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Argumentative Writing Overview

Argumentative Writing Overview

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson provides an overview of argumentative writing.

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Video Transcription

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Welcome to English composition, I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today we'll be taking a broad, expansive look at argumentative writing. We'll talk about the modes of argument and how the three types of rhetorical appeals contribute to understanding of arguments. And then we'll look at some examples of them to get a feel for the range of arguments we can find, even in a single topic.

The primary form of academic writing is writing driven by argument. And in the academic context, we aren't referring to the idea of fighting that most often comes to mind when people hear the word "argument." It's better and more accurate to think of it is a conversation between thoughtful people who have different perspectives, but generally want to find answers to the same questions.

For our purposes, we'll define an argument as writing the takes up a clear position on a debatable question and backs up its claims with evidence and reasoning. The key characteristics of successful academic arguments are clear, focused thesis on a debatable question that's supported by reasoning, incredible research in which possible counterarguments are considered. And in the academic context, argumentative writing has to incorporate research and evidence in addition to reasoning or other rhetorical appeals.

Many argumentative essays incorporate other modes of writing, such as the informative or persuasive modes, but so long as they still maintain the overall purpose of presenting an argument it's considered argumentative writing. The persuasive mode is similar to that of the argumentative in that it attempts to persuade the reader to take a particular action or to take on a specific point of view. But it will generally put more of an emphasis on pathos or appeals to emotion than on ethos, appeal to credibility, and logos, appeals to logic or reasoning.

The informative mode, meanwhile, isn't explicitly trying to argue anything, but rather to convey information about a subject. This will often involve analysis and interpretation though, which require a form of argumentation. But since the overall purpose is to inform and not to convince or persuade, the mode is considered a different kind of writing as it has different needs.

Now here's an excerpt from an essay. Pause the video and take as much time as you need to read it, looking as you do for argument, for persuasion, and for informative writing.

So what mode of writing would you say this falls into? It's got elements of each, doesn't it? It's definitely trying to inform us about the subject, but then it's also making judgments and supporting a position. And since the end of the passages is making more of an emotional appeal than anything else-- regret for how we, as humans, have forever changed Hawai'i and sadness that we can't fix it-- rather than a reason based argument about the recurrent and future ecosystems. There's also more than a bit of the persuasive mode here.

And that's the thing about these modes of writing. They're no set lines between them, and almost always they blur to some extent. So any given piece of argumentative writing is going to incorporate some elements of the other modes as well.

There are three types of rhetorical appeals-- pathos, ethos, logos. Pathos, or appeals to emotion, attempt to convince readers by causing an emotional reaction, and as such, they can be used unethically, especially if they aren't paired with evidence and reasoning. Ethos, meanwhile, are appeals to credibility. Though the term used to refer to only the credibility or character of the writer or speaker, modern day ethos based arguments are just as likely, if not more likely, to make use of the credibility and trustworthiness of the sources of information used in an essay.

And that leaves logos, or appeals to logic and reasoning. These appeals use facts and evidence to support logic based claims. This form of appeal is the primary focus of many argumentative essays. That being said, most instances of argumentative writing use all three forms of appeal in one way or another.

Now let's look at some arguments. Let's say that I'm in an introductory English class. My professor has just assigned an argumentative essay on the subject of welfare and public assistance. This is a pretty broad subject, so I've got plenty of options.

I could, for example, write an argument that advocates for removing all public cash and food assistance programs and instead using that money to subsidize low income workers, thus raising the minimum wage without making employers pay more. I'd need to find sources of data about what this might cost, obviously, to see if it would even be feasible. But it could be a good working thesis.

Or I could take a different stance on the subject and argue for an increase in the range and scope of government assistance programs, claiming that we'd be better off integrating these currently separate programs and unifying, for example, the disability payout program with those that help underprivileged youths and adults apply and pay for college. For this argument I'd also need sources, but I could probably use an emotional appeal of some kind too.

And I could even form an argument that we should get rid of these kind of programs altogether, and allow our society to become a truly free market system. This would entail some kind of emotional appeal, perhaps to the spirit of American individualism and hope. But I'd also probably want to have a logic based claim too, something about how or if this would be better for us as a society in the long run, perhaps.

So as you can see, in one subject, multiple arguments are waiting to be made. There are, of course, many more than these three that I could choose to make. But the thing is, besides this topic, there's something else that all three of these arguments share. They each seek to answer one debatable question.

There are multiple ways to put it, but I'd say the question that each of these working thesis statements are claiming to answer is this. What should we as a society do to help those of us in need? As you can see, each argument that I've sketched here is a potential answer to this question. All I need to do now is figure out what I really believe, and then argue for it.

So what did we learn today? We learned about argumentative writing-- from the different modes of argument to the three forms of rhetorical appeal, and an example of how different arguments can share the same topic and question. We got a pretty good overview of this, the most common kind of academic writing. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

In academic writing, an argument takes a clear position on a debateable question and backs up claims with evidence and reasoning.