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  Home > InfoWrite > Modes of Exposition > Argumentation
 

InfoTrac College Edition

Argumentation

WHAT IS ARGUMENTATION?

We are constantly encountering people trying to persuade us to buy products and services, accept political judgments, change our behavior, vote for a candidate. As students you will have to write persuasively to influence your readers. When you graduate you will need to write a resume and persuasive cover letter. In your career you will have to motivate employees, justify expenses, influence clients, and suggest reforms to local politicians.

Persuasion -- the attempt to influence readers' views and opinions -- is perhaps the most important writing you will attempt in freshman English. Sales representatives persuade, lawyers persuade, executives persuade. The ability to state an argument, influence others, and explain a point of view is critical in almost every business and profession.

In developing a persuasion paper, consider your audience carefully, anticipating possible objections and addressing them in your paper. Consider which of the three appeals -- logic, emotion, ethics -- will be most effective.

Logic -- which uses facts, statistics, evidence, surveys, interviews, or scientific tests to support a point of view. An extensive review of court proceedings, excerpts from trial transcripts, and expert analysis of evidence might persuade an appeal court to order a new trial for a criminal defendant.
Advantages: provides evidence needed for major decisions, especially group decisions.
Disadvantages: can be boring and require a high degree of attention on part of the reader.

Emotion -- which uses images, sensations, or shock appeals to lead readers to react in a desired way. A television commercial featuring suffering children accompanied by an 800-number might persuade viewers to make donations.
Advantages: often produces immediate results
Disadvantages: has limited impact, can backfire, provides limited factual support for readers to share with others.

Ethics -- which rests on appealing to shared values to motivate. A football coach might persuade players to see themselves as role models to children and not drink or swear in public.
Advantages: can be very powerful because often the writer is addressing an audience who agrees with his or her values.
Disadvantages: depends on readers sharing the values of the writer. An appeal by a Muslim cleric may have little effect on Catholics or Buddhists.

To be effective, writers often use more than a single appeal. Essays frequently mix factual support with emotional appeal based on human interest. An article on homeless children might use the narrative of a single homeless boy to attract attention then provide statistics to illustrate the severity of the problem and outline possible solutions.

ADDRESSING READER OBJECTIONS
Perhaps most challenging is attempting to persuade a hostile audience, people you anticipate have negative attitudes toward you, the organization you might represent, or the ideas you will advocate. Although no technique will magically convert opponents into supporters, you can overcome a measure of hostility and influence those who may still be undecided with a few approaches:

Openly admit differences -- instead of attempting to pretend there is no conflict, openly state that your view may differ from your readers. This honest admission can win a measure of respect.

Responsibly summarize the opposing viewpoints -- by fairly restating your opponents' views, you force your readers to agree with you and demonstrate your fairness.

Avoid making judgmental statements -- do not label your reader's ideas with negative language. Use neutral terms to make distinctions. If you label your ideas as being intelligent and your readers' as being naive, you will have difficulty getting people to accept your points because in the process they will have to accept your insults as being valid.

Point to shared values, experiences, problems -- build common bridges with your audience by demonstrating past cooperation.

Ask your readers to keep an open mind -- don' t demand or expect to convert readers. But almost everyone will agree to try to open minded and receptive to new ideas.

Work to overcome negative stereotypes -- play the devil's advocate and determine what negative stereotypes your audience may have about you and your ideas. Then work to include examples, references, evidence in your presentation to counter these negative impressions.

SELECTING TOPICS FOR PERSUASION

Effective persuasion depends on selecting workable topics. In general, avoid topics like gun control, abortion, and capital punishment -- unless you can develop a new angle. Avoid repeating arguments you have heard on television or read about in newspapers or magazines.

censorship of the Internet why readers should monitor their cholesterol
taxing Internet commerce why America should/should not restrict immigration
sex education why consumers should protect their computer files
need for stalking laws why America should/should not have national health
television violence insurance
drunk driving laws why Americans should donate organs
welfare reform why companies should provide employee daycare
mandatory car insurance why America should/should not pay its UN dues
school choice why NATO should/should not intervene in internal
school prayer conflicts
political campaign reform why smokers should/should not be able to sue
legalizing marijuana tobacco companies


GETTING STARTED

CONSIDER YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Rather than select a political or social controversy, review your personal experience. Have you had dealings with a college, employer, customer, neighbor, or government agency that revealed a problem or called for action? You may wish to argue for better daycare, a centralized financial aid office on campus, better security at a local mall, or more computers in the college library. These topics will force you conduct individual research rather than relying on items you have read in the press or seen on television.
* Avoid topics that are so emotionally charged that you cannot be objective

DO NOT MISTAKE PROPAGANDA FOR ARGUMENT
Effective argument is based on reason. Don't assume you can convince readers by hurling accusations, statistics, and quotes taken out of context. Avoid insulting remarks.
* Read your paper aloud or use peer review to examine your argument for unsupported claims or inappropriate statements.

LIMIT THE SCOPE OF YOUR ARGUMENT
A short paper may not allow you to fully address all aspects of a complex subject. You may make your task easier by clearly defining the scope of your paper:

Apex Engineering should provide basic daycare for full time employees working first shift on weekdays.

People who began smoking after cigarette packages and advertising were required to post the Surgeon General's warning against smoking should not be allowed to sue tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses.

CONSIDER YOUR READERS
Address the needs, biases, and knowledge base of your readers. Consider their likely attitudes toward your argument and the type of evidence they will need to accept your point of view.

STATE YOUR THESIS CLEARLY
Argumentation requires a clearly worded thesis. Although your thesis may change as you work on your paper, a clear working thesis gives your first draft focus.

STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING ARGUMENTATION

USE MORE THAN ONE APPEAL

Because each appeal has advantages and disadvantages, it is better to use more than one. Blend logical, ethical, and emotional appeals in your essay.

USE MODES SUCH AS NARRATION, COMPARISON, DIVISION AND CLASSIFICATION, OR CAUSE AND EFFECT TO ORGANIZE IDEAS
You can compare pro and con statements using comparison and contrast or use narration to relate a case or incident.

PLACE YOUR STRONGEST POINTS AT THE BEGINNING OR ENDING
Remember that reader attention is strongest at the beginning and end of a paper. Do not place your most important arguments or evidence in the middle of the essay where readers may overlook it.

REVIEW YOUR PAPER FOR LAPSES IN CRITICAL THINKING
Read your paper carefully to determine if you maintained critical thinking. Look for evidence of logical fallacies or weaknesses:

* Absolute statements. Although it is important to convince readers by making a strong impression, avoid making absolute claims that can be dismissed with a single exception.

* False dilemma. Avoid overdramatizing your case by offering readers only two alternatives, such as stating. We must approve school choice or see an an entire generation of children condemned to illiteracy. Most readers will immediately recognize the weakness of such an unrealistic argument.

* Basing arguments on personalities. Don't presume that readers will be impressed by citing endorsements by famous people. The fact that a celebrity or single expert supports your argument is not convincing evidence. Don't attack the personality of opposing authorities or reject an idea because someone controversial supports it. National health care, for example, were tenets of both Nazism and Communism.

* False Analogy. Comparisons form weak arguments. Although they may useful to illustrate an idea, they rarely provide convincing evidence. The fact that an educational policy works in Japan does not mean it will work in the United States. The fact that Prohibition failed to curb alcohol consumption does not mean that crack should be legalized.

* Hasty generalizations. Make sure that any conclusions are based on sufficient evidence and not coincidence or simple circumstance. The fact that you spot a fellow student walking into a liquor store on Monday, leaving a bar on Tuesday, and buying a six pack on Wednesday does not prove that the person has a drinking problem or even drinks alcohol at all.

* Begging the question. Avoid assuming elements that must be proven. You cannot argue, "The outmoded computer systems must be replaced," until you prove that the system is indeed outdated.

ARGUMENT AND PERSUASION CHECKLIST

BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR PAPER, REVIEW THESE POINTS

1. Is your message clearly defined?

2. Does your paper meet reader needs? Do you provide the support they need to accept your thesis?

3. Do you support your views with adequate evidence?

4. Do you anticipate reader objections and alternative points of view?

5. Do you balance the strengths and weaknesses of logical, ethical, and emotional appeals?

6. Do you avoid overstated, sentimental, or propagandist appeals?

7. Do you avoid preaching to the converted? Will only those who already agree with you accept your arguments?

8. Do you make it easy for undecided readers to accept your position without feeling manipulated or patronized?

9. HAVE YOU TESTED YOUR ARGUMENT WITH PEER REVIEW?


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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.