Reviewing and Revising an Argument
Finishing a draft of your argument is an important milestone, but it's not the last step. Most arguments, especially research-based arguments, require careful revision to be fully effective. As you review and revise your draft, you might discover yourself reconsidering your audience, and then revising your focus. You might then reconsider your evidence and revising your claim. Reviewing and revising almost never occurs in the same manner twice. Be prepared to circle back several times through the choices below as you prepare your final argument.
Reviewing Your Position
One of the most common student remarks in argument drafting workshops is: "Now that I've written the whole paper, my position, or claim has changed." Be sure to take the time to review and revise your position statement so that it reflects the exact claim you support in your argument.
The Structure of Your Claim
After you've drafted your argument, you'll know if you're relying on cause/effect, "because" statements, or pro/con strategy. Make sure that the structure of your claim reflects the overall structure of your argument. For example, a first draft claim--"Fraternity hazing has serious negative effects on everyone involved"--can be revised to reflect the cause/effect reasoning in the rest of the argument-="because hazing causes psychological trauma to victims and perpetrators, fraternity hazing is much more serious than an initiation prank."
Word Choice in Your Claim
Quite often an early draft of a claim makes a broader or more general point than an argument can actually support or prove. As you revise, consider where you might limit your claim. Narrow the cases your claim applies to or state more precisely who is affected by a problem or how a solution can be implemented. Challenging each word in a claim is a good way to be sure that you've stated your claim as narrowly and as precisely as possible. Look also for loaded words that might carry negative connotations. Be sure to consider their effect on your target audience.
Your Claim as a Roadmap
An audience uses the claim to help anticipate what will appear in the rest of the argument. You want to revise your claim so that it makes the most sense in light of the argument that follows. Note obvious exceptions to your position right in the claim itself so that the audience understands exactly to what the claim applies. Continue revising your claim as you continue revising your argument so that it continues to function as a clear roadmap for the benefit of your audience.
Reviewing Your Audience Analysis
Once you've got a working draft, literally re-view your argument through the eyes of the audience. Here are several strategies that can help:
Role Playing: Become the Audience
Put the argument aside and make up a list of questions your audience might ask about the issue. Try to role play the way you assume they might think. Enlist other people's help with this list. Then, return to the paper and see if these questions have been answered.
Profile the Audience
Write a quick audience profile:
- What does your audience believe to be true?
- What kinds of proof will they find most persuasive?
- What do they already think about the issue?
Then, look back at your draft to see if you've supplied the kind of evidence likely to persuade your audience and whether you've addressed what they already think. If not, consider replacing or adding further evidence and refuting positions you have not included.
Play Devil's Advocate
Read through your argument as if you don't believe a single word. Look at each reason and the pieces of evidence you present and list any objections that could be made. Then, look at your objections and judge which of these your audience might hold. Revise to counter those objections.
Ask a friend (or several) to read through your argument. Ideally, get at least one who does not hold the same views as you on the issue. Ask them to write down any questions they didn't get answered and any counter-arguments they might make.
Reviewing Your Evidence
Once you've got a working draft of your argument, you want to make sure that you have adequate support for all your claims. The best way to do this is to go through your argument, sentence by sentence, circling all the claims you have made. List them on a sheet of paper and ask whether it is a claim with which any member of your audience might disagree.
Under each claim, list what evidence you offer in its support. If none is offered, perhaps further research is in order: If only one piece is offered, judge whether it is authoritative enough to support the claim and whether it should be included at all.
When relying on sources with which the audience is familiar--an article, book, or study, for instance--providing a lot of detail in the content isn't always necessary. It's fair enough to make a simple generalization place a proper citation in parentheses or a footnote.
Similarly, if you are relying on multiple studies that make the same point, a single sentence might be used to summarize the point all the works share, followed by a citation listing numerous studies and articles. For example:
As numerous studies have shown, students tend to revise more when writing on a computer (Selfe; Hawisher and Selfe; Kiefer; Palmquist).
Note: This advice may not apply to course assignments. Many times teachers want to assess your understanding of the content. As a result, they will expect details. Check with your instructor about how much knowledge you are allowed to assume on the part of your audience.
Key Piece of Evidence
When relying on one key piece of evidence to make a point, you will want to provide a detailed summary placing it in the context of its source. The more the audience knows about this context, the more they are likely to be convinced of its validity and that it does indeed support the specific point you are trying to make.
Evidence from Original Field Research
When relying on evidence from original field research to support your point you should provide as much information as possible. Describe your methods, the data collected and finally, the findings and conclusions you draw from the study. Here's a sample outline:
- Introduction: presents either the issue to be examined or the position you are taking.
- Literature Review (optional): discusses previous work done on an issue and the reasons why it is insufficient to answer a question.
- Methods: describes research design and the methods involved.
- Findings: describes research results, even that which isn't relevant or conclusive.
- Conclusions: advocates for the position or claim using relevant portions of the data.
Original Field Research as One of Many Forms of Evidence
When original field research is only one of many forms of evidence, a brief description of the method and data relevant to the argument is sufficient. For instance, here's a sample paragraph:
Rather than learning for the sake of becoming a better person, grades encourage performance for the sake of a better GPA. The focus grading puts on performance undercuts learning opportunities when students choose courses according to what might be easiest rather than what they'd like to know more about. [Sub-point in a paper arguing that grades should be abolished in non-major courses.]
For example, [Summary of Published Study.] students polled at CSU in a College of Liberal Arts study cite the following reasons for choosing non-major courses:
- Easy grading (80%)
- Low quantity of work (60%)
- What was available (40%)
- Personality of teacher (30%)
- Interested in the class (10%)
Similarly, in an interview I conducted with graduating seniors, only two of the 20 people I spoke with found their non-major courses valuable. [A description of field research methods and findings.] The other 18 reported that non-major courses were a waste of time for a variety of reasons:
- I'm never going to do anything with them.
- I just took whatever wouldn't distract me from my major so I didn't work very hard in them, just studying enough to get an A on the test.
- Non-major courses are a joke. Everyone I know took the simplest, stupidest, 100-level courses needed to fulfill the requirements. I can't even remember the ones I took now. [Other relevant details from field research; note answers about taking courses with friends and other non-relevant answers are not summarized.]
Only a Small Part of Work is Relevant
When only a small part of someone else's work is relevant, such as a statistic or quote, it need only be summarized or quoted. However, it is important to inform your audience when that work, as a whole, does not support your point or isn't relevant. The best way to work with data or information from an outside source is to provide a short, context-setting summary of the entire piece and only the detail of what is relevant to your argument.
This summary can be as little as a phrase or clause. For instance:
Although Smythe is against multicultural education in general...
It can also be an entire sentence as:
In Back to the Basics Smythe argues for a common curriculum for all students. Some of his examples, however, can also support the exact opposite conclusion.
After such a context-setting phrase or sentence, you are free to summarize only those points you intend to use. For example:
Although a discussion of recycling forms only a small part of Harrison's argument about global warming, his statistics on recycling are directly relevant here. As Harrison reports, although 60% of American families recycle in some way, only 2% of that 60% recycle all of their recyclable waste.
When multiple sources support a single point in your argument, even though each differs contextually somewhat from the other, try synthesizing them into a single unit supportive of your common theme. Coming from a variety of sources the audience will be more likely to find the combined evidence more compelling and persuasive. Your argument will be stronger in the long run.
When tangential evidence is relevant but not exactly on point, you must show its relation, or connection, to your claim. Either a logical appeal or arguing for a particular interpretation of the evidence might do the trick. On the other hand, it might be better to present an outright refutation.
In both cases, the best way to incorporate the evidence is to combine a summary with textual analysis. That is, provide a fair summary of the outside source and then present an analysis, interpretation, or refutation that makes your point.
Making a Logical Appeal Using Tangential Evidence
One of the primary reasons I am claiming the media mishandled the Ebonics issue is that they never asked the right language questions about bilingual education. [Author's point] That is, the media presented it as a dialect issue--teaching Non-Standard English--without examining the language implications of bilingual education. To propose a program of bilingual education, one must first demonstrate that there are two languages involved, Ebonics and English. The appropriateness of teaching both is a separate issue. Yet, the media failed to even consider whether Ebonics can be considered a viable language. [Logical extension of claim of mishandled media attention to the question of Ebonics as a language]
By linguistic definitions, a language can be said to exist when speakers of different dialects no longer understand one another. [Evidence is tangential to point about the media but now relevant through the logical appeal above] Long recognized as a dialect of English, Ebonics (or Black English Vernacular as it is more commonly called) has roots in African languages, Southern dialects, and has been shown to evolve with each new generation. Yet, no linguistic evidence has yet been presented that speakers of English cannot understand someone speaking Ebonics. Similarly, none has been presented to prove Ebonics is not a language. [Tangential evidence on media but relevant to reformed issue of language]
By referring to Ebonics as a language, the media assumed the Oakland School district's definition without any investigation. Further, they turned the issue into an argument about dialect-Standard English versus another form of English-even while discussing Ebonics as a language. Neither perspective is fair or objective: if the media wanted to present a bilingual education issue, they should have dealt with Ebonics as a language. If they wanted to present a dialect issue, they should have demonstrated why Ebonics should not be considered a language. [Logical appeal connects language issue back to point about media, i.e., why failure to look at language definition leads to unfair reporting on Ebonics issue.]
Favorably Interpreting Tangential Evidence
THESIS: Attention to multiculturalism in writing curricula is cursory and does not pay enough attention to linguistic diversity even though the research does give it lip service.
INTERPRETATION: [Part of a section on how seemingly multicultural pedagogies ignore linguistic diversity.] Many curricular proposals, admittedly, seem to pay attention to linguistic diversity. [Author's point] For example, in an article in College English, Tory Smith begins by arguing that current writing curriculums don't pay enough attention to linguistic diversity. To support his argument, he cites several studies showing that when a student's dialect or cultural perspective is not valued by school, the student tends to disassociate from school. Finally, he presents a proposal for making room for culturally diverse topics in the classroom through the use of newsletters, personal anecdotes, etc. [Summary of tangential evidence]
Although the proposal seems to address his concerns, a closer examination reveals that Smith does not meet his own goals. That is, his specific proposals clearly allow for assignments with more cultural content but make no mention of the linguistic diversity he cites as central to a multicultural curriculum. For example... [Paper goes on to directly quote an assignment example and then discusses how linguistic diversity is ignored-analysis of textual evidence.]
Refuting Tangential Evidence
George Will's editorial in Newsweek states that the reason "Johnny Can't Write" is the misguided nature of English teachers who focus more on issues of multiculturalism, "political correctness," new theories of reading-such as deconstruction-and so on, than on the hard and fast rules for paragraph development, grammar, and sentence structure. [Summary of Will's main argument and the tangential evidence he used] Although Will interviews students and uses sample course descriptions to back up his opinion, he misses the main point: all the theories and approaches he decries as "fashionable" are actually proven to teach people to write more effectively than the traditional methods he favors. In short, he ignores the research that invalidates his position. [Textual analysis focused on flaws in Will's editorial]
LeCourt, Donna, Kate Kiefer, & Peter Connor. (1996). Reviewing and Revising an Argument. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University. https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=57