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Assignment 5:Academic Argument
For the final paper in the class, you’re going to be conducting an academic argument over possibly your whole topic or a sub issue from within your topic.This is where you get to say what you think about whatever it is that you’ve been focusing on over the semester.As a practical matter, this paper is really a combination of the ones that went before it, especially paper 3, the synthesis/literature review, and paper 4, the primary source analysis.In paper 3, you were summing up and analyzing the secondary research on your topic–the works of scholars, experts, commentators, etc.–who have written about whatever your topic is.In paper 4, you were undertaking your own reading of primary texts or images from your topic.For paper 5, you’ll be taking a position on your topic overall and using both primary and secondary sources to make your case.You can do this in various ways:
My topic was Beauty YouTube. I did a paper over endorsements with people such as Jaclyn Hill and James Charles, and I also did an essay over the Pin Up Doll tutorials.
*You can rely more heavily on your secondary sources to make your case about your topic and rely on interpretations of your primary sources more sparingly.In this case your paper will rely more heavily on paper 3 than paper 4, although I do want you to take your primary sources into account too, in some way–using them to help back up your overall argument on your topic.
*You can rely more on your primary sources, but still put what you say about them in the context of what your secondary sources have had to say about the same primary source or sources.In this case, you’ll rely more on paper 4 than paper 3.
I don’t have a strong preference which way you go, so long as the paper succeeds in persuading me that your overall position on your topic is sound.
All this brings us to the questions of argument and persuasion, about which we’ve said very little this semester.So now it’s time to start, and it’s rather a complicated subject.I used to spend weeks and weeks on this in my writing classes, but even though I’ve deemphasized it somewhat over the last several years, it still takes rather a lot of explanation.
First of all, let’s define what argument is for the purpose of this class:”Argument” is a term with wide application in life, but in academic settings like this it simply means making an attempt to persuade a reader of your point of view about something you’re studying–a primary source, a sociological trend, how to deal with a specific educational problem, and so on.
Argument can be analyzed in any of a number of ways, but I’ve always found the system developed by the British philosopher Steven Toulmin in the 1950’s to work the best.Toulmin developed his method of analyzing the structure and working of argument primarily by looking at the ways professional arguers operate, particularly lawyers, and this may be part of the reason I’ve always found his analysis so sensible.Anyway, here is a brief summary of what Toulmin had to say about how we argue:
*All arguments can be broken down into three constituent elements:the claim, the support, and the warrant.
*The claim is the actual position being advanced in the argument–whatever it is that the arguer is trying to convince his readers or listeners of.In a formal paper, it’s usually going to be expressed in the thesis.
*The support is whatever the arguer is using to prove his or her point.In academic argument, this is usually going to be some mix of factual evidence and expert opinion.In other areas of debate, other kinds of support might be more important–if you’re pulling parental authority on your kid, you’re appealing to the sense of respect and duty he or she presumably feels for you as his or her parent.If you’re an advertiser trying to sell perfume, you might appeal to the potential buyer’s presumed desire to appear attractive to the opposite sex.
*The warrant is a usually unspoken assumption the arguer makes about why and how the support works to back up their claim.In my examples above, if you’re relying mostly on factual evidence to back your claim, you’re going to assume that you’ve got enough factual evidence to back up the claim.If you’re relying on appeals to values–the idea that kids should honor and obey their parents, for example–you’re assuming that this set of values is understood and shared by your readers.
These various broad parts of arguments can be further subclassified:
Claims in three flavors; each of them is supported by a particular kind of warrant or assumption that the arguer is making:
*Claims of fact–these kinds of claims typify arguments that are based on the weight of evidence, usually that there’s a lot of it, or that the evidence available to back the claim is of very high quality.Historians frequently conduct arguments based on fact–for example, economic data collected by the U.S. government in the late 1930’s might show that the Great Depression was coming to an end before the outbreak of World War II.But art historians and literature scholars can also make such arguments–showing that there’s high incidence of the word “noting” in Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing might show a thematic focus on seeing, hearing and knowing, or the common appearance of death’s head motifs in late 15th century European art might indicate a culture wide fixation on mortality and the brevity of life.Since claims of fact depend on the amount and quality of factual evidence, arguments with such claims often depend on a factual warrant or warrant of sufficiency–you’re assuming the amount of evidence you have to back the claim is enough to prove it.
Claims of need and/or value–these kinds of claims are found more often in other theaters of argument, such as politics and advertising.Claims of value try to persuade the reader or listener that the claim is right based on some kind of (usually shared) assumption of value.Thus, if you’re arguing for increased government spending for social welfare programs, you’re probably appealing to a value judgment that governments owe a certain minimum quality of life to all citizens.Claims of need try to convince the reader or listener that taking a certain course of action will lead to greater need fulfillment:If you’re arguing in a commercial that the viewer needs to buy Tree Frog Beer because it makes you feel great and have lots of girlfriends, you’re appealing to the reader’s need for well being and sexual fulfillment.Claims of need/value usually depend on a need or value warrant–the arguer assumes that the reader or listener has the need, or holds the value highly, to which the arguer is appealing.
Claims of policy–these kinds of claims argue that a particular course of action or policy needs to be taken to deal with a particular problem.Thus, you might argue that military intervention is necessary to prevent further chemical weapon attacks in the Middle East.Note that claims of policy are really combinations of the two kinds of claims I outlined above.Before you can argue that a particular course of action is necessary, you have to show there’s a problem that needs to be addressed (this is usually a claim of fact, because you’re likely to prove it with factual data or factual examples), and then follow that with an argument that the course you’re advocating is the best way to deal with the problem (this is usually a claim of value, since you have to argue that your favored course is best as opposed to other possible ways of dealing with it).In my example above, you’d need to argue that military intervention is the best answer, as opposed to doing something else–sitting on your hands, imposing sanctions, etc.
Support for arguments also comes in several different flavors:
Evidence can consist of a couple of different kinds of support–factual examples and sometimes hypothetical examples, and also statistics.Whether they’re factual or hypothetical, examples always work by showing the reader or listener that the particular state of affairs represented by the examples is typical and believable.Thus, if you offer examples A, B and C to show that X is the case, you’re implicitly saying that examples A, B and C are typical of any examples you could have chosen–E, D, F or Z.If examples A, B and C aren’t typical, you’ve falsified your evidence and misled your reader/listener.Statistics work differently–in statistics, you look at a very broad range of examples of something, as close to all of them as you can reasonably manage, and then point out mathematical trends in the evidence:how often X occurs in all possible instances of something.Statistics are more the province of the social sciences, but they do come up in some of the humanities–historians looking at the results of the strategic bombing campaign in Europe during the Second World War might look at statistical effectiveness estimates.Statistics can be powerful, but need to be used carefully–you need to make sure they come from reputable sources and that they were probably gathered using effective statistical measurement methods, etc.Examples, especially drawn from primary sources, are a bigger thing in the humanities.
Expert opinion helps back arguments by showing that people who are believable and reputable in a field support the position you’re taking.Many of you will be using this class of proof in your arguments.The biggest thing to watch for when relying on expert opinion is making sure your experts are really experts.If you got their stuff from peer reviewed publications, this is pretty much a given; if you’re using the internet and relying on bloggers, you need to do a bit more homework and make sure the guys you’re relying on aren’t just unqualified people who are shooting their mouths off on the net (there are lots of those).But there are a couple of other considerations to make when you use expert opinion–one of the biggest is what to do when you have experts who disagree on an issue within your topic.This is quite common, since experts often don’t agree.Here, watch for several factors:(1)how many experts argue position B as opposed to position A?If more experts argue B, that’s a pretty good indication that B is more strongly supported.(2)Are more recent experts arguing B than A?Expert opinion can vary over time, and more recent stuff may represent more informed, better researched and supported viewpoints.(3)Are the experts who argue B using better evidence than those arguing A?This happens too, so watch out for it as you read back over your experts.
Appeals to needs and values can also back arguments, but as I’ve remarked above, this is usually more secondary in academic argument.Academic arguments depend far more strongly on fact and expert interpretation than they do on appeals.
The main value of understanding these ways of looking at the structure of argument is that it makes you better aware of the structure of the arguments used by potential sources–if a source’s argument makes an unwarranted assumption about the values held by his audience, for example–so that you can avoid sources whose arguments are not well structured.The other big advantage is that it makes you more aware of how your own arguments are typically structured, so that you can address problems you may have during the research or composition stages.
There are other considerations to keep in mind when constructing an argument aside from its overall structure.Argument is a social activity and needs to consider all the problems of manner and tone that come into any social interaction; an argument that’s conducted not just with an eye to claim, support and warrant structure but that also seems to come from someone who’s fair, considerate and reasonable is much more likely to succeed.Therefore, watch how you sound when you argue:
*Make sure your tone is reasonable and thoughtful; always treat positions that differ from yours with respect and charity.
*Make sure that you show your reader you’ve read widely in the literature surrounding your topic and that you have it all at your fingertips–refer to it, cite to it, put it in your bibliography, engage with it as you must, but do so respectfully.This covers three bases at least:it shows you’ve done your homework, which makes you sound credible; it gives credit where credit is due, which you’re ethically required to do, anyway; it provides a service to the reader by telling him or her where to go to find additional information on the topic.
These two considerations, taken together and with a few others, all relate to what Aristotle referred to as your ethos as an arguer–how believable and sympathetic you seem to your readers or listeners. Obviously, this is an important consideration, since you can’t win an argument if you don’t appear credible, and your ethos is the main consideration in building your credibility.They also relate to what he called logos–the ability of a speaker or writer to persuade a listener or reader with the weight of the evidence favoring the arguer’s position.As I outlined above, for most of you the evidence will consist of any primary sources you’re using or interpreting (or both); the strength of your interpretations of that evidence, if any; and the amount, quality and character of the secondary material you’ve found that backs up your position.But you don’t want limit yourself to material that backs up your own point of view.If there are contrasting points of view in the literature, you need to show your reader that you know what they are, and that you don’t agree with them for good reasons.Thus, you may need to sometimes raise positions that contradict what you feel is right, and then rebut them with reasoning of your own–they’re not as good as the stuff you do agree with, for reasons X, Y and Z.
There’s more still, most notably considerations of logic, but in my experience, illogical argument really isn’t that big of a problem in academic debate.Most academics and scholarly experts have enough intellectual acumen to avoid blatantly illogical arguments (non sequiturs, question begging, faulty use of authority, etc.).It’s more of an issue (and a big one) in other areas of argument, especially advertising and politics.
As with the synthesis/literature review, you’re likely to be constantly referring to your secondary sources as you write this paper, so documentation here is very important.You’ll need to cite to each source as it logically relates to a point you’re making in your argument, and so you’ll likely be moving from source to source as the paper goes on.For this reason, pay special attention to your citation format as you write.
Students always ask me how many sources I’ll want for an assignment like this, and my answer is pretty much everything you’ve found in your research so far that you regard as relevant and helpful in making your argument, together with any new material you’ve located and digested since assignment 3.As with the literature review, I will be grading partly on how good your research is at this point.If it looks like you really need more (and I’ll check to see what’s out there as I need to), that will form a grading criterion.If you know or suspect that there’s a lot more out there on your topic that you haven’t yet located, take the opportunity to press your research a bit more, to further ensure success on the paper.
The minimum length of this paper will be 1250 words, just as it has been for assignments 2-4.However, keep in mind that this is a minimum, not a maximum;the paper can be longer than this and probably should be, since it’s your “capstone” paper, due during finals, and will represent your final, carefully considered view of your topic.You also won’t have a chance to rewrite this one, but because it will be drawing heavily on previous papers and because you’ll have a fair amount of workshop time to get my input before it’s actually due, the lack of a rewrite opportunity shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Unlike assignments 1-4, I will not be requiring hard copies of your sources with the paper.By the end of the term, your research will likely be hard to manage physically, and you should have learned all I’ve said about the necessity of thoroughly paraphrasing the language of your sources.