Turning Your Thoughts into Arguments Visually
The start of any essay begins in one of two ways: a single idea you need to explore and expand upon or a hot mess of ideas that you need to organize. Well, they should begin in one of those two ways. You shouldn’t already know your conclusion or thesis when you start because your research and analysis might take you to a different conclusion, and if you’re already stuck on your answer, you will either miss seeing the truth or you will be guilty of being a bad, pig-headed, unreasonable person of ill-repute. Let the evidence and reason take you on a journey to the conclusion. Like my daughter says, “You never know what’s going to happen until it happens.”
So, how do you start to organize when preparing your thoughts on a topic? The short answer is: however you want. What I’m about to describe is a very messy way to organize, but it’s a way that has worked well for both myself and countless others. I’m not even sure what to call it, and there are no formal rules. It’s a type of brainstorming (where you just run with whatever ideas pop into your head) where you keep track. Here are the steps:
- Write down the main point you want to start from, or the conclusion that you somehow hope to prove (don’t accept as true yet, despite what your gut tells you), in the middle of a piece of paper. You can even circle it or box it in if you want.
- Write down the first idea you have that relates to your main idea a few inches away from it in any direction. Draw a line connecting the two ideas, and if there is something important about how they connect, write that on the line.
- Write down another idea somewhere else on the paper. Draw lines that connect it to any other ideas it relates to, using arrows to indicate if one idea leads to the other, and making notes on the connection (if relevant). If it relates to two ideas, that’s fine. If it relates to the connection between ideas, that’s fine, too.
- Keep going, exploring more ideas in this same way.
- …keep going, doing the same thing.
- If you get stuck for a little bit, think about an objection to something you’ve said. Write it down next to the idea that it counters, and give a response to it.
- Do (6) again as many times as you feel like.
- Tape on a new paper, since you’re going to need more space now.
In no time, you’ll have a whole set of ideas you’re working with. This is the fun and quick part of the process. Organizing it and really making it make sense is the hard and tedious part. We’ll cover that shortly, but now you need more practice on diagramming.
Breaking Apart the News: An exercise in diagramming
Pick any news article that actually has some bit of length. Pick one that is not merely a short presentation of events that occurred, but that is actually attempting (in some way) to argue something. Opinion articles always do this, so maybe just pick one of them. However the article is written, you can organize it in a visual form using the method just described by doing the following:
- Write down the first claim, statement, belief, argument, thought, sentence, etc., that is made.
- Write down the next one, and connect it to the first one (if it connects to it – if not, then just write it on another part of the paper for now, since it may or may not end up connecting to the starting point).
- Write down the next one, and see how it might connect to the other claims already made.
- Repeat. Keep going until you’ve gone through everything and see how they all connect and where they lead. If it’s a well-written and argued piece, then everything will connect together and point to a final claim. If so, congratulations, you just read an article written by someone that has taken a philosophy class. If not (and I’d expect not), see how you might be able to fill in the blanks for them.