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This book is meant as a practical guide to college writing. It starts with understanding and describing others' arguments, then moves on to assessing those arguments’ strengths and weaknesses and articulating our own points in response. These steps will help with most typical college writing assignments that occur across multiple disciplines:
- Summaries describe the ideas in an argument we have read.
- Assessments offer a judgment on how strong the argument is.
- Response papers make recommendations in response to the strengths or weaknesses of the argument.
- Research-based arguments describe and assess multiple sources in order to arrive at a new perspective.
This book follows that sequence. Chapter 2 describes how to figure out the logical structure of an argument, Chapter 3 explains how to summarize it, and Chapter 4 explores how to test the strength of the argument and make a judgment about it. Chapter 5 suggests ways to offer something new in response. Chapter 6 describes how to find and examine multiple sources on a topic, and Chapter 7 shows how research can lead us to develop an argument of our own.
My how-to approach is inspired by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein's popular text They Say I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. They write, "What makes writers masters of their trade is...their mastery of an inventory of basic moves that they probably picked up by reading a wide range of other accomplished writers." Like them, I offer many phrases students can use to build original critical responses to texts. I have extended their approach to give more guidance on which phrases to use for which argumentative purposes. Graff and Birkenstein question the usefulness of learning "logical principles of argument" such as "syllogisms, warrants, fallacies, or the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning." However, I argue that we can study the specifics of how to make better arguments without getting bogged down in rhetorical terminology. We can frame many logical principles in terms of practical templates. For example, this book does not ask students to memorize the term "post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy," but it does teach us to question the assumption that an earlier event causes a later event.
As part of preparing students to enter the academic conversation, this book aims to teach how to recognize and use methods of persuasion that go beyond logic. I consider that persuasion happens in the context of an imagined relationship between writer and reader. Chapter 8 looks at how arguments move us, and Chapter 9 explores how they establish trust and a sense of connection. Chapter 10, which presents the argument analysis essay, discusses how we can give a picture of an argument as a whole, finding connections between its appeals to emotion and trust and its logical structure. Finally, Chapter 11 considers techniques for shaping individual sentences to make our arguments clearer and more powerful.
In the spirit of writing as a conversation, please consider adding your thoughts by writing comments on the textbook in the Student Feedback or Instructor Feedback Hypothesis groups. We want to keep improving the book and making it more useful.