Planning an Argument

The Writer

That's you. What do you want to say? What can you say? How much of a role do you want your opinion to play in the argument you are writing? How much is allowed? What position are you taking? What's your point? These are all serious questions. To help define the context of the writer, consider the following:

Your Personal Interest

Your personal interest in the issue at hand is a key factor in building a successful argument. It's hard enough to invest time and energy in this type of thing, but try it when you're not interested. Pick something about which you have strong feelings or in which you believe deeply: something that you care about.

Your audience will notice and it will make all the difference. Their perception of your personal commitment will reflect directly on how well they receive your argument. If you're not invested, it will be apparent in your writing and the audience will pick up on it right away.

Your Authority to Speak

Your authority to speak is always a concern. Besides your level of interest, the level of your authority must be evident. Lacking a strong persona, or voice, seriously undermines the power of any argument. As a student, you will naturally lack the authority bestowed by simple name recognition, such as that of Stephen King to speak about writing in the horror genre, for instance; however, there are ways to establish your credibility and right to speak.

Doing your homework is number one. Show that your argument is well researched. Draw on respected texts within your disciplines existing conversation and present viable, verifiable evidence to back up your claim. Take into account opposing points of view, comparing and contrasting them with your own. And finally, respect the conventions of your discipline.

Your Ethical Obligations

Your ethical obligations may seem most relevant when writing in an opinionated, first person, voice, yet they apply just as much-if not more so-when the author's voice is not so apparent.

In the absence of a strong authorial "I" voice, an objectively written argument can easily lead an audience to conclude that the statements made are true and generalizable when, in fact, they may be anything but: they may merely be the opinion of one person. And that's the problem: One person's opinion does not an argument make.

A deliberately skewed portrayal of a sitting president's actions, for instance, may not break any ethical rules on the Rush Limbaugh Show or the O'Reilly Factor, but it's a different story when delivered, or portrayed, as true on the NBC Nightly News. A talk show is not a news show and different ethical obligations apply.

In all situations, the onus, or obligation, to be forthright and clear lies squarely on the author's shoulders: The audience requires it, deserves it and will expect nothing less.

Key Ethical Expectations

Key ethical expectations of all academic writers include:

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