Constructing Arguments

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If you have been assigned an argument paper, you will be expected to argue a debatable position with a strong claim, clear reasoning, and logical appeals. But how do you know if your topic will make a good argument? Many topics might be interesting, but not all interesting topics are arguable. When constructing an argument, your topic must be more than a statement of fact; it must be debatable.

What is your purpose?

When we think about arguments, we assume our purpose is to win, though there is no way to determine who really wins. A writer can present his or her position with the best reasoning and evidence available, and hope to successfully rebut opposing arguments.

A writer usually tries to convince the reader that his or her argument is compelling enough to change minds. In proposal arguments, the writer might want to enact a solution to a problem, and to do this, the writer will have to convince a reader to change his or her mind.

Another purpose of an argument is to simply explore an issue. A writer whose intention is to explore will examine an idea in hopes of convincing a reader that the ideas are important and beneficial.

Testing your Topic

To test whether or not a topic will work as an arguable thesis, consider if you can answer “yes” to these basic criteria:

  1. Does it present a position that an audience might have differing opinions on?
  2. Does it attempt to change minds or urge a reader to take some sort of action?
  3. Does it address a problem and offer a solution, or does it present a problem where no easy solutions exist?

Examples of an Unarguable Statement:

Litter creates pollution of the environment.

Using our criteria, the statement isn’t trying to convince, present a problem (although technically, litter is a problem), nor is it a statement that others might disagree with. It’s merely an observation.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Is there any debate when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed? Is it trying to convince us of anything? This is a statement of fact, and a reader couldn’t debate the statement.

The incidence of breast cancer has risen in the last ten years.

Even though a reader may not know if this is an accurate statement or not, it is easily researchable and not an argument claim.

Examples of an Arguable Statement

Recycling programs, though expensive at first, are ultimately an efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste in our environment.

This statement meets our criteria, as it is presenting a problem and offering a solution. It can be argued, as many opponents believe the cost of implementing a recycling program is too expensive and actually not efficient.
~  ~ ~

Though Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is believed to have ended slavery, slaves emancipated themselves and forced Lincoln to recognize their de facto freedom.

This is a statement that would illicit disagreement (good!), and is an attempt to change the readers’ minds of a widely held belief, so it definitely meets our criteria.

~ ~ ~

Widely prescribed and highly controversial hormone replacement therapy is the cause of the high rates of breast cancer in women.

This statement is definitely arguable, as many would dispute the cause behind high rates of breast cancer. Others would dispute the assumption that breast cancer rates are any higher than they have always been. This statement addresses a problem that there may be no clear solution to, but it makes an arguable claim.

Formulating a Thesis

Once an arguable claim is made, the next step is to formulate a working thesis. The thesis is a claim with reasons. A reason is often referred to as a “because clause,” as the reason answers the question Why? behind the stated claim.

Reason: Pesticides endanger the lives of farmworkers.

Working thesis (claim with reason): Because they endanger the lives of farmworkers, (reason) pesticides should be banned (claim).


Reason
: Lack of sex education in public schools leads to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Working Thesis: Because of the high rates of STDs among teens, all public schools should offer sex education.


Reason:
The cost of a four-year university degree has become unaffordable.

Working Thesis: Because a college degree has become unaffordable for all but the affluent, tuition costs should be lowered.

~ ~ ~

Once you have a working thesis, you may find you’ll need to alter the language or use qualifiers (may cause…; often leads…) to make it more precise or less susceptible to criticism.

Spending time in the planning stages to identify your purpose, test your topic, and formulate an arguable thesis is essential to constructing a successful argument.

Now You Try

For the broad topics below, formulate an arguable statement and working thesis (claim with reason):

  1. Music downloading
  2. Mandatory military service
  3. The effect of texting on youth’s literacy

 

 

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