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Argumentative Techniques

The techniques of argument are not foreign to you. You use them and have used them all the time in your daily life. For example, it's Friday night and you ask your Dad for the keys to the car. His reply is, "Why should I?" You then have to argue or persuade him to let you have the keys. What you may not be as familiar or comfortable with is making arguments in writing.

It is important to realize that REASONS ARE THE FOUNDATION OF ANY ARGUMENT! Beyond "making your point and supporting it," what more can you do to "craft" a persuasive argument? Remember our analogy of the courtroom lawyer for your job as an argumentative writer. The courtroom lawyer doesn't just present evidence and reasons in any order. He or she thinks about how the case might be most persuasively presented. While making his or her case, the lawyer (writer) could use any of these argumentative approaches:

Theorize about causes and effects
Present arguments based upon analogy, precedent, or example
Assert fact
Assert shared beliefs or values
Cite an authority

One could easily take a whole course in argumentative writing, and I do not want to overwhelm you with too much. Instead, I would like to present you with two argumentative techniques that if incorporated into your essay will make your writing more persuasive and effective. These techniques are "Focus and Emphasis" and "Point-Counterpoint."

Focus/Emphasis:

When using this technique, you present one reason as being the strongest and most important, and you spend more time developing and emphasizing it. Perhaps you have three or five good reasons for your position. By focusing and emphasizing one, you give your argument something like a left hook a boxer saves for his opponent. Also, it is best to present the strongest reason last so that you leave your reader with your strongest argument freshest in his or her mind.
Below are two examples of topic sentences setting up the last body paragraph of an essay. Each signals focus and emphasis. Notice how the character of the argument would be different depending upon which reason is emphasized.

Example 1: Last, and most importantly, we need to continue funding for the space program because space is our last frontier and questing to reach into the unknown is part of the American spirit. (Focusing and emphasizing this reason in the last body paragraph of the essay would give this essay a strong emotional appeal.)

Example 2: Finally, and most compellingly, funding for the space program must be continued because important scientific knowledge is gained from space. (The presentation of this last reason would provide the essay with a logical and practical appeal.)

Thinking carefully about the sequencing of your Primary Supports puts a "spin" or accent on your argument.

Point/Counterpoint (Concession-Refutation):

Point/Counterpoint (sometimes called "concession-refutation) is an extremely persuasive and effective technique for arguing. To do Point-Counterpoint, the writer first "fairly summarizes" or even partially accepts (concedes) an opponent's argument. Then the writer REFUTES this argument with an argument of his or her own.

Let me illustrate point-counterpoint in another way. Most of us have been exposed to this technique if we have ever been approached by a salesperson trying to make a cold call quick sell. These salespersons are trained in how to "overcome objections." For example, you are sitting at home minding your own business when the phone rings and you have this conversation:


"Hello," you say.
"Hello, Mr. Jones. This is Tom with the Daily News. Would you like to get a subscription to our paper?" says the salesman.
"No," you reply. "We don't have the spare money right now."
"Well, Mr. Jones. I can certainly understand not having enough money. Times are tight these days and money doesn't go as far as it used to. But did you know that with all the coupons in the Sunday edition alone you could save fifty dollars a week. Plus, with this one time offer, you will receive a 10% discount off the normal subscription rate," says the salesman.

Notice what happened in this exchange. The salesman acknowledged the other person's argument, but then tried to overcome it with counterarguments of his own. This "point-counter" point technique is disarming to your opponents and extremely effective.

This technique is effective because with it you communicate to your reader that you understand both sides of the issue. It makes you sound more credible and knowledgeable on the topic and therefore more believable. You also anticipate your reader's objections and overcome them before he or she has a chance to think them. If your argument was only "one sided" and did not acknowledge or address any opposing arguments to your own, the reader might think about these opposing arguments with a question mark in his or her head. Your reader will be less convinced because he or she will still have those questions in mind.

Here are some examples of Point-Counterpoint:

Example 1: Although the space program yields important scientific discoveries, the cost in dollars and diverted resources does not make these discoveries worth the high price.

Example 2: Some argue that the space program costs too much, saying that the price for scientific discoveries made by the program are too high. However, the worth of many of these discoveries does not always come in the form of immediate monetary return. What price can we put on learning how to save the ozone layer?

Example 3: (from the TV violence topic)
Some believe that the current warning messages are enough, but excessive violence is still being shown. The ax-murderers, gangsters, rapists and serial killers still fill the TV screen, and many times parents aren't home to prevent their children from watching it. The government is needed to get this trash off the screen.

Notice that the refutations are signaled with transition words like "however," "but," or "although."

No single right way exists for addressing opposing views in an argument essay. You may be confused about how to do it, so let me make some suggestions.

  • You could begin each body paragraph with an opposing view, and then make the contents of that paragraph be the counterpoint to that opposing view.
  • You could have two of your paragraphs present reasons for your position, and then in the third, summarize an opposing view and counter it.
  • You also could have a point-counterpoint inside the secondary support of a paragraph.

REMEMBER that when you do point-counterpoint, you fairly summarize an opposing view and always follow that summary with your counterargument which refutes that opposing view.


 

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