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Writing an Analysis of an Author's Argument

Instructor: Tara Turzi
This lesson will show you how to evaluate an author's argument and develop a written response of your analysis for the SAT essay. It will also show you how to use specific examples to support your analysis.

The SAT Essay

The newest version of the SAT calls for you to write an essay in response to an author's argument. It is increasingly important for college students to know how to summarize, evaluate, and synthesize the work of other writers. Knowing how and why an author presents his point, and whether it is effective, will help you to develop effective rhetorical strategies in your own academic writing. The SAT essay is optional. If you do opt to write the essay, you will have 50 minutes to complete it.

The SAT Essay Prompt

The passage that you will evaluate on the SAT essay portion is typically taken from a previously published source. The content will vary, but these passages are generally the same in the quality and type of writing. They are arguments intended for a general audience, and should not be overly technical or difficult to understand. The passage will use evidence and logic to prove a point, and your goal is to identify and evaluate the author's argument.

The Author's Argument

So how does an author present an effective argument? Consider how you might convince a friend to see your side on a particular issue. Imagine that you have a friend who has decided to buy a puppy in a pet shop. As an animal lover, you know that pet store puppies are almost always purchased from puppy mills. You also know that there are millions of great dogs in shelters, just waiting to be adopted. What type of argument could you make to convince your friend to adopt a pet, instead of buying a pet store puppy?

While you might be very passionate about the issue, yelling or name-calling doesn't usually get the message across effectively. The best way to present your argument is with logic, evidence, and an appeal to your friend's emotions.

Rhetorical Strategies

There are three major ways that authors present an argument:

  • Reasoning - the author presents a logical explanation of the argument
  • Evidence - the author presents statistics, facts, and studies to prove his point
  • Appeal - the author appeals to the reader's emotions to elicit empathy

Using our previous puppy-related example, you might use reasoning to show your friend that pet store puppies are almost always purchased from puppy mills. You could show your friend evidence of the number of animals that are euthanized in shelters each year because they are unwanted. You could also describe how puppy mills mistreat breeding dogs to appeal to your friend's emotions. Using reasoning, evidence, and an appeal to your friend's emotions, you might convince them to adopt, not shop.

Applying it to the SAT

So now that you know the way an author presents an argument, consider how you might develop this in your SAT essay. You could opt to write only about one of these rhetorical strategies, or all three. Whichever you choose, be sure that your analysis focuses on how the argument is presented, not your opinion about the content of the article. It is tempting to want to debate the original argument, but you will want to stay focused on your analysis of the rhetorical strategies used to present the argument, rather than discuss whether or not you agree with the author's point. Also, be sure to focus on the most relevant features of the passage, rather than get hung up on minor details. Stick to the main ideas of the passage when developing your analysis.

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