“Can I add my opinion into this paper?” is a common question in all of my classes. Opinion, as defined as a student’s perspective on a social issue that is informed by empirical social research is always welcome. However, sometimes students just want to tell you what they think and skip that whole backing-it-up part. I always tell my students they, “can have any opinion they can back up with evidence.” But sometimes students just want to tell the reader what they think to add some flavor to the piece they’re writing. Opinion has it’s place in academic writing, but how do you get students to go easy on opinions in their writing? I use cilantro.
“Opinions are like cilantro. Add a little and it’ll taste awesome, but give me a bowl full of cilantro and tell me it’s a meal? I’m not eating it.” Another, more technical way to put it, “Opinion is great in addition to empirically supported thought, but it’s not a replacement for empirically supported thought.1”
Another food metaphor I use answers the ever present, “How long should I make this essay?” question. On essay tests and papers, students typically ask this question but what they are really asking is, “How many words do I have to write to get an A?” I used to always give students a wishy washy answer that some long papers are full of fluff and some short papers are able to get right to the point. Students seemed wholly unsatisfied by these answers. So now I say, “I want your writing to be like French food: small, dense, and rich. Jam a short essay chalk full of concepts, data, and critical thinking and you can be brief.” Being succinct is a valuable skill and when students deliver an essay worthy of the French food metaphor it’s a delicious thing to grade. Bon appétit!