Ours Is Not To Reason Why Meaning In Essay

I’d guess that CUNY journalism students have been reading Tennyson, except who reads Tennyson anymore?  In “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” he wrote:

Not tho’ the soldier knew

Someone had blunder’d:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die . . .

Tennyson comes to mind because students so often borrow his phrase reason why.

From a review of the movie “Dracula Untold”: This is an enough reason why the word “untold” in the title doesn’t work at all.

From a business story: That was the main reason why the rating agency recently upgraded its credit rating.

From a music feature: Another reason why the trio is still together is that they are not together all the time.

From a blog post on a New York legislator: The reason why Nadler cared about these immigrant workers in the U.S. was not his interest in financially supporting former Soviet Union citizens and helping them pursue a better life.  

From an entrepreneurial journalism student’s takeaway after a guest speaker: He explained the reasonwhy they stick to paper is gaining money through it.

Reason why is redundant — that is, it says the same thing twice (like this sentence). Merriam-Webster online defines the noun reason as “a statement or fact that explains why something is the way it is, why someone does, thinks, or says something, or why someone behaves a certain way.” In short, reason implies why, so there’s no need to repeat it. 

Nor is there any reason to say the reason is because . . . Because, according to Merriam-Webster, means “for the reason that”; therefore, reason . . . because, too, is redundant. Instead, use a that clause, but drop that unless it is needed to make the meaning clear (That again, March 5, 2013).

So the sentences above should have read:

This is reason enough  (that) the word “untold” in the title doesn’t work at all. (Reason enough is an idiom meaning enough reason.)

That was the main reason the rating agency recently upgraded its credit rating.

Another reason the trio is still together is that the musicians are not together all the time.

The reason Nadler cared about these immigrant workers in the U.S. was not his interest in financially supporting former Soviet Union citizens and helping them pursue a better life.  

He explained that the reason they stick to paper is gaining money through it. (Here that is needed;without it, the speaker is explaining the reason itself, not what the reason is.) Better yet: He explained that they stick to paper because they gain money through it.

Tennyson, however, is in the clear. He was using reason as a verb, with why — an adverb disguised as noun — as the direct object. What were they reasoning? The why — you know, one of those 5Ws of journalism.

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About Diane Nottle

Diane Nottle is the ESL coach to the international students and other non-native English speakers in CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism. Her 35-year career in journalism included 20 years as an editor at The New York Times specializing in arts and culture. She holds a certificate in English language teaching from New School University and has taught English at Columbia University, the University of Lower Silesia in Wroclaw, Poland, and Hunan University of Science and Technology in Xiangtan, China. She has also taught journalism at the University of British Columbia, Colorado State University and Emerson College. View all posts by Diane Nottle →

Writing a narrative, anecdotal account of an important experience can be an effective method for showing the admissions committee who you are as a person and what kind of Hokie you would be on campus. It’s an open-ended prompt — the story can be about something good or bad, seemingly insignificant or monumental, a failure or a triumph, as long as you can convey why and how the experience made you who you are today.

 

The most common mistake applicants will make on this essay is falling into the trap of “telling” rather than “showing.” Don’t just say what happened, set the scene and appeal to the senses of the reader. You want to give the reader a deeper understanding of the situation by making them feel a personal connection to the scene — this will help them understand better its impact on you.

 

For an essay about navigating your parents’ divorce, you’d want to avoid general “telling” statements like, “I had to calm down my little sister, who was upset about having to split time between our parents’ new houses.” Instead, you could “show,” saying, “As the blue-grey facade of my mom’s house faded out the car window, I distracted my sister with a game of tic-tac-toe. By the time we approached dad’s apartment, her tears had dried and she happily pressed her face against the glass to get a glimpse of dad.”

 

Remember that the focus of the essay is on how the experience changed your character. It may be helpful to use parallel examples from before and after the experience. For example, you could recount the ease with which you wrote, ate, and ran before an accident, and then detail the struggle of relearning these previously taken-for-granted abilities afterward.

 

If you choose to write about an experience that demonstrated your character rather than shaping it, choose one of your defining character traits and think of a situation or experience that was emblematic of that value.

 

For example, if you’re hardworking, you may want to write about a project that you gave your all and poured your heart into. No matter what topic you choose, “showing” by appealing to the senses rather than “telling” objectively will help you to write an effective narrative supplement.

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