Writing the Argumentative Essay

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Writing the Argumentative Essay

  • By Caryl Bishop


  • “. . . the art of influencing others, through the medium of reasoned discourse, to believe or act as we wish them to believe or act.”

Structure of Argument

  • Claim
    • Proposition
  • Support
    • Evidence
    • Motivational Appeals
  • Warrant
    • Assumption(s) that have been taken for granted

Features of Argumentation

  • Writer
  • Audience
    • Know your audience and be sensitive to their views
  • Text
    • Use the language to make your point, but be careful not to misuse language

The Writer

  • Ethos
    • Your own
      • You must look like you know what you’re talking about
      • Educate yourself on the issue(s) before writing
    • Borrow from authority
      • Be sure to give appropriate credit where due

The Audience

  • Who is your audience?
  • Qualities you should presume of your audience:
    • Assume they are as knowledgeable about your topic as you are.
    • Assume they are aware of common knowledge.
    • Assume they could be fundamentally opposed to your argument and be sensitive to their prejudices –
      • Don’t Alienate Your Audience

The Text

  • Argue from logic and reason
    • Do NOT base your entire argument on:
      • Emotion
      • Religious Conviction
      • Tradition
  • Avoid fallacious logic
    • There are a multitude of formal errors in logic, known as FALLACIES

Some Common Fallacies

  • Hasty Generalization
  • Faulty Use of Authority
  • Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
  • False Analogy
  • Ad Hominem
  • False Dilemma
  • Slippery Slope

Hasty Generalization

Faulty Use of Authority

  • Misuse of a source
  • Misquoting
  • Fitting the quotation to your own needs
    • If four out of five dentists prefer Colgate, don’t use the one dentist who prefers Crest as your authority!

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

False Analogy

  • Faulty Connection Between Two Things Being Compared

Ad Hominem

  • “Against the Man”
  • Attacking the person rather than attacking an issue.
    • If you don’t like this administration’s policies, and want to see them changed, don’t attack the President, address the issues you want changed.

False Dilemma

  • “Black or White Fallacy”
    • There are only two alternatives, no room for compromise and no grey areas.
      • Nearly every issue has at least two sides, and somewhere, someone has determined that the OTHER side is the only legitimate approach.
      • Nothing is black and white; there are shades of grey everywhere!

Slippery Slope

  • The assumption that “A” will inevitably lead to “B”
    • Then “B” will inevitably lead to “C”
      • And so on…
        • And so on…

More Common Fallacies

  • Begging the Question
  • The Straw Man Fallacy
  • “Two Wrongs Make a Right”
  • Non-Sequitur
  • Ad Populum
  • Appeal to Tradition
  • Faulty Emotional Appeal

Begging the Question

  • The statement being argued actually assumes the issue has already been proven true.
  • An argument that assumes itself

Straw Man Fallacy

  • Set up a slightly different problem and attack it, rather than the problem at issue

“Two Wrongs Make A Right”

  • “But all my friends are doing it…”
    • Diverts attention away from the question at issue


  • “It does not follow”
    • Erroneous Cause and Effect Reasoning
    • Uses irrelevant information to back of a claim

Ad Populum

Appeal to Tradition

  • “But we’ve always done it that way before…”
    • Just because it has always been that way doesn’t make it right

Faulty Emotional Appeals

  • Don’t base your whole claim on an appeal to emotion
  • Don’t use emotional appeals that are
    • Irrelevant to the argument
    • Draw attention away from the real issue
    • Appear to conceal another purpose
  • Adapted from:
  • Elements of Argument: A Text and Reader
  • By: Annette T. Rottengberg

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