Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today, we're going to talk about things to keep in mind when writing researched arguments, and then we'll look at some examples of the issues writers need to be aware of. When writing academic arguments, especially those based on research and outside sources of information, it's important to keep several things in mind.
The first is avoiding bias. As with informative writing, academic argumentative writing puts an emphasis on being unbiased, or more often, on acknowledging and accounting for bias. Even when making arguments about a topic or position that we feel strongly about, as academic writers, we have a responsibility to objectivity when making claims and using evidence. It's also important for writers to make sure they engage with their sources of information. The best way to insure this happens with each source is to make a habit of using engaged reading strategies when evaluating any potential source, and always remembering to act as a critical reader, one who participates in the conversation with the text on the topic of discussion.
Next, writers of argumentative research essays should always remember to consider counterarguments. These opposing viewpoints and perspectives should be taken into account when developing any argument, especially during the researching process when writers should be on the lookout for opinions that run counter to their own, and consider ways to refute, or otherwise address these opinions in their essay. Finally, writers of academic arguments, like writers of any other kind of text, should always keep the rhetorical situation in mind.
Knowing and understanding the purpose of their essay and its intended audience will bring clarity to their argument, and reveal how to structure it most effectively. I should also note that all of these considerations are valuable for readers of argument based essays too, since they can provide the same kind of deep critical understanding for readers as they do for writers.
Now, we're going to look at some arguments and see if we can tell whether, or to what degree, the writer has kept these important considerations in mind. So here's the first paragraph. Pause the video and read it carefully, looking as you do for the argument's working thesis, as well as any evidence of bias-- either acknowledge store unacknowledged-- whether the argument is truly participating in the conversation with its sources, any counter arguments being refuted, or counter arguments you could think of that should be refuted, and anything about the rhetorical situation you think the writer could be more aware of.
So what would you say is the working thesis here? I think it's the first line, as it often is with this kind of argumentative outline. And how does the rest of the paragraph go about supporting the thesis? Is it biased or objective? This is obviously a contentious issue-- anything to do with religion usually is-- so it's probably not a good idea for the writer to use the word irrational when referring to religious thought. Doing so will definitely alienate some readers-- 49% of them-- if the source's information is correct.
When writing about any subject as controversial as government protection of religious or anti religious thought, it's even more important that the writer maintain an objective stance, which, at the moment, isn't happening. As for the source being used, it's always a good idea with surveys to really get down into the data to look at what was asked, how it was asked, and any significant variations, or likely holes in the survey's process. As it stands, readers could easily question the fluffiness of the survey's question, especially because there's no context provided. What does unhappiness mean, really, and what other questions were asked?
As for counterarguments, one that this essay would definitely need to take into account is that in order to receive protected class status, atheists would need to experience a lot more discrimination than the essay is currently expressing. In order to refute this argument, perhaps the writer could introduce other examples of anti atheist sentiment, I'm not sure. And as for rhetoricality, the purpose here seems to be to persuade people to force a legislative action, so therefore, the intended audience should be all Americans. That being said, I don't think this is really addressed to all Americans, at least not yet.
If anything, it seems to be targeted towards the 51% who aren't against atheists. This essay could focus its attention more specifically, perhaps towards rallying atheists as a whole, or towards convincing the opposition. As it stands, the essay seems to be toeing the center line, and I'm not sure how effective that will be in the long run. Here's another early draft of an argument. Pause the video again, and we'll see if we can't find ways to help this writer too. The acknowledgement of bias, the engagement of sources, use of counterarguments, and awareness of the rhetorical situation.
This is an interesting and debatable thesis, arguing that the US government should ban channels claiming to be news, but actually providing entertainment instead. It's a bold claim, but one that, in my opinion, at least, could be presented with less bias. Using the term infotainment, and dismissing all news channels as not being good journalism reveals a fairly extreme opinion regarding the issue. So even though this position is certainly debatable, I'd recommend the writer adopt a more neutral stance, at least at first.
As for sources, in order for the thesis to be adequately supported, the writer will have to find specific examples of the kind of faux journalism being discussed. Otherwise, it'll be hard to really demonstrate the problem, which has to happen before the readers can be expected to accept a solution. It will also need some kind of secondary or primary source to prove to the damage being done to the national discourse by entertainment posing as journalism is really worth preventing to the extreme act of banning news networks.
As for the counterarguments, I think the most obvious one is that this thesis, with it's call for banning news networks entirely, is too extreme. In order to refute this, as I said, the essay will need to demonstrate the severity of the problem, and prove that banning these networks is the only viable option, which will be difficult. The purpose of this essay seems fairly clear though, to persuade the reader to adopt a position regarding the topic. The intended audience, judging here from the tone the author uses, and the assumed consent about news networks being useless or worse than useless, is likely Americans that are fed up with news networks. Or, at least, Americans that like to make fun of the sensationalism and shallowness of 24 hour news stations.
With this, I think the argument is already on point. If there was ever a group that could be persuaded to adopt this essay's position, that would be it. The question is, should this really be the essay's purpose, or should it want to have a broader audience-- one that might actually stand a chance of accomplishing the proposed ban of news networks. If so, the essay would have to change significantly. And here's the last argument will look at today. One more time, pause the video and read it, thinking about the considerations we've been discussing-- bias, engagement with sources, counterarguments, and the rhetorical situation. Then when you're done, we can compare notes.
I would say that, unlike the last two arguments we looked at, this one is not showing any obvious signs of bias. If the author considers him or herself a feminist, or if there's a close personal connection to online harassment, as in here she's been a victim of it, then we readers should probably be told this. And, in fact, given the very personal nature of this issue, everyone has some kind of connection to, or memory of harassment. It would probably be a good idea for the writer to introduce his or her personal experience anyway.
As for sources, we'd obviously need more details about the specific instances of bullying and harassment. Since a writer shouldn't assume that all readers will be familiar with Amanda Todd or Anita Sarkeesian. As the essay grows, it will also need sources to help it unpack the many different kinds of harassment being discussed, and to prove that it's really such a big or pervasive problem that government involvement is necessary. The most obvious counterargument I see is that site should monitor their communities, and that there's no need for governmental action. Let each online community, and the people more broadly, decide how to police these behaviors in general, and on a case by case basis.
The other, weaker, counter argument is that online harassment is not really a big deal, and victims should therefore just get over it. A third could be that trolling is the price we pay for privacy and anonymity on the internet, and that this is worth paying to maintain those standards. The first and last counterargument should almost certainly be addressed in some way, though the second can, in my opinion at least, be more safely disregarded. As for the rhetorical situation, the purpose of this paper seems to be to promote one solution to a problem over another, rather than arguing that online harassment is a problem, which would be neither an interesting or particularly debatable question.
This essay wants its readers to believe that governmental action, or at least stronger government involvement, is the best solution to the problem. The audience is anyone who cares about the issue of online harassment, which could include anyone from legislators and activists, to parents, teams, the list goes on. As far as context to consider, the current discussions about online harassment such as the cases of Amanda Todd and Anita Sarkeesian, and the attention being paid to the issue, should be brought into the argument at some point.
So as you can see, keeping certain important issues in mind when writing or reading arguments will almost always improve the depth of thought and the effectiveness of the argument, or the readers engagement with it. Paying extra attention to bias, engagement with sources, counterarguments, and the rhetorical situation is never a waste of time. What have we learned today? We learned about some of the most important things to keep in mind when writing or reading arguments. And then we looked at some example arguments with those things in mind. I'm Gavin McCall, thanks for joining me.