Want to learn how to produce good arguments for your Paper 2 essays?
Check out this excellent advice
from the popular novelist
David Foster Wallace from ‘How to Write a Great Opener,’ and ‘the Measure of Good Writing’
A good opener, first and foremost, fails to repel… It’s interesting and engaging. It lays out the terms of the argument, and, in my opinion, should also in some way imply the stakes… If one did it deftly, one could in a one-paragraph opening
grab the reader,
state the terms of the argument,
and state the motivation for the argument.
I imagine most good argumentative stuff that I’ve read, you could boil down to the opener.
With an eye to the Aristotelian tenet that a good story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, Wallace agrees with Garner that “the middle is the biggest puzzle” and considers the perplexity of the middle:
The middle should work… It lays out the argument in steps, not in a robotic way, but in a way that the reader can tell (a) what the distinct steps or premises of the argument are; and (b), this is the tricky one, how they’re connected to each other. So when I teach nonfiction classes, I spend a disproportionate amount of my time teaching the students how to write transitions, even as simple ones as ‘however’ and ‘moreover’ between sentences. Because part of their belief that the reader can somehow read their mind is their failure to see that the reader needs help understanding how two sentences are connected to each other — and also transitions between paragraphs.
An argumentative writer [should] spend one draft on just the freaking argument, ticking it off like a checklist, and then the real writing part would be weaving it and making the transitions between the parts of the argument — and probably never abandoning the opening, never letting the reader forget what the stakes are here… Never letting the reader think that I’ve lapsed into argument for argument’s sake, but that there’s always a larger, overriding purpose.
These lines are quoted in Brain Pickings, a weekly digital newsletter produced by Maria Popova, a curator of interesting material ranging from philosophy to literature to science, accompanied by visual materials, often taken from childrens’ literature.