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Online Guide to Writing and Research

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Writing Arguments

Steps to Writing an Argument

Develop Your Argument

When you develop your argument, you are confirming your own position, and building your case for the readers. Use empirical evidence—facts and statistics—to support your claims. Appeal to your audience’s rational and logical thinking. Argue your case from the authority of your evidence and research.

Your list of strengths and weaknesses can help you develop your argument. Here is how to do that:

  • First, prioritize the strengths and weaknesses of each position and then decide on the top three to five strengths and weaknesses. 

  • Then, using a technique for developing content ideas, begin to expand your understanding of each item on your list (see the section in chapter 2 titled “Techniques to Get Started”). 

  • Evaluate each one in terms of how you can support it—by reasoning, providing details, adding an example, or offering evidence. 

  • Again, prioritize your list of strengths and weaknesses, this time noting the supporting comments that need more work, call for more evidence, or may be irrelevant to your argument. At this stage, it is better to overlook nothing and keep extensive notes for later reference.

As you develop your ideas, remember that you are presenting them in a fair-minded and rational way, counting on your readers’ intelligence, experience, and insight to evaluate your argument and see your point of view.

Techniques for Appealing to Your Readers

The success of your argument depends on your skill in convincing your readers—through sound reasoning, persuasion, and evidence—of the strength of your point of view. But how can you do that in the most effective way? There are three fundamental types of appeal in presenting an argument: reason, ethics, and emotion. As a writer, use all three of these techniques in your writing. 

But let’s learn more about these types of appeal:

Clear thinking requires that you state your claim and support it with concrete, specific facts. This approach appeals to our common sense and rational thinking. 

Formal reasoning involves following certain established logical methods to arrive at certain pieces of information or conclusions. Generally, these logical methods are known as inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

What is inductive reasoning? Inductive thinking is when our logical thinking states specific facts (called premises) and then draws a conclusion, or generalization. Inductive reasoning lets us examine the specific details, considering how well they add up to the generalization. When we think inductively, we are asking whether the evidence clearly supports the conclusions.

Example of Inductive Reasoning

Premise: Swans nest near this pond every summer.

Hypothesis: This summer, swans will probably nest near this pond.

 

What is deductive reasoning? In deductive reasoning, you take two premises to create a conclusion based on reasoning and evidence. When we think logically, we start with the generalization. As we apply our generalization to a specific situation, we examine the individual premises that make that generalization reasonable or unreasonable. When our logical thinking starts with the generalization, or conclusion, we may then apply the generalization to a particular situation to see if that generalization follows from the premises. Our deductive thinking can be expressed as a syllogism or an enthymeme—a shortened form of the syllogism.

 

Syllogisms can be written like this:

All A are B.

All C are A.

Therefore, all C are B.

 

Example of Deductive Reasoning Using a Syllogism:

Major premise: All birds have feathers.

Minor premise: A parrot is a bird.

Conclusion: A parrot has feathers.

 

Enthymemes can be written like this:

If A=B and B=C, then A=C. 

 

But with enthymemes, B=C is implied.

 

Example of Deductive Reasoning Using an Enthymeme:

Major premise: All birds have feathers.

Conclusion: A parrot is a bird.

(We assume that a parrot has feathers)

Think of ethics as the force of a speaker’s character as it is represented in writing. If you misrepresent the evidence of one of your sources, your readers will question your ethics. 

 

In any situation in which you must rely on your readers’ goodwill and common sense, you will lose their open-minded stance toward your argument if you support it by using unethical methods. This can happen intentionally, by misrepresenting evidence and experts and by seeking to hurt individuals or groups. It can also happen unintentionally—you may undermine your argument by inadvertently misunderstanding the evidence and the implications of your position. This can occur if you don’t research the evidence responsibly, preferring instead to express your own and others’ unfounded opinions.

Using emotions as a support for argument can be tricky. Attempts to play on your readers’ emotions can seem manipulative and are often mistrusted. To use emotional appeal successfully, you must apply discretion and restraint. Choose examples that represent and illustrate your ideas fairly, and then present your arguments as objectively as possible. The writer must carefully draw the connections between the ideas and illustrations, choosing diction in such a way that readers don’t question motives as manipulative. Strong evidence accumulated by careful research often addresses this potential problem well.

Example of an Appeal to Emotion

Rather than continuing these tax-and-spend policies, we plan to return your hard-earned tax money to you.

Formal Writing Habits


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