Elements of Academic Argument

Argument: What is it?

  • It is a reasoned, logical way of asserting the soundness of a position, belief, or conclusion.
  • It takes a stand—supported by evidence—and urges people to share the writer’s perspective and insights.

Purposes

  1. To convince other people to accept—or at least accept the validity of—your position
  2. To defend your position, even if others cannot be convinced to agree
  3. To question or refute a position you believe to be misguided, untrue, or dangerous without necessarily offering an alternative

To achieve these purposes, argumentation has a formal structure which evolves according to a writer’s interpretation and presentation of evidence.

Elements of an Argumentative Essay

  1. Evidence
  2. Appeals
  3. Nods to and refutation of the opposition
  4. A clear sense of purpose
  5. A clear thesis or claim
  6. A clear sense of audience

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.

Anne McCaffrey

Purposes

  1. To convince other people to accept—or at least accept the validity of—your position​.
  2. To defend your position, even if others cannot be convinced to agree​.
  3. To question or refute a position you believe to be misguided, untrue, or dangerous without necessarily offering an alternative​.

To achieve these purposes, argumentation has a formal structure which evolves according to a writer’s interpretation and presentation of evidence.

Elements of an Argumentative Essay

  1. Evidence​
  2. Appeals​
  3. Nods to and refutation of the opposition
  4. A clear sense of purpose​
  5. A clear thesis or claim​
  6. A clear sense of audience

Other Considerations: Fallacies and Documentation

Fallacies

Statements that may sound reasonable or true but are deceptive and dishonest. The most common are: 

  • Begging the question: assumes in the premise what the arguer should be trying to prove.  This tactic asks readers to agree that certain points are self-evident when they are not. 
    • Ex.:  “The unfair and shortsighted legislation that limits free-trade is clearly a threat to the American economy”
    • No evidence is offered that people behave like rats under these or any other conditions.  
  • False analogy: Asks readers to assume two things are comparable when they, in fact, are not.
    • Ex: The overcrowded conditions in some parts of our city have forced people together like rats in a cage.  Like rats, they will eventually turn on one another, fighting and killing until a balance is restored.  
    • No evidence is offered that people behave like rats under these or any other conditions.  
  • Personal Attack:  Tries to divert attention from the facts of an argument by attacking the motives or character of the person making the argument.  
    • Ex. The public should not take seriously Dr. Mason’s plan for upgrading county health services.  He is a recovering alcoholic and his second wife just left him.
  • Hasty or Sweeping Generalization: when a conclusion is based on too little evidence.
    • Our daughter Maggy really benefited from nursery school; every child should go.
  • Either/Or Fallacy: Assumes only two alternatives exist thought there may be others
    • We must choose between life or death, between intervention and genocide.  There can be no neutral position.  
  • Red Herring: When the focus of an argument is changed to divert the audience from the actual issue
    • Ex. The mayor has proposed building a new baseball-only sports stadium.  How can he even consider allocating millions to this irresponsible scheme when so many professional baseball players have drug problems?
  • Appeal to Doubtful Authority: Citing people who may have name recognition but no authority on an issue.
    • Ex. According to the late Joey Ramone, interest rates will remain low during the next fiscal year. 
  • Misleading statistics: a misrepresentation or distortion of statistics.
    • Ex. Women will never be competent firefighters; after all, 50% of the women in the city’s training program failed the exam.  
    • The writer has neglected to mention that there were only two women in the program. Because this stats is not based on a large enough sample, it iunreliable
  • Post hoc reasoning
  • Non sequitur
  • See Michael Fumento’s Article for an example of an argumentative essay directed at debunking bad science, http://www.fumento.com/outlooksci.html

Documentation

  • All points in your paper must be supported and all of your evidence must be documented. If you don’t document your sour sources your readers are likely to dismiss your evidence as inaccurate, unreliable, or false. Documentation gives readers the ability to judge the sources you cite and to consult them if they wish. When you document your sources you are telling readers that your are honest and have nothing to hide.
  • You don’t have to document every idea in your paper. Common knowledge can be presented without documentation. The trick is figuring out what is common knowledge.  

 

Argument is a reasonedlogical way of asserting the soundness of a positionbelief, or conclusion. 

It takes a stand—supported by evidence—and urges people to share the writer’s perspective and insights.

Elements of an Argumentative Essay