The point of view essay

Major Paper #1–The Point of View Essay

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Purpose:  This paper assignment has several purposes.  As the first major paper for this class, the Point of View Essay is designed to re-engage you with the fundamentals of all good writing, including using lush sensory details to show the reader a particular place (rather than tell them about it), basic organization, clear focus, etc.  However, this unit does not function as a mere review.  The Point of View Essay will also introduce you to the concept of “thinking and seeing rhetorically, and analyzing writing rhetorically”–using the Writer’s Toolbox described in this unit to improve your writing and critical reading skills.  Finally, the Point of View Essay  allows you to reflect on this process.

The Assignment:

1. Pleasant/Unpleasant Description of the Place:  Choose a place you can observe for an extended period of time (at least 20-30 minutes). Use all of your senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, even taste if possible) to experience the place, and record all of the sensations that you experience. As you record your data, you may wish to note which details naturally seem more positive, negative, or neutral, in terms of tone. (For instance, a stinky and overflowing trash barrel swarming with flies in a nearby alley might seem more inherently negative than a little white bunny rabbit hopping playfully across the lawn.)  Then, you will use this information to help your write descriptions of the place: one positive, one negative.  Both descriptions should be factually true (same real time and real place), but you will want one description to be positive in terms of tone and the other to be negative.  In addition to including the information and sensory details you’ve collected as the basis for these descriptions, you will also use the Writer’s Toolbox to create your two contrasting impressions for this assignment.  (The Writer’s Toolbox is explained in the Lecture Notes section of this unit.)  As you revise and refine your descriptions, please be sure you are “showing” your readers your place (really putting the readers “there” in the moment and in this scene), rather than simply “telling” them about it.  You will also want to try to eliminate unnecessary linking verbs as much as you can, incorporating verbs that show “action” whenever possible.

2. Rhetorical Analysis:  Looking back at your descriptions, analyze how you created these two very different impressions of the place (one positive, one negative) without changing any of the facts.  How did you make your place seem so positive in one paragraph and yet so negative in the other paragraph, without changing the facts?  Discuss how you incorporated each of the tools from the Writer’s Toolbox, and cite examples of this from each of your descriptions.  (This analysis should be at least 400-500 words in length.)

3. Reflection:  In one to two paragraphs, consider at least one of the following questions:   What have you learned about writing through this assignment?  How might you apply this knowledge?  Has this process of using the Writer’s Toolbox affected your vision of various information media–for instance, television and print news sources, magazines, etc.?  If so, how so?


The second portion of this assignment is the rhetorical analysis.  In the rhetorical analysis, you will explain how you used the five features to make the same exact place seem so very positive in one paragraph and yet so negative in the second paragraph.

The second portion of this assignment is a two step process. 

1.)  Review your two paragraphs noting each of the places you used any of the tools in the Writer’s Toolbox.  Try to find at least two examples of each of the tools from the Writer’s Toolbox employed in each descriptions (except for tell sentences and direct statements of meaning, which you should have limited to only one per paragraph).  If you can’t find two examples of the other features in each of your descriptions, you’ll probably want to revise your initial description, adding more of those features.

2.)  Write your rhetorical analysis, devoting at least one paragraph to each of the tools in the Writer’s Toolbox.  You will probably want to begin each paragraph of the rhetorical analysis with a general claim.   “I used a great deal of word choice in each of my two descriptions.”  Then you’ll want to follow that claim with examples.  “For instance, in my positive paragraph, I described the sun as “gleaming,” which implies that the light was pleasantly bright.  However, in my negative paragraph, I described the sun as “glaring,” implying that the light was too bright, and in fact painful to look at.”

Here’s a student example of the second portion of this assignment.  (This is the same student who focused on Pillsbury Crossing in his positive and negative descriptions.) 


The last portion of this assignment is simple.  Reflect on what you’ve done.  Why does any of this matter?  How do these tools relate to other writing you’ve done, other writing you’ve read, etc.?  How does (or how will) any of this apply to you?

Here’s a student example of the last portion of this assignment.  (Again, this is the same student who focused on Pillsbury Crossing in his positive and negative descriptions, and whose rhetorical analysis was included above.) 


What is the Writer’s Toolbox?

The Writer’s Toolbox simply refers to five rhetorical tools that writers can use to convey their meaning: direct statement of meaning, selection/omission of details, figurative language, show vs tell, and word choice. 

1.) A direct statement of meaning is a very direct statement that conveys your overall attitude about the place to the reader.  For instance:  “This is paradise.” “What a pit.”  “I wish I could stay here forever.”  “Why did I come to this dump to begin with?”  You will want to limit these to one sentence per paragraph, and you will probably want to use your overt statement of meaning either at the beginning or end of your paragraph, to emphasize your positive or negative impression.

2.)  Selection/omission of details is one of the tools used in the Royals example included in the introduction to this unit.  What we choose to leave out or put into a description of a place can have a profound impact on a reader’s impression of that place.  For instance, we might choose to leave a mildewed, overflowing dumpster out of our positive description, but include it in our negative description.  On the other hand, we might choose to put a playful, baby bunny into our positive description, but leave it out of our negative paragraph.

3.)  Show vs tell is the difference between describing in detail and summarizing.  When we show readers something, we allow them to really see, hear, feel, smell, even taste the things that we are describing.  We give them enough details to paint a sensory picture of the place.  When we tell readers something, we state it directly, summarizing the situation and leaving out details.  The following is a show sentence:  “Clouds pile upon clouds, the sky an ever-darker gray, vague rumbles of thunder building in the distance.”  If we wanted to tell readers the same thing, we might simply say “A storm is coming.”  In most of your written communication, and in this assignment in particular, you will want to do a great deal of showing and very little telling.  In your two descriptions, for instance, you will probably want to limit yourself to one tell sentence per paragraph.  (And, in fact, your one tell sentence may be the same as your overt statement of meaning sentence.)  Rather than simply telling us about your place, you will need to show us.

4.)  Word choice can be used to describe the exact same thing in two very different ways.  For instance, if you live in a small house, you might describe it as “cozy” implying that the place is comfortable and pleasant.  In contrast, you might describe it as “cramped” implying that the place is too small, and therefore uncomfortable and unpleasant.  Here’s another example:  On a sunny summer day, you might describe the sun as “gleaming” or you might describe it as “glaring.”  Both describe the same thing—the light emitting from the sun.  But “gleaming” seems much more positive than “glaring,” doesn’t it?  This tool will especially come in handy when you are describing details that seem neutral—not inherently positive or inherently negative.


5.)  Figurative language includes similesmetaphorsrepetition of sounds, and personification.  Similes and metaphors can be used to make a comparison between two unlike things to emphasize some quality of one of those things. “Betty was as big as a house” is a simile, using like or as to make a comparison between Betty and a house and thus the enormity of Betty.  “Betty was a house” conveys the same idea, but this is a metaphor, as the sentence does not use like or as.  We all understand that Betty is not literally a house, but we also get an impression of how big she seems to the speaker.  Repetition of sounds can be used (in moderation) to emphasize a tone of either peace or discord.  Softer sounds like “s” and “b” tend to imply peacefulness.  Think of  “the soft song of a swallow” or a “babbling brook.”  Harder sounds like “c” and “r” tend to imply discord.  Think of “cars cluttering” a parking lot, or “raucous rebels raging” against society, spraying graffiti on those same cars. Personification can be used to give human qualities to something that is not human.  Think of a “proud, sturdy oak, stretching his arms to the sky.”  Trees aren’t proud, they don’t stretch, and they don’t have arms.  But personification can be used to emphasize their majesty.

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