LESSON 4.4
Create the Why Statement

You have finished with What the subject is. Now tell Why it is true or important.  

It is easy to create a Why that won’t work. So let’s start with what not to do in a Why statement.

Whys The Do Not Work

Four types of Why Statement do not work:

  • Tautologies
  • Non Sequiturs
  • Platitudes
  • The Word You

Tautologies

Saying the same idea results in call a tautology, also known as circular reasoning

For example:   

I like Pinto Island tortoises because they are the rarest animals in the world.

As we can see in the chart below, when you write the text for the RH (New) section, you will describe the Pinto Island tortoises as the rarest animal in the world. When you write the Why section, you will repeat yourself.

What the What+Why says: I like Pinto Island tortoises (the rarest animals in the world) because they are the rarest animals in the world. 

Task 4.3.1 – Small Group

Determine if each idea below is a tautology or is okay.

    1. I like to carve black ivory swans because it’s fun.
    2. I like New York because it is the biggest city in the United States.
    3. I like aye-aye lemurs because they like humans.
    4. I like blobfish because they remind me of the wonderful day I almost drowned.
    5. I like ice worms because they live in glaciers.
    6. I like indri lemurs because they plan a major role in HIV research.

Non Sequiturs

A non sequitur is an idea that does not follow from the previous idea.

For example, if you said, “I like Douglas fir trees because they remind me of Abraham Lincoln’s early life,” then in the Why Section the parts will likely look like this:

Old:     I + clams

New:   I + Douglas fir trees

Why:   Douglas fir trees + Lincoln

You must explain the relationship between Lincoln and Douglas fir trees.  You cannot just write about his early life in the Why Section. Readers are not mind-readers. They would not understand the connection.

Incorrect:


Correct:

Platitudes

Platitudes are overused statements that are no longer interesting. Typical ones:

  • Money can’t buy happiness.
  • Better late than never
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • We have to stop and smell the roses
  • Death can come like a thief in the night

Such comments treat readers as if they are stupid. They make the writing boring.

Task 4.3.2 – Small Group

Identify 10 more platitudes. Feel free to use the computer.

The Word You

Never use you in writing unless you are telling readers how to do something. You causes you to be general and makes it sound as if you are trying to tell readers how to live their lives. Writers are not preachers.

*

What Whys Do Work?

What whys do work? Four effective ones are—

  • Interesting relatives
  • Interesting, important people who are not well-known.
  • Interesting, important events that are not well-known.
  • Interesting, important ideas that are not well-known.

Interesting Relatives

An interesting relative in a Why Section helps readers see you in a new way. 

I like my Canaan seeing-eye dog because he reminds me of my great-grandfather.

I like my pet paramecium because it reminds me of my grandmother.

I like my Mongolian pony because she reminds she of my aunt.

Summarize why the relative is. For example, use their special profession or unique ethnicity.

Stronger: I like my Canaan seeing-eye dog because he reminds me of my great-grandfather, a World War II bombardier.

Stronger: I like my pet paramecium because it reminds me of my grandmother, a ballerina.

Stronger: I like my Mongolian pony because she reminds she of my aunt, an Athabascan seamstress.

Task 4.3.3 – Individual

Use an interesting relative for a Why Statement for one of the following animals. Use the computer to look up the animal’s characteristics.

If I could be any wild animal, I would be (use any of the animals below) because they remind me of (indicate a relative, including who they basically are).

a three-toed sloth

a Mongolian horse

a bee hummingbird

a harpy eagle

a praying mantis

Interesting People

Using important people who are not well-known is also a good idea for a Why Statement.  Be sure to briefly tell who they are.

Weak: I like bloodybelly comb jellyfish because they remind me of Isadora Duncan.
Exact: I like bloodybelly comb jellyfish because they remind me of dancer Isadora Duncan.

Task 4.3.4 – Small Group

Write an effective Why Statement for the following prompt. Feel free to use the computer to look up information.

If I could live anywhere, it would be (name the place) because it reminds me of (an important who is not well-known).

Interesting Events

Using an interesting, important event that is not well-known also is an effective way to write Why Statements.

I like emus because they remind me of the Great Emu War.

Task 4.3.5 – Class

Use a little-known but important event for a Why Statement for the following. Feel free to use the computer to look up information. Do not choose a major event, such as World War II. 

I like Thanksgiving because it reminds me of (name an event other than Thanksgiving).

Interesting Ideas

Interesting ideas – especially ones from philosophy, the philosophy of history, the philosophy of science, or the philosophy of religion – can result in powerful Why Statements.

This method is best for advanced students who have had college coursework in philosophy.

I like studying about the collapse of the Roman Empire because it helps me understand the eye-opening historical philosophy of Marc Bloch.

Task 4.3.6 – Small Group

Optional; For advanced students. Write an effective Why Statement for the following. Feel free to use the computer to look up information. Do not attempt an idea you do not understand.

I like John Muir, because his philosophy reminds me of (choose a philosophical idea other than Muir’s).

Writing the Why Statement

  • Keep it short and simple.
  • Start with Do not capitalize.
  • Connect the Why Statement to the What Statement so together they form a sentence.