pulling_boots.JPG Theory of Success

Context: In Outliers: The Story of Success, author MalcolmGladwell draws on an extensive range of examples, data, and expert testimony to dispute what he maintains is a widely held belief about the causes of success. Gladwell argues, in short, that the traditional view, which attributes success solely to individual ability and initiative, fails to provide an adequate account of the various factors, some obvious and some subtle, that contribute to a person’s attainment of success in a given field of endeavor, be it science, music, business, sports, or the professions.

Gladwell is a bestselling author who is generally considered a very engaging writer, and his argument in Outliers has influenced public debate in the United States about aids and impediments to individual success. However, Gladwell’s writing style is diffuse. That is, the argument he presents in Outliers is spread out and conversational in style, and his claims are generally not transparent or explicit. Gladwell tends instead to provide us an abundance of striking examples and stories and to reveal their significance only gradually and often indirectly. Given Gladwell’s elliptical style, his argument in Outliers can be subject to misunderstanding, and its purport can remain obscure to the casual reader.

In Essay #1, then, your primary goal is to analyze Gladwell’s argument first by reconstructing his overall thesis and then by identifying and explaining not only some of his key supporting claims, but also the evidence that he presents to persuade the reader to agree with those claims. In addition to offering an analysis of Gladwell’s argument, you will also offer an evaluative reflection on the character or significance of that argument. This essay will allow you to practice

a) the fundamental skills of textual analysis: summarizing, synthesizing, identifying and evaluating evidence in an argument, and

b) the fundamental skills of argumentation: explaining and incorporating your own evidence in support of your own claims.

Because Gladwell’s argument will provide a crucial context for our other class essays, working to attain a thorough understanding of Gladwell’s ideas will help you to lay a foundation for your own future success in this class. 

Essay #1 Prompt:

Drawing on Chapters 1-5 of Outliers: The Story of Success, write an essay in which you answer the following question:

What are three of the most compelling central points Malcolm Gladwell makes to argue that the “traditional view” of success is incorrect, and what are the implications of his argument if he is correct?

*Extra Credit Opportunity: What is the relevance of the picture above to our reading in Outliers this unit? I have something specific in mind, but the first seven people to email me a convincing answer that shows specific knowledge of Outliers will receive 5 extra-credit points.

(Prompt continues on next page)


  • Length: Minimum of 1500 words and 4 full pages (double-spaced, MLA format); no maximum
  • Essay Content: Your essay should contain a minimum of 6 paragraphs, including a 1-paragraph introduction, a minimum of 4 body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. The essay should follow the structure below:
  • Introduction Paragraph Requirements:
  • Begin with a 1-paragraph introduction, using the hook-bridge-thesis format. For an explanation and model, see “Crafting Introductions: Hook-Bridge-Thesis” handout in Canvas:
    • Use a creative hook and follow-up comment to draw your reader into the essay. Your hook and follow-up should be at least 2-3 sentences and should not refer to Gladwell.
    • Use the “bridge” of the introduction to provide necessary context for your reader by doing the following:
      • Transition to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, using the TAG (Title-Author-Genre) method.
      • Using your own words and one or two key quotations from the book, summarize the thesis of Gladwell’s argument (i.e., the overall point that he is trying to make about the nature of success). As part of this reconstruction of Gladwell’s thesis, be sure to include a short explanation of the orthodox (traditional) view of success that Gladwell is critiquing.
    • Conclude your introduction with a thesis statement of your own in which you
      • a) identify three key points that Gladwell makes to correct our traditional understanding of the origins of success, and
      • b) advance a brief evaluative claim about the implications of Gladwell’s argument, if he is correct.

Note: Do not use “I” or other first-person pronouns in your thesis.

  • Body Paragraphs Requirements:
  • Body Paragraphs 1-3:
    • In a minimum of three body paragraphs, identify and explain what you see as three principal points thatGladwell advances in Part One of Outliers in order to correct the orthodox view of success. Devote a minimum of one entire body paragraph to each of your points. You will need to identify your point about Gladwell’s argument clearly in your topic sentence and develop that point with ample and illuminating support throughout the paragraph. As our instructional materials in this unit make clear, support in an argument consists of evidence and explanations of that evidence. In the central body paragraphs, you will need to support your own analysis and presentation of Gladwell’s argument by citing a variety of relevant evidence from Gladwell’s text, including direct quotation, examples, summary, and/or paraphrase. For evidence of your claims, you may want to quote a short striking passage from the book, or summarize an example or some data that Gladwell introduces, or paraphrase some expert testimony Gladwell relies upon.
  • You will also need to explain the evidence that you present. You must go beyond merely reporting these details by also fully explaining how the example or the data or the expert testimony functions to support Gladwell’s point and thus to motivate the reader to agree with his claims about the fundamental relationship between opportunity and success.
  • Body Paragraph 4:
    • In a minimum of one additional body in which you do one of the following:
      • Reflect on the significance and some of the potential practical implications of Gladwell’s argument. For example, would agreeing with Gladwell’s non-traditional views about the nature of success tend to impact our attitudes about such important political matters as taxation, public education, welfare, or college admission? Why and how?
      • Argue that Gladwell’s theory about success is either primarily optimistic or primarily pessimistic. Be sure to explain why you think it is primarily one or the other. Support your claim with multiple examples and reasoning.
    • This paragraph should do the following:
      • Be fully developed with your own reasoning as well as evidence from the book, your personal experience, and/or outside research. If you include outside research, you will need to cite your sources and include them in your Works Cited list. Contact me with questions about this if you need to.

  • Concluding Paragraph Requirements (Paragraph 6):
  • Conclude your essay with a paragraph in which you briefly recap your essay’s thesis and then offer a parting reflection on whether and why Gladwell’s Outliers is worth reading. Your concluding paragraph should be at least 200 words in length. See “Crafting Conclusions” handout for more information.
  • Audience: For this essay, your audience will be the instructor and the other students in the class, but you will also be writing—as is quite typical of much academic discourse—for a hypothetical audience. Assume that this hypothetical audience is educated and generally familiar with American culture, but probably not familiar—or at least not intimately familiar—with Gladwell’s Outliers. This means that you have a responsibility as a writer to provide context and explanations so that someone who hasn’t read the text or been exposed to the ideas it contains will still be able to follow your argument. You will provide this context in the summary in the introductory paragraph and, as needed, in the body paragraphs, with brief explanations of ideas and terms.
  • Format:
  • Follow MLA citation and manuscript style. Be sure to include a “Works Cited” list. See the “Essay Format and Works Cited” page in Canvas for instructions and examples, including a proper Works Cited entry for Gladwell.


Draft 1A:  This draft should include

  • Your full introductory paragraph
  • Your first body paragraph
  • Topic sentences for body paragraphs 2-4

Draft 1A Peer Review:  See forthcoming peer review prompt for instructions.

Draft 1B:  Requirements to be announced.

Draft 1B Peer Review: See forthcoming peer review prompt for instructions.

Final Essay #1

Unit 1 Writing Resources:

Class Lecture:

  • Video Lecture 1.1: Introduction to Unit 1 and Outliers, Chapters 1-2 (50 minutes)

Canvas Handouts/Pages:

  • “Crafting Introductions: Hook-Bridge-Thesis”
  • “Paragraphing: Elements of Strong Body Paragraphs”
  • “Incorporating Textual Evidence”
  • “Crafting Conclusions”
  • “Creating Titles”
  •  Essay #1 Advice Sheets
  • “Essay Format and Works Cited”
  • “IVC English Department General Grading Rubric”

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