Chapter 8: Making Academic Arguments
What are the features of argument?
Argument is not simply the loud, assertive, unwavering statement of your opinion in the hopes of conquering the opposition. Argument is the careful consideration of numerous positions and the careful development of logically sound, carefully constructed assertions that, when combined, offer a worthwhile perspective in an ongoing debate. Certainly you want to imagine yourself arguing with others—and certainly you want to believe your opinion has superior qualities to theirs—but the purpose of argument in the college setting is not to solve a practical problem or shut down a conversation. Rather, it’s to illuminate, expand, and further inform a debate happening on a worthwhile subject between reasonable, intelligent people. In other words, calling the opposition stupid is not good argument. And anyway, that’s an ad hominem attack.
Some of the key tools of argument are the strategies that students are asked to consider when doing a Rhetorical Analysis. Chapter 6 of this textbook covers Rhetorical Analysis extensively, and it is worth reviewing the basic concepts of context/text, and logos, pathos, and ethos before beginning an argument of your own. As you plan and draft your own argument, you must carefully use the following elements of rhetoric to your own advantage as you craft your own argument:
The use of logic, data/evidence, and sufficient support to establish the practicality and rationality of your ideas. To have a logically sound argument, you should include:
- A debatable and supportable claim
- Logical reasoning to support your claim
- Sound evidence and examples to justify the reasoning
- Reasonable projections
- Concessions & rebuttals
- You should avoid logical fallacies
The ethical and well-balanced use of all of the strategies above will help you to present yourself as trustworthy and intelligent in your consideration of the topic and in the development of your argument. Another aspect of your credibility as a writer of argument, particularly in the college setting, is your attention to the needs of the audience with regard to presentation and style. In college, this means: have you used MLA if that is what the reading audience requests? Have you cited sources in the manner that your reading audience would expect?
The use of examples and language that evoke an appropriate emotional response in your reader—that gets them to care about your topic—can be helpful in argument. For academic essays, pathos may be useful in introductory sections, concluding sections, or as ways to link various parts of the paper together. Still, college writing often puts more emphasis on logos and ethos.
Chapter 6.4 provides a detailed explanation of each of these rhetorical appeals. As you plan and draft your argument, look over these explanations to help you brainstorm ways to rhetorically engage your reader in a way that includes elements of logos, pathos, and ethos.
A well structured argument is one that is carefully and optimally planned. It is organized so that the argument has a fluid building of ideas, one onto the other, in order to produce the most persuasive impact or effect on the reader. You should avoid repeating ideas, reasons, or evidence. You must consider how each idea in your argument connects to the others. Should some ideas come before others? Should you build your reasons from simple to complex or from complex to simple? Should you present the counterargument before your reasons? Or, would it make more sense for you to present your reasons and then the concessions and rebuttals? How can you use clear transitional phrases to facilitate reader comprehension of your argument?
When we discuss style in academic writing, we generally mean the use of formal language appropriate for the academic audience and occasion. Academics generally favor Standard American English and the use of precise language that avoids idiom and cliché or dull or simple word choices.
However, some writing assignments allow you to choose your audience, and in that case, the style in which you write may not be the formal, precise Standard American English that the academy prefers. For some writing assignments, you may even be asked to use, where appropriate, poetic or figurative language or language that evokes the senses.
It is important to understand what kind of style of writing your audience expects, as delivering your argument in that style could make it more persuasive.