Chapter Eight: How Do We Develop and Organize Arguments?

Organizing Rhetorically

  • Audience, purpose, and linkages among claims and supports must be thought through carefully in order to have the best structure.
  • Before you can start drafting, you begin thinking about the best way to arrange ideas according to particular audiences and purposes.

It is good to analyze and ask yourself:

  • What is my purpose? What am I really trying to accomplish in this essay?
  • What kind of audience will read this? Will readers likely resist or welcome my ideas?
  • How are the arguments that I have reading this discipline typically organized? What kind of organization will my readers expect? Do I want to meet these expectations or surprise my audience?
  • Am I conducting original research, such as collecting data or conducting experiments? How will I organize and present my results?

Techniques for Organizing Your Thoughts
Different writing situations call for different strategies for organization. Sometimes we must know what we want to say before we start writing.
In other cases, there is a lack of focus in our argument and must begin writing to see where it takes us and design the logical structure later.

Visualize Your Organization
Every writing toolbox needs some techniques for conceptualizing your argument visually. One way this can happen is by imagining your paper as a building that has various rooms, each with a different function. We envision how the rooms connect together in a way that will make sense to our readers.

Experiment with Maps, Graphics, and Software
While we are brainstorming, we oftentimes use idea maps, cluster diagrams, or technology to help us arrange our ideas. We might simply sketch out ideas on paper or use a word processor to design a graphic. We use visuals to help us explore issue in depth, to discover various directions we could pursue, and to discover the linkages among our claims. Presentation software can also be used to give a visual representation of our argument.

Create a Reverse Outline
After we write a draft, we often outline what we have written to see whether the organization is working. This outline looks very similar to a prewriting outline, but it is called a "reverse outline" because it is composed after a draft is written. Once we create the outline that reflects exactly what we have written, we can see whether our paragraphs are focused, our claims are evident, and our ideas progress logically.

Developing Your Arguments
Exploring an arguments controversies, like when we are brainstorming, can also help us decide where to begin a paper and how to order our ideas. We can organize an argument around these categories by first addressing controversies about existence, then discussing definitions and consequences, then evaluating, and finally offering solutions. We can use the controversy categories as building blocks for larger arguments. Each category calls for forth a particular kind of argument.

Arguments about Existence and Fact
Existence arguments can be difficult because audiences tend to hold stubbornly to what they think exists or is true or factual. Typically, existence arguments rely on observable evidence for support.

Arguments about Definition
Many arguments begin with disagreements about how we define a term or concept. Public controversies often hinge on the definition of a word or phrase. Vaguely defined terms can cause arguments to stay, scholars tend to be very careful about the language they use, often explaining potentially controversial terms in the beginning of their arguments. Often, we present small definitional arguments as building blocks for larger arguments.

Arguments about Cause and Consequences
Arguments that try to establish a casual link are one of the most difficult cases to make. That is because it is tough to definitively link a cause and effect without confusing cause with correlation. Often times when writers try to argue about cause and consequences, they commit logical fallacies.

Arguments about Evaluation
Like definitional arguments, evaluation arguments sometimes stand alone and sometimes become part of larger arguments. We begin evaluation problems by establishing criteria by which we will judge the case at hand. Those criteria must be based in values shared by the audience. Because these types of arguments depend so much on values and beliefs, they tend to be complex and compelling, especially when the involve competing values.

Arguments about Policy
We use this kind of structure when we write a proposal argument, which

  1. describes a problem
  2. presents solutions, and
  3. justifies a course of action

An equal amount of time does not have to be spent on each section. For example, if readers already understand the severity of a problem, we can focus more on the solution and justification sections. If readers do not understand the problem then we need to spend more time proving that there's actually cause for concern.

Select Scholarly Arrangements
Scholarly inquiry proceeds from a catalyst toward an answer or conclusion. Scholars often do not know what their thesis will be when they begin investigating. But they lead with the thesis when reporting their results. Although not all forms of writing follow this conventional structure, many of them still empty the generic moves and structure of the classical argument, which was developed by ancient Greeks and Romans.

The conventional structure we offer next provides many options for moves we can make to organize an argument, be we never follow these lockstep. Rarely are all moves made in sequence. Only sections are selected that suit the rhetorical situation. This is to be seen as options to use according to the audience's needs, not as a detailed outline to follow strictly.

The Scholarly Model
1. Introduction

  • Identify the controversy, problem, or research question and its significance and relevance.
  • Establish your qualifications to write about the topic
  • Create common ground with readers
  • Demonstrate fairness
  • Arouse readers' attention and interest, often with an example pr personal narrative
  • State or imply the thesis
  • forecast the structure of the argument

2. Background

  • Summarize important sources and research on the subject
  • Describe the subject's history and its theoretical foundation
  • Give an overview of the situation or problem
  • Explain the process you used to answer a research question or to study a problem

3. Support

  • Present verification, evidence, and illustrations that support the thesis, ordered in a clear and thoughtful pattern
  • Explicitly link subclaims and support back to the thesis
  • Report and tabulate date and results gathered through investigation, sometimes using figures and charts
  • Analyze, interpret, and apply research findings

4. Consideration of Alternative Arguments

  • Examine alternative points of view
  • Note advantages and disadvantages of alternative positions
  • Acknowledge limitations of your research or viewpoint
  • Explain why your argument is better

5. Conclusion

  • Briefly summarize and synthesize the overall argument
  • Identify the implications of research findings
  • Make clear what readers should think or do
  • Add a strong emotional or ethical appeal
  • Raise questions for further research

The structure is a useful starting point that we approach creatively, adapting the template to the rhetorical situation. There is no prescribed formula for length. There might be several pages devoted to one section and only a few paragraphs to another.

Scholarly Moves
Move 1: Start with What Others Have Said
Most scholarly arguments begin with highlighting key contributions that other scholars have made. We do this for three reasons:

  1. To familiarize readers with the context and place our argument within a scholarly conversation
  2. To verify assumptions, methods, or the research questions, as in a research or literature review
  3. To demonstrate that we have done our homework by reviewing previous research; neglecting to cite or at least refer to related scholarship damages our credibility

The length and style of the research review depends on the paper's length and on the audience's familiarity with our topics.

Move 2: Highlight Agreement before Disagreement
As mentioned previously, sometimes we skim over issues that our audience already knows. However, jumping into the centre of a controversy may be a huge mistake. When this happens, it is important to build some common ground with our readers. For example, you might begin by acknowledging opposing arguments to show our readers that we respect their perspective.

Move 3: Put Your Best Foot Forward
If possible, we begin and end arguments with a bang. We lead and close with our strongest points so that we frame the argument with our most fortified claims. It is probably obvious why this works: readers enter and leave the argument with strong impressions. Plus, if you assume that readers' attention fades in the middle, that is a smart placate nestle weaker points.

Organize Your Revision
Organization is not always something that is worked on before we start writing.
Ways to improve organization:

Add Transitions
Transitions can be easier when we think of them as signposts that direct the reader. These markers tell readers, either explicitly or implicitly:

  • what is coming next
  • how ideas are concerned
  • when a change in subject or tone will occur, or
  • how to interpret the argument

To create tighter connections between ideas, we consider the hierarchy of our claim. It is important that we send the signal that communicates exactly what we mean. To be precise, we ask ourselves:

  • How are these claims related? What is their relationship?
  • Are those ideas equal, or is one subpoena of another?

Unify Your Argument
Another way to highlight connections is to repeat key words throughout an argument. We can weave in terms that are central to our argument to create a more consistent and memorable message.

Design Your Document
How we arrange text on the page can also influence how our message comes across.

  • Headings and subheadings can break our writing into discrete, manageable chunks that help readers navigate content easily, as we have done in this textbook. Headings, in particular, make navigation easier, although they do not replace good sequencing and transitions.
  • In most scholarly styles, hanging indentations indicate the format or bibliographic citations.
  • Pull quotes reformat a short excerpt from the text to attract readers' interest. Magazine articles often contain these short quotations in the margins to emphasize an important take-away or a memorable phrase.

Structure Your Writing Process

  • Break the assignment into a series of manageable tasks; then assign a deadline for each task
  • Break a long assignment into chunks
  • Get feedback along the way
  • Don't insist on following a fixed or linear plan
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