Lesson No. 8: Punctuation and Grammar

Writing Goal: Punctuation and Grammar

  • Demonstrate a highly effective use and command of the standard written English language (punctuation and grammar) and is free or virtually free of errors.


An Actual SAT Essay Response That Scored an 8

In the article “Foreign News at a Crisis Point,” Peter S. Goodman eloquently argues the ‘point’ that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States. Goodman builds his argument by using facts and evidence, addressing the counterarguments, and couching it all in persuasive and compelling language. 

          Goodman begins the article by bombarding the reader with facts and statistics. He states that, according to a census conducted by the American Journalism Review, the number of full-time foreign news correspondents in the United States dropped from 307 in 2003 to 234 in 2011. In addition, the AJR survey also discovered that “the space devoted to foreign news [in American papers] had shrunk by 53 percent” in the last 25 years. 

          Beginning the article with all of these facts and figures has a couple of strengthe[n]ing effects on Goodman’s argument. First, by starting out [omit unnecessary words] with hard evidence, Goodman lays the groundwork of [establishes (replace wordiness with a single higher level word] his own credibility. He’s not just writing an opinion piece — his opinion is backed by the truth. This will bring the readers onboard and make them more likely to trust everything else he says. Second,  because Goodman presents these facts without much explaining/interpreting, the reader is forced to do the math herself. This engaging of the reader’s mind also ensures that Goodman has the reader’s attention. When the reader does the math to find a drop of 73 full-time foreign news correspondents employed by US papers in just 8 short years,  she will find herself predisposed to agree with Goodman’s call for more professional foreign news reporting.

          In addition to employing facts to his argument’s advantage, Goodman also cunningly discusses the counterargument to his position. By writing about how social media and man-on-the-ground reporting has had some positive impact on the state of foreign news reporting, Goodman heads off naysayers at the pass. It would have been very easy for Goodman to elide over the whole issue of citizen reporting, but the resultant [resulting] one-sided argument would have been much less convincing. Instead, Goodman acknowledges things like “the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances.” As a result, when he partially refutes this counterargument, stating the “unease” many longtime profession [professional] correspondents feel over the trend of citizen journalism [“citizen journalism”] feel, the reader is much more likely to believe him. After all, Goodman acknowledges that social media does have some power. Knowing that Goodman takes the power of social media seriously will make the reader more inclined, in turn, to take Goodman’s concern about the limits of social media seriously.

          The final piece that helps bolster Goodman’s argument that US news organizations should have more professional foreign correspondents is Goodman’s linguistic + [and] stylistic choices. Goodman uses contrasts to draw the reader deeper into his mindset. By setting up the contrast between professional reporters as “informational filters” that discriminate good from bad and amateur, man-on-the-spot reporters as undiscriminating “funnels,” Goodman forces the reader to view the two in opposition and admit that professional filters are to be preferred over funnels that add “speculatio[n], propaganda, and other white noise” to their reporting. In addition, Goodman drives the reader along toward agreeing with his conclusion in the penultimate paragraph of the article with the repetition of the phrase “We need.” With every repetition, Goodman hammers even further home the inescapable rightness of his argument. The use of “We” more generally through the article serves to make the readers feel sympathetic towards Goodman and identify with him. 

          By employing the rhetorical techniques of presenting facts, acknowledging the other side, and using persuasive language, Goodman convinces the reader of his claim. 


*There are many more copy edits that might be made to this writer’s response; however, as you can see, the SAT scorers gave this response a perfect score. The scorers do understand that a 50 minute timed written response will be limited in its edits. The above response is not a well-written piece by any editor’s standards. It is riddled with errors. It is wordy. Even some of the logic has holes; however, remember, this is essentially a first draft that has been polished as best the writer can polish it within 50 minutes. In a professional writing scenario, this first draft would be put aside for a day or two and the writer would return to further explore her ideas and developments. It would be put aside, again… This process of writing can take several days or even weeks. A professional journalist has trained for years to complete this writing process within a matter of hours. A high school student is not expected to have the same journalist/writing process training that a professional writer has; however, a high school student can evidence the beginnings of this training.

Your job is to minimize as many editing errors as possible. Make sure that the response is clear, regardless of any possible remaining errors, all while following the prompt exactly. The more you train for this formulaic response now, the stronger your muscle memory will be during testing time. The training you do for the SAT Essay test now will also help you in the critical reading sections of the SAT. Stick with it and let your mind develop the habit over time. It takes at least three weeks to build a new habit. Make sure you give yourself enough training time before test day.


Source Material 


Adapted from Peter S. Goodman’s, “Foreign News at a Crisis Point.” ©2013 by eHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. Originally published September 25, 2013. Peter Goodman is the executive business and global news editor at eHuffingtonPost.com.

1. Back in 2003American Journalism Review produced a census of foreign correspondents then employed by newspapers based in the United States, and found 307 full-time people. When AJR repeated the exercise in the summer of 2011, the count had dropped to 234. And even that number was significantly inflated by the inclusion of contract writers who had replaced full-time staffers.

2. In the intervening eight years20 American news organizations had entirely eliminated their foreign bureaus.

3. The same AJR survey zeroed in on a representative sampling of American papers from across the country and found that the space devoted to foreign news had shrunk by 53 percent over the previous quarter-century.

4. All of this decline was playing out at a time when the U.S. was embroiled in two overseas wars, with hundreds of thousands of Americans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was happening as domestic politics grappled with the merits and consequences of a global war on terror, as a Great Recession was blamed in part on global imbalances in savings, and as world leaders debated a global trade treaty and pacts aimed at addressing climate change. It unfolded as American workers heard increasingly that their wages and job security were under assault by competition from counterparts on the other side of oceans.

5. In short, news of the world is becoming palpably more relevant to the day-to-day experiences of American readers, and it is rapidly disappearing.

6. Yet the same forces that have assailed print media, eroding foreign news along the way, may be fashioning a useful response. Several nonprofit outlets have popped up to finance foreign reporting, and a for-profit outfit, GlobalPost, has dispatched a team of 18 senior correspondents into the field, supplemented by dozens of stringers and freelancers….

7. We are intent on forging fresh platforms for user-generated content: testimonials, snapshots and video clips from readers documenting issues in need of attention. Too often these sorts of efforts wind up feeling marginal or even patronizing: “Dear peasant, here’s your chance to speak to the pros about what’s happening in your tiny little corner of the world.” We see user-generated content as a genuine reporting tool, one that operates on the premise that we can only be in so many places at once. Crowd-sourcing is a fundamental advantage of the web, so why not embrace it as a means of piecing together a broader and more textured understanding of events?

8. We all know the power of TwitterFacebook and other forms of social media to connect readers in one place with images and impressions from situations unfolding far away. We know the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances…. Facts and insights reside on social media, waiting to be harvested by the digitally literate contemporary correspondent.

9. And yet those of us who have been engaged in foreign reporting for many years will confess to unease over many of the developments unfolding online, even as we recognize the trends are as unstoppable as globalization or the weather. Too often it seems as if professional foreign correspondents, the people paid to use their expertise while serving as informational filters, are being replaced by citizen journalists who function largely as funnels, pouring insight along with speculationpropaganda and other white noise into the mix.

10. We can celebrate the democratization of media, the breakdown of monopolies, the rise of innovative means of telling stories, and the inclusion of a diversity of voices, and still ask whether the results are making us better informed. Indeed, we have a professional responsibility to continually ask that question while seeking to engineer new models that can channel the web in the interest of better informing readers….

11. We need to embrace the present and gear for the future. These are days in which newsrooms simply must be entrepreneurial and creative in pursuit of new means of reporting and paying for it. That makes this a particularly interesting time to be doing the work, but it also requires forthright attention to a central demand: We need to put back what the Internet has taken away. We need to turn the void into something fresh and compelling. We need to re-examine and update how we gather information and how we engage readers, while retaining the core values of serious-minded journalism.

12. This will not be easy…. But the alternative—accepting ignorance and parochialism—is simply not an option.

—2003 US papers cut foreign corr. In 8 years, 20 papers eliminated. Threatens “ignorance” + “parochialism” 

—Iraq, Afghanistan, soldiers in war zones without enough new coverage can create additional dangers and issues.

—Americanized news taking over hard core global coverage

—GlobalPost is righting the wrong, but is this “crowd-sourcing a good thing?

—Social networking, Arab Spring (need to know what this is about)

—Uh oh. Can Facebook posts replace expert journalism? speculation, propaganda, white noise

—democratization of media is good, but not enough. We still need professional journalists who will cut through propaganda and speculation and give the news and facts.

—cautiously optimistic view of the future of journalism. Excellent repetitive rhetorical/persuasive strategy here. “We need to…” is an effective closure and summation strategy. It expresses strong emotion the same way your mother repeating herself about cleaning your room expresses her strong emotion about cleaning your room. Use this repetition/persuasive/rhetorical strategy in your response as both a point of discussion and as a way to write the last paragraph of the response.

Here it is! This is the meat of the article. The body paragraphs are all about supporting Goodman’s caution of “ignorance” and  “parochialism” in “democratized” journalism.

Now your job is easy. Locate the  most important details Goodman uses to support his claim. You don’t even really have to think too hard. Goodman has done all the work of you. . Think of this essay as playing a game of telephone. Imagine that you, Goodman and the SAT scorers are all sitting in a circle on the floor. Goodman has whispered his statement to you. Now, all you have to do is whisper what he said to the scorers while convincing them that you paid attention in English class. Make sure you are whispering the most important underlined and circled words! 

*As you notate, do not worry about grammar, spelling punctuation. Save that for your actual essay response.