© 2013 Steve Campsall
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write a more effective argument
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The word argument suggests an animated disagreement - but a written argument is rather different. It requires that you...
put forward a succinctly stated and well-considered point of view;
provide support for this view;
create a sense of balance by referring to other equally valid points of view;
tactfully counter these.
Your aim in this kind of writing is not necessarily to 'win' the argument; instead, it is to put forward evidence that is logical and well-considered and which acts to support your point of view and to counter the main alternative views.
The evidence you provide must be both convincing and presented convincingly.
The evidence needs to be convincing but, in an exam situation at least, it does not have to be factual, i.e. you can 'make it up'; you are allowed to make up such things as expert opinions and statistical evidence to support your argument.
Importantly, whatever evidence you do use, it must be well considered and reasonable.
Remember - whilst you might not agree with an opposing view, that doesn't make it in any way foolish to hold. You will need to take great care indeed to avoid suggesting that those who hold different views are in any way foolish for doing so.
This is such an easy pitfall that catches out very many students.
In large part, it is the degree of politeness and tact that you display when opposing other viewpoints that will win or lose your argument - and gain you the most marks!
ARGUMENT OR PERSUASION
- what is the difference?
'Writing to argue' and 'writing to persuade' both occur on school courses. They are both very similar in as much as they share the same purpose, that of seeking to influence. There are differences that will affect the style of your writing if you are to gain the highest marks.
An argument concerns an issue about which people, quite reasonably, hold different views. This suggests that other views are not necessarily wrong - just different. During the process of presenting your argument, therefore, it is reasonable that you should show that you recognise that opposing views exist, not only to hint at what a fair-minded person you are, but to give you the opportunity to counter these views tactfully in order to show why you feel that your own view is the more worthy one to hold.
Persuasion has a more single-minded goal. It is based on a personal conviction that a particular way of thinking is the only sensible way to think.
WELL-REASONED ARGUMENT vs. PASSIONATE PERSUASION!
Consider this typical scene in a teenager's life...
The party is on Friday... and, naturally, you really want to go but your parents have other ideas. They're planning a visit to Great Aunt Bertha and know how much she'd love to see how you've grown since your last visit. Persuading your mum to say yes to the party is your determined goal - because Friday is the deadline and you need an answer now.
How to go about it? First, a little calm reasoning ('Everyone from school will be there, mum. It's a social occasion and it'll help me make more friends...' ), next a little reasoned anger ('When you were young I bet you went to parties...!') and finally, a passionate plea ('Oh, do please try to see it from my position, mum. I can't turn up on Monday the only kid in the class who didn't go...!').
Now if instead of the above, you had been asked to write an article in the school magazine to present a case for a return of end-of-year school disco... well, you don't need that immediate answer, so a well-reasoned argument composed of a series of well thought out and well-supported points is likely to win the day. The pressure is on in the first case, but not in the second.
A little history will help...
ARGUMENT AND THE ANCIENT ART OF 'RHETORIC'
The art of argument and persuasion is as old as the hills... or rather, as old as the ancient Greek hills. The Greeks were famous for their teaching and learning as well as their arguing and persuasion. They called the art of using language persuasively rhetoric and, still today, any use of language that makes it seem more powerful is called rhetorical language. Two of the world's most famous 'rhetoricians' were Aristotle (the student of the famous teacher and philosopher Plato) and another Roman teacher called Cicero.
If Aristotle and Cicero were writing this web page, they would be telling you that the ideal form of argument was through the use of one thing and one thing alone... reason (which had the Greek name of logos - hence the modern word logic); however, the two recognised that 'ideal' things must always remain just that - ideas, and that human weakness would always mean that two further argument techniques would be brought into use, especially where persuasion was needed. The first of these is an appeal to character (which they called ethos - hence our term ethical) and the second? An appeal to the emotions (which they called pathos - a word we now use to suggest the power to stir sad emotions).
Writing an effective argument...
An argument should set out to answer the question 'Why?' for your viewpoint as well as show awareness and understanding of your opponent's views.
The secrets of success?
Show you understand the genre conventions of the form - that is, the format - in which you are asked to write (e.g. an article, a letter, a speech, etc.).
Find common ground - an endpoint upon which all would agree.
Show consideration of but counter with politeness and tact your opponent's views.
Use effective argumentative techniques - that is, use rhetorical devices.
Ensure your views unfold logically and persuasively - that is, create a logical structure for your argument.
Showing understanding of opposing views
Try switching roles - which points would convince you?
Showing understanding of form and conventions
Using effective argumentative techniques
Successful arguments are...
Here is a small section of the mark scheme the examiners from a major examining board use when they award a grade A:
• shows sustained awareness of the
IN MORE DETAIL...
CENTRAL or BODY PARAGRAPHS
Each year, literally thousands of students fail to achieve the marks they could. Don't be one of them ALWAYS CHECK YOUR WRITING BEFORE HANDING IN!
Read each sentence immediately after you write it
Use a variety of sentence types and styles and remember that shorter sentences are often clearer and crisper sounding. An occasional ultra-short sentence can add real impact to writing.
Read each sentence before you proceed to the next to check it is fluent, accurate and complete. Does it follow on logically from the previous sentence?
Check every paragraph
A paragraph is a series of sentences (often at least five) that develop from a single topic sentence used to introduce the point of the paragraph.
Avoid creating overly short paragraphs as this suggests either a) you do not know what a paragraph is or b) that you have no explained the point of the paragraph in sufficient detail. Try to make sure that each paragraph flows naturally on from its predecessor by using the final sentence of each paragraph to subtly 'hook' into the topic of the next paragraph.
To correct a missed paragraph simply put this mark where you want in to be: // then, in your margin write: // = new paragraph. The examiner will not mark you down for this so long as you have not forgotten all of your paragraphs.
Examine each comma
A very common error and poor style is to use a comma instead of a full stop to end a sentence. This makes two or more stylish, short and crisp sentences into one long, drawn out and boring sentence! Always end each sentence with a full stop - or a semi-colon if you know how to use this punctuation mark.
Look at every apostrophe
Apostrophes are used for two reasons - but so many students fail to use them effectively. If two words are made into one in what is called a 'contraction', an apostrophe is inserted if any letters have been missed out. So 'should not' becomes 'shouldn't'
And when one thing belongs to another thing or person, this is shown by adding apostrophe+s to the owning noun. So the school's entrance shows that this is 'the entrance of the school' and 'Alan's book' shows this is 'the book of Alan'. Similarly, you go 'to the doctor's' and 'the chemist's' as well as to 'Sainsbury's' and 'McDonald's' because you mean 'to the doctor's surgery', 'the chemist's shop' and so on.
Watch out for it's. With an apostrophe it only ever means it is or it has, as in 'it's cold' or 'it's got three toes missing'. If you mean belonging to it, as in its fur is shiny and smooth, no apostrophe is used.