When presenting your point of view, should you adduce only the arguments in your favor, or those opposed as well?
There are several good reasons for presenting a one-sided argument. The first reason is focus; it’s so hard enough to maintain attention for very long in these distracted times, so you want to make your point quickly and then offer only the information you need to bring the point home. Why confuse matters by bringing in contradictory information? In this way, you have the best chance to maintain clarity and conciseness, which are both important factors in credibility. Second, if you’re selling something, it’s your professional obligation to represent your idea in the best possible light – let your competitors make their own argument. Third, why risk educating your listeners about alternatives they may not have considered?
While these are powerful arguments for leaving out contradictory information, they all have weaknesses when examined more closely. Showcasing alternatives can actually clarify matters and shorten your argument, because facts and evidence make most sense when seen in comparison to existing information. Besides, while clarity and conciseness are important to credibility, confidence tends to trump both, and what shows more confidence than not being afraid to discuss alternatives? Second, your competitors will make their best possible argument – when you’re not there to refute it. By bringing up their points before they do, and then refuting them, you can steal their thunder. It works just like an inoculation: by exposing them to a weaker version now you make them more resistant to the later hard-sell. Professionalism also implies objectivity in service of the end client, in this case your listeners. Finally, if your listeners are smart and truly care about the decision they are going to make, they will seek out every possible alternative they can anyway.
But the best reason to use a two-sided argument is that it has been shown in many studies to be the most effective for an educated and involved audience, if done right. A 1991 paper by Mike Allen analyzed the results of 26 studies that compared the effects on attitude change of three different approaches:
- One-sided arguments
- Two-sided arguments, in which counterarguments were listed
- Two-sided arguments, in which counterarguments were listed and refuted
They found that the least persuasive messages were two-sided with no refutations. Second were one-sided arguments. The most persuasive were those in which the speaker listed counterarguments and then refuted them. As the authors say, “Empirically, the order of the most effective messages should be two-sided with refutation, one-sided, and two-sided with no refutation.”
Think about what that means for a minute. When you’re trying the hardest to get your message across by focusing only on the strengths of your own arguments, when you’re most passionate and enthusiastic about your own position, you are not as persuasive as when you give some air time to the other side. How could that be?
Put yourself into the audience’s perspective for a moment. You are an intelligent, well-informed individual who has sat through hundreds of persuasive presentations. There are two dynamics at work when you’re listening to someone trying to influence your decision. First, your BS detector is fully armed and active, so whenever someone tries to sell you, your mind automatically pushes back, searching for its own counterarguments if none are given. Second, one-sided, “no-brainer” arguments subtly imply that there is no decision to be made, which robs you of your power to choose.
So, it’s generally good practice to include contradictory information in your communications, but there is a step missing from what we’ve discussed so far. I don’t believe it’s enough to simply list and then refute counterarguments – that’s a negative argument at best. You have to bring your point home with positive arguments in favor of your position. That’s when you can pull out all stops, speak with enthusiasm, conviction, and even passion about what you see as the way forward.
By doing this, you come across as someone who not only cares deeply about what you believe in, but as someone who has achieved that caring through fair-minded and intelligent consideration of the facts. What can be better for credibility than that?
How to Write Argumentative Essays
Argumentative essay writing requires that one is able to convince reasonable readers that their argument or position has merit. The art of argumentation is not an easy skill to acquire. It is one thing to have an opinion and another to be able to argue it successfully.
What Is an Argumentative Essay?
An argumentative essay is a genre of writing that aims at investigating an issue, taking a stand on an issue, generating and evaluating a multitude of evidence in a logical manner to support the overall claim. An argument essay is therefore meant to persuade people to think the same way you do i.e. convincing the reader to agree with the writer’s point of view.
While making an argument in academic writing, we aim at expressing a point of view on a subject and supporting it with logical evidence. We all use arguments at some time in our daily routines, and you probably have some know-how at crafting an argument. The verbal arguments we occasionally engage in can become unreasonable and heated losing the focus. The goal of an argumentative essay, however, is quite the opposite as the argument has to be specific, reasoned, detailed and supported with evidence.
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Difference between an Argumentative and Persuasive Essay
Well, some confusion may occur between the difference of argumentative essay and persuasive essay. Though both essays aim to present a particular point of view, they are both different in how they get their points across and why. A persuasive essay is mostly one-sided and uses passion and emotion to attempt to sway the reader’s loyalty. Argumentative essays, on the other hand, are more structured and try to look at critical issues from multiple angles.
Structure of an Argumentative Assay
The only way to writing a captivating argumentative essay is to understand the structure so as to stay focused and make a strong point.
1. The Introduction
The introductory paragraph sets the stage for the position you are arguing for in your essay. It’s made up of a hook, background information, and a thesis statement.
A hook is a sentence that is meant to capture the reader’s attention. As a writer, you need a strong hook that should knock your reader’s socks off and set an expectation of what they are reading. For example if I am writing an argumentative essay about why American people should start eating insects as part of their diet, my hook could be, “For those interested in improving their diets as part of their resolution this year, you may want to reduce your chicken, fish and beef intake and say hello to eating insects.”
The next part of your introduction is dedicated to offering some detailed background information about your topic. It gives the reader the necessary information he/she needs to understand your position. This is required to understand the argument by answering questions such as, what is the issue at hand, where is the issue prevalent and why is it important?
When making a thesis statement for your argumentative essay, you clearly state your position on the topic and a reason for taking that stance. For example, “A diet of insects can provide solutions to issues of starvation, obesity and climate change thus Americans should embrace and learn to rely on insects over beef, chicken and fish as their primary source of nutrition.” The reader needs to know what exactly the argument is and why it is important.
2. Developing an argument
You now have to back up your argument with credible evidence. This is the heart of your essay and needs to be started off with a general statement that is backed with specific details or examples. Depending on the length of your essay, you will need to include two or three well-explained paragraphs to each reason or type of evidence. The use of opinions from recognized authorities and first-hand examples and scientific knowledge on your topic of discussion will help readers to connect to the debate in a way they wouldn’t with the use of abstract ideas.
3. Refuting opponent’s arguments/claims
At this point, you state your opponent’s views then offer a counter argument. A well written argumentative essay must anticipate and address positions in the opposition. This will make your position more convincing and stronger. Additionally, pointing out what your opponent is likely to say in response to your argument shows that you have taken the time to critically analyze and prepare your topic.
4. The conclusion
This is the section of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Emphasize why the issue is so important, review the main points and review your thesis statement. Make the reader think about the ramifications of your argument by showing what would happen if people acted as per your position. Closing the argumentative essay with a clear picture of the world as you would like to see it can leave the reader convinced that your argument is valid.
What Makes Your Argumentative Essay Successful?
To write an effective argumentative essay, you should find a topic that you are interested in and one that offers two sides of an issue rather than giving an absolute answer. For instance, it is impossible to make an argumentative essay about how 4+4=8. However, you could argue for days about contentious topics like GMOs, homosexuality, gun control etc.
Further, the topic should be narrow in focus so that detailed, substantial evidence can be presented. For example, writing an argumentative essay on World War II can seem vague as the topic is too broad.
Finally, the writer should take a stance and stick with it. The reader should be able to determine easily what position you are advocating for in the essay.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Argumentative Essay Writing
- Use passionate and convincing language.
- Illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic under discussion.
- Back up your statements with facts, statistic, examples and informed opinions of experts who agree with you.
- Address the opposing side’s argument and refute their claims.
- Demonstrate a lack of bias.
- Take a stand and don’t confuse your readers.
- Refrain from using weak qualifiers like ‘I think, I believe, I guess’, as this will only reduce the level of trust the reader has in your opinion.
- Don’t assume that the audience will agree with you about any aspect of your argument.
- Don’t use strict moral or religious claims as support for your argument.
- Don’t claim to be an expert if you are not one.
- No strong personal expressions must be used as it weakens the grounds of your essay, like saying, ‘Mr. Chris is ignorant.’
- Do not introduce new points while making your conclusion.
There are lots of argumentative essay topics to write about if you think about it. Choose a topic that matters to you and make a strong case on the topic using the above guidelines.