If you’re a high school or college student, at some point you’ve most likely been assigned an “Argument Essay.” While most of us know the simple definition of argument, many individuals new to academic writing are often confused as to what exactly defines an argument. Defining what an argument is not is a great place to start.
An argument is not a debate. Politicians debate, hoping to come out a winner. With an argument, there are no winners and losers. The foundation of an argument is a desire for truth. For an argument to be successful, there must be cooperative inquiry, or consideration on both sides of a position. The outcome of a successful argument is to find the best solution to a problem as well as the best course of action.
In writing an argument, finding solutions to conflicts or complex problems and an effective course of action, the writer must appeal to reason. You, in writing an argument, can only present an effective argument if you clarify and support the reasons you present in favor of your position. This is often referred to as the “because clause” that supports the claim.
Often when closely studying reasons, the writer will re-examine their own line of reasoning as well as their long-held beliefs and assumptions. They might have to rethink their line of reasoning if their argument is not persuading their intended audience. As the argument becomes clearer, the writer can begin to more effectively appeal to their audience’s values and beliefs, and develop reasons that appeal to that audience.
Let’s break this down into a common dispute. A sixteen-year-old wants to stay out as late as she wants. The parents say no. A dispute ensues.
Daughter: BUT I’M SIXTEEN AND ALL MY FRIENDS STAY OUT AS LATE AS THEY WANT!
In this line of reasoning, the unstated assumptions are that (1) The age of sixteen automatically renders teens responsible enough to stay out late and (2) this family’s rules should be dictated by what other family rules are. Not a very effective argument. Why? A poor line of reasoning.
What might be a better line of reasoning to convince the intended audience (parents) that their sixteen-year-old should stay out so late?
Taking the values and beliefs of the audience into consideration, the daughter might appeal to their assumption that she is too young or immature to stay out so late.
Daughter: I should be allowed to stay out late on a trial basis because I need the opportunity to demonstrate my maturity and show you I won’t get into trouble.
In this example, the daughter needed to clarify her reasons to appeal to the values of her intended audience, her parents.
The parent in the example held an underlying assumption that the daughter was too young and immature to stay out so late. Once the daughter appealed to this belief with a more effective line of reasoning, her audience could be more effectively persuaded.
Consider your topic, and especially how you are going to appeal to your intended audience. What are their underlying values and beliefs? How will your line of reasoning best appeal to those values and beliefs.
Practice creating effective supporting reasons for an extremely disagreeable audience with the claims below.
- Video game manufacturers should be allowed to sell games without restrictions on age.
- The Electoral College is obsolete and should be abolished.
- Medical marijuana should be legalized nationally for distribution and use in all 50 states.
Works Consulted: Writing Arguments. Ramage, Bean, Johnson. Pearson Education, New York, 2004.