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As our text explains, argument does not mean a nasty disagreement with someone. Rather it means a reasoned effort to persuade in the course of an honest discussion ? one where all views are heard and each is considered in good faith. Its goal, in addition to persuasion, is truth seeking. One way to understand argument as truth seeking is to see it as the process people go through when they have a serious community problem, see several potential ways to solve that problem, and must choose the best course for the community. In this view, argument is a weighing of alternatives against a background of knowledge. Other kinds of argument exist as well: arguments about causation, about definition, and still others. Yet in all of them there are alternatives, and something is at stake that potentially affects the well-being of a group. The outcome of an argument matters.
Before you begin your project, you should be aware that there are several common ways to stumble in an argument. For example, many inexperienced arguers, when they do research for an argument essay, look only for material supporting what they already believe. This is necessary but hardly sufficient. One reason it is insufficient is the nature of your audience and your topic. Your audience is made up of people who don?t already believe what you do, some of whom have very good reasons for not agreeing with you. If you are ignorant of their reasons, you?ll never be able to persuade them. They?ll simply dismiss you as, well ? ignorant. If you know only a caricature of their position and insult them or make fun of them for holding their views, they will not only consider you ignorant but rude as well. I hope I don?t have to tell you why threatening is ineffective, but I may need to point out that cheating by, say, leaving out evidence for other views is also counterproductive. No one thinks highly of a cheater, and very few people listen to others who aren?t worthy of respect. Remember that an arguable topic is one raising serious questions with multiple answers about which reasonable people might reasonably disagree. Being one of those reasonable people means considering that your own first views may be incomplete or based largely on misunderstanding, stereotypes, tribal myths, or emotion. Look at alternatives before you settle into the claim you want to defend.
Instead of the above well-known ways to fail at persuasion, try very hard to see the world through your audience?s eyes. Trying out their position does not mean giving up your own view, but it does mean seeing how that view appears to others. Knowing how they see the world and see you are prerequisites to finding connections between what you understand, what they understand, and that set of understandings somewhere in between ? which is where you hope your audience will wind up. Complete capitulation to your view is rare among people who have thought through what they believe. More often, everyone learns to see things afresh and to reconsider ideas in the light of new perspectives. That makes argument one of the most valuable tools we have for maintaining democracy and fostering civilized society. It is also one of the best ways to grow and mature intellectually. An argument succeeds if most participants can say at the end, ?gee, I never thought of it that way before; I see where you?re coming from ? even if I don?t yet agree with you.?
As before, write your essay for an audience who don?t know you?re doing a class assignment and who, probably, don?t have your familiarity with the issue. Considering all the research you?ve done, you?re something of an expert on your topic, while most of the rest of us aren?t. So you?ll need to introduce the issue and tell us why it matters and what the controversy is. Remember that some of us, while perhaps lacking your expertise, have actually thought about the issue and probably have other views. Respect us and work with us to help us see things more clearly. Be open to modifying some of your own first thoughts as well, and cautious about all-or-nothing generalizations.
Write your essay as well as you can, then grade it yourself using the grading rubric below. Use what you learn about your essay from the rubric to revise the essay before you hand it in. I?ll use the same rubric when I score your final draft.
SAVE ALL YOUR DRAFTS! Every time you work on your essay, save it as a new file (perhaps by adding a number to the title). You will need to print a comparison of your first complete draft and your final draft to demonstrate significant revising. See the handout ?Using MS Word?s Compare to Document Revisions? for how to do that. It gives you step-by-step instructions along with screen captures.
Grading rubric (6 points each)
? The essay is written for an external audience; it does not assume the audience knows about the assignment.
? The issue is current and arguable: reasonable people might reasonably come to different conclusions.
? Significant numbers of people disagree with you.
? You have a strong thesis (pp. 37-41)
? You present serious opposing views fairly.
? You respond to opposing views effectively.
? You present reasoned positive arguments in support of your thesis.
? Your arguments are supported by audience-based reasons.
? Your tone is reasonable rather than emotional, belligerent, or sarcastic.
? Your argument is buttressed by at least eight recent scholarly articles or respected statistical sources.
? Your essay is well-organized, unified, and coherent.
? Your sentences and paragraphs are clear and effective.
? You use direct quotation sparingly (pp. 558-561)
? You introduce your experts? claims, then present them, then explain how they relate to the case you?re building.
? You cite your sources correctly and unambiguously (ch. 21, 22) using attributive tags where you can (pp. 561-565)
? You avoid plagiarism and patch writing (pp. 560, 569-573)
(In addition, I will deduct one point for each spelling, punctuation, grammar, or usage error ? up to a limit of 25. I will also deduct five points if you fail to include an accurate word count of your text.)
Please be clear that THIS ASSIGNMENT HAS TWO PARTS: first, the essay itself, worth 100 out of 120 points; second, the printed merger and markup of your first and final drafts, worth 20 out of 120 points. See the handout ?Using MS Word?s Compare to Document Revisions.?
Our book?s description of the assignment is the Writing Project on page 353. In addition, your argument must be supported by research from peer-reviewed sources. You may also use reliable statistical sources. Refer to ?Conducting Academic Research? on our course page for guidance. Your final draft must make use of eight or more scholarly or statistical sources. You may have other sources that are not scholarly, but there must be a scholarly core of at least eight.
A structure for your paper is on page 353, and an alternative outline is given below.
A model researched argument is on pages 590-8. The model is approximately 2000 words long. A second example appears on pages 372-6.
Your text must be at least 2000 words long, not counting the list of works cited. If your paper is significantly short, I will lower the grade 25%. I define what ?significantly? means.
Review pages 335-6 and 354-5 for finding an arguable issue. Your issue MUST be researchable from peer-reviewed databases available in Welder Library. Before you settle on it, explore your issue in the databases to make sure that usable scholarly materials exist.
Your paper must make a significant claim and must offer good reasons in support of that claim. See pages 336-9.
Recall the syllabus warning about plagiarism: plagiarizing the final project will result in an F for the entire course.
Your paper must address serious objections and counterarguments. It must present these alternative views fairly and respectfully. Do not let their opponents speak for them; seek original views. See pages 343-7. If your paper does not consider serious alternative views, I will lower the grade 25%.
Your text must include a list of works cited in MLA format. A sample is on page 597-8. Use Chapter 22 for formatting your entries. Use parenthetical citations and/or attributive tags in the body of your paper (see pages 577-9) whenever you use material from your sources. Your final draft must include at least eight scholarly articles or reputable online statistical sources. If you haven?t done so already, this would be a good time to read the handout ?Managing Bibliographic Citations Electronically.?
The audience for your paper is thoughtful people who are not in our class; you will need to explain what you are doing and why.
Follow the format requirements (or use the template) for English 121
An Alternative Structure
The argument structure outlined on page 353 can certainly work well, and if it works for you, please use it. I find, however, that the following structure works well for many writers:
? What is the issue? Why does it matter (and to whom)?
? What is the controversy?
? In brief, where do you stand (and why)? [This is your thesis]
? In brief, what objections do your opponents raise?
? Take each objection in turn and in detail. Make the best case for it you can. Concede to and/or answer the objection.
? Present and support in detail the additional reasons you have for holding your position.
? Return to the issue and wrap up.
I see three advantages to this structure. First, if you plunge right in to your case, your opponents are thinking only of their objections. Letting them go first calms them down. Secondly, letting them go first, and playing fair with them, strengthens your ethos. And finally, ending on your own side is more effective than ending on theirs because readers generally leave an essay with the last points most clearly in mind. You want those points to be yours.
Feel free to use this structure, the one in the book, or something else. The bottom line is always: do what works.
About the Demonstration of Revising (Comparison of first and final drafts)
The merger of your first and final drafts should show that you have revised globally and substantially. Compare the words of the experienced writer and the inexperienced writer on page 437. Emulate the professional. A student example is on page 439. A professional example is in the following handout from the Harvard writing center: https://www.fas.harvard.edu/~wricntr/documents/Revising.html The difference between local and global revising is explained on page 440. Your revisions must give evidence of further thinking. Spelling corrections and word substitutions are not nearly enough.
This project is worth 30% of your final grade in our course.
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