• Your first assignment is to take a Grammar Diagnostic Test, so that both you and I can gauge your knowledge of grammar rules.  Go to NortonConnect and open NC 1.  After you have completed the assignment, post it for me to evaluate.
  • In addition, read the chapter Introduction in Elements of Argument.  This chapter will define Argument as it is referred to in the world of writing.  Below, I have highlighted some important elements of this chapter; however, to understand Argumentation clearly, you need to read the full chapter.  Please read this page and the chapter carefully, and ask questions whenever you need further clarification.



"Understanding Argument"
Chapter 1
Elements of Argument

In English 101, you were required to write brief "expository" essay with lots of illustrations and explanations supporting your point of view.  In English 201, you will write similar essays on thought-provoking topics or issues or current concerns; this time, however, your theses will be   stronger as they present your points-of-view or assertions, backed by more objective (as opposed to subjective) reasoning and authoritative information. 

To write these essays, you need to have a clearer understanding of your writer's stance:

  • your role as a writer--why are you writing on these topics and your purpose
  • your thesis--where you assert your stance or position on the issue
  • your audience--readers who will either agree or disagree with your point of view
  • your supporting details--in the form of evidences based on your experiences and observations, authoritative information (direct and indirect quotations) based on expert opinions; statistical data that would stand as proof to your assertion

To write such essays in English 201, you need to develop your critical thinking abilities and the courage to take a side.  You would want your audience to sympathize with you, or change their opinion based on how well you have presented your views etc.  Taking a side and defending your position logically, with adequate supporting evidences, is what we call Argumentation or Persuasive writing.  To be able to write these essays, you need to have a clear understanding of what Argumentation means in the world of writing.

(Note: In my lecture below, I have used some direct quotations from the text.  They will be marked by quotation marks and an in-text citation--page numbers within parentheses.)

Commonly, the word argument refers to a verbal conflict--a dispute involving two or more people.  Especially in a democratic society, arguments are the vary basis of human interaction.   Argument, as it relates to writing a persuasive essay, however, is the process of making what we think clear to ourselves and others.  It takes us from a vague, private viewpoint to a clearly stated position that we can defend publicly in speech or writing.

As you will be reading the various essays written by well-known authors or experts in Elements of Argument, you will note that even though the authors express opposing viewpoints, they are not "quarreling" with each other but basically presenting their personal opinions on "controversial" issues of today.  Arguments, then, are mostly dialogues to clarify where we stand (as do these authors) on certain issues.  You may agree with the authors (which is still considered argumentation) or you may disagree with them  In either case, as you respond to the essays in your text, you will have to give your own reasoning as to why you agree or disagree so that you can persuade or convince your readers. That will be your argument.

Aristotle called this Rhetoric--the art of meaningful communication by "finding and discovering (and utilizing) in a given situation the available means of persuasion."  Another definition, which is very close to Aristotle's definition, reminds us that "'Argumentation is the art of influencing others, through the medium of reasoned discourse, to believe or act as we wish [our readers] to believe or act'" (4-5).  Arguments, as the chapter points out, are nothing more than "implicit dialogues" (4), but within these implicit dialogues, there are several factors that determine the quality of an argument:

  • What you need to keep in mind is the fact that personal opinions are often diverse (the diversity based on differences in cultural beliefs, religious convictions, and social backgrounds) and may sometimes seem strange because they may be based on value judgments rather than facts
  • Argumentation is not a matter of winning or losing, as in competitive sports; rather they are "negotiations," so we can reach certain "compromises" (5)
  • Some compromises may not be "morally defensible" or ethical, but they are honest opinions, nevertheless, and we should respect them.  Once again, you may agree or disagree with an opinion and present your point of view clearly and without bias
  • In a situation where you think the author's view point is not morally acceptable, your objective will be to search for a "middle ground" (5).   After all, we all belong to a community, and these issues are important to all of us.  Instead of constantly trying to find fault with other view points, we should work together to solve problems and come to some possible resolution that would lead to "'the common good'" (5).

The next question is why study argument and why write argumentative essays in English 201? 

The answer is that argumentative discourse is closest to logic, and our ability to follow an argument and write an argumentative essay well stand as evidence of your literacy, knowledge, and sharp critical thinking skills.

As the text points out, you will use the skills of good argument throughout your academic career as required in various disciplines; you will be able to articulate your opinion clearly and forcefully as an educated citizen or a professional job-holder; you will be able to distinguish between right and wrong;   you will be able to make 'responsible choices"; you will, finally, be able to argue with logical reasoning.

In the process of writing argumentative essays, you will learn to analyze the issue at hand; make your claim authoritative and permanent; defend your claim; and become better thinkers.

The Terms of Argument (i.e. the elements that you need to learn in reading and writing arguments) are as follows:

1.  Your Claim or Proposition or Thesis, stated directly or indirectly.  There are three    different types of claims:

  • Claims of Fact--When we assert our opinion based on factual information, something that is "verifiable."  
  • Claims of Value--When we approve or disapprove an idea, concept, action, or policy based on our belief system, what we consider "good or bad."
  • Claims of Policy--When we suggest alteration or modification of certain established policies, based on the our belief that changing the policies will serve as a solution to a problem.

    2.  Your Support--facts, statistics, testimony from experts etc.used to convince and persuade your audience.  Often, your own experience or perception may not be enough evidence to convince your readers.  You need to research and find similar or related opinions expressed by well-known writers, with some credentials, or experts in these fields.  Only then, your claim would carry some weight.

    3.  The Warrant--an "inference" or "assumption" made to qualify your position as an arguer.  When you make a claim, you need to guess your audience's knowledge and attitude towards the subject you are discussing.  Warrants are used to help your readers rely on your judgment.   Your readers may accept your claim, or not, based on their perception of the common values, principles, or beliefs.

    Finally, comes your Audience--When writing an argument, you will automatically assume that your readers may not agree with your opinion.  You need to make special efforts to "reach" your audience (readers) so they understand, accept, or at least see your point of view on an issue.  As Aristotle said, thousands of years ago, an arguer should "find, discover, and utilize . . . all available means of persuasion" to communicate successfully (i.e. to convince and persuade).  He suggested that the writer (or communicator) use Ethos, ethical appeal, for credibility, Pathos,emotional appeal, for sympathy, and Logos, logical appeal, for objective reasoning.   You should learn to use all these elements to be able to "reach" your audience.  Only then, your arguments will be successful.

    This is the main gist of Chapter 1.  I would also like you to read Thomas Jefferson's essay "The Declaration of Independence" on page 18 and read the textual analysis of the essay to understand all the elements of a good argument.





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