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How to Write a Proposal
This lecture will guide you through the form and process of writing the Proposing a Solution Essay (or "Proposal"). Remember that the topic (problem to be solved) must be within the topic area of "Consumerism," which is defined here. We are focusing on the 2nd and 3rd aspects of the previous definition:
"2. materialistic attitude: an attitude that values the acquisition of material goods.
"3. belief in benefits of consumption: the belief that the buying and selling of large quantities of consumer goods is beneficial to an economy
or a sign of economic strength."
By default, we are also dealing with "anti-consumerism," a concept that doesn't believe in the benefits of buying and selling. Here are organizations that oppose consumerism: Global Issues.org, Adbusters.
Watch this debate on consumerism from theThe Colbert Report(please be patient with the download speed, or lack of).
Watch Consumerism: The Musical!
Before you keep on reading, look ahead to the end-goal:Proposal Essay Specifications andEvaluation Form.
The first step in writing a proposal is to identify a problem to be solved, and the beginning stages of the Prewritingare designed exactly for that. Before you start prewriting, however, you should read a lot of articles in order to see what kind of problems you might be interested in writing about; thus, you'll need a broad understanding of consumerism.
To start, read again: Research Gathering and Forbidden Essay Topics
Also, read some of these consumerism-specific articles (and have your Proquest information at the ready):
"A pledge to go a year without buying anything new,"Star Tribune, January 8, 2008
"The Rebel Sell"from Time
"Bag lady: Rosemary Williams has turned shopping at the Mall of America into art - and a statement about our consumer culture."
"Publix Testing TV Carts for Kids"
"'I want Barney!': TV turns kids into grocery cart potatoes"
"Upgrading Ourselves toward Obsolescence"
"Consumerism and its Discontents"
"The rebel Sell"
"Wal-Mart Means Low-Prices Goods and Good Jobs"
Watch these Videos
"Big-Box Mart," a video argument for/or against consumerism.
"Adbusters"Anti-consumerism commercials (check back; the site seems to be undergoing a transformation).
Benjamin Barber on the Colbert Report
Ordering Pizza in the Year 2010
Consumerism: The Musical!
As you begin to brainstorm topics in your Prewriting, you will want to list "problems caused or related to consumerism" by the above definition. Thus, avoid general "economic" topics and instead deal with problems related to the "consumption" aspect of consumerism. Thus, a problem like "the high cost of college tuition" would not work. Though it's an "economic" problem, it's not related to consumerism in the consumption sense. An argument can be made that "anything" that involves buying something a "consumerism" topic, but it would be a weak argument because it would subvert the definition of consumerism: "materialistic attitude: an attitude that values the acquisition of material goods" and "belief in benefits of consumption [italics mine]: the belief that the buying and selling of large quantities of consumer goods is beneficial to an economy
or a sign of economic strength." I would even add another aspect to the definition: "the belief that the buying and selling of large quantities of consumer goods is beneficial to personal happiness and fulfillment." Here is a list of topics/problems students brainstormed in a previous class.
Proposal Form and Features (Essay Structure)
Read the perfect example of a proposal. It's the essay that set the mold: A Modest Proposal.
Note that A Modest Proposalfollows Proposal Structure, with some minor variations. Here are some comments on how the essay establishes basic proposal form:
In his introduction, Swift defines the problem for the reader:
"It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.
"I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation."
He then presents his thesis, or solution:
"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
"I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter."
Note that his thesis is also specific and detailed, showing that the writer has put a good deal of thought into the solution. (Read the disclaimer at the end of this analysis right now if you're starting to think this is a "literal" proposal to eat children).
Swift then moves on to examine alternative solutions. Example:
"A very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and service; and these to be disposed of by their parents, if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations."
And then he refutes the alternative solution (with a fine concession in the opener):
"But with due deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission be a loss to the public, because they soon would become breeders themselves; and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however so well intended.
"After sufficiently examining and weakening the alternative solutions, Swift transitions to the introduction of his own solution, by offering the specific action necessary to implement the solution, and the core of the argument, the BENEFITS of the solution:
"I have too long digressed, and therefore shall return to my subject. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.
"For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies; and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their advantage by the absence of so many good protestants, who have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at home and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate."
He then goes on to conclude the rest of the argument by listing many benefits to his solution.
(Disclaimer: "A Modest Proposal" is a satireon the British Government's colonial rule over Ireland, not a real proposal for child-eating. Jonathan Swift was a priest in the Church of Ireland. He was a humanitarian, not a child-eater.)
Sample Student Proposals
"The Cost of Cheap Food"
"The Energy Solution"