Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 8: Other Frequently Assigned Papers

Writing Arguments

Steps to Writing an Argument

Develop Your Argument

When you develop your argument, you are confirming your own position, building your case. Use empirical evidence, such as facts and statistics, to support your claims. Appeal to your audience's rational and logical thinking. Argue your case from the authority of your evidence and research.

Your list of strengths and weaknesses can help you develop your argument. Prioritize the strengths and weaknesses for each position; decide on the top three to five strengths and weaknesses. Then, using a technique for developing content ideas, e.g., clustering, association, journalist's questions, [see Chapter 2: Techniques to Get Started], begin to expand your understanding of each of the items on your list. Evaluate each item as to how you can support it—by reasoning, providing details, adding an example, by using evidence. Again, prioritize your list of strengths and weaknesses, this time noting what supporting comments need more work, more evidence, or may be irrelevant to your argument. At this stage, it's better to overlook nothing and keep extensive notes for later reference.

As you develop your ideas, remember that you are presenting them in a fair-minded and rational way, counting on your reader's intelligence, experience, and insight to evaluate your argument and see your point of view.

Techniques for Appealing to your Readers

The success of your argument depends on your skill in convincing your reader—through sound reasoning, persuasion, and evidence—the strength of your point of view. There are three fundamental types of appeal in presenting an argument: reason, ethics, and emotion. As a writer, your task is to weave these three types of appeal skillfully into your argument in a balanced and sensible way.

  • Reason

    Clear thinking requires that you state your claim and support it with concrete, specific facts. This approach appeals to our common sense and rational thinking. Formal reasoning entails following certain established logical methods to arrive at certain pieces of information or conclusions. Generally, these logical methods are known as inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

    When our logical thinking states specific facts (called premises) and then draws a conclusion, a generalization, we call this inductive thinking. Inductive reasoning enables us to examine the specific details in light of how well they add up to the generalization. When we think inductively, we are asking whether the evidence clearly supports the conclusions.

    An example of inductive reasoning Our marketing study proves that citizens are concerned about information privacy and won't visit certain Web sites.


    In deductive reasoning, our logical thinking starts with the generalization. As we apply our generalization to a specific situation, we examine the individual premises that make that generalization reasonable or not. When our logical thinking starts with the generalization, or conclusion, then we may apply the generalization to a particular situation to see whether that generalization follows from the premises. Our deductive thinking can be expressed as a syllogism or an enthymeme, a shortened form of the syllogism.

    An example of deductive reasoning

    Syllogism (long form)
    Aggressive marketers speak of invasive data collection as simply "getting to know the customer," and ABC corporation is actively assembling a database of private client information. Despite their claim to be interested in providing better customer service, we may be concerned that ABC will not protect our privacy.

    Enthymeme
    Because ABC corporation is assembling a database of private information about their clients, their customers are concerned about identity theft.

  • Ethics

    Think of ethics as the force of character of the speaker as it is represented in oration or writing. If you misrepresent the evidence or one of your sources, your reader will question your ethics. In any situation where you must rely on your reader's good will and common sense, you will lose your reader's open-minded stance toward your argument when you use unethical methods to support your argument. This can happen intentionally, by misrepresenting evidence and experts and by seeking to hurt individuals or groups. You may also undermine your argument by unintentional misunderstanding of the evidence and the implications of your position. This can happen when you don't research the evidence responsibly, preferring instead to express your own and others' unfounded opinions.

  • Emotion

    Using emotions as a support for argument can be tricky. Attempting to play on your readers' emotions can smack of manipulation and is often mistrusted. To use emotional appeal successfully, you need to apply discretion and restraint. You need to choose examples that represent and illustrate your ideas fairly and then present your arguments as objectively as possible. The writer must carefully draw the connections between the ideas and illustrations, choosing diction in such a way that readers don't question motives as manipulative and sensational. Strong evidence accumulated by careful research often addresses this potential problem well. An example of an appeal to emotion is presented here: Rather than continuing these tax-and-spend policies, we plan to return your hard-earned tax money to you.