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Organizational Patterns in Argument

Let’s look at samples of research-based writing: “Nervous Nellies” on p. 328; “From Degrading to De-Grading” on p. 254; and “How Many Zombies Do You Know?” on p. 290.

Review each selection and include in your post responses to these questions. What do you notice about how each is organized and presented? What kinds of appeals to the audience does each author use? How are sources used in text?

Reading Strategy Note: Unlike summary and paraphrase, which require close reading, for this discussion use the reading strategy of skimming. Carefully read the introductory paragraph, but then move quickly, reading only the topic sentence of each paragraph. The goal is to compare and contrast the differences in the presentation of the information in the document. Skim and review until you have an impression you can share in the discussion.

From Degrading to De-Grading pg 254


In this proposal, which was published in High School magazine, Alfie Kohn first explains the problems with using grades to motivate students in high school. Then he describes how high schools could evaluate students in other ways. Kohn, an education reformer, has published numerous books, has been featured in a variety of magazines and newspapers, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

You can tell a lot about a teacher’s values and personality just by asking how he or she feels about giving grades. Some defend the practice, claiming that grades are necessary to “motivate” students. Many of these teachers actually seem to enjoy keeping intricate records of students’ marks. Such teachers periodically warn students that they’re “going to have to know this for the test” as a way of compelling them to pay attention or do the assigned readings—and they may even use surprise quizzes for that purpose, keeping their grade books at the ready.

Frankly, we ought to be worried for these teachers’ students. In my experience, the most impressive teachers are those who despise the whole process of giving grades. Their aversion, as it turns out, is supported by solid evidence that raises questions about the very idea of traditional grading.

Three main effects of grading

Researchers have found three consistent effects of using—and especially, emphasizing the importance of—letter or number grades:

1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself. One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward (Kohn, 1993). Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that when students are told they’ll need to know something for a test—or, more generally, that something they’re about to do will count for a grade—they are likely to come to view that task (or book or idea) as a chore.

5 While it’s not impossible for a student to be concerned about getting high marks and also to like what he or she is doing, the practical reality is that these two ways of thinking generally pull in opposite directions. Some research has explicitly demonstrated that a “grade orientation” and a “learning orientation” are inversely related (Beck et al., 1991; Milton et al., 1986). More strikingly, study after study has found that students—from elementary school to graduate school, and across cultures—demonstrate less interest in learning as a result of being graded (Benware and Deci, 1984; Butler, 1987; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Grolnick and Ryan, 1987; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Hughes et al., 1985; Kage, 1991; Salili et al., 1976). Thus, anyone who wants to see students get hooked on words and numbers and ideas already has reason to look for other ways of assessing and describing their achievement.

2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks. Students of all ages who have been led to concentrate on getting a good grade are likely to pick the easiest possible assignment if given a choice (Harter, 1978; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Kage, 1991; Milton et al., 1986). The more pressure to get an A, the less inclination to truly challenge oneself. Thus, students who cut corners may not be lazy so much as rational; they are adapting to an environment where good grades, not intellectual exploration, are what count. They might well say to us, “Hey, you told me the point here is to bring up my GPA, to get on the honor roll. Well, I’m not stupid: the easier the assignment, the more likely that I can give you what you want. So don’t blame me when I try to find the easiest thing to do and end up not learning anything.”

3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking. Given that students may lose interest in what they’re learning as a result of grades, it makes sense that they’re also apt to think less deeply. One series of studies, for example, found that students given numerical grades were significantly less creative than those who received qualitative feedback but no grades. The more the task required creative thinking, in fact, the worse the performance of students who knew they were going to be graded. Providing students with comments in addition to a grade didn’t help: the highest achievement occurred only when comments were given instead of numerical scores (Butler, 1987; Butler, 1988; Butler and Nisan, 1986).

In another experiment, students told they would be graded on how well they learned a social studies lesson had more trouble understanding the main point of the text than did students who were told that no grades would be involved. Even on a measure of rote recall, the graded group remembered fewer facts a week later (Grolnick and Ryan, 1987). A brand-new study discovered that students who tended to think about current events in terms of what they’d need to know for a grade were less knowledgeable than their peers, even after taking other variables into account (Anderman and Johnston, 1998).

More Reasons to Just Say No to Grades

The preceding three results should be enough to cause any conscientious educator to rethink the practice of giving students grades. But as they say on late-night TV commercials, Wait—there’s more.

10 4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective. A “B” in English says nothing about what a student can do, what she understands, where she needs help. Moreover, the basis for that grade is as subjective as the result is uninformative. A teacher can meticulously record scores for one test or assignment after another, eventually calculating averages down to a hundredth of a percentage point, but that doesn’t change the arbitrariness of each of these individual marks. Even the score on a math test is largely a reflection of how the test was written: what skills the teacher decided to assess, what kinds of questions happened to be left out, and how many points each section was “worth.”

Moreover, research has long been available to confirm what all of us know: any given assignment may well be given two different grades by two equally qualified teachers. It may even be given two different grades by a single teacher who reads it at two different times (for example, see some of the early research reviewed in Kirschenbaum et al., 1971). In short, what grades offer is spurious precision—a subjective rating masquerading as an objective evaluation.

5. Grades distort the curriculum. A school’s use of letter or number grades may encourage what I like to call a “bunch o’ facts” approach to instruction because that sort of learning is easier to score. The tail of assessment thus comes to wag the educational dog.

6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning. Add up all the hours that teachers spend fussing with their grade books. Then factor in all the (mostly unpleasant) conversations they have with students and their parents about grades. It’s tempting to just roll our eyes when confronted with whining or wheedling, but the real problem rests with the practice of grading itself.

7. Grades encourage cheating. Again, we can continue to blame and punish all the students who cheat—or we can look for the structural reasons this keeps happening. Researchers have found that the more students are led to focus on getting good grades, the more likely they are to cheat, even if they themselves regard cheating as wrong (Anderman et al., 1998; Milton et al., 1986; also see “Who’s Cheating Whom?”).

15 8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students. Consider this lament, which could have been offered by a teacher in your district:

I’m getting tired of running a classroom in which everything we do revolves around grades. I’m tired of being suspicious when students give me compliments, wondering whether or not they are just trying to raise their grade. I’m tired of spending so much time and energy grading your papers, when there are probably a dozen more productive and enjoyable ways for all of us to handle the evaluation of papers. I’m tired of hearing you ask me ‘Does this count?’ And, heaven knows, I’m certainly tired of all those little arguments and disagreements we get into concerning marks which take so much fun out of the teaching and the learning… (Kirschenbaum et al., 1971, p. 115.

9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other. The quality of students’ thinking has been shown to depend partly on the extent to which they are permitted to learn cooperatively (Johnson and Johnson, 1989; Kohn, 1992). Thus, the ill feelings, suspicion, and resentment generated by grades aren’t just disagreeable in their own right; they interfere with learning.

The most destructive form of grading by far is that which is done “on a curve,” such that the number of top grades is artificially limited: no matter how well all the students do, not all of them can get an A. Apart from the intrinsic unfairness of this arrangement, its practical effect is to teach students that others are potential obstacles to their own success. The kind of collaboration that can help all students to learn more effectively doesn’t stand a chance in such an environment.

Sadly, even teachers who don’t explicitly grade on a curve may assume, perhaps unconsciously, that the final grades “ought to” come out looking more or less this way: a few very good grades, a few very bad grades, and the majority somewhere in the middle. But as one group of researchers pointed out, “It is not a symbol of rigor to have grades fall into a ‘normal’ distribution; rather, it is a symbol of failure—failure to teach well, failure to test well, and failure to have any influence at all on the intellectual lives of students” (Milton et al., 1986, p. 225).

The competition that turns schooling into a quest for triumph and ruptures relationships among students doesn’t just happen within classrooms, of course. The same effect is witnessed at a schoolwide level when kids are not just rated but ranked, sending the message that the point isn’t to learn, or even to perform well, but to defeat others. Some students might be motivated to improve their class rank, but that is completely different from being motivated to understand ideas. (Wise educators realize that it doesn’t matter how motivated students are; what matters is how students are motivated. It is the type of motivation that counts, not the amount.) (Paine 254-257)

Paine, Richard Johnson-Sheehan C. Writing Today, 2nd Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 01/2012. VitalBook file.

The citation provided is a guideline. Please check each citation for accuracy before use.

READINGS: “How Many Zombies Do You Know?” Using Indirect Survey Methods to Measure Alien Attacks and Outbreaks of the Undead pg 290


Andrew Gelman, a respected and award-winning professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, wrote on his blog that he created this unpublished paper to do some “humorous fun-poking” but also to illustrate how a very real cutting-edge survey method could be used for solving difficult research problems. As you read and enjoy this, notice he uses the conventions of the scientific-article genre.

1 Introduction

Zombification is a serious public-health and public-safety concern (Romero, 1968, 1978) but is difficult to study using traditional survey methods. Zombies are believed to have very low rates of telephone usage and in any case may be reluctant to identify themselves as such to a researcher. Face-to-face surveying involves too much risk to the interviewers, and internet surveys, although they originally were believed to have much promise, have recently had to be abandoned in this area because of the potential for zombie infection via computer virus.

In the absence of hard data, zombie researchers1 have studied outbreaks and their dynamics using differential equation models (Munz et al., 2009, Lakeland, 2010) and, more recently, agent-based models (Messer, 2010). Figure 1 shows an example of such work.

But mathematical models are not enough. We need data.

1 By “zombie researchers,” we are talking about people who research zombies. We are not for a moment suggesting that these researchers are themselves zombies. Just to be on the safe side, however, we have conducted all our interactions with these scientists via mail.

2 Measuring zombification using network survey data

Zheng, Salganik, and Gelman (2006) discuss how to learn about groups that are not directly sampled in a survey. The basic idea is to ask respondents questions such as, “How many people do you know named Stephen/Margaret/etc.” to learn the sizes of their social networks, questions such as “How many lawyers/teachers/police officers/etc. do you know,” to learn about the properties of these networks, and questions such as “How many prisoners do you know” to learn about groups that are hard to reach in a sample survey. Zheng et al. report that, on average, each respondent knows 750 people; thus, a survey of 1500 Americans can give us indirect information on about a million people.

Figure 1: From Lakeland (2010) and Messer (2010). There were other zombie graphs at these sites, but these were the coolest.

5 This methodology should be directly applicable to zombies or, for that matter, ghosts, aliens, angels, and other hard-to-reach entities. In addition to giving us estimates of the populations of these groups, we can also learn, through national surveys, where they are more prevalent (as measured by the residences of the people who know them), and who is more likely to know them.

A natural concern in this research is potential underreporting; for example, what if your wife2 is actually a zombie or an alien and you are not aware of the fact. This bias can be corrected via extrapolation using the estimates of different populations with varying levels of reporting error; Zheng et al. (2006) discuss in the context of questions ranging from names (essentially no reporting error) to medical conditions such as diabetes and HIV that are often hidden.

2 Here we are choosing a completely arbitrary example with absolutely no implications about our marriages or those of anyone we know.

3 Discussion

As Lakeland (2010) puts it, “Clearly, Hollywood plays a vital role in educating the public about the proper response to zombie infestation.” In this article we have discussed how modern survey methods based on social networks can help us estimate the size of the problem.

Other, related, approaches are worth studying too. Social researchers have recently used Google Trends to study hard-to-measure trends using search volume (Askitas and Zimmerman, 2009, Goel, Hofman, et al., 2010); Figure 2 illustrates how this might be done in the zombie context. It would also make sense to take advantage of social networking tools such as Facebook (Goel, Mason, et al., 2010) and more zombie-specific sites such as ZDate. We envision vast unfolding vistas of funding in this area.

4 Technical note

We originally wrote this article in Word, but then we converted it to Latex to make it look more like science.

Figure 2: Google Trends report on “zombie,” “ghost,” and “alien.” The patterns show fascinating trends from which, we feel, much could be learned if resources were made available to us in the form of a sizable research grant from the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, or a major film studio. Please make out any checks to the first author or deposit directly to his PayPal account.

5 References

Askitas, N., and Zimmermann, K. F. (2009). Google econometrics and unemployment forecasting. Applied Economics Quarterly 55, 107-120.

Goel, S., Hofman, J. M., Lahaie, S., Pennock, D. M., and Watts, D. J. (2010). What can search predict? Technical report, Yahoo Research.

Goel, S., Mason, W., and Watts, D. J. (2010). Real and perceived attitude homophily in social networks. Technical report, Yahoo Research.

Lakeland, D. (2010). Improved zombie dynamics. Models of Reality blog, 1 March.

Messer, B. (2010). Agent-based computational model of humanity’s prospects for post zombie outbreak survival. The Tortise’s Lens blog, 10 March.…

Munz, P., Hudea, I., Imad, J., and Smith, R. J. (2009). When zombies attack!: Mathematical modelling of an outbreak of zombie infection. In Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, ed. J. M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, 133-150. Hauppage, New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Romero, G. A. (1968). Night of the Living Dead. Image Ten.

Romero, G. A. (1978). Dawn of the Dead. Laurel Group.

Zheng, T., Slaganik, M., and Gelman, A. (2006). “How many people do you know in prison?”: Using overdispersion in count data to estimate social structure in networks. Journal of the American Statistical Association 101, 409-423.

A CLOSER LOOK AT: How Many Zombies Do You Know?

1. How well does this mock scientific-research report use the features (organization, feature, style, etc.) of the report genre? Where does it differ from the typical report genre?

2. All of the books and articles cited are real. Some are serious articles written by scientists and some are added for humorous effect. Run through the References section and try to predict which are serious and which are silly. Use Google or another search engine to actually find these articles and test the accuracy of your predictions.

3. The introduction of a report should define a research question and explain why it is important to the reader. What is the question defined here? Does the author explain its importance?

IDEAS FOR: Writing

1. Write a mock research report in the style Gelman’s article. (In fact, this zombies article is a parody of the last item in the Research section, which Gelman coauthored.) Choose a silly topic and write a report similar to Gelman’s. Be sure to follow the report-genre. Try to make the moves he makes, and try to come up with a few of your own moves.

2. Write a bio of Andrew Gelman. Using Google or another search engine, find Andrew Gelman’s professional page at Columbia University and take a look at his papers and some of his blog entries. Do Internet research into his areas of specialization. Try to capture what distinguishes the work that he does and how he approaches his work. We usually think of the scientist as a very, very serious, almost non-human figure who is devoted to seeking the scientific truth. How is Gelman different?


Paine, Richard Johnson-Sheehan C. Writing Today, 2nd Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 01/2012. VitalBook file.

The citation provided is a guideline. Please check each citation for accuracy before use.

READINGS: Nervous Nellies pg 328


People usually assume, in general, that women are naturally more nervous or anxious than men. In this research paper, which is based on the book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, Taylor Clark argues that scientists have demonstrated that women are not biologically inclined to be more anxious. Instead, they are socialized to be this way. While reading this argument, look at the ways Clark uses sources to back up his arguments.

In the jittery world of anxiety research, one of the field’s most consistent findings is also perhaps its biggest source of controversy: Women, according to countless studies, are twice as prone to anxiety as men (Kendler & Prescott, 1999; Todero, Biing-Jiun, Raffa, Tilkemeier & Niaura, 2007). When pollsters call women up, they always confess to far higher levels of worry than men about everything from crime to the economy. Psychologists diagnose women with anxiety disorders two times as often as men, and research confirms—perhaps unsurprisingly—that women are significantly more inclined toward negative emotion, self-criticism, and endless rumination about problems. From statistics like these, some have even leapt to the Larry Summers-esque claim that women are simply built to be much more nervous than men—an idea that has outraged many women inside (and outside) the psychology community (Summers, 2005).

According to new evidence, however, the outraged are right: When it comes to our preconceived notions about women and anxiety, women are unfairly being dragged through the mud. While women are indeed more fretful than men on average right now, this difference is mostly the result of a cultural setup—one in which major social and parenting biases lead to girls becoming needlessly nervous adults. In reality, the idea that women are “naturally” twice as anxious as men is nothing more than a pernicious illusion.

Before we can unleash the vengeance of the furies on this falsehood, though, there’s some bad news we need to get out of the way first: a few recent studies have indicated that the hormonal differences between the sexes really do make women a touch more biologically inclined toward anxiety than men. One noteworthy experiment from last year, for example, found that female brains—well, female rat brains—get more rattled by small levels of a major stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor than male brains (Valentino, 2010). Another 2010 study, at Florida State University, likewise revealed that male rats’ higher testosterone levels seem to give them a larger buffer against anxiety than female rats have (Hartung, 2010). (Don’t get hung up on the fact that these studies were on rodents; most of what we know about the neuroscience of fear actually comes from tormenting lab rats.) Just how big a role these biological factors play in human women’s anxiety isn’t yet clear.

But one thing we do know for certain is that the way we raise children plays a huge role in determining how disposed toward anxiety they are later in life, and thus the difference in the way we treat boys and girls explains a lot about the heightened nerves we see in many adult women. To show just how important this is, let’s start at the very beginning. If women really were fated to be significantly more anxious than men, we would expect them to start showing this nervousness at a very young age, right? Yet precisely the opposite is true: According to the UCLA anxiety expert Michelle Craske, in the first few months of infants’ lives, it’s boys who show greater emotional neediness. While girls become slightly more prone to negative feelings than boys at two years (which, coincidentally, is the age at which kids begin learning gender roles), research has shown that up until age 11, girls and boys are equally likely to develop an anxiety disorder. By age 15, however, girls are six times more likely to have one than boys are (McGee, Feehan, Williams & Anderson, 1992).

5 Why the sudden gap in diagnosed anxiety? Well, one answer is that as a flood of adolescent hormones sends these boys’ and girls’ emotions into overdrive, the difference in their upbringings finally catches up with them. After all, whether parents intend to or not, they usually treat the emotional outbursts of girls far differently than those of boys. “From a socialization angle, there’s quite a lot of evidence that little girls who exhibit shyness or anxiety are reinforced for it, whereas little boys who exhibit that behavior might even be punished for it,” Craske told me.

In my book Nerve, I call this the “skinned knee effect”: Parents coddle girls who cry after a painful scrape but tell boys to suck it up, and this formative link between emotional outbursts and kisses from mom predisposes girls to react to unpleasant situations with “negative” feelings like anxiety later in life. On top of this, cultural biases about boys being more capable than girls also lead parents to push sons to show courage and confront their fears, while daughters are far more likely to be sheltered from life’s challenges. If little Olivia shows fear, she gets a hug; if little Oliver shows fear, he gets urged to overcome it.

The result of these parenting disparities is that by the time girls grow into young women, they’ve learned fewer effective coping strategies than their male counterparts, which translates to higher anxiety. The sexes learn to deal with fear in two very different ways: men have been conditioned to tackle problems head-on, while women have been taught to worry, ruminate, and complain to each other (hey, I’m just reporting the research) rather than actively confront challenges. These are generalizations, of course; the fact that I have always been an Olympic-caliber worrier offers us just one example of how men can fret with the best of them, and everyone knows at least one woman who appears not even to know what fear is. Still, these differences in upbringing clarify quite a bit about the gender gap in anxiety.

Yet parenting doesn’t tell the full story of feminine nerves, because even if a young woman emerges from childhood as a relatively cool and resilient adult, she still has to do battle with social forces that seem bent on making her anxious. You may expect me to dwell here on the viselike pressure that contemporary culture exerts on women to look beautiful and young forever (one highly questionable survey found that women worry about their bodies an average of 252 times a week), but while this is a significant issue, the cultural biases about women and anxiety run deeper still (Alexander, 2009).

We have an odd tendency to label women as anxious even when they aren’t. A recent, highly revealing study showed that even in situations in which male and female subjects experience the same level of an emotion, women are consistently seen—and even see themselves—as being “more emotional” than men. It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that this bias holds for anxiety as well; we buy into the fretful-women stereotypes far too often. Another report, for example, found significant differences in the way doctors respond to patients who report common stress symptoms like chest pain: Whereas men get full cardiac workups, women are more often told that they’re just stressed or anxious, and that their symptoms are in their heads.

10 It should be pretty clear by now that the claims about women being far more innately anxious than men are suspect, but before I depart in a blaze of justice, one final point is in order: Men are getting off much too easily in the anxiety discussion. Probably the most significant reason why women get diagnosed with anxiety disorders twice as often as men isn’t that they’re doubly fearful. It’s because anxious men are much less likely to seek psychological help.

The flip side of being raised to always show strength is that men come to feel that going to a therapist is a sign of weakness or failure (think of Tony Soprano’s mopey resistance to the benefits of psychiatry), which is why men constitute just 37 percent of therapy patients, by some estimates. If nearly twice as many women seek help from a psychologist, then they’ll obviously be diagnosed more often with anxiety disorders. Troublingly enough, the evidence shows that while women deal with anxiety and stress by worrying, men are more likely to try to bury these feelings with alcohol or drugs—which offers one rationale for why men are at higher risk for “antisocial” disorders like alcoholism.

So take heart, women of the world: You’re not necessarily bioengineered to be worry machines. The deeper truth behind the great anxiety divide is this: We all get stressed-out and nervous sometimes. Women are simply more honest about their anxiety, because they’ve been taught to deal with it through unencumbered fretting. Of course, I’m not about to declare that if we raised boys and girls exactly the same, eradicated the cultural anxiety bias against women, and frogmarched more men into therapy, the gender nervousness gap would magically disappear. We would almost certainly see, though, that this gap is far smaller than we think.


Alexander, H. (2009, November 23). Women worry about their bodies 252 times a week. The Telegraph. Retrieved from…

Clark, T. (2011). Nerve: Poise under pressure, serenity under stress, and the brave new science of fear and cool. Little, Brown and Company.

Harting, R. (2010, September 1). Why does anxiety target women more? Florida State University. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from /2010/September/Why-does-anxiety-target-women -more-FSU- researcher-awarded-1.8M-grant-to-find-out

Kendler, K., & Prescott, C. (1999). A population-based twin study of lifetime major depression in men and women. Archives of General Psychology, 56, 39–44.

McGee, R., Feehan, M., Williams, S., & Anderson, J. (1992). DSM-III disorders from age 11 to age 15 years. Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychology, 31(1), 50–59.

Summers, L. (2005, January 14). Remarks at NBER Conference on diversifying the science & engineering workforce. Office of the President, Harvard University. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from…

Todaro, J., Biing-Jiun, S., Raffa, S., Tilkemeier, P., & Niaura, R. (2007). Prevalence of anxiety disorders in men and women with established coronary heart disease. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation & Prevention, 27(2), 86–91. doi:10.1097/01. HCR.0000265036.24157.e7

Valentino, R. (2010, August 20). Stress hormone receptors less adaptive in female brain. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from…

A CLOSER LOOK AT: Nervous Nellies

1. In this research paper, Clark argues against the assumption that women are naturally more nervous or anxious than men. Instead, he is arguing that women are socialized to be this way. Where in the article does he use evidence from sources to prove his point?

2. This essay can be considered an “argumentative” research paper. Where in the text does the au (Paine 328-331)

Paine, Richard Johnson-Sheehan C. Writing Today, 2nd Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions, 01/2012. VitalBook file.

The citation provided is a guideline. Please check each citation for accuracy before use.