Essay Tip Sheet #4

Essay #4: Argument (Saying Nothing in 500 Words)

The Writing Assignment

Choose one (and only one!) of the following prompts:

  1. Do you think the "D" allegedly earned by the essay on college football is overly harsh or is it deserved? Justify your answer.
  2. Roberts seems to have a low opinion of the writing abilities of the typical college freshman. Is he right? And if he is, does his advice hit the mark?
  3. Roberts has taken two risks. One is that students will misread this as an essay opposing football (it's not). The other is that they will miss the humor. Write an essay in which you discuss how this essay is tailored to its target audience. (Of course, to do this, you will have to figure out who the target audience is and what kind of writing will appeal to them.)

Hints for Success


Your essay will need a thesis and a structure. It also needs an introduction which makes sense even to a stranger who has not read the Roberts article. Do not assume that every possible reader has a copy of his article and of the assignment sheet.

Sloppy reading

Student arrogance

Do not assume that you personally know everything there is to know—and that your guesses are absolute truth. Several of my students, after reading this article, wrote that the comment, "There was one case where a high school star was offered a convertible if he would play football for a certain college" was obviously untrue because they had never heard of such a thing. (And of course, because they had never heard of this sort of scandal, the paper deserved its "D" grade.) As a matter of fact, this sort of thing did happen, though the most memorable example was in basketball, not football. The college was Kansas University, the student was Wilt Chamberlain, the year was 1955, and the car was an Oldsmobile.¹ The scandal, widely reported in the media, was a major reason for NCAA regulations that prevent such things from happening now. The Roberts article was written in the mid 1950s, so this was hot current news for him; the fact that it all happened 45 years before you were born doesn't make it less true. The fact that you never heard of it and cannot imagine it happening doesn't make it less true.

A bit of plain academic curiosity would have kept these students from looking like fools.

¹I did not know this one either, but it seemed worth checking out, so I used Google to search for "college basketball, convertible, recruiting, scandal." I knew the approximate date Roberts wrote his article, and I simply dug through a dozen or so Internet hits. That's how research works.

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Revised 7/19/19 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: