Monday, December 10, 2012

Eggs, Plain Style Please

The Op-Ed piece being discussed can be found HERE
“Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This?” is an opinion piece written by New York Times Opinion writer Nicholas D. Kristof. He writes about farming practices concerning egg-laying hens, specifically those that were under secret investigation at Kreider Farms. The New York Times has quite a broad readership and Kristof writes to appeal to the masses, while still managing to fit in facts and his own opinion. He utilizes a plain style of writing to his advantage to not only convey his message to the American people but also to persuade them to his line of thinking.
            The first thing a reader may notice, even before reading the piece, is the way that the article is organized. The piece is broken up into nineteen small paragraphs, ranging in size from four sentences to one sentence in a paragraph. These small paragraphs allow him to keep information brief and concise. He is not bombarding the reader with massive amounts of information and detail, but instead making his point and moving on. Many of his paragraphs begin with coordinators or transitions statements: “In some cases...”, “But...” “Like many readers...”, “Granted...”, “Somehow...” These statements keep the flow of the essay while connecting many ideas. Although simple and concise sentences are an important element of the plain style, and are crucial for the understanding of the general public, readers should be wary of oversimplifications that Kristof is making by keeping the paragraphs so short and simple.
            Kristof builds a way into his piece to cover himself on oversimplification. Although he avoids much technical jargon (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is the technical term for ‘factory farm’) and goes on to define or elaborate on any definitions or groups that may not be common knowledge- a rhetorical technique known as distincto- he also built in quick-links to lesser-known topics. When he brings up an organization, like the Humane Society of the United States, a reader can simply click on the phrase and be transported to the Humane Society’s website. This way a reader can easily go on to make his or herself more informed, without Kristof having to get overly technical. This is a brilliant way to use the plain style. He keeps the average reader interested but allows the reader who desires more detailed information access to it easily.
            Although this is an opinion piece, an important part of Kristof’s persuasion technique involves his credibility. Part of this credibility is achieved by showing the perspectives of both the undercover investigator and the president of Kreider Farms. Kristof parallels his treatment of quoting the investigator by also directly quoting the Kreider Farm’s president. Kristof continues to maintain authority by stating specific facts and numbers: Kreider Farms ‘produces 4.5 million eggs each day for supermarkets’ and that Salmonella turns up ‘in 3 percent of egg factory farms tested by the Food and Drug Administration last year.’ Readers are going to be more trusting of an author that is willing to show both sides and give hard facts, especially facts from trustworthy government sources.
            The voice that Kristof writes in appears conversational and he does not steer away from using first and second person. This is not only an important element of plain style writing, it also is what makes this a good, and persuasive, opinion piece. Readers feel comfortable; they are being told in a relateable and simplistic terms about the egg-farming situation- a situation they may not know much about. He gives specific and concrete examples, a strategy called exemplum, to make his points solid. He describes the exact conditions the chickens are experiencing and even gives specifics as to how many were jammed in a cage: “In some cases, 11 hens were jammed into a cage about 2 feet by 2 feet.” Once he has the horrors of the situation described, he uses his own thoughts and feelings followed by exemplum to persuade the reader that it is natural to feel the way he does. “Still, I flinch at a system in which hens are reduced to widgets. Many of us do, which is why Burger King, Denny’s, Quiznos and Hardee’s have started buying more free range eggs.” Here, the fast food restaurants are serving as a concrete example of how many people feel about the conditions of egg-laying hens. His personal stories, although captivating to the reader, should send an alarm to readers about Kristof’s bias.
            Kristof created an informative, authoritative, and yet relateable and persuasive opinion piece by using the elements of the plain style. Readers should be wary of oversimplification and bias that may exist, but overall can trust the author and the source. 
By: Emily Scheife

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