Essay Points as Tension Areas

Recall how I mentioned the past week that your essay arguments, even your substantive ones (your so-called main points that support the thesis), should ideally be key tension areas of the question issue. Adopting such a mindset will go some way in helping you ensure your arguments don’t end becoming mere ‘explanations’ or worse, ‘descriptions’.

Think of your arguments as a balance scale where there are reasonable arguments on both sides of your topic sentence area. Your job in each point is thus to persuade the reader why the scale should be tipped according to your stand. The best way to achieve this is to insert phrases and sentences of evaluation in your paragraph(s) for this point (most of you now just add a cursory ‘some might say’ line or two as an afterthought, which has not been so effective).

Consider the question “is science today more about improving the world or profit?” and assume I’m going to write about the area of medical science. Now consider the following topic sentences:

TS 1: An area of science that has been converted into a money-making behemoth would be medical science. [TS alone looks like a descriptive statement, not explaining anything] 

TS2: With the constant scare mongering in medicine that has instilled a sense of worry into the masses, the proliferation of ‘me too’ drugs have never been more severe. [TS attempts to explain how profiteering might be occurring but is there real evaluation to address the comparative tension between profit and improving the world in the question?]

TS3: There is more focus on profit in medical science because of prolific scare-mongering and medicalization tactics by pharmaceutical companies that generate unnecessary fear for the goal of boosting profits over sincere and ethical desire to improve public health. [TS attempts to explain how profiteering might be occurring and also clearly states how this is done at the expense of improving the world ]

The formulation of topic sentence 3 would only have been possible if the student had in mind the tension in this point i.e.

medical science (and firms in the health industry) has been more focused on enhancing general health
medical science (and firms in the health industry) has been more focused on improving profit 

Recognizing such tension tension points should not only apply to comparative essay questions. Even a relatively straightforward question like “discuss the importance of music” should also warrant the examination of ‘tension areas’ for a more effective and balanced argument. For example, if I were to write about how music is important as it is a key source of relaxation and enjoyment for most people, I would also need to consider how it can be considered a nuisance or relatively unpopular given society’s hectic pace and competing forms of enjoyment in a media-saturated world. Knowing this would help me avoid making my paragraph an ineffective explanation of how music works or a worse, a descriptive narrative on the joys of music.

Back to the science and profit question. Now examine the following paragraph (adapted from a sample script in the mid years) to see how awareness of the ‘tension’ (phrases in bold) helps keep the point balanced and evaluative rather than being a one-sided explanation.

There is more focus on profit in medical science because of prolific scare-mongering and medicalization tactics by pharmaceutical companies that generate unnecessary fear for the goal of boosting profits over sincere and ethical desire to improve public health. ‘Big Pharma’, the summation of the world’s largest medical corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, has stamped its name on many-a-drug for our common ailments but also reflects profits upwards from three quarters of a trillion. Such gains have also motivated the entering of other drug developing companies eager for a slice of the lucrative pie. While it is such huge gains are necessary for these companies to conduct adequate research and innovation to produce better drugs for the public, the manner in which these private health juggernauts have marketed their drugs have been overly profit-driven. Pharmaceutical firms, for example, have utilized direct-to-consumer advertising to devastating effects on the unsuspecting and health-conscious public. GlaxoSmithKline has been credited with the incredulous creation of ‘new’ sicknesses that do nothing more than to generate extra revenue for the company. The inability to sit still for long has been termed as the ‘lazy feet syndrome’ while being shy has been referred to as social anxiety disorder. These drugs may seem to be honest  innovations only trying to help specialized ailments but in effect they have twisted the traits and personalities of individuals into negatives and medicalized their problems.  Such consequences are amplified further in ‘epidemic’ scares such as SARS and Swine flu where medical reports exaggerate possible death numbers and pharmaceutical companies would quickly respond by dishing out new drugs, like Tamiflu for instance, to supposedly deal with the problem and allay our fears but also effectively breeding in us a paranoiac dependence on drugs. In these scenarios where we ourselves are left questioning if we are healthy, the manifestation of these corporations’ greed instigates them into going beyond forming an effective response to major illnesses and into artificially redefining the threshold of being sick time and time again. The world of medical science has thus moved away from solely caring about layman’s well-being and more towards earning more profits.

Now think about how you have been writing your substantive (i.e. ‘normal’ supporting paragraphs) points and how you can better incorporate the ‘tension area’ paradigm in future writing. 


One thought on “Essay Points as Tension Areas

  1. Pingback: Essay Skills Digest 1/11/11 « Gee Pee Land

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