Sample Essay with Commentary
Sample Essay with Commentary
"Even a failure can still be valuable."
Discuss the statement above using an example or examples from literature, the arts, history, current events, politics, science and technology, sports, or your experience or observation.
Before reading the commentary on this essay, remember that this is certainly not the only way that the writer could have answered the question successfully. The writer could have used examples from the arts or sciences, or personal experience; he/she could have written the whole thing in two paragraphs, or as many as five. This is just one good example that we can study to figure out what was done correctly. But feel free to find your own ways to apply what you learn here.
Now let's take a look at this essay piece by piece and see what makes it a 6-level essay. To do so, we need to turn to three important categories:
- Attention to the writing task (i.e., Does it answer the question?)
- Organization and support
- Language (including usage, diction, sentence variety)
Secondly, let's examine the organization and support. We can do this by breaking down the essay into its separate parts: a short introduction, two body paragraphs, and a short conclusion. (Remember, it's better to have a good intro and solid body paragraphs WITHOUT a conclusion, rather than a sloppy essay you try to tie together at the very end WITH a conclusion.)
| [Introduction] |
Living in America, where efficiency is rewarded and mistakes are penalized or seen as a waste of time, it might be difficult to see how an unsuccessful action could be worthwhile. However, examples from politics, both past and present, prove that even seemingly unproductive actions can yield valuable results.
|The introduction is clear and direct, as it should be. It quickly gets to the point, and ends with a strong, simple thesis statement. This thesis statement lays out a clear map for the rest of the essay, and enables the writer to remain focused while he/she writes the body paragraphs. Don't worry if you can't think of a snappy first sentence or "attention grabber"; as long as the intro is clear and sticks to the writing task, you needn't waste valuable time trying to come up with a clever hook. (Save that for your English class!)|
| [1st Body Paragraph] |
A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations. Conceived by President Wilson after the end of World War I, the League of Nations was formed to prevent such massive warfare and destruction from happening again; the ultimate goal was to secure long-lasting peace around the world. As honorable as the goal was, the League of Nations dissolved in the mid-1940s due to inefficiencies and disorganization. But if it weren't for the pattern that Wilson's League of Nations provided, the United Nations might not be the successful organization it is today. Learning directly from the successes and failures of the League of Nations, the U.N. has established itself as a valuable international organization that sends its troops on peacekeeping missions around the world.
| Read the topic sentence - "A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations" - and ask yourself whether it relates to the thesis. Since Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations is a political example of a failure that was worthwhile, it does in fact connect well with the thesis. |
The paragraph goes on to give a short description of what the League of Nations is, and why it failed. But then, and very importantly, it also describes WHY the "unsuccessful action" that Woodrow Wilson took was worthwhile: it provided a template for the current United Nations. All the sentences in the paragraph help support the topic sentence. But this paragraph not only relates to the thesis - it also relates to the original writing prompt. That's why it's a successful paragraph. Doesn't seem too hard, does it?
| [2nd Body Paragraph] |
Not only can unsuccessful actions bear fruit later, they can also be worthwhile at the time. For example, recently the United States waged war on Iraq in order to find weapons of mass destruction. Months afterward, inspectors have yet to find these weapons that Saddam Hussein had supposedly been hiding, and in that respect the war was a failure. However, even critics of the war have admitted that this war has had some worthwhile aspects, since it ended Saddam's brutal regime. Hospitals and schools have been built, and many no longer have to live in fear of government oppression. While we have failed to find the weapons, and while the work of reconstruction will be long, expensive, and perhaps dangerous, the war has been valuable at least in that it resulted in the end of a cruel dictatorship.
| The second body paragraph, as promised in the thesis statement, examines a current political situation to illustrate the writing prompt. As in the first body paragraph, the topic sentence - "Not only can unsuccessful actions bear fruit later, they can also be worthwhile at the time" - clearly applies to the thesis statement, as well as to the original writing prompt. This time the writer uses the war in Iraq as an example of an unsuccessful yet worthwhile action: he/she clearly states how it was a failure (not being able to find the weapons of mass destruction) and how it was worthwhile (ending a brutal dictatorship). Note how all the sentences support the topic sentence. |
There are a few important things you should pay attention to in this particular paragraph. First of all, the writer has taken a risk by writing about a controversial topic. It might have been safer to stick with a more neutral topic, and in your own writing you should be very careful not to offend your readers or present ideas that your readers might strongly disagree with. Other risky topics might include strong political or religious opinions. While we're not saying that you should NEVER write about those things - especially if you can write about those topics well - we ARE saying that you should be very careful if you do.
Secondly, notice how the writer does not use extreme language - and that's the main reason that this writer was successful with a possibly controversial topic. The writer does not say, "Even though we didn't find the weapons, the war was totally worthwhile." Instead, he/she says that there have been "SOME worthwhile aspects" of the war. The word "some" is very important. Instead of saying, "No one has to be afraid anymore," the writer says that "MANY no longer have to live in fear of government oppression," probably remembering that some Iraqis may still feel oppressed by American troops. At the end, by writing that the war has been worthwhile "AT LEAST in that it resulted in the end of a cruel dictatorship," the writer acknowledges that not everyone may agree that the war was worthwhile overall. By maintaining a balanced tone and steering away from extreme statements, the writer succeeds in supporting his/her point. (There's more about language in the next section.)
| [Conclusion] |
As American history itself proves, we should not be too quick to fear mistakes as long as we have noble goals in mind. Even those actions that seem unsuccessful at first may in some cases prove worthwhile.
|As conclusions go, this is a basic one. But that's okay, because the writer has written a very solid essay that makes its point. This conclusion basically touches upon the main idea of the essay and then brings it back to the writing prompt. The only thing you should not do in a conclusion is repeat, word for word, any other sentence in the essay. Otherwise, just try to tie your ideas together at the end, but don't rush through the body paragraphs in order to write a conclusion at the end. It's better to be sure that your body paragraphs are solid.|
All in all, this writer's organization and support are very clear and direct, as they should be. Now let's see what's good about the language of the essay.
TRANSITIONSTransitions smooth out the breaks between paragraphs and can also make sentences connect better. "However," "Not only," and "for example" are some good transitional phrases that this writer uses. Go back and read the topic sentences, and you'll see that these words do a good job of effectively connecting the paragraphs. Once you have the basics of organization and support down, be sure to practice smoothing out your transitions - your tutor can help.
GOOD SENTENCE VARIETYIf you read the essay again, you will notice that the writer uses many different types of sentence structures. The following is an example of the first body paragraph rewritten WITHOUT sentence variety:
A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations. President Wilson formed the League of Nations after the end of World War I. He formed it to prevent such massive warfare and destruction from happening again. The ultimate goal was to secure long-lasting peace around the world. It was a noble goal. But the League of Nations dissolved in the mid-1940s. It collapsed due to inefficiencies and disorganization. However, Wilson's League of Nations provided a pattern for the United Nations. The United Nations might not be the successful organization it is today if it weren't for the League of Nations. The United Nations learned directly from the successes and failures of the League of Nations. It has become a valuable international organization that sends its troops on peacekeeping missions around the world.
As you can see, even though the wording and the information are the same, this version of the paragraph is a LOT more tedious to read than the original. While the original paragraph combines sentences so that they become complex, this version uses only simple sentence structures. Although you shouldn't use ONLY complex sentences, it's always a good idea to vary the types of sentences you use; try to include appositives whenever you can. (If you don't know what an appositive is, ask your tutor about it.)
AVOIDANCE OF REPETITIONRepetition weakens the quality of your writing. Try to think of synonyms when you find yourself repeating words. In the sample essay, for example, the writer switches between "unsuccessful action" and "failure," and also "valuable" and "worthwhile." He/she writes about "Saddam's brutal regime" and later calls it a "cruel dictatorship." Try to be creative with your vocabulary when writing your own essay.
VOCABULARYVocabulary is an aspect of language that you cannot "cram" for; you should read as often as you can, whether it's mystery novels, historical books, magazines, or newspapers. Good vocabulary can enliven any piece of writing. Note how the author of the sample essay uses vibrant language - here are a few examples:
1st paragraph: Instead of "Thought up by," the author uses "Conceived by…" 2nd paragraph: Instead of "become useful later," the author uses "bear fruit later…" Instead of "Saddam's government," the author uses "Saddam's brutal regime."
As you can see, good vocabulary is not always about using huge, complicated words; it can also be about having a large body of words that you can draw from while writing your essay. The more you read, the easier this will become.
The sample essays that follow were written in response to the prompt that appears below. The rater commentary that follows each sample essay explains how the response meets the criteria for that score. For a more complete understanding of the criteria for each score point, see the "Analyze an Issue" Scoring Guide.
As people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.
Note: All responses are reproduced exactly as written, including errors, misspellings, etc., if any.
Essay Response — Score 6
The statement linking technology negatively with free thinking plays on recent human experience over the past century. Surely there has been no time in history where the lived lives of people have changed more dramatically. A quick reflection on a typical day reveals how technology has revolutionized the world. Most people commute to work in an automobile that runs on an internal combustion engine. During the workday, chances are high that the employee will interact with a computer that processes information on silicon bridges that are .09 microns wide. Upon leaving home, family members will be reached through wireless networks that utilize satellites orbiting the earth. Each of these common occurrences could have been inconceivable at the turn of the 19th century.
The statement attempts to bridge these dramatic changes to a reduction in the ability for humans to think for themselves. The assumption is that an increased reliance on technology negates the need for people to think creatively to solve previous quandaries. Looking back at the introduction, one could argue that without a car, computer, or mobile phone, the hypothetical worker would need to find alternate methods of transport, information processing and communication. Technology short circuits this thinking by making the problems obsolete.
However, this reliance on technology does not necessarily preclude the creativity that marks the human species. The prior examples reveal that technology allows for convenience. The car, computer and phone all release additional time for people to live more efficiently. This efficiency does not preclude the need for humans to think for themselves. In fact, technology frees humanity to not only tackle new problems, but may itself create new issues that did not exist without technology. For example, the proliferation of automobiles has introduced a need for fuel conservation on a global scale. With increasing energy demands from emerging markets, global warming becomes a concern inconceivable to the horse-and-buggy generation. Likewise dependence on oil has created nation-states that are not dependent on taxation, allowing ruling parties to oppress minority groups such as women. Solutions to these complex problems require the unfettered imaginations of maverick scientists and politicians.
In contrast to the statement, we can even see how technology frees the human imagination. Consider how the digital revolution and the advent of the internet has allowed for an unprecedented exchange of ideas. WebMD, a popular internet portal for medical information, permits patients to self research symptoms for a more informed doctor visit. This exercise opens pathways of thinking that were previously closed off to the medical layman. With increased interdisciplinary interactions, inspiration can arrive from the most surprising corners. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the architects of the UN Millenium Development Goals, based his ideas on emergency care triage techniques. The unlikely marriage of economics and medicine has healed tense, hyperinflation environments from South America to Eastern Europe.
This last example provides the most hope in how technology actually provides hope to the future of humanity. By increasing our reliance on technology, impossible goals can now be achieved. Consider how the late 20th century witnessed the complete elimination of smallpox. This disease had ravaged the human race since prehistorical days, and yet with the technology of vaccines, free thinking humans dared to imagine a world free of smallpox. Using technology, battle plans were drawn out, and smallpox was systematically targeted and eradicated.
Technology will always mark the human experience, from the discovery of fire to the implementation of nanotechnology. Given the history of the human race, there will be no limit to the number of problems, both new and old, for us to tackle. There is no need to retreat to a Luddite attitude to new things, but rather embrace a hopeful posture to the possibilities that technology provides for new avenues of human imagination.
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 6
The author of this essay stakes out a clear and insightful position on the issue and follows the specific instructions by presenting reasons to support that position. The essay cogently argues that technology does not decrease our ability to think for ourselves, but merely provides "additional time for people to live more efficiently." In fact, the problems that have developed alongside the growth of technology (pollution, political unrest in oil-producing nations) actually call for more creative thinking, not less.
In further examples, the essay shows how technology allows for the linking of ideas that may never have been connected in the past (like medicine and economic models), pushing people to think in new ways. Examples are persuasive and fully developed; reasoning is logically sound and well supported.
Ideas in the essay are connected logically, with effective transitions used both between paragraphs ("However" or "In contrast to the statement") and within paragraphs. Sentence structure is varied and complex and the essay clearly demonstrates facility with the "conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics)," with only minor errors appearing. Thus, this essay meets all the requirements for receiving a top score, a 6.
Essay Response — Score 5
Surely many of us have expressed the following sentiment, or some variation on it, during our daily commutes to work: "People are getting so stupid these days!" Surrounded as we are by striding and strident automatons with cell phones glued to their ears, PDA's gripped in their palms, and omniscient, omnipresent CNN gleaming in their eyeballs, it's tempting to believe that technology has isolated and infantilized us, essentally transforming us into dependent, conformist morons best equipped to sideswip one another in our SUV's.
Furthermore, hanging around with the younger, pre-commute generation, whom tech-savviness seems to have rendered lethal, is even less reassuring. With "Teen People" style trends shooting through the air from tiger-striped PDA to zebra-striped PDA, and with the latest starlet gossip zipping from juicy Blackberry to teeny, turbo-charged cell phone, technology seems to support young people's worst tendencies to follow the crowd. Indeed, they have seemingly evolved into intergalactic conformity police. After all, today's tech-aided teens are, courtesy of authentic, hands-on video games, literally trained to kill; courtesy of chat and instant text messaging, they have their own language; they even have tiny cameras to efficiently photodocument your fashion blunders! Is this adolescence, or paparazzi terrorist training camp?
With all this evidence, it's easy to believe that tech trends and the incorporation of technological wizardry into our everyday lives have served mostly to enforce conformity, promote dependence, heighten comsumerism and materialism, and generally create a culture that values self-absorption and personal entitlement over cooperation and collaboration. However, I argue that we are merely in the inchoate stages of learning to live with technology while still loving one another. After all, even given the examples provided earlier in this essay, it seems clear that technology hasn't impaired our thinking and problem-solving capacities. Certainly it has incapacitated our behavior and manners; certainly our values have taken a severe blow. However, we are inarguably more efficient in our badness these days. We're effective worker bees of ineffectiveness!
If T\technology has so increased our senses of self-efficacy that we can become veritable agents of the awful, virtual CEO's of selfishness, certainly it can be beneficial. Harnessed correctly, technology can improve our ability to think and act for ourselves. The first challenge is to figure out how to provide technology users with some direly-needed direction.
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 5
The language of this essay clearly illustrates both its strengths and weaknesses. The flowery and sometimes uncannily keen descriptions are often used to powerful effect, but at other times, the writing is awkward and the comparisons somewhat strained. See, for example, the ungainly sequence of independent clauses in the second-to-last sentence of paragraph 2 ("After all, today's tech-aided teens ...").
There is consistent evidence of facility with syntax and complex vocabulary ("Surrounded as we are by striding and strident automatons with cell phones glued to their ears, PDA's gripped in their palms, and omniscient, omnipresent CNN gleaming in their eyeballs, it's tempting to believe..."). However, such lucid prose is sometimes countered by an over-reliance on abstractions and reasoning that is not entirely effective. For example, what does the fact that video games "literally train [teens] to kill" have to do with the use or deterioration of thinking abilities? On the whole, however, the response develops its ideas about the ways that technology can promote isolation and conformity with well-chosen examples, even if its ideas about the positive effects of technology are less successfully realized.
Because this essay provides generally thoughtful analysis and takes a complex approach to the issue (arguing, in effect, that technology neither enhances nor reduces our ability to think for ourselves, but can do one or the other, depending on the user) and because the author makes use of "appropriate vocabulary and sentence variety," a score of 5 is appropriate.
Essay Response — Score 4
In all actuality, I think it is more probable that our bodies will surely deteriorate long before our minds do in any significant amount. Who can't say that technology has made us lazier, but that's the key word, lazy, not stupid. The ever increasing amount of technology that we incorporate into our daily lives makes people think and learn every day, possibly more than ever before. Our abilities to think, learn, philosophize, etc. may even reach limits never dreamed of before by average people. Using technology to solve problems will continue to help us realize our potential as a human race.
If you think about it, using technology to solve more complicating problems gives humans a chance to expand their thinking and learning, opening up whole new worlds for many people. Many of these people are glad for the chance to expand their horizons by learning more, going to new places, and trying new things. If it wasn't for the invention of new technological devices, I wouldn't be sitting at this computer trying to philosophize about technology. It would be extremely hard for children in much poorer countries to learn and think for themselves with out the invention of the internet. Think what an impact the printing press, a technologically superior mackine at the time, had on the ability of the human race to learn and think.
Right now we are seeing a golden age of technology, using it all the time during our every day lives. When we get up there's instant coffee and the microwave and all these great things that help us get ready for our day. But we aren't allowing our minds to deteriorate by using them, we are only making things easier for ourselves and saving time for other important things in our days. Going off to school or work in our cars instead of a horse and buggy. Think of the brain power and genius that was used to come up with that single invention that has changed the way we move across this globe.
Using technology to solve our continually more complicated problems as a human race is definately a good thing. Our ability to think for ourselves isn't deteriorating, it's continuing to grow, moving on to higher though functions and more ingenious ideas. The ability to use what technology we have is an example
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 4
This essay meets all the criteria of a level-4 essay. The writer develops a clear position ("Using technology to solve problems will continue to help us realize our potential as a human race"). The position is then developed with relevant reasons ("using technology to solve more complicat[ed] problems gives humans a chance to expand their thinking and learning" and "we are seeing a golden age of technology").
Point 1, "using technology," is supported with the simple but relevant notion that technology allows us access to information and abilities to which we would not normally have access. Similarly, point 2, the "golden age," is supported by the basic description of our technologically saturated social condition. Though the overall development and organization of the essay does suffer from an occasional misdirection (see paragraph 3's abrupt progression from coffee pots to the benefits of technology to cars), the essay as a whole flows smoothly and logically from one idea to the next.
It is useful to compare this essay to the level-3 essay presented next. Though both essays entail some surface-level discussion and often fail to probe deeply into the issue, this writer does take the analysis a step further. In paragraph 2, the distinction between this essay and the next one (the level-3 response) can most clearly be seen. To support the notion that advances in technology actually help increase thinking ability, the writer draws a clever parallel between the promise of modern, sophisticated technology (computer) and the actual "impact" of equally "promising" and pervasive technologies of the past (printing press).
Like the analysis, the language in this essay clearly meets the requirements for a score of 4. The writer displays sufficient control of language and the conventions of standard written English. The preponderance of mistakes are of a cosmetic nature ("trying to solve more complicating problems."). In general, these errors are minor and do not interfere with the clarity of the ideas being presented.
Essay Response — Score 3
There is no current proof that advancing technology will deteriorate the ability of humans to think. On the contrary, advancements in technology had advanced our vast knowledge in many fields, opening opportunities for further understanding and achievement. For example, the problem of dibilitating illnesses and diseases such as alzheimer's disease is slowing being solved by the technological advancements in stem cell research. The future ability of growing new brain cells and the possibility to reverse the onset of alzheimer's is now becoming a reality. This shows our initiative as humans to better our health demonstrates greater ability of humans to think.
One aspect where the ability of humans may initially be seen as an example of deteriorating minds is the use of internet and cell phones. In the past humans had to seek out information in many different enviroments and aspects of life. Now humans can sit in a chair and type anything into a computer and get an answer. Our reliance on this type of technology can be detrimental if not regulated and regularily substituted for other information sources such as human interactions and hands on learning. I think if humans understand that we should not have such a reliance on computer technology, that we as a species will advance further by utilizing the opportunity of computer technology as well as the other sources of information outside of a computer. Supplementing our knowledge with internet access is surely a way for technology to solve problems while continually advancing the human race.
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 3
This essay never moves beyond a superficial discussion of the issue. The writer attempts to develop two points: that advancements in technology have progressed our knowledge in many fields and that supplementing rather than relying on technology is "surely a way for technology to solve problems while continually advancing the human race." Each point, then, is developed with relevant but insufficient evidence. In discussing the potential of technology to advance knowledge in many fields (a broad subject, rife with possible examples), the writer uses only one limited and very brief example from a specific field (medicine and stem-cell research).
Development of the second point is hindered by a lack of specificity and organization. The writer creates what might be best described as an outline. The writer cites a need for regulation/supplementation and warns of the detriment of over-reliance upon technology. However, the explanation of both the problem and solution is vague and limited ("Our reliance ... can be detrimental. If humans understand that we should not have such a reliance ... we will advance further"). There is neither explanation of consequences nor clarification of what is meant by "supplementing." This second paragraph is a series of generalizations that are loosely connected and lack a much-needed grounding.
In the essay, there are some minor language errors and a few more serious flaws (e.g., "The future ability of growing new brain cells" or "One aspect where the ability of humans may initially be seen as an example of deteriorating minds"). Despite the accumulation of such flaws, the writer's meaning is generally clear. Thus, this essay earns a score of 3.
Essay Response — Score 2
In recent centuries, humans have developed the technology very rapidly, and you may accept some merit of it, and you may see a distortion in society occured by it. To be lazy for human in some meaning is one of the fashion issues in thesedays. There are many symptoms and resons of it. However, I can not agree with the statement that the technology make humans to be reluctant to thinkng thoroughly.
Of course, you can see the phenomena of human laziness along with developed technology in some place. However, they would happen in specific condition, not general. What makes human to be laze of thinking is not merely technology, but the the tendency of human that they treat them as a magic stick and a black box. Not understanding the aims and theory of them couses the disapproval problems.
The most important thing to use the thechnology, regardless the new or old, is to comprehend the fundamental idea of them, and to adapt suit tech to tasks in need. Even if you recognize a method as a all-mighty and it is extremely over-spec to your needs, you can not see the result you want. In this procedure, humans have to consider as long as possible to acquire adequate functions. Therefore, humans can not escape from using their brain.
In addition, the technology as it is do not vain automatically, the is created by humans. Thus, the more developed tech and the more you want a convenient life, the more you think and emmit your creativity to breakthrough some banal method sarcastically.
Consequently, if you are not passive to the new tech, but offensive to it, you would not lose your ability to think deeply. Furthermore, you may improve the ability by adopting it.
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 2
The language of this essay is what most clearly links it to the score of 2. Amidst sporadic moments of clarity, this essay is marred by serious errors in grammar, usage and mechanics that often interfere with meaning. It is unclear what the writer means when he/she states, "To be lazy for human in some meaning is one of the fashion issues in thesedays," or "to adapt suit tech to tasks in need."
Despite such severe flaws, the writer has made an obvious attempt to respond to the prompt ("I can not agree with the statement that the technology make humans to be reluctant to thinking thoroughly") as well as an unclear attempt to support such an assertion ("Not understanding the aims and theory of them [technology] couses the disapproval problems" and "The most important thing to use the thechnology ... is to comprehend the fundamental idea of them"). On the whole, the essay displays a seriously flawed but not fundamentally deficient attempt to develop and support its claims.
(Note: In this specific case, the analysis is tied directly to the language. As the language falters, so too does the analysis.)
Essay Response — Score 1
Humans have invented machines but they have forgot it and have started everything technically so clearly their thinking process is deterioating.
Rater Commentary for Essay Response — Score 1
The essay is clearly on topic, as evidenced by the writer's usage of the more significant terms from the prompt: "technically" (technologically), "humans," "thinking" (think) and "deteriorating" (deteriorate). Such usage is the only clear evidence of understanding. Meaning aside, the brevity of the essay (one sentence) clearly indicates the writer's inability to develop a response that follows the specific instructions given ("Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement above and explain your reasoning for the position you take").
The language, too, is clearly level 1, as the sentence fails to achieve coherence. The coherent phrases in this one-sentence response are those tied to the prompt: "Humans have invented machines" and "their thinking process is deteriorating." Otherwise, the point being made is unintelligible.