your topic very naturally and end your introduction with a good, strong claim about the impact of reality television.]

The situations that reality TV shows put their contestants into, despite being entertaining (if you’re into this sort of thing, and many people are), can be dangerous to those who are participating. [Good topic sentence to focus the paragraph.] Almost any reality program you can think of is competitive. Shows may require that their participants work together, but there can usually be only one winner. Contestants are eliminated one by one, and most of the time it is their fellow contestants who decide who leaves. Contestants are encouraged to do whatever it takes to win: lying, backstabbing, slander, and the forming of temporary “alliances” are among the tricks used to get ahead. Contestants on Boot Camp, a reality show with a military theme, would frequently try to gather support from as many people as they could to vote off a specific person. [Excellent concrete example to illustrate your point.] Because these shows are supposedly unscripted, all of the deceit is real. Does all of this have any impact on the contestants? It would seem so. Any number of contestants can be seen flying into fits of rage or bursting into tears. The negative traits of humanity are proudly on display here, all for the pleasure of those who watch. [Nice use of sarcasm to end the paragraph and tie back to your thesis that these shows have little redeeming value.]

If the contestants don’t rip each other apart [good transition phrase to move into your next point], then the people behind the programs will. In some shows, inflicting emotional damage on those involved is a big part of the show’s appeal. One of the best examples of this is American Idol. A few years back, Fox executives ordered an expedition into the sewers of England to find the most vile being they possibly could [more fun sarcasm!]. Their search turned up a half man-half gimmick named Simon. They brought him up to the surface and made him a judge on American Idol. His purpose is to viciously tear into anyone who doesn’t meet his standards. Fox’s American Idol website provides a nice little page featuring a collection of audio samples where you can “relive some of your favorite Simon moments.” The way this page is presented (and just the fact that it exists at all) gives some insight into what they had in mind when they asked him to be a judge. None of the comments are positive of course, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have an effect on those at the receiving end. He was chosen because they knew he would be especially hard on the contestants, which would give people a reason to watch. Any negative effects on the contestants are of little concern to anyone. [Another strong, well-developed paragraph. Your example is specific, and you explain how it supports your point well.]

So does not being able to sing at a professional level really warrant that much verbal abuse? I don’t think that it does, but a lot of people would disagree. They’re annoyed when someone who they don’t like starts singing, and Simon’s enraged wailing provides a catharsis for the viewer. I guess he’s popular for the same reasons that Judge Judy and her ilk were popular: He yells at people a lot. A visit to the American Idol page of (a site where people can post their thoughts on various television shows) will reveal that a lot of the people who watch the show watch it only to hear what sort of crazy things Simon will say, which doesn’t say much for the show itself. If the contestants are that annoying, then perhaps the best thing to do is to not watch the show. Supporting a show that relies on something as simplistic as the lunacy of some guy who hates all of the contestants by watching it, even after admitting that the show really isn’t that good, seems foolish. [Last sentence is a bit confusing, and less persuasive than it could be].

Some would probably say that these contestants know what they’re getting into when they ask to be in these shows, so any of the damage done is their responsibility. [Good – you introduce an opposing viewpoint on the effects of reality television, so that you can then counter that viewpoint]. However, an article on suggests that this isn’t the case in some shows: “Many, however, have contestants who volunteer and sign releases - so aren't they getting what they deserve? Not necessarily. Releases don't necessarily explain everything that will happen and some are pressured to sign new releases part way through a show in order to have a chance at winning” (“Ethics of Reality TV . . .”). In addition to what goes on behind the scenes, there are some more visible examples of contestants not being told everything. There are plenty of shows that rely on surprising their contestants so obviously they won’t be told about these surprises. One of the more obvious examples of this is Joe Millionaire, where a big part of the show is the surprise the winner receives when she finds out that the show’s millionaire isn’t a millionaire after all. I’m sure that wasn’t in anything the contestants signed.

There is also some concern that contestants aren’t emotionally prepared for what they’ll encounter when they participate in a show. [Another good point.] A BBC News article reported that psychologist Oliver James is concerned about the participants in Reality TV programs: “Speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh TV Festival, Dr James said he feared that people could be ‘damaged’ by taking part in programmes like Big Brother and Temptation Island. Dr James said he had spoken to a number of those who had taken part in reality TV shows and he felt they were not aware of the impact their participation would have on their lives” (“Reality TV under fire”).[This quote provides good support for your point, but since it’s lengthy, it needs to be formatted as a block quote.] People say things that they supposedly don’t really mean all the time, and they do this while on reality shows too. Saying something embarrassing is bad enough in the first place, but I imagine that the humiliation would be even greater when you realize that millions of people could have heard what you just said. That same BBC News article had a BBC One controller who said “many participants did not realise the impact of what they say on camera when it was screened on TV” (“Reality TV under fire”). Of course, it’s this sort of thing that the networks are relying on to make these shows interesting. 

Another important but also potentially harmful part of reality shows is their gradual rise in intensity. Like another form of voyeuristic television, talk shows, the newer reality shows are pushing boundaries. Originally it was just watching a group of people living together, but now we’re seeing complete strangers getting married, facial reconstruction in all its graphic glory, and autopsies [good, shocking examples to prove your point]. A group of four kids from Las Vegas, however, are outdoing all of them with a show called Bum Fights where homeless people are paid to fight each other, among other things (plenty of details can be found at [Wow!] An article from Impact Weekly gives a description of some of their other activities: “ . . . so the video excursions escalated to include such moments as our boys urinating into a beer bottle and giving it to a homeless man to drink. . . For extra laughs, they sneak up on sleeping homeless men and spray paint them, beat them, tie them up and humiliate them endlessly” (Copp). Could mainstream television escalate to this level? [Good question – this is shocking, disturbing stuff. You’re driving your argument home.] Despite its limited availability, Bum Fights has sold over 300,000 copies, and the website boasts about being “the world’s fastest selling independent video series,” so it’s clear that more than a handful of people are into this sort of thing. Then there’s also the popular Faces of Death series of videos, which feature people being killed in various situations, although some of the deaths are faked (others such as Traces of Death, are all real). If this kind of stuff ever is shown in the mainstream, it probably won’t be for quite some time, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it eventually happened. 

The popularity of Reality TV has had some fairly interesting (although not very encouraging) results. It seems that a lot of people are getting caught up in it and I can’t help but feel that this obsession is unhealthy. During the first season of American Idol, over 100 million votes were cast (“Kelly Is ‘American Idol’”). According to CNN’s election statistics page, around 105 million votes were cast in the 2000 presidential election. [Great use of statistics to make your point]. Of course, the same person could vote in more than one episode of American Idol, so it’s unclear how many individual people voted, but that’s still a high number. However, the second season of American Idol received over 250 million votes, with the final episode alone bringing in over 24 million (“Ruben is America’s Idol”). Although this number could have been higher had FOX been able to handle all of the calls they were getting. Verizon and SBC reported that they each had around 115 million more calls than usual on the day of the final episode of American Idol 2 (Graham). The fact that a mere reality show could come that close to such a big election says a lot about the popularity of reality TV. Maybe this stuff is a little too interesting for our own good. [Good sentence to sum up the paragraph, though of course you can’t prove that if people didn’t watch reality TV, they’d follow politics instead.]

The harm in reality TV is felt in more than just those involved in the shows. When you have something as popular as Survivor, other networks are going to want to copy that success. Just look at how many new reality series have premiered since Survivor. The number of series has grown exponentially and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Each one takes the same basic format, makes a few modifications, repackages it, and airs it. I think it goes without saying that television networks, like any good business, are in it mainly for the money. Reality TV is a great way to get ratings (the fact that they’re so cheap to produce doesn’t hurt either), so now everyone from the major networks to the History Channel is making their own reality series, while other more original shows are downplayed. 

Reality TV may seem like harmless entertainment, but it does have effects that people may not be aware of while they’re watching. [Nice reiteration of your thesis. I can tell you’re concluding your essay.] It has effects on the contestants who fiercely compete with each other to win and who are toyed with for the sake of ratings by those in charge. It gives people an addictive and useless distraction to indulge in and its success encourages the television networks to make more. Whether it eventually dies out or paves the way for something even worse, it’s left its mark on society, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Works Cited

  • Copp, Andrew. “Unreal world: Repellant social voyeurism.” Impact Weekly.
    20 Nov. 2002. Pro-Quest Alt-PressWatch. 5 Nov. 2003.
  • “Ethics of Reality TV: Should We Watch?”
    8 July. 2003. 3 Nov. 2003.
  • Graham, Jefferson. “’Idol’ voting strained nerves, nation’s telephone systems” 
    USA Today. 27 May. 2003. 17 Nov. 2003.
  • “Kelly Is ‘American Idol’” CBS News. 5 Sep. 2002. 5 Nov. 2003.
  • “Reality TV under fire.” BBC News. 27 Aug. 2001. 5 Nov. 2003
  • “Ruben Is America’s Idol” BBC News. 22 May. 2003. 17 Nov. 2003.

Instructor end comment:

[This is a very well-structured, well-developed argument that would earn admiration and respect in an English 1A class. You did impressive research and use your evidence to great effect. Your paragraphs transition smoothly, your ideas are organized, and your points all come through very clearly. My only real advice is that your tone (while often wonderfully sarcastic) is at other times, a little meek. Don’t be afraid to be forceful in your argument. If you sound unsure about your claim, your reader might be as well.]

** Minor mechanical errors/typos have been corrected by the creators of CHARLIE

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Assignment: Using evidence from the essays in your textbook, make an argument concerning the potential for Americans to achieve success (“the American Dream”) through education.

The Alger Myth

The Horatio Alger myth is one of the oldest myths in the history of the United States of America. Horatio Alger was a 19th century author who wrote short stories that all had the same universal theme: a young man rising from a poor childhood to become a successful adult. Alger’s stories were enormously popular during his time and continue to be so today with the term “Alger Myth” become a household saying. The popularity of Alger’s stories is not surprising when one considers America has consistently pushed the notion that anyone can achieve success if they work hard. Every child in America is told at some point in their life that they can be anything they want to be. This myth is as much a part of American culture as apple pie or baseball.

The “Alger Myth” provides hope for everyone who isn’t raised in a wealthy environment. [Logical transition needed here such as “Yet,”] The poverty level in America is absurdly high and produces a large group of children who grow up in an environment where everybody is struggling to get by on a day to day basis. These children have no actual tangible evidence that somebody from their neighborhood can achieve the type of success they dream of. The only hope they have comes from the “Alger Myth” or other such fables that describe rags to riches stories. The “Alger Myth” is thus a useful tool for the American upper-class, in the sense that it gives the lower-class a hope for their future and in the process helps to prevent any attempt by the lower-class to overthrow the current economic system, which produces this huge disparity between the rich and poor. [Good. This effectively politicizes and enlarges the issue.] This would almost be an acceptable practice if the “Alger Myth” was true and everyone did have a chance to succeed regardless of race, sex, or affluence. [Again, emphasize the contrast with a transition: “But,” ] The “Alger Myth”, like many popular American myths, is in fact a fallacy as the facts simply show there is no evidence to support an equal playing field for every American.

The poverty level is simply too high for the “Alger Myth” to be anything other than a fairytale. Gregory Mantsios provides many statistics to support this including the fact that “a total of 14 percent of the American population – that is, one of every seven – live below the government’s official poverty line (calculated in 1996 at $7,992 for an individual and $16,209 for a family of four)” (Rereading America 321). Those in favor of the “Alger Myth” would tell these people that if they worked harder they would eventually achieve the success they desire. That type of logic is quite frankly asinine, as many of the people below the poverty level are working two or three jobs and doing everything they possibly can to provide for themselves and their family. They work just as hard if not harder than anybody in the upper-class and are reduced to living in poor conditions with little to no chance of every escaping the situation they are in. These people work themselves to death and instead of attaining the American dream, they are told to work even harder, while they see nepotism promote less qualified and lazier employees into the position they had worked so hard to achieve. Mantsios goes on to point out the sad reality that “the wealthiest 20 percent of the American population holds 85 percent of the total household wealth in the country” (Rereading America 320). There simply isn’t any evidence to support that working hard will lead to upward mobility when there is only 15 percent of the wealth left for 80 percent of the country. [Good pacing in gradually submitting data to the contrary.] 

The “Alger Myth” is even more of a fallacy if you are non-white or a woman. Mantsios provides the statistics that back this up. His statistics show that the chance of being poor in America is “one in eleven for white men and women, one in four for white female head of households, one in three for Hispanic men and women, one in two for Hispanic female head of households, one of three for black men and women, and one in two for black female head of households” (Rereading America 333). The “Alger Myth” sounds great if you are an affluent white male. If you are anything else, the “Alger Myth” may sound great but it simply isn’t grounded in reality.

Harlon L. Dalton, who is one of the biggest opponents of the “Alger Myth,” offers up the typical response from proponents of the “Alger Myth” when given these numbers: “All it takes to make it in America is initiative, hard work, persistence, and pluck. After all, just look at Colin Powell” (Rereading America 315). The thought process is obviously that if Colin Powell can make it, so can anyone else, but that simply isn’t true. Colin Powell is the exception, not the rule. There is obviously going to be a group of people from the lower class and minorities in powerful positions. Colin Powell gives the upper-class their token minority that they can point to whenever somebody questions the economic system that oppresses those that aren’t white and born into affluence. [Effective level of assertion here.] The twenty percent controlling all the money in America didn’t get where they are today because they were unintelligent. They are obviously very intelligent and the fact that they put people like Colin Powell in power proves their intelligence. Unfortunately it doesn’t prove that the “Alger Myth” is the truth, but it does placate some opponents of the “Alger Myth” and in the process helps prevent the lower-class from ever reaching their dreams. [Good – You present rationales as to why these strategies are used.]

At first glance, Stephen Cruz would seem like the poster boy for the “Alger Myth.” His parents came to America from Mexico and group up well below the poverty level. Cruz didn’t give up however and worked hard to better his position in life. He went to college and got into the business world. Cruz quickly rose to a position of prominence in every company he worked at, but began to see he wasn’t being treated the same as people who were supposedly his equals: “My office was glass-enclosed, while all the other offices were enclosed so you couldn’t see into them. I was the visible man” (Rereading America 336). Cruz was treated similar to Powell in the sense that he was the token minority. He began to question this himself: “I started asking: Why weren’t we hiring more minorities? I realized I was the only one in a management position” (Rereading America 336). Stephen Cruz seemed to be the perfect case of the “Alger Myth” working to perfection with a poor minority rising to the level of management in a major company. However, he soon found out that even if a minority somehow did accomplish their goals and obtain their dream job, they were still treated differently. Cruz became increasing dissatisfied with this double standard and quit the business world to become a small farmer. Cruz provesthat even the exceptions to the “Alger Myth” that are given token jobs to quiet the masses aren’t really given the same opportunity to succeed as those already in the upper-class. [Good – you explain the value of your Cruz example.] 

The majority of Americans believe in the “Alger Myth” because quite frankly the “Alger Myth” is what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution promised. The United States of America was supposed to be a country where every man and woman was treated equally. Regrettably the “Alger Myth” is nothing more than a false myth that in many ways does more harm to the lower-class than good.

Instructor end comment:

[Outstanding mixture of research and narrative argumentation. Very good (and consistent) narrative set ups, signifiers, and closings. **Side note: As Mantsios and Dalton point out, it’s good to have faith, but that faith should not be so blind, uninformed and unaware. I’m personally baffled how you can put a flashlight on the numbers and strategies used, yet all some people see is a beautiful forest – and no trees.]