The Sad Fate of the Comma by Robert J. Samuel


The Sad Fate of the Comma by Robert J. Samuel

Constructing an Account of a Writer’s Argument:

Your Purpose:  To discuss how the writer constructs an argument through an analysis of certain elements of argument such as audience, context, purpose, primary claim, reasons, evidence and author (Learning Outcomes 1-3 addressed in this essay).

Your Audience:  A general audience of your peers who are unfamiliar with this author, the publication, or the text (article), but are familiar with the topic.

Prompt: The purpose of this essay is to analyze the argument in Robert Samuelson’s article, “The Sad Fate of the Comma.”  You will do this by responding to the following questions:

  1. Who is the specific audience of this article? How can you tell? (consider publication, certain hints he drops, word choice, references used, and clues about what is going on in society at the time this piece was written in 2007—almost TEN years ago).
  2. What is Samuelson’s main claim? (Identify the exact sentence(s), quote it/them in your essay, then rephrase his main claim by explaining it in your own words). Be sure to also include what type of claim it is (see “Framing your Argument by Using Different CLAIMS” document).
  3. What is Samuelson’s purpose? (please use the word “purpose when articulating this sentence)
  4. What are two reasons that Samuelson gives to support his claim?
  5. What types of evidence does he use to support each of these reasons? (remember, evidence is specifically selected by a writer to appeal to a specific audience
  6. Consider the types of evidence Samuelson used (in #5) and discuss the effectiveness of a/the strategy/strategies and appeals used to appeal to his audience in achieving his purpose.
    1. Ethos: Does he come across as knowledgeable? How so? Trustworthy?  How so?  Relatable? How so?
    2. Pathos: Does he try to evoke emotion from his audience? Which emotion(s) and how so?
    3. Logos: Does he appeal to your sense of logic? How so? Does he provide facts or statistics?

*Note:  For tasks 5 and 6, you must provide relevant textual examples from the text to demonstrate the type of evidence Samuelson uses, and then also explain how that evidence appeals to his intended audience.

  1. Brief conclusion (we will discuss this later)


While you’ll need to determine a deliberate and effective structure that gracefully leads the reader through your discussion, a successful essay will:

  • Have a succinct introduction that introduces Robert Samuelson, the title of his article and where his article was published, his purpose, his argument, your rephrasing of the argument, the type of claim he is making, and will reveal info about his audience (task 1). In addition, you introduction will include a thesis statement at the end of you introduction that expresses the focus of your essay (which is to critically analyze Samuelson’s argument).
  • Have developed BODY PARAGRAPHS that address the remaining tasks4-6 in an organized
    • Include all necessary details from his article and explanation on your part to provide appropriate and clear development.
  • Have a short conclusion that restates (not repeats) your main points, AND expresses an opinion as to how convincing your find Samuelson overall and why. Don’t interpret this as meaning you need only provide a simple one-sentence conclusion.
  • Be written in MLA format, 12 point font, DOUBLE SPACED, narrow margin.
  • Transition smoothly within and between each paragraph. You will also need to CLOSE your paragraphs effectively.
  • Aim for 3 pages.

Learning outcomes met according to the SDSU Department of Rhetoric and Writing:

  • Construct an account of an argument;
  • Explain the rhetorical situation
  • Describe/Discuss elements of an argument—claims, methods of development, persuasive appeals;
  • Choose an effective structure for the essay;
  • Determine when and where a source was published.