WHAT IS ARGUMENTATION?
We are constantly encountering people trying to persuade us
to buy products and services, accept political judgments,
change our behavior, vote for a candidate. As students you
will have to write persuasively to influence your readers.
When you graduate you will need to write a resume and persuasive
cover letter. In your career you will have to motivate employees,
justify expenses, influence clients, and suggest reforms to
Persuasion -- the attempt to influence readers' views and
opinions -- is perhaps the most important writing you will
attempt in freshman English. Sales representatives persuade,
lawyers persuade, executives persuade. The ability to state
an argument, influence others, and explain a point of view
is critical in almost every business and profession.
In developing a persuasion paper, consider your audience carefully,
anticipating possible objections and addressing them in your
paper. Consider which of the three appeals -- logic, emotion,
ethics -- will be most effective.
Logic -- which uses facts, statistics, evidence,
surveys, interviews, or scientific tests to support a point
of view. An extensive review of court proceedings, excerpts
from trial transcripts, and expert analysis of evidence might
persuade an appeal court to order a new trial for a criminal
Advantages: provides evidence needed
for major decisions, especially group decisions.
Disadvantages: can be boring and
require a high degree of attention on part of the reader.
Emotion -- which uses images, sensations,
or shock appeals to lead readers to react in a desired way.
A television commercial featuring suffering children accompanied
by an 800-number might persuade viewers to make donations.
Advantages: often produces immediate
Disadvantages: has limited impact,
can backfire, provides limited factual support for readers
to share with others.
Ethics -- which rests on appealing to shared
values to motivate. A football coach might persuade players
to see themselves as role models to children and not drink
or swear in public.
Advantages: can be very powerful
because often the writer is addressing an audience who agrees
with his or her values.
Disadvantages: depends on readers
sharing the values of the writer. An appeal by a Muslim cleric
may have little effect on Catholics or Buddhists.
To be effective, writers often use more than a single appeal.
frequently mix factual support with emotional appeal based
on human interest.
An article on homeless children might use the narrative of
a single homeless
boy to attract attention then provide statistics to illustrate
the severity of the
problem and outline possible solutions.
ADDRESSING READER OBJECTIONS
Perhaps most challenging is attempting to persuade a hostile
you anticipate have negative attitudes toward you, the organization
represent, or the ideas you will advocate. Although no technique
convert opponents into supporters, you can overcome a measure
of hostility and
influence those who may still be undecided with a few approaches:
Openly admit differences -- instead of attempting
to pretend there is
no conflict, openly state that your view may differ from your
This honest admission can win a measure of respect.
Responsibly summarize the opposing viewpoints --
by fairly restating
your opponents' views, you force your readers to agree with
demonstrate your fairness.
Avoid making judgmental statements -- do
not label your reader's
ideas with negative language. Use neutral terms to make distinctions.
If you label your ideas as being intelligent and your readers'
naive, you will have difficulty getting people to accept your
because in the process they will have to accept your insults
as being valid.
Point to shared values, experiences, problems --
build common bridges
with your audience by demonstrating past cooperation.
Ask your readers to keep an open mind --
don' t demand or expect to
convert readers. But almost everyone will agree to try to
and receptive to new ideas.
Work to overcome negative stereotypes --
play the devil's advocate and
determine what negative stereotypes your audience may have
about you and
your ideas. Then work to include examples, references, evidence
presentation to counter these negative impressions.
SELECTING TOPICS FOR PERSUASION
Effective persuasion depends on selecting workable
topics. In general, avoid topics like gun control, abortion,
and capital punishment -- unless you can develop a new angle.
Avoid repeating arguments you have heard on television or
read about in newspapers or magazines.
|censorship of the Internet
||why readers should monitor their cholesterol
|taxing Internet commerce
||why America should/should not restrict immigration
||why consumers should protect their computer
|need for stalking laws
||why America should/should not have national
|drunk driving laws
||why Americans should donate organs
||why companies should provide employee daycare
|mandatory car insurance
||why America should/should not pay its UN
||why NATO should/should not intervene in
|political campaign reform
||why smokers should/should not be able to
CONSIDER YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Rather than select a political or social controversy,
review your personal experience.
Have you had dealings with a college, employer, customer,
neighbor, or government agency that revealed a problem or
called for action? You may wish to argue for better daycare,
a centralized financial aid office on campus, better security
at a local mall, or more computers in the college library.
These topics will force you conduct individual research rather
than relying on items you have read in the press or seen on
* Avoid topics that are so emotionally charged that you cannot
DO NOT MISTAKE PROPAGANDA FOR ARGUMENT
Effective argument is based on reason. Don't assume
you can convince readers by hurling accusations, statistics,
and quotes taken out of context. Avoid insulting remarks.
* Read your paper aloud or use peer review to examine your
unsupported claims or inappropriate statements.
LIMIT THE SCOPE OF YOUR ARGUMENT
A short paper may not allow you to fully address
all aspects of a complex subject. You may make your task easier
by clearly defining the scope of your paper:
Apex Engineering should provide basic daycare for
full time employees working first shift on weekdays.
People who began smoking after cigarette packages and
advertising were required to post the Surgeon General's
warning against smoking should not be allowed to sue
tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses.
CONSIDER YOUR READERS
Address the needs, biases, and knowledge base of your readers.
Consider their likely attitudes toward your argument and the
type of evidence they will need to accept your
point of view.
STATE YOUR THESIS CLEARLY
Argumentation requires a clearly worded thesis. Although
your thesis may change as you work on your paper, a clear
working thesis gives your first draft focus.
STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING ARGUMENTATION
USE MORE THAN ONE APPEAL
Because each appeal has advantages and disadvantages, it is
better to use more than one. Blend logical, ethical, and emotional
appeals in your essay.
USE MODES SUCH AS NARRATION, COMPARISON, DIVISION
AND CLASSIFICATION, OR CAUSE AND EFFECT TO ORGANIZE IDEAS
You can compare pro and con statements using comparison
and contrast or use narration to relate a case or incident.
PLACE YOUR STRONGEST POINTS AT THE BEGINNING OR ENDING
Remember that reader attention is strongest at the
beginning and end of a paper. Do not place your most important
arguments or evidence in the middle of the essay where readers
may overlook it.
REVIEW YOUR PAPER FOR LAPSES IN CRITICAL THINKING
Read your paper carefully to determine if you maintained
critical thinking. Look for evidence of logical fallacies
* Absolute statements. Although it is important
to convince readers by making
a strong impression, avoid making absolute claims that can
be dismissed with
a single exception.
* False dilemma. Avoid overdramatizing your
case by offering readers only
two alternatives, such as stating. We must approve school
choice or see an
an entire generation of children condemned to illiteracy.
Most readers will
immediately recognize the weakness of such an unrealistic
* Basing arguments on personalities. Don't
presume that readers will be impressed
by citing endorsements by famous people. The fact that a celebrity
or single expert
supports your argument is not convincing evidence. Don't
attack the personality
of opposing authorities or reject an idea because someone
controversial supports it.
National health care, for example, were tenets of both Nazism
* False Analogy. Comparisons form weak arguments.
Although they may useful to
illustrate an idea, they rarely provide convincing evidence.
The fact that an educational
policy works in Japan does not mean it will work in the United
States. The fact that
Prohibition failed to curb alcohol consumption does not mean
that crack should be
* Hasty generalizations. Make sure that
any conclusions are based on sufficient
evidence and not coincidence or simple circumstance. The fact
that you spot
a fellow student walking into a liquor store on Monday, leaving
a bar on Tuesday,
and buying a six pack on Wednesday does not prove that the
person has a drinking
problem or even drinks alcohol at all.
* Begging the question. Avoid assuming elements
that must be proven. You cannot
argue, "The outmoded computer systems must be replaced,"
until you prove that
the system is indeed outdated.
ARGUMENT AND PERSUASION CHECKLIST
BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR PAPER, REVIEW
1. Is your message clearly defined?
2. Does your paper meet reader needs? Do you provide the
support they need to accept your thesis?
3. Do you support your views with adequate evidence?
4. Do you anticipate reader objections and alternative
points of view?
5. Do you balance the strengths and weaknesses of
logical, ethical, and emotional appeals?
6. Do you avoid overstated, sentimental, or propagandist
7. Do you avoid preaching to the converted? Will only those
who already agree with you accept your arguments?
8. Do you make it easy for undecided readers to accept
your position without feeling manipulated or patronized?
9. HAVE YOU TESTED YOUR ARGUMENT WITH PEER
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Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark