Understand how to make and refute arguments. Learn how to analyze a Web site from a rhetorical perspective. Identify a place to publish your work online.
Appeals to persona, appeals to emotions, and appeals to logic–these three appeals, as outlined by Aristotle and described below, are used with varying degrees of success and emphasis to persuade people. Persuasive arguments targeting critical readers tend to be thoroughly grounded in logic.
Examine a subject from a rhetorical perspective. Identify the intended audience, purpose, context, media, voice, tone, and persona.Writers bring focus to their arguments by summarizing their argument in a sentence or two. As determined by the context for their argument, writers provide these thesis statements in their introductions or their conclusions.
It’s true that some arguments are won on appeals to emotion. But ultimately, an argument needs to be based on reason. You need to conduct research to find the facts, opinions, and research that support your claim.Reading sample arguments can help you find and adopt an appropriate voice and persona. By reading samples, you can learn how others have supported claims with evidence.Below are some additional suggestions for developing your argument.
Introduce the Topic
Before attempting to convince readers to agree with your position on a subject, you may need to educate them about the topic. In the introduction, explain the scope, complexity, and significance of the issue. You might want to mention the various approaches that people have taken to solve the problem.
Note: It is not always easy to determine which ideas your readers will take for granted and which ones they are likely to question. Even professional writers may have difficulty deciding which aspects of the topic they need to highlight and which they can assume the reader already knows. Reading other peoples’ arguments on the same topic can give you a sense of what background information you need to define. You may need to write several drafts before you can decide what information you can omit and what information is critical to provide. In addition, you should fight the tendency to cling to evidence you discovered early in your investigation that has been contradicted or made obsolete by more comprehensive, updated research.
A discussion of background information and definition of terms can constitute a substantial part of your argument when you are writing for uninformed audiences, or it can constitute a minor part of your argument when you are writing for more informed audiences.
Before asserting a claim, nearly all of the sample arguments provided in Readings present the context for argument. Note, for example, how Sandra Serrano used the first two paragraphs of her essay to place the use of “he/she” in the context of the Women’s Movement of the 1960s. Her introduction thus established her topic as both worthy of consideration and a point of conflict.
Or note how Paul Klite summarizes factors that may have contributed to the Columbine High School tragedy before introducing his explanation–that media violence is an important contributor to “the culture of violence”:
In the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in Colorado, a broad national debate has developed to intervene in the American “culture of violence.” Many fingerprints are on the proverbial trigger — inadequate parenting; the availability of guns; alienation of youth; mental illness; school security; manipulative violence in film, video games, television, the Internet and pop music.
Let us also include the contribution of television news to this toxic stew. More than society’s messenger, more than a mirror of reality, the electronic communication media collect and concentrate the planet’s woes and deliver them into our living rooms each night.
Arguments are driven by claims. The claims can be about:
- Facts (Females are better mathematicians than males).
- Cause-and-Effect Relationships (Media violence creates a “culture of violence” in America).
- Solutions (Vegetarian diets are healthier and easier on the environment).
- Policies (Students who plagiarize should be expelled).
- Value (It’s unethical to hurt animals to conduct medical research).
As discussed below, claims are typically presented near the beginning of arguments, but they can also be implied or presented in the conclusions of the texts.
Appeal to Persona
As described by Aristotle, the credibility of the person making the argument has an effect on the success of an argument. If the person has a reputation as a credible source, his or her argument appears more persuasive. Ideally, the person making the argument has the best interests of his or her readers in mind.
Today’s reader’s are extremely skeptical–perhaps even jaded. The constant bombardment by advertisers has enhanced our ability to ignore claims. In many ways, we have lost faith in our leaders and businesses, grouping them, perhaps, in the same category as “used car salespeople.” On the national level, President Clinton’s debating the definition of the word “is” or “sex” eroded our faith in politicians. Anderson Consulting’s illegal cooking of the books at Enron, WorldCom’s lying about a four-billion-dollar accounting error, Xerox’s lying regarding a 6.4-billion-dollar accounting error –these are recent examples of credible sources who have acted in immoral or illegal ways.
Nonetheless, the persona you project as a writer plays a fundamental role in the overall success of your argument. Your opening sentences generally establish the tone of your text and present to the reader a sense of your persona, both of which play a tremendous role in the overall persuasiveness of your argument. By evaluating how you define the problem, consider counterarguments, or marshal support for your claims, your readers will make inferences about your character. When your readers are aware of your good reputation, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Most academic readers are put off by zealous, emotional, or angry arguments. No matter how well you fine-tune the substance of your document, the tone that readers detect significantly influences how the message is perceived. If readers dislike the manner of your presentation, they may reject your facts, too. If you do not sound confident, your readers may doubt you. If your paper is loaded with spelling errors, you look foolish. No matter how solid your evidence is for a particular claim, your readers may not agree with you if you sound sarcastic, condescending, or intolerant.
Occasionally writers will hide behind a persona. Their reasons for hiding may be totally ethical. For example, in Joseph Scaglione’s Into the Wilderness–Victimization and the Criminal Justice System, he does not tell readers that he lost a daughter to a drunk driver, fearing readers would dismiss his argument as idiosyncratic.
Appeal to Emotions
While appeals to emotions are generally frowned upon in traditional academic arguments, speakers and writers still use them because of their persuasive power. Advertising seeks to invoke your emotions and capture your attention because advertisers know people make some decisions based on emotion rather than reason.
We all tend to perceive certain situations subjectively and passionately—particularly situations that involve us at a personal level. Even when we try to be objective, many of us still make decisions based on emotional impulses rather than sound reasoning. Those who recognize the power of emotional appeals sometimes twist them to sway others. Hitler is an obvious and extreme example. His dichotomizing—”You’re either for me or against me”—and bandwagon appeals—”Everyone knows the Jews are inferior to true Germans”—helped instigate one of the darkest chapters in human history.
Additional emotional appeals include:
- Appeals to authority (According to the EPA, global warming will raise sea levels).
- Appeals to pity (I should be allowed to take the test again because I had the flu the first time I took it).
- Personal attacks on the opposition, which rhetoricians call ad hominem attacks (I wouldn’t vote for that man because he’s a womanizer).
Like arguments based solely on the persona of the author, arguments based solely on appeals to emotions usually lack the strength to be completely persuasive. Most modern, well-educated readers are quick to see through such manipulative attempts. For example, after Americans and others in the international community established a blockade of Iran during the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried to ignite religious fanaticism and class hatred. He called on the Arab countries to establish a Holy War to drive out the Americans. And he even called on Iranians, with whom his country had fought a bitter war for nearly ten years, to “deter all those fishing in dirty waters and cooperate to turn the [Persian] Gulf into a lake of peace free of foreign fleets.” Describing the Americans as impure infidels tainting the Holy Lands and calling for Arabs to rally around a higher cause—the preservation of Mecca and the Arab way of life—was a purely emotional tactic. Fortunately, most of the Arab world turned their back to Hussein’s emotional appeals because they remembered Hussein’s cruelty to his Arab brothers and sisters, and they remembered that Hussein had led an anti-Moslem campaign when fighting Iran.
Emotional appeals can be used to persuade readers of the rightness of good causes or imperative action. For example, if you were writing an essay advocating a school-wide recycling program, you might paint an emotional, bleak picture of what our world will look like in 50 years if we don’t begin conserving now. Ultimately, however, emotional appeals by themselves lack persuasive force.
To achieve the non-threatening tone needed to diffuse emotional situations, avoid exaggerating your claims or using biased, emotional language. Also, avoid attacking your audience’s claims as exaggerated. Whenever you feel angry or defensive, take a deep breath and look for points in which you can agree with or understand your opponents. When you are really emotional about an issue, try to cool off enough to recognize where your language is loaded with explosive terms.
If the people for whom you are writing feel stress when you confront them with an emotionally charged issue and have already made up their minds firmly on the subject, you should try to interest such reluctant readers by suggesting that you have an innovative way of viewing the problem. Of course, this tactic is effective only when you can indeed follow through and be as original as possible in your treatment of the subject. Otherwise, your readers may reject your ideas because they recognize that you have misrepresented yourself.
Appeal to Logic
Critical readers expect you to develop your claims thoroughly. By examining the point you want to argue and the needs of your audience, you can determine whether it will be acceptable to rely only on anecdotal information and reasoning or whether you will also need to research facts and figures and include quotations from established sources. Personal observations have their place, say, in an argument about staying in athletic shape. But an anecdotal tone is unlikely to be persuasive when you address touchy social issues such as terrorism, gun control, pornography, or drugs.
Despite the forcefulness of your emotional appeals, you need to be rational if you hope to sway educated readers. Trained as critical readers, your teachers and college-educated peers expect you to provide evidence—that is, logical reasoning, personal observations, expert testimony, facts, and statistics. Like a judge who must decide a case based on the law rather than on intuition, your teachers want to see that you can analyze an issue as “objectively” as possible. As members of the academic community, they are usually more concerned with how you argue than what you argue for or against. Regardless of your position on an issue, they want to see that you can defend your position logically and with evidence.
At some point in your essay, you may need to present counterarguments to your claim(s). Essentially, whenever you think your readers are likely to disagree with you, you need to account for their concerns. Elaborating on counterarguments is particularly useful when you have an unusual claim or a skeptical audience. The strategy usually involves stating an opinion or argument that is contrary to your position, then proving to the best of your ability why your point of view still prevails.
When presenting and refuting counterarguments, remember that your readers do not expect your position to be valid 100 percent of the time. Few people think so simplistically. Despite the forced choices that clever rhetoricians present, few subjects that are worth arguing about can be reduced to yes, always, or no, never. When it is pertinent, therefore, you should concede any instances in which your opponents’ counterarguments have merit.
When considering likely counterarguments, you may want to elaborate on which of your opponent’s claims about the problem are correct. For example, if your roommate’s messiness is driving you crazy but you still want to live with him or her, stress that cleanliness is not the be-all-and-end-all of human life. Commend your roommate for helping you focus on your studies and express appreciation for all of the times that he or she has pitched in to clean up. And, of course, you would also want to admit to a few annoying habits of your own, such as taking thirty-minute showers or forgetting to pay the phone bill. Rather than issuing an ultimatum such as “Unless you start picking up after yourself and doing your fair share of the housework, I’m moving out,” you could say, “I realize that you view housekeeping as a less important activity than I do, but I need to let you know that I find your messiness to be highly stressful, and I’m wondering what kind of compromise we can make so we can continue living together.” Yes, this statement carries an implied threat, but note how this sentence is framed positively and minimalizes the emotional intensity inherent in the situation.
You will sabotage your hard-won persona as an informed and fair-minded thinker if you misrepresent your opponent’s counterarguments. For example, one rhetorical tactic that critical readers typically dislike is the straw man approach, in which a weak aspect of the opponent’s argument is equated with weakness of the argument as a whole. Unfortunately, American politicians tend to garner voter support by misrepresenting their opponent’s background and position on the issues. Before taking a straw man approach in an academic essay, you should remember that misrepresenting or satirizing opposing thoughts and feelings about your subject will probably alienate thoughtful readers.
Search for a Compromise and Call for a Higher Interest
Occasionally–particularly in emotionally stressful situations–authors extensively develop counterarguments. Some problems are so complex that there simply isn’t one solution to the problem. Under such circumstances, authors may seek a compromise under a call for a “higher interest.” For example, if you were writing an editorial in an Israeli newspaper that called for setting aside some of the Gaza territory for an independent Palestinian state, your introduction might sympathetically explore all of the Israeli blood that has been lost since the Gaza was seized in the Seven Day War. Then you could address the “eye-for-an-eye” mentality that has characterized this problem. Perhaps you could soften your readers’ thoughts about this problem by mentioning the number of Arabs who have died. Once you have developed your claim that some land should be set aside for the Palestinians, you might try to explore some of the “common ground” and call for Israelis and Arabs to seek out a higher goal expressed by both Jewish and Muslim peoples—that is, the desire for peace.
Speculate About Implications in Conclusions
Instead of merely repeating your original claim in the conclusion, you should end by trying to motivate your audience. Do not go out with a whimper and a boring restatement of your introduction. Instead, elaborate on the significant and broad implications of your argument. The wrap-up is an excellent place to utilize some emotional appeals.
In a single glimpse, visuals can encompass an entire argument, even a book-length, complex argument. Use visual language to impact readers at an emotional level–but be careful. Visuals are powerful, reaching us–at times–in ways words cannot. Thus, it’s possible for images to be so overwhelming that your readers turn away, perhaps ignoring your evidence and reasoning. Perhaps, for example, PETA should not provide images of tortured mice in “The Necessity of Equality: Protection for Birds, Mice, and Rats Under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.” Perhaps these gruesome images should be shifted to PETA’s Photo Gallery or Watch the Video, giving readers choice. Alternatively, if PETA assumes that its audience already agrees with their position, then perhaps the gruesome images are called for. Perhaps their primary audience is animal activists and their goal is to motivate the activists to fight harder or make more financial contributions.
According to classical rhetoric, after educating readers about the complexity of the subject that you are addressing, you should establish your thesis—that is, your primary claim about the topic. Thereafter you marshal evidence to support your claim, using examples. Many writers follow the advice of classical rhetoricians: They define their purpose and claim in their introductions and then marshal suitable evidence. Consider, for example, how the ACLU blasts Attorney General John Ashcroft in its first sentence:
Attorney General John Ashcroft has gutted restrictions on the FBI’s spying on domestic religious and political organizations. The new guidelines loosen some of the most fundamental controls on the conduct of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and represent yet another civil rights casualty of the Bush Administration’s war on terrorism.
Note, for example, that Senator McCain presents his argument in his first sentence:
- Mr. President, I rise today to introduce The Children’s Internet Protection Act, which is designed to protect children from exposure to sexually explicit and other harmful material when they access the Internet in school and in the library.
Because modern readers are much better educated and more informed about issues, however, the classical rhetorical approach of presenting your argument up front is not always your wisest choice. In other words, you do not always need to organize your arguments deductively—that is, by stating a general claim in the introduction and then marshaling examples to support it.
If your audience is not likely to agree with you, you may want to wait as long as possible—perhaps even until the conclusion—before revealing your opinion. This alternative approach could be called an inductive organization because it moves from specific examples to a general conclusion. You should consider an inductive structure to your argument when your audience is likely to be threatened by your subject or your position on it.
As examples of an inductive organization, consider Leslie Milne’s To Be or Not to Be Single. In her introductory passages, Milne celebrates the advantages of being single. It truly isn’t until her conclusion that she argues marriage is preferable to being single for “the majority of people.”
Changing people’s minds can be a Herculean task. Unless worded carefully, arguments can quickly go astray, resulting in emotional, off-topic behavior. Thus, it is particularly important that you use unambiguous, concrete language. appeal to the reader’s senses. relate the subject or concept to information that the reader already understands, moving from given to new information.
To help readers appreciate the urgency or significance of a topic, writers use metaphor. For example, throughout Into the Wilderness–Victimization and the Criminal Justice System, Joseph Scaglione characterizes the criminal justice system as a “wilderness” that victimizes Americans while protecting criminals. In TV News and the Culture of Violence Paul Klite describes media violence as one ingredient of the “toxic stew” that is destroying America. Senator John McCain suggests the Internet is a wolf in sheep’s clothing–a Trojan wolf that spreads pornography into our schools (see Senator John McCain’s Statement regarding Children’s Internet Protection Act).
Finally, consider this strong language from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which equates the organization’s battle with opposing animal right activists as a war:
- Animal rights activists are becoming increasingly sophisticated and aggressive in their efforts to stop researchers from working with animals, and they are currently winning the war, according to the speakers at a recent meeting convened at AAAS.
- “It is clear that we are losing ground,” said Mark S. Frankel, who directs the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program of the AAAS Directorate for Science and Policy Programs, which organized the 21 May meeting of the Professional Society Ethics Group (PSEG).
- “Animal rights groups are intimidating researchers, funders, and corporate officials. Our job is to reach out to teachers, students, members of the policy community, and the media to condemn their activities.”
To encourage readers to think about issues, writers often ask questions. Consider, for example, how the author of this piece against vivisection stimulates your curiosity by asking a question:
- Many people are opposed to animal experiments for trivial products such as beauty cosmetics, but are less sure about ‘medical’ experiments. This is understandable, for we all want to see medical progress.
- But are experiments on animals really necessary for progress?
In Eric Francis’ text on global warming, he grabs your attention with this hook, the first sentence to his piece:
What does it mean that every time the leaders of industrialized nations gather to discuss business, they must be sequestered inside fortresses of concrete and barbed wire, guarded by thousands of riot police?