- Describe what it means to think critically about the idea of research.
- Develop a working thesis.
- List the ways to develop an antithetical argument.
- Compare inductive and deductive reasoning.
- Explain logos, ethos, and pathos.
provided by Lumen Learning
1. A thesis says something a little strange.
Consider the following examples:
A: By telling the story of Westley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.
B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks—baseball bats, tree branches, and swords—link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.
I would argue that both of these statements are perfectly correct, but they are not both strange. Only the second one says something, well, weird. Weird is good. Sentence A encourages the paper to produce precisely the evidence that The Princess Bride presents explicitly; sentence B ensures that the paper will talk about something new.
Romeo and Juliet concerns the dangers of family pride, Frankenstein the dangers of taking science too far. Yup. How can you make those things unusual? Good papers go out on a limb. They avoid ugly falls by reinforcing the limb with carefully chosen evidence and rigorous argumentation.
2. A thesis creates an argument that builds from one point to the next, giving the paper a direction that your reader can follow as the paper develops.
This point often separates the best theses from the pack. A good thesis can prevent the two weakest ways of organizing a critical paper: the pile of information and the plot summary with comments. A paper that presents a pile of information will frequently introduce new paragraphs with transitions that simply indicate the addition of more stuff. (“Another character who exhibits these traits is X,” for instance.) Consider these examples:
A: The Rules and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey both tell women how to act.
B: By looking at The Rules, a modern conduct book for women, we can see how Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is itself like a conduct book, questioning the rules for social success in her society and offering a new model.
Example A would almost inevitably lead to a paper organized as a pile of information. A plot summary with comments follows the chronological development of a text while picking out the same element of every segment; a transition in such a paper might read, “In the next scene, the color blue also figures prominently.” Both of these approaches constitute too much of a good thing. Papers must compile evidence, of course, and following the chronology of a text can sometimes help a reader keep track of a paper’s argument. The best papers, however, will develop according to a more complex logic articulated in a strong thesis. Example B above would lead a paper to organize its evidence according to the paper’s own logic.
3. A thesis fits comfortably into the Magic Thesis Sentence (MTS).
The MTS: By looking at _____, we can see _____, which most readers don’t see; it is important to look at this aspect of the text because _____.
Try it out with the examples from the first point:
A: By telling the story of Westley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.
B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.
Notice that the MTS adds a new dimension to point number one above. The first part of the MTS asks you to find something strange (“which most readers don’t see”), and the second part asks you to think about the importance of the strangeness. Thesis A would not work at all in the MTS; one could not reasonably state that “most readers [or viewers] don’t see” that film’s affirmation of true love, and the statement does not even attempt to explain the importance of its claim. Thesis B, on the other hand, gives us a way to complete the MTS, as in “By looking at the way fighting sticks link the plot and frame of The Princess Bride, we can see the way the grandson is trained in true love, which most people don’t see; it is important to look at this aspect of the text because unlike the rest of the film, the fighting sticks suggest that love is not natural but socialized.” One does not need to write out the MTS in such a neat one-sentence form, of course, but thinking through the structure of the MTS can help refine thesis ideas.
4. A thesis says something about the text(s) you discuss exclusively.
If your thesis could describe many works equally well, it needs to be more specific. Let’s return to our examples from above:
A: By telling the story of Westley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.
B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.
Try substituting other works:
A: By telling the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s triumph over evil, Pride and Prejudice affirms the power of true love.
Sure, that makes sense. Bad sign.
B: Although the main plot of Pride and Prejudice rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that it is not natural but socialized.
Um, nope. Even if you have never read Pride and Prejudice, you can probably guess that such a precise thesis could hardly apply to other works. Good sign.
5. A thesis makes a lot of information irrelevant.
If your thesis is specific enough, it will make a point that focuses on only a small part of the text you are analyzing. You can and should ultimately apply that point to the work as a whole, but a thesis will call attention to specific parts of it. Let’s look at those examples again. (This is the last time, I promise.)
B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.
One way of spotting the problem with example A is to note that a simple plot summary would support its point. That is not of true example B, which tells the reader exactly what moments the paper will discuss and why.
If you find that your paper leads you to mark relevant passages on virtually every page of a long work, you need to find a thesis that helps you focus on a smaller portion of the text. As the MTS reminds us, the paper should still strive to show the reader something new about the text as a whole, but a specific area of concentration will help, not hinder, that effort.
by Steven D. Krause
The process of finding something to write about is complicated. In many ways, you need to think critically about the idea of research, you need to go to the library or the internet and conduct research, and you need to formulate a question or thesis to research all at the same time.
Sometimes, the subject of your research is called a “research question” or “problem statement.” I’ve decided to call this process “the working thesis” exercise to emphasize the idea that embarking on a research writing project involves making “a point” that is also a continually revised “work” in progress. A working thesis is tentative in that it will inevitably change as you go through the process of writing and researching. But if you’re more comfortable thinking of the starting point of your research project as being about asking the right questions or finding the right problem, that’s okay too.
Working With Assigned Topics
Many times, starting an academic writing assignment is easy: you write about the topic as assigned by the instructor. Of course, it is never a good idea to simply repeat what the instructor says about a particular topic. But in many college classes, the topic of your writing projects will be determined by the subject matter of the class and the directions of the instructor. If you are required to write a research paper for your political science class that focuses on the effects of nationalism, chances are an essay on the relaxation benefits of trout fishing would not be welcomed.
So, how do you write about topics assigned by the instructor? The answer to this question depends on the specific assignment and the class, but here are a few questions you should ask yourself and your instructor as you begin to write:
• What is the purpose and who is the audience for the essay you are being asked to write? In other words, what do you understand to be the instructor’s and your goals in writing? Is the instructor’s assignment designed to test your understanding and comprehension of class lectures, discussions, and readings? Is the instructor asking you to reflect and argue about some aspect of the class activities? Is the intended audience for the essay only the instructor, or is the assignment more broadly directed to other students or to a “general reader”?
• What do you think about the topic? What’s your opinion about the topic assigned by the instructor? If it is a topic that asks you to pick a particular “side,” what side are you on? And along these lines: to what extent would it be appropriate for you to incorporate your own feelings and opinions about the topic into your writing?
• How much “room” is there within the assigned topic for more specialized focuses? Most assigned topics which at first appear limiting actually allow for a great deal of flexibility. For example, you might think that an assigned topic about the “fuel economy and SUVs” would have little room for a variety of approaches. But the many books and articles about fuel efficient vehicles suggest the topic is actually much larger than it might at first appear.
• Does the assignment ask students to do additional research, or does it ask students to focus on the readings assigned in class? Assignments that ask students to do additional library and Internet research are potentially much broader than assignments that ask students to focus on class readings.
Coming up with your own idea
At other times, instructors allow students to pick a topic for their research-based writing projects. However, rarely do instructors allow their students to write research-based essays on anything for a lot of good reasons. For example, your composition and rhetoric course might be structured around a particular theme that you are exploring with your other reading assignments, your discussions, and your writing.
Other ideas and topics don’t really lend themselves to academic research writing. You probably have a special person in your life worth writing about (a parent, a grandparent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.), but it is usually difficult to write a research-based essay on such a person. Some potential topics are too divisive or complex to write about in a relatively short academic research-based essay, or some are topics that have become so overly-discussed that they have become clichés.
Besides the general theme of the course and other potential limitations to ideas for research, you also need to carefully consider your own interests in the ideas you are thinking about researching.
If you are allowed to choose your own research project topic, be sure to choose carefully, especially if it is a topic you will be working with throughout the term. Don’t pick a topic simply because it is the first idea that comes to mind or because you imagine it will be “easy” to research. Focus instead on an idea that meets the goals of the assignment, is researchable, and, most importantly, is a topic that you are interested in learning more about.
Taking the time to develop a good research topic at the beginning of the research writing process is critical. Planning ahead can be difficult and time-consuming, and it can be tempting to seize on the first idea that seems “easy.” But all too often, these “easy” first ideas end up being time-consuming and difficult projects. In other words, the time you spend turning your research idea into a topic and then a working thesis will pay off when it comes time to actually write the research project assignment.
Brainstorming for Ideas
Whether you are assigned a particular topic or are allowed to choose your own topic within certain guidelines, the next step is to explore the ideas that you might write about in more detail. This process is called “brainstorming,” though some instructors and textbooks might refer to similar techniques as “invention” or “pre-writing.” Regardless of what it’s called, the goal is the same: to lay the foundation for focusing in on a particular topic and the working thesis of a research-writing project.
I recommend you keep three general concepts in mind when trying any approach to brainstorming with your writing:
• Even if you know what topic you want to write about, brainstorm. Even if you know you want to write about a particular topic, you should try to consider some other topics in brainstorming because you never know what other things you could have written about if you don’t consider the possibilities. Besides, you still should do some brainstorming to shape your idea into a topic and then focus it into a working thesis.
One of the most common and effective brainstorming techniques for writing classes, freewriting, is also easy to master. All you do is write about anything that comes into your head without stopping for a short time—five minutes or so. The key part of this activity though is you cannot stop for any reason! Even if you don’t know what to write about, write “I don’t know what to write about” until something else comes to mind. And don’t worry—something else usually does come to mind.
Looping or Targeted Freewriting
Looping is similar to freewriting in that you write without stopping, but the difference is you are trying to be more focused in your writing. You can use a more specific topic to “loop” back to if you would like, or, if you do the more open-ended freewriting first, you can do a more targeted freewriting about one of the things you found to be a potentially workable idea. For example, you might freewrite with something general and abstract in mind, perhaps the question “what would make a good idea for a research project?” For a more targeted freewriting exercise, you would consider a more specific questions, such as “How could I explore and write about the research idea I have on computer crime?”
Group Idea Bouncing
One of the best ways we all get different ideas is to talk with others. The same is true for finding a topic for research: sometimes, “bouncing” ideas off of each other in small groups is a great place to start, and it can be a lot of fun.
Here’s one way to do it: name someone in a small group as the recorder. Each person in turn should give an idea for a potential topic, and the recorder should write it down. Every person should take a turn quickly “bouncing” an idea out for the others—no “I don’t know” or “come back to me!” Remember: no ideas are bad or silly or stupid at this point, so do not censor yourself or your group members.
Clustering is a visual technique that can often help people see several different angles on their ideas. It can be an especially effective way to explore the details of a topic idea you develop with freewriting or looping. On a blank sheet of paper, write a one or two word description of your idea in the middle and circle it. Around that circle, write down one or two word descriptions of different aspects or characteristics of your main idea. Draw circles around those terms and then connect them to the main idea. Keep building outward, making “clusters” of the main idea as you go. Eventually, you should get a grouping of clusters that looks something like the illustration below.
One of the key elements of journalistic style is that journalists answer the basic questions of “What?” “Who?” “Where?” “When?” “How?” and “Why?” These are all good questions to consider in brainstorming for your idea, though clearly, these questions are not always equally applicable to all ideas. Here are some examples of the sort of journalistic questions you might want to ask yourself about your idea:
• What is my idea? What are the key terms of my idea?
• Who are the people involved in my idea? Who is performing the action of my topic? Who are the people affected by my idea?
• Where does my idea take place? Where did it come from? Is it restricted to a particular time and place?
• When did my idea happen? How does it relate to the other events that might have taken place at a similar time? Are there events that happened before or after my idea that might have effected it?
• How did my idea happen, or how is it still happening?
• Why did my idea happen, or why is it still happening?
Brainstorming with Computers
Computers are a great tool for fostering these and other collaborative brainstorming techniques. For example, group idea bouncing can be used effectively with Internet “chat rooms,” with instant messaging software, or with local area network discussion tools.
You can also collaborate on your brainstorming activities with computers with little more than simple word processing or email; Here are three variations on a similar theme:
• “Musical computers:” This approach is similar to the previous two exercises, but instead of exchanging diskettes or email messages, members of a group of students exchange computer stations in a computer lab. Here’s how it works: a group (up to an entire class of students) does a looping/targeted freewriting at a computer station for a set period of time. When time is up, everyone needs to find a different computer in the fashion of the children’s game “musical chairs.” Once at the new computer station, the new writer comments on the original freewriting exercise. The process can be repeated several times until everyone has had a chance to provide feedback on four or five different original freewritings.
Moving From Ideas to Topics With the Help of the Library and the World Wide Web Coming up with an idea, especially using these brainstorming techniques, is not that hard to do. After all, we are surrounded by potential ideas and things that could be researched: teen violence, computer crime, high-fat diets, drugs, copyright laws, Las Vegas, dangerous toys. But it can be a little more tricky to figure out how ideas can be more specific and researchable topics. Ideas are general, broad, and fairly easy for all of us to grasp. Topics, on the other hand, are more specific, narrow, and in need of research.
Terrorism and the ‘net, credit card fraud, computer stalking, “helpful” hackers
High-fat diets Health risks, obesity, cholesterol, heart disease, health benefits of, weight loss from
Pharmaceutical Drugs Cost of prescriptions, medical advances, advertising, disease prevention
In other words, a topic is a step further in the process of coming up with a researchable project for academic writing.
Chances are, your brainstorming activities have already helped you in the process of developing your idea into a topic. But before you move onto the next step of developing a working thesis, you should consider two more helpful topic developing techniques: a quick library subject search and a Web engine search.
A quick library subject search is just what it sounds like: using the computerized catalog system for your library, you can get a sense about the sort of ways other researchers have already divided up your idea into different topics.
For example, imagine your brainstorming has led you to the general idea “fisheries” and the potential problem of over-fishing in some part of the world. While this seems like it might be a potentially good and interesting thing to write about and to research, “fisheries” is an idea that could be narrowed down. If you conduct a subject search on your library’s book catalog for “fisheries,” you might find the library keeps track of different books in several categories.
Some examples of these categories include:
• Fisheries, Atlantic Ocean.
• Fisheries, Canada.
• Fisheries, Environmental Aspects.
You might also want to use your library’s periodical databases for some quick keyword searches. For example, a keyword search for “computer crime” in a periodical database returns article titles like “Demands for coverage increase as cyber-terrorism risk is realized” and “Making sense of cyber-exposures” (which are both articles about the concern businesses and insurance companies have about cyber crime), and also articles like “Meet the Hackers,” an insider’s view of computer hacking that disputes it being a “crime.” At this point in the research process, you don’t need to look up and read the sources you find, though you will probably want to keep track of them in case you end up needing them later for your research project.
Another great place to go to brainstorm ideas into topics is one of the many search engines on the World Wide Web, and you are probably already familiar with these services such as Google, Yahoo!, or alltheweb.com.
Like a quick library keyword search, doing a quick keyword search on the Web can give you some good direction about how to turn your idea into a topic. However, keep these issues in mind when conducting your Web searches:
• Search engine searches are done by computer programs, which means that they will not sort out for you what is “relevant” from what is “irrelevant” for your search.
• Most search engines and search directories offer an “advanced search” option that explains how to do a “smarter” search. Read these instructions and you will be on your way to better searches.
• Different search engines index and collect information in different ways. Therefore, you should do keyword searches with the same phrase with a few different search engines. You might be surprised how your results will differ.
• If you aren’t having much luck with the keywords of your general idea, try a couple of synonyms. For example, with “computer crime,” you might want to try “Internet crime,” or a related term such as “computer hacking.”
Writing a Working Thesis
The next step, developing a “working thesis,” can be a difficult and time-consuming process. However, as was the case when considering different ideas for research in the first place, spending the time now on devising a good working thesis will pay off later.
For our purposes here (and for most college classes), a thesis advocates a specific and debatable issue. In academic writing (including the writing done by your professors), the thesis is often stated fairly directly in the first third or so of the writing, though not usually at the end of the first paragraph where students are often told to place it. The sentence or two that seems to encapsulate the issue of the essay is called a “thesis statement.”Frequently, theses are implied—that is, while the piece of writing clearly has a point that the reader understands, there may not be a specific sentence or two that can easily be identified as the “thesis statement.” For example, theses are often implied in newspapers and magazines, along with a lot of the writing that appears on Web pages.
The point is a thesis is a point. Theses are not statements of facts, simple questions, or summaries of events. They are positions that you as the writer take on and “defend” with evidence, logic, observations, and the other tools of discourse. Most kinds of writing—and particularly academic writing—have a thesis, directly stated or implied. Even most of the writing we largely think of as “informational” has a directly stated or implied thesis.
Theses also tend to lend a certain organization to written arguments since what you include (or exclude) in a written text is largely controlled by the thesis. The main goal of the thesis (either as a specific statement or as an implied statement) is to answer two key questions that are concerns of all readers: “what’s your point?” and “why should I care?”
Now, a working thesis is more or less a temporary thesis you devise in the beginning of the research process in order to set some direction in your research.
Your working thesis is temporary and should change as you research, write, and learn more about your topic.
Think of the working thesis as the scaffolding and bracing put up around buildings when they are under construction: these structures are not designed to forever be a part of the building. Just the opposite. But you couldn’t build the building in the first place if you didn’t have the scaffolding and bracing that you inevitably have to tear away from the finished building.
Here’s another way of thinking of it: while the journey of 1000 miles begins with just one step (so the saying goes), you still have to pick some kind of direction in the beginning. That’s the purpose of a working thesis. You might change your mind about the direction of your research as you progress through the process, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
What does a working thesis look like? Before considering some potentially “good” examples of working theses, read through these BAD examples of statements, ones that ARE NOT theses, at least for the purposes of academic writing:
• Computer crime is bad.
• Fisheries around the world are important.
• The Great Gatsby is an American novel.
None of these sentences would make effective theses because each of these is more or less a statement of fact. Of course, we could debate some of the details here. But practically speaking, most people would assume and believe these statements to be true. Because of that, these statements don’t have much potential as working theses.
These statements ARE NOT really theses either:
• There are many controversial ways of dealing with computer crime.
• There are many things that could be done to preserve fisheries around the world.
• The Great Gatsby is a wonderful novel for several different reasons.
These revised working thesis statements are better than the previous examples, but they are not quite working theses yet. The problem with these possible working theses is that they are hopelessly vague and give no idea to the reader where the essay is going. Also, while these statements are a bit more debatable than the previous group of examples, they are still statements that most people would more or less accept as facts.
While this next group of statements is yet another step closer, these statements ARE NOT really good working theses either:
• This essay will be about the role computer hackers play in computer crime committed on the Internet.
• This essay will discuss some of the measures the international community should take in order to preserve fisheries around the world.
• My essay is about the relevance today of The Great Gatsby’s depiction of the connection between material goods and the American dream.
Each of these statements is close to being a working thesis because each is about an idea that has been focused into a specific topic. However, these statements are not quite working thesis statements because they don’t offer a position or opinion that will be defended in some way. To turn these topics into working theses, the writer needs to take a side on the issues suggested in the statements.
Now, these revised statements ARE examples of possible working theses:
• While some computer hackers are harmless, most of them commit serious computer crimes and represent a serious Internet security problem.
• The international community should enact strict conservation measures to preserve fisheries and save endangered fish species around the world.
• The Great Gatsby’s depiction of the connection between material goods and the American dream is still relevant today.
If you compare these possible working theses with the statements at the beginning of this section, you will hopefully see the differences between the “bad” and “good” working theses, and hopefully, you can see the characteristics of a viable working thesis.
Each of the “good” working thesis statements:
• takes a stand that is generally not considered a “fact;”
• is specific enough to give the writer and potential reader some idea as to the direction the writing will take; and offers an initial position on the topic that takes a stand.
Another useful characteristic of a good working thesis is that it can help you as a writer to determine what your essay will NOT be about. For example, the phrasing of the working thesis on computer hackers suggests to both the reader and the researcher that the essay will NOT be about the failure of “dot com” business, computer literacy, or computer software. Certainly, these issues are related to the issue of computer hackers and computer crime, but these other issues will not become the focus of the essay.
Assignment: Writing a Working Thesis Essay
The process of writing a working thesis essay can take many forms. Sometimes, topic proposals are formal essays written according to fairly strict guidelines and offering exhaustive detail. At other times, your writing about your topic might be more personal and brief in form. Here is an example of a working thesis essay assignment:
Write a brief narrative essay where you discuss the topic you have decided to research and write about. Tell your audience, your fellow classmates and your instructor how you arrived at this topic, some of the other ideas you considered in your brainstorming activities, and the working thesis you have settled on for the start of your project. Also, be sure to let us know about some of the initial library research you have conducted.
Questions to consider as you write your first draft
• Is the research topic one assigned by the instructor? Is it focused on a specific group of texts, questions, or ideas that have to do with a specific class?
• Are you expected to come up with your own idea for research? Since it is unlikely you will be able to write about just anything, what are some of the guidelines given to you by your instructor for what you can and can’t write about?
• What are some of the ideas for research that you rejected as possibilities? Why did you reject some of these ideas?
• What ideas did you decide to brainstorm about? Remember! Be sure to brainstorm about more than one idea! What brainstorming techniques did you use to explore these ideas? Which ones seemed to work the best?
• What are some of the research topics that make up your research idea? In other words, when you begin to narrow your idea into different topics, what are some of the different research topics that interest you?
• What results did you get from a quick library keyword search? Be sure the keyword search you do of your library’s databases examines books, periodicals, and newspapers to see a full range of possibilities for research. Also, be sure to consider as many synonyms as possible for the keyword terms you are using for your research topic.
• What results did you get from a keyword search on the World Wide Web? Be sure to conduct a keyword search using more than one search engine since different services compile their data in different ways. Also, as was also the case with your library keyword search, be sure to consider as many synonyms as possible.
• Given these steps in the process, what is your working thesis? What variations of your working thesis did you consider along the way?
Review and Revision
As you will read again and again in this book, the first draft is only the beginning, the “raw materials” you create in order to really write your essay. That’s because the most important step in the process of writing is showing your work to others—your instructor, your classmates, readers you trust, your friends, and so forth—and making changes based on your impressions of their feedback.
When you have a first draft complete and you are ready to show it to readers, ask them to think about these sorts of questions as they give you feedback on your writing:
• Is the topic of the topic proposal essay clear and reasonable to your readers?
• What’s the working thesis? What sort of suggestions does your reader have to make the working thesis clearer? Is it clear to your readers that your working thesis is about a debatable position? Who might disagree with the your position? What do you think are some of the arguments against your position?
• What do your readers think is your main goal as a writer in pursuing this research project? Do your readers think you have made your purposes in writing this topic proposal and research project clear?
• Do your readers understand what library and Internet research you have already done on your topic? Are there particular examples of the library and Internet-based research that your readers think seem particularly useful or important?
Be careful to not limit your ideas for change to the things that are “easy” to fix (spelling, incomplete sentences, awkward phrases, and so forth). If you begin your process of revision by considering the questions suggested here (and similar questions you, your classmates, other readers, and your instructor might have), many of these “easy fix” problems will be fixed along the way. So as you go through the process of revision, think about it as a chance to really “re-see” and “re-imagine” what the whole writing project could look like.
A Student Example:
“Preventing Drunk Driving by Enforcement” by Daniel Marvins
The assignment that was the basis for this essay asked students to write a “first person narrative” about the research project they would be working on for the semester. “It was really important to me think about a lot of different ideas and topics because I was worried that I might not be able to find enough research or stick with it,” Marvins said. “This project helped me think this through.”
Preventing Drunk Driving by Enforcement
Despite the fact that Americans are more aware of the problems of drunk driving than we were in the past, it is still a serious problem in the U.S. While educating everyone about the dangers of drunk driving is certainly important, I am interested in researching and writing about different ways to more strictly enforce drunk driving laws.
My working thesis for my research project is “While stronger enforcement measures to control drunk driving might be controversial and a violation of individual rights, they have to be enacted to stop drunk driving deaths.” By “stronger enforcement measures,” I mean things like police check points, lower legal levels of blood-alcohol, required breathalyzer tests, less control on police searching cars, and stronger jail sentences.
I got the idea to focus on this topic by working on some of the different brainstorming techniques we talked about in class. I tried several different brainstorming techniques including freewriting and clustering. For me, the most useful technique was making a list of ideas and then talking it over with the other students in my group.
We all agreed that drunk driving would be a good topic, but I thought about writing about other topics too. For example, I think it would also be interesting to write about gun control laws, especially how they might effect deaths with kids and guns. I also thought it might be interesting to do research on the tobacco business and the lawsuits different states are conducting against them.
But I am more interested in exploring issues about drunk driving for a couple of different reasons. First, I think drunk driving is an issue that a lot of people can relate to because most people know that it is dangerous and it is a bad idea. For example, we hear and read messages about not driving drunk in a lot of different advertisements. Still, even though everyone knows it is a bad idea, there are still a lot of deaths and injuries that result from drunk driving.
Second, I’m interested in doing research on stronger enforcement of drunk driving laws because I am not sure I have made my own mind up about it. Like everyone else, I of course think drunk driving is bad and police and society should do everything they can do to prevent people from driving drunk. On the other hand, I also think it’s bad for police to pull over everyone they think might be drunk even when they don’t know for sure. Strong enforcement might stop a lot of drunk driving, but it also gives police more chances to violate individual liberties and rights.
I have done a little bit of research already and I don’t think I’m going to have any problem finding evidence to support my topic. Drunk driving seems to be a pretty common topic with a lot of different things written about it. I did a quick search of the library’s databases and the World Wide Web and I found thousands of different articles. I skimmed the titles and it seemed like a lot of them would be very relevant and useful for my subject.
Drunk driving is a serious problem and everyone agrees that we should do something about it. The question is what should “it” be? My hope is that through my research, I will learn more about how stronger enforcement of drunk driving laws can curtail drunk driving, and I hope to be able to convince my readers of this, too.
by Steven D. Krause
Besides my own experiences as a student many years ago in courses similar to the ones you and your classmates are in now, I think the most important influence on how I have approached research and argumentative writing came from academic debate.* Debate taught me at least two ways to approach an argument that were not part of my formal schooling. First, academic policy debate taught me that argumentation is a contest—a sport, not at all different from tennis or basketball or figure skating or gymnastics, an activity where you have to work with a team, you have to practice, and the goal is to “win.” And winning in academic debate happens: while it is a sport that is judged, it is an activity, like gymnastics or figure skating, where the rules for judging are surprisingly well codified. I will admit that seeing a debate or argument as something “to be won” has not always served me well in life, for there are any number of situations in which the framework for an argument is perhaps better perceived as an opportunity to listen and to compromise than to score points.
Second, because of the way that academic debate is structured, I learned quickly the importance of being able to perceive and argue multiple and opposing views on the same issue. Not unlike other sports where players play both offense and defense—baseball and basketball immediately come to mind—debaters have to argue both for and against the year’s resolution, which was the broad proposition that framed all of the particular cases debate teams put forward for the entire season. In fact, it was not at all uncommon for a team to strenuously advocate for a controversial position one round—“the U.S. should engage in one-on-one talks with North Korea”—only to strenuously argue the opposite position—“the U.S. should not engage in one-on-one talks with North Korea”—the very next round. Seeing “multiple positions” was not simply a good idea; it was one of the rules of the game.
I’ve brought these past experiences into my current teaching in a number of ways, including one of the exercises I am discussing here, what my students and I call antithesis writing. These exercises will help you gain a better understanding of how to shape an argument, how to more fully explore a topic, and how to think more carefully about your different audiences.
Thesis Is Not Doesn’t Have to Be a Bad Thing (Or Why Write Antithesis Essays in the First Place)
Somewhere along the way, “thesis” became a dirty word in a lot of writing courses, inherently bound up and attached to all that is wrong with what composition historians and the writing scholars call the “Current-Traditional” paradigm of writing instruction. Essentially, this approach emphasizes the product and forms of writing (in most nineteenth century American rhetoric textbooks, these forms were Exposition, Description, Narration, and Argument), issues of syntax and grammar, correctness, and so forth. It didn’t matter so much what position a writer took; what mattered most was that the writer got the form correct.“Thesis” is often caught in/lumped into this current-traditional paradigm, I think mainly because of the rigid role and placement of a thesis in the classic form of the five-paragraph essay. Most of you and your classmates already know about this: in the five-paragraph formula, the thesis is the last sentence of the introduction, is divided into three parts, and it rigidly controls the structure of the following four paragraphs. Certainly this overly prescriptive and narrow definition of thesis is not useful. Jasper Neel describes this sort of formula in his book Plato, Derrida, and Writing as “anti-writing,” and I think that Sharon Crowley is correct in arguing that the kind of teaching exemplified by the five-paragraph essay is more akin to filling out a form than it is to actual “writing.”
But when I discuss “thesis” here, I mean something much more broad and organic. I mean an initial direction that every research- writing project must take. A thesis advocates a specific and debatable position, is not a statement of fact nor a summary of events, and it answers the questions “what’s your point?” and “why should I care?” You should begin with a working thesis that attempts to answer these questions simply as a way of getting your research process started. True, these initial working theses are usually broad and unwieldy, but the emphasis here is on working, because as you research and think more carefully, you will inevitably change your thesis. And this is good— change is the by-product of learning, and seeing a working thesis differently is both the purpose and the opportunity of the antithesis exercise.
So, I think the first and probably most important reason to consider antithesis writing is to test and strengthen the validity of the working thesis. After all, there isn’t much “debatable” about a working thesis like “crime is bad” or “cleaning up the environment is good,” which suggests that there probably isn’t a viable answer to the questions “what’s your point?” and “why should I care?” Considering opposing and differing views can help you find the path to make a vague generalization like “crime is bad” into a more pointed, researchable, and interesting observation.
The second general value for antithesis exercises is to raise more awareness of your audience—the potential readers who would disagree with your working thesis, along with readers who are more favorable to your point. Sometimes, readers won’t be convinced no matter what evidence or logic a writer presents; but it seems to me that writers have an obligation to at least try.
Generating Antithetical Points in Five Easy Steps
Step 1: Have a Working Thesis and Make Sure You Have Begun the Research Process.
Developing a good antithetical argument is not something you can do as a “first step” in the research process. Generally, you need to have already developed a basic point and need some evidence and research to develop that point. In other words, the process of developing an antithetical position has to come after you develop an initial position in the first place.
Step 2: Consider the Direct Opposite of Your Working Thesis.
This is an especially easy step if your working thesis is about a controversial topic:
This sort of simple change of qualifiers also exposes weak theses, because, generally speaking, the opposite position of a proposition that everyone accepts as true is one that everyone easily accepts as false. For example, if you begin with a working thesis like “Drunk driving is bad” or “Teen violence is bad” to their logical opposites, you end up with an opposite that is ridiculous—“Drunk driving is good” or “Teen violence is good.” What that signals is that it is probably time to revisit your original working thesis.
Usually though, considering the opposite of a working thesis is a little more complicated.
Both of the antithetical examples are the opposite of the original working theses, but each focuses on different aspects of the working thesis.
Step 3: Ask “Why” about Possible Antithetical Arguments.
Creating antitheses by simply changing the working thesis to its opposite typically demands more explanation. The best place to develop more details with your antithesis is to ask “why.”
The point here is to dig a little further into your antithetical argument. Asking “why” is a good place to begin that process.
Step 4: Examine Alternatives to Your Working Thesis.
Often, the best antithetical arguments aren’t about “the opposite” so much as they are about alternatives. For example, the working thesis “To prevent violence on campus, students, staff, and faculty should not be allowed to carry concealed weapons” presumes that a serious potential cause for violence on campuses is the presence of guns. However, someone could logically argue that the more important cause of violence on college campuses is alcohol and drug abuse. Certainly the number of incidents involving underage drinking and substance abuse outnumber those involving firearms on college campuses, and it is also probably true that many incidents of violence on college campuses involve drinking or drugs.
Now, unlike the direct opposite of your working thesis, the alternatives do not necessarily negate your working thesis. There is no reason why a reader couldn’t believe that both concealed weapons and alcohol and substance abuse contribute to violence on campuses. But in considering alternatives to your working thesis, the goal is to “weigh” the positions against each other. I’ll return to this matter of “weighing your position” later
Step 5: Imagine Hostile Audiences.
Whenever you are trying to develop a clearer understanding of the antithesis of your working thesis, you need to think about the kinds of audiences who would disagree with you. By thinking about the opposites and alternatives to your working thesis, you are already starting to do this because the opposites and the alternatives are what a hostile audience might think.
Sometimes, potential readers are hostile to a particular working thesis because of ideals, values, or affiliations they hold that are at odds with the point being advocated by the working thesis. For example, people who identify themselves as being “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion would certainly be hostile to an argument for laws that restrict access to abortion; people who identify themselves as being “pro- life” on the issue of abortion would certainly be hostile to an argument for laws that provide access to abortion.
At other times, audiences are hostile to the arguments of a working thesis because of more crass and transparent reasons. For example, the pharmaceutical industry disagrees with the premise of the working thesis “Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV” because they stand to lose billions of dollars in lost sales. Advertising companies and television broadcasters would also be against this working thesis because they too would lose money. You can probably easily imagine some potential hostile audience members who have similarly selfish reasons to oppose your point of view.
Of course, some audiences will oppose your working thesis based on a different interpretation of the evidence and research. This sort of difference of opinion is probably most common with research projects that are focused on more abstract and less definitive subjects. But there are also different opinions about evidence for topics that you might think would have potentially more concrete “right” and “wrong” interpretations. Different researchers and scholars can look at the same evidence about a subject like gun control and arrive at very different conclusions.
Regardless of the reasons why your audience might be hostile to the argument you are making with your working thesis, it is helpful to try to imagine your audience as clearly as you can. What sort of people are they? What other interests or biases might they have? Are there other political or social factors that you think are influencing their point of view? If you want to persuade at least some members of this hostile audience that your point of view and your interpretation of the research is correct, you need to know as much about your hostile audience as you possibly can.
Strategies for Answering Antithetical Arguments
It might not seem logical, but directly acknowledging and addressing positions that are different from the one you are holding in your research can actually make your position stronger. When you take on the antithesis in your research project, it shows you have thought carefully about the issue at hand and you acknowledge that there is no clear and easy “right” answer. There are many different ways you might incorporate the antithesis into your research to make your own thesis stronger and to address the concerns of those readers who might oppose your point of view. For now, focus on three basic strategies: directly refuting your opposition, weighing your position against the opposition, and making concessions.
Directly Refuting Your Opposition
Perhaps the most obvious approach, one way to address those potential readers who might raise objections to your arguments, is to simply refute their objections with better evidence and reasoning. Of course, this is an example of yet another reason why it is so important to have good research that supports your position: when the body of evidence and research is on your side, it is usually a lot easier to make a strong point.
Answering antithetical arguments with research that supports your point of view is also an example of where you as a researcher might need to provide a more detailed evaluation of your evidence. The sort of questions you should answer about your own research—who wrote it, where was it published, when was it published, etc.—are important to raise in countering antithetical arguments that you think come from suspicious sources.
Weighing Your Position Against the Opposition
Readers who oppose the argument you are trying to support with your research might do so because they value or “weigh” the implications of your working thesis differently than you do. For example, those opposed to a working thesis like “Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV” might think this because they think the advantages of advertising drugs on television—increased sales for pharmaceutical companies, revenue for advertising agencies and television stations, and so forth—are more significant than the disadvantages of advertising drugs on television.
Besides recognizing and acknowledging the different ways of comparing the advantages and disadvantages suggested by your working thesis, the best way of answering these antithetical arguments in your own writing is to clearly explain how you weigh and compare the evidence. This can be a challenging writing experience because it requires a subtle hand and a broad understanding of multiple sides of your topic. But if in acknowledging to your readers that you have carefully considered the reasons against your working thesis and you can demonstrate your position to be more persuasive, then this process of weighing positions can be very effective.
In the course of researching and thinking about the antithesis to your working thesis and its potentially hostile audiences, it may become clear to you that these opposing views have a point. When this is the case, you may want to consider revising your working thesis or your approach to your research to make some concessions to these antithetical arguments.
Sometimes, my students working on this exercise “make concessions” to the point of changing sides on their working thesis—that is, in the process of researching, writing, and thinking about their topic, a researcher moves from arguing for their working thesis to arguing for their antithesis. This might seem surprising, but it makes perfect sense when you remember the purpose of research in the first place. When we study the evidence on a particular issue, we often realize that our initial and uninformed impression or feelings on an issue were simply wrong. That’s why we research: we put more trust in opinions based on research than in things based on gut instinct or feelings.
But usually, most concessions to antithetical perspectives are less dramatic and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. You might want to employ some qualifying terms to hedge a bit. For example, the working thesis “Drug companies should not be allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV” might be qualified to “Drug companies should be closely regulated about what they are allowed to advertise in TV.” I think this is still a strong working thesis, but the revised working thesis acknowledges the objections some might have to the original working thesis.
Of course, you should use these sorts of concessions carefully. An over-qualified working thesis can be just as bad as a working thesis about something that everyone accepts as true: it can become so watered-down as to not have any real significance anymore. A working thesis like “Drug company television advertising is sometimes bad and sometimes good for patients” is over-qualified to the point of taking no real position at all.
But You Still Can’t Convince Everyone . . .
I’d like to close by turning away a bit from where I started this essay, the influence of competitive debate on my early education about the argument. In a debate, an argument is part of the game, the catalyst or the beginning of a competition. The same is often true within college classrooms. Academic arguments are defined in terms of their hypothetical nature; they aren’t actually real but rather merely an intellectual exercise.
But people in the real world do hold more than hypothetical positions, and you can’t always convince everyone that you’re right, no matter what evidence or logic you might have on your side. You probably already know this. We have all been in conversations with friends or family members where, as certain as we were that we were right about something and as hard as we tried to prove we were right, our friends or family were simply unwilling to budge from their positions. When we find ourselves in these sorts of deadlocks, we often try to smooth over the dispute with phrases like “You’re entitled to your opinion” or “We will have to agree to disagree,” and then we change the subject. In polite conversation, this is a good strategy to avoid a fight. But in academic contexts, these deadlocks can be frustrating and difficult to negotiate.
A couple of thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher and rhetorician Aristotle said that all of us respond to arguments based on three basic characteristics or appeals: logos or logic, pathos or emotional character, and ethos, the writer’s or speaker’s perceived character. Academic writing tends to rely most heavily on logos and ethos because academics tend to highly value arguments based on logical research and arguments that come from writers with strong character-building qualifications—things like education, experience, previous publications, and the like. But it’s important to remember that pathos is always there, and particularly strong emotions or feelings on a subject can obscure the best research.
Most academic readers have respect for writers when they successfully argue for positions that they might not necessarily agree with. Along these lines, most college writing instructors can certainly respect and give a positive evaluation to a piece of writing they don’t completely agree with as long as it uses sound logic and evidence to support its points.However, all readers—students, instructors, and everyone else—come to your research project with various preconceptions about the point you are trying to make. Some of them will already agree with you and won’t need much convincing. Some of them will never completely agree with you, but will be open to your argument to a point. And some of your readers, because of the nature of the point you are trying to make and their own feelings and thoughts on the matter, will never agree with you, no matter what research evidence you present or what arguments you make. So, while you need to consider the antithetical arguments to your thesis in your research project to convince as many members of your audience as possible that the point you are trying to make is correct, you should remember that you will likely not convince all of your readers all of the time.
Note 1. Explaining “academic policy debate” is not my goal in this essay. But I will say that academic debate bears almost no resemblance to “debates”between political candidates or to the stereotypical way debate tends to be depicted on television shows or in movies. Certainly debate involves a certain intellectual prowess; but I think it’s fair to say that debate is a lot closer to a competitive sport than a classroom exercise. Two excellent introductions to the world of academic debate are the Wikipedia entry for “Policy Debate” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_debate) and the 2007 documentary movie Resolved.
by Rebecca Jones
Even when we write an academic “argument paper,” we imagine our own ideas battling others. Linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explain that the controlling metaphor we use for argument in western culture is war: It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. (4) If we follow the war metaphor along its path, we come across other notions such as, “all’s fair in love and war.” If all’s fair, then the rules, principles, or ethics of an argument are up for grabs. While many warrior metaphors are about honor, the “all’s fair” idea can lead us to arguments that result in propaganda, spin, and, dirty politics. The war metaphor offers many limiting assumptions: there are only two sides, someone must win decisively, and compromise means losing. The metaphor also creates a false opposition where argument (war) is action and its opposite is peace or inaction.
Finding better arguments is not about finding peace—the opposite of antagonism. Quite frankly, getting mad can be productive. Ardent peace advocates, such as Jane Addams, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., offer some of the most compelling arguments of our time through concepts like civil disobedience that are hardly inactive. While “argument is war” may be the default mode for Americans, it is not the only way to argue. Lakoff and Johnson ask their readers to imagine something like “argument is dance” rather than “argument is war” (5). While we can imagine many alternatives to the war metaphor, concepts like argument as collaboration are more common even if they are not commonly used. Argument as collaboration would be more closely linked to words such as dialogue and deliberation, cornerstone concepts in the history of American democracy.
However, argument as collaboration is not the prevailing metaphor for public argumentation we see/hear in the mainstream media. One can hardly fault the average American for not being able to imagine argument beyond the war metaphor. Think back to the coverage of the last major election cycle in 2008. The opponents on either side (demo-crat/republican) dug in their heels and defended every position, even if it was unpopular or irrelevant to the conversation at hand. The political landscape divided into two sides with no alternatives. In addition to the entrenched positions, blogs and websites such as FactCheck.org flooded us with lists of inaccuracies, missteps, and plain old fallacies that riddled the debates. Unfortunately, the “debates” were more like speeches given to a camera than actual arguments deliberated before the public. These important moments that fail to offer good models lower the standards for public argumentation.
On an average news day, there are entire websites and blogs dedicated to noting ethical, factual, and legal problems with public arguments, especially on the news and radio talk shows. This is not to say that all public arguments set out to mislead their audiences, rather that the discussions they offer masquerading as arguments are often merely opinions or a spin on a particular topic and not carefully considered, quality arguments. What is often missing from these discussions is research, consideration of multiple vantage points, and, quite often, basic logic.
On news shows, we encounter a version of argument that seems more like a circus than a public discussion. Here’s the visual we get of an “argument” between multiple sides on the average news show.
While all of the major networks use this visual format, multiple speakers in multiple windows like The Brady Bunch for the news, it is rarely used to promote ethical deliberation. These talking heads offer a simulation of an argument. The different windows and figures pictured in them are meant to represent different views on a topic, often “liberal” and “conservative.” This is a good start because it sets up the possibility for thinking through serious issues in need of solutions. Unfortunately, the people in the windows never actually engage in an argument (see Thinking Outside the Text). As we will discuss below, one of the rules of good argument is that participants in an argument agree on the primary standpoint and that individuals are willing to concede if a point of view is proven wrong. If you watch one of these “arguments,” you will see a spectacle where prepared speeches are hurled across the long distances that separate the participants. Rarely do the talking heads respond to the actual ideas/arguments given by the person pictured in the box next to them on the screen unless it is to contradict one statement with another of their own.Even more Finding the Good Argument 159 troubling is the fact that participants do not even seem to agree about the point of disagreement. For example, one person might be arguing about the congressional vote on health care while another is discussing the problems with Medicaid. While these are related, they are different issues with different premises. This is not a good model for argumentation despite being the predominant model we encounter.
These shallow public models can influence argumentation in the classroom. One of the ways we learn about argument is to think in terms of pro and con arguments. This replicates the liberal/conservative dynamic we often see in the papers or on television (as if there are only two sides to health care, the economy, war, the deficit). This either/or fallacy of public argument is debilitating. You are either for or against gun control, for or against abortion, for or against the environment, for or against everything. Put this way, the absurdity is more obvious. For example, we assume that someone who claims to be an “environmentalist” is pro every part of the green movement. However, it is quite possible to develop an environmentally sensitive argument that argues against a particular recycling program. While many pro and con arguments are valid, they can erase nuance, negate the local and particular, and shut down the very purpose of having an argument: the possibility that you might change your mind, learn something new, or solve a problem. This limited view of argument makes argumentation a shallow process. When all angles are not explored or fallacious or incorrect reasoning is used, we are left with ethically suspect public discussions that cannot possibly get at the roots of an issue or work toward solutions.
Rather than an either/or proposition, argument is multiple and complex. An argument can be logical, rational, emotional, fruitful, useful, and even enjoyable. As a matter of fact, the idea that argument is necessary (and therefore not always about war or even about winning) is an important notion in a culture that values democracy and equity. In America, where nearly everyone you encounter has a different background and/or political or social view, skill in arguing seems to be paramount, whether you are inventing an argument or recognizing a good one when you see it.
The remainder of this chapter takes up this challenge—inventing and recognizing good arguments (and bad ones). From classical rhetoric, to Toulmin’s model, to contemporary pragmadialectics, this chapter presents models of argumentation beyond pro and con. Paying more addition to the details of an argument can offer a strategy for developing sound, ethically aware arguments.
What Can We Learn from Models of Argumentation?
So far, I have listed some obstacles to good argument. I would like to discuss one other. Let’s call it the mystery factor. Many times I read an argument and it seems great on the surface, but I get a strange feeling- ing that something is a bit off. Before studying argumentation, I did not have the vocabulary to name that strange feeling. Additionally, when an argument is solid, fair, and balanced, I could never quite put my finger on what distinguished it from other similar arguments. The models for argumentation below give us guidance in revealing the mystery factor and naming the qualities of a logical, ethical argument.
In James Murphy’s translation of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, he explains that “Education for Quintilian begins in the cradle, and ends only when life itself ends” (xxi). The result of a life of learning, for Quintilian, is a perfect speech where “the student is given a statement of a problem and asked to prepare an appropriate speech giving his solution” (Murphy xxiii). In this version of the world, a good citizen is always a PUBLIC participant. This forces the good citizen to know the rigors of public argumentation: “Rhetoric, or the theory of effective communication, is for Quintilian merely the tool of the broadly educated citizen who is capable of analysis, reflection, and powerful action in public affairs” (Murphy xxvii). For Quintilian, learning to argue in public is a lifelong affair. He believed that the “perfect orator. . . cannot exist unless he is above all a good man” (6). Whether we agree with this or not, the hope for ethical behavior has been a part of public argumentation from the beginning.
The ancient model of rhetoric (or public argumentation) is complex. As a matter of fact, there is no single model of ancient argumentation. Plato claimed that the Sophists, such as Gorgias, were spin doctors weaving opinion and untruth for the delight of an audience and to the detriment of their moral fiber. For Plato, at least in the Phaedrus, public conversation was only useful if one applied it to the search for truth. In the last decade, the work of the Sophists has been redeemed. Rather than spin doctors, Sophists like Isocrates and even Gorgias, to some degree, are viewed as arbiters of democracy because they believed that many people, not just male, property holding, Athenian citizens, could learn to use rhetoric effectively in public.
Aristotle gives us a slightly more systematic approach. He is very concerned with logic. For this reason, much of what I discuss below comes from his work. Aristotle explains that most men participate in public argument in some fashion. It is important to note that by “men,” Aristotle means citizens of Athens: adult males with the right to vote, not including women, foreigners, or slaves. Essentially this is a homogenous group by race, gender, and religious affiliation. We have to keep this in mind when adapting these strategies to our current heterogeneous culture. Aristotle explains,
. . . for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from ac- quired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers suc- ceed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art. (Honeycutt, “Aristotle’s Rheto- ric” 1354a I i)
For Aristotle, inquiry into this field was artistic in nature. It required both skill and practice (some needed more of one than the other). Important here is the notion that public argument can be systematically learned.
Aristotle did not dwell on the ethics of an argument in Rhetoric (he leaves this to other texts). He argued that “things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites” and finally that “ . . . things that are true and things that are better are, by their nature, practically always easier to prove and easier to believe in” (Honeycutt, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric” 1355a I i). As a culture, we are skeptical of this kind of position, though I think that we do often believe it on a personal level. Aristotle admits in the next line that there are people who will use their skills at rhetoric for harm. As his job in this section is to defend the use of rhetoric itself, he claims that everything good can be used for harm, so rhetoric is no different from other fields. If this is true, there is even more need to educate the citizenry so that they will not be fooled by unethical and untruthful arguments.
For many, logic simply means reasoning. To understand a person’s logic, we try to find the structure of their reasoning. Logic is not synonymous with fact or truth, though facts are part of evidence in logical argumentation. You can be logical without being truthful. This is why more logic is not the only answer to better public argument.
Our human brains are compelled to categorize the world as a survival mechanism. This survival mechanism allows for quicker thought.
Two of the most basic logical strategies include inductive and deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning starts from a premise that is a generalization about a large class of ideas, people, etc. and moves to a specific conclusion about a smaller category of ideas or things
(All cats hate water; therefore, my neighbor’s cat will not jump in our pool). While the first premise is the most general, the second premise is a more particular observation. So the argument is created through common beliefs/observations that are compared to create an argument.
The above is called a syllogism. As we can see in the example, the major premise offers a general belief held by some groups and the minor premise is a particular observation. The conclusion is drawn by comparing the premises and developing a conclusion. If you work hard enough, you can often take a complex argument and boil it down to a syllogism. This can reveal a great deal about the argument that is not apparent in the longer more complex version.
Stanley Fish, professor and New York Times columnist, offers the following syllogism in his July 22, 2007, blog entry titled “Democracy and Education”: “The syllogism underlying these comments is (1) America is a democracy(2) Schools and universities are situated within that democracy (3) Therefore schools and universities should be ordered and administrated according to democratic principles.”
Fish offered the syllogism as a way to summarize the responses to his argument that students do not, in fact, have the right to free speech in a university classroom. The responses to Fish’s standpoint were vehemently opposed to his understanding of free speech rights and democracy. The responses are varied and complex. However, boiling them down to a single syllogism helps to summarize the primary rebuttal so that Fish could then offer his extended version of his standpoint.
Inductive reasoning moves in a different direction than deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning starts with a particular or local statement and moves to a more general conclusion. I think of inductive reasoning as a stacking of evidence. The more particular examples you give, the more it seems that your conclusion is correct.
Inductive reasoning is a common method for arguing, especially when the conclusion is an obvious probability. Inductive reasoning is the most common way that we move around in the world. If we experience something habitually, we reason that it will happen again. For example, if we walk down a city street and every person smiles, we might reason that this is a “nice town.” This seems logical. We have taken many similar, particular experiences (smiles) and used them to make a general conclusion (the people in the town are nice).
Most of the time, this reasoning works. However, we know that it can also lead us in the wrong direction. Perhaps the people were smiling because we were wearing inappropriate clothing (country togs in a metropolitan city), or perhaps only the people living on that particular street are “nice” and the rest of the town is unfriendly. Research papers sometimes rely too heavily on this logical method. Writers assume that finding ten versions of the same argument somehow prove that the point is true.
Here is another example. In Ann Coulter’s most recent book, Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, she makes her (in)famous argument that single motherhood is the cause of many of America’s ills. She creates this argument through a piling of evidence. She lists statistics by sociologists, she lists all the single moms who killed their children, she lists stories of single mothers who say outrageous things about their life, children, or marriage in general, and she ends with a list of celebrity single moms that most would agree are not good examples of motherhood. Through this list, she concludes, “Look at almost any societal problem and you will find it is really a problem of single mothers” (36). While she could argue, from this evidence, that being a single mother is difficult, the generalization that single motherhood is the root of social ills in America takes the inductive reasoning too far. Despite this example, we need inductive reasoning because it is the key to analytical thought.
Most academic arguments in the humanities are inductive to some degree. When you study humanity, nothing is certain. When ob- serving or making inductive arguments, it is important to get your evidence from many different areas, to judge it carefully, and acknowledge the flaws. Inductive arguments must be judged by the quality of the evidence since the conclusions are drawn directly from a body of compiled work.
“The appeals” offer a lesson in rhetoric that sticks with you long after the class has ended. Perhaps it is the rhythmic quality of the words (ethos, logos, pathos) or, simply, the usefulness of the concept. Aristotle imagined logos, ethos, and pathos as three kinds of artistic proof. Essentially, they highlight three ways to appeal to or persuade an audience: “(1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in its various forms, (3) to understand emotions” (Honeycutt, Rhetoric 1356a)
While Aristotle and others did not explicitly dismiss emotional and character appeals, they found the most value in logic. Contemporary rhetoricians and argumentation scholars, however, recognize the power of emotions to sway us. Even the most stoic individuals have some emotional threshold over which no logic can pass. For example, we can seldom be reasonable when faced with a crime against a loved one, a betrayal, or the face of an adorable baby.
The easiest way to differentiate the appeals is to imagine selling a product based on them. Until recently, car commercials offered a prolific source of logical, ethical, and emotional appeals.
Logos: Using logic as proof for an argument. For many students this takes the form of numerical evidence. But as we have discussed above, logical reasoning is a kind of argumentation.
Ethos: Calling on particular shared values (patriotism), respected fig- ures of authority (MLK), or one’s own character as a method for appealing to an audience.
Pathos: Using emotionally driven images or language to sway your audience.
Images of a pregnant women being safely rushed to a hospital. Flash to two car seats in the back seat. Flash to family hopping out of their Ford Escape and witnessing the majesty of the Grand Canyon.
After an image of a worried mother watching her sixteen year old daughter drive away: “Ford Escape takes the fear out of driving.”
The appeals are part of everyday conversation, even if we do not use the Greek terminology (see Activity: Developing Audience Awareness). Understanding the appeals helps us to make better rhetorical choices in designing our arguments. If you think about the appeals as a choice, their value is clear.
Toulmin: Dissecting the Everyday Argument
Philosopher Stephen Toulmin studies the arguments we make in our everyday lives. He developed his method out of frustration with logicians (philosophers of argumentation) that studied argument in a vacuum or through mathematical formulations:
Instead, Toulmin views argument as it appears in a conversation, in a letter, or some other context because real arguments are much more complex than the syllogisms that make up the bulk of Aristotle’s logical program. Toulmin offers the contemporary writer/reader a way to map an argument. The result is a visualization of the argument process. This map comes complete with vocabulary for describing the parts of an argument. The vocabulary allows us to see the contours of the landscape—the winding rivers and gaping caverns. One way to think about a “good” argument is that it is a discussion that hangs together, a landscape that is cohesive (we can’t have glaciers in our desert valley). Sometimes we miss the faults of an argument because it sounds good or appears to have clear connections between the statement and the evidence, when in truth the only thing holding the argument together is a lovely sentence or an artistic flourish.
For Toulmin, argumentation is an attempt to justify a statement or a set of statements. The better the demand is met, the higher the audience’s appreciation. Toulmin’s vocabulary for the study of argument offers labels for the parts of the argument to help us create our map.
Warrant: The justification for connecting particular data to a particular claim. The warrant also makes clear the assumptions underlying the argument.
Backing: Additional information required if the warrant is not clearly supported.
Rebuttal: Conditions or standpoints that point out flaws in the claim or alternative positions.
Qualifiers: Terminology that limits a standpoint. Examples include applying the following terms to any part of an argument: sometimes, seems, occasionally, none, always, never, etc. The following paragraphs come from an article reprinted in UTNE magazine by Pamela Paxton and Jeremy Adam Smith titled: “Not Everyone Is Out to Get You.” Charting this excerpt helps us to understand some of the underlying assumptions found in the article.
The following paragraphs come from an article reprinted in UTNE magazine by Pamela Paxton and Jeremy Adam Smith titled: “Not Everyone Is Out to Get You.” Charting this excerpt helps us to understand
some of the underlying assumptions found in the article
“Trust No One”
That was the slogan of The X-Files, the TV drama that followed two FBI agents on a quest to uncover a vast government conspiracy. A defining cultural phenomenon during its run from 1993–2002, the show captured a mood of growing distrust in America.
Since then, our trust in one another has declined even further. In fact, it seems that “Trust no one” could easily have been America’s motto for the past 40 years—thanks to, among other things, Vietnam, Watergate, junk bonds, Monica Lewinsky, Enron, sex scandals in the Catholic Church, and the Iraq war.
The General Social Survey, a periodic assessment of Americans’ moods and values, shows an 11-point decline from 1976–2008 in the number of Americans who believe other people can generally be trusted. Institutions haven’t fared any better. Over the same period, trust has declined in the press (from 29 to 9 percent), education (38–29 percent), banks (41 percent to 20 percent), corporations (23–16 percent), and organized religion (33–20 percent). Gallup’s 2008 governance survey showed that trust in the government was as low as it was during the Watergate era.
The news isn’t all doom and gloom, however. A growing body of research hints that humans are hardwired to trust, which is why institutions, through reform and high performance, can still stoke feelings of loyalty, just as disasters and mismanagement can inhibit it. The catch is that while humans want, even need, to trust, they won’t trust blindly and foolishly.
Figure 5 demonstrates one way to chart the argument that Paxton and Smith make in “Trust No One.” The remainder of the article offers additional claims and data, including the final claim that there is hope for overcoming our collective trust issues. The chart helps us to see that some of the warrants, in a longer research project, might require additional support. For example, the warrant that TV mirrors real life is an argument and not a fact that would require evidence.
Charting your own arguments and others helps you to visualize the meat of your discussion. All the flourishes are gone and the bones revealed. Even if you cannot fit an argument neatly into the boxes, the attempt forces you to ask important questions about your claim, your warrant, and possible rebuttals. By charting your argument you are forced to write your claim in a succinct manner and admit, for example, what you are using for evidence. Charted, you can see if your evidence is scanty, if it relies too much on one kind of evidence over another, and if it needs additional support. This charting might also reveal a disconnect between your claim and your warrant or cause you to reevaluate your claim altogether.
Pragma-Dialectics: A Fancy Word for a Close Look at Argumentation
The field of rhetoric has always been interdisciplinary and so it has no problem including argumentation theory. Developed in the Speech Communication Department at the University of Amsterdam, pragmadialectics is a study of argumentation that focuses on the ethics of one’s logical choices in creating an argument. In Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments, Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst describe argumentation, simply, as “characterized by the use of language for resolving a difference of opinion” (275). While much of this work quite literally looks at actual speech situations, the work can easily be applied to the classroom and to broader political situations.
While this version of argumentation deals with everything from ethics to arrangement, what this field adds to rhetorical studies is a new approach to argument fallacies. Fallacies are often the cause of the mystery feeling we get when we come across faulty logic or missteps in an argument.
What follows is an adaptation of Frans van Eemeren, Rob Groot- endorst, and Francesca Snoeck Henkemans’ “violations of the rules for critical engagement” from their book Argumentation: Analysis, Evaluation, Presentation (109). Rather than discuss rhetorical fallacies in a list (ad hominem, straw man, equivocation, etc.), they argue that there should be rules for proper argument to ensure fairness, logic, and a solution to the problem being addressed. Violating these rules causes a fallacious argument and can result in a standoff rather than a solution.
While fallacious arguments, if purposeful, pose real ethical problems, most people do not realize they are committing fallacies when they create an argument. To purposely attack someone’s character rather than their argument (ad hominem) is not only unethical, but demonstrates lazy argumentation. However, confusing cause and effect might simply be a misstep that needs fixing. It is important to admit that many fallacies, though making an argument somewhat unsound, can be rhetorically savvy. While we know that appeals to pity (or going overboard on the emotional appeal) can often demonstrate a lack of knowledge or evidence, they often work. As such, these rules present argumentation as it would play out in a utopian world where everyone is calm and logical, where everyone cares about resolving the argument at hand, rather than winning the battle, and where everyone plays by the rules. Despite the utopian nature of the list, it offers valuable insight into argument flaws and offers hope for better methods of deliberation.
What follows is an adaptation of the approach to argumentation. The rule is listed first, followed by an example of how the rule is often violated.
1. The Freedom Rule“
Parties must not prevent each other from putting forward standpoints or casting doubt on standpoints” (110). There are many ways to stop an individual from giving her own argument. This can come in the form of a physical threat but most often takes the form of a misplaced critique. Instead of focusing on the argument, the focus is shifted to the character of the writer or speaker (ad hominem) or to making the argument (or author) seem absurd (straw man) rather than addressing its actual components. In the past decade, “Bush is stupid” became a common ad hominem attack that allowed policy to go unaddressed. To steer clear of the real issues of global warming, someone might claim “Only a fool would believe global warming is real” or “Trying to suck all of the CO2 out of the atmosphere with giant greenhouse gas machines is mere science fiction, so we should look at abandoning all this green house gas nonsense.”
2. The Burden-of-Proof Rule“
A party who puts forward a standpoint is obliged to defend it if asked to do so” (113).
This is one of my favorites. It is clear and simple. If you make an argument, you have to provide evidence to back it up. During the 2008 Presidential debates, Americans watched as all the candidates fumbled over the following question about healthcare: “How will this plan actually work?” If you are presenting a written argument, this requirement can be accommodated through quality, researched evidence applied to your standpoint.
3. The Standpoint Rule“
A party’s attack on a standpoint must relate to the standpoint that has indeed been advanced by the other party” (116).Your standpoint is simply your claim, your basic argument in a nutshell. If you disagree with another person’s argument or they disagree
4. The Relevance Rule
“A party may defend his or her standpoint only by advancing argumentation related to that standpoint” (119). Similar to #3, this rule assures that the evidence you use must actually relate to your standpoint. Let’s stick with same argument: global warming has created a green industry benefiting from fears over climate change. Under this rule, your evidence would need to offer examples of the rhetoric and the resulting businesses that have developed since the introduction of green industries. It would break the rules to simply offer attacks on businesses who sell “eco-friendly” products.
5. The Unexpressed Premise Rule
“A party may not falsely present something as a premise that has been left unexpressed by the other party or deny a premise that he or she has left implicit” (121).
just think that there should be a noise ordinance in this part of town to help cut down on crime.” This clearly shows that the writer does believe her neighbors to be criminals but won’t admit it.
6. The Starting Point Rule
“ No party may falsely present a premise as an accepted starting point, or deny a premise representing an accepted starting point” (128).
Part of quality argumentation is to agree on the opening standpoint. According to this theory, argument is pointless without this kind of agreement. It is well known that arguing about abortion is nearly pointless as long as one side is arguing about the rights of the unborn and the other about the rights of women. These are two different starting points.
7. The Argument Scheme Rule
“A standpoint may not be regarded as conclusively defended if the defense does not take place by means of an appropriate argument scheme that is correctly applied” (130).
This rule is about argument strategy. Argument schemes could take up another paper altogether. Suffice it to say that schemes are ways of approaching an argument, your primary strategy. For example, you might choose emotional rather than logical appeals to present your position. This rule highlights the fact that some argument strategies are simply better than others. For example, if you choose to create an argument based largely on attacking the character of your opponent rather than the issues at hand, the argument is moot. Argument by analogy is a popular and well worn argument strategy (or scheme). Essentially, you compare your position to a more commonly known one and make your argument through the comparison. For example, in the “Trust No One” argument above, the author equates the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky scandals. Since it is common knowledge that Watergate was a serious scandal, including Monica Lewinsky in the list offers a strong argument by analogy: the Lewinsky scandal did as much damage as Watergate. To break this rule, you might make an analogy that does not hold up, such as com-
paring a minor scandal involving a local school board to Watergate. This would be an exaggeration, in most cases.
8. The Validity Rule
“The reasoning in the argumentation must be logically valid or must be capable of being made valid by making explicit one or more unexpressed premises” (132).
This rule is about traditional logics. Violating this rule means that the parts of your argument do not match up. For example, your cause and effect might be off: If you swim in the ocean today you will get stung by a jellyfish and need medical care. Joe went to the doctor today. He must have been stung by a jellyfish. While this example is obvious (we do not know that Joe went swimming), many argument problems are caused by violating this rule.
9. The Closure Rule
“A failed defense of a standpoint must result in the protagonist retract- ing the standpoint, and a successful defense of a standpoint must result in the antagonist retracting his or her doubts” (134). This seems the most obvious rule, yet it is one that most public arguments ignore. If your argument does not cut it, admit the faults and move on. If another writer/speaker offers a rebuttal and you clearly counter it, admit that the original argument is sound. Seems simple, but it’s not in our public culture. This would mean that George W. Bush would have to have a press conference and say, “My apologies, I was wrong about WMD,” or for someone who argued fervently that Americans want a single payer option for healthcare to instead argue something like, “The polls show that American’s want to change healthcare, but not through the single payer option. My argument was based on my opinion that single payer is the best way and not on public opinion.” Academics are more accustomed to retraction because our arguments are explicitly part of particular conversations. Rebuttals and renegotiations are the norm. That does not make them any easier to stomach in an “argument is war” culture.
10. The Usage Rule
“Parties must not use any formulations that are insufficiently clear or confusingly ambiguous, and they must interpret the formulations of the other party as carefully and accurately as possible” (136). While academics are perhaps the worst violators of this rule, it is an important one to discuss. Be clear. I notice in both student and professional academic writing that a confusing concept often means confusing prose, longer sentences, and more letters in a word. If you cannot say it/write it clearly, the concept might not yet be clear to you. Keep working. Ethical violations of this rule happen when someone is purposefully ambiguous so as to confuse the issue. We can see this on all the “law” shows on television or though deliberate propaganda.
Food for thought:
The above rules offer one way to think about shaping an argument paper. Imagine that the argument for your next paper is a dialogue between those who disagree about your topic. After doing research, write out the primary standpoint for your paper.
For example: organic farming is a sustainable practice that should be used
more broadly. Next, write out a standpoint that might offer a refutation
of the argument.
For example: organic farming cannot supply all of the food needed by the world’s population. Once you have a sense of your own argument and possible refutations, go through the rules and imagine how you might ethically and clearly provide arguments that support your point without ignoring the opposition.
Even though our current media and political climate do not call for good argumentation, the guidelines for finding and creating it abound. There are many organizations such as America Speaks (www.
americaspeaks.org) that are attempting to revive quality, ethical deliberation.
On the personal level, each writer can be more deliberate in their argumentation by choosing to follow some of these methodical approaches to ensure the soundness and general quality of their argument.
The above models offer the possibility that we can imagine modes of argumentation other than war. The final model, pragma-dialectics, especially, seems to consider argument as a conversation that
requires constant vigilance and interaction by participants.
Argument as conversation, as new metaphor for public deliberation, has possibilities.
There are many organizations such as America Speaks (www. americaspeaks.org) that are attempting to revive quality, ethical deliberation. On the personal level, each writer can be more deliberate in their argumentation by choosing to follow some of these methodical approaches to ensure the soundness and general quality of their argument. The above models offer the possibility that we can imagine modes of argumentation other than war. The final model, pragma-di-alectics, especially, seems to consider argument as a conversation that requires constant vigilance and interaction by participants. Argument as conversation, as new metaphor for public deliberation, has possibilities.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Nina Paley for giving permission to use this cartoon under Creative Commons licensing, free of charge.Please see Paley’s great work at www.ninapaley.com.
magic thesis sentence (MTS)
to think critically about the idea of research
the working thesis
a thesis advocates a specific and debatable issue
current-traditional paradigm of writing instruction
developing a good antithetical argument
one way to address those potential readers who might raise objections to your arguments
finding better arguments is not about finding peace
three ways to appeal to or persuade an audience
Licenses and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, ORIGINAL
Composing Ourselves and Our World, Provided by: the authors. License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
CC LICENSED CONTENT INCLUDED
This chapter contains an adaptation of On the Other Hand: The Role of Antithetical Writing in First Year Composition Courses: by Steve Krause, and is used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US) license.
This chapter contains an adaptation of Finding the Good Argument OR Why Bother With Logic?: by Rebecca Jones, and is licensed under the Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
MULTIMEDIA CONTENT INCLUDED
Video 1 https://youtu.be/DmKGMOFON0g
Image 2 of Pride and Prejudice. Authored by: dawt. Located at: https://flic.kr/p/d1BRQy. License: CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives
Crowley, Sharon. The Methodical Memory: Invention in Current-Traditional Rhetoric. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990. Print.
Neel, Jasper. Plato, Derrida, and Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1988. Print.
Coulter, Ann. Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America. New York: Crown Forum, 2009. Print.
Crowley, Sharon, and Debra Hawhee. Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students. 4th ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2009. Print.
Eemeren, Frans H. van, and Rob Grootendorst. Fundamentals of Argumenta- tion Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contempo- rary Developments. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1996. Print.
Eemeren, Frans H. van, Rob Grootendorst, and Francesca Snoeck Henke- mans. Argumentation: Analysis, Evaluation, Presentation. Mahwah: Erl- baum, NJ: 2002. Print.
Fish, Stanley. “Democracy and Education.” New York Times 22 July 2007:
- pag. Web. 5 May 2010. <http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/ democracy-and-education/>.
Honeycutt, Lee. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric: A Hypertextual Resource Compiled by Lee Honeycutt.” 21 June 2004. Web. 5 May 2010. <http://www2. iastate.edu/~honeyl/Rhetoric/index.html>.
Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980. Print.
Murphy, James. Quintilian On the Teaching and Speaking of Writing.
Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987. Print.
Paxton, Pamela, and Jeremy Adam Smith. “Not Everyone Is Out to Get You.” UTNE Reader Sept.-Oct. 2009: 44-45. Print.
“Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 1 [387 AD].” Online Library of Liberty, n.
- d. We 5 May 2010. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_ staticxt& staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=111& layout=html#chapt er_39482>.