Academia is founded on the idea of an ongoing conversation in which we can learn from each other and from the process of discussion. Once we’ve assessed the quality of another person's argument, there is an opportunity to take our reflection a step further. What can we learn from the successes and failures of the argument? What recommendation might come out of the assessment? Can we offer a way to fix the argument in question or a way to take it a step further? Can we suggest an entirely different approach to the issue? Just as there are many ways to respond productively to an idea in conversation, there are many ways to respond in writing that contribute to an ongoing discussion and search for truth.
Some college writing assignments ask us explicitly to add our own perspective once we have assessed the strength of an argument. We may be asked to write one or more paragraphs about our own recommendations after we have assessed an argument. Even if we are not specifically asked for recommendations, we can consider putting them into our conclusion. A suggestion of a way forward can make the end of an essay more compelling, engaging, and meaningful. In a conclusion, we can enjoy the freedom to consider possibilities without making a final decision about whether to pursue them. We are leaving readers with ideas they can explore further on their own. Here are a few approaches to making a recommendation even if we don't claim to have all the answers about the issue.
Take the Argument a Step Further
We might support the argument and ask readers to take it a step further. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Add to the sense of urgency about the argument with our own explanation for why it matters.
- Recommend ways to draw attention to the issue.
- Suggest that the argument has implications even beyond what the writer discusses.
- Remove limitations on the argument to make a broader claim.
- Argue that the argument's claim points us toward a particular course of action.
Call for Clarification
A response essay could call for greater clarity. If we choose to focus on what’s not clear, we’ll want to be able to explain how that ambiguity weakens the argument. Is the vagueness covering a fatal flaw in the argument, a difficulty or a contradiction that won’t be simple to explain away? Or is it easy to fix if the author clarifies one small point? Perhaps we can recommend a way we would want to see the argument revised. Which clarified version of the argument would we support?
Call for More Support or Inquiry
The process of analyzing the argument will often lead us to see what it is that we do not know. It may expose areas of uncertainty or contradiction that are intriguing. If we have called into question a reason or an assumption, we may want to recommend further research or support. Perhaps we are not ready to accept something without further evidence. In that case, we might describe the kind of study or investigative journalism that could uncover a reason.
Call for Limits on the Argument
If our assessment has pointed out exceptions to the argument, then readers will be wondering whether these exceptions invalidate the argument or whether they can be dealt with by limiting its scope. We may want to suggest that the argument has something valuable but that it needs to limit what it is claiming more than it has done.
Find Middle Ground on a Controversial Point
If the argument we analyzed is controversial, we can recommend some middle ground with the potential to bring two opposing sides together. Perhaps we do not fully agree with the argument but we don't want to alienate audiences who are sympathetic to it. We might focus on how we can build on some aspects of it while changing others. Rogerian argument is an approach that emphasizes empathy for both sides on a polarized issue. Rogerian arguments try to find common ground between two sides to move the discussion forward.
Point toward an Alternate Claim or Reason
If we just analyzed an argument we found to be weak, we may already have an opposing argument or an alternate argument in mind. If readers are convinced that the first argument is without merit, they will be looking for a replacement. Our critique puts us in a good position to present an alternate vision. We might recommend a new reason to add to the argument to strengthen it. For example, we noted earlier that in the argument below, the reason was the same as the claim, a fallacy called circular reasoning.
Anyone born in the United States has a right to citizenship because citizenship here depends on birth, not ethnicity or family history of immigration.
We could suggest a better reason for the same claim:
Anyone born in the United States has a right to citizenship because the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees birthright citizenship.
Suggest a Different Way to Frame the Issue
Even if we are not ready with an alternate argument we want to promote, we may at least have some recommendations for shaping the conversation. Perhaps we can provide some insight into the best way to talk about the problem, even if we do not have the answer to it. We can make a comparison with another argument or issue. Or we can suggest that the argument address some deeper question before tackling a specific case. Alternately, we might suggest that discussing particular cases will bring the issue to life and help us clarify what is at stake.