Monday, October 04, 2010

Essay skills: structure vs content

Josh and I have a difference of opinion. He thinks that when answering GP essays, content and logic are inextricably linked, whereas I would separate the two and place more weightage on logic over content. I've not been able to sway him from his position, but to be honest I haven't been able to explain my position adequately to myself either. That is, until this afternoon's consult with a student.

The essay in question was: Discrimination against women is still an epidemic in today's world. Discuss.

My standard question breakdown is as follows:
Subject: discrimination against women
Condition: in today's world
Qualifier: is still an epidemic

Despite many possible variations, a proper answer to this question (like any other question) requires a logical structure in order to be satisfying. For example:

In today's context (condition),
IF discrimination against women were still widespread around the globe (subject)
THEN we can say that it is epidemic in proportion (qualifier)
HOWEVER we observe that there has been a marked improvement in the lives of women in certain parts of the world
SINCE this improvement in women's rights is gaining ground in the world today
THEREFORE we can say the 'epidemic' has stopped spreading and -- though it may yet take some time -- the lot of women is instead getting increasingly better.

So this is the logic part -- a series of claims that deal with each aspect of the question leading to a fair and 'balanced' conclusion. Of course, these claims are unsupported at the moment so now we can start layering in the content to flesh out the argument and make it more convincing.

Yes, content is crucial to the essay, but in a secondary role. Content has to be filtered and arranged in a way that supports the answer's logic structure. Content alone is just information, but information is not what we are testing. We want to know if the student can make a decision [regardless of how nonsensical it is -- discrimination of women is like an epidemic???] and justify it through a logical thought process... with supporting evidence (content).

Conclusion: logic and structure first and always because that is what answers the question. Content is meaningless without either.

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