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Recently I was made to write a persuasive essay about whether or not this quote by W. H. Auden is true:

Machines are beneficial to the degree that they eliminate the need for labor, harmful to the degree that they eliminate the need for skill.

Below is my introductory paragraph, with what I consider the thesis statement in bold:

W. H. Auden (1908 – 1973) is considered one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century. He wrote over four hundred poems as well as numerous quotes. One such quote is: “Machines are beneficial to the degree that they eliminate the need for labor, harmful to the degree that they eliminate the need for skill.” This quote is applicable in a wide range of machinery. Although Auden might have been thinking of machines that are designed to do manual labor, his quote also holds true for computing devices like desktop computers, mobile devices, and calculators.

You can continue to read the full essay here.


Unfortunately, I apparently didn't have a good enough thesis statement, I argued both sides of the issue, and I barely stayed on topic.

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Does anyone have suggestions on how I could formulate a better thesis and stay on topic in the future?

  • 3
    It's unfortunate that their rubric has a typo in it... – Chris Sunami Feb 12 '15 at 22:04
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    But it only has a ONE typo. – Dale Hartley Emery Jan 31 '16 at 20:51
  • Haha very funny Dale. – Timtech Feb 10 '16 at 0:35
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It's impossible to know exactly why you got the scores you did, but what jumps out at me is that your thesis statement doesn't really match the prompt. The prompt is NOT to write an essay simply inspired by Auden's quote, but rather to write an essay taking a stance on whether or not his quote is true.

To recast Auden's argument in simpler language: Machines help humanity by reducing the need for labor, but hurt humanity by reducing the need for skill/skilled-labor. An on-topic thesis would be Auden is correct to say that humanity is helped by machines reducing the need for labor because of A, B and C, and correct to say that humanity is hurt by reducing the need for skilled labor because of X, Y and Z. It would be equally on topic to say Auden is incorrect to say humanity is helped by machines reducing the need for labor because of A, B, and C, or Auden is incorrect to say humanity is hurt by machines reducing the need for skill because of X, Y and Z. You could even write a good essay arguing Auden is right on one point and wrong on the other.

As far as the essay itself, it supports the idea that Auden is right that relying on machines leads to people losing skills, but it doesn't explain why that should be considered a bad thing. So you're basically agreeing with Auden, but you haven't even touched on the most substantive part of his claim --the value judgment.

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If I were grading this essay I'd be looking to be persuaded to think that your viewpoint is better than one I might have had prior to reading your work. Personally I look for a strong statement to open a persuasive piece, it should be the very first sentence I read. "WH Auden was absolutely, 100% on the money when he said '...'" There's no mistaking which side of the argument you stand on when you open with a statement that cannot be misinterpreted and it sets you up to spend the remainder of your word-count convincing me that you're right. It will also help you to stay on topic if you are constantly re-reading your work as you go because if you have written something tangential it's likely to stand out like dog's balls. By including examples of why arguments alternate to your own will give you the opportunity to convince me further of your wisdom - but you must then go on to effectively tear those antagonistic reasons to shreds.

Don't know if that helps (especially as you posted nearly ten days ago) but good luck regardless, you have a clarity of writing that should be commended.

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Well, I do not know what have you written in your thesis statement. However, I will give you some advice on how to do it better. First of all, if you need to comment the quote, then do not write what has been already written. Write your opinion and stick it to the end, providing a lot of good reasons for it. Your professor will like it. Also, it would be great if you weren't SO critical of the saying. You can be critical, but not so strongly. Here is an excellent post at dissertation writer that gives quite good tips on this kind of writing. Think in a unique way and stay positive. That's all that I have to say.

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