Strategies For Writing Essays With Arguments

  1. Introductory Remarks And General Definition Of An Argument
  2. The Purpose And Parts Of An Overall Argument: The Definition Of The Thesis
  3. The Importance And Significance Of A Thoroughly Argued Thesis (TAT)
  4. The Importance And Significance Of Opposing Arguments
  5. Two Sources Of Opposing Arguments
  6. Closure Of An Argument
  7. Two Types Of Opposing Arguments
  8. Special Problems In A Thoroughly Argued Thesis
  9. What Arguments Are Made Of
  10. The Main Reasons And Criteria Used For Developing Types Of Essays
  11. Essays Considering Only One View
  12. Essays Considering More Than One View
  13. Additional Considerations
  14. Strategie: Be Fair To Your Opponent(s)
  15. Strategie: Concede Some Points To Your Opponent
  16. Strategie: Do Not Ignore Obvious Objections To Your Thesis
  17. Strategie: Do not be a "know-it-all"
  18. Strategie: Do Not Reduce Arguments To Opinions
  19. Strategie: Use Connecting Words
  20. Strategie: Be Aware Of The Impact Of Ad Hominem Arguments
  21. Strategie: Use Questions Carefully
  22. Strategie: Make Sure Your Conclusion Rings True
  23. Strategie: Develop Arguments Fully And With The Reader In Mind
  24. Strategie: General Definitions Must Be Acceptable, Technical Ones Relevant
  25. Strategie: Narrow Focus Of Topic By Saying What Will And Will Not Be Discussed
  26. Strategie: Show That Your Opponent's Position Is Extreme
  27. Strategie: Include Conclusions That Are The Same But From Independent Sources
  28. Strategie: Distinguish Between Proper And Improper Uses Of Genuine Strategies
  29. Strategie: Limit Facts To Relevant Ones
  30. Strategie: Anticipate Your Opponent's Objections As Best As You Can
  31. Strategie: Be Convinced Of Your Own Conclusion
  32. Strategie: Distinguish Between What Your Opponent Has Said, Implied, Or Might Say
  33. Strategie: Show Parallel Thinking Between Yours And Another's Argument
  34. Strategie: Every Claim Made Which Cannot Be Safely Assumed Acceptable To The Reader Must Be Argued For
  35. Strategie: Be critical of all basic assumptions
  36. Strategie: Be Precise In Your Thinking And Expression
  37. Strategie: Consult Primary Sources Over Secondary Ones
  38. Strategie: Do Not Get Sidetracked By Side Issues (Stay Focused)

Introductory Remarks And General Definition Of An Argument

Begin thinking of your essay as an argument. You want to enlighten your reader, after all, or convince him that a certain view of yours is correct.

Although you may not think that you are giving arguments when you write even a simple essay, you are actually doing just that.

And that is the great thing about good arguments: your reader will natually follow you without thinking that they are being led.
But writing good arguments is no easy matter. It takes some practice, and a lot of patience, too. But the best way to approach this topic is to investigate first what an argument is and how it is put together. Once you grasp the general principles, the sooner you can put them into practice, and the better you will be able to defend your position against the objections of others.

If you can get that far, your essay will almost write itself. So what is an argument, then? What do you need to understand about its structure?

An argument is an attempt to show through reasoning that some claim is true, whether that claim represents a theory, a fact, a general statement about something, or an action that ought to be done.

You should think of the argument of your essay as an attempt to demonstrate the truth of some claim, rather than something that simply results from following rigid rules of logic, because an argument needs first and foremost to establish its foundation on what are called premises (that is, statements in support of some conclusion), and premises cannot be found using some simple rule or formula. The premises of your argument need to be the right premises for the case being discussed, and these must not only be true but also agreed upon by the writer of the argument and the intended reader as the basis of discussion. Without this underlying agreement between reader and writer, no rational discussion can take place; and if an argument is anything at all, it is a rational discussion.

Writing good arguments, therefore, involves as much skill in finding the right premises as in finding the valid form in which to draw the necessary conclusions from these same premises.

This is why adequate research is so important before you begin writing your arguments: research is in practice the search for the right premises.

Arguments do have a well-defined structure, however; in fact, you may also consider an argument to be the logical ordering of premises and conclusion. The point here is that by looking at an argument's structure you can not only learn what its valid form is but also how to discover the right premises in any particular case; the key to this structure is that it has not only parts but also a purpose.

We have already mentioned some of the essential parts of an argument--premises and conclusion--but what would its purpose be?

To say that an argument's purpose is simply to show through reasoning that some claim is true, even if such a definition is correct (and it just happens to be the definition we started with), is still much too general for our purposes.

We need to see how the purpose and parts of an argument are connected to each other and what kind of relationship they have.

Once we firmly grasp this relationship, we will have unlocked the secret of writing effective essays.

The Big Picture: Knowing how to write a good argument, and hence a good essay, is not simply a matter of organizing sentences into a pleasing form, as if the content of your argument were independent of its structure and only needs to be properly arranged like furniture in a room.
The purpose of an argument 'arranges' both the content (premises) and the form (conclusion) of an argument: everything therefore begins and ends with this purpose.
And since your conclusion must always follow from your premises and is just the 'form' these premises take in an argument, think of your conclusion as the stated purpose of your premises.

The Purpose And Parts Of An Overall Argument: The Definition Of The Thesis

THE purpose of an overall argument is called its thesis, and this thesis is what the argument is about. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, to define your thesis before you begin writing your essay. A summary of this thesis is usually in the form of a thesis statement, a one or two-sentence definition of the thesis topic which also happens to coincide with your conclusion; in short, the thesis statement is a statement about what the overall argument intends to prove as its conclusion.

The parts of a thesis are collections of premises and conclusions organized in such a way as to show the logical flow of the overall argument, and these are mostly in the form of smaller supportive arguments. In other words, these parts together form the traditional division of introduction, body, and conclusion, sometimes divided as beginning, middle, and end. It is in the introduction of your thesis, of course, that the topic under discussion is laid out as a preliminary to the central arguments, and where the thesis is first stated; the conclusion restates this thesis at the end, perhaps in a more exacting way, given the preceding arguments. But it is in the body of the thesis that the main arguments are to be found, and this body forms the bulk of the written argument.

The body of the thesis itself can be subdivided into parts, depending on the type of arguments involved and also on the thoroughness that the arguments require. If a thesis is to be thoroughly argued, however, premises and conclusions must be organized in such a way that they form arguments both for and against the overall argument's thesis. This special structure of a thoroughly argued thesis can take many forms, but a generalized form of this structure is certainly definable and should be studied diligently in order to better grasp its underlying concept.

The Importance And Significance Of A Thoroughly Argued Thesis (TAT)

The most basic structure of a thoroughly argued thesis follows a specific ordering of arguments and is designed to show thorough treatment of a thesis topic.
Thoroughness here requires that arguments both for and against a proposed thesis have the following two essential characteristics: (a) the arguments given for the thesis must be better than those against it, and conversely, (b) the arguments given against the thesis must be refuted or otherwise shown to be insufficient to undermine the thesis. 
The latter requirement usually comes in the form of a counterargument to an objection, often called a rebuttal. The ordered sequence of arguments showing these characteristics may be summarized as follows:
(1) Argument(s) given for the thesis [argued thesis],
(2) Argument(s) given against the thesis [contested thesis],
(3) Argument(s) given against objections to the thesis, thus indirectly for the thesis [defended thesis]
If the two essential characteristics of a thoroughly argued thesis are present in an argument, the thesis can be considered proven.
A schematic view of a thoroughly argued thesis in generalized form is given below:

Thesis stated
Thesis argued
Thesis contested
Thesis defended
Thesis restated

Since there will usually be more than one argument given for a proposed thesis, it is possible to arrange these arguments in the body of the thesis in different ways. 

One way is to list all the arguments given for the thesis first, then list all the objections to each of the arguments, then list all the rebuttals to the objections, all in the same order in which they were given. 

The overall argument would look something like this, where A = argued, C = contested, and D = defended thesis:
A1, A2; C1, C2; D1, D2.
Another way to arrange your arguments is to form these arguments as triplets and list them consecutively like this:
A1, C1, D1; A2, C2, D2; A3, C3, D3.
Either of these argument patterns is acceptable when the number of arguments given is small (two or three). 
When more arguments are involved, it is best to treat arguments as triplets, 
since it is less of a burden on the reader to remember which argument goes with which objection, which objection with which rebuttal, and so on. 

The only rule which must be always kept, however, is that for each argument given, A always comes before C, and C always comes before D. 

For an effective arrangement of arguments, the last argument given should also be the strongest

The Importance And Significance Of Opposing Arguments

IT is important for a thoroughly argued thesis to include opposing arguments as part of its presentation.

The reason for this is that opposing arguments themselves reveal the strength of the arguments given for a proposed thesis in the same way that games test the strength of opposing players: the stronger player eventually prevails over the weaker.

Conversely, if there are no opposing arguments, then the question of the true strength of an overall argument is left unanswered; for example, think of the case of someone who is accused of wrongdoing but is then unable to defend himself.

We naturally want to hear from his side to determine for ourselves whether he can in fact answer the charges against him and refute the claim. Opposing arguments, therefore, have a salutary role to play in a thoroughly argued thesis: they not only provide a necessary test of the claim, but also, if handled successfully, produce a form of closure to the question under discussion.

Closure in an argument is important for your thesis, because it closes any room for doubt concerning the soundness of your conclusion.

Two Sources Of Opposing Arguments

OPPOSING arguments can come from one of two sources: the already known arguments of actual opponents, or the anticipated ones of a hypothetical opponent. When the arguments come from an actual opponent, you must find one or more that are appropriate to the case at hand and then accurately apply these to fit the case as you have presented it. If there are no arguments to be found from others as it applies to your case, you must then invent your opponent and anticipate his arguments as though he were anyone in general.

In this instance you must find objections to your own arguments which are formidable, yet not fatal to your thesis's acceptance by the reader; the difficulty clearly lies in not making these objections weaker than they ought to be, because most people are naturally inclined not to inflict any amount of damage on their own claims, and this is precisely what is required when making arguments against your own thesis.

It is to your own advantage to produce such objections, however, since the reader will also be naturally inclined to consider these same objections as weaker than they may in fact be, even if you present them extremely well, due to the fact that they were already anticipated by you.

Psychologically speaking, the weight of these arguments has already been accounted for in your overall argument, because, in an important sense, you yourself have both produced and rejected these objections.

It would be oddly inconsistent of you if you were both to produce a convincing argument against your thesis and yet reject this argument as ultimately unconvincing. From the reader's perspective your rejection of an opposing argument becomes more significant than your presentation of such an argument, because for the reader, this inconsistency makes no sense. What now comes after your presentation of an opposing argument, that is to say, your rejection of it, is what is actually more conclusive and significant, just as it must be with those who undergo a conversion of belief.

Someone who has converted to another belief has obviously rejected his former belief, yet this former belief is now discredited not because he simply dismisses it out of hand, but precisely because he was once convinced of its truth but is no longer; such rejection is in fact the most powerful form of rejection possible: the rejection of what one once held most dearly. (Indeed, converts are often used to convert others to the same belief using this same principle.)

This is why you always want to include good opposing arguments for your reader to consider, since he must come to the point of seriously entertaining them as true and valid, so that when you finally rebut them later, his rejection of them will be complete and final and not just half-hearted.

But remember: your reader's rejection of the opposing arguments to your thesis will only be half-hearted if your rebuttal of these arguments is itself half-hearted. You must go all out and all the way on this matter--take no prisoners! And never ever leave your reader hanging, unsure of where you stand. Stand tall and firm, confront your opponents head on, and your reader will take you seriously.

Closure Of An Argument

OPPOSING arguments may also provide an excellent way in which to achieve the effect of closure to an overall argument, an effect that is based on a principle discovered by Aristotle in the case of tragedy, that is, on the idea of catharsis or 'purification'.

Opposing arguments, because they dramatically shift the flow of argument by placing the thesis in harm's way, momentarily produce a negative effect on the reader in the sense that now the reader must consider the possibility that what came before may in fact be erroneous.

The reader may not literally feel dread or fear, as he would in the case of a powerful tragedy, but the mere reversal of the flow of the overall argument should at least put the reader in doubt about the state of the thesis, whether it is in fact true or false, and this doubt is surely a negative result.

By then refuting these objections, however, this negative result can be expelled in a cathartic way, once again reversing the flow of argument in the direction of the original thesis; and this last effect of 'purification', followed by the conclusion itself, is a kind of closure to the entire process.

Obviously, one should not be writing arguments as tragedies, or anything resembling a deliberate literary effect; but it is certainly the case that the simple inclusion of opposing arguments (and their rebuttals) within a thoroughly argued thesis has a significant impact on the reception of that thesis. The result should be both conviction and satisfaction on the part of the reader.

Satisfaction is just as important as conviction in the conclusion, because the reader should never feel a conclusion has been compelled, as if by arm-twisting, but should take some satisfaction in the result, too.

And he will take satisfaction in your overall argument only if he firmly rejects the opposing arguments to your thesis and sees their inadequacy to defeat it. It should be clear, then, that opposing arguments are most effective when they are powerful enough to ensure adequate closure of an argument, yet not so powerful as to undermine the thesis. There is perhaps a thin line separating too much power from too little; but by far the most certain way of producing the desired result is by ensuring that the rebuttals of the opposing arguments are as strong as, or stronger than, the opposing arguments themselves.

Your rebuttals of the opposing arguments to your thesis are essentially going to show the depth of your arguments for the thesis. Warning! The Misleading Power of a Powerful Rebuttal. An indication of how powerful rebuttals can be is the case where an argument appears to rest entirely on a critique of an opposing view.

Such rebuttals seem to justify a claim merely by showing that its opposing arguments are false, or at least unconvincing. By showing this, however, it has only been shown that such opposing arguments are false, or unconvincing.

For example, if an opposing argument tries to show that there are reasons not to do a certain action, and it is then shown that those reasons are invalid, the actual result of this rebuttal is not that the action should be done, but that there are no valid reasons not to do it, that is, there is simply no prohibition against doing that action.

In other words, the true result is not an action that should be done, but that nothing affirmative results from this rebuttal; thus we still do not know whether the action should be done; and this purely negative result is therefore different from the purpose of a thoroughly argued thesis: to establish the truth of a thesis. The confusion for the reader lies in his assumption that a lack of opposing arguments can by itself establish the truth of a thesis, even though it cannot.

Simply because someone does not oppose you does not mean that you are right. Keep in mind that when the arguments for a thesis are refuted, the thesis is in fact overturned or defeated, but sometimes when the arguments for a thesis are refuted in a strong way, the reader may be led to believe that its counter thesis has been proven, and that belief is incorrect. A defendant found not guilty in a court of law has not been proven innocent; there is simply insufficient evidence or proof of his guilt, even though he may in fact be guilty.

The legal system allows a person not proven guilty to be exonerated, not because innocence has been proven, but because of a prior presumption of innocence. Remember that you do not want to defeat your opposition simply for the sake of defeating them; you also want to stand for something--your thesis--and your rebuttals merely ensure that your thesis is left standing alone at the end of your argument. If you have nothing to stand for, your rebuttals will gain you nothing.

Two Types Of Opposing Arguments

THE reason why the problem of powerful rebuttals even arises is that opposing arguments are really of two different types. One kind of opposing argument is the refutation of an argument made on behalf of a proposed thesis; this is the kind of argument that directly undermines a thesis. The other kind of opposing argument is an argument which is made on behalf of another thesis that denies the proposed thesis (the counter thesis).

Again, to illustrate these two types of opposing arguments, consider the case of a legal prosecution: the defense can either show that the arguments for the defendant's guilt are invalid or insufficient (using opposing arguments against the prosecution's claim), or provide direct evidence that the defendant could not have done the crime (arguments for the counter thesis to the prosecution's claim), even though in a court of law the defense only needs to do the former successfully, and not the latter, to exonerate the defendant.

In fact, if innocence can truly be proven, the case should have been dismissed outright; otherwise the defense must challenge all of the arguments of the prosecution and show their inadequacy to prove guilt. It follows, therefore, that the corresponding rebuttals to the two types of opposing arguments are also of two types.

A rebuttal must show that each type of opposing argument is invalid or unsound: in the case of the opposing argument functioning as an argument against a proposed thesis, the rebuttal actually preserves the validity of the original argument given for the proposed thesis.

The rebuttal of the opposing argument that supports a thesis denying the proposed thesis (its counter thesis) merely removes the counter thesis from consideration, thus placing no objection in the way of any acceptance of the proposed thesis.

The significance of these rebuttals, then, is that they accomplish two separate results: one reaffirms the validity of the arguments for the proposed thesis against refutation, and the other refutes in turn the arguments for any counter thesis that denies the original thesis. It is only when you rebut arguments for the counter thesis that your reader mistakenly believes that the arguments for the thesis have been reaffirmed; he understands your refutation of the counter thesis as proof of the thesis.

But this would be like saying that because one has not proven God to exist (through the rebuttal to the counter thesis "God exists"), God does not exist. But what is left standing by such an argument is only what has been presumed to be the case; nothing has actually been proven to be the case.

Special Problems In A Thoroughly Argued Thesis

THE three stages of argument in a thoroughly argued thesis, in which that thesis is argued, contested, and finally defended, represent the ideal form of an overall argument. But there are cases where this form fails to produce the desired result of a thoroughly argued thesis. Sometimes a thesis, and also its counter thesis, cannot be established definitively, because the arguments for and against it are of such a nature that both appear to be equally compelling or not compelling. In these cases, the problem often stems from topics that revolve around concepts and not just particular facts.

It is sometimes said that such problems cannot be solved by factual investigation but must instead be dissolved by conceptual analysis. For example, many of the traditional problems in philosophy appear unsolved or unsolvable, such as questions concerning the existence of God, the origins of the universe, freedom and determinism, etc., because the concepts involved are confused or unclear.
In fact, many of these problems have arguments so well established, some hundreds if not thousands of years old, that the arguments have themselves become issues deserving investigation in their own right. Because of these special circumstances, then, different solutions need to be employed to handle such arguments appropriately whenever they occur.

One solution, which assumes that arguments both for and against a given thesis are valid and equally compelling, results in a thesis acknowledging a stalemate. The thesis does not attempt to resolve the issue, only to conclude that no result is satisfactory, and so this thesis itself is deficient in a sense, because every thesis aims at establishing the truth of some claim through reasoning, and that attempt ultimately fails in this case.

For this reason, a stalemate is the most undesirable result for an argument to have. Fortunately, it is best employed in the unusual cases where time and effort have long refused to decide the matter, and these cases have most likely been well documented.

It is not that such issues can never be resolved, but until now they have not, nor likely will be, unless the circumstances which prevent a definitive conclusion change. If the problem arises from conceptual confusion, then usually some conceptual innovation is needed to break the impasse.

In the case of a problem stemming from a dispute over certain facts, new facts are needed to settle the matter, or a better theory in which to explain them. Lacking these solutions, a stalemate will result. This same solution is especially justified when either the arguments for both sides of an issue are extremely weak or the evidence relevant to the issue is scant, unreliable, or unavailable.

Under such circumstances, any conclusion will be equally weak, since a conclusion cannot be better known or more certain than the premises on which it is based, as Aristotle rightly observed.

But the solution as it is employed in these cases is really only tentative, since the situation should be remedied by better arguments, better investigative techniques, or more research, and time will most likely help produce all of these. The other solution to the problem of inconclusive arguments is to find a position which is compatible between the two opposing views, if that is possible.

Here the problem itself appears to be the result of views which are somehow incomplete by themselves. Hence a solution is found by combining both views within a larger view that somehow accounts for each other's deficiencies. This solution is clearly better than a stalemate, because it does in fact produce a concrete result by settling an issue with an answer which can satisfy both sides.

Before such a solution is found, the issue appears unsolvable; but afterwards it may only appear paradoxical, though not necessarily. Unfortunately, this solution can also be extremely difficult to find, and is sometimes found only through serendipity, that is, by a fortunate discovery or innovation.

What Arguments Are Made Of

HOW do arguments actually work, then, considering that every conclusion you make must somehow be derived from either stated or unstated premises? We know by now that arguments proceed from true premises acceptable to the reader towards a conclusion that supports your thesis. And we also know that we must choose our premises so that they are the right premises for our particular argument. Our choice of the right premises, therefore, will fit any of the following argument forms:

Accepted authorities. Accepted authorities have the requisite expertise and knowledge in their chosen field, preferably with a good reputation among their own peers and a likely familiarity to the reader. Such authorities give your arguments added credibility, because they have presumably built their reputation on solid research and therefore act as indirect supporters of your cause. Using direct quotations from such individuals is a good thing, because the closer you can bring the reader to the exact words of these authorities, the better your case will be; consequently, a direct quotation from accepted authorities is better than simply a paraphrase, or even a summary. It is sometimes impossible to add a direct quotation, for example, when such a quote would be too long, or when the idea you wish to express cannot be reduced to a single quotation, and so in these cases you may be forced to substitute a paraphrase or short summary. At any rate, use accepted authorities in your arguments when you can, but don't simply add them as a substitute for your own arguments; after all, you also want to be credited for original research instead of appealing to the original research of others.

Claims consistent with or implied by accepted authorities. If you cannot find a direct quotation from an authority to add to your argument, but this authority nevertheless has something of relevance to contribute, then you may still attribute certain ideas to this authority if what you say is consistent with or implied by what he has already said. Make sure, however, that you at least show how these ideas are consistent or implied, since you do not want to say things that appear to be groundless to the reader.

Examples, actual or hypothetical. Examples are one of the best ways to add vigor to an argument, and may come in one of two varieties: actual or hypothetical. Actual examples can come from everyday life, where some real thing or occurrence best illustrates what you are trying to show or highlight; hypothetical examples are made up by you (or someone else perhaps) in order to do the same thing as actual examples, but these have more possibilities to illustrate a wider range of conditions, because they can be quite fantastic, even absurd, as long as they help show the reasoning of your argument. An actual example of a hypothetical example is Descartes' famous evil demon hypothesis in his Meditations, in which he argued that it was possible for there to be an evil demon who is now deceiving me to believe that what I believe to be true is true, even if it is in fact false, and this deception includes mathematical propositions. This example is meant to show the reader whether there is any belief that could never be false, even under these absurd conditions. He found that there is in fact one such belief that cannot be false, "I think, therefore, I am".

Analogies which parallel phenomenon to be explained. Analogies are important for many arguments, because they try to show that two things which have certain features in common are likely to have other things in common, too; and if one thing has one well-known feature, the other one should have it also, even if it is not immediately apparent to us. A good analogy is like a good metaphor: it shows us one thing as if it were really another, and by doing this, we see an old thing in a new way, thus adding to our knowledge of it.

General statements likely to be accepted by the reader. You are free as a writer to make general statements about anything, so long as it is relevant to your case, the reader would likely accept it, and, of course, it happens also to be true. Sometimes general statements are never actually stated, because they may be considered safe assumptions to make with respect to the reader. Nonetheless, they are often still stated at certain points to make the reader explicitly aware of something that is relevant to what you are about to say, and by stating it openly, the reader will stay properly focused on your argument.

Logical forms, such as modus ponens, modus tollens, and so on. There are deductively valid forms that can be useful to an argument when meticulous reasoning is called for. The two most common forms are called modus ponens and modus tollens. Modus ponens in form looks something like this: If p, then q. p. Therefore, q. As an example, substitute "Socrates is a human being" for p, and "Socrates is an animal" for q. Then the argument will read as follows: If Socrates is a human being, Socrates is an animal. Socrates is in fact a human being; therefore, Socrates is an animal, too. Modus tollens, on the other hand, in form looks like this: If p, then q. Not q. Therefore, not p. If the same example is used, then the argument is as follows: If Socrates is a human being, then Socrates is an animal. Socrates is not an animal; therefore, Socrates is not a human being either. The conclusion of the argument using modus tollens appears to be invalid, because the conclusion is obviously wrong; but this is only the case because the second premise, that Socrates is not an animal, is also wrong. The form itself, however, is valid, just as it is in the first example using modus ponens. In that example, not only is the form valid, but the premises are true. When both these things are the case, an argument is considered to be sound. Both modus ponens and modus tollens are basic logical forms which guarantee that their conclusion is true, if their premises are also true. Although not many writers explicitly use these forms in their written arguments, they are actually used all the time without being formally introduced. Whenever one suppresses an argument's form by not stating all of the premises openly, the argument is called an enthymeme. Enthymemes are more commonly used in written arguments, as they are in everyday life, because most of the premises used are already known (hence assumed), and it would be tedious to make all premises in an argument known.

Facts, either commonly known or demonstrated. Facts are almost always used in arguments, because they make ideal premises. Many arguments depend for their soundness on the accuracy and truth of these facts, so finding the right ones and the right kinds are extremely important. Facts can in general be of two sorts: commonly known facts or demonstrated facts. Commonly known facts are safe to use in an argument, because the reader is most likely to accept them without further evidence to support them. However, demonstrated facts, like those which are the result of scientific investigation, should have their source cited, because they often need to have the backing of some accepted authority, in this case, reputable scientists or organizations employing such scientists (for example, universities). Eventually, many demonstrated facts, once they are firmly established and gain a wide currency, become commonly known facts.

Probabilities. Probabilities and probabilistic reasoning can be a powerful way to arrive at conclusions otherwise difficult to maintain. Probabilities can sometimes be as straightforward as stating that a person with a known history of conduct is likely or not likely to do certain actions, thus proving that he probably did or did not do something under dispute. Such reasoning can be justified on the grounds of likelihood, but it is clearly not infallible. The conclusion is never certain, only probable. The same holds for probabilities determined scientifically or mathematically. Unless one knows exactly how a probability has been determined, however, one cannot know how strong the basis is for the claim, hence the reliability of the conclusion. It is not surprising that studies using probabilities sometimes contradict one another, and the fact that improbable events do occur from time to time (this itself is almost certain) seems to undermine probabilistic thinking. Nevertheless, it does have its place in some arguments, because certainty is not always required in order to accept a conclusion. Conclusions can be probable, too.

Common or traditional sayings, maxims, proverbs. Sometimes an argument will explicitly cite a common saying or maxim in order to show that a certain conclusion is not as novel as it may first appear, because it is in line with a common experience or belief. Sayings or maxims are not always explicitly stated, however, but sometimes hinted at or alluded to, simply because they are so widely known and said. Not many arguments will rely solely on sayings or maxims to prove their conclusion, but they do add spice and charm to an argument which otherwise appears dull or lifeless. They may also give your conclusions a ring of truth.

For better or worse, many sayings often contradict one another, and so one saying can be easily countered by another. Be cautious, therefore, when using sayings, so that it cannot be easily countered by another saying. And remember, too, that a saying taken out of context and put in another results in a similar predicament: it easily slips into a lie.

The Main Reasons And Criteria Used For Developing Types Of Essays

ESSAYS can be categorized in any number of ways. For a thoroughly argued thesis, the most sensible way to categorize essays would be based on the number of views and the relationship of your thesis to some view. We are not interested in whether the arguments are for or against the thesis (these will always be present) but in the orientation of the thesis to some view. The relation between your thesis and its view on a topic will therefore provide us with criteria to develop different types of essays.

Views can be shown to provide three such criteria with which to determine the most important kinds of essays, and each criterion can be chosen in such a way that it produces in total four major types of essays. The criteria that will be used are as follows:
  1. The number of views discussed.
  2. The relation of the thesis to each view, that is, either for it or against it.
  3. Whether the views under discussion are themselves at issue or only part of them.

A view for our purposes will be any position taken on a topic, even if this view appears to coincide with the thesis itself; for example, you might take the view of someone else you wish to argue for.

Rather than saying that the thesis itself is a view, it is more accurate to say that the thesis adopts or rejects a view. In this way, your thesis can stand apart from any particular view, so that even if your thesis should fail, the view in question may still possibly be proven by better arguments.

The distinction between thesis and view is really consistent with the definition of an argument as an attempt to demonstrate some claim to be true, as was stated at the beginning, since your thesis and its argument can obviously fail, whereas its view will always remain intact.

It should be remembered that a thesis is merely one long argument, and the view that it adopts (or rejects) gives the thesis an orientation, that is, it allows the thesis to stand for something and so makes it meaningful to your reader .

Of the three criteria listed above, then, the first one provides the initial division of essay types. Here there are only two possibilities: one view is discussed, or more than one. The reason for this division will be made clear in the next section. Simply understand for now that if there is one view, the second criterion is then applied; if more than one view, the third criterion is applied, instead of the second.

Essays Considering Only One View

LET us consider the first criterion again. If there is only one view to consider, the thesis must obviously have some relation to it, either for it or against it: hence the need for the second criterion. If your thesis is for some view, the essay is called: The Apologetic Essay.

This essay seeks to defend some view against opposing arguments, ultimately concluding in favor of the view that is adopted by your thesis. The view may be the writer's own, or that of someone else, or perhaps a view generally held by many others. It does not matter whether only a part of the view is considered or the view is taken as a whole: the third criterion is irrelevant. What is important here is that your thesis adopt a view and defend it against all opposition; and you can do this in one of two ways.

On the one hand, after giving arguments for your thesis, you may simply address the opposing arguments to any arguments for such a view and rebut them, thus showing that those arguments for the thesis can withstand any opposition.

On the other hand, you may show that the arguments given for the counter thesis are invalid or unsound. As was discussed in the sub-section entitled "The Power of Powerful Rebuttals", this second approach is weaker than the first, because you still haven't given any arguments for your thesis, only arguments against its counter thesis, and so your thesis has not really been proven.

Ideally, you should use both ways of arguing in your essay, since you are really then addressing the two kinds of opposing arguments that can be given against a thesis, and it never hurts to show that any arguments for the counter thesis are invalid or unsound. If you could prove, however, that the counter thesis to your thesis is in fact false, this kind of refutation would also prove your thesis, since your thesis and its counter thesis cannot both be true at the same time. It just so happens, though, that to prove that your thesis is true amounts to the same thing as proving that your counter thesis is false, and vice versa.

Note that the apologetic essay fits the ideal form of a thoroughly argued thesis the best. By having your thesis adopt a view, you are simply following the natural order of argument: arguments for the thesis, arguments against the thesis in the form of objections, and rebuttals to those objections.

If your thesis is against some view, the essay is called: The Critical Essay. This essay seeks to argue against some view. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that this view is the same as the one adopted by the apologetic essay, only that your thesis now rejects this view.

According to the table below, you have now essentially adopted the counter thesis to the apologetic essay's thesis. What this means in practical terms is that you have simply shifted the order of the arguments, so that the arguments against the apologetic essay's thesis are now the arguments for your thesis.
counter thesis
for view
against view
In this table, A = argued thesis, C = contested thesis, D = defended thesis, * = arguments for opposing thesis (thesis or counter thesis). It should be noted that C* is the same as A (light pink boxes) , and D* is the same as C (darker pink boxes) , C* is the same as A (light green boxes) , and D* is the same as C (darker green boxes). If we analyze this table, then, we basically find that in the critical essay we have adopted the apologetic essay's opposing arguments and rejected its arguments for its thesis; hence the claim that we have really adopted the counter thesis to the apologetic essay's thesis.

The only thing you need to keep in mind when you organize your critical essay is that you must always follow the pattern of a thoroughly argued thesis, so that you always finish with a rebuttal to any opposing arguments to your thesis, whatever it happens to be. When we compare the apologetic essay with the critical essay, therefore, we see that they are really complementary types of essays, that is, the one is the opposite of the other, even though they share arguments (what is good for the one is bad for the other). The two types of essays involving only one view are simpler to organize than the remaining two types that will be discussed next, but the critical essay is considered slightly better than the apologetic, because the critical essay emphasizes opposition more than the apologetic, and that alone makes its result appear more significant to the reader.

Essays Considering More Than One View

THE third criterion applies when there is more than one view under discussion. The second criterion no longer applies, since with more than one view, one at most can be argued for, the rest must be argued against. Because of this, there really need be only two views which concern us, the one the thesis adopts and the one (or more) it rejects. Having said that, we must now see how to employ the third criterion, that is, whether the views themselves are at issue or only some part of those views. If the views themselves are at issue, then the essay is called: The Adversarial Essay.

This essay seeks to show that one view is better than another. The views themselves are contrasted as adversaries, with one view seeking to supplant the other. Of course, this can only be done if both views attempt to explain the same thing and cover the same subject-matter. For example, the theory of evolution seeks to replace the theory of creation as a theory of origins, not just in part but entirely, because the former explanation is completely naturalistic in its approach, the latter is not (creation presupposes a non-naturalistic or supernatural origin for things).

How should the writer attempt to do this? Ideally, the arguments for the adopted view must be defended against the opposing arguments of the other view, and the arguments for the other view must be shown to be invalid or insufficient. What minimally needs to be accomplished is that the thesis's own view must remain standing, and the other view's arguments must at the same time fail.

Now if the opposing views are contraries, that is, the truth of the one implies the falsehood of the other, you really only need to show the truth of your adopted view or the falsehood of the opposing view. Note, however, that the opposing view here is like the counter thesis to a thesis. It is possible, however, that the theses adopting either views are in fact invalid or unsound, and so they are not really complementary theses, as thesis and counter thesis must be. In the above example, the theory of evolution is not necessarily a true contrary of the theory of creation, because some third view may in fact be the correct one. In these cases, then, you must not only argue for your view but also against the opposing view; this is why the adversarial essay is more complex and involved that the simpler apologetic or critical essay.

To use the same example again, you may even find that the arguments for both views are so compelling or not compelling, that you choose to adopt a third view like theistic evolution or atheistic creation.

The bottom line here is that the adversarial essay, though appearing to be as involved as essays arguing for both a thesis and its counter thesis, is in theory and practice more complex, because views do not have to be simple opposites.

In the table below, you can see that the adversarial essay is more complex than either the apologetic or critical essay. In fact, the counter theses to either views only provide indirect arguments for the opposing views, because they assume if the counter thesis is true (and thus the adopted thesis is false), the opposing view must also be true. But such a conclusion is not necessary.

Proving that the theory of evolution is false does not imply that the theory of creation is true, unless both theories truly exhaust the possible views under this topic (on the question of origins, that is).
adopted view
counter thesis
for view
against view
for other view
If the views are considered only in part, the essay is called: The Comparative Essay. This essay seeks to show that with respect to some aspect of a several views, one view is better than another view. The views themselves are not the focus, that is, whether one is better than the other, but only a certain part of a view is better: the scope of your analysis has here been reduced considerably.

For example, it may be argued that Aristotle's view of the soul is better able to explain the phenomenon of moral weakness than Plato's view. Obviously, either view of the soul is complex, but only that aspect of each view relevant to the question of moral weakness needs to be considered. Thus, the views are compared with one another only to determine which of them can explain a particular problem better than the other.

The procedure here can be relatively simple: show that the adopted view's arguments explain more than the other view's, and that the other view entails additional problems not found in the adopted view.

Needless to say, you must include and also rebut any opposing arguments from the other view. Because of this limited scope, however, this essay is best suited for smaller essays, and can even explore an interesting issue in sufficient depth to produce a conclusion that is a significant contribution to a problem.

Of the last two remaining essay types, the adversarial and comparative, the comparative is the most frequently chosen, because of its relative ease and reduced scope, whereas the adversarial is more comprehensive and potentially significant, though much more difficult to argue.

Additional Considerations

AS a last word on the subject of essay types, the special problems of a thoroughly argued thesis have a relevance here, too.

It is possible that when dealing with essays considering more than one view, the result may be inconclusive, thus resulting in a stalemate, or some other compatible position between many views.

As said earlier in the section "Special Problems in a Thoroughly Argued Thesis", this result should be avoided, if possible, but it may be necessary in some rare instances. The table below shows an identification schema for the four essay types discussed in previous sections.

The numbers in the gray boxes are the criteria used to produce these essay types. Also note that stalemate and compatible views have been added for completeness.

Strategie: Be Fair To Your Opponent(s)

IT is better to accurately reflect your opponent's view and refute it than to be seen refuting a misrepresentation. There is no advantage to be gained by misrepresenting your opponent, especially if you make his arguments appear less forceful than they actually are, since you clearly open up the possibility that the reader may see this misrepresentation as either intentional deception or evidence of ignorance. Regardless of which impression you leave, it reflects badly on you and could undermine your credibility. Moreover, pitting your own arguments against a much weaker opponent may appear better but does not provide a good test of the strength of your own thesis.

As in any sport or competition, fairness ensures that the best succeed when all participants perform their best unhindered. Keep in mind that the goal of writing arguments is not to persuade at all costs, but only to use the available means of persuasion to the extent that the evidence allows.

Strategie: Concede Some Points To Your Opponent

CONCEDE some points to your opponent, but nothing fatal to your own view or thesis: this shows that you are giving equal consideration to all relevant views and that the issue at hand is not black and white.

It also shows that there is common ground on which agreement can be built and perhaps extended.

Agreement on this common ground forms the basis of rational discussion, and timely concessions can make your argument appear more palatable to the reader, especially if he is inclined not to accept your conclusion at first glance.

Conceding some points may disarm someone who is already defensive, and so there is really nothing to lose by doing this, so long as you do not give your opponent too much room to use the concession against you at some later point.

Strategie: Do Not Ignore Obvious Objections To Your Thesis

DO not ignore obvious objections to your own thesis or the counterarguments of your opponent.

This will weaken your case because the reader may believe you have not or cannot handle them.

The reader will expect you to consider the obvious objections, because they will usually be the most damaging.

It may well be that by not answering these obvious objections, you do more damage than if you made the attempt to acknowledge them, because it is more than likely that your opponent will use those same objections against you later.

Ignorance may be bliss now, but there will be hell to pay later.

Strategie: Do not be a "know-it-all"

DO not answer, or give the impression of answering, everything ("know-it-all"). Defer some questions to others, including your readers. In this way you will acknowledge the intelligence of others, and so engage them more fully in the topic.

There may even be Socratic irony in this approach by resting the more difficult problems on the shoulders of your opponent, especially if a problem is really intractable.

It was part of Socrates' method to show his superiority to his opponents by showing to his audience that his opponents knew even less than he did. Unless you want to be in a similar situation to these opponents, do not give the impression of knowing more than you have a right to claim.

Instead, make your opponent's job more burdensome by forcing him to justify his claims.

If arguments are looked at as the manufacturing of knowledge, then let your opponent do most of the work for you. Socrates did.

Strategie: Do Not Reduce Arguments To Opinions

NEVER reduce an argument to differences of opinion. It defeats the purpose of argumentation, which is to establish firmly the truth of your thesis. Therefore, do not qualify most of what you say with 'I believe', 'I think', 'It seems to me', 'For me', etc..
Such qualifications make your claims look weak, and so the reader will have less confidence in you and your arguments.
Only for the sake of irony should you ever inject opinion in your argument, for example, when you want to underscore a point by understating it, as in the statement "It seems to me my opponent had already admitted as much when he said such-and-such".

In fact, when you intentionally understate a point in this way, you are not injecting an opinion at all, but merely using a seemingly polite way to introduce a damaging rejoinder.

Strategie: Use Connecting Words

USE connecting words which show the logical flow of your argument, for example, words such as "therefore", "nevertheless", "however", "on the other hand", "consequently", "in addition", and so on.

Words such as these are often overlooked, because they seem unnecessary or perhaps too wordy, but for those following an argument carefully, they act as clue words for the flow of the argument.

Knowing at all times where the writer stands on an issue is key to following the argument properly; and words such as "perhaps", "clearly", "likely", "undoubtedly", all reveal the subtle emphasis that the writer wishes to place on the strength of his claims, whereas words like "therefore", "consequently", "as a result", all clearly point out statements which are meant to be taken as conclusions to what came before.

As a reader, you should learn to appreciate these words which act like hints, because in some circumstances your reader will need all the help he can get.

Strategie: Be Aware Of The Impact Of Ad Hominem Arguments

BE aware that some arguments that are really fallacies may still be convincing to the reader, for example, the ad hominem argument, because people generally find those with bad reputations less persuasive or trustworthy than those with good ones.

In certain circumstances, it would even seem natural for the reader to discount evidence that was based on the work of someone who, for whatever reason, has been discredited or where his previous work was found to be based on fraud.

Finding such a person less persuasive, or at least of doubtful repute, is merely the converse of what happens when we trust the judgments or conclusions of those accepted as authorities on a subject.

If one's reputation can be made by excellent research, it stands to reason that it can also be destroyed, if that or some other research by him is later found to be of poor quality or outright false.

In this sense of an ad hominem argument, its use may be justified on the grounds that it is the reciprocal of the use of accepted authorities.

As an example, let's say that your opponent has tried to strengthen his claims by citing the work of someone who has since been found to have produced a shoddy piece of scholarship; in this case you are justified in pointing out this fact to counter such a claim.

The danger with this kind of argument, however, has to do with the very idea of authorities, because we have the tendency to believe them in matters that extend beyond what they have actually done to deserve their good reputation.

Ideally, we are supposed to appeal to what the authority has written or said and has been found to be worthy of consideration, not to the authority as a person who merely believes this or that.

But the line between these two attitudes is vague, and so this vagueness gives the authority a certain aura of infallibility regardless of what he has said or done. We should therefore be somewhat sceptical of accepted authorities and not idolize them, just as we need to be fair to our opponents and not dismiss them out of hand for irrelevant reasons unconnected to their arguments.

For those who have no reputation at all, the temptation may be to try to give them one anyway, especially a bad one if they happen to be opponents: this kind of argumentation is not to be condoned, because it clearly prejudices the case even before it can be made adequately.

In fact, trying to make or break someone's reputation by accusation alone is almost a sure sign that foul play is involved, since no one gives someone a reputation merely by repeating what is said about him.

On the contrary, a reputation is based on what has been done by the person, not what is said about him.

In the case where someone has no reputation, simply let the person speak for himself, and from this let the reader decide who is more deserving of consideration. After all, this is how reputations should actually be made.

Strategie: Use Questions Carefully

USE questions carefully, sometimes to introduce a topic for discussion, sometimes to give you the opportunity to answer a question which the reader might naturally ask.

Do not, however, ask a string of questions the answers to which are assumed to be negative but are only included because you want to deluge your opponent and drown out his position with overwhelming doubts and question marks.

This strategy anybody can employ at will, and is a poor substitute for an argument.

Well-chosen questions, however, can pin an opponent down, especially when you can point out a flaw in his argument that he has not addressed or anticipated; in this case, simply go for a fatal flaw by bringing in one simple but powerful question.

Strategie: Make Sure Your Conclusion Rings True

A conclusion must not only follow logically from its premises, but it must also ring true. This means that if your conclusion, though valid and sound, still sounds contrary to the world of accepted facts, you may also have to account for this discrepancy.

Ideally, your conclusion should ring true, otherwise it may appear too forced or sound like something is not quite right, leading your reader to sense that it is false. Counter-intuitive statements fit this description.

It is not obvious from our own daily experiences, for example, that the earth is moving in space or rotating on its axis, but we have other ways, apart from daily experience, to confirm that this is in fact the case. Lacking these other proofs, a counter-intuitive statement does not ring true.

Do not mistake counter-intuitive statements, however, for unpopular ones, since many unpopular or 'politically incorrect' statements are not counter-intuitive at all, but are objectionable because they upset those who do not in fact like the ring of truth.

Strategie: Develop Arguments Fully And With The Reader In Mind

TAKE the time to develop an argument fully, just as if you were actually speaking to someone in person.

Speaking to someone face to face has the advantage that one can judge immediately whether your listener is having difficulty following you or is getting lost. In writing there is no such advantage, so extra precaution should be made to make your point as lucidly and fully as is necessary for understanding.

Your choice of intended audience will largely determine what you can safely presuppose in terms of knowledge and prejudices; however, the wider the audience the better, therefore presuppose as little as possible.

Obviously, having someone else proof read your paper is a good idea, though you may have to get more than one person to read it to get the best results.

It is perhaps safest simply to follow the exact sequence of argument you yourself made in arriving at your various conclusions.

Strategie: General Definitions Must Be Acceptable, Technical Ones Relevant

WHEN using definitions, decide whether a general definition is needed or a specific, technical one.

Technical definitions, like those defining legal terms such as "person", should only be used if there is some specific point you want to make out of it. If you are defining something generally, make sure it is one that the reader would not likely object to.

The general rule is that definitions, like other elements in an argument, need to be given in such a way that they would be acceptable to the reader, because it is ultimately from these elements that your conclusion will be drawn, correctly or not.

Strategie: Narrow Focus Of Topic By Saying What Will And Will Not Be Discussed

IT is a good idea at the outset of an essay to clarify what will not be discussed or attempted to be shown, just as much as what will be discussed, etc..

This clarification will focus your reader's attention on only those things which are relevant to your proposed thesis, thereby avoiding simple misunderstandings about the scope of your claims. You must not be seen as taking on more than what your evidence will allow.

The reader may not be so charitable as to reasonably understand the extent of your claims, and so a disclaimer of some kind should always be introduced at the start of an argument as a precaution.

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

Strategie: Show That Your Opponent's Position Is Extreme

GENERALLY speaking, when two viewpoints are diametrically opposed as extremes, the right position tends to be viewed as somewhere in the middle: middle positions appear to be fair and closer to the truth, assuming a middle position is possible (as is not the case when the extremes are contradictions).
Therefore, it is easier to persuade the reader of your own position if your opponent's view can be shown to be extreme.

Strategie: Include Conclusions That Are The Same But From Independent Sources

INCLUDE as evidence for your thesis the conclusions of others who have arrived at the same conclusion as you but independently.
People know through experience that if similar views have been held on certain issues by those enquiring independently of one another, the view is likely right, or at least has some element of truth in it.
Of course, the more respected or common the view, the stronger the evidence will be. This is especially true of views held over the passage of time.

This is also why many writers have more than one argument for a particular conclusion instead of only one, since these arguments will often be independent of one another, thus strengthening the overall argument.

Strategie: Distinguish Between Proper And Improper Uses Of Genuine Strategies

EVERY genuine strategy of argumentation has its incorrect application; thus skill in writing arguments requires that you distinguish legitimate applications of certain arguments from illegitimate ones.

Like most skills, this is acquired mostly through acute observation and ample practice. It is an essential skill, however, since it forms a good part of your critique of your opponent's arguments (hence position).

Moreover, you do not want to be committing the same errors that you hope to point out in your opponent, so be doubly sure that you have used a strategy legitimately. For example, when citing the conclusions of others as evidence for your own argument, be sure that those conclusions really do support yours and that whoever made those conclusions are acceptable authorities on the matter (i.e., they have studied the same topic extensively and are considered reliable sources).

The lesson should be clear: if you adopt an illegitimate use of a strategy, you open up your argument to an obvious objection, and you would have been better off not including it at all, since ultimately it will weaken your argument instead of strengthening it.

Strategie: Limit Facts To Relevant Ones

SINCE every argument depends ultimately on the establishment of the facts relevant to the case, it is crucial not only to get the facts correct, but also to put some kind of limit on the facts which are to be considered.

In other words, you must frame the facts so that they show that they are the only facts relevant to the case. For example, sometimes the facts of the case are the possible courses of action for someone under an obligation.

If there are only three such courses of action and you have accounted for them all, no other courses of action will have to be considered or contemplated.

By limiting the facts in this way, you have shown that your analysis is exhaustive and/or comprehensive.

Strategie: Anticipate Your Opponent's Objections As Best As You Can

WRITING assignments are given to students not only to evaluate their ability to think and write well, but also, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular subject.
Therefore, after stating your own thesis, it remains no trivial task to show a competent understanding of your opponent's actual or likely objections to your thesis. Such objections are like worst-case scenarios in the sense that it is up to you to show that your central claim can withstand the most formidable criticisms and remain tenable, if not clearly better than the opposing view. Anticipate your opponent's objections as best as you can, articulating them in the most forceful way possible without making them fatal to your own view.

Strategie: Be Convinced Of Your Own Conclusion

CONSIDER your objective when writing your essay as nothing less than retracing the steps that inevitably led you to believe your conclusion, supplying in the process all the necessary and sufficient information (whether assumptions or facts) to back up that conclusion.
If you yourself are not convinced of your conclusion, the more difficult it will be to sound convincing to others.

Strategie: Distinguish Between What Your Opponent Has Said, Implied, Or Might Say

WHEN laying out the expected objections of your opponent, take care to distinguish clearly for the reader between what your opponent has actually said on the topic, what may be consistent or implied by what your opponent has said, and what your opponent might be expected to say on a different or related topic but has never actually expressed an opinion.

Such distinctions are important to make because you do not want to attribute to your opponent things which were never actually stated, even if they are implied or consistent with what he has said. For example, some claims may be labeled as Platonic because they are merely consistent with what Plato has said, even though Plato himself did not hold those views.

Such subtleties should never be ignored or thought pedantic, because they are evidence, as Aristotle said, of an educated mind, and thus show the reader you can make these distinctions.

You will also avoid the charge of sloppiness, or worse, of misrepresentation.

Strategie: Show Parallel Thinking Between Yours And Another's Argument

STRENGTHEN your own arguments by showing that they parallel those of an accepted authority on the same topic.
Finding close enough parallels in argument can be difficult, however, but your search can be made easier if you can find a good interpretation of an argument that suits your case.
Of course, whatever approach you take, finding a close enough parallel will still involve much thought and is time-consuming.
Nevertheless, parallels in thinking have the same virtue as good analogies: the reader will find your argument more familiar by association, thus more congenial.

Strategie: Every Claim Made Which Cannot Be Safely Assumed Acceptable To The Reader Must Be Argued For

EVERY claim made which cannot be safely assumed acceptable to the reader must be argued for, especially if such a claim is critical to your overall argument.

The result of not doing so is to give the impression of a leap in logic, a gap which, if not filled, will diminish the force of your argument; not only that, but it will give your possible opponents the opportunity to show a weakness in your case.

Strategie: Be critical of all basic assumptions

Be critical of all basic assumptions

Strategie: Be Precise In Your Thinking And Expression

SHOW precision in your arguments both for and against the proposed thesis. Be precise when defining key terms, making references, paraphrasing the arguments of others, etc..

Since the success or failure of your argument will largely depend on the skill with which you carve out your position and carve up your opponent's, precision in writing will give your argument the sharpness necessary to do just that.

Indeed, arguments sometimes hinge on the meaning of this or that term, or on the subtle connotation of this or that word; and precision in thought and language can also prevent your opponent from turning your own argument against itself.

Moreover, precision is a great aid to clarity of expression and shows, too, a subtlety in thought that is universally prized (and appreciated) as firm evidence of mental acumen.

Overall, then, precision cannot be overestimated and should never be underestimated. It is perhaps the cardinal virtue of writing arguments.

Strategie: Consult Primary Sources Over Secondary Ones

WHEN researching a topic involving the views of others, it is always better to consult the primary source of that view rather than a secondary source.

In the case of the great historical figures in a particular field, like Plato or Kant in philosophy, their own writings in the original language will be the primary source, although for each of these figures there should be several good translations into English which would suffice. The important principle here is obvious: it is better to consult a source firsthand than secondhand, because it is better for accuracy and it is also more authoritative. Secondary sources are often just interpretations, some more justifiable than others, even if some purport to be commentaries. It sometimes happens that a commentator will himself consult a well known commentator on the view under discussion, and so leave the reader even further removed from the original source of that particular view.

Like scribal errors in the transmission of written texts, the errors of secondary sources, though they may be unintended, end up corrupting the view under consideration, and such corruption can only undermine the argument that depends on the source.

Sometimes you do want to use a secondary source rather than only the primary one, because the secondary source contains a particular interpretation of a view that would otherwise not be immediately apparent to the reader but which is necessary for the success of your argument.

For example, the views of many ancient thinkers are routinely modernized by interpretations which allow for the advances in learning acquired over the time between the original view and the modern context. This can be legitimate, but familiarity with the primary source is always a necessary companion to such an approach. It is foolhardy to accept any or every interpretation without ever consulting the primary source.

The chances that an interpretation is better known and accepted than the original view is small, and, if anything, you always want the reader to know and accept your premises rather than merely trust your judgment about sources.

Strategie: Do Not Get Sidetracked By Side Issues (Stay Focused)

A common pitfall for those beginning to write arguments is the tendency to get sidetracked by bringing up topics or evidence that are neither relevant nor timely. All arguments given for a proposed thesis must support that thesis in some way, and so if an argument does not support a thesis, how can it be relevant? Evidence that is related to a thesis, or somehow connected to it, does not make it relevant. Only if it supports the thesis is it relevant.
The best way to know if an argument is relevant or not is to understand the thesis thoroughly, that is, you must clearly know what you are ultimately trying to prove. In addition, topics and evidence must be timely, meaning that they should be chosen to fit within the overall argument in such a way that the presentation itself has the force of an argument. For example, introduce your best evidence near the end of the overall argument, because this will make it appear to have even greater force than if that evidence came near the beginning. This is a natural effect: an increasing force is seen as more powerful than a decreasing one. Moreover, arguments can be cumulative in that one builds upon the other, with the result that a certain ordering of arguments is absolutely necessary if the overall argument is to make sense.

If you do not pay attention to how the arguments are ordered in their presentation, the effect is the same as if you had been sidetracked by side issues. The reader will lose the proper focus, and thus the proper effect will be lost, too.


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