Adversarial Audience: College Football Players

Issue I: The Athletic GPA Controversy ? You are in favor of the following proposal:
Issue II: The Spanking Controversy ? You are in favor of the following proposal:

Spanking should be a conditionally acceptable form of punishment when necessary.

Adversarial Audience: People who believe that physical
reprimand is at least unnecessary to discipline and possibly
Step 1: The State has the right to punish its criminals.

Step 2: Punishment can be neither cruel nor unusual.

Step 3: People often say that Capital Punishment is both cruel and unusual.

Step 4: Carrying out of C.P. does have some problems, but…

Step 5: …C.P. is neither cruel nor unusual.* (This is, of course, the trickiest step)

Step 6: C.P. should not be abolished.

There are lots of things you need to understand before writing an argument essay this term:
What is an argument?
Who is the audience for an argument?
How should argument papers be organized for that audience?
As an arguer, how should I sound to that audience?
These are some of the key questions you’ll have to shape answers to with my help in order to craft a good
Formal Argument Essay, but here’s one very important thing to keep in mind: I want to distinguish an argument
essay from a position paper. In high school, most of the time you wrote position papers. Basically you were
asked to give your opinion on a topic and have more or less support for why you have that opinion. When you
write an argument this semester, it will certainly contain your opinion, your position. But I am not so
interested in the content of your opinion as I am in your reasoning for holding it—and this is where true
argument comes into play. Expressing your opinion is one thing, making it persuasive to another is difficult.

What is an Argument?
You know that loud yelling match you heard from the neighbors’ house last night, the one that woke you at 3am?
Well, that’s not an argument. That’s a quarrel; that’s people letting off steam. They are trying to argue,
but what they’re most likely doing is having a disagreement, and when people disagree, they usually aren’t
arguing at all. That’s because an argument is a REASONED RESPONSE to a disagreement, to a controversy, to a
problem. In a little more detail: an argument is a set of statements about the world that fit together in
such a way as to be both logically and practically compelling.

Here’s an argument that’s logically compelling:
All men are mortal;
Socrates is a man.
(Therefore) Socrates is mortal.

This should be logically compelling because it follows a form of logic that cannot be challenged in our
existence. The form is a kind of syllogism (you don’t have to remember the technicalities) that works like
this: All things of one sort [men] have a particular quality [mortality]; An individual [Socrates] is an
example of this type [man]; therefore, the individual [Socrates] shares that general quality [mortality]. Or,
more mathematically: All (x) are (y); S is an (x); therefore, S is (y). Any terms thrown into this
syllogistic form will lead to a compelling logical conclusion so long as the statements are held to be true.
(If you said ‘All men are Chinese’ for your first statement, there’d be problems because not all people are

But some arguments, while still relying on the accuracy of their statements, aren’t quite so compelling. For
example, it’s one thing to say all men are mortal; it’s another to say all men are educated. The fact is,
educatedness is a more difficult term to define and measure than is the term mortal. You won’t get people to
agree with you until they agree that your definition of educatedness is sound.

Anyway, the point is this: part of an argument paper—we can call it the logical part—is all a matter of
putting together a set of statements about the world that are reasonably true and will cause people to change
their beliefs and/or make them move to action. You might call this the WHAT of an argument.

But an argument also has a HOW. You might have the best, most persuasive insight into solving a problem, but
if you do not know HOW to say WHAT you are saying, chances are the argument will fail before it gets off the
ground. Here’s the point: it matters how you sound when you argue; it matters how you arrange the logic of
your position. High school let you down in this regard. They let you write position papers. These were
opinion papers based on the expository (information-giving) model of writing. In a position paper, it just
seemed you were still giving information—information about something you believed in or thought should or
shouldn’t be done. But the trouble is, the solve-the-controversy-with-an-argument situation is not,
primarily, an information-giving situation.

Who is the audience for an argument?
The argument situation is a persuasive situation, and, by definition, the people whom you address with your
point of view are those people who disagree with you. We can call them the Adversarial Audience. When you
address people who disagree with you, you cannot expect mere transmission of information to change their
minds. They must be led to the good sense of your (foreign) point of view.

The biggest problem with most student argument essays is that students write them to themselves; that is, they
present the argument as if people already agree with them (preaching to the choir), as if people already see
the good sense of their position. Don’t do this. Always keep in mind that you are addressing reasonable
people who have drawn different conclusions about the world than you have. They will be willing to listen,
but they’re not going to get down and lick your boots and change their beliefs just because you’ve got an

How should argument papers be organized for that audience?
When we write expository (information, friendly audience) essays, we are coached to put our thesis statements
at the beginning. This is not a bad strategy for information type papers because it helps the reader aim her
attention properly; it also works because readers-as-info-receivers are not going to challenge or disbelieve
what you say until you make a major mistake like, Well, we all know the Earth is flat. Again, expository
readers are a friendly audience, non-adversarial.

So what do you do with a thesis for an argument? The fact is, your thesis is the very claim about the world
that your readers will find most repugnant; it’s the statement of greatest DIS-agreement from their
perspective. Do you walk into a room of people in need of persuasion and begin with the most offensive, most
hilarious, craziest, most disagreeable claim you can? Hell no! You must carefully lead the skeptical
adversary toward your belief, toward your thesis.

In a good argument, the thesis comes at the end of the paper; in a great argument, it is never explicitly

Then what comes at the beginning of the argument? Points of Agreement.

It is assumed that no matter how adversarial an audience might be, you can find some things you agree
upon—comfy places from which to begin your argument knowing that you want to lead them to a position they
won’t like. Example: Lots of people are vehemently against capital punishment, many enthusiastic supporters
of it. There’s a lot of heated disagreement surrounding the controversy. But I do know this: Except for a
couple of radically weird Libertarian freaks in Idaho, everybody—C.P supporters and detractors alike—believe
that the state has a right to punish criminals. This is a good place to begin an argument (and note it
doesn’t even mention capital punishment per se).



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