This is “Rhetoric and Argumentation”, section 4.3 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0).
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True argumentation is the most important kind of communication in the academic and professional world. Used effectively, it is how ideas are debated and shared in discourse communities. Argumentation holds both writers and readers to the highest standards of responsibility and ethics. It is usually not what you see on cable news shows or, sadly, even in presidential debates. This section will show how rhetoric is used in service of argumentation.
Traditionally, arguments are classified as either inductiveA reasoning method that draws a general conclusion from a particular set of facts. or deductiveA reasoning method based on drawing a single conclusion from multiple pieces of evidence.. Inductive arguments consider a number of results and form a generalization based on those results. In other words, say you sat outside a classroom building and tallied the number of students wearing jeans and the number wearing something other than jeans. If after one hour, you had tallied 360 students wearing jeans and 32 wearing other clothes, you could use inductive reasoning to make the generalization that most students at your college wear jeans to class. Here’s another example. While waiting for your little sister to come out of the high school, you saw 14 girls wearing high heels. So you assume that high heels are standard wear for today’s high school girls.
Deductive arguments begin with a general principle, which is referred to as a major premise. Then a related premise is applied to the major premise and a conclusion is formed. The three statements together form a syllogismA deductive conclusion drawn from a major premise and a minor premise.. Here are some examples:
Although these simple inductive and deductive arguments are fairly clean and easy to follow, they can be flawed because of their rigidity.
Let’s revisit the “college students wear jeans” argument. What if you happened to be counting jeans wearers on a day that has been declared Denim Appreciation Day? Or conversely, what if you had taken the sample on the hottest day of the year in the middle of the summer session? Although it might be true that most students in your sample on that day wore jeans to class, the argument as it stands is not yet strong enough to support the statement.
Now consider the purse argument. The argument is not strong since a variety of possible exceptions are obvious. First, not all leather purses last a long time since the leather could be strong, but the workmanship could be shoddy (challenge to major premise). Second, the quality of the leather in your particular purse could be such that it would not hold up to heavy use (challenge to minor premise). Third, a possible exception is that the argument does not take into account how long I have had my purse: even though it is made of leather, its lifespan could be about over. Since very few issues are completely straightforward, it is often easy to imagine exceptions to simplistic arguments. For this reason, somewhat complex argument forms have been developed to address more complicated issues that require some flexibility.
Three common types of argumentation are classicalA type of argument that relies on the presentation of a thesis, use of rhetorical appeals, and refutation of opposing views., ToulminianBased on the work of Stephen Toulmin, a type of argument concerned with the establishment of claims, backed by warrants and supported with evidence., and RogerianBased on the work of Carl Rogers, a type of argument concerned with finding common ground with one’s adversary and ultimately reaching a consensus or compromise.. You can choose which type to use based on the nature of your argument, the opinions of your audience, and the relationship between your argument and your audience.
The typical format for a classical argument will likely be familiar to you:
Presentation of position
Presentation and rebuttal of alternative positions
Toulminian argumentation (named for its creator, Stephen Toulmin) includes three components: a claimA statement of an arguable position backed up by evidence., stated grounds to support the claim, and unstated assumptions called warrants. Here’s an example:
The purest version of Rogerian argumentation (named for its creator, Carl Rogers) actually aims for true compromise between two positions. It can be particularly appropriate when the dialectic you are addressing remains truly unresolved. However, the Rogerian method has been put into service as a motivational technique, as in this example:
Rogerian argumentation can also be an effective standard debating technique when you are arguing for a specific point of view. Begin by stating the opposing view to capture the attention of audience members who hold that position and then show how it shares common ground with your side of the point. Your goal is to persuade your audience to come to accept your point by the time they read to the end of your argument. Applying this variation to the preceding example might mean leading off with your audience’s greatest misgivings about attending the writing center, by opening with something like “First-semester college students are so busy that they should not be asked to do anything they do not really need to do.”
Arguments of any kind are likely to either take a position about an issue or present a solution to a problem. Don’t be surprised, though, if you end up doing both. If your goal is to analyze a text or a body of data and justify your interpretation with evidence, you are writing an analytical argumentAn interpretation of a text or body of data backed up with evidence.. Examples include the following:
Problem-solving argumentationA supported claim that a particular method of solving a problem is most effective. is not only the most complicated but also the most important type of all. It involves several thresholds of proof. First, you have to convince readers that a problem exists. Second, you have to give a convincing description of the problem. Third, because problems often have more than one solution, you have to convince readers that your solution is the most feasible and effective. Think about the different opinions people might hold about the severity, causes, and possible solutions to these sample problems:
Argumentation often requires a combination of analytical and problem-solving approaches. Whether the assignment requires you to analyze, solve a problem, or both, your goal is to present your facts or solution confidently, clearly, and completely. Despite the common root word, when writing an argument, you need to guard against taking a too argumentative tone. You need to support your statements with evidence but do so without being unduly abrasive. Good argumentation allows us to disagree without being disagreeable.
Your college professors are not interested in having you do in-depth research for its own sake, just to prove that you know how to incorporate a certain number of sources and document them appropriately. It is assumed that extensive research is a core feature of a strong essay. In college-level writing, research is not meant merely to provide additional support for an already fixed idea you have about the topic, or to set up a “straw man” for you to knock down with ease. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make your research fit your existing argument. Research conducted in good faith will almost certainly lead you to refine your ideas about your topic, leading to multiple revisions of your work. It might cause you even to change your topic entirely. (For more on research and revision in argumentation, see Chapter 7 "Researching" and Chapter 8 "Revising".)
Revision is part of the design of higher education. If you embrace the “writing to think” and “writing to learn” philosophy and adopt the “composing habits of mind” outlined in Chapter 1 "Writing to Think and Writing to Learn", Chapter 2 "Becoming a Critical Reader", Chapter 3 "Thinking through the Disciplines", and Chapter 4 "Joining the Conversation", with each draft, you will likely rethink your positions, do additional research, and make other general changes. As you conduct additional research between drafts, you are likely to find new information that will lead you to revise your core argument. Let your research drive your work, and keep in mind that your argument will remain in flux until your final draft. In the end, every final draft you produce should feel like a small piece of a vast and never ending conversation.
Drawing from one of your college library databases or from the Note 2.5 "Gallery of Web-Based Texts" in Chapter 2 "Becoming a Critical Reader" (perhaps a couple of articles linked to ALDaily or one of the debates in the Big Questions Essay Series), find two texts you consider to be serious efforts at academic or professional argumentation. Write up a report about the types of argumentation used in each of the two texts. Answer the following questions and give examples to support your answers:
With your writing group or in a large-class discussion, discuss the types of argumentation that would be most appropriate and effective for addressing the following issues:
Come up with a controversial subject and write about how you would treat it differently depending on whether you used each of the following: