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Analyzing a Writing Prompt

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Published on Jan 23, 2015

SOL released prompts: http://tinyurl.com/kkb8hhv
The first priority of analyzing a prompt is to find the question or issue that you're being asked about. Without doing so, you won't be able to write a meaningful thesis statement. Your secondary goal is to search for any hints or extra information from the prompt that you may be able to expand on in your essay. So let's consider 3 examples.
Ex. 1
Some say that the journey is more important than the destination. They argue that people find more joy and satisfaction in working toward a goal than in achieving it. Others say that it is the destination that gives meaning to the journey. They argue that the process of working toward a goal would be meaningless without its achievement. Take a position on this issue. Use reasons and specific examples to support your ideas.
In this case we have no question mark to indicate what the prompt is asking us, so we have to read more carefully. The clear instruction at the end of the prompt is to take a position on the issue and use reasons and specific examples to support your idea. You'll find that almost every prompt tells you to do that, so you don't need to focus on that.
Some say that the journey is more important than the destination. They argue that people find more joy and satisfaction in working toward a goal than in achieving it. Others say that it is the destination that gives meaning to the journey. They argue that the process of working toward a goal would be meaningless without its achievement. Take a position on this issue. Use reasons and specific examples to support your ideas.
What we're left with is two sides of an issue. We have to pick if the journey is more important than the destination, or if it's a goal, or destination itself that is more important than how you achieve it. We could start a thesis with,
"The journey is more important than the destination because..." Or
"The means of achieving a goal are meaningless without the goal because..."
As for extra information, this prompt does offer some. It gives an elaboration on what each side of the issue popularly states to defend its position, which gives you a head start in your brainstorming, both for the reasons you develop and for brainstorming a counterargument.
Ex 2. Many schools require students to participate in volunteer programs in their communities as a requirement for graduation. However, some people feel that requiring students to volunteer defeats the purpose of volunteering. Do you think students should be required to volunteer in their communities to receive their high school diplomas? Take a position on this issue. Support your response with reasons and specific examples.
Again, this prompt has two ending lines we can ignore, but it gave us a question mark to quickly find what we need to know. It's very clear that the prompt is asking us,
"Do you think students should be required to volunteer in their communities to receive their high school diplomas?"
The rest of the prompt was just background information. That's the part you may consider incorporating into your brainstorming for what to say about your three reasons. A thesis for this prompt may start with
"Students should be required to volunteer in order to graduate, because..." or
"A high school diploma should NOT require volunteer hours because..."
Ex. 3 Technology allows people to complete many tasks without having contact with others. People can check out books, shop, and play games without speaking to another person. Has the limitation of human contact due to the use of technology had positive or negative effects on people’s lives? Take a position on this question. Support your response with reasons and specific examples.
Again, we have a question mark indicating exactly what question the prompt is asking. IT's asking us if the limitation of human contact due to the use of technology has had positive or negative effects on people's lives.
Has the limitation of human contact due to the use of technology had positive or negative effects on people’s lives?
We can infer that the prompt admits it has had both but wants you to pick if the impact has been more positive or negative. Again, the information before the question is just background introduction that we can consider as material for brainstorming. Because of the question itself, or thesis should start with something like,
"The limitation of human contact due to use of technology has mostly had positive effects on human behavior because..." or
"Technology's damper on human contact has had mostly negative effects on human behavior because..."
The link provided offers six pages of released SOL prompts that are often used again, so don't hesitate to review them! As you explore more instructions in class and in the writing playlist, use those prompts to practice the techniques you learn.

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