Argumentative Writing: An Overview The primary form of academic writing is driven by argument. In the academic context, this doesn't refer to fighting, which sometimes comes to mind when "argument" is mentioned. When discussing writing it's useful to think of an argument as a conversation between thoughtful people who, although they have different views, want to answer the same questions. For the purposes of this tutorial, an argument is defined as writing that states a position on a debatable question and supports its claims with evidence and reasoning.
1.2.2 Modes of Argument Although argumentative essays sometimes incorporate other modes of writing (e.g., the persuasive or informative modes), all essays that present an argument are considered argumentative.
The persuasive mode is similar to the argumentative: Both of these writing modes seek to influence readers to accept an assertion or take a particular action. The persuasive mode, however, emphasizes pathos (to appeal to readers' emotions), more than ethos (appeals to readers' sense of right and wrong), or logos (appeals to logic and reasoning).
Writing in the informative mode does not argue a specific point, but instead provides information about a subject. This sometimes involves analysis and interpretation, however, which require a form of argumentation.
Since the purpose of informative writing is to inform — not to convince or persuade — this mode is a different kind of writing: it has different requirements.
Following is an excerpt from an essay. As you read it, look for elements of argumentative, persuasive, and informative writing.
Part of the reason Hawai'i seems like such a paradise is that it's not home to many of nature's less pleasant organisms. No nettles or poison ivy, few thorny plants or poisonous plants, no snakes or apex predators. Until humans arrived, Hawai'i was a paradise for many organisms. But now that rats, cats, sheep, pigs and invasive vines, trees and grasses have been introduced, the ecosystem that had been at stasis for so long is slowly and steadily becoming more like that of the continental United States (Harjo, 2005, p. 3). Even as government officials inspect ship and air cargo for green tree snakes and fire ants, tree frogs and the multitude of other species that haven't yet established a foothold in the islands, even as ranchers and hunters coordinate to keep wild pigs and sheep populations under control, even as university researchers and park rangers tag and protect endangered birds and turtles, they know it's a battle they can't win.
Which mode of writing is used in this excerpt? It contains elements of each mode, doesn't it? The writer attempts to inform the reader about the subject, but he or she also takes — and supports — a position. In addition, the persuasive mode is evident at the end of the excerpt, when the writer makes an emotional appeal that expresses his or her sadness at how human actions have irrevocably changed Hawai'i, rather than a reason-based argument about the ecosystem.
1.2.3 Rhetorical Appeals
Rhetorical appeals are strategies used in writing that are designed to persuade or convince. You can use these categories of convincing strategies to describe the various ways that you try to reach out to your readers and appeal to them so that they will agree with you and trust your arguments.
There are four types of rhetorical appeals: pathos, ethos, logos and kairos.
These tools can help you as a writer strengthen your arguments and become more successful and convincing.
The act of persuasion can almost feel like a battle—your point of view facing off against the entrenched opinions of another. It’s important to remember that your audience members aren’t your enemies! Instead of trying to defeat them with arguments, it can often be more effective to win them over with reason.
Knowing your audience—their beliefs, values, and expectations—will help you strengthen your communication skill and make the most influential argument in any situation. But, since writing isn’t one-size-fits-all, understanding what will persuade your audience also requires you to utilize your innovation skill to consider novel approaches that will help you create a show-stopping argument for any crowd!
1a. Logos Appeals to logos are appeals to logic; these appeals use logic to persuade or convince. When you appeal to logic, you appeal to your reader’s intelligence, intellect, and understanding of the world. Logos is thus meant to support your central argument with claims that are based in fact, reason, and logic.
If you are trying to convince someone to buy your used car, you might use logos to appeal to the potential buyer by describing the miles per gallon that your car gets, how reliable it is, or what its safety crash rating is—all to show that it is a smart choice for the potential buyer. Or imagine you’re taking a writing class, and you’ve been assigned an argumentative paper. If you’ve chosen to make the argument that high school should start later in the day, you might appeal to logos by providing research that shows that the teenage brain works best starting later in the day, or by giving a hypothetical example of a student who gets to sleep in a little later and performs better in class because of it. In those ways, you’d be providing data and reasoning to show your reader that your position in this debate is the smartest one, the best one to believe.
1b. Ethos Appeals to ethos are appeals to credibility; these appeals use the author’s own trustworthiness to persuade or convince. When you appeal in this way to ethics, you demonstrate that you—and your expert sources—are believable and trustworthy because you’re credible. In other words, you’re basically making an appeal to a trust in your believability. You’re making the claim that you are ethical and trustworthy, and therefore, that your research and opinions ought to be believed. Ethos is meant to support your thesis by asserting that your claim is backed up by trustworthy research, uses valid and credible expert sources, and has ethically considered all possible arguments before choosing a side.
1c. Pathos Appeals to pathos are appeals to emotion; these appeals evoke emotion to persuade or convince. When you appeal to pathos, you appeal to your reader’s emotional feeling. Pathos is thus meant to cause your readers to feel the emotions you want them to feel, such as anger, sadness, or excitement in order to cause them to believe that your thesis is valid.
2. Using the Appeals Effectively Now that you’ve had a taste of these three appeals, you can think about how you can use them most effectively. You want to start by thinking about the purpose of your argument.
EXAMPLEPoliticians want citizens to vote for them, so they use these kinds of argumentative tools to encourage those votes and thereby meet their ultimate purpose of getting elected.
In your own writing, you’ll likely use a variety of these appeals as well, deploying different ones for different situations and audiences.
in context If you’re writing a paper advocating for an end to the death penalty, you might use many different appeals to connect all possible readers. Some people would be more convinced by facts about the way the death penalty is imposed, and others by the credibility of your ethical argumentation. Still others will be most convinced by emotional appeals that ask them to consider how this policy makes people feel. However, it’s important to choose wisely because for every reader convinced by one appeal, another might be repelled by the same.}}
A misused or mistimed appeal can lose you your argument, so you’ll want to follow these steps to effectively deploy appeals:
The first is an appeal to emotion. You know this not just because it likely makes you feel sad and angry, although your own feelings as a reader are clues. But you also know this is an appeal to pathos because you can see a lot of emotional words, and words that have strongly emotional connotations:
Looking for those elements of a text’s tone can help you see what kind of appeal it’s making. Words such as vital, privileged, lucky, birthright—those are evocative emotional clues that this is an appeal to pathos.
The second example has a pretty different tone from the first, even though it’s covering the same topic. Look at all that data and the even, unemotional tone of the language.
Those factors tell you that this is making an appeal to your logic. The last example again takes a different tone; it’s full of ethos. See how the author presents the claim using trustworthy sources, responds considerately to the opposing side, and concludes with a logical and credible argument about how his proposal will play out in the future?
This shows that the argument itself is credible and that the author can be trusted to tell the truth and represent any data honestly.}}
1.2.4 Effective Arguments: Examples
Suppose your English professor has just assigned an argumentative essay on the subject of welfare and public assistance. This is a broad subject, so you've got plenty of options. You could, for example, write an argument that advocates the elimination of public monetary and food assistance programs, and using the money saved to subsidize low-income workers, thus raising the minimum wage without making employers pay more.
Argument 1: The government should abolish food stamps and monetary assistance, and instead subsidize low-income workers, raising the minimum wage.
To support this argument, you must locate data about what this would cost, to determine whether it would be feasible. However, it might be a good working thesis. You might also take a different position, arguing for an increase in the range and scope of government assistance programs. You might claim that it would be better to integrate these currently separate programs and combine, for example, the disability payout program with those that help the underprivileged to pay for college.
Argument 2: Government assistance programs should be integrated, so they can better provide people with what they need.
You'd need sources to support this argument, but you could also use an emotional appeal to persuade readers.
You might also argue that these kinds of programs should be eliminated, to enable society to enjoy the benefits of a true free market system.
Argument 3: Government aid should be abolished to allow our economy to become a truly freemarket system, which would be good for everyone in the long run.
This last argument would involve an emotional appeal, perhaps to American individualism and optimism. However, you should also make a logic-based claim, perhaps asserting how this would be better for all citizens in the long run. As these examples demonstrate, multiple arguments can be made about a single subject. Many more arguments could be made than those described above. Besides the topic, there is something that all three of the sample arguments share: each seeks to answer one debatable question. There are many ways to phrase it, but the question that each of the working thesis statements above claim to answer is this:
Question: What should society do to help those in need?
Each of the arguments outlined in this section is a potential answer to this question. When writing an argumentative essay, you must first decide what you believe, then argue for it.