Now that you have read Chapter 1 and possibly understood the reasons why argumentation is an important element in academics, it is time for you to learn to compose your own arguments.

First of all, skim through the first chapter "Composing and Revising" (page 2-48) in A Writer's Handbook to get a quick overview of the writing process, something you have already learned in English 101.  Pay special attention to Section C5 (page 37-48) which covers "Arguments" in a nutshell.  This section will help you ease into the second chapter of Elements (from now on, we will be using this abbreviation) "Responding to Argument" (page 25).  You read in the previous chapter the reasons why we need to learn argumentation: it is because argumentative discourse is closest to logic, and our ability to follow an argument and write an argumentative essay well stand as evidence of our literacy, knowledge, and sharp critical thinking skills.   Also, in the process of writing argumentative essays, you will learn to analyze the issue at hand; make your own claim authoritative and permanent; defend your claim; and become better thinkers.



"Responding to Argument"
Chapter 2 (25)
Elements of Argument

Responding as a Critical Reader (page 25):

As the authors point out "a full understanding of an argument means more than understanding the message.  It also means evaluating, deciding whether the message is successful and then determining how it succeeds and fails in persuading us" (emphasis mine) (25).  That means you need to

  • develop a critical eye and try to understand the complexity of an argument and delve into the different layers of the argument
  • learn how experts write their arguments so you can emulate their style
  • be an "active" reader rather than a "passive" reader, by carrying on a silent dialogue with the author; approving something that the author points out, especially if the idea or opinion meets your value system; or raising objections when needed

The authors offer a few tips to being and active reader/recipient for better comprehension (page 26-27):

  • Highlighting, sparingly, the main points in your book; asking questions about an author's opinion/ideas (remember you have the right to criticize and question any opinion); sharing you own opinion of what you read with your fellow classmates or others is always revealing of what people think and why; annotating your thoughts in the margin of your text is beneficial because your ideas while reading an essay will normally be spontaneous and will help later.
  • "Pay attention to the title--and the subtitle" because it reveals either the direction the topic will take or it may reflect the author's attitude on the subject.
  • "Look for the main idea [thesis] and the structure of the . . . essay" and create a mental outline of the main points of the essay for an overall understanding.   Mind you, the ideas could be complex in the way they are presented, so reading any essay at least twice helps.  Look for the thesis in the introduction or close to the beginning of the essay.  On the other hand, a thesis may be implicit rather than explicit; therefore, a quick overview of the whole essay will be helpful before you begin to probe more deeply.
  • Besides these critical elements, there are other things you need to pay attention to
  1. the Topic sentences of each Body Paragraph--the statement that signifies the sub-point being discussed in the paragraph
  2. the transitional words and phrases

Once you have mastered the art of active reading, you are now ready to respond to an argument.  Read the two sample essays, (a) "The Pursuit of Whining:   Affirmative Action circa 1776" (28) and "No-Win Situation" (32) to see how the two essays have been analyzed, annotated, and summarized, the same things you need to do every time you are asked to critically respond to another writer's work.

Organization, Support, and Style (page36):
Your organization of an argumentative essay will be very similar to the essays you wrote in English 101.
(For a more detailed discussion on Organization, Support, and Style, please read pages 343-349 in your text book.)

  • An effective Introduction with (a) some background information or hook or attention-grabber (b) your claim as the thesis statement
  • Three or four Body Paragraphs where you will provide reasons for the claim you are making with adequate supporting details/evidences.  Each body paragraph will begin with a topic sentence (with smooth transition from the previous paragraph), supporting details which should be developed with specific examples, illustrations, quotations and expert opinions from research, and a clear concluding statement
  • A Conclusion that will end the essay, repeating and reinforcing some of the main points you made in your essay, only with different wording, restating your thesis in a different way, and leaving the readers with some additional thought on the issue.  A conclusion brings a closure to your thought process
  • Your supporting details should be based on specific information, not generalized ideas or thoughts.  Specific details are taken from
  1. Your own life experiences or knowledge of the topic at hand: Let us say that you are writing an essay on smoking, and you claim is that smoking is definitely hazardous to health.  You can use the evidences from your own life: your father may have smoked and later in his life he developed a smoke-related illness, or if something similar happened to your friends.  All these examples would help in showing the dangers related to smoking.  The examples will also act as specific details--real-life examples from your own experience/knowledge.  In such situations, using the first-person point of view I is perfectly acceptable in a seminar paper.   After all, you are expressing what you know and your personal attitude towards the issue/topic at hand. 
  2. Supporting details could also be drawn from expert opinion based on research, so quoting--of course sparingly--from the works of authors in the text or from research on your own--is one of the best ways to develop your argument. 
  3. Other ways you can use supporting details is to use information from your personal observation--TV programs, statistical information, movies, other courses you have taken or are taking now, and specifically conversations with your class mates or friends etc.
  4. To do a good job in using information from other sources, you need to master the MLA (Modern Language Association) style of documentation.  You should review (a) the Punctuation chapter (pages 267-273) to learn about how to quote and (b) the MLA Documentation chapter (pages 324-360) to learn about how to incorporate in-text citations and works-cited formats in A Writer's Handbook.
  • The Style of your writing is very personal.  Do not try to impress your readers by using a very sophisticated language or using too much researched information.  Be yourself and use a language you would normally use when conversing with people you know.  Of course slang, profanity, and colloquial languages are avoided in writing unless they are used in a special sense.

Responding as a Critical Listener (page 37):
People say that we cannot be good writers of arguments until and unless we develop critical listening skills.  Critical listening skills require that you concentrate and concentrate on the right issues, not on sensational and dramatic information.  You need to follow the logic behind an argument--why is the speaker saying something.  Try to weigh the pros and cons of what the speaker is saying.  Also, when listening to an argument, keep an open mind, and not be prejudiced or biased.  These methods are applicable to your listening skills not only when you are watching a talk show or other programs on TV and radio, but also when you are having a candid and open discussion with your class mates on a seminar topic.

Oral arguments on TV programs like Crossfire, Firing Line, The McLaughline Group, or Oprah Winfrey Show are good examples of oral arguments.  You can develop your listening skills by watching some of these shows and critically evaluating the process of argumentation.  Most of these programs deal with public issues and concerns that most of us are either interested in or aware of.  You may also gather a great deal of information for your essays by listening to these arguments.   Read the text, pages 37-40, to learn how to develop your listening skills.

This is basically what you need to know in this chapter; however, please go through the rest of the chapter to see what the chapter has to teach you in terms of Responding to a Visual Argument, Responding to Advertisements, and Responding Online (especially effective for this class)


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The contents within these pages are solely those of the author and S.C.C.
should not be held responsible.  2005 and 2006
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