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Writing 'Opinion' Essays more Objectively

This is just a little assistance in response to some recent essays that I've received from students.


Some Ideas on How to Express Opinions in an Academically Acceptable Way.

Over the past semester, students have written a considerable number of essays on a variety of subjects, many of which required opinions or moral judgments to be made concerning specific issues. Of course, this is perfectly acceptable and indeed, most texts are based on the writers opinion; otherwise, what would be the point of writing in the first place? Certain students at the University seem to have very strong opinions on the subjects that they write about, and although such opinions are perfectly valid, there are certain ways in which these opinions need to be expressed in order to gain credibility. In other words, your opinion will not be taken seriously by readers if you fail to use the correct style of expression.
Its very difficult for me to explain what I wish to get across to you here in analytical terms: examples would be much better in this case. Lets return to the recent essays written on the subject of Hamlet and suicide.

Observations.

1.99.9% (if not 100%) of the students in the class are Muslims.
2.Islam dictates that suicide is a sin due to the fact that God gave life to mankind and men have no right to take it away.
3.Students agree whole-heartedly with this idea.

So.how are we going to introduce the subject of suicide in our essays? When the teacher is asking for our opinions in the introduction, how is it possible to get across the opinion of the student (supporting the doctrine of Islam) without sounding like a preacher attempting an exercise of religious propaganda? Again, a few examples will illustrate the situation.

Example Number One.

Suicide is a sin because it is written in the Koran that Allah forbids it.

Comment.What exactly has the reader learnt about your opinion? Nothing. Furthermore, is it really possible to speak on behalf of the whole human race by quoting from the Koran when only 1.5 billion of the 7 billion people in the world are muslims? Definitely not. The above sentence shows the reader that the writer has no independent opinion, probably lacks the ability to think for themselves, and is simply interested in providing the reader with religious propaganda. In other words, do not write like this in any situation!


Example Number Two.

Suicide is a sin because God gave life to man and man has no right to take it away himself.

Comment.Again, most students would see this as a perfectly logical and defensible statement, however, this statement also includes problems. Once again, statements like this make bold claims about what God has done, when (lets be honest here!) its only a Belief. Sentences like this are fine if one is writing ones opinions on religion in a religious arena, but in academic life, they are unlikely to be taken seriously. So, try to avoid making universal statements about things that actually depend on a belief system.


Example Number Three.

According to Islam, suicide is a sin because in the Koran, it is explained that as God gives life, man has no right to take it away. As I am a Muslim, I therefore believe that committing suicide is a sin

Comment.Here, the first sentence is fine. It is objective and defensible, as the reader can find the information in the original sources. Sentences like this cannot be criticized in any way. The problem is in the second sentence. With the second sentence, basically the writer is saying that he/she has no ability for original thought and his/her opinions have been dictated to him/her by religious education in an Islamic country. University is about broadening the mind, questioning accepted doctrine and developing original ideas (based on previous thought systems of course). Sentences like the second one above would indicate to the reader that the writer is not really thinking at an academic level.


So, with all this in mind, how is it possible to get across ones opinions if they are identical to those of any thought system (Islam is only an example here), and avoid sounding like an attempt at religious propaganda, which will therefore simply be dismissed by any academic audience? Well, its all about molding and twisting your words, so that nothing indefensible is written, while your opinion still stands out. Furthermore, it always helps if you can refer to more than one thought system so that the reader can be made to think that you have looked at and studied alternative approaches to the question before reaching an opinion. The best solution in western literature would be to gain an understanding of Christianity and possible Judaism, as well as any philosophical approaches to the questions. (For this reason, I would like to look at some Christian texts next semester).

Now, to return to the question in mind (i.e. suicide as a sin), one of the best strategies you can use is the following.

Committing suicide is classed as sinful in all major western religions, based on the fact that God the creator gives life to mankind, and consequently, man himself has no right to take this life when and where he chooses. Life does not belong to man; it belongs to God, and therefore the taking of this life must be Gods decision

This above passage is a much more successful for the following reasons: Who exactly is saying the second sentence? Actually, you can read the second sentence as (a) the personal opinion of the writer, or (b) a development of the first sentence, which was introducing the idea of suicide in the major western religions. Its therefore been possible to hide my opinion in the text, while at the same time maintaining the appearance of objective analysis. I simply chose to write the second sentence without the phrase, According to western religions. You can do this with all opinions, and it allows your essay to seemingly maintain objectivity, while including your opinion (however strong it may be).

I understand that playing around with language in order to increase your ability to express yourself in an advanced way is an extremely difficult thing to do; however, it is necessary, especially if you are thinking of either (a) writing as a career, or (b) post-graduate education in a western country. Subjective opinions that cant be proven are unacceptable in academic life.

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