Arguments and argumentative writing are encountered everywhere — not just in college classes. You might come across them in discussions and debates, and in other non-academic settings:
One of the more valuable aspects of rhetorical awareness and engaged reading is that they can be applied in many situations. When people or organizations (e.g., politicians, pundits, advertisers, business associates, etc.) attempt to persuade you, your ability to recognize an argument, and to identify and evaluate its components, enables you to make intelligent decisions and effective responses.
An ad for a public radio station, thanking those who made donations during its last fundraising drive, and stating that the station is funded by "listeners like you." Although this argument only makes claims about the source of funding, it also makes an implicit claim that funding a public radio station is inherently good, and that people "just like you" regularly do so. How do you think the rest of this argument unfolds?
Remember, not all arguments state what they argue for directly.
The second argument occurs after the public radio station commercial. The station plays a song by a small band named "The Devil Makes Three." The song, "All Hail," makes several explicit arguments (followed by several implicit arguments) about what is wrong with society. The societal ills to which the song refers include drug use and capitalism run rampant.
When the song ends, the most explicit argument is broadcast. It's election season, and a group called the "Concerned Veterans" of your home state sponsor a advertisement arguing that a senator who is running for re-election — who supported "Obamacare" during the statewide adoption vote — is likely to force "Obamacare" on all citizens. They argue that "Obamacare" is bad policy, and that elected officials who support it (including the senator) should not be re-elected.
These three arguments are each driven by specific motives and are designed to accomplish specific purposes. As an engaged listener, you should avoid accepting all claims as facts, and critically analyze each argument.
Engaged reading (and listening), and thinking critically about arguments as part of a conversation, are important skills within and outside of college. Techniques including note-taking and SQ3R (an acronym for "scan, question, read, recite, review") will help you to get as much as you can from an argument, whether you plan to use it as a source for written work or not.
Some arguments are so well-constructed that readers don't notice their components. It's important to deconstruct all arguments, no matter how smooth or convincing they are, and evaluate the components. Doing so will enable you to recognize the techniques and strategies that have been used. Here are a few things to look for when you deconstruct an argument:
Following are some techniques you can use to deconstruct an argument:
Try using these practices (and asking these questions) on an argument that interests you, or one that you are constructing. They will help you to gain a deeper, more critical understanding of not only what is argued, but how.
Following are two sample arguments that you can use to practice this analysis. The first example is an article (published on slate.com) titled "Green Day Will Likely Go in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Next Year. They Deserve It," by Dee Lockett. This example is representative of arguments you can find online. Following is the thesis of this argument:
"Those surprised that Green Day is eligible already — Rock Hall rules state that an artist becomes eligible 25 years after the release of their first record — should check out their first two albums, 1990's 39/Smooth, and 1992's Kerplunk, which are about as good as anything you'll find on Dookie."
The argument is essentially that Green Day created pop punk, and thereby brought punk to the masses. The primary forms of support include commentary and critical analysis of Green Day's albums, quotes from rock critics and industry experts, information about the music history that led up to Green Day, and what the band helped to build. These elements balance logos and ethos (i.e., appeals to logic and credibility). The article also makes a subtle appeal to pathos, in sentences including, "their fast fame, coupled with Kurt Cobain's 1995 suicide, symbolized a changing of the guard in rock."
The author's purpose seems to be to persuade readers that Green Day's admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is defensible. Also, she seems to be credible. Dee Lockett is a culture journalist (i.e, she researches and writes about pop culture, including music). She cites other pop music experts, and makes a compelling case for her thesis.
Readers can dispute the writer's inclusion of Green Day in the same category as grunge rockers. By doing so, she creates an impression that Green Day was part of the grunge movement in rock music. Some readers might view this assertion as disingenuous: it may seem that the writer wants to elevate Green Day by (inaccurately) associating it with the grunge movement. Readers might also question whether commercial success (e.g., selling lots of records) equates to being a great band. However, there is solid evidence that these attributes are favored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is the premise that she argues.
The second argument to analyze is an image, one of the many visual arguments you likely encounter on a daily basis. The original image was posted at www.farrahgray.com, though its creator is unknown. Since the original posting, the image (and its feminist critique) has been shared widely through social media.
The thesis of this argument is that the National Football League (NFL) tries to camouflage acts of domestic violence committed by players and other personnel, but it can't hide them forever. As with many images, the primary appeal is one of pathos. When confronted with an image of a beautiful football fan with a half-closed black eye, most viewers feel a combination of empathy (with the victim), and irony (in response to the manufactured image). Underlying the appeal to pathos, however, is an appeal to logos: an insistence on the reality of domestic violence, and the practice of covering it up when it is committed by NFL players, coaches, and staff members.
The purpose of this image seems to be to call attention to the NFL's hypocrisy, and its mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and other cases of abuse. The image is participates in an ongoing conversation regarding the treatment of women in America.
Credibility is difficult to evaluate in an argument like this one. The image seems credible because it makes its case directly and unequivocally. However, it relies on emotion and irony, rather than reason and evidence (forms of support often used to establish credibility).
In responding to this image, consider whether it is manipulative. If it is, how manipulative is it? Does it make its case dishonestly? Does the importance of the message outweigh the need for reason and evidence? Although the image is compelling, is it effective in accomplishing change or calling attention to an issue, or is it a form of dark humor?
Consider the use of visual elements in this (or any) image. The model's happy, expectant expression is disturbing in the modified image, suggesting that she has been forced to project happiness she doesn't feel. However, the text included in the image — "Get your game face on" — is doubly ironic. It hints that the "game face" is the makeup used to hide the effects of domestic abuse, and that a battered face is a woman's "game face" when the NFL is involved.
Source: Adapted from Sophia Instructor Gavin McCall