Writing an Argument
The purpose of argument writing is to present a position and to have an audience adopt or at least seriously consider your argument.
Perhaps more than any other kind of writing, argument writing demands a serious commitment from the writer. Many effective rhetorical tools in oral argument (arguing against an individual instead of an issue, inflaming the audience) will not work in a written argument. Your reader has the luxury and responsibility of analyzing your reasoning carefully. Therefore, one of the most important elements of argument is presenting yourself as logical and reasonable about your issue—no matter how volatile the subject or how passionately you feel.
Good argument writing is critical, assertion-with proof-writing. It should reflect a serious attempt on the writer’s part to have considered the issue from all angles—to have analyzed and synthesized all arguments on the subject, and having done so, chosen the most logical and reasoned position.
A good argument writer does not always have to choose the side he/she believes in—he/she chooses to write on the side that affords him/her the best, most effective argument.
Above all, you should take a reasonable tone in your writing. The best argument writing is objective writing. First person almost inherently (and unintentionally) reflects bias or personal opinion. Present your argument in the more objective, third person to suggest that any reasonable writer or thinker could take and accept your position. Be confident and assertive without sounding self-righteous or closed-minded.
Knowing your audience is crucial in argument writing. Of course, it is best if you can anticipate the position your audience already takes on your subject. The language and tone of your essay may change depending on whether you have a friendly audience who already supports your position, or if you have either a neutral or hostile audience.
It is imperative that you do not insult or judge your reader by suggesting that he/she is somehow less intelligent or knowledgeable if he/she does not accept your position.
Avoid making absolute statements that could somehow exclude your particular reader (“Anyone with even a high school education must believe . . .”).
Try to anticipate your audience’s objections to your position. Acknowledge these opposing arguments and, if you can, refute them.
It is always best in argument that you consider all sides of your issue. If you show your audience that you have considered all opposing points of view before you chose your own side, you look as if you have made an impartial, fair evaluation of your whole subject.
When writing, it is often effective to let the audience know you are aware of opposing
arguments—we call this bowing to the opposition
. There are a few ways to do this:
--You may list in the introduction the opposing arguments before advancing your own.
--You may present an opposing position and refute it within each paragraph.
--You may present your entire argument logically and effectively, and then bring up and refute opposition at the end of the essay.
You must accomplish two important tasks in the introduction of argument
writing—defining your issue and making your stance clear.
You may define your issue by offering historical background, listing the pros and cons, etc., but it is imperative that you make your position clear. The reader must know by the end of the introductory section the argument you will advance and the direction you will take.
Some writers try to engage the audience by offering compelling statistics, an intriguing story, or a rhetorical question. These are excellent tools to draw the reader into the argument, but do not over-rely on gimmicks to engage the audience. Your job is not to ask many rhetorical questions; your job is to anticipate and answer audience questions.
When you first begin to craft a thesis statement
for argument writing, think of creating a
mathematical equation. Let your reader know that by considering a + b + c + d, he or she will be
able to accept your conclusion. Of course, your thesis does not have to be so rigidly constructed,
but the equation offers you a good example of how to give your reader both your argument and
its direction early in the essay. The equation will also serve as a good check during revision for
the writer; that is, the writer can go back and see whether he/she has actually done effective
paragraphs on all parts of the equation promised in the introduction.
Sample Thesis Paragraphs:
Thousands of Americans suffer daily from depression and anxiety, and without some
kind of help these illnesses can be unbearable. In 1987, Eli Lilly and Co. presented to Americans what they and many others believed to be a miracle drug, the antidepressant, fluoxetine, commonly called Prozac. Prozac was designed to be the optimal solution to mental distress. It was marketed as having less side effects than other antidepressants, and as being effective in
treating patients suffering anything from anxiety to depression to bulimia and obsessive-compulsive disorders (“Singing” 76). From the beginning of its use, however, the drug has been surrounded by controversy. Many doctors and patients blame Prozac for terrible side effects and mind altering experiences. Violent behaviors, including murder and suicide, have been directly linked to Prozac use. Therefore, while the drug may be useful in isolated cases, overwhelming medical evidence suggests that Prozac is potentially dangerous to one’s mental and physical well-being, and should thus be banned from use in the mental health profession.
In 1995, three Southern states reinstituted the use of chain gangs as part of their new
prison reform systems. The reappearance of chain gangs in this country has rekindled strong objections from people who believe that this is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and that chaining human beings together violates the civil rights of our inmates. Advocates of the chain gang, however, believe that the American prison system is in dire need of reform. They argue that prisons are no longer places of punishment and reform, but are places where prisoners can receive free medical care, free college education, and even free cable television. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made that chain gangs, when executed humanely, will serve as a valuable deterrent to crime by making the prison experience more rigorous. Chain gangs may also play an important part in rehabilitating criminals by putting them to work and offering some kind of restitution to the community they victimized.
Every paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence
—one that specifically
considers one aspect of the argument. Every sentence in the paragraph should relate to the topic
sentence. The legitimacy of any argument depends on the evidence
offered for each point the
writer advances. Each point should have substantial, convincing detail and evidence. The more
evidence you offer, and the better the experts you cite, the more winning the argument. If you are
doing secondary research, try not to rely on just one outside source for evidence—the more
experts you consider, the more well-rounded your argument.
Try to outline your argument before you begin writing. This will help you
discover the most effective plan of organization. Should you go from strongest point to weakest
or from simplest to most complex? Remember, by nature, the reader usually remembers what
he/she reads last. No matter what the order you decide to present your points, you must create a
logical progression and smooth transitions between paragraphs.
Be sure to include some kind of final statement that gives the reader a sense of
closure to your argument. Some writers deal with opposition in the conclusion; others restate the
thesis and summarize the argument. Some even use the conclusion to encourage the audience to
take some action. But you must remember not to introduce new, unsubstantiated arguments in
the conclusion. This is the place to remind the reader of the position you now take on your subject.
Before completing your final draft, you will want to check each of your arguments
for sound reasoning. Below is a list of common logical fallacies (taken from Axelrod and
Cooper’s The Concise Guide to Writing) that can jeopardize the soundness of your argument and
can alienate your audience. Be careful to avoid them.
1. Failing to accept the burden of proof:
when the writer asserts a claim but provides no
support for it. The prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with a U.F.O. is paraphrased in the first chapter of Ezekiel. This is not the only encounter in the Bible but the most obvious one to be recognized by modern man as an alien encounter.
2. Hasty generalization:
when the writer asserts a claim on the basis of an isolated example.
Bob is left-handed. He is very creative. Left-handed people are creative.
3. Sweeping generalization:
when the writer fails to qualify the applicability of the claim
and asserts that it applies to “all” instead of to “some.”
when the writer fails to qualify the claim and asserts that “it is
certainly true” rather than “it may be true.”
It is certainly true that men perform better in high stress jobs.
5. Begging the question:
when the believability of the support itself depends on the
believability of the claim—circular reasoning.
Women do not belong in military schools because they were designed exclusively for men.
6. False analogy:
when two cases are not sufficiently parallel to lead readers to accept the
What the police force did to frame O.J. Simpson was exactly like what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust.
7. False use of authority:
when the writers invoke as an expert in the field being discussed a
person whose expertise or authority lies not in the given field but in another.
If Oprah recommends She’s Come Undone
, it must be a great novel!
8. Non sequitur—“it does not follow”:
when one statement is not logically connected to
Many people question the legitimacy of the stories in The National Enquirer
—but they must hold some truth since over 3 million people buy it every week.
9. Red herring:
when a writer raises an irrelevant issue to draw attention away from the
Marijuana smoking is not very harmful. I’d rather ride in a car driven by a pot smoker than someone under the influence of alcohol.
10. Post hoc—“after this, therefore because of this”:
when the writer implies that because
one event follows another, the first caused the second. Chronology does not equal causality.
Before uniforms were introduced at Will Rogers Middle School, Rogers ranked 14th out of 19 district schools on a statewide algebra test, but the following year when they wore uniforms, their ranking jumped to 4th.
11. Slippery Slope:
when the writer argues that taking one step will lead inevitably to a next
The legalization of euthanasia will ultimately lead to our killing the homeless, the handicapped, and the elderly.
when a writer uses the same term in two different senses in an argument.
To equivocate is to use ambiguous words purposely to mislead or deceive or hedge.
People say that sexism and racism are forms of discrimination. But what’s wrong with discrimination? We discriminate all the time in our choices of food, homes, and friends.
when an argument obscures or denies the complexity of the issue.
The welfare system’s problems can be solved if we enroll its recipients in job training programs.
14. Either/or reasoning:
when the writer reduces the issue to only two alternatives that are
Either we choose democracy or we choose anarchy.
15. Ad hominem—“against the man”:
when the writer attacks his or her opponents
personally rather than arguing the issues.
The president, who was little more than a draft dodger, sent our troops into Iraq yesterday.
Clinical Science (2003) 105 , 663–669 (Printed in Great Britain) concentration of bioavailable 17- β oestradiol K. J. ELLIOTT∗, N. T. CABLE†, T. REILLY† and M. J. DIVER‡ ∗Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Brighton, Eastbourne BN20 7SP, U.K., †Research Institute for Sportand Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 2ET, U.K., a
Session 4 Teaching so that learners learn Setting the context Some teachers and trainers see their role as being to onlytransmit knowledge. In Sessions 2 and 3 the activitiesmodelled a different approach. They required inductive‘learning by doing’. Prepare yourself for Session 4 by reading about activeapproaches to learning in Section 3: Learning by doing (pages 3.1 to 3.13). ț To an