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Writing Argumentative Papers
How do we transform leaden argument into golden insight?
We’ve all had the experience of sharpening our ideas and deepening our knowledge as we attempt to convince a colleague whose opinion differs from our own. In like manner, our students can sharpen their ideas and deepen their knowledge by writing papers to persuade an opposition audience.
To successfully persuade such an audience, students must consider more than their own sometimes-hazy opinion:
They must truly view the issue from the audience’s point of view and understand not only the logical, but also the emotional and personal reasons for that point of view.
Their paper must establish common ground with the audience and employ an ethos that the audience deems credible.
The paper’s structure must carry the opposition gradually, step-by-step, toward the intended point of view and deal in a timely fashion with the audience’s evidence and objections.
The introduction must not only set up the issue but also involve the audience in the argument, acknowledging that audience’s opinion and engaging that audience’s attention.
The conclusion must have an impact worthy of the argument, one that reinforces without merely repeating the paper’s points, and one that will linger in the audience’s mind even when the specific steps in the logical argument fade from memory.
How do we set up such an assignment? We can begin by using course readings to model effective rhetorical strategies. A class on race relations might assign Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which can be read not only for its historical content but also for strategies that bond with and persuade an opposition audience. The list of acceptable strategies will vary from discipline to discipline, from era to era, and from audience to audience—which is, in itself, a valuable lesson.
We can assign students a specific opposition audience to address in their papers or ask students to choose from a list of audiences we have given them. If course readings include authors with a variety of opinions, students can attempt to persuade one of those authors to accept a different point of view. If students disagree with one another about issues covered in the course, they can write papers to convince their classmates. Or we can ask them.............
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