Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Modernist Literature 1900-1960

Modern literature is generally concerned with tragedy and anxiety, as it reflects the political events of the time - the shock of two world wars, the holocaust, horrible epidemics like the Spanish Flu, the rise of communism, and the threat of nuclear war.

In politics, Great Britain lost its superpower status, and much of the wealth it enjoyed in the 19th century, as it changed from an empire into the Commonwealth of Nations. Countries like Canada and Australia gained independence, and America and Russia became the dominant world powers. It was a time of rapid economic growth and technological progress, and yet these advances provided no assurance of peace or prosperity.

The twentieth century was also a time of social change and unrest, as people across the western world demanded equal rights for women, the poor, and minorities. Ireland gained freedom from Britain in 1921. People studied and debated the ideas put forth by Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.

Modernist writers like James Joyce, and D.H. Lawrence wrote about the lives of the poor, particularly miners and farmers. Modern poetry flourished, with shorter poems and free verse. Modern literature saw several important changes:

1. Literature focused less on plot, and more about characters' "inner space" - their psychological introspection, as they wrestle with personal and social questions.

2. This form of writing led to "stream of consciousness" writing - showing every little thought inside a character's head, combining reality with memories, fantasies, and dreams.

3. Impressionist literature, which focused on little individual moments, without all the interpretation or moralizing of earlier Victorian writing.

4. Imagist poetry, advocated by Ezra Pound, was meant to put simple, fresh images in your head, to make you see as the writer does, without adding any other thoughts.

5. Symbolism - using symbols as metaphors for certain feelings and ideas.

6. New literary groups formed, such as the British Idealists and The Bloomsbury Group.

7. The Jazz Age of the 1920's saw the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, an outpouring of black literature and art, led by Langston Hughes and others.

8. The Great Depression and World War II changed the face of the earth, leading to The Beat Generation of the 1940's and 50's.

9. Modern theatre developed, a tradition that continues in places like NYC and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Bloomsbury Group

This was a group of friends who met together in London. They were writers, philosophers, artists and intellectuals. It included writers Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, artists Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell (Virginia's sister), and the economist John Maynard Keynes. They believed in the philosopher G. E. Moore, who said, ". . . one's prime objects in life were love, the creation and enjoyment of aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge." In other words, the meaning of life is love, art, and science.

These people rejected Victorian era attitudes about public reputation (often dictated by superficialities like fashion) and social responsibilities, in favour of better personal relationships. Forster said, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

They also advocated pleasure, allowing for more open marriages and promiscuity, which Virginia said, helped the group to remain close and happy for over twenty years.
Politically, the group was liberal and pacifist. Most objected to entering WWI. You might think of them as the very first hippies, preaching peace and free love.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Vocabulary Pointers

from The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker


In general, don't use a big word when a small one fits. "One or two will do no harm, but any accumulation is fatal––words like depart instead of go." Combining large words with small ones at the end can add power to writing, and was often used by Shakespeare:

"Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."
"These violent delights have violent ends..."
"Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore, so do our minutes, hasten to their end."


Be careful not to repeat the same words too often in your writing. Any word can be overused, dulling your work. But, some words, like very, quite, rather, etc., are used too often by other writers. So, even when you use them sparingly, they can still irritate readers.


Some words, like shark, knife, and bomb are concrete - they are things we can see and touch (carefully). Other words are abstract ideas, like truth, beauty, anger, etc. In general, try to use concrete words because they're more specific. "The writer's ultimate skill perhaps lies in making a single object represent its whole abstract class."

Examples:                                                       Better:

Friendliness is the salesperson's best asset.            A smile is the salesperson's best asset.

To understand the world by observing all            To see the world in a grain of sand. . . .
of its geological details. . . .

DENOTATION & CONNOTATION: two sides of meaning

"When we look up synonyms in our dictionary––shake, tremble, quake, quiver, shiver, shudder, wobble––we see that all of them specify, or denote, the same thing: a shaking motion. But each also connotes a different kind of shake . . . These connotations have certain emotional attachments: tremble (fear), quiver (excitement), shiver (coldness), shudder (horror), wobble (imbalance)." Make sure your words both denote and connote what you want.


These are short forms of verbs, like: don't, won't, can't, shouldn't, isn't. Avoid them in formal writing.


A Euphemism is when you change a word with negative connotations to one that's positive, like saying you had your dog "put to sleep", when you really took it to a vet to have it killed. There was probably a very good reason for doing it, and you shouldn't feel guilty. But people often do, so they sugarcoat their words to help justify their actions. Try to avoid euphemisms in essays, except in humorous irony.

Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck, or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.  ––George Orwell


A cliché is a phrase commonly found (and overused) in writing, art, and everyday speech.

Examples: It's my way or the highway.
                   You ain't seen nothin' yet.
                   It's all in a day's work.

Avoid using clichés in your writing––avoid anything that will make your readers' eyes roll. "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile." ––Gérard de Nerval


Jargon is technical speech, specific to a trade such as medicine, engineering, or education. Jargon is usually vague and confusing. Avoid it.

Example: The plot structure of the play provides no objective correlative.
Better: The plot is incoherent. Its structure is lopsided.

Example: The character development of the heroine is excellent.
Better: The heroine matures convincingly.

Example: Three motivation profile studies were developed in the area of production management.
Better: The company studied its production managers, and discovered three motivators.


Pronouns are troubling, but often necessary. Beware these common situations:

One is very formal, sometimes too formal. Try to cut it from all your writing.

Example: One finds one's opinion changing as one grows older.
Better: Our opinions change as we grow older.
Even Better: Opinions change with age.

We and You can sound pompous (pompézny) and presumptuous (príliš sebavedomý). Don't put words in other people's mouths.

Example: You probably hate ice cream because it melts too quickly and drips everywhere.
Better: Many people dislike how messy ice cream can be. [You said the same thing without accusing the reader of hating ice cream.]

You and They can also create confusion. It makes the reader ask, who exactly? See if you can change you and they to we or everyone.

Sometimes it's hard to know when to use nominative pronouns versus objective, especially when combined with like or as. As takes the nominative, and like the objective:

Examples: She dresses like me.
                   She dresses as I do.

Don't be afraid of saying me.                Right                         Wrong                      Also Wrong
                                                between you and me        between you and I      between you and myself

Don't confuse who and whom.

Wrong: Give the ticket to whomever wants it.
Right: Give the ticket to whoever wants it.

Don't confuse whose and who's. Whose is the possessive of who. Who's means "who is."

Wrong: Who's pen is this?            Wrong: Whose your favourite singer?
Right: Whose pen is this?            Right: Who's your favourite singer?


Be careful to note which words fit best with countable nouns and which with uncountable nouns.

Countable Modifiers             Uncountable Modifiers
many                                        much
few                                           less
a number of                              an amount of

How to Shorten Wordy Sentences

from The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker

1. "Our thoughts are naturally roundabout, our phrases naturally secondhand. Our satisfaction in merely getting something down on paper naturally blinds us to our errors and ineptitudes. It hypnotizes us into believing we have said what we meant, when our words actually say something else: "Every seat in the house was filled to capacity." Two ways of expressing a thought, two clichés, have collided: every seat was taken and the house was filled to capacity. Cut the excess wordage, and the absurd accident vanishes: "Every seat was taken."

2. Learn to count your words. Any time you can shorten a sentence, and keep the meaning, do it.

3. Don't use the passive voice! It adds more words, and it's weaker.

4. Remove redundant words (see attached lists)

5. Replace long phrases with short ones:

Examples:                               Better:                        In a Sentence
due to the fact that                   because            The game was canceled because of rain.
in connection with                   about                They liked everything about the university.
in many instances                    often                 People often take offense over trivialities.
in some instances                    sometimes         Sometimes it's better to be polite than right.
rarely ever, seldom ever          rarely                Billy rarely misses a chance for comedy.

6. Change a noun to a verb to shorten a sentence:

Examples:                                                                    Better:
Acid rain causes water pollution.                                 Acid rain pollutes water.
The invasions caused depopulation of the country.     The invasions depopulated the country.

7. Limit your of's. If you use too many, it begins to look like sausage links:

Example: "Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge."
Better: "Education instills the art of using knowledge."

8. You can shorten a complex sentence with the following tricks: appositives, relatives understood, phrasal adjectives, past participles, gerunds, and ablative absolutes.

Apposition (not opposition) is when two things sit next to each other, in this case words. An appositive is a noun, used as an adjective, like William the Conqueror. Conqueror is a noun, but here, it describes William. This is a shortened form of "William, who was a conqueror," and adds complexity to a sentence. Appositives can be a word or a phrase:

Examples:   "Bob's car, a wreck, could barely go past 40 kph."
                     "Columbia University, the second-largest landowner in NYC, is part of the Ivy League."

Phrasal Adjectives
This works just like an appositive, using an adjective in place of a noun
Example: "There was the lake, [which was] smooth in the morning air."

Relatives Understood
These are sentences where you can omit the words that, which, and who. Basically, when you don't have to use these words, it's better not to.

Example: The house, [which was] facing north, had a superb view.

Past Participles
1. You can start a subordinate clause with a participle. In this example, there are three participles leading up to a simple sentence.

Example: "Dead to the world, wrapped in sweet dreams, untroubled by bills, he slept till noon."

2. Beware dangling participles!!! This is when your clause doesn't agree with the subject. This creates confusion:

Example: "With his tail held high, my father led his prize poodle around the arena."

This sounds like the speaker's father has a tail. Most likely, the poodle held its tail high, not the man.

Fixed: "With his tail held high, the prize poodle followed my father around the arena."


Gerunds can begin clauses, just like participles, and can also fall into the same trap:

Example: "Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed."

This sounds like the deer was driving like a maniac. But most likely, there was a human at the wheel, and the deer was merely crossing the street at the wrong time.

Fixed: "Driving like a maniac, Paul hit and killed a deer."

Note how similar this sentence is to a Relative Understood:

Example: "Paul, [who was] driving like a maniac, hit and killed a deer.

Ablative Absolutes

These are prepositional phrases, where the preposition itself is omitted (ablative means omitted). These are similar to appositives, but notice how the nouns don't describe the subject, because they're part of a prepositional phrase:

Example: "He ran up the stairs, [with] a bouquet of roses under his arm."

 "The cat froze, [with] its back arched, [and with its] eyes frantic."

Punctuation Pointers

from The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker


1. Commas add clarity, showing which words fit together to form thoughts, and which words are separate.

Example: After the first letter she wrote again. (This sounds like a sentence fragment)
Better: After the first letter, she wrote again.

2. A single comma can change the meaning of a sentence:

3. Sometimes a comma won't make such a big difference, but will still suggest an emotion.

Example: He granted the usual permission and walked away. (He granted it without really caring.)
More Emotional: He granted the usual permission, and walked away. (It seems he was upset.)

4. Commas are used with clauses, conjunctions, some inserted words, and lists.

Clause: In the autumn, he went to Paris.
Conjunction: He was tired, so he went home.
Inserted words (a little interruption): I think, however, we still shouldn't do it.
                                                                He moved from Dallas, Texas, to Detroit.
List: I bought a suitcase, a bottle of Jack, six pairs of socks, a toothbrush, and a ticket to Vegas, baby.

5. There are special cases where a comma can join two sentences together, without a conjunction. This is done in cases of extreme, intense drama, when you feel like you need to say several things at once:

Examples: I came, I saw, I conquered.
                   She sighed, she cried, she almost died.

Note the subjects in each of these examples remains the same. Repeating and in these sentences would ruin the mood. There's no clear rule to this, you just have to feel when it's right.


1. Semicolons are stronger than commas and weaker than full stops. They take the place of a conjunction, connecting two sentences, so long as they are logically related!

Correct: Semi-colons were once a great mystery to me; I had no idea where to put them.
Incorrect: Semi-colons were once a great mystery to me; I'd really like a sandwich.

2. Semicolons are optional. So, why do we have semi-colons if they're not necessary? For variety. If all your sentences are separated by full-stops, it can feel a little staccato. Semi-colons represent a shorter pause and show readers how sentences relate to each other.

3. When two sentences use the same verb, you can even cut it out of the second:

Example: Golf demands the best of time and space; tennis demands the best of personal energy.
Better: Golf demands the best of time and space; tennis, the best of personal energy.

4. Semi-colons work well with transitional words like: moreover, therefore, then, however, nevertheless.

Example: He was tired, dirty, and lonely; moreover, his foot hurt.

5. Only use semicolons where you could also use a full stop! Don't use them with a dependent clause, That's what commas are for.


1. Colons have several functions. They can be used for lists, or to join sentences, like a semi-colon. Here's the main difference. The two parts of the sentence aren't merely related logically, like with a semicolon. The second part explains and describes the first:

Example: Sports at any age are beneficial: they keep you healthy and fit.

2. The second part doesn't need to be a stand-alone sentence. It could be a single word or a list:

Example: Pierpont lived for only one thing: money.
                 The following players will start: Smith, Jones, Baughman, and Stein.

3. Colons are also used in ratios, telling time, and book titles.


1. Hyphens are used to connect words together, specifically when two words work together as one adjective.

Example: a high-school teacher works in a high school.

Be careful to put hyphens in the right place. Five sentence-exercises are not the same as five-sentence exercises.

2. You also use hyphens for words like T-shirt and X-ray, and to add prefixes to certain words: ex-husband, anti-taxes, pro-life. You also use them for two-word numbers: twenty-one, forty-two, etc.

3. You can also use hyphens to break a word in two at the end of a line, typical in newspaper articles, so long as you follow a couple rules:

          1. You must break the word according to its syllables. If the word is one syllable, you can't break it.
          2. If the word is already hyphenated, like self-sufficient, break it along the hyphen; don't add another!


Dashes are long hyphens (just put two together), and they work like commas to interrupt the main thought of a sentence with additional information. You don't have to use them, but they add more emphasis. They're louder, and faster, indicating that the speaker is excited, and talking quickly:

Examples: If Peter wanted to go, whether invited or not, he certainly could have.
                   If Peter wanted to go––whether invited or not––he certainly could have.


These function like dashes, only where dashes shout, parentheses whisper.

Examples: Thus did Innocent III (we shall return to him shortly) inaugurate an age of horrors.
                   But in such circumstances (see 34), be cautious.


1. Quotation marks indicate the inclusion of someone else's voice, copied verbatim. Not every quote needs quotation marks. It depends on how you show it. If you add a quote directly into your paragraph, like, "All the world's a stage," then you need to add quotation marks. But, when you quote a longer passage, don't use them. Instead, add a line of space above and below, and indent it, like this:
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.

2. When writing dialogue, signal every change of speaker by forming a new paragraph. If one speaker goes on for several paragraphs, place quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but at the end of only the last paragraph.

3. When writing dialogue, if one speaker quotes someone else, use single marks within the quote.

Example: Kirk said, "A majority of the informants thought infer meant 'imply.' "

Note the space between the single and double quotation mark at the end. This makes it easier to read.

4. When quoting poetry, you typically center it on the page, not using quotations:

                                                An aged man is but a paltry thing,
                                                A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
                                                Soul clap its hands and sing. . . .

To insert this poem directly into a paragraph (entirely up to you), add quotation marks like this, "An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/Soul clap its hands and sing. . . ." This is also the only acceptable time to use a virgule "/" in your essay.

5. Periods and commas go inside your quotation marks, but colons and semi-colons go outside.

Examples: "This strange disease of modern life," in Arnold's words, remains uncured.
                   In Greece, it was "know thyself"; in America, it is "know thy neighbor."
                   He left after "Hail to the Chief": he could do nothing more.

ELLIPSIS   . . .

Use an ellipsis when you want to cut out part of a quotation to make it shorter. Be careful not to change the meaning!

Example: All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; . . . And one man in his time plays many parts . . . .

Note, the last ellipsis has four dots because it includes a full stop at the end.


Use brackets to insert your own words into a quotation, so it makes better sense, or to add more information.

Example: "Byron had already suggested that the gentlemen of the Quarterly Review [especially Croker] had killed John Keats."

Brackets are useful when you're quoting someone who made a mistake, and you want to show it was his mistake not yours:

Example: "On no occassion [sic] could we trust them." (occassion is misspelled)

Sic is short for sic erat scriptum, meaning, "thus it was written."

ITALICS  abcdefg...

1. Italics emphasize the importance of a word, especially reflecting how people speak in dialogue, their voices and accents:

Example: He wanted to tell them that those dead boys who had lurched and shambled their way down the spiral staircase had done something worse than frighten him: they had offended him.

Example: "Come in, my friend," a voice––not Rimer's––called.  It was followed by a tittery laugh that made Jonas's flesh creep.  He laughs like a dead person, Roy had said.

2. Also use italics when adding foreign words into a sentence, unless it's already been assimilated. Words like naïve and exposé are already common in English, so they don't need italics:

Examples: The author of this naïve exposé suffers from an idée fixe.

3. Slang, however, is best noted with quotations marks (although you should avoid slang in essays):

Examples: Some "cool" pianists use the twelve-tone scale.

A subject like jazz includes a great deal of slang, so it makes sense to explain and clarify just what the terms mean. It can't be avoided.


As stated earlier, only use this when quoting poetry. Don't use expressions like and/or.

Wrong: bacon and/or eggs.        Wrong: male/female

Right: bacon or eggs, or both.    Right: male-female

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How to Use Microsoft Word

So, in this lesson I explain some common mistakes students make when using Microsoft Word, and how simple they are to correct. These quick, simple steps will make your writing much more professional. Now, there are many different versions of MS Word, and mine is a little older. It's up to you to learn the version you've got. Every version has the functions I use here:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Common Logical Fallacies

1. Anecdotal Evidence
Using a personal story or isolated example as evidence, commonly used to dismiss statistics.


Example: "This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice." ––Donald Trump, in a tweet.

Reality: ". . . global warming means that the globe--i.e., the whole planet, not just where you live--is steadily increasing in temperature, on average. The fact that it is very cold in one small part of the world for a short period of time does not disprove a long-term global trend." ––Emily Atkin, from "Yes, It's Cold. Global Warming Is Still Real", on, Jan 8, 2015

2. An Appeal to Emotion
This is when someone tries to force an emotional reaction, in place of a logical argument. These tactics can focus on fear, hate, guilt, or even pity.

Example: "You don't know how lucky you are to have such a wonderful school here. Think of the children in Africa who can't go to school, because it's not safe."

Reality: Regardless of the situation in some parts of Africa or elsewhere, it doesn't mean we should automatically be happy with our school.

3. Begging the Question (It means taking for granted)
This is when you base your argument on an assumption that may be false.

Example: Apples are healthy because they grow on trees.

Reality: Chinaberry tree fruit also grows on trees, but is poisonous. If you want to prove apples are healthy, you'll need a better argument.

4. Evading the Question (to evade means run from)
Some questions are hard to answer, and so people avoid answering in a number of ways. This is common with politicians. Some simply smile and walk away. Some openly refuse to answer, saying it's none of your business (and sometimes, they're right). The most deceptive, and successful, will choose a new question, and answer that.

Example: "Shouldn't minorities be allowed to purchase homes in white neighbourhoods?"

The politician answers: "Homeowners have a right to protect the value of their property."

Reality: This politician has ignored the rights of minorities, instead pandering to a common fear of white suburban voters (and a corrupt system that devalues homes in minority neighbourhoods), which has been an ongoing issue in America for over a hundred years now.

5. Ad Hominem Attack
This is another way to evade the question, by attacking and insulting the questioner. It asks the question, "Why should anyone ever listen to you?"

This includes name calling, but can be more psychological:

Frank Sinatra on Robert Redford: “Well at least he has found his true love – what a pity he can’t marry himself.”

Examples: "A doctor tells her patient to lose weight, and the patient thinks: “If my doctor really believed that, she wouldn’t be so fat.” A movie aficionado pans [skips] the latest Tom Cruise flick because Cruise is a Scientologist. A home­owner ignores a neighbor’s advice on lawn care because the neighbor is a ... you name it: Democrat, ­Re­publican, Christian or atheist." from "Character Attacks: How to Properly Apply the Ad Hominem", Scientific American, June/July 2008

6. Guilt by Association
This is a special kind of Ad Hominem, when you discredit one person for being friends with someone else who is scandalous.

Example: Many republicans criticized Barack Obama for befriending Bill Ayers, who at one time committed acts of terrorism in the US. Sarah Palin claimed he was, "palling around with terrorists."

Reality: Bill Ayers coordinated a series of bombings in Chicago, as an anti-Vietnam War protest in the 1960's and 70's (When Obama was a teen, living in Hawaii). Ayers was never imprisoned, due to the FBI's illegal methods of investigation. Since then, Mr. Ayers stopped these acts of terrorism, dedicating his life to teaching. He became a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and was Chicago's citizen of the year in 1997. Besides all this, he was in fact, not a close friend to Obama.

7. Ad Populum
When you direct your insult at a large group of people, it becomes Ad Populum, in other words discrimination (also called a Hasty or Sweeping Generalization). This includes any insults aimed at minorities, ethnicities, religions, skin colour, men, women, children, the elderly, the disabled, etc.

 8. A Non Sequitur:
"When a train of thought proceeds from A to B and back again to Q." ––Bill Griffith
A non sequitur seeks to draw a conclusion from two facts that have no logical connection. Ad hominems, besides evading the questions, are also non sequiturs.

Example: "He's the most popular student, he should be the school president."

Reality: Popularity does not ensure competence. While charisma is an important attribute, it is not the only important attribute, whether in politics or elsewhere, so it doesn't make him the obvious choice.

Non Sequiturs can be really funny when obvious:

But, non sequiturs can be especially difficult to spot, because they often feel right.

Example: "Penelope Cruz uses L’Oreal hair colour.  I should use it, too, so my hair will look as good as hers."

Reality: Using this product is no guarantee your hair will look like Cruz's, especially when you have different genes.

9. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (False Causation)

"OBSERVATION: I have never been in a bad mood and near a beach ball at the same time. Causation? Correlation? Or fate?" - Demetri Martin

This is a non sequitur of events. Scientists get headaches over this one, constantly repeating, "correlation does not equal causation."

Example: Someone eats an ice cream cone on a cold day and gets a sore throat the next day. His mother says, "You shouldn't have eaten that ice cream!"

Reality: Hey, maybe the cold ice cream did upset his throat. Or, maybe it's a virus he picked up at work, or when he bought that cantaloupe at the supermarket which someone else had sneezed on.

Also, every good-luck charm is a post hoc fallacy.

10. Oversimplification
This is when you simplify an argument to such a degree that crucial facts are missing.

Example: "The Titanic is a film about an elderly survivor who recounts her tale of how a poor boy once nailed her in the backseat of a car."

Reality: The story is about more than that. Note, oversimplification may not be true, but it makes for good humour.

11. False Dichotomy (The Black & White Fallacy)
This is a special kind of oversimplification, when you twist an argument down to two options, when in fact there are more alternatives. False dichotomies can take an either-or form:

Example: "You're either with the president, or you're against him.
Reality: You could be neutral to the president, neither for nor against.

They can also take an if-then format:

Example: "If I work harder at my singing, I should win the contest!
Reality: You might win, but you just don't know until you hear the competitors.

Sometimes someone will make it three options, instead of two:

Example: C.S. Lewis once said Jesus was either the Son of God, a liar, or a madman. There are no other options.
Reality: This argument hinges on the accuracy of what we know about Jesus from the Bible. Assuming the Bible is 100% accurate Begs the Question.

12. The Middle Ground Fallacy
This is a special false dichotomy where, instead of insisting there are only 2 (or three) options, one argues that the only true answer between two opposing viewpoints must be a compromise.

Example: Molly says that vaccinations cause autism in children, while her scientifically well-read friend Heather says this was proven false. Their friend Jennifer suggests a compromise that vaccinations might cause autism, but only sometimes.

Reality: While the jury is still out on the true cause/s of autism, statistics show no significance between the disease and vaccinations, whatsoever. There's no logical basis for a compromise here.

13.  Argumentum Ad Ignoratum
This is when you make an argument based on ignorance. Since the opposition doesn't have an answer or solution, your answer must be right.

Example: UFO's exist because no one's proven they don't. Also, Ghost don't exist because no one has proven they do.

Reality: Lack of proof is not proof.

14. The Bandwagon
This is when you accept the practices of a group as both normal and ethical. Anything unaccepted by the majority, must therefore be unethical.

Example: Slavery was considered acceptable for hundreds of years simply because, hey, everybody's doing it.

15. The Trick Question
This is a logic trap, meant to trick the opposition into saying something foolish. It's a "gotcha" question.

Example: "So, have you stopped beating your wife?"
If you say yes: You just admitted to beating your wife.
If you say no: You're still beating your wife.
In Reality: Hopefully, you've never beaten anyone, especially your wife.

Another Example: "How do you spell HIV?"
You answer: "H-I-V."
The Trick Question: "Are you positive?"

16. Burden of Proof Reversal
Normally, when someone makes a bold claim, such as a cure for cancer, the burden is on them to prove it. When this person tries to shift that burden to the skeptics, it's illogical.

Example: Bill says he has an invisible friend whose pixie dust cures cancer and reverses aging. Since you can't see this friend, you can't deny it, even though Bill doesn't look any younger, and he still has cancer.

17. Slippery Slope
This fallacy, a kind of fear tactic, states that if we allow one thing to happen, it will automatically lead to other things we don't want.

Example: Some claim that if same-sex marriage is legalized, it will lead to polygamy, as well as marrying family members, animals, and even cars. Others have claimed that, if marijuana were legalized, it would become a gateway drug, increasing abuse of cocaine, meth, and heroin. In American politics, some people advocated a "domino theory" that if we allowed one country, like Vietnam, to become communist, that many more would follow. Today, it's still used to defend America's 2nd amendment, the right to own guns. People say if gun owners needed to pass background checks, or wait a week before buying a gun, it's a slippery slope towards gun confiscation and an Orwellian dystopia.

18. Personal Incredulity
This is when someone refuses to believe an argument because they don't understand it, or find it hard to believe.

Example: Some people still refuse to accept the evolutionary principles that mutated apes into humans, because we look so different.

19. The Gambler's Fallacy
This is the belief that good and bad luck come in "runs".

Example: "The ball has just landed on red at the roulette table 6 times in a row! There's no possible way it could happen a 7th time! What are the odds of that?"

Reality: While the odds of predicting 7 hits on red may be slim, if you spin that wheel again, the odds are still 50/50 of it landing on red, just like the first time you spun the wheel.

20. The No True Scotsman Fallacy
This is when you change your argument with additional stipulations, when you realize you've lost the debate (Note, the name of this fallacy is an Ad Populum attack on the Scottish).

Example: Angus says, "No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."
                 His friend Lachlin says, "Hey, I put sugar in my porridge."
                 Angus retorts, "No true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."

21. An Appeal to Nature
This is when someone uses nature as an ideal to justify some things, while vilifying others. If something is unnatural, it must be bad.

Example: Some people warn against modern medicine, saying "natural alternatives" are better, even though they're not scientifically tested. Some people say marijuana is safe because it's a natural drug. Some reject homosexuality saying it's not natural. Every time I hear this I think of lions eating gazelles, and sharks eating seals, and wonder where the ethics is in that.

22. An Appeal to Authority
This is when you quote a well respected person, or people, as evidence for your thesis. This is a common argument, and often perfectly reasonable. But, there are five dangers.

      1. Your authority could be wrong. I'm sure someone once quoted pope Urban VIII in saying the
          earth was the center of the universe. And why was this pope wrong? Because astronomy was
          outside his field of expertise. It makes perfect sense to quote an expert in his/her field, like
          Einstein with physics, but start quoting him on other topics, like genetics or medicine, and his
          authority quickly fades - plus you'll find there's not much material to quote.

     2. The authority may have since changed his/her mind. It does no good to quote someone who
         later claims he/she was wrong.

     3. You may have misunderstood the quote. You thought it meant something else. A common
         example is when people quote Picasso, who said, "Art is a lie that tells the truth," and call him a

     4. You may be quoting your authority out of context. The quote you found may support your
         argument, but check to see if this expert didn't say still more that refutes it. This is especially
         common with quotes on DVD boxes.

Example: The DVD for Live Free or Die Hard quotes the New York Daily News as saying, "Hysterically...entertaining."

The Full Quote: "The action in this fast-paced, hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining film is as realistic as a Road Runner cartoon."

     5. The authority might lose his/her reputation. Many famous people fall from grace due to
         scandal. I'm sure Bill Cosby gave lots of great advice to young comedians, and even parents,
         but who cares? The guy's a rapist, and now that it's publicly known, no one's ever going to listen
         to him again. This is a risk you run anytime you use someone's fame and reputation as an

23. The Straw Man Fallacy
Sometimes someone will take a quote out of context in order to attack an argument. It's a kind of deception. You change your opponent's argument to make it easier to beat. Republicans loved to use this quote, which made Barack Obama seem anti-business.

Example: "If you've got a business––you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

The Full Quote: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business––you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own."

In the full quote, we see that Mr. Obama was really arguing that everyone has a responsibility to give back to the community, through taxes, charity, etc.

24. An Appeal to the Highest Authority
Finally, some people like to think they know exactly what God is thinking, and will use it in an argument.

Example: "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what HE is doing in the climate is to me outrageous" ––James Inhofe, US Senator from Oklahoma, and chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, on why he doesn't believe in climate change.

How to Write an Essay 4 - Arguments

Notes from The Practical Stylist, by Sheridan Baker, 7th edition

The following are different methods and strategies you can use to form arguments:


1. A picture is worth a thousand words. People care about what they can see and experience. A good writer can make readers care by putting pictures in their mind:

Example: "Almost everything in sight is black, from the tips of trees forty feet above the ground to the powdered ash blanketing the earth. The firestorm that raged through here in recent weeks was driven by sixty-mile-an-hour winds that fanned temperatures to more than 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire was so intense that a gray shadow on the forest floor is all that remains of a fallen log." ––Scott McMurray, from The Wall Street Journal, 23 Sept. 1988

A second ago, you didn't care about this forest, or the fire that burned it up over 25 years ago, but now you want to know where it was and hear more, because you've had a taste of what it looked like. As Stephen King says, writing is telepathy.

2. Description isn't just what you see, but what you hear, smell, taste, and feel:

Example: "Inside, the silence teemed. There was a smell of polished wood, hymnals, and rubber floor mats. The empty air was still vibrating slightly with the suppressed fidgets of children. Except for the pews and the floors, almost every interior surface was covered with statues or pictures."  ––"Great Plains," from The New Yorker, 20 Feb. 1989.

3. "The best descriptions follow the perceptions of a person entering the space described, reporting the impressions, the colors, textures, sights, or sounds as they come."

Example: "Our foreign visitor stands agape at the wonderful residence his second host has built for himself. No expense has been spared here, no decoration omitted. There are little Moorish balconies and Indian domes and squiggly lattice work and an air-conditioner in every window. Inside, all is marble flooring, and in the entrance hall there is a fountain lit up with green, yellow, and red bulbs. The curtains on the windows and in the doorways are of silk, the vast sofa-suites are upholstered in velvet, the telephone is red, and huge vases are filled with plastic flowers." ––Oliver Statler, from Japanese Inn.


If description creates a picture, narration is like video. It reenacts an event, or series of events, and can even tell you what someone was thinking while it happened. Like with description, the best narration puts you in the writer's head, following everything he/she did, saw, and thought in sequence:

Example: "But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age, I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a large animal.) Besides, there was the beast's owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him." ––George Orwell, from "Shooting an Elephant"

Comparison & Contrast

People generally think of comparison as finding similarities, and contrast as finding differences. A proper comparison covers both these tasks. Remember, compare things point by point, alternating either in sentences or paragraphs.


Metaphors are a useful form of comparison, where one thing is used to represent another.

Example: "He became a shell of his former self."
"It's raining cats and dogs outside.

We know that it's not really raining cats and dogs. Writers use metaphors like these for humour, clarity, or to add a poetic element to their work.


A simile is a kind of metaphor, stating that one thing is similar to another. Similes usually use the words "like" or "as".

Examples: "It's hot as hell out today."
 "Your socks smell like moldy cheese."


1. An analogy is a comparison between two things, not typically associated with each other. It's a logical argument, and it needs to be explained with reasons.

Examples: Life is like a box of chocolates. Why? "You never know what you're gonna get."
 Men are like dogs.                     Why? They're low maintenance. Just give him
some food, scratch his ears and call him a good boy, and he'll be happy.

You shouldn't need to explain a metaphor or simile. Their meaning should be obvious. If you have to, then you've failed. Analogies, on the other hand are meant to be explained.

2. Sheridan Baker warns that analogies are a great way to clarify your views, but you should keep them short, and don't use them to try to prove anything. People lose their patience over long analogies.

Cause & Effect

1. Cause & Effect arguments can focus on the past or future, depending on what you need. You can state an effect, and go back in time as to its causes. Or state a cause and predict what its effects will be in the future.

2. Be sure that you're correct in your assertions. Just because A happened before B, doesn't mean A caused B (the Post Hoc Fallacy). Perhaps it did. Perhaps it was a combination of A, C, H, and Q! Check to see if there aren't more than one causes to a present circumstance.

Classification & Definitions

1. There are many ways to classify and divide things. By making simple lists, classification helps you logically organize your arguments in a way that's easy for readers to follow. You can classify political parties, and so that, when you talk about one, readers assume you'll describe another.
2. Another great thing to classify are problems:

Example: Digging the Panama Canal posed very many problems, which can be divided into political, geological, and biological. The political problems involved international treaties between America, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Colombia. Geological problems included where and how to dig, and dealing with extreme weather. And the worst problem of all was biological - malaria, which killed thousands of workers. Classifying all these problems into a short simple list makes it easier for readers to remember.

3. So far as defining your terms, some words, like cake, shoe, and house are pretty self-explanatory. But some words, like art, are hazy. They mean different things to different people. The People's Republic of China does not reflect a western definition of the word 'republic', nor does the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reflect western principles of democracy. Depending on your topic, you might need to clarify what you mean when you use certain words. Very often, readers dispute an author over the words chosen, rather than the arguments themselves. Quick example, when Richard Hofstadter wrote "Democracy and Anti-Intellectualism in America" in 1953, he wrote several paragraphs defining both democracy and intellectual.

4. Writers may choose inclusive (or loose) definitions, or exclusive (specific) depending on the need.

Examples: A loose definition of love could include romantic, familial, motherly, and platonic. An exclusive definition could be any one of those.

Exclusive definitions are good for narrowing down a debate for ease of argument.

5. There are various ways to define things: by synonym, by function, by comparison, by example, and by analysis.

6. If you're having trouble defining something, ask yourself these questions:

            1. What is it?
            2. What is it not?
            3. What is it like?
            4. What is it not like?

7. Avoid circular definitions! Don't say, "Freedom is feeling free" or "Courtesy is being courteous." Circular definitions aren't clear, and signal intellectual laziness.

8. Don't make your definitions too small. You might define art as beauty, but it's also much more than that.

9. Don't make your definitions too big. You might think that vanity is basically pride, but there are some important differences. Narrow your definition to make it more accurate. Vanity is a kind of frivolous, personal pride, usually stemming from superficial, physical qualities.

Hypothetical Examples

Hypothetical examples, sometimes called thought experiments, are a great way to simplify and clarify a challenging topic. Since we're not dealing with fact or experience, the value of a hypothetical rests only on the strength of its logic.

Example: Suppose someone riding in a bus drops a ball. The passengers sitting in the bus see it fall straight down to the floor. But, the ball also traces a long line slanting downard relative to the rapidly receding highway beneath the car. If the highway curves, the ball also traces that invisible curve. If the bus and passengers were invisible, and an observer standing on the sidewalk saw this ball, he'd see it fall at a diagonal. Now consider that this bus is traveling on the Earth, which is orbiting the sun at 30 km/s, while the sun orbits around the Milky Way at 220 km/s. Now the short, diagonal line becomes as long as a highway. Adding the ball's drop relative to the earth's movement around the sun may be hard to imagine, but calculations of such relative motion are what send our rockets to their meetings with the moon or other planets.