Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Arguing and discussing
An essential part of critical writing is arguing and discussing.
In academic writing, arguing and discussing is often part of a larger piece of writing. In arguing and discussing, you are expected to present two or more points of view and discuss the positive and negative aspects of each case. On the basis of your discussion, you can then choose one point of view and persuade your readers that you are correct. This means giving your opinions (positive and negative) on the work of others and your own opinions based on what you have read and learned. You need to evaluate arguments, weigh evidence and develop a set of standards on which to base your conclusion.
As always in academic writing, all your opinions must be supported - you should produce your evidence and explain why this evidence supports your point of view. It is important to distinguish between (see Toulmin, 1958):
- your claim (proposition, thesis, point, position) - your point of view, what you believe;
- your reason(s) (explanations)- why you believe what you do;
- your evidence (support or grounds) - the facts, data and examples that support your point of view; and
- your argument (warrant) - how the evidence you have provided leads to the claim your are making.
A simple example would be:
- your claim e.g. John is a good teacher;
- your reasons e.g. He gets on well with his students;
- your evidence e.g. I have seen him in class.
- your argument Good rapport with students is essential for a good teacher.
There are two main methods of presenting an argument, and in general the one you choose will depend on exactly your task (See Understanding the question and Organising the answer for more information).
Presenting an argument
a. The balanced view
In this case you present both sides of an argument, without necessarily committing yourself to any opinions, which should always be based on evidence, until the final paragraph.
At its simplest your plan for writing will be as follows:
Introduce the argument to the reader.
e.g. why it is a particularly relevant topic nowadays
Reasons against the argument
State the position, the evidence and the reasons.
Reasons in favour of the argument.
State the position, the evidence and the reasons.
After summarising the two sides,
b. The persuasive view
This second type of argumentative writing involves stating your own point of view immediately, and then trying to convince the reader by reasoned argument that you are right. The form of the piece of writing will be, in outline, as follows:
Introduce the topic briefly in general terms,
and then state your own point of view.
Explain what you plan to prove in the essay.
Reasons against the argument.
Dispose briefly of the main objections to your case. Provide evidence and your reasons.
Reasons for your argument
the arguments to support your own view,
with evidence, reasons and examples.
Conclusion - Do not repeat your opinion again.
End your essay with something memorable
e.g. a quotation or a direct question.
Read the following examples: Example 1, Example 2.
Try this exercise: Exercise 1
Presenting own point of view
There are many reasons why …
bear in mind
The first thing
First of all,
I would like
The first thing to be considered is
It is a fact
There is no doubt
The first reason why … is …
First of all, …
The second reason why … is …
The most important …
In addition, …
What is more, …
Another reason is …
A further point is …
Evaluating other points of view
You will also need to present and evaluate other people's points of view.
See: Evaluating other points of view
You need to provide evidence to support your points of view and conclusions.
See: Providing support
Illustrating and exemplifying ideas
You can use examples to support your conclusions.
See: Giving examples
Giving reasons and explanations
And you will always give reasons and explanations for your claims and points of view.
See: Cause & effect
Working with different voices
As you recognise and work with other people's points of view. Within all these opinions, you need to make yours clear.
See: Working with different voices
You will need to summarise other people's ideas, combine them and come to conclusions.
See: Reporting - paraphrase, summary & synthesis
You need to make sure that your point of view shows through clearly.
See: Taking a stance
Comparing & contrasting
You will compare and contrast differenet ideas and your own, discussing advantages and diasadvantage.
See: Comparing and contrasting
In all cases, points of view may be qualified and generalisations may be made.
Expressing degree of certainty
You may also have different degrees of certainty about your claims.
See: Expressing degree of certainty
At various stages during your argument, you will need to sum up and come to a conclusion.
See: Drawing conclusions
Back to Introduction
While some teachers consider persuasive papers and argument papers to be basically the same thing, it’s usually safe to assume that an argument paper presents a stronger claim—possibly to a more resistant audience.
For example: while a persuasive paper might claim that cities need to adopt recycling programs, an argument paper on the same topic might be addressed to a particular town. The argument paper would go further, suggesting specific ways that a recycling program should be adopted and utilized in that particular area.
To write an argument essay, you’ll need to gather evidence and present a well-reasoned argument on a debatable issue.
How can I tell if my topic is debatable? Check your thesis! You cannot argue a statement of fact, you must base your paper on a strong position. Ask yourself…
- How many people could argue against my position? What would they say?
- Can it be addressed with a yes or no? (aim for a topic that requires more info.)
- Can I base my argument on scholarly evidence, or am I relying on religion, cultural standards, or morality? (you MUST be able to do quality research!)
- Have I made my argument specific enough?
Worried about taking a firm stance on an issue?
Though there are plenty of times in your life when it’s best to adopt a balanced perspective and try to understand both sides of a debate, this isn’t one of them.
You MUST choose one side or the other when you write an argument paper!
Don’t be afraid to tell others exactly how you think things should go because that’s what we expect from an argument paper. You’re in charge now, what do YOU think?
…use passionate language
…use weak qualifiers like “I believe,” “I feel,” or “I think”—just tell us!
…cite experts who agree with you
…claim to be an expert if you’re not one
…provide facts, evidence, and statistics to support your position
…use strictly moral or religious claims as support for your argument
…provide reasons to support your claim
…assume the audience will agree with you about any aspect of your argument
…address the opposing side’s argument and refute their claims
…attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorant—don’t listen to him!)
Why do I need to address the opposing side’s argument?
There is an old kung-fu saying which states, "The hand that strikes also blocks", meaning that when you argue it is to your advantage to anticipate your opposition and strike down their arguments within the body of your own paper. This sentiment is echoed in the popular saying, "The best defense is a good offense".
By addressing the opposition you achieve the following goals:
- illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic
- demonstrate a lack of bias
- enhance the level of trust that the reader has for both you and your opinion
- give yourself the opportunity to refute any arguments the opposition may have
- strengthen your argument by diminishing your opposition's argument
Think about yourself as a child, asking your parents for permission to do something that they would normally say no to. You were far more likely to get them to say yes if you anticipated and addressed all of their concerns before they expressed them. You did not want to belittle those concerns, or make them feel dumb, because this only put them on the defensive, and lead to a conclusion that went against your wishes.
The same is true in your writing.
How do I accomplish this?
To address the other side of the argument you plan to make, you'll need to "put yourself in their shoes." In other words, you need to try to understand where they're coming from. If you're having trouble accomplishing this task, try following these steps:
- Jot down several good reasons why you support that particular side of the argument.
- Look at the reasons you provided and try to argue with yourself. Ask: Why would someone disagree with each of these points? What would his/her response be? (Sometimes it's helpful to imagine that you're having a verbal argument with someone who disagrees with you.)
- Think carefully about your audience; try to understand their background, their strongest influences, and the way that their minds work. Ask: What parts of this issue will concern my opposing audience the most?
- Find the necessary facts, evidence, quotes from experts, etc. to refute the points that your opposition might make.
- Carefully organize your paper so that it moves smoothly from defending your own points to sections where you argue against the opposition.