By Chrissine Rios, Full-Time Writing Tutor, Kaplan University Writing Center
When providing feedback on student writing, nothing challenges me more than addressing Bible-backed support for claims in a persuasive essay.
I want my feedback to be supportive, so I first affirm the student’s and everyone’s right to have religious beliefs. But I want my feedback to be constructive too, so I make it clear that because religious texts are faith-based, they fail to provide the evidence-based logic needed for an argument to be persuasive in the larger scheme of social discourse.
Who are your intended readers? I’ll ask.
If your intended readers share your religious beliefs and revere your holy text as authoritative, you’re only preaching to the choir, not moving those with differing viewpoints to hear you or consider your argument valid.
What is your purpose? I’ll ask.
If you want your readers to accept your argument as sound and worthy of consideration, you will need to provide facts and examples that allow readers to think critically and make up their own minds (that your position is the most logical one).
Not everyone can do this—emotionally detach from an issue one feels passionate about, but therein lies the art and science of rhetoric and composition.
Composition has its roots in public discourse, specifically the teachings of Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384 BC-322BC). According to Aristotle’s teachings, effective argumentation involves three rhetorical appeals or proofs:
1) credibility (ethos): establishing oneself as trustworthy and believable through tone and style,
2) impact (pathos): connecting emotionally with the reader to evoke a response or action, and
3) reason (logos): substantiating ideas with inductive and deductive reasoning and evidence from authoritative sources that reinforces and validates that reasoning, hence the problem with quoting scripture to prove a point in an essay for English composition.
What is the context? I’ll ask.
If we want our readers to see beyond their personal biases, we need to write beyond ours. Part of our work as persuasive writers is to model objectivity and frame our issue in a larger social context than the narrow scope of personal experience.
This also means that if we want our students to see beyond their personal biases, we need to teach and tutor beyond ours too and not make judgments about students who have revealed faith-based opinions in their papers.
We can’t expect to change people’s minds altogether with our arguments because all our readers have personal opinions, faith-based and otherwise. As persuasive writers, our work is to anticipate differing viewpoints, artfully counter argue them using rhetorical strategies, and submit to opposing perspectives too as necessary to establish a point of consensus, agreement, a middle ground.
Ultimately, I want to harness my students’ passion for writing, so they craft an argument that communicates their position, that doesn’t proclaim just one way of seeing but moves an important discussion forward with the momentum of many ways of seeing united for a common good. Providing quality feedback to Faith-based persuasive student writing is a good place to do this.