Provide several examples of what unfair or illogical evidence in an argument is. To discuss this question students will break into small groups and talk about their own experiences. Regroup after a couple of minutes and discuss what constitutes effective evidence, what makes evidence reliable and objective. Students will be asked to provide examples of reliable and unreliable evidence sources.
When you read, ask yourself questions like “What is the author trying to prove?” and “What is the author assuming I will agree with?” Do you agree with the author? Does the author adequately defend her argument? What kind of proof does she use? Is there something she leaves out that you would put in? Does putting it in hurt her argument? As you get used to reading critically, you will start to see the sometimes hidden agendas of other writers, and you can use this skill to improve your own ability to craft effective arguments.
When beginning to write a paper, ask yourself, “What is my point?” For example, the point of this handout is to help you become a better writer, and we are arguing that an important step in the process of writing effective arguments is understanding the concept of argumentation. If your papers do not have a main point, they cannot be arguing for anything. Asking yourself what your point is can help you avoid a mere “information dump.” Consider this: your instructors probably know a lot more than you do about your subject matter. Why, then, would you want to provide them with material they already know? Instructors are usually looking for two things:
One way to strengthen your argument and show that you have a deep understanding of the issue you are discussing is to anticipate and address counterarguments or objections. By considering what someone who disagrees with your position might have to say about your argument, you show that you have thought things through, and you dispose of some of the reasons your audience might have for not accepting your argument. Recall our discussion of student seating in the Dean Dome. To make the most effective argument possible, you should consider not only what students would say about seating but also what alumni who have paid a lot to get good seats might say.
One stylistic point: it is probably more true of the argumentative essay than it is of the other kinds of essays that we must be very careful of transitions, the devices we use to move from one point to another, to hold ideas together for comparison's sake, to create and organize landmarks along the path of our thinking. Before writing an argumentative essay, it might be a good idea to review the section on . (Later, we will see transitional devices at work in a sample argumentative essay.)
At least once during the course of writing your essay, isolate what you consider to be your thesis. Is your proposition both arguable and reasonable? If it is obvious (i.e. Mary Rowlandson used the Bible for comfort during her captivity) you don’t have an argument. Argument requires analysis (i.e. taking things apart and explaining them). One test that may help is asking yourself what the opposite "side" of your argument would be. A good, complicated thesis (which was proposed by one of your classmates) is that "Although Mary Rowlandson says she often used the Bible as a source of comfort during her captivity, a closer reading of her narrative suggests her faith may have been more troubled by her experience than she lets on." One useful structure for writing thesis statements is the "although" form used above: "Although x seems to be true about this piece of literature, y is in fact more true (or makes our thinking about x more complex)." In this form you present both sides of your argument at once and show which side you’re on. Your job in the paper is to convince your reader to join you. Another way to write an effective thesis statement is to use the form "If we look closely at x (e.g. how Bradford defines freedom) we discover y (that ).
A presentation on the three elements of an effective argument was helpful to help frame how to create effective arguments for each of the multiple perspectives represented by the council and citizens in their scenario.
In the end, this lesson builds essential background knowledge for students about the elements of effective arguments through classroom discussion and small-group work.