See Appendix A of the ELA Standards
Three text types emphasized in the Standards, namely
- Informational/explanatory writing
- Narrative writing
Appendix A makes it clear that each of these “text types” embraces many different sub-genres or forms of writing. For example, informational writing could include everything from an essay on humpback whales to a police report or newspaper article or script for a documentary film. The reason this matters so much is that we often do not think creatively when assigning writing in school. We need to think beyond the traditional research report because, as important as that form is, it’s not sufficient to help students bridge the gap between high school and college or the workplace.
The Wonderful World of Blended Genres
Appendix A also points out that much of our finest writing is a blend of genres. Indeed, any time a writer strings together more than a few paragraphs, it is nearly impossible not to combine genres in some way. My favorite example of this is Bill Bryson’s remarkable book In a Sunburned Country, based on the author’s research and travels to Australia. Bryson’s book seamlessly and deftly combines travel writing, geography, history, informational writing (on countless topics, including topography, wildlife, and cooking), and wildly humorous anecdotes. It’s a book that defies classification–which is precisely what makes it such a treasure.
The Special Place of Argument
A particularly important feature of Appendix A is a thoughtful explanation of just why argument is so important–and so strongly emphasized. Argument, the Standards writers claim, encourages deep thinking. And that in a nutshell is the whole point. Whether it’s oral argument or written, students must think carefully about an issue, give just and respectful consideration to both (or all) sides, weigh evidence, analyze projected outcomes, and guide readers to a good decision. The purpose of argument is not–as is often supposed–to simply get people on your side. This simplistic view often leads students to offer emotional responses or hasty replies that have little or nothing to do with facts or evidence: e.g., Year-round school is a terrible idea because students would hate it, College is not for everyone because we’re all individuals. Note also that the writers use the word “argument” in a special way. This may be splitting semantic hairs, but it’s worth paying attention to . . .
Argument vs. Persuasive Writing
Many of us have used (and continue to use) the term “persuasive writing” in referring to what is essentially the same as the Common Core definition of “argument.” But the Core writers draw a distinction. And that distinction hovers around one word: evidence. A piece may be highly persuasive, but appeal primarily to emotion or (when all else fails) the well-being of the reader. In other words, persuasive pieces are often about passion.
True argument, by contrast, relies on evidence and logical reasoning. This means that the writer needs to do his or her research and examine various perspectives meticulously. This is not to say that the writer won’t make a forceful or compelling case in the end, but underlying all that irresistible oratory will be the heart and soul of any strong argument: reason.