Today Some questions The problem with prose



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Lecture 9 Writing an Essay

  • Critical Thinking: The Art of Reasoning
  • © Critical Thinking Skills BV

Today

  • Some questions….

The problem with prose

  • The problem with prose is that often prose lacks structure and involves a lot of work to get the information we want.
  • We need to present our ideas and arguments in prose, so we have to learn how to do so effectively.

There is no single method for presenting arguments clearly.  There are, however, criteria you should meet, and some good rules of thumb.

  • There is no single method for presenting arguments clearly.  There are, however, criteria you should meet, and some good rules of thumb.
  • The most important thing is that the audience should be able to follow your argument easily. 
  • It is NOT your readers’ job to sort out your reasoning!

Main points

  • 1. Have a clear argument to start with
  • -  Begin by researching your topic well. 
  • - Be clear about what it is you want to say.
  • -  Articulate your reasoning in the form of a argument map, so you know exactly what the argument is and what you want to say.
  • Use the Pyramid Rule:
  • More general or abstract considerations should appear higher in the argument tree, and considerations at the same level of the tree should be at roughly the same level of generality or abstraction.
  • See Tutorial 6

What is the problem with this argument

  • What is the problem with this argument
  • map?

The Pyramid Hierarchy

  • Hierarchical Argumentation
  • The reasoning bearing upon any given proposition in complex argumentation is usually understood as forming a hierarchical structure, where the hierarchy is determined by the logical dependencies. That is, if proposition A is evidence for or against proposition B, then A is immediately below B in the hierarchy of arguments.
  • In argument mapping, we display the hierarchical structure by ensuring that all the arguments at the same logical distance (number of logical steps) from the main contention are arranged on the same spatial level of the diagram.

The inevitable result is that the argument map is shaped roughly like a pyramid, with the main contention at the very peak.

  • 2. Make your argument as good as you can.
  • - Evaluate the argument, make sure it is a good one.
  • - Search for possible weaknesses and eliminate them.
  • - Imagine the most critical reader you can, and anticipate what objections they might come up with.

3. Present your argument clearly

  • 3. Present your argument clearly
  • - A muddled text has a hard time being read let alone convincing anyone. 
  • - If people cannot follow your reasoning then they are likely to think you are not reasoning at all, and may dismiss what you say.

Structure: map to prose

  • The abstract structure of an argument is a pattern of logical or rational connections among claims. 
  • That pattern is always what we call a "tree" structure - there is a trunk, major branches, secondary branches, and so forth.  When we represent an argument graphically, that tree structure is plainly visible; we can see all the claims and all the connections at the same time. 
  •  

When we present arguments in prose, however, we have to do it in a linear or sequential fashion.  Whether we are speaking or writing, we have to present some claims before others; yet we have to do it in such a way that the audience can reconstruct in their minds the abstract pattern of logical connections between claims.

  • When we present arguments in prose, however, we have to do it in a linear or sequential fashion.  Whether we are speaking or writing, we have to present some claims before others; yet we have to do it in such a way that the audience can reconstruct in their minds the abstract pattern of logical connections between claims.
  • To present an argument clearly you must explicitly guide your audience to reconstruct the same argument tree that you started with.  You must convey clearly what your claims are, as well as the logical connections between them.

Key points for writing in prose

  • Tell your audience what you will be arguing
  • Do this early in the piece, and state it clearly.
  • Deliver your message directly.
  • Don’t leave the point until the end; use the introduction to tell your audience what it is you will be considering and the conclusion you want to make.
  • Use clear language
  • Don't put people off by using language that is too abstract, pompous, difficult or that requires too much concentration to interpret. 
  • Keep it simple, and use rhetorical devices sparingly.  Make it easy for your audience to see the point.
  • State your claims clearly
  • Make your claims explicit, both the conclusion and the premises, and tell the audience everything they need to know. 
  • Don't assume your audience knows as much as you do about a topic.  Even if they do, they still need to know what you are arguing.

Use signposts to advise audience of structure.

  • Use signposts to advise audience of structure.
  • Indicators, section breaks, paragraph breaks and sub-headings are all useful for signposting. 
  • Tell your audience how the parts of your argument relate.  A string of claims by themselves is not enough; you need to show clearly what each claim is doing. 
  • It is too easy to signpost too little, and almost impossible to signpost too much!

Have a look at the map

  • Do you think you could write this in prose?

Sure you could…

  • This example shows the argument map transformed into prose. The blue highlighting represents the position (or contention), the green for reasons and the red for the objections. The indicator words (which indicate the positions, reasons and objections) are in bold.
  • The terrific thing about this argument is that it shows us how we can reconstruct an argument in prose, despite not understanding the content. This would of course have consequences for evaluation – nonetheless it is an interesting example of how we convey ideas by understanding the structure of arguments.

Writing an essay

  • What are the parts of an essay and what is the purpose of them?
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

We have an argument map

Introduction

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Conclusion

Essay planner

Writing a Brief Report

  • 1. Ensure you are clear as to what sort of report you need to write and its purpose. For instance, do you need to provide a summary of key points and/or a recommendation? This will determine your structure.
  • 2. Determine your structure. For an essay you need an introduction, the main body and the conclusion. For a report which requires a recommendation what key features do you think you would need?

Some ideas

  • Report details (title, for,author, date)
  • Issue (the position)
  • Recommendation (the evaluation of the issue)
  • Considerations (the reasoning)

Example…

Overview

  • Six major Critical Thinking skills
  • Ordered cumulative to help skill development

More examples…

The Age… opinions

  • http://blogs.theage.com.au/yoursay/archives/2006/08/whos_history.html#comments

Mapping the argument…



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