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Writing the Argumentative Essay for AP English Language

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Working the Prompt

Before beginning to write, you MUST spend some time carefully reading and deconstructing the prompt. (We call this "working the prompt.") Your success depends upon your clearly understanding what is expected of you.

Below is the prompt of the third essay on the Diagnostic/Master exam.

In his famous "Vast Wasteland" address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the power of television to influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world. Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet.

Minow ended his speech warning that "The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind's history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities— responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape …"

Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading, write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow's ideas.

DO THIS NOW.

Highlight the essential elements of the prompt.

      (Time yourself.) How long did it take you? _____
      Compare your highlighting of the prompt with ours.

In his famous "Vast Wasteland" address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the power of television to infl uence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world. Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet.

Minow ended his speech warning that "The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind's history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good —and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities— responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape …"

Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading, write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow's ideas.

For this prompt, anything else you may have highlighted is extraneous.

Developing the Opening Paragraph

NOW, BEGIN TO PLAN YOUR ESSAY.

Write your introductory paragraph. Make certain to

  • refer specifically to the prompt; and
  • clearly state your position on the given issue.

The following are three sample opening paragraphs.

A

I agree with Newton Minow's assertion to the National Association of Broadcasters that "The power of instantaneous sight and sound is … an awesome power … with capabilities for good—and for evil." However, I disagree with his placing the responsibility for this power squarely in the hands of the broadcasters and the government.

B

Imagine—you have limitless capabilities for good and evil—you, not Superman, can control the world with your super powers. And, what are your powers? Do you have x-ray vision, morphability, immortality? NO, you have the most awesome power ever devised—you can instantaneously influence the taste, knowledge and opinions of mankind around the world. You are Supernet! and you have a super headache because you agree with Newton Minow who warned the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961 that "You have an awesome responsibility."

C

Nowhere is the awesome power for good and evil of modern technology more clearly seen than in the Internet's pervasiveness and influence. Newton Minow was right on target in 1961 when he warned the National Association of Broadcasters that the power of TV has "limitless capabilities for good—and for evil."

Each of these opening paragraphs does the job required of an introduction to an argumentative essay on the AP English Language and Composition exam.

  • Each cites the speaker and the occasion.
  • Each clearly states the writer's position of the given issue.

Let's look at what is different about each of the paragraphs.

Sample A qualifies the assertion presented by Minow. The writer agrees with the potential of the power but disagrees about who should take responsibility.

Sample B agrees with Minow's position but treats the assertion in a lighthearted fashion. The reader can expect a humorous and possibly irreverent tone in the essay.

Sample C indicates a writer who has obviously decided to limit the area of the argument to that of the Internet and has chosen to agree with Minow.

Note: Given the subject matter, this prompt does not lend itself easily to a negative position. However, if a creative thinker and writer were to assert such a viewpoint, it would not be penalized.

Which of the above samples is similar to your opening paragraph? Are there any changes you would make in yours?

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