Friday, February 12, 2010

Content Statements vs. Value Statements

The thesis sentence and all main points in a speech must be statements, preferably simple declarative sentence. We all agree on that. Don't we? A trap we sometimes fall into is the tendency to let our main points be value statements. Watch out for these culprits. They are weaklings posing as heroes. Expose them. Banish them. Even better, kill 'em.

A value statement simply sets forth our opinion of the subject of the sentence. Examples of value statements would be:

Homework sucks.
Healthcare reform is stupid.
Operas are boring.

No matter how much we might agree with any of those statements, any one of them would be hard to prove to reasoning listeners.

A content statement makes a claim that can be supported. For example:

Most students hate homework. (A survey of students on campus could demonstrate that this statement is true.)
Healthcare reform is unpopular among Republican politicians. (A review of their voting records should tell the story.)
Operas put some people to sleep. (Testimonies from three husbands who were dragged to the opera and fell asleep might be adequate support.)

A Recent Example

A good student (maybe an outstanding student) in one of my classes emailed me some main points for review. The topic was the importance of eating breakfast as a foundation for good nutrition. The proposed main points were:

MP1: Not eating breakfast is bad.

MP2: Eating an unhealthy breakfast is just ok.

MP3: Eating a good breakfast is the best.

Clearly, the three points intend a comparison (bad, good, best). As you can see, each sentence is a value statement (is bad, is just okay, is the best). They could be strengthened by converting them into content statements—statements that offer listeners something of substance. For example:

MP1: Not eating breakfast is like starting a trip with no fuel.

MP2: Eating an unhealthy breakfast starts you fast then drops you flat.

MP3: Eating a good breakfast gets you all the way to your goal.

These three statements build on the analogy of energy or fuel consumption during a trip. We are all familiar with the way that works in automobiles. The three statements can be supported by reporting blood sugar test results, testimonies of experts, and interviews with students who have tried the three breakfast options.

Learning Activity

Take a careful look at the main points for your up-coming speech. If you find any value statements, kill 'em. Replace them with content statements.

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