CHECKLIST:WRITING ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAYS Writing Argumentative Essays • Is your topic debatable? • Does your essay develop an argumentative thesis? • Have you considered the opinions, attitudes, and values of your audience? • Have you identified and refuted opposing arguments? • Are your arguments logically constructed? • Have you supported your assertions with evidence? Writing Argumentative Essays (Cont’d.) • Have you established your credibility? • Have you been fair? • Have you avoided logical fallacies? • Have you provided your reader with enough background information? • Have you presented your points clearly and organized them logically? • Have you written an interesting introduction and a strong conclusion? Using Evidence and Establishing Credibility 1. Using evidence: Most arguments are built on assertions- claims you make about a debatable topic- backed by evidence- supporting information, in the form of examples, statistics, or expert opinion. Using Evidence and Establishing Credibility (Cont’d.) Only statements that are self-evident (“All human beings are mortal”), true by definition (2+2=4), or factual (“The Atlantic Ocean separates England and the United States”) need no proof. Readers need supporting evidence for all other kinds of assertions you make. Using evidence and establishing credibility (Cont’d. ) 2. Establishing credibility and being fair. In order to convince readers, you have to satisfy them you are someone they should listen to- in other words, that you have credibility. Readers will also judge the fairness of your use of the evidence. CHECKLIST: ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY FIND COMMON GROUND • Identify the various sides of the issue. • Identify the points on which you and your reader are in agreement. • Work these areas of agreement into your argument. CHECKLIST: ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY (Cont’d.) DEMONSTRATE KNOWLEDGE • Include relevant personal experiences. • Include relevant special knowledge of your subject. • Include the results of any relevant research you have done. CHECKLIST: ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY (Cont’d.) MAINTAIN A REASONABLE TONE • Avoid sounding as if you are talking down to or insulting your readers. • Use moderate language and qualify your statements. CHECKLIST: BEING FAIR • Do not distort evidence. • Do not intentionally misrepresent opponents’ views by exaggerating them and then attacking this extreme position. • Do not change the meaning of what someone has said or implied by selecting certain words from a statement and ignoring others. CHECKLIST: BEING FAIR (Cont’d.) • Do not select only information that supports your case and ignore information that does not. • Do not use inflammatory language calculated to appeal to the emotions or prejudices of readers. CHECKLIST: AVOID LOGICAL FALLACIES Finally, readers will not accept your argument unless it is logical. For this reason, you should revise carefully to be sure you have avoided logical fallacies. ORGANISING AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY In its simplest form, an argument consists of a thesis statement and supporting evidence. However, argumentative essays frequently contain additional elements calculated to win audience approval and to overcome potential opposition. ELEMENTS OF AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY • INTRODUCTION The introduction of your argumentative essay orients your readers to your subject. Here, you can show how your subject concerns your audience, note why it is important, or explain how it has been misunderstood. ELEMENTS OF AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY (Cont’d.) • BACKGROUND In this section you may briefly present a narrative of past events, a summary of others’ opinions on your subject, or a review of basic facts. ELEMENTS OF AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY (Cont’d.) • THESIS STATEMENT Your thesis statement can appear anywhere in your argumentative essay. Frequently, you state your thesis after you have given your readers an overview of your subject. However, in highly controversial arguments- those to which your audience might react negatively- you may postpone stating your thesis until later in your essay. AUTHORITY Much of the evidence for your research conclusions will come from authorities with special insight or knowledge about your topic. An authority is someone qualified to offer an opinion or make a statement on a topic. AUTHORITY (Cont’d.) The extent to which someone qualifies as an authority depends upon the topic and the individual’s background and experience. AUTHORITY (Cont’d.) A medical doctor qualifies as an authority when talking about the health risk involved with piercing one’s navel to accommodate body jewellery; however, the same doctor is not an authority on the reasons that young people are so fond of this trend. That opinion should come from someone with more background on the topic such as an authority on culture or a researcher who has interviewed a number of teenagers about navel piercing. Checklist for Evaluating Authority You should judge the authority of a source by a variety of criteria. In addition to an individual’s background and experience, weigh factors such at the following in determining a source’s level of credibility or expertise: Checklist for Evaluating Authority (Cont’d.) • If the source’s qualifications are not immediately clear, is there an adequate explanation of them? • Does the source demonstrate knowledge of the topic and an awareness of recent issues, research and opinions? • Is the source recognised and cited by others who address the topic? Checklist for Evaluating Authority (Cont’d.) • Is the source current? • Does the source acknowledge information and opinions from others? • Do the information and opinions offered appear in a reliable publication or other type of trusted source? • Is the source unbiased in presenting his or her own ideas and the ideas of others? Checklist for Evaluating Authority (Cont’d.) You will find most authorities agree about factual evidence but you may find they disagree about larger and more intangible issues. Make sure you consult authorities on each side of an issue during your research and discuss any conflicting points of view as you set forth your own conclusions in the research paper. BEING AWARE OF LOGICAL FALLACIES Logical fallacies represent errors in thinking. Most of them reflect overvaluing or ignoring certain evidence; others use language that distorts the basis of an argument. Since the conclusions derived from such fallacies are usually stated in ways that make them sound logical, they are frequently popularized and accepted as common sense. BEING AWARE OF LOGICAL FALLACIES Because logical fallacies are common in popular attitudes and arguments you need to be aware of them in your own thinking and in the arguments of your research sources. Following are brief descriptions of some of the most common logical fallacies (traditional terms for some of the better- known fallacies are given in parentheses): Avoid these common logical fallacies • Against the person (ad hominem): Confusing the validity of an argument with the character of the person who makes it. Avoid these common logical fallacies • Rather than address the argument itself, an attack against the person focuses on an opponent’s appearance, personal habits, or character. • E.g. We can’t trust the testimony of a DNA scientist who once declared bankruptcy and has been divorced twice, can we? • This is an example of an argument against the person. Avoid these common logical fallacies (Cont’d.) • Appeal to authority: Assuming that the authority or reputation of an individual is evidence for the truth of his or her views. • While the views an authority expresses may be validated by other evidence, the fact that someone is an Oscar-winning movie star, for example, is not a sufficient reason to buy the brand of car he or she may be advertising. Avoid these common logical fallacies (Cont’d.) • Appeal to ignorance (ad ignoratiam): Arguing that a claim must be true simply because no one has shown that it is false. Avoid these common logical fallacies (Cont’d.) • “The abominable snowman must exist. After all, no one has shown it doesn't” is an appeal to ignorance resulting from an illogical inference. While an audience might agree with the premise that the abominable snowman could exist, it does not logically follow that it therefore does. Avoid these common logical fallacies (Cont’d.) • Appeal to pity (ad misericodiam): Attempting to persuade by arousing pity instead of addressing the real issue. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • “But I still think my paper should get a passing grade, Professor Harper. I missed work yesterday and stayed up all night to get it finished on time” is an appeal-to- pity argument all too familiar to English teachers! Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Appeal to the people, or bandwagon (ad populum): Arguing that something is right or best because many others think it is. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • E.g. Complaining to one’s parents that All our friends have QuickConnect online service. We should, too ignores any evidence for or against QuickConnect’s services. The argument assumes QuickConnect must provide good service solely on the evidence that others are using it. Everybody else is doing it is not a logical reason or excuse for doing anything. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Circular definition, or begging the question: Restating an assumption as part of its proof. Arguments using circular definition simply repeat their initial proposition in different words. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • A man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do and Pornorgraphy is dangerous because it harms lives are circular arguments that beg, or put off, the question they raise by actually ignoring the issue at hand. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Equivocation: Shifting the meanings of the terms used in an argument. • For instance: You claim whales are intelligent. But if whales are intelligent, why do we have to protect them? Can’t intelligent creatures take care of themselves? Such reasoning may seem plausible, but it is not: The speaker has changed the meaning of intelligent from “capable of understanding” to something different than was meant in the opponent’s original claim. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • False analogy: Using a comparison in which the differences between two things are greater than their similarities or in which the similarities are irrelevant to the argument being made. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Referring to television as the plug-in- drug, for example, overlooks major differences between the varied causes of habitual television watching and those of life-destroying, addictive drugs. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • False cause (post hoc, ergo propter hoc): Assuming a cause-effect relationship because two events are related in time. The fallacy of false cause is also known as post hoc reasoning, from the Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc, meaning “after this, therefore because of this”. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • False-cause reasoning assumes that because one thing happened at the same time as another, the first caused the second. Such reasoning is often the basis for superstition, as when a person has bad luck after breaking a mirror and concludes, wrongly, that the accident with the mirror caused the bad luck. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • False dilemma, or either-or: Arguing for a conclusion as if there are only two alternatives. The alternative in the false dilemma is generally more attractive than the initial proposal. • For example, Either learn to play golf or forget about getting that job as vice-president presents a false dilemma that ignores the fact that someone may advance in a career for many other reasons than being the boss’s golf partner. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Hasty Generalization: Drawing a conclusion based on inadequate evidence. • Arguing that Professor Tolmas’s examinations are easy at a point when you have taken only one is hasty generalization. You do not have enough examples of his tests to reasonably draw such a conclusion; indeed, the one test you have taken may have been an exception. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • The error of making judgments based on inadequate evidence can lead to stereotyping and prejudice, both the results of erroneously generalizing about a group on the basis of one or two pieces of evidence. • Just because someone in Rome stole your wallet is not justification to call all Romans thieves. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Poisoning the well: Using loaded language to discourage discussion of an argument before examining it. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Saying that No one who cares about children will hesitate to support this law intimidates would-be opponents and discourages them from responding. To argue against the law might mean being viewed as not caring about children or having to defend oneself against such a charge. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Red herring: Diverting discussion of an issue by introducing another, unrelated topic. • The term red herring derives from the fact that smoked herring is strong smelling and used to divert hunting dogs from a trail. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Similarly, most red-herring issues are controversial or interesting enough to get an audience’s attention and make them forget about the issue at hand. • Yes, we may need to look at this city’s use of landfills, but isn’t the problem of illiteracy among our high school graduates more important? is an example of a red-herring technique. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Slippery slope: Claiming that an action should not be taken because doing so will lead to a chain of undesirable events. • Slippery-slope reasoning assumes one action will inevitably lead to the next, then the next, and so on until a calamitous point is reached. Avoid These Common Logical Fallacies (Cont’d.) • Those who oppose banning the sale or import of assault weapons, for example, often fall back on slippery-slope arguments: • Once assault weapons are banned, they reason, other automatic weapons will be banned next, then handguns, and so on until all guns are banned. • The fallacy behind such arguments is in presuming that the same reasons for the first action would necessarily lead to the second, the third, and so on. WORKING WITH OTHERS • Your understanding of argument will be vital to the success of your research effort and the resulting research paper. • To understand what makes an effective argument, you must be able to reason logically – to consider one or more facts and come to a reasonable conclusion. WORKING WITH OTHERS (Cont’d.) • As you complete your research and fine-tune the plan for your paper, discuss these points with someone else. WORKING WITH OTHERS (Cont’d.) • Review several of your scores to look for examples of deductive and inductive reasoning. • Consider what makes each approach effective or ineffective in these sources. • Do a rough outline of the argument presented in one source, showing either the deductive or inductive pattern of reasoning.
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