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Brainstorming on an Argument/Persuasion Topic

Orienting Yourself to the Essay Topic First

The first thing to do when approaching an argument/persuasion topic is to identify the difference between the SUBJECT-ISSUE-and POSITION.

The SUBJECT is what something is about. It is general and broad like a category and covers a lot of things. A subject itself is not controversial--it just is. These are some examples of SUBJECTS:

TV Violence

An ISSUE is a topic or problem related to this subject. It is typically controversial and has a number of different sides or possible solutions. An issue is debatable and stirs argument because not all people agree on a particular position or solution. Here are some examples of ISSUES:

Subject: Education --- --- Issue: Should tuition vouchers be given to parents to choose what school they want their child to attend?

Smoking ---------------- Should smoking be banned from all public places?

TV Violence ------------ Should the government limit the amount of violence shown on TV?

The POSITION is your point of view or opinion about the issue. What do you think about the issue? What side of the debate do you favor? In an argument/persuasion essay, your position is your "thesis." It is the point which you are going to defend. Here are some examples of position statements:

Education ----- I support giving parents tuition vouchers.

Smoking ---------- Smoking should be banned from all public places.

TV Violence ----- I am opposed to the government limiting the violence shown on TV.

The trickiest and most crucial part of approaching an argument/persuasion topic is clearly understanding the issue. Below are some examples of misinterpreted issues:

1) Correct Issue: Should the government limit the amount of violence shown on TV?

Misinterpreted: Should the amount of TV violence be limited.
(the real issue is whether the government should limit or not)

Off topic position: TV violence must be limited.
On topic position: I support government regulation of TV violence.

2) Correct Issue: Should a city ordinance be passed banning smoking in all restaurants?

Misinterpreted: Should smoking be banned in all public places?
(the real issue involves the narrower issue of smoking in restaurants)

Off topic: I do not think a law should be passed to prevent people from smoking in public places.
On topic: San Antonio needs to pass a city ordinance banning smoking in all restaurants.

Clearly defining your issue (what's at stake) will help you clarify exactly what you are writing about (your position). I suggest that you make it a habit to inspect the writing topic closely the minute you get it. Look carefully to identify the subject and the issue, and it will make it easier to claim your position. Orienting yourself around a clear position will help you maintain "unity" in you essay (i.e. sticking to your point). After you have identified a clear position, you are ready to brainstorm on the prompt or writing question.

Brainstorming on the Prompt:

Always begin writing your essay by taking some time to get down your thoughts about the topic. The time spent flushing out your ideas will be well spent for a number of reasons: 1) exploring your thinking about the topic will help you decide what side of the debate you are really on (rather than discovering after a couple paragraphs that you believe the opposite of what you started to write about); 2) writing your ideas out can help you set up an organization for your paper; and 3) you won't have to generate ideas as you write (at least your main ideas), so you will be able to write more quickly and confidently. Remember that this first phase of your writing process is a creative phase. If you have any impulses to be critical or try to make things correct, try your best to ignore them. Nothing needs to be "correct" at this point.

You can use many brainstorming techniques to get your ideas down, such as listing, clustering, questioning, cubing, and freewriting. I suggest that you depend the most on listing.

How to List:
When you list, write down your ideas quickly--off the top of your head--in short phrases or single words. You don't need to worry about every idea being relevant, spelled correctly, or in the right order. Just list ideas related to the topic quickly and in any order that comes into your mind. It is important to be as free in your thinking as possible. You can also include any feelings, impressions, and personal experiences you have related to the topic.

Three Steps to Brainstorming

1) Identify the Subject, Issue and Position

I suggest that you set up your brainstorming page in a particular way. Take a separate sheet of paper and leave some space at the top of the page to write down the subject, issue and position. It is important to orient yourself in this way before you brainstorm so that you can get the most out of the time you spend brainstorming. Set up the top of your brainstorming page like this:




When thinking about the subject, ask yourself, "What is it all about?" "What category could I put all of this under?" The subject must encompass everything in the prompt and is not itself controversial.

When looking for the issue, ask yourself what is being argued about related to the subject. What is the issue? Most often this issue can be phrased as a question. Be sure you narrow it down to a single issue. An essay, by definition, focuses on a single point, so phrase an issue that will generate a single point.

The position is easy once you understand the issue. It may seem mechanical, redundant or painfully obvious to repeat the phrasing from the prompt, but if you phrase your position using the words from the issue, then the reader will see clearly that you are addressing the topic. The reader can't miss it.

2) Brainstorm on BOTH sides of the issue: Focus on answering "WHY" questions.

You might ask, "Why should I brainstorm on both sides? I'm only writing about one side." Wrong. You are really writing on the issue, and the issue has two sides. To be convincing in argumentative writing, you must acknowledge your opponent's arguments and even overcome them. A more thorough discussion of argumentative techniques is found here, but for now try your best to think of the arguments for both sides as you brainstorm.

You will be listing on both sides of the issue, but how do you start? I suggest that you think in terms of why questions. In argumentative/persuasive writing, you answer the question why, not how, when, or what. Arguments are founded on REASONS, and WHY QUESTIONS help you generate reasons. I find it helpful to write a whole why question at the top of my brainstorming list in order to be extra sure that I am focusing on the topic. I also try to imagine that a friend has just asked me this "why" question, and then I begin listing my answers as quickly and freely as I can. Lastly, you can help yourself list reasons by starting each of the items you list with the word "because." The example below demonstrates what I am talking about:


Side A Side B
Why do I or would someone support A?

Why do I or would someone support B?










3) Sorting through your brainstorming to form a mini-outline.

After you finish listing your ideas on the issue, look them over and try to identify the major reasons why you believe your side of the issue. Sometimes you will have to group a number of your items under a more general reason than you have listed, or perhaps you will find that you need to think of more reasons. What you want to create is a mini-outline which has the main points why you believe your position on the issue. This mini-outline becomes your guide as you write.


Subject: Space exploration/ Space program/ NASA
Issue: Should we continue funding it?
Position: Either "yes," continue funding, or "no," discontinue funding.

( Why do I believe the space program should receive continued funding?)

For continued funding:

--because it is there, its is inspirational, Star Trek to boldly go, pioneer spirit

--because we gain great scientific knowledge, learn about atmosphere, origins of universe it. Hubble telescope, planet probes, moon walk

--because technological innovations made by space program benefit us here on earth too, examples are new light weight composite materials and computers

--because space offers resources that can be useful to us as we deplete our resources

--because the space program really does help our economy, employs many people and is the engine for technological progress

( Why do I believe the space program should not receive continued funding?)

Against continued funding:

--because it costs too much, billions and billions of dollars

--because we spend more than we get back from Govt. props it up like a subsidy

--because the scientific knowledge gained is not that relevant, who cares about obscure questions of astronomy or planetary geology? How does that help the starving or homeless?

--because we have more pressing needs here on earth, homeless, unemployed, undereducated, undernourished, violent crime

--because we were never meant to go into space hostile environment, takes so long to go anywhere, we have our limits


Notice that I have identified the subject-issue-position at the top and then brainstormed by listing on each side of the issue. Also, I have started each of my listed items with the word "because": this will get you in the mode of focusing on REASONS. Even though you will argue for one side, I can't stress enough how important it is for you to try to think about the arguments opposing your own. You will see especially why this is important by looking at the guide on argumentative techniques.


POSITION #1: I strongly support continuing the funding for the space program.

Reason #1: because we gain important scientific knowledge from space.
Reason #2: because our economy and society is benefited by the program.
Reason #3: because space is our final frontier.


POSITION #2: The space program should no longer continue to receive funding.

Reason #1: because it costs too much.
Reason #2: because the knowledge and benefits gained by the program are not that great.
Reason #3: because we have more pressing need to attend to here on earth.

(Click here to see these reasons put into full Topic/transition/linking sentences.)

Each of these REASONS is a Primary Support for your thesis and will consitute one Body paragraph of you essay. With this mini-outline, you should be able to write a first draft or begin to work on a full outline to discover your full support.


Freewriting--another way to brainstorm.

Many ways to prewrite exist, and the point of them all is to get your ideas down about a topic before you write. Some people prefer "freewriting" to clustering or listing, but others like to freewrite as an additional idea generator after they have listed. When you freewrite, you are warming up like a runner stretching out before a race. While freewriting, you write quickly about your topic for ten minutes. I give two instructions for how to do freewriting: keep writing, and don't stop. Freewriting is a creative activity like listing, so you aren't worried about any critical concerns such as spelling, grammar, complete sentences, or even making sense. The idea is to keep your pencil moving--don't stop writing. Typically, most writers stop often as they write to reread something, correct it, cross it out, or just to stare at the wall and ponder. In freewriting, I urge you to resist this impulse to stop writing. Instead, when freewriting and you come to a place where you want to stop writing, keep writing your thoughts, like this: " I don't know what to say next. I seem to have run out of ideas. I sure hope I rolled up my windows because it looks like rain. OK come on get back to the topic. What do I really think about this? Boy my hand hurts. I think my last reason was a good one. What else is there?" In a sense, you are recording the internal dialogue of your mind. If you draw a complete blank, just write the word "the" over and over again. After a line or two of "the the the the the," you will break out of your block. Freewriting can potentially help you come up with some excellent insights because it ignores that critical voice we've been speaking about. Some people believe it helps us get in contact with our subconscious, which is where some of our best ideas come from.

After you have finished freewriting, spend a few minutes reading what you have written. Circle main reasons for your position, and especially look for any good sentences. Sometimes you will come up with a good opening sentence, thesis sentence, or clinching sentence when you freewrite. Like you did when you listed, see if you can't summarize your main points into a mini-outline to use as you write your draft. See this freewriting guide for more information on freewriting.


OK Why do I really think that the governt should limit the amount of violence on TV? I think it is obvious. Just turn on your TV and you see the most awful, violent, sick really stuff. Crazed lunatic captures young child in mall and threatens to do awful things, or stalker threatens to rape woman. Police everywhere, guns going off this is crazy. I just don't think this is everyday stuff. Sure somewhere things like this go on, but I've never seen a high speed chase or even a gun going off other than for hunting. It seems like TV glorifies violence or maybe rubs there face in it like it was a cow pie smelly and foul. ok keep writing keep writing. I don't know who watches this stuff. Yes I do. My dad does and I've been caught too. They have lots of action and suspense that they draw you into them. It's like there's some magnetic force. Don't these shows manipulate us, show us things that are so violent so strange so fearful that we have to look. But how does that affect us to look? For us as adults I think it needlessly puts us through a bad experience. The big losers are kids. Here's my strongest point. They are so impressionable that they don't know the difference between right and wrong. I've seen kids after watching the ninja turtles come out kicking and fighting like that's ok. Violence in the cause of right. Yuck. the the the the the Also young kids can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Like that kid that set fire to his home after seeing it done on bvis and but head. Boy I bet his parents were upset. We obviously have an epidemic of teen violence now already. Where is it coming from? I think TV has got to be a contributing factor.


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