Whenever reading, it is important to consider the author’s credibility. If a reader does not verify the credibility of an author, the information may not be
accurate. Various authors use an assortment of methods to establish their credibility. Paul Kix and Luke Mogelson demonstrate their credibility extrinsically
and intrinsically in their magazine articles found in “The New Yorker”, thereby making the information they present credible.
In comparing the credibility of these two authors, several similarities stand out. Both authors perform interviews to obtain much of their information. They
both interview people who have firsthand knowledge of the events as well as those with secondhand knowledge. Both authors actually visited the sites
involved in the events they were reporting on.
In addition to the lessons in the modules, here are some of the topics discussed in my comments for each assignment. You are welcome to consult them at
1) Political correctness. Shibboleths. Obscenity. Language change.
2) Language assimilation. Allusion.
3) Sentence variety.
4) Pathos, ethos, logos. Intrinsic credibility.
5) Sentence variety. Hyperbole.
6) Ethos. Allusion.
7) Extrinsic credibility.
8) Implicit meaning. Paragraph structure.
To find this week’s article, go to the TCC libary portal, click on Periodicals, type in Atlantic Monthly, and go to the May 2016 issue. In the table of contents,
click on “Loanshark, Inc.”
(I heard from a student who had some trouble finding the article. Here’s some further advice:
After putting Atlantic Monthly into the periodicals data base, your click takes you to any data base that includes any issue of the magazine. You have to scroll
down and look for the one that includes the right span of years.
I had to scroll down to the third one (there’s a small picture of a magazine cover next to it), which has several sub-bases. I found the one that says
“11/01/1993 to 5 days ago,” clicked, and was then able to put in the year and month to get to the right issue.)
Following the general instructions for our previous essays, you should develop and support a thesis that answers your own question about this article. Avoid
a question that calls for a simple yes / no answer. Instead, use the basic tool of critical thinking by asking a question that begins with who, what, where,
when, why, or how. An obvious question: Who is McLean’s audience? However, the answer may not be so obvious. (As you decide on a question, remember
that our goal is to examine the way these articles are written, not to solve the problems they are written about.)
Use your question as the title of your essay, right at the top.
Here are some comments on the article, and especially on how the article is written:
Bethany McLean applies some critical thinking to the industry of payday or short-term loans, and we can learn something about writing from her.
Everyone who thinks about payday loans has an opinion, and for those not actually working in the industry, that opinion is rarely favorable. McLean isn’t out to
change our unfavorable opinion, but she does complicate our thinking a little bit. She asks, among other things, what the alternatives are for payday loan
customers. As she puts it, “The argument that payday lending shouldn’t exist would be easy if there were widespread, affordable sources of small-dollar
loans. But thus far, there are not.” The complication McLean reveals is that constructive reform of the payday load industry requires a much broader reform,
one that very few people seem to be ready for, or even to agree on what it would look like.
The problems may be part of an economic situation in which many people often can’t make it from one pay check to the next without borrowing. Why? Do
they spend too much? Do they earn too little? Do they sometimes just have a run of bad luck that sends them to the local payday loan store? Maybe, some
people suggest, they are victims not merely of an “economic situation,” but of an economic system that has evolved to keep them down.
I can’t settle that question. I can say, however, that McLean hints strongly that we do indeed have a system that keeps poor people poor, and that some
politically influential businesses have discovered ways to make a lot of money even off of those who in fact don’t have very much money.
Instead of debating that very important question, I want to help you learn something about writing. Here’s a passage from the article. I’m putting it into what
is called a “block quotation,” which means that it is indented as a separate paragraph. When you do this, you don’t use quotation marks; the indentation and
your signal phrase (or “lead-in”) makes it clear that you are quoting. In the relatively short essays that you write for most of our assignments you will not need
to use block quotations, but you may need them for the research paper:
Elizabeth Warren has endorsed the idea of the Postal Service partnering with banks to offer short-term loans. But even some fellow opponents of payday
lending think that’s unfeasible. In a New York Times op-ed last fall, Frederick Wherry, a sociology professor at Yale, pointed out that doing this would require
the Postal Service to have a whole new infrastructure, and its employees a whole new skill set.
McLean begins with an allusion, or at least, a very abbreviated reference. Who is Elizabeth Warren? McLean doesn’t feel she has to explain. She assumes that
we know who Elizabeth Warren is, so she omits a modifier like “a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination who advocates sweeping
Later in the passage, she gives us a good example of effective sentence variety. In the sentence that begins “In a New York Times op-ed last fall,” she
includes a full reference: “a sociology professor at Yale.” She assumes that Frederick Wherry, unlike Elizabeth Warren, is not a familiar figure to her audience,
so she tells us who he is. More specifically, she gives us the information that makes him a credible source on this topic.
But rather than use a separate sentence to explain who Wherry is and why his opinion matters, she puts her explanation into a modifier. A less-skilled writer
would have do something like this: “There was a New York Times op-ed last fall by Frederick Wherry. He is a sociology professor at Yale. He pointed out that
this would require the Postal Service to have a whole new infrastructure. It would also require its employees to have a whole new skill set.”
The problem with that version is that the emphasis is blurred. It’s wordy. Instead of the thirty-six words in the finished version, this one has forty-eight, and it
creates unnecessary work for the reader to sort out the most important parts. Reading my clunky version, a critical reader thinks, rightly, that we’re now into a
digression about Frederick Wherry, but in fact we’re still getting commentary on Warren’s proposal, so the reader has to backtrack to connect with McLean’s
real topic. The forty-eight-word version is like a painting with no perspective; everything is flat, without foreground or background. McLean’s version gives us
background without distracting us from the foreground.
As she wrote — more specifically, as she revised — McLean imagined a critical reader, armed with critical-reading questions, coming to the name Frederick
Wherry and asking “Who’s he?” The answer isn’t part of her main argument, so she takes the explanatory sentence, cuts off the grammatical subject, and puts
it right next to the thing (Frederick Wherry) that it modifies, and goes on with her main argument. Instead of three choppy, wordy sentences that may well
have been part of an earlier draft, she has a single sentence with the necessary information and clear emphasis.
Here’s another example:
Dennis Shaul, who, before he became the head of the industry’s trade association, was a senior adviser to then-Congressman Barney Frank of
Massachusetts, accused the rule-makers of a harmful paternalism, rooted in a belief that payday-lending customers “are not able to make their own choices
McLean imagines her critical reader asking, “Who is Dennis Shaul?” and then “Who is Barney Frank?” and then “What does Shaul mean by “harmful
paternalism?” and then, “What exactly did Shaul say?” She puts the answers to those questions into a single, clear sentence that keeps the momentum
toward her point.
You will find some lessons on these techniques in the module on sentence variety. You will also find some helpful instruction in the module on credibility.
he thinks the essays I write are too wordy, fyi lol