Introduction to Writing

My final paper for English 1010 is an “Issue Exploration Project” which explores a possibly controversial issue utilizing a variety of viewpoints.  A number of sources needed to be found for the paper which were analyzed and processed and included in the arguments made.  The Issue Exploration Project is a major assignment for the course and is practice for researching topics, discerning viewpoints and writing interesting essays.

The Issue Exploration essay was an interesting exercise in finding and understanding other people’s perspectives.   An important part of rhetorical writing is conceptualizing an argument and knowing the points expressed by people who have opinions about the topic.   Without an understanding of how the opposition might think, a writer is essentially making a stab in the dark with their writings which risks them failing to be persuasive at all.

Further, due to the large amount of research required for the essay, it forced me to see how much time and effort really is required for understanding problems and making arguments.  It’s very easy and tempting to make arguments without fully knowing all the facts or what other sides may think.  This is something I’m often challenged with.  It’s very easy to find yourself within a bubble of ideology refusing to stretch your mind and risk popping it.

The Issue Exploration Project was an excellent essay for practicing my skills as a writer and understanding the work necessary to truly make compelling persuasive essays.  I hope the lessons I’ve learned while writing the essay reflect in papers I write in the future.

Issue Exploration Project:

Allowing Teachers to be Armed in Schools

One of the most hotly debated topics in America today is gun control.  Almost every person has some sort of opinion on the issue.  In part, some believe that guns have no place in modern society and that peace can only be found once these weapons are gone from the grasp of civilians.  Another segment believes that guns are a fundamental right in the United States and are necessary for self-defense.  Many nuances of gun control are also in the public spotlight:  guns in schools.  School shootings have tragically been part of recent history and solutions have been sought after and discussed.  One such solution is allowing teachers to be armed with guns.  Currently most states do not allow their teachers to have guns on school property, instead they rely on law enforcement and school police officers to provide defense in cases of violence.  My essay will be about the issue of teachers being armed in schools and the perspectives people have on the issue.  I’ve chosen this topic because I believe it’s something worth researching and thinking about especially in light of the recent Sandy Hook school shooting.  Throughout this essay I will be describing people’s opinions on the issue, some gun related facts, along with my own analysis and perspective.

There are three main camps of thought when it comes to gun control in schools.  Each of these camps I will describe very broadly and with generalizations.  As people we will all have nuanced beliefs about guns and their roles in schools.  Some people may even weigh some costs and benefits in the trade of freedoms and safety or value different ideas or morals differently.   For example, someone who believes guns don’t belong in schools may understand the benefits of teachers being armed but believe that guns and violence are fundamentally are wrong and do not belong in schools for any reason, regardless of increases or decreases in safety.

To begin, the first camp believes guns do not belong in schools in any shape or form.  They believe that schools should be a place of safety and education for children.  Guns represent violence and danger and they believe that guns send a negative message of conflict and insecurity.  Further, they believe there are safety risks in allowing teachers, parents and staff to carry weapons on school property.  Specifically, there may be a risk that a negligent person may leave a gun unattended where it can be found and mishandled by a child possibly injuring themself or others.   There may also be a risk where the teacher reacts inappropriately to a threat putting themselves or others around them in danger because they have a gun in their possession.

In contrast, the opposite camp of thought believes guns are an essential right and there should be limited exception to where one can carry one.  They believe that gun owners are responsible people who understand their limits and understand gun safety.  Like the first camp, they believe schools should be a place of safety and education.  However, they do believe guns are an essential part of maintaining that safety.  They believe that teachers being armed would deter would-be terrorists and madmen from choosing schools as targets.  In the case that a madman did attack a school, they believe that a teacher with a gun is capable of stopping the person faster than the police or other external alternatives could.

Finally, the last camp of thought is a mixture and compromise of people who want little to no regulation for guns in schools and people who want guns barred entirely from schools.  These people believe that a middle ground should be sought with guns in schools.  While they believe that arming teachers can have positive benefits, they also believe that some sort of regulation should be in place to filter out possibly undesirable people from having guns.  From requirements where teachers seeking to be armed have to take special gun-related classes to limiting only select staff to carrying guns in schools, this camp of thought believes stringent rules should be in place to prevent abuse or negligence.  With those rules in place, they believe guns can have their role in protecting schools.

Before going much further in the discussion of the ideologies behind teachers and gun control it’s important to talk about the facts surrounding this issue and where states currently stand.  At this time 18 states (Johnson, “Guns Already Allowed in Schools with Little Restriction in Many States”) allow teachers to carry guns with little to no regulation.   Many of these states simply require a teacher to have permission from the school board or school administrator.   It should be noted that Utah is one of these states and simply requires approval from a “responsible school administrator”.   After the Sandy Hook tragedy, several other states have moved legislation on the topic mimicking similar laws of states like Utah.   Colorado was one such state but ultimately did not pass the measure (Ferner, “GOP Bill That Would Allow Teachers To Carry Concealed Weapons Rejected In Colorado”).  Beyond the legislation, there are also some interesting facts revolving around mass shootings themselves.  In an article by John Fund, John points out through statistics that shooters exclusively picked locations that were touted as “gun free zones” (Fund, “the Facts about Mass Shootings) .  While it’s difficult to find exact modern statistics about the correlation of multiple victim shootings and gun free zones there is some information about mass shootings pre-1999.  In a report by John Lott of Yale School of Law, John reports that all multiple victim shootings between 1977 and 1999 took place in a gun free zone (Lott, “Multiple Victim Public Shootings”).  The numbers behind people who have committed murder while having a concealed weapon permit also yields some interesting numbers.   In a report from the Violence Policy Center (Liebre, “VPC – Press Release – (03/24/2010) – Concealed Handgun Permit Holders Have Killed at Least 151 Since May 2007, Including 9 Law Enforcement Officers Concealed Carry Killers”), they describe how in a three year period concealed carry holders accounted for at 151 murders.

The facts surrounding the controversy of teachers being armed turn up a lot of interesting talking points.  For example, the numbers behind concealed carry holders being responsible for are astonishingly low.   With over a six million concealed weapons carriers in the United States (Stuckey, “Record Numbers Licensed to Pack Heat.”) 151 murders is staggeringly low (to be noted, these totals included murder-suicides which means the some of the murderers are included in the figure).  In 2009 there were 10,129 murders due to firearms (FBI.gov, “Expanded Homicide Data Table 8).  If we were to assume that murders distributed equally over the three years for the 151 death figure, we would figure there were about 51 deaths in 2009 were due to concealed carry permit holders.   Using math, we see that 0.005% of all homicides in 2009 happened at the hands of a concealed weapon carrier.   What makes this figure so interesting is that it’s astonishingly low, especially in comparison to the rhetoric used by gun control advocates.    For example, in the article by the Violence Policy Center I cited before, director Kristen Rand says:  “Each month we are finding more and more killings by concealed handgun permit holders. Just as opponents of weak concealed carry laws warned, we now know that concealed handgun permit holders are killing people in road rage incidents, arguments over parking spaces, and domestic disputes. … How many more people must die at the hands of concealed carry killers before state legislators act to fix these laws?” (Liebre)  This quote seems to imply a number of murders at the hands of concealed carry holders much greater than the figure I’ve arrived at earlier in the paragraph using the statistics from the FBI, MSNBC, and the Violence Policy Center.   Given that 99.995% of all murders are perpetrated by someone who doesn’t have a concealed carry permit it seems imply some sort of emergency that requires urgency on the part of state legislators on the issue.

Of course, surrounding much of the gun control debate is the morality of guns and the place of guns in modern society.  In general people agree that guns are necessary for keeping society safe and secure.  However, there is the opposition that believes that guns perpetuate a violent culture in the United Sates.   If teachers have weapons they believe that this would have a negative effect on the learning culture of schools.  Oppositely there are the people who believe that guns are a fundamental instrument for defense and are protected by the Constitution under the 2nd Amendment.  They believe that teachers should have weapons such as guns in order to protect their right to life as well as protect the lives of their students.  Morality can be very subjective at the individual level and different people value self-defense differently.  In the case of states that currently disallow guns in schools, proponents of those policies often contend that the risks associated with armed teachers outweighs any value of letting teachers be armed might be.  Starita Smith in The Progressive writes: “Campuses are not places where students should carry guns to class and be prepared to shoot it out with each other.”  While talking about students, the op-ed had the theme that guns create a Wild West environment in schools where quarrels are resolved with guns instead peacefully through talk.

Another argument against guns in schools is presented by LZ Granderson, a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist, on CNN.com with his op-ed article:  “Teachers with guns is a crazy idea”.  He expresses his opinion that teachers being armed will not prevent tragedies from happening and may even make shootings worst.  He brings up points about how allowing teachers being armed will be largely fruitless.  In the event of a shooting, he argues, teachers will be overwhelmed and unable to fight back or as he sarcastically put it (in a comment to a quote by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert):  “Yes, Gohmert — because what a dark room filled with tear gas and panicked people needs is more guns.”   This insinuates that the chaos of a mass shooting will cause teachers to harm innocent people with their weapons instead of doing any good to prevent the event from happening.

My perspective on teachers and gun control is given the facts behind mass shootings, it seems that allowing teachers to carry guns as long as they have the necessary permits would have little to no impact on children’s safety.  Given the very low rate of murder concealed weapons holders have, the odds that a teacher would kill a student or another adult in the heat of the moment (illegally) on school property is very slim.   However, there has been evidence that civilians have had part in the defense of people in the case of mass shootings.  Notably the Trolley Square shooting in Utah was prematurely stopped by an off-duty police officer suppressing the shooter until help could arrive (AP, “Off-Duty Officer Prevented Massacre in Salt Lake City Mall Shooting Spree, Police Say).  Further, as was noted previously, mass shooters have a tendency to choose locations declared as “gun free”.   The Aurora shooter chose the only movie theater in a 20 minute radius from his house with a “gun free” policy.  (Lott, “Did Colorado shooter single out Cinemark theater because it banned guns?”)  As a detail, this theater was not the closest to the shooter’s residence nor did he choose a theater with the largest possible audience.  Conceptually I believe that teachers being armed would both deter shootings from happening as well as prevent shootings from escalating to episodes such as Sandy Hook where the shooter had free rein to terrorize the school.  While teachers may not be skilled enough to stop a shooter, as was noted by LZ Grandereson, they may be what are necessary to slow down a shooter and possibly save lives.

As might be concluded, teachers and gun control is a very hotly debated topic.  Given the implications of the topic, it’s easy to see why people get passionate about it.  Safety is something many people value deeply.  The safety of our children is something many people put as priority number one.  Ultimately how to procure this safety is what’s debated.   Some people believe allowing teachers to voluntarily arm themselves will do more to keep kids safe.  Others believe that keeping guns out of schools and allowing the police to take care of public safety will do more for safety.   Given that the facts themselves can be very murky and sometimes be contrary to the gut reaction we sometimes get on the issue, it seems like an issue such as gun control might be something debated until sun goes dark.  However, with that said, it’s also a very important topic to think about and form your own opinions on.

 

Annotated Bibilography

Ferner, Matt. “GOP Bill That Would Allow Teachers To Carry Concealed Weapons Rejected In Colorado.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/gop-bill-that-would-allow_n_2573498.html>.
This is a news article discussing the Colorado senate rejecting a bill which would allow teachers to carry weapons to school.  The vote failed 2-3 based on party lines.  It included quotes from relatives of victims of gun violence such as in the Aurora case.  It also included quotes of people who were for the bill’s passing.  I believe this news article was an important piece for establishing some public sentiment concerning teachers carrying guns.

Lambright, Benjamin. “Outdoor News.” Outdoor Hub RSS. Outdoor Hub, 31 Dec. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <http://www.outdoorhub.com/news/400-texas-teachers-turn-out-for-free-concealed-handgun-license-course>.
This is an article discussing the popularity of a free gun training program in Texas for teachers where 400 teachers attended.  It discussed a quote from a My San Antonio article which talked about how handgun classes are drawing teachers.  Texas is a state where teachers can carry guns with permission because of a law similar to the one in Colorado that failed to pass.  This article was chosen for its different base of opinion which must be established for rationalization of such a polarized subject.

Fund, John. “The Facts about Mass Shootings – John Fund – National Review Online.” NRO. National Review, 16 Dec. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/335739/facts-about-mass-shootings-john-fund>.
The National Review’s article is one discussing the facts of mass shootings.  While not necessarily about teachers carrying weapons per se, it is an interesting perspective on mass shootings for which armed teachers are supposed to prevent.  The article talks many interesting facts about mass shootings but also include evidence that shooters have a preference for gun free zones.  It concludes with an interesting thought that people may be making choices that make them less safe despite thinking that they are being safer for it. This article’s commentary did a lot to bring the aspect of fear and misinformation in guiding legislation that may not do the public any good.

Follman, Mark. “A Guide to Mass Shootings in America.” Mother Jones. Foundation for National Progress, 27 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map>.
This is an article featuring facts and figures about mass killings in America from the past 30 years.  It investigates the weapons used in the mass killings along with some of the factors contributing to these tragedies.  Of note, the majority of the murderers showed clear signs of mental illness before committing their acts.  It should be noted that Mother Jones is considered a biased source by some with a heavy progressive commentary.  With that said, their commentary aside, this article did a great job describing the facts surrounding the shootings in America.

Zhao, Emmeline. “Carolyn Cain, Utah Teacher On The Ed Show: Teachers Should Carry Guns Without Telling Parents, Students.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/carolyn-cain-utah-teacher_n_2451361.html>.
This is article reporting on a Utah teacher who went on The Ed Show to discuss whether teachers should be armed.  She talks about how current Utah law allows for teachers to carry guns to school without notifying parents.  This law has been in effect for over a decade.    Like the Mother Jones article, Huffington Post is a heavy progressive leaning news source and any commentary included in the final essay should be considered for bias.

“National School Safety and Security Services.” Arming Teachers and School Staff with Guns. National School Safety and Security Services, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2013. <http://www.schoolsecurity.org/trends/arming_teachers.html>.
Arming Teachers and School Staff with Guns is an article put out by a school security consulting company about the issue of arming teachers with guns.   It describes their president’s advisement against allowing teachers to carry.  Throughout the text it describes a number of questions that school boards should ask themselves before implementing policy.  These questions are very useful for the essay as they allow for critical thinking about different aspects of teachers carrying guns.  Teachers carrying guns is a multi-facetted issue and this text has brought up many questions that should be answered.

Liebre, Ashley. “VPC – Press Release – (03/24/2010) – Concealed Handgun Permit Holders Have Killed at Least 151 Since May 2007, Including 9 Law Enforcement Officers Concealed Carry Killers” Web Site March Update.” Violence Policy Center. Violence Policy Center, 24 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <http://www.vpc.org/press/1003ccw.htm>.
This is a particularly interesting report which discusses the numbers behind homicides with concealed carry weapons during the May 2007 to March 2010 period.  In detail, about 151 were killed including 9 law enforcement officers.   As should be noted with any source, this source has a heavy anti-gun bias as described in a quote by VPC’s director, Kristen Rand, in the report.   What makes this report most interesting is how low the actual number of deaths is.  Further, this report includes deaths from suicide, murder-suicide, and other murders that may not directly involve a killing due to ease-of-accessibility of a weapon.  As was noted by ProCon.org, the number cited by VPC is about 0.003% of all murders during the same period.  This report was another great source for my essay and definitely an ironic one to boot.  While attempting to make a con argument for concealed carry, this report actually seemed to provide data necessary for people who are arguing affirmative.  Ultimately this report opened up more ideas for investigation including the total number of concealed carry holders in the US during that period; how many murders actually occurred because the person had access to a gun on their person; and how people involved in those statistics showed violence in their history.

“Expanded Homicide Data Table 8.” FBI. FBI, 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.
This is a very interesting statistics report about homicides in the United States.  This report was necessary for comparing the homicides of concealed carry holders against national homicide rates.

Johnson, M. A. “Guns Already Allowed in Schools with Little Restriction in Many States.”NBC News. NBC News, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.
This article discussed the states that currently allow guns in schools and the states currently legislating for or against allowing teachers to be armed.  This was a important article for establishing the number of states allowing guns.

Lott, John R. Multiple Victim Public Shootings. Rep. N.p., 1 Nov. 1996. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
This is a report written by John Lott of Yale talking about the facts surrounding multiple victim shootings.  As was mentioned in the paper, it contained interesting information about shootings, such as the fact that no public shootings prior to 1999 took place outside of a designated gun free zone.

Stuckey, Mike. “Record Numbers Licensed to Pack Heat.” MSNBC. NBC News, 24 Jan. 2010. Web. 22 Apr. 2013.
In this article from MSNBC, the writer talks about the number of people currently with a permit to carry a concealed weapon.  This was part of my analysis of the percentage of carry holders who commit murder in a given year in comparison to non-carry holders.

Lott, John R. “Did Colorado Shooter Single out Cinemark Theater Because It Banned Guns?” Fox News. FOX News Network, 10 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.
This article by John Lott discusses the Colorado shooter and his motivations behind choosing the theater that he chose.  In this article Lott says that the shooter chose the only theater of seven within 20 minutes of his house that had a gun free zone policy.  While anecdotal, in conjunction with facts behind shootings displays that gun free zones may paint targets on schools.

“Off-Duty Officer Prevented Massacre in Salt Lake City Mall Shooting Spree, Police Say | Fox News.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 14 Feb. 2007. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
This news report talks about how an off-duty police officer was able to delay the Trolley Square shooter sparing lives.  This implies that mass shootings can be mitigated by responsible people with concealed weapons.

Granderson, LZ. “Teachers with Guns Is a Crazy Idea.” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
An opinion article by LZ Granderson about how letting teachers have guns is a “crazy” idea.  He says that teachers are unable to protect themselves or their students in the event of a mass shooting and that they’re ultimately a liability against school safety.  This editorial is used to help add some additional perspective from opponents of teachers being armed.

 

Mid-Term Portfolio

My mid-term portfolio consists of three essays:  a reflection, a rhetorical analysis, and a visual analysis.  Each of the three essays was written for the same audience:  educated adults from 18 to 30.  As part of this rhetorical rationale I will discuss my rationale, the revisions made, and my participation in the peer review process for each essay.

My first essay is a reflection titled Horrific Writing.  The purpose of this essay was to tell an amusing short story about my first significant experience in writing.    I wanted to entertain the reader and share insight on the importance of presentation to the work we do.  As with all my essays, my revisions revolved around rewording, removing and sometimes adding sentences.  Many times I was redundant in phrasing or chose phrases which weren’t entirely natural to read.  The peer review process was useful in telling me the effectiveness of my essay as a whole.  Every person who reviewed my article signaled they understood the purpose of the essay and acknowledged the message it was trying to send.  Horrific Writing is my only informal style paper of the set and is my favorite for that reason.  While I believe the insights imparted in my other essays are valuable in their own ways, this paper is my favorite due to its entertainment factor.

My second essay is rhetorical analysis of an article found on reason.com.  In the paper, Fire and Ice:  Analyzing an Article Out of Its Clime, I indicate why I believe the chosen reason.com article lacks appeal and why it probably hampers growth in readership.  This essay ended being an exercise in rhetoric analysis for the purpose of general persuasion.  I believe the article is very informative and I feel I laid my case out well.  The peer review process was particularly helpful for this article and I made substantial changes to many sentences throughout based on their advice.  Some of my sentences were overly critical and ended up being detrimental to the message I was attempting to make.  I changed my sentences to use more positive phrases devoid of potentially condescending language.  These changes were necessary as I felt the phrases before had the potential problem of turning off my own readers, something I criticized the aforementioned article about.  Sarcasm and condescension are undesirable traits for an essay attempting to be taken seriously.  As a writer I should do my best to avoid such language as they are turn-offs to a broad range of readers.   In total this is probably my least favorite essay of the bunch.  It was an educational experience but ultimately was not as fun to read or write as my other two essays.

My final essay, Happy Children Means Disinfected Classrooms, is a visual analysis of an effective Clorox Disinfecting Wipes ad.  I feel the points I made this essay are the best of the three although I do judge it my second most favorite.  Like the previous essay, this paper ended up being a good exercise in rhetorical analysis.  As someone who does a lot of work in graphic and web design I feel this process did a lot to improve my thinking with my own work.  Like the first essay, I made a few changes to sentences to make the message clearer.  I also completely revised the conclusion paragraph to get it more in line with what was said throughout the essay.  One peer reviewer mentioned this problem and I made the necessary corrections and the essay’s coherence improved significantly.

In conclusion I feel my mid-term portfolio turned out very well.  I’m happy with what I wrote and I feel each essay has its own learning experience attached.

Horrific Writing

Writing is a daunting task for a second grader.  With my limited vocabulary and a questionable grasp of grammar I was horrified to learn I had to write a one page story.    How can a mere seven year old such as I be a writer among the likes of Dr. Seuss or H.A. Rey?  As it turns out, with the right incentive, even a second grader can learn a valuable lesson about how to write and present a good story.

It was near Halloween and we were tasked to write a horror-themed personal story.   My class was shocked at this request.  Surely our teacher was confused about our capabilities as writers.  We could still count our ages on two hands after all.  My teacher, Ms. Dowdle, walked to each us handing out stationary.   I held the white paper out for inspection.   It had illustrated ghosts and pumpkins contained within an orange border.  It was during my inspection of the paper that my teacher dropped a bombshell:  we aren’t simply writing stories, this is a competition! The best and most scary story as judged by the class received a prize.  A souvenir Universal Studios plastic cup, filled to the brim with candy, was the glorious prize.  She held it up.  The class gasped in marvel. Challenge accepted!  The collectable cup and all the delectable goodies were destined to be mine.  Of course, every story has its hurdles.

I needed to write a story and it needed to be souvenir cup winning material.  I reflected. Surely there was something scary in my past that I can retell on paper. Should I talk about a scary dream?  Perhaps I should make something up?  I could talk about the last scary movie I watched.  No, that’s not good enough.  I needed something amazing and unique.  I needed a story that was guaranteed to knock my teacher’s shoes off.  Aha and there it was!   I stood up, sharpened my #2 pencil, sat down and went to work.
My pencil danced furiously across the page.  Spelling and grammar were a trivial compared to my artistic endeavor. From “our” being misrepresented as “are” to the liberal use of “like” prefacing nearly every word, this paper would be an English teacher’s nightmare.  However, as my second grade self read the story over and over again, I came to a conclusion: it would be an understatement to call my paper a masterpiece.

My story was a tale of mystery and fear; a story where shadows walked the hallway outside my bedroom while everyone was dead asleep.  In this story (based on true events) I woke up to shadows of unknown people walking through the hall.  This story was going to scare the pants off every person in the class.

Something was wrong.  I noticed the neat printed penmanship was out of place for my story.  The text was too plain and was not befitting the stationary or the horror it described.  I took my pencil and created dark dripping blood underneath each letter.  Some tiny, some large, but the drip effect was the same:  my typography was as horrific as the story it was part of.

I was proud of my work.  It was the whole package.  From the scary lettering to the ultra-super-duper-scary (as any proud second grader would describe it) story itself; it was something that would win the prize.

It was time for all of the students to share their stories.  We were expected to read each of our stories aloud after which the class would vote on the winner.   Each student took their turn to read their story.  Some stories were good; some stories were bad, as was expected.  The competition was no match for what I had written.  The time to read my story came.  I stood up, walked to the front of my class, and began to read in my most thespian of voices.  The class was enthralled by my oration of horror.  As with all stories, it eventually came to its end and I sat down.  As I hoped, the class loved it.  When the time for voting arrived I had little anxiety about how my story would fair.  After all, my story was the only one with spooky lettering.  As you have probably guessed, I won the prize.

This was the first time I’ve ever won any sort of prize for work I have done.  In many ways, this event impacted my passion for the arts and the merit of doing things well.  It was a valuable lesson about the how presentation can impact a message one is trying to convey.  While I do exaggerate my writing skills as a second grader in this reflection, I realize that it wasn’t my story that won the contest–it was my presentation.  How many students voted for my story because they liked the blood dripping letters?  How many students enjoyed my enthusiastic reading?  How many students voted for me because my story was genuinely better than all of the other stories written?  I doubt many students actually considered how good my story actually was compared to the others’ work.  They considered the presentation in their vote.  Presentation ultimately determines how others will perceive and recognize our work; it’s not simply about what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it.

Fire and Ice:  Analyzing an Article Out of Its Clime

Reason.com is a website which contains news and opinion usually written for and by libertarians.  In a recent article written by Scott Shackford, Scott attempted to tackle five issues Obama will leave out of his State of the Union address.   The article brought up interesting points about each issue stated however it suffered from problems which prevent it from being accessible to a wider audience.  5 Big Problems Obama Will Ignore in His State of the Union Address prevents itself from appealing to anybody but the most diehard readers because of poor web design, weak argumentation practices, and some out-of-place snarky commentary.

The interface design for reason.com is very stale which bleeds into the appeal of each article.   For the particular article I’m analyzing, the article is broken up into five parts which are accessed through distinct pages for each part.  Unlike some websites where articles are read through vertical scrolling (regardless of length), this article is separated with pages which requires links for navigation.   These links use a typical “previous page” “next page” navigation design which is placed at the end of each segment.  Each page contains one issue, some sort of argument, links to other articles/facts referenced within that argument, and a single picture found at the top right of each section.  With the exception of single picture found on each page, most of what the reader sees is text.  This can be very boring for readers.  Humdrum things are not particularly appealing and can be deter a portion of people.  Short of having an excellent hook within the title, this article would be passed by new readers.   Pictures and visuals are a necessary part of making an inviting article which people will want to read.   To speak of visuals, the colors used on the website are fairly bland.   The website primarily is black, white, and grey.   The font remains the same throughout with almost no changes in size or emphasis (bold or italics).   In total, this makes the interface design drab and unconducive to drawing readers in and keeping them there.

Another problem this article suffers from is how the author argues his points.  Points made throughout the article are well constructed but ultimately lose their impact potential through how each argument is laid out.   Scott Shackford describes what he believes President Obama will say in the form of a characterization and brings up an argument about why that is wrong.  This is a poor form of argumentation as it can very easily fall into the trap of becoming a “straw man” argument.  Straw man arguments involve mischaracterizing someone’s position in the attempt to more easily defeat it (albeit this often occurs by mistake as most people don’t intentionally misconstrue what other people say).   Given the format of the article itself, it does not encourage itself to more critical thought.  In some ways I feel the author took the lazy way out.  As each section of the article is relatively short (about 210 words) it feels as if the article itself is merely a synopsis of a longer article which made a better attempt to argue sportingly.  Without a fleshed out argument that portrays the opposing side in convincing light, the article might not appeal to anybody who doesn’t already agree to what is writ.

Finally, the article’s rhetoric makes it a fish out of water.  The writer’s tone is a mixture of wit, analysis and argument.  In conjunction with this there is a hint of supposition that the reader already agrees with what the writer is going to say.   The writer appears to be trying to appeal to an intelligent yet hip audience.  “If your State of the Union drinking game doesn’t include the phrase “commonsense solutions,” you’re probably some sort of teetotaler.” (Shackford) certainly is an example of this.   However, ironically, this type of audience is probably least likely to read this article.  As mentioned before, the design of the website is boring.   The very audience that the given sentence would appeal to probably would not be drawn in by the design of the website.  Further, sarcasm–while humorous at times–is not generally appealing to a mass audience, especially in an article meant to be taken seriously.  Sarcastic writing needs to be reserved for articles discussing trivial things and generally used sparingly.  This article is not meant to be trivial and it does not use sarcasm sparingly, which is why I believe it is a problem. Sarcasm in an article meant to be taken seriously is like a fish out of water.

In conclusion, 5 Big Problems Obama Will Ignore in His State of the Union Address has problems which prevents it from appealing to a wide audience.  A fiery intelligent article is out of place on a cold boring site.  Its bi-polar presentation marginalizes the audience it’s attempting to appeal to.   How it lays its arguments out further marginalizes its readers.   Without change, this article and articles like it will remain segregated from everyone but the most fanatical of followers.

Happy Children Means Disinfected Classrooms

Advertisements play a large role in our day-to-day life.  We see hundreds–if not thousands–of ads as we travel, browse the internet, and especially as we read our favorite magazines and newspapers.  A typical magazine ad has a lot more to say than what’s written in it word-for-word.  The colors, layout and graphics of the ad can tell a story a thousand words long.  I’ve chosen an ad which appeared in the February 2010 edition of Working Mother magazine. I chose this particular ad because it was presented on Ad Age as one of the most effective ads of 2010.  Of note, after viewing the ad, readers who “considered purchase/purchased” the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes (the product advertised) was numbered at 77% (average being 50%) (Galin).  The Clorox Disinfecting Wipes ad was extremely effective because the story it told in-between the lines was convincing by design.

As mentioned before, the ad itself is for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.  Placed in the center of the ad–logo face up–the golden container is angled at 60 degrees.  Underneath it a desk is found which has lined paper strewn across it.  Crayons can be seen in the top left corner of the ad on top of some of the paper.  Doodles can be seen on a few of the papers in different colors.  In yellow, these doodles consist of stars, a cloud and a single happy sun (all of which appear to have been drawn by a child).  There are separate doodle in black crayon around the Clorox container which makes the container appear to be part of the body of a pencil.  The black drawing appears to have been drawn more skillfully by an adult (potentially a teacher).  Underneath this image there is a message which reads:  “Add this to your school supplies.  Donate Clorox Disinfecting Wipes to your child’s school and help keep classrooms healthier.”  To the right of this message is the Clorox logo with the slogan:  “Cleaner World. Healthier Lives.” (Galin)

The visuals of this ad all contribute to the idea that Clorox Disinfecting Wipes makes children healthier in the classroom and mothers who wish for their kids to be healthy would buy the cleaner for their kids.  As this advertisement was placed in a magazine for mothers this message seems suitably chosen.  The placement of the Clorox container in the ad implies that it’s currently at a school and “helping keep classrooms healthier” as said in the ad text.   The bright colors and oranges used in the image subliminally indicate happiness and well-being for the kids in the said classroom.  The crayon drawing of a smiling sun creates some inference that the child who drew it is happy and healthy.  The black crayon drawing by what is assumed to be an adult insinuates that some sort of adult (a teacher?) agrees with what is displayed.  In total, these visuals have the message of “Clorox makes kids healthy”.  The visual elements of this ad sell the idea that Clorox is a mandatory part of a healthy and happy classroom.

The text found in the ad and the visuals of the ad itself are ingenious in how they attempt to convince mothers to buy Clorox wipes.  Typically ads feature a product being used by the primary buyer.  In the case of disinfecting wipes, these ads would show the product in an environment where the purchaser spends a lot of time. For example: a home or business.  Instead, this ad markets to a secondary environment (thus making the assertion that the reader already uses Clorox wipes in their primary environment).  A reader may unwittingly come to the conclusion that Clorox is standard for disinfecting homes and either switch brands or start buying wipes in the future.  This doesn’t even tackle the message at hand:  “You should buy Clorox wipes for others to make sure your kids stay healthy and happy.”  It’s not enough for the mother to keep her home clean; it’s her duty to keep her kid’s school clean too.  A mother who wants to contribute to children’s health in school would be wise send a container of wipes with their child. Overall, it’s quite ingenious how Clorox has presented and marketed their ad.  It’s not every day that you see an ad with a message inside of a message.

In conclusion, it seems quite evident why my chosen ad for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes was considered one of the most effective ads of 2010 as evidenced by the very high 77% might purchase/did purchase rate. All of the visual elements and text found in the ad contribute to the message of “buying Clorox Disinfecting Wipes will make your children healthier and happier.” It seems quite obvious how important a well-designed ad can have on the success of a product or brand.  The story told to us in-between the lines is much more persuasive than literal words ever can be..