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Clarity of argument

Argument is not verbal combat, but a means to cooperate with others in finding and testing good solutions to tough problems. Bad arguments can divide us, but good ones strengthen the fabric of our communities -- civic, academic, professional -- by helping us justify not only what we think and do, but why others might have good reason to do the same. But even when our arguments fail to achieve agreement, they succeed if they help us explain why we and others differ, in a way that creates mutual understanding and respect.

--Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb, Craft of Argument

Before you begin any writing that you will share with others, you must decide what your purpose is in communicating with your audience. Are you writing to entertain, to inform, to persuade, to provide new insights, or do you have multiple purposes? For example, although the main purpose of fiction writing is to entertain, some writers may also want to inform their readers about significant social, economic, or biological issues. Barbara Kingsolver does this in her book Prodigal Summer; Kingsolver crafts a compelling argument against the use of pesticides in small-scale farming and she delivers this argument through a series of conversations between two belligerent neighbors.
In non-fiction writing, we cannot rely on dialogue to make compelling arguments, but we should think about our argument as part of a broader conversation. Review the six slides in the following PPT presentation, created by the Duke University Writing Studio, on making an argument.

The fundamental components of an argument are claims, reason, and evidence. Your argument should have a main claim, but can also have several sub-claims that relate to the main claim. To support your claim, you should have reasons and evidence. I encourage you to work though the rest of the previous PPT presentation to gain a deeper understanding of how readers judge claims, reasons, and evidence in an argument.

Finally, I suggest that you take a few minutes to analyze the argument you made in your latest paper.

1. What is your main claim? Do you have any subclaims? Do the subclaims directly relate to the main claim?

2. Is your claim specific? Is it contestable? Is it significant?

3. What reasons do you have for believing your claim?

4. What evidence do you base these reasons on?

5. Will your readers judge your evidence to be strong? (see slide 24)

If you cannot answer each of these questions, you may need to spend some time refining your argument.