6.0 The Writer's Voice - expressing your opinion

The idea that the writer does not express his/her opinion in a piece of academic writing seems to be misunderstood.  Just because the writer is trained to hide behind the discussion on hand and express the argument of the essay in an impersonal mode, does not mean that the writer’s opinion is suppressed.  It is present in several areas of the essay.

It is true that expressions like: “I think” or “I believe” or “My mother experienced. . .” are forbidden forms in the academic essay. There is, however, a place for them in reflective and journal writing which do not fall under the topic academic essay.  The academic essay, as such, is the target here under consideration and would flow out of directives such as: discuss, analyse, review, compare, evaluate, to what extent?

In Section Four on Argumentation, several steps were taken to illustrate the structure of an essay, including the shape of an introduction and the shape of a paragraph.  The introduction is the voice of the writer.  In the paragraphs in the body of the essay, it was pointed out that the essential shape and content of the paragraph are controlled by the topic sentence and that the writer must explain exactly what he/she means by the information in the topic sentence.  This area is called the explanation.  Both the topic sentence and the explanation are the voice of the writer.  Then, after the writer has supplied evidence from texts and research to support his/her explanation, he/she must sum up the essential strand of thought running through the paragraph and connect it to the argument of the essay – the thesis statement.   This simple summation and connection to the argument are again the voice of the writer. 

Lastly, the voice of the writer is heard in the conclusion where the writer’s argument is re-iterated and the content and the argument running throughout the essay are gathered up into one space and rounded off by the writer’s final comment.

From what has been said above, it is obvious that if the writer fails to explain, sum up and argue the point, he/she has not satisfactorily achieved the aim of the academic essay.  It is insufficient just to produce evidence without these components for the writer must express where he/she stands on the topic.  So the essay is not just a collection of summaries and quotations from other authors’ work.  Certainly, these must be used to elaborate, support and develop the writer’s argument but they form only part of the task facing the writer.

It is true then that the writer must demonstrate not only that he/she has researched sources for the essay but also that he/she understands their content and significance to the topic on hand. They supply the evidence and validate the writer’s explanation and argument. The best way the writer can  show the reader his/her understanding is through the use of summarising and paraphrasing techniques (See Part 5) and not with a proliferation of quoted material.  The occasional short quotation, however, can be used effectively to make a point.

Essay question: "The world cannot continue to exist without organisations like Greenpeace." Discuss. (2,500 words)

Essay question with explanatory notes

Today the ecological balance of the world is being drastically disturbed by human abuse of the natural environment.  Organisations like Greenpeace, a non-profit, independent body founded in 1971, bears witness in non-violent ways to this environmental degradation.  It campaigns and lobbies for solutions, change and action.  Its information for debate is supplied by the work of the scientific community, especially those bodies connected to UNESCO, which provide research results, and those that work to lobby authorities to correct any threats to the earth’s biodiversity and environment.

Introduction: Writer's ideas as a result of reading and research.
Orientation statement (opening sentence)
Background information (necessary to explain what kind of an organization that Greenpeace is)

The work of Greenpeace will be examined in conjunction with that of the scientific community to see what contribution each brings to the lessening of the ecological imbalance created by individuals, corporations and governments worldwide.  At the same time, the actual human abuses will also be examined and the kinds of action humans, corporations and governments can3 take to help the situation.  Different types of Greenpeace campaigns, scientific organisations and their work as well as the work of individual scientists will be investi-gated as a means of assessing the situation. The work of Greenpeace and similar organisations alone cannot save the world from its downward course of destruction.

Purpose of essay providing focus for the reader

Scope/limits of essay, putting parameters on the areas to be discussed in the essay.

Thesis statement, the writer's point of view about the essay topic, the stand the writer will take. (Last sentence in the introduction) (Writer's opinion)

The varied types of Greenpeace activities and their targeted areas are a series of intervention and prevention campaigns4. Greenpeace, in seeking to ensure that human activities, which are destroying the ecological balance are curtailed, pursues a policy of non-violence and creative confrontation.  Its aim is to expose and prevent environmental problems and, at the same time, help or nudge some organizations and groups, where possible, to find solutions to the problems they are causing.  

Body of essay: Opening of the first paragraph which is a topic sentence and its control. (Topic: Greenpeace activities and targeted areas; Control: series of intervention and prevention campaigns.) (1st area of scope/limits)
Writer's opinion now is evident in the explanation given about Greenpeace's policy. (This explanation makes clear what intervention and prevention campaigns are.)

For instance1, in September, 2005, Greenpeace activists in Victoria joined with other environmental groups to set up a smokestack outside the building where Premier Bracks and his cabinet were to meet for a decision on the Hazelwood power station’s future.  Hazelwood, Greenpeace, claims2 is the “world’s most greenhouse-polluting power station” (Greenpeace, Australia Pacific, 2005, p.1).  Greenpeace’s action here is attempting to alert the Victorian government to the need to stop the use of coal and to find an alternative means of power generation.  It asserts2 that greenhouse gases are polluting the atmosphere and causing permanent climate damage (Greenpeace , Australia Pacific, 2005).

Evidence: The writer supplies this from his/her reading and research and shows how it supports the explanation.

Further intervention5 is seen in the Greenpeace action to stop logging in the ancient forests of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands where illegal industrial logging occurs.  The local communities are retaliating by reclaiming their land but still, they know they are powerless.  So1 Greenpeace has appealed to people and organizations friendly to ecological causes to stop purchasing wood and paper products associated with logging in these ancient forests.  If sales drop dramatically as a result of such action, Greenpeace argues2, the loggers will leave the forests. (Greenpeace, Australia Pacific, 2005).  A different kind of project is seen in Greenpeace’s dealings with Meriton Real Estate whose actions were about to release hazardous dioxins into the atmosphere.

Linking phrase
Additional evidence

Linking sentence

It was brought to Greenpeace’s attention that, in order to save time and money, Meriton was intending to clean up a proposed toxic building site with incineration technology which, Greenpeace maintains2, will release further hazardous dioxins into the atmosphere.  Here, the preventative action took the form of persuading concerned people to send e-mails to Meriton asking for a consideration of people’s health before profits.  When the e-mails were blocked, Greenpeace requested people to send letters (Greenpeace Pacific, Australia, 2005).

Further additional evidence

All these projects aimed at helping to restore a pristine natural environment are awaiting outcomes.  Similar projects can be multiplied many times across the globe and all have as their objective the intervention and prevention of ecological imbalance4. Therefore,1Greenpeace are certainly helping to halt some malpractices which are destroying or have the potential to destroy the ecosystem.   They are not, however1, because of their reliance on scientific information and other factors, alone sufficient for totally stemming the tide of pollution and natural destruction. Obviously science has a role to play in preventing worldwide destruction of the ecosystem.

Two summary sentences in which the writer draws conclusions about what he/she has written.

The writer now makes a link to the thesis statement. He/she states the opinion that what Greenpeace does is not alone sufficient to stem the tide of the destruction of the ecosystem.

Writer has made a linkage between the topic just discussed and the one to follow. (last sentence)

 Scientific involvement 5 in saving the planet is best known through the scientific arm of UNESCO, the publications of the GreenFacts Organisation and other scientific research. The scientific arm of UNESCO exists to inspire scientific activities to assist all countries across the world to combat, in particular1, the demise of the ecosystem.  Through national commissions, set up in various countries, a store-house of scientific ideas and research has been used to create programs for a better world through a process of liaison.  On the other hand,1 the GreenFacts Organisation communicates facts on health and the environment4 and presents summaries of scientific consensus.   Playing a role also in the race to save the planet is the work of individual scientists recorded by Greenpeace and other organizations.

Topic sentence and its control (topic: scientific involvement control: scientific arm of UNESCO. . . and other scientific research Second area of argument (as outlined in the scope/limits) Writer's voice
Writer's explanation of the topic sentence.

In the first place,1 UNESCO in advertising itself, states2 that it “is involved in the development and application of international standard setting instruments” (UNESCO, 2005, p. 1).  In implementing this goal, for example,1 it has set up the Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO).  Then1 in U.S.A. the national commission for UNESCO, in line with UNESCO’s aims for a harmonious and peaceful world4, has taken as one of its priorities the availability of potable water. Several agencies are working under direction on projects to provide clean water around the world (U.S. Dept of State, 2005).  In addition1, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (U.S.) for economic and global issues, Terry Miller, insists 2that “UNESCO is not a technical assistance agency [but one that] works to inspire activities by others” (Miller, as cited in Explanation of UNESCO and National Commissions, 2005, p. 1) He advised that several UNESCO current projects include the natural sciences and engineering working together towards defining sustainable development. Further involvement of the U.S. national commission is obvious in its role in the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission to find an early tsunami warning system and the Hydrological Program to ensure a safe and constant source of water4 (U.S. Dept of State).

Evidence - supporting the above explanation

On the other hand,1 in Australia, the National Commission for UNESCO, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian National University have set up a Centre for UNESCO purposes.  These include preparing position papers, research and advice for the National Commission.  Research is conducted, ideas generated and information disseminated4 (Australian Government  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2005). All the scientific projects and undertakings mentioned above are aimed at making our world ecosystem sustainable and viable. UNESCO’s  intention of restoring and maintaining an ecological balance across the world through scientific research and experiment links with Greenpeace’s actions of intervening in and preventing practices dangerous to world ecological well-being. They indicate2 that Greenpeace alone cannot achieve the preservation of the world’s environment. It can 3draw attention to problems but does not have UNESCO’s capacity to supply means for international standards in ecology.

Further evidence

Writer's summing up of evidence

Writer's linking of evidence to the argument found in the thesis statement

Link between paragraphs found in "a healthy ecosystem".

A healthy ecosystem is also at the base of the scientific consensus reports on environment and health matters published by GreenFacts Organisation. This organization claims2 to be “a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization, based in Brussels, dedicated to providing non-specialists with unbiased scientific information on environment and health matters.” (GreenFacts Foundation, 2005, p.2). It was founded in December 2001 to communicate scientific information on the environment and health issues to non-government groups, academics and industrial and environmental groups. Its list of publications include information on the research into the current levels of Ozone, Nitrogen and Dioxide and Particulate matter found in polluted air and affecting health;  climate change with its serious consequences; and the human impact on the ecosystem whose degradation, in turn, affects humans’ well-being. Even the environmental aspects of forests appear as some of the areas of research and concern 4(Green Facts Organisation Studies, 2005). Such publications have the power to inform corporations and individuals and enable self-questioning and self-monitoring as well as the possibility of change. Again, this is an example of an organisation dedicated to world ecological preservation 5which takes its place beside Greenpeace and UNESCO in helping to save the earth.  It is yet1 another proof that Greenpeace alone cannot take the credit for intervention in world damaging ecological issues.

Further evidence. Topic sentence Topic: a healthy ecosystem Control: at the base...GreenFacts Org. Writer's voice in the topic sentence and in the following explanation


Summary sentence

Writer makes a link with the argument found in the thesis statement.

Further contributions to the ecological question come from the research and findings of individual scientists. Scientists and engineers across the world work daily on complex environmental problems seeking solutions.  Their efforts have been reported in scientific papers that form a growing body of evidence about certain harmful environmental practices.  In the UK recently, results of research in a number of farming areas have been released.   There, the researchers have been testing the environmental impacts of genetically engineered Canola, producing evidence to cause alarm4.  This kind of crop has had an effect on biodiversity reducing dramatically the amount of weed seed which, in turn1, has affected the food supply of farmland species, such as1 invertebrates, small mammals and birds (Greenpeace Australia, 2005).  Then1 in the Tennessee Valley, U.S.A. scientists have conducted various animal studies in conjunction with their habitats.  These ecosystem studies indicate2 a need for careful environmental management, as well as land and waste management.  Water quality has also been monitored. The findings in all areas alert 2 people and organisations to the necessity of using methods that preserve the ecological health of a region (TVA, 2005).  So1 this kind of research in small areas is invaluable across the world as evidence of environmental harm that could be replicated anywhere. There is no doubt that individual scientists have a role in prevention of small and large scale destruction of the ecosystem.  Their findings have far-reaching effects in that bodies, such as Australia’s CSIRO, are alerted and begin to apply similar research in similar areas and circumstances to confirm the findings and take stock of the local situation.  It is the work of such scientists that Greenpeace uses in its bid to stop certain malpractices affecting the environment..

Topic sentence Topic: further contributions; control: the research. . . scientists. This represents the third scope/limits area. The writer is speaking here and in the explanation that immediately follows.

Summary sentence. Writer's voice

Writer's bringing of the argument closer together

Consideration5 needs to be given in this environmental debate to the role played by individuals at grassroots level banded into groups. Individuals and business corporations are certainly the great perpetrators of environmental destruction but, at the same time1, they can also be saviours of the situation, particularly as members of an organisation lobbying governments and influencing legislation.  Certain actions of individuals and corporations have changed atmospheric content, caused global warming, restricted land use, and affected land cover and the quality of water4.  However1, if they engaged in certain activities in properly organised groups, they could help reverse the serious ecological situation by striving to address such matters as: the elimination of vehicle and factory emissions, overfarming and overgrazing and the overculling of forest areas, not to speak of control of mining activities and landfill and the disposal of sewage and industrial waste. There is evidence that organized groups do exist as seen in the international group which styles itself Friends of the Earth.  This group defends2  the environment and champions a healthy and just world. It is a network of grassroots groups in 70 different countries.  Whether in Europe, USA, Australia or elsewhere, this federated group, democratically elected, has been prominent in the fight for a pristine environment in a just world. (Friends of the Earth, 2005). In Australia in September, 2005, Friends held a series of information evenings on climate change and its human impacts.  In the same month, it challenged Australia’s Foreign Minister on his statement that nuclear power is clean and a potential fix for climate change (Friends of the Earth, Australia, 2005).  In the US Friends successfully carried out tests to prove that genetically-engineered corn, not approved for human consumption, was being used in products found on supermarket shelves.  They are presently engaged in blocking the development of a 140-mile $1.6 billion highway in Indiana.  They claim that the construction of this highway would destroy thousands of acres of farms and forests and split an Amish community in two (Friends of the Earth, USA, 2005). All these undertakings of prevention and intervention have a role in the saving of the world’s environment. It is obvious that Greenpeace does not hold centre stage in this ecological battle.  Its activities link with those of UNESCO, the scientific community and Friends of the Earth.  Together they complement one another’s aims and activities and are certainly united on the one central issue of world pollution and natural disintegration as a result of particular human activity.

Topic sentence. Topic: consideration Control: in this environmental debate. . . healthy environment Writer's voice/opinion found here and in the explanation that follows


Summary sentence Writer's voice

Final summing up of the argument that has been pursued throughout the essay.

In conclusion, the halt to the devastation of the world’s ecosystem cannot be achieved just by the work of Greenpeace and similar organizations. In the first place1, Greenpeace can 3only act on the information that it obtains from scientific observation, experiments and solutions.  It intervenes in actual and potential threats to the world’s environment through campaigns and confrontations but it is the work of individual scientific organizations and those particularly associated with UNESCO who supply information, carry out observations, find solutions to actual natural problems and disasters.4  Their work is evidence that Greenpeace can 3use to lobby governments and organizations.  They, themselves, also make governments and humans aware of disasters and potentially dangerous situations. 

Conclusion Writer's final comment. The thesis statement is again made but in different words.

Writer summarises the content and argument found in the essay

Furthermore1, both the work of Greenpeace and scientific bodies are alerting not only governments and corporations of impending dangers but individuals.  People, because of Greenpeace and scientists, are more aware of the destruction to the world environment that some of their actions, even in the home and on the roads and in offices are causing but no single organization can3 claim to be the sole saviour of the situation.  It is only by all organizations co-operating and listening to each other for direction and action that the world’s ecological problems can be solved.

Continuation of the summation

Writer's final comment

Key to various techniques used in essay.

1 cohesive devices (use of connectives)
2 reporting verbs
3 modality
4 parallelism and balance
5 nominalisation (some examples)

NB. A variety of sentence structures has been used throughout the essay. For example,

in paragraph 3:

in paragraph 5: