- To teach you to state your case and prove it in a clear, appropriate, and lively manner
- To teach you to structure your thinking.
This TIP Sheet addresses the following steps common to any kind of non-fiction writing:
Do you know what your essay argument will be? After you have completed critical reading for your essay, decide which line you will take. If you find it hard, sit down with a friend and try to explain your viewpoint to them, which can help you clarify your thoughts.
In an essay, you will back up each argument (or point within an argument) by supporting it with evidence. Your evidence can be taken from printed primary and secondary sources (manuscripts, journals, books), web pages, transcriptions of interviews or film clips, the results of experiments, or questionnaires and other survey work. If you can only find one piece of evidence then that is all you can use. If there is so much material that you could fill a book, choose the strongest piece.
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 you are summarizing opposing arguments, be charitable. Present each argument fairly and objectively, rather than trying to make it look foolish. You want to show that you have considered the many sides of the issue. If you simply attack or caricature your opponent (also referred to as presenting a “straw man”), you suggest that your argument is only capable of defeating an extremely weak adversary, which may undermine your argument rather than enhance it.
…claim to be an expert if you’re not one
- Jot down several good reasons why you support that particular side of the argument.
- Look at the reasons you provided and try to argue with yourself. Ask: Why would someone disagree with each of these points? What would his/her response be? (Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine that you’re having a verbal argument with someone who disagrees with you.)
- Think carefully about your audience; try to understand their background, their strongest influences, and the way that their minds work. Ask: What parts of this issue will concern my opposing audience the most?
- Find the necessary facts, evidence, quotes from experts, etc. to refute the points that your opposition might make.
- Carefully organize your paper so that it moves smoothly from defending your own points to sections where you argue against the opposition.