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5.6: Identifying Special Vocabulary in Argumentative Writing

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    Learning Objectives

    Argumentative essays, also called persuasive essays, include specific words and phrases that separate them from other kinds of writing. Recognizing this specialized vocabulary will help you identify argumentative essays in this class, in your other classes, and even when you read articles or essays online.

    Specialized Vocabulary in “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?”


    Because the title of this article is a question, you can expect the article to try to answer the question, and it does. Rand and Pennycook, both university scholars, offer their answer based on their own research. They also present a different answer proposed by other scholars. Although they argue that their answer is stronger, they do not argue that the other answer is wrong. Therefore, this article is a good example of an academic argument. Let’s look at the article’s vocabulary from paragraphs 3 and 4

    • Consensus (noun): agreement
    • Debate (noun): An argument or disagreement about a topic
    • Opposing (adjective): Disagreeing or holding opposite views
    • Camp (noun): a group of people who agree on a controversial topic.
    • Dispute (noun): argument; controversy

    Argumentative Vocabulary in Paragraph 3

    After the authors introduce the problem of people falling for (believing) fake news, they provide the following information in the third paragraph of the essay:

    “The good news is that psychologists and other social scientists are working hard to understand what prevents people from seeing through propaganda. The bad news is that there is not yet a consensus on the answer.”

    Much of the debate among researchers falls into two opposing camps. One group claims that our ability to reason is hijacked by our partisan convictions: that is, we’re prone to rationalization. The other group — to which the two of us belong — claims that the problem is that we often fail to exercise our critical faculties: that is, we’re mentally lazy.

    Respectful Disagreement in Paragraph 4

    In this paragraph, instead of criticizing the opposing camp, the authors explain why the lack of consensus is “a silver lining” (a benefit). This shows that you, as a college writer, can argue in favor of your position while still acknowledging opposing views. Here is how Rand and Pennycook disagree respectfully:

    “However, recent research suggests a silver lining to the dispute: Both camps appear to be capturing an aspect of the problem. Once we understand how much of the problem is a result of rationalization and how much a result of laziness, and as we learn more about which factor plays a role in what types of situations, we’ll be better able to design policy solutions to help combat the problem.”

    Argumentative Vocabulary in Paragraphs 5 & 6

    The following words indicate that the authors have included research to support both theories about why people believe fake news. The words “evidence,” “support,” and “study” are commonly used in arguments in which authors show the reader exactly where they found their information.

    • Theories (noun) – proposed ideas that attempt to answer a question.
    • Contending (adjective) – arguing or strongly proposing
    • View (noun) – position, opinion
    • Evidence (noun) – information that supports a certain view or position
    • Support (verb) – To argue in favor of; to show that an idea may be valid
    • Position (noun) – Theory; opinion; view
    • Study (noun) – A scholarly report that provides well-researched and trustworthy information on a topic.

    Argumentative Vocabulary in Paragraphs 5 & 6

    In paragraph 5, the authors respectfully explain the view of the “opposing camp,” the social scientists who support the Rationalization Theory. In paragraph 6, they offer support for the Rationalization Theory even though their argument is intended to support the Cognitive Laziness Theory.

    Paragraph 5:

    The rationalization camp, which has gained considerable prominence in recent years, is built around a set of theories contending that when it comes to politically charged issues, people use their intellectual abilities to persuade themselves to believe what they want to be true rather than attempting to actually discover the truth. According to this view, political passions essentially make people unreasonable, even — indeed, especially — if they tend to be good at reasoning in other contexts. (Roughly: The smarter you are, the better you are at rationalizing.)

    Paragraph 6:

    Some of the most striking evidence used to support this position comes from an influential 2012 study in which the law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues found that the degree of political polarization on the issue of climate change was greater among people who scored higher on measures of science literary and numerical ability than it was among those who scored lower on these tests. Apparently, more “analytical” Democrats were better able to convince themselves that climate change was a problem, while more “analytical” Republicans were better able to convince themselves that climate change was not a problem. Professor Kahan has found similar results in, for example, studies about gun control in which he experimentally manipulated the partisan slant of information that participants were asked to assess.

    Practice Finding Argumentative Vocabulary in “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?”

    The remaining paragraphs of “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?” contain some vocabulary words already identified in this exercise and new words that have not been identified yet.

    Please read the rest of the article to find (1) other occurrences of the words already identified in the tables in this exercise and (2) new words that you think might be common in argumentative (persuasive) essays.

    5.6: Identifying Special Vocabulary in Argumentative Writing is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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