15.4: The Basics of Argument
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A Well-Defined Issue
What exactly is being argued in the paper? What is included or not included?
As a writer, it is your job to set parameters around your argument. Be sure to clearly explain the main argument of the paper. For example, if you were writing an anti-abortion paper, you might set the parameters around third trimester. This defines exactly what will be included and what will not be included. In this example, the paper is against third trimester abortions only, not abortion in general.
What kinds of evidence are utilized in the paper? Is the evidence sound? Does it come from authoritative sources? Be sure to use reliable sources. Do not just Google the topic and grab the random information that may pop up. Google Advanced and Google Scholar help you filter some of the information, but be sure to evaluate the sources you choose. In addition, use journal articles when possible because they are usually written by authorities in a specific field. They will provide multiple sources for their information because they must cite their sources. Remember to include a variety of evidence, including facts, data, examples and subject matter expert opinion.
Much of this evidence is now accessed on the Internet. However, when using Internet sources, pay attention to the URL. What is the domain name? Is it a .edu, .net, .com, .org, .gov, .mil? How does this influence the information being provided? Also, be sure to examine further by answering the questions: Who is the author? What is the author's background?
A part of what makes your argument compelling is the variety of sources that you use and the credibility of those sources. You cannot win an argument with random information. Do not rely heavily upon a single source to carry your paper. A variety of sources shows that you have done your diligence as a writer and increases your credibility.
Does the author anticipate the opposition’s main arguments? Is the author prepared with counterarguments and compelling evidence that can persuade the opposition to adopt a different view?
Refutation or rebuttal is incredibly important to your argument. You cannot write a one-sided argument.
You must first briefly identify an opposition’s point. Then immediately address it with counterarguments and compelling evidence. When writing an argument, expect that you will have opposition. Skeptical readers will have their own beliefs and points of view. When conducting your research, make sure to review the opposing side of the argument that you are presenting. You need to be prepared to counter those ideas. Remember, in order for people to give up their position, they must see how your position is more reasonable than their own. When you address the opposing point of view in your essay and demonstrate how your own claim is stronger, you neutralize their argument. By failing to address a non-coinciding view, you leave a reason for your reader to disagree with you, and therefore weaken your persuasive power. Methods of addressing the opposing side of the argument vary. You may choose to state your main points, then address and refute the opposition, and then conclude. Conversely, you might summarize the opposition’s views early in your argument, and then revisit them after you've presented your side or the argument. This will show how your information is more reasonable than their own.
As stated earlier, it is the opposition that you are trying to convince. So, how well you handle this section of your paper will determine its effectiveness as an argument.
What is the author’s attitude toward the topic? Is it hostile, sarcastic, irate, or reasonable? What kind of language and tone are being used? We touched on this when we talked about the ethical appeal. Your tone needs to be calm and reasonable. Your language needs to be honest, clear and respectful. Avoid aggressive, confrontational or biased language and tone. It is important to clearly state and support your position. However, it is just as important to present all of the information that you’ve gathered in an objective manner. Using language that is demeaning or non-objective will undermine the strength of your argument. This destroys your credibility and will reduce your audience on the spot. For example, a student writing an argument about why a particular football team has a good chance of “going all the way” is making a strategic error by stating that “anyone who doesn't think that the Arizona Cardinals deserve to win the Super Bowl is a total idiot.” Not only has the writer risked alienating any number of her readers, she has also made her argument seem shallow and poorly researched. In addition, she has committed a third mistake: making a sweeping generalization that cannot be supported.”