Philosophical & Ethical Issues in the Mass Media
On Writing Essays

Return to Course Syllabus



Points Made (over and over) in Tutorials that Still Showed Up as Errors in Essays

1. Use Proper Syllogism Format

All M are P

All S are M

All S are P


Not, all M should be P

Not, all M and X might be P

Not, all M should be P with accompanying Y and Z

2. Principle of Charity: Find a Valid Syllogism - it's not fair that you are the author and the person who gets to set the rules and lay out the syllogism and you choose for your advertiser a faulty one, an invalid one. The advertiser has lost the battle before it's even begun. If you're going to tear someone to shreds, do the decent thing and give them a valid argument logically to start with. Then tear them apart finding fallacies, unsound arguments, poor arguments from other perspectives (MMA). But don't cut them off at the ankles right from the start!

3. First Premise Refers to All Products In A Way That Singles Out Yours


 All razors provide a smooth shave.

If this is the case, if your syllogism starts out saying that all products in your product class are alike and provide the same benefit, why should the customer look any further than the first one s/he sees on the shelf? Construct your first premise so that it deals with the product class in general but kind of limiting things already to your special brand.


 All razors that have a patented bluesteel whizbang edge give a smooth shave.

4. Don’t Conclude With “Buy this product.” We went over and over this in tutorials. Find the conclusion that is the message of this particular ad.

Writing the Paper

5. Name Only on First Page - time honoured tradition of grading blind

6. Don’t Laminate Ads (this is new, not mentioned in tutorials)

7. Don’t Use Direct Quotes; Use YOUR words

Use quotes only when quoting something rather outrageous

Michael Gilbert defines emotional arguments as "arguments that use emotion." Hardly worth the effort of typing in the quotation marks.

Professor Joe Schmo Blow of Hardcastle University of Hard Knocks says "Advertising has no effect on us whatsoever." (Advertising Age, March 15, 2006). Pretty outrageous statement; you don't dare say it on your own so you'd better have an authority to back you up - this is what quotes are for.

8. Don’t Define Terms

9. But Don’t Assume Your Reader Knows Everything
When using a particular author's theory in your paper, introduce it briefly; don't just use his/her terms or it will look like you are using them as if they were your own. Give credit where credit is due.

"In addition to the logical, Michael Gilbert in his theory of MultiModal Argumentation claims that there also exist emotional, visceral, and kisceral arguments."

This is particularly important to do with the word "kisceral" since Gilbert made it up. He invented it. You can't just use that word without crediting Gilbert.

Basic Grammar, Spelling, and Writing

(These may seem awfully basic to some of you, but they occurred with enough frequency that I felt it worthwhile to mention to the class as a whole)


Break A Solid Page of Prose into Paragraphs

     -- No one wants to read a solid page of unbroken prose


Possessive Form of Noun Takes Apostrophe

Plural Form of a Noun Does Not

                I question the ad’s sincerity.

                I will examine two ads.


Don’t Use Contractions in Formal Writing

                 Incorrect: Don’t

                 Correct:    Do not


Underline Magazine Titles        or

Put Magazine Titles in Italics

Watch Agreement Between Subject and Verb With Plurals

                   Incorrect: Celebrities wears jewels.

                   Correct:    Celebrities wear jewels.


 Write in the Active, not Passive, Voice

                    Incorrect: Two ads will be analyzed.

                    Correct:    I will analyze two ads.


 Watch Proper Comma Use

            What is Wrong With This Sentence?

This layout is strategic and tries to persuade individuals, who can be easily influenced, into thinking that they belong here.

Answer: With the comma after "individual" this sentence now actually says that ALL individuals are people who are easily influenced, a statement that simply is not true. What the writer meant to write is this:


This layout is strategic and tries to persuade individuals who can be easily influenced, into thinking that they belong here.


With only the one comma, it is clear that the writer is referring to only those individuals who can be easily influenced, not all individuals.



Don’t Use Run-On Sentences
and Remember that  “However” and “But” are not Interchangeable

RUN-ON: We hoped to catch him, however he was too fast.

CORRECT: We hoped to catch him; however, he was too fast.

CORRECT AND BETTER: We hoped to catch him; he, however, was too fast.

CORRECT AND BEST (SIMPLEST): We hoped to catch him but he was too fast.


Don’t Use “Very”  If it is important, it is important; you don't have to say "very important"

Don’t Use “It is important to note”  If it weren't, we assume you wouldn't be mentioning it

Don’t Use “As I explained before” Either reorganize so that you say it only in one place, or if it is important to say it twice, just say it and don't apologize for it

Don’t Use Clichés and Colloquialisms (see your paper; I've noted them)

Don’t Use Rhetorical Questions (yes, I realize I started one of my essays with one! That doesn't make it good practice; I was writing for an informal conference presentation.)

Don’t Use A Fancy Multi-Syllabic Word When a Simple Word Will Do  especially if you get the meaning of the multi-syllabic word wrong. People aren't impressed with big words; they are impressed when they can read and understand your writing.


Learn To Write Simply

Don't Write Too Much: 
From one of your papers, someone wrote
"All in all, an abundant amount of advertisements appears each day.:
Just Right: I crossed out a whole lot of words and had it just say: 
All in all, an abundant amount of advertisements appear each day.


 Other Comments 

The “i” statement doesn’t mean writing about how hard it was to write the essay

The “i” statement doesn’t mean writing “I think” in front of every sentence you write (we know you think it; you're the person who wrote the essay)

The "i" statement does not mean writing in a down-home folksy way with cutesy colloquialisms peppering your writing like Mark Twain's Mississippi River tales

Example of a Great “i” statement (don't just copy this one for your next paper; they have to be individual to you!)

According to James Twitchell, it is estimated that marketing companies spend about $140 billion dollars on advertisements a year, while individuals are confronted with 3,000 ads a day. Based on my exposure to advertisements, I can say that the multi-billion dollar investment has had successful results. In the past, they influenced me to buy, donate, vote, and believe in countless sorts of promotions.


The “i” statement also gets rid of passive voice

                        Incorrect: Two ads will be analyzed.

                        Correct:    I will analyze two ads.


Start an essay writing about your topic, not writing about writing your essay

Start by writing about your topic, not about the process of writing of the essay. The reader of an essay doesn’t care at all about what your assignment was, what course you were taking when you wrote it, how you went about collecting ads, or any of that stuff. Start an essay with the topic of the essay, not with a description of what you were assigned to write. Francis Bacon, writing his essay “Of Truth” did not start by writing, “My editor suggested that I write a piece about Truth so I looked through my old files on truth and decided to write something about how Pontius Pilate thought about the issue.” No, he wrote this opening sentence, “What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Start an essay with something that will capture your reader’s interest, not with a statement of why you wrote it. Trust me, no one cares.



Your actual mark is in pencil on the front of your paper. The first mark is for essay structure, the second for content and writing, and the third is the average of the two. The red S is a label of the category you fell into for Structure and the pencil C the category you fell into for Content/Writing. The number at the top is the number of your paper I used in grading blind (without knowing the name of the author).

A Check Mark instead of a Plus means you spent too much time describing rather than analyzing. The phrase OK instead of Good means just that: it was okay.

A grade of B is a respectable grade. But the paper lacked that pizzazz, that spark, that extra brilliance that brings a paper up to an A.

Questions About Marks

In the next two weeks bring in writing with a copy of your paper a statement of where you think you earned more marks and why. Be sure you have read my detailed comments and these classroom comments.

Note: I do not entertain requests that argue:

“I worked hard.”
“I worked harder than Jane who got an A.”
“I think I deserve a better mark.”
“I need a mark of _____ to graduate.”

Know that I don’t actually ever raise marks unless I have accidentally missed a whole section, but with the amount of time I took marking these papers, it is highly unlikely that this has happened.

I have taught for a very long time and one of the things I have decided is that I do not bicker over marks. Claudio has had a look over these papers as well and found that they correlated quite highly with the midterm marks, with, of course, some instances where they did not - no correlation is 100%; people do not perform with 100% consistence. Ultimately if you are not happy with your marks, there are formal avenues of appeal open to you through the Faculty.

Return to Course Syllabus

AK/PHIL/ADMS4295 6.0 Philosophical and Ethical Issues in the Mass Media
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.