COMM 100W San Jose State University The Meaning Of Freedom Essay

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The Meaning Of…..

Assignment Overview

The first major assignment in COMM 100W required that you write a paper consisting entirely of statements of fact. This second major assignment will also include statements of fact, but the goal of the essay is to establish something that cannot be empirically verified: the meaning of a word.

As you may have experienced when composing the Fact Paper, our ability to make an argument is limited when we cannot appeal to values. Contrary to the belief that values diminish the validity of an argument by rendering it mere opinion, values are a necessary part of argument. Indeed, they are the very heart of argument. This is the case in part because evaluative terms are notoriously difficult to define.

To establish what is meant by any evaluative word, we must rely on precedent and context. We can refer to authoritative sources such as dictionaries, but we must also take into account common usage and intent. In the case of words like hot, cold, short, or tall, there may be specific temperatures or heights that we can all agree define that term. There is no such widespread agreement for other evaluative terms, especially cultural values.

Cultural values are key terms to which we appeal again and again when deciding a course of action. They are values that most people would agree are fundamental to our society, even if we cannot agree on their definition. Examples of cultural values are: freedom, happiness, efficiency, maturity, ingenuity, independence, health, security, life, criminality, responsibility, and sustainability.

This assignment is designed to give you practice in another technique of persuasive writing, that of defining a cultural value or other key term in such a way that seems credible to your reader. Your ability to credibly define your terms will help you to contribute to a range of public discourse in influential ways.


Identify an instance in a document, broadcast, or conversation in which the meaning an author assigns to a word is debatable. You are not looking for an instance in which someone uses a term incorrectly, such as using the word “antidote” to refer to a short story. Rather, you are looking for an instance in which a person applies a word to an object or situation and you disagree with the person’s evaluation of that object or situation.

When you have your example, then answer for yourself the following question: Why is it important to dispute the meaning of that word? Your answer to that question will eventually become the thesis of your paper.

Begin your essay by summarizing your example, presenting your thesis, and previewing your definition of the disputed word. Following your introduction, present your research on your word that supports the usage for which you advocate.

There are a number of ways to establish a precedent for a preferred meaning of a term, including reference to a dictionary, though that reference should not be limited to Merriam Webster’s.

You can trace the etymology of your word in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is available electronically via the university library: (Links to an external site.)

Other dictionaries you can search include:

legal: (Links to an external site.)

medical: (Links to an external site.)

philosophical: (Links to an external site.)

slang: (Links to an external site.)

Another way to establish the meaning of a term is to show how others use it, even if that usage is common only to a certain group of people. To do this, you will need to compile examples of others using your word in the manner for which you advocate. This research might include reference to the term’s equivalent in other languages.

A third strategy for establishing the meaning of a term is to define related terms. For instance, if you are establishing the meaning of maturity, you may also want to define experienced, responsible, and established.

After establishing a precedent for your preferred meaning, explain the difference it will make to use that meaning over another. In this section of the paper, you will want to provide specific examples of how the word’s meaning can or will influence decision-making and social action.

Conclude your paper with a brief summary of your argument and re-statement of your thesis.

Formatting guidelines

You paper should be 1500 words in length not including endnotes and bibliography. Please include no fewer than seven references and no more than ten. Drafts and final paper must be typed, double-spaced with one-inch margins, and stapled. Use 12 pt. font, preferably Times New Roman. Please do not include a title page or my name. Simply include your name, the semester, and the assignment (single-spaced) at the top of the first page. Citations should be formatted in accordance with either MLA or APA guidelines. Those guidelines can be found in The Pocket Wadsworth Handbook and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): (Links to an external site.). Even when you reference a dictionary available online, be sure to provide a complete citation for the text, including the names of editors and publishers.


When grading your paper, I will be looking for the following:

1) A compelling thesis that gives reason for disputing the meaning of a word;

2) Well-organized and thorough research that lends credibility to your preferred meaning;

3) Successful organization of your research into easily readable sections;

4) No fewer than seven and no more than ten reliable sources;

5) Adherence to the formatting guidelines detailed above, including complete and correct citations for all your sources;

6) Careful attention to grammar, spelling, and paragraph construction.

7) After you have drafted the paper, select ten sentences from it and list them on a separate sheet of paper. Carefully revise each sentence following Lanham’s advice for making sentences snap. When you have finished revising, calculate the “LF” (lard factor)—the “lard” that you were able to eliminate from each sentence (see Lanham, Ch. 1). Then, reinsert your revised sentences into your paper and bold each sentence. (When you turn in your final paper, also submit your list of revised sentences with your “LF” calculations.)

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