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with readings

everything’s an argument

John J. Ruszkiewicz

Keith Walters

Andrea A. Lunsford

Lunsford Ruszkiewicz


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Argument for the real world: visual, current, and compelling Analyze the arguments that surround you every day, from tweets to infographics to student newspaper articles. Then use what you’ve learned to create convincing arguments of your own, both in and out of the classroom. Everything’s an Argument with Readings combines a proven argument text with a thematically organized reader, featuring engaging selections across perspectives and genres. This book includes the essays and assignments you need in order to do your coursework.

with readings

everything’s an argument

John J. Ruszkiewicz

Keith Walters

Andrea A. Lunsford

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with readings

Did your instructor assign LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings? macmillanhighered.com/everythingsanargument7e

Everything’s an Argument with Readings is enhanced by the video, audio, and practice activities in LaunchPad. If your book did not come packaged with an access code, you can purchase access to LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings at macmillanhighered.com/everythingsanargument7e.

Everything’s an Argument with Readings is available in a variety of e-book formats. For details, visit macmillanhighered.com /everythingsanargumentwithreadings/catalog.


Everything’s an Argument with Readings includes sample student essays for every type of argument, giving you a guide for your own writing. Also, be sure to check out the sample citation pages for a breakdown on how to format your work in either MLA or APA style.

Rhetorical Analysis

Rachel Kolb, “Understanding Brooks’s Binaries” 109

Arguments of Fact

Taylor Pearson, “Why You Should Fear Your Toaster More Than Nuclear Power” 174

Arguments of Definition

Natasha Rodriguez, “Who Are You Calling Underprivileged?” 206

Evaluation Arguments

Sean Kamperman, “The Wikipedia Game: Boring, Pointless, or Neither?” 232

Causal Arguments

Raven Jiang, “Dota 2: The Face of Professional Gaming” 264

Proposal Arguments

Manasi Deshpande, “A Call to Improve Campus Accessibility” 295

Academic Arguments

Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner, “Where the Wild Things Should Be: Healing Nature Deficit Disorder through the Schoolyard” 396

Sample Citation Pages

Sample First Page for an Essay in MLA Style 485

Sample List of Works Cited for an Essay in MLA Style 486

Sample Title Page for an Essay in APA Style 500

Sample First Text Page for an Essay in APA Style 501

Sample References List for an Essay in APA Style 502

Where Students Learn

Get the most out of your book with LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings macmillanhighered.com/everythingsanargument7e

LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings provides engaging content and new ways to get the most out of your course. Use the interactive e-book, view a tutorial, watch a video, complete assignments, and practice your writing and argument skills.

• Interactive exercises and tutorials for reading, writing, and research

• LearningCurve, adaptive, game-like practice that helps you focus on the topics where you need the most help, such as fallacies, claims, evidence, and other key elements of argument

• Reading comprehension quizzes

Do you sometimes struggle with grammar? The LearningCurve grammar activities included in LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings help you learn at your own pace because they are adaptive: If you have trouble with a concept, the questions get easier, and as you master the material, the questions become more challenging.

Try this in LaunchPad

Take full advantage of the LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings. If your book did not come packaged with an access code, you can purchase access at macmillanhighered.com /everythingsanargument7e.

A note about the cover Is everything really an argument? Seeing the images on the cover of this book might make you wonder. The “Black Lives Matter” protest, for example, instantly calls to mind the very public unrest across the United States and around the world following a series of controversial police actions. But what does an image of a red pepper with a bar code say about the origin and value of food? Does a student using a tablet argue for or against the ways that technology is shaping how we communicate with one another? The honeybee might remind you of organic farming — or of the fact that bees have been dying off in droves while scientists speculate about the causes. And as for the gorgeous view on the smartphone, what’s your best call? A comment on the power of mobile devices? Criticism of how beauty is now commonly treated as something to post online rather than simply to enjoy? What’s your take?

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everything’s an argument/with readings

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Top left: © Lynn Johnson/Aurora/Getty Images; top right: © Steven Barrymore; bottom left: © Bill Coster/age fotostock; bottom right: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images; center row, left to right: Red DaxLuma Galler y/Shutterstock; Pacific Press/Getty Images; AP Photo; A. S. Alexander Collection of Ernest Hemingway. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library; © Mel Longhurst/Photoshot; © imageBROKER/age fotostock

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Bedford /St. Martin’S a Macmillan education imprint

Boston  •  New York

Seventh Edition

Andrea A. Lunsford Stanford University

John J. Ruszkiewicz University of Texas at Austin

Keith Walters Portland State University

with readings

Arguments Argument

argument argumentseveryThing’S An

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For Bedford/St. Martin’s

Vice President, Editorial, Macmillan Higher Education Humanities: Edwin Hill Editorial Director, English and Music: Karen S. Henry Publisher for Composition, Business and Technical Writing, and Developmental

Writing: Leasa Burton Executive Editor: John E. Sullivan III Developmental Editors: Rachel Goldberg and Sherry Mooney Editorial Assistant: Jennifer Prince Senior Production Editor: Rosemary R. Jaffe Senior Production Supervisor: Jennifer Wetzel Marketing Manager: Joy Fisher Williams Copy Editor: Steven Patterson Indexer: Leoni Z. McVey Photo Researcher: Sheri Blaney Director of Rights and Permissions: Hilary Newman Senior Art Director: Anna Palchik Text Design: Anna Palchik and Graphic World, Inc. Cover Design: John Callahan Cover Images (top to bottom): © Hero/age fotostock; c. byatt-norman/

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Copyright © 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007 by Bedford/St. Martin’s.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, except as may be expressly permitted by the applicable copyright statutes or in writing by the Publisher.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

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For information, write: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 75 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116 (617-399-4000)

ISBN 978-1-4576-9864-4 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-319-01632-6 (hardcover)


Text acknowledgments and copyrights appear at the back of the book on pages 800–803, which constitute an extension of the copyright page. Art acknowledgments and copyrights appear on the same page as the art selections they cover. It is a violation of the law to reproduce these selections by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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We’ve long described Everything’s an Argument with Readings as a labor of love, in part because working on the book keeps us connected to the neighborhoods our students inhabit. In teaching them how to persuade powerfully and ethically, we broaden our own horizons and learn more with each edition. But the core principles of this book endure.

We believe that language — taken broadly — provides the most power- ful means of understanding and shaping the world. We know that argu- ments seldom if ever have only two sides; rather, they present a dizzying array of perspectives. We assume that arguments always come in response to other claims, part of an ongoing conversation that builds throughout our lives. Understanding arguments, then, calls for exercis- ing judgment across a full range of rhetorical situations, perspectives, and media.

For good reason, we give enhanced attention to media this time around. Everything’s an Argument with Readings first appeared just as new technologies were reshaping the ways ideas could be framed and shared; our earliest edition included chapters on “Visual Argument” and “Arguments in Electronic Environments” — which then meant email, newsgroups, and Web sites. Each subsequent edition advanced our game. But with social media now stretching the boundaries of rhetoric, particularly in the arenas of culture and politics, keeping up requires more than just acknowledging change; it means adapting our under- standing of persuasion to these compelling contexts.

To that end, we offer in this seventh edition of Everything’s an Argument with Readings a thoroughly reworked Part 3, “Style and Presentation in Arguments”: its four chapters now outline the rhetorical opportunities students encounter across a wider range of media, both in and out of school. Whether in an updated and augmented section on style or in a


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chapter about “Multimedia Arguments” composed almost from scratch, our readers will find much to challenge their views of audiences, argu- ments, texts, and images. But the advice always remains practical, focused on providing tools writers need, whether they’re polishing an academic essay or evaluating claims trending across social media.

The opening part of Everything’s an Argument with Readings — which introduces core rhetorical principles, including ethos, pathos, and logos — has been more subtly reworked and tightened to make its six chapters even clearer and more readable. Users of this book routinely praise its timely examples of public discourse, and we’ve pushed our- selves to make this opening section especially memorable, illustrating just how pervasive — and occasionally entertaining — arguments can be. Topics covered in the seventh edition include hashtag politics, pick- up trucks, the appeal of fatty foods, and the real reason college alumni donate money to their schools. More often than in past editions, we’ve linked our examples, occasionally even extending connections across chapter boundaries. In other words, we’ve allowed ourselves to have some serious fun.

Part 2 of our text opens with a chapter on “Structuring Arguments” (which now includes more on invitational arguments, in addition to classical, Toulmin, and Rogerian arguments), followed by chapters devoted to the genres that students are often assigned in their college courses. In this section, we have provided many new, timely examples along with new Readings we hope students will find especially engaging. And in recognition of the importance of design when composing in a digital world, each genre chapter’s “Guide to Writing” now has a section devoted to “Considering Format and Media.”

In Part 4, we have increased our coverage of academic arguments (including a new annotated student essay on the effects of depriving young people of direct contact with nature). In addition, we’ve paid care- ful attention to giving advice on how to find useful evidence in online sources (including social media) and how to evaluate sources, using what technology critic Howard Rheingold calls an effective “crap detec- tor.” And in our chapter on “Plagiarism and Academic Integrity,” we have expanded our discussions of fair use as well as of sampling and mash- ups across time (including today). Finally, the chapter on MLA style and APA style has been updated to reflect the most current advice from those organizations and to provide even more examples that can guide stu- dents as they document their sources.

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preface ix

While much new material has been added (or updated), much remains familiar in Everything’s an Argument with Readings, a best seller in its field since its debut. We’re pleased that it seems to strike a chord with students and instructors who expect a book on argument to be can- did, balanced, and attuned to everyday events. Users have also come to expect a stylish and visually striking presentation of issues and con- cepts, rendered in language that is personable and even occasionally personal. We have worked hard, too, to maintain the precision and econ- omy of our most recent edition, knowing that students appreciate books that get to the point.

As in previous editions, we have tried to balance attention to the crit- ical reading of arguments (analysis) with attention to the writing of argu- ments (production), demonstrating both activities with lively — and realistic — examples, on the principle that the best way to appreciate an argument is to see it in action. Texts of every kind beckon for reactions, including a close look at a politician’s kairotic address on the floor of the U.S. Senate, selections from a commencement address by Ruth Simmons at Smith College and by then First Lady Michelle Obama, the photo lead- in to an essay by LeBron James, a selfie that includes Pope Francis, an oral presentation outline sketched by a student, and cartoons, info- graphics, and other visual arguments. The new edition features seven new full-length essays — chosen for their topicality and usefulness as models of argument — on topics ranging from professional gaming to arrests of NFL players to what friendship really means in the era of social media. We have kept the best and most popular materials from previous editions but have also searched for new items — including visual and multimedia ones — that we believe embody the spirit of the times. As always, we want students to page through the book to find the next intriguing argument or to discover one of their own.

After all, our purpose in Everything’s an Argument with Readings is to present persuasion as an essential and instinctual activity — something we do almost from the moment we are born (in fact, an infant’s first cry is as poignant a claim as we can imagine). But we also want writers to think of argumentation as a craft both powerful and professional. So we have designed Everything’s an Argument with Readings to be itself a case for civil persuasion, with a voice that aims to appeal to readers cordially but that doesn’t hesitate to make demands on them when appropriate.

In selecting themes and arguments for the anthology, we’ve tried to choose topics of interest and concern to the students we teach as well as

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issues and texts worth arguing about. We’ve sought readings that will challenge students to consider new perspectives on topics they may feel they already understand and, in particular, to contextualize themselves in a world characterized by increasing globalization and divisive rhetoric on many topics. We have retained several of the chapter topics that have worked especially well in earlier editions — stereotypes in popular cul- ture, sustainability and food, and the possible meanings of diversity on college campuses. In refocusing and revising these chapters, we have sought to find a balance between including texts that students and teachers found provocative, instructive, and useful and adding new ones that treat contemporary issues while leading us to think about argu- mentation in novel, timely ways. For example, how can research analyz- ing the characters in video games help us understand how stereotyping works in our society? How might the meaning of “sustainable food” change, depending on whether we’re focusing on the United States or on developing countries? What challenges do Muslim women on college campuses face, and what does their situation teach us about campus dynamics?

In addition to updating these chapters from the sixth edition, we have added chapters on two new topics: how globalization is affecting language and how technological advances are influencing our under- standing of privacy. In the chapter on the first topic, we encourage stu- dents to begin thinking of themselves as global citizens and to examine the privileges and perhaps the responsibilities that come with speaking English as a first or additional language. The chapter also helps students begin to examine the consequences of the spread of English for some less widely used languages. In many ways, the topics raised in this chap- ter relate to the same questions of sustainability raised in the discus- sions of food. The chapter on the changing meaning of privacy considers two major issues: Big Data and how data are used by industry and gov- ernment, on the one hand, and privacy and cell phones in light of the 2014 Riley v. California Supreme Court ruling, on the other.

In choosing new selections for the anthology, we have first looked for new genres (including multimodal genres) that bring home to stu- dents the message conveyed by the book’s title. Furthermore, we have tried to build upon the emphasis on academic argument in the earlier part of the book. We have searched for examples of research writing that use a range of methodologies, including case studies, quantitative research, and professional reports, with the goal of giving students

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preface xi

practice for analyzing the sorts of arguments they will be assigned in their various courses. The readings in this edition include excerpts from ten books treating a range of topics and written for a variety of audiences. We have also included part of a Supreme Court ruling to help students see stasis theory in action and to help them appreciate the role that such rulings play in all our daily lives. Finally, we have sought arguments, whether written or visual, that will help students see themselves “among others,” to use Clifford Geertz’s memorable turn of phrase.

Here is a summary of the key features that continue to characterize Everything’s an Argument with Readings and of the major new features in this edition.

Key Features

Two books in one, neatly linked. The beginning of the book provides a brief guide to argument; later chapters offer a thematically organized anthol- ogy of readings in a wide range of genres. The two parts of the book are linked by cross-references in the margins, leading students from the argument chapters to specific examples in the readings and from the readings to appropriate rhetorical instruction.

An imaginative and winning approach, going beyond traditional pro/con assumptions to show that argument is everywhere — in essays, tweets, news articles, scholarly writing, speeches, advertisements, cartoons, posters, bumper stickers, debates, Web sites, blogs, text messages, and other electronic environments.

Student-friendly explanations in simple, everyday language, with many brief examples and a minimum of technical terminology.

Fresh and important chapter themes that encourage students to take up

complex positions. Readings on topics such as “How Does Popular Culture Stereotype You?,” “What Should ‘Diversity on Campus’ Mean and Why?,” and “Why Is Sustainability Important When It Comes to Food?” demand that students explore the many sides of an issue, not just pro/con.

A real-world, full-color design, with readings presented in the style of the original publication. Different formats for newspaper articles, maga- zine articles, essays, writing from the Web, radio transcripts, and other

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media help students recognize and think about the effect that design and visuals have on written and multimodal arguments, and the full- color design helps bring the many images in the text to life.

New to This Edition

Two new chapters — on how globalization is changing language and what pri-

vacy means in the digital age — treat issues relevant to students as citizens and

scholars. Although students may not give the topic much conscious thought, globalization is influencing language and languages, including English, in complex ways. And if you mention Riley v. California in class, many students will recognize it as the recent Supreme Court ruling mandating that their cell phones can be searched only by law enforce- ment officials who have first obtained a warrant to do so. Although stu- dents may give a great deal of thought to privacy and technology, they — and all of us — have much to learn on the topic.

Forty-six new selections in the guide and readings chapters draw from a vari-

ety of sources and genres, including student newspaper articles, info- graphics, and media reviews:

● Seven new full-length arguments in the guide — on topics ranging from arrests of NFL players to Google Glass — provide engaging, topi- cal models for specific kinds of arguments.

● The transcript from an NPR radio program examines the standard practice of colleges and universities of overrepresenting students of color in their promotional materials.

● A chapter from Georgetown University law professor Sheryll Cashin’s most recent book, Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in Amer- ica, questions the fairness of affirmative action in ways that challenge partisans on both the right and the left ends of the political spectrum.

● An excerpt from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle argues passionately against genetically modified foods, while other selec- tions argue just as passionately for them.

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preface xiii

A heavily revised four-chapter section on “Style and Presentation in Argu-

ments” provides up-to-date advice and commentary on the ways argu- ments are now routinely adapted to different audiences and media. Additions to these chapters include the following:

● A revised chapter on style that shows in more detail precisely how writers shape their words and sentences (even their punctuation) to influence readers. The entries describing particular rhetorical tropes and schemes are now arranged alphabetically for easier reference.

● A chapter on “Presenting Arguments” that has been redesigned to provide a clearer path to effective presentations. It features the actual notes that a student prepared for an oral report.

● A chapter on “Visual Rhetoric” that has been reworked to focus spe- cifically on the rhetorical appeals (pathos, ethos, logos) that photo- graphs, graphic design, typefaces, and even colors can generate.

● A thoughtful yet practical new chapter on “Multimedia Arguments” that examines what happens to arguments and audiences as they move between and among media as old as books and as new as Twitter.

Examples now occasionally work across chapters to reinforce their points more memorably.

A new “Considering Format and Media” section appears in the “Guide to Writing” in each genre chapter.

Get the Most Out of Your Course with Everything’s an Argument with Readings

Bedford/St. Martin’s offers resources and format choices that help you and your students get even more out of your book and course. To learn more about or to order any of the following products, contact your Bedford/St. Martin’s sales representative, email sales support (sales [email protected]), or visit the Web site at macmillanhighered .com/everythingsanargumentwithreadings/catalog.

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LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings: Where Students Learn

LaunchPad provides engaging content and new ways to get the most out of your course. Get an interactive e-book in a fully customizable course space; then assign and mix our resources with yours.

● LearningCur ve adaptive quizzing offers four new modules on argument.

● Pre-built units — including readings, videos, quizzes, discussion groups, and more — are easy to adapt and assign by adding your own materials and mixing them with our high-quality multimedia con- tent and ready-made assessment options.

● LaunchPad also provides access to a gradebook that gives a clear win- dow on the performance of your whole class, individual students, and even individual assignments.

● A streamlined interface helps students focus on what’s due, and social commenting tools let them engage, make connections, and learn from one another. Use LaunchPad on its own or integrate it with your school’s learning management system so that your class is always on the same page.

To get the most out of your course, order LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings packaged with the print book. (LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings can also be purchased on its own.) An activation code is required. To order LaunchPad for Everything’s an Argument with Readings with the print book, use iSBn 978-1-319-03950-9.

Choose from Alternative Formats of Everything’s an Argument with Readings

Bedford/St. Martin’s offers a range of affordable formats, allowing stu- dents to choose the one that works best for them. For details, visit macmillanhighered.com/everythingsanargumentwithreadings/catalog.

● Paperback brief or hardcover high school edition To order the paperback edition of Everything’s an Argument, use iSBn 978-1-4576-9867-5. To order the hardcover high school edition of Everything’s an Argument with Readings, use iSBn 978-1-319-01632-6.

● Popular e-book formats For details, visit macmillanhighered.com/ebooks.

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preface xv

Select Value Packages

Add value to your text by packaging one of the following resources with Everything’s an Argument with Readings. To learn more about pack- age options for any of the following products, contact your Bedford/ St. Martin’s sales representative or visit macmillanhighered.com /everythingsanargumentwithreadings/catalog.

Writer’s Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks offers Andrea Lunsford’s smart advice with Writer’s Help smart search. Writer’s Help is a powerful online handbook with “the simplicity and usability of Google,” according to one student user, but with the instruction that free online resources lack. Its trusted content from Andrea Lunsford helps students whether they are searching for writing advice on their own or working on an assignment. Its tools, built around a smart search that recognizes nonexpert termi- nology, are as simple as they are innovative. Writer’s Help saves teachers time by helping them assign pages and track progress, providing a win- dow into student use and achievement. User-friendly help for college writers also means useful data for instructors and administrators. To order Writer’s Help 2.0 for Lunsford Handbooks packaged with the print book, contact your sales representative for a package ISBN.

i-series This popular series presents multimedia tutorials in a flexible format — because there are things you can’t do in a book.

● ix visualizing composition 2.0 helps students put into practice key rhe- torical and visual concepts. To order ix visualizing composition pack- aged with the print book, contact your sales representative for a package ISBN.

● i-claim: visualizing argument offers a new way to see argument — with six multimedia tutorials, an illustrated glossary, and a wide array of multimedia arguments. To order i-claim: visualizing argument packaged with the print book, contact your sales representative for a package ISBN.

Make Learning Fun with Re:Writing 3


New open online resources with videos and interactive elements engage students in new ways of writing. You’ll find tutorials about

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using common digital writing tools, an interactive peer review game, Extreme Paragraph Makeover, and more — all for free and for fun. Visit bedfordstmartins.com/rewriting.

Instructor Resources


You have a lot to do in your course. Bedford/St. Martin’s wants to make it easy for you to find the support you need — and to get it quickly.

Instructor’s Notes for Everything’s an Argument with Readings is available as a PDF that can be downloaded from the Bedford/St. Martin’s online catalog at the URL above. In addition to chapter overviews and teaching tips, the instructor’s manual includes sample syllabi and possible dis- cussion points for the Respond questions in the book.

Teaching Central offers the entire list of Bedford/St. Martin’s print and online professional resources in one place. You’ll find landmark refer- ence works, sourcebooks on pedagogical issues, award-winning collec- tions, and practical advice for the classroom — all free for instructors. Visit macmillanhighered.com/teachingcentral.

Bits collects creative ideas for teaching a range of composition topics in an easily searchable blog format. In her Teacher to Teacher blog, Andrea Lunsford shares ideas inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling. Her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multi- modal assignments to the composition classroom. A community of teach- ers — leading scholars, authors, and editors — discuss revision, research, grammar and style, technology, peer review, and much more. Take, use, adapt, and pass the ideas around. Then come back to the site to comment or share your own suggestions. Visit community.macmillan.com and fol- low Bedford Bits to see for yourself.


We owe a debt of gratitude to many people for making Everything’s an Argument with Readings possible. Our first thanks must go to the thou- sands of people we have taught in our writing courses over nearly four decades, particularly students at the Ohio State University, Stanford

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preface xvii

University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Portland State University. Almost every chapter in this book has been informed by a classroom encounter with a student whose shrewd observation or perceptive question sent an ambitious lesson plan spiraling to the ground. (Anyone who has tried to teach claims and warrants on the fly to skeptical first-year writers will surely appreciate why we have qual- ified our claims in the Toulmin chapter so carefully.) But students have also provided the motive for writing this book. More than ever, they need to know how to read and write arguments effectively if they are to secure a place in a world growing ever smaller and more rhetori- cally challenging.

We are grateful to our editors at Bedford/St. Martin’s who have con- tributed their many talents to our book. With this edition we welcome new editors, Rachel Goldberg and Sherry Mooney, to Everything’s an Argument with Readings. Not only did they bring new ideas to the project and a superb editorial sense (particularly in suggesting what works best where), but they have also been extraordinarily helpful in sorting through the increasingly complicated issue of acquiring first-rate examples and images for the book.

We are similarly grateful to others at Bedford/St. Martin’s who con- tributed their talents to our book: Rosemary Jaffe, senior production edi- tor; Diana Blume, art director; Sheri Blaney, art researcher; Margaret Gorenstein, permissions researcher; Steven Patterson, copy editor; Arthur Johnson and Linda McLatchie, proofreaders; and Jennifer Prince, editorial assistant.

We’d also like to thank the astute instructors who reviewed the sixth edition: Nolan Belk, Wilkes Community College; Hailie Bryant, Appalachian State University; James Bryant-Trerise, Clackamas Community College; Don Carroll, College of DuPage; Matthew Davis, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point; Josh Herron, Anderson University; Susan Hubbard, University of Central Florida; Calvin Jones, South Piedmont Community College; Jeff Kosse, Iowa Western Community College; Edwin Kroll, Kalamazoo Valley Community College; Charles Poff, Central Virginia Community College; David Rude, Heald College; Timothy Shonk, Eastern Illinois University; Mary Ann Simmons, James Sprunt Community College; James Stokes, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point; Bobby Vasquez, University of Nebraska; Lorena Williams, Duquesne University; and Stephanie Zerkel-Humbert, Maple Woods Community College.

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Thanks, too, to John Kinkade, who once again has prepared the instructor’s notes for this seventh edition, and to Margo Russell for her invaluable help finding (and in some cases helping transcribe) new read- ing selections. Finally, we are grateful to the students whose fine argu- mentative essays or materials appear in our chapters: George Chidiac, Manasi Deshpande, Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner, Sean Kamperman, Rachel Kolb, Taylor Pearson, and Natasha Rodriguez. We hope that Everything’s an Argument with Readings responds to what students and instructors have said they want and need.

Andrea A. Lunsford

John J. Ruszkiewicz

Keith Walters

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Preface vii

Part 1: Reading and Understanding Arguments 1

1. Everything Is an Argument 3

2. Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos 28

3. Arguments Based on Character: Ethos 40

4. Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos 51

5. Fallacies of Argument 71

6. Rhetorical Analysis 87

Part 2: Writing Arguments 119

7. Structuring Arguments 121

8. Arguments of Fact 151

9. Arguments of Definition 185

10. Evaluations 210

11. Causal Arguments 240

12. Proposals 272


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xx brief CONTeNTS

Part 3: Style and Presentation in Arguments 305

13. Style in Arguments 307

14. Visual Rhetoric 330

15. Presenting Arguments 344

16. Multimedia Arguments 361

Part 4: Research and Arguments 377

17. Academic Arguments 379

18. Finding Evidence 412

19. Evaluating Sources 427

20. Using Sources 436

21. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity 455

22. Documenting Sources 465

Part 5: Arguments 505

23. How Does Popular Culture Stereotype You? 507

24. What’s Globalization Doing to Language? 568

25. Why Is Sustainability Important When It Comes to Food? 600

26. What Should “Diversity on Campus” Mean and Why? 668

27. How Has the Internet Changed the Meaning of Privacy? 732

Glossary 793

Index 804

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Preface vii

Part 1: Reading and Understanding Arguments 1

1. Everything Is an Argument 3 Why We Make Arguments 6

Arguments to Convince and Inform 7

Arguments to Persuade 8

Arguments to Make Decisions 10

Arguments to Understand and Explore 11

Occasions for Argument 12

Arguments about the Past 13

Arguments about the Future 14

Arguments about the Present 14

Kinds of Argument 17

Did Something Happen? Arguments of Fact 17

What Is the Nature of the Thing? Arguments of Definition 18

What Is the Quality or Cause of the Thing? Arguments

of Evaluation 19

What Actions Should Be Taken? Proposal Arguments 20



Part 1 photo: AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, Riccardo Aguiari; top to bottom: Pacific Press/Getty Images; © Bob Englehart/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.; Michael N. Todaro/ FilmMagic/Getty Images

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Appealing to Audiences 21

Emotional Appeals: Pathos 23

Ethical Appeals: Ethos 23

Logical Appeals: Logos 24

Bringing It Home: Kairos and the Rhetorical Situation 24


2. Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos 28 reading Critically for Pathos 29

Using emotions to build bridges 31

Using emotions to Sustain an Argument 34

Using Humor 36

Using Arguments based on emotion 38

3. Arguments Based on Character: Ethos 40 Thinking Critically about Arguments based on Character 42

establishing Trustworthiness and Credibility 43

Claiming Authority 45

Coming Clean about Motives 47


4. Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos 51 Thinking Critically about Hard evidence 52

Facts 55

Statistics 57

Surveys and Polls 60

Testimonies and Narratives 62

Using reason and Common Sense 63


Top to bottom: Used with permission of Gary Varvel and Creators Syndicate. All rights reserved; Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images; AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, Riccardo Aguiari; © NBC/Photofest, Inc.

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Providing Logical Structures for Argument 67

Degree 67

Analogies 68

Precedent 69

5. Fallacies of Argument 71 fallacies of emotional Argument 72

Scare Tactics 72

Either/Or Choices 72

Slippery Slope 74

Overly Sentimental Appeals 74

Bandwagon Appeals 75

fallacies of ethical Argument 76

Appeals to False Authority 76

Dogmatism 77

Ad Hominem Arguments 78

Stacking the Deck 79

fallacies of Logical Argument 79

Hasty Generalization 80

Faulty Causality 80

Begging the Question 81

Equivocation 82

Non Sequitur 82

Straw Man 83

Red Herring 84

Faulty Analogy 84

6. Rhetorical Analysis 87 Composing a rhetorical Analysis 89

Understanding the Purpose of Arguments You

Are Analyzing 90

Understanding Who Makes an Argument 91

identifying and Appealing to Audiences 92

Top: © Bish/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.; second from top: Tim Boyle/Getty Images; bottom: Kittipojn Pravalpatkul/Shutterstock

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examining Arguments based on emotion: Pathos 95

examining Arguments based on Character: ethos 97

examining Arguments based on facts and reason: Logos 98

examining the Arrangement and Media of Arguments 101

Looking at Style 102

examining a rhetorical Analysis 105

David brooks, It’s Not about You 106

“This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised

generation in American history.”

rachel Kolb, Understanding Brooks’s Binaries

[student essay] 109 “Instead of relying on the logos of his argument, Brooks

assumes that his position as a baby boomer and New York

Times columnist will provide a sufficient enough ethos to

validate his claims.”


Part 2: Writing Arguments 119

7. Structuring Arguments 121 The Classical Oration 122

rogerian and invitational Arguments 126

Toulmin Argument 130

Making Claims 130

Offering Evidence and Good Reasons 131

Determining Warrants 133

Offering Evidence: Backing 138

Using Qualifiers 140

Part 2 photo: Cal Sport Media via AP Images; top to bottom: © Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports Images; © World History Archive/Alamy; PhotoLink/Getty Images; National Archives

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Understanding Conditions of Rebuttal 141

Outline of a Toulmin Argument 143

A Toulmin Analysis 144

Deborah Tannen, Why Is “Compromise” Now a Dirty Word? 145

“The death of compromise has become a threat to our


What Toulmin Teaches 149


8. Arguments of Fact 151 Understanding Arguments of fact 152

Characterizing factual Arguments 154

Developing a factual Argument 155

Identifying an Issue 157

Researching Your Hypothesis 159

Refining Your Claim 160

Deciding Which Evidence to Use 161

Presenting Your Evidence 163

Considering Design and Visuals 164


Projects 173

Two Sample Factual Arguments 174

Taylor Pearson, Why You Should Fear Your Toaster More Than

Nuclear Power [student essay] 174 “We live in a radioactive world.”

Neil irwin, What the Numbers Show about N.F.L. Player

Arrests 180

“The numbers show a league in which drunk-driving arrests

are a continuing problem and domestic violence charges are

surprisingly common.”

Top to bottom: Alfred Eisenstaedt/Getty Images; USAID; AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish, Pool; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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9. Arguments of Definition 185 Understanding Arguments of Definition 186

Kinds of Definition 189

Formal Definitions 189

Operational Definitions 190

Definitions by Example 192

Developing a Definitional Argument 193

Formulating Claims 193

Crafting Definitions 195

Matching Claims to Definitions 196

Considering Design and Visuals 197


Projects 205

Two Sample Definitional Arguments 206

Natasha rodriguez, Who Are You Calling Underprivileged?

[student essay] 206 “The word made me question how I saw myself in the world.”

Joyce Xinran Liu, Friending: The Changing Definition of

Friendship in the Social Media Era 208

“We’ve created the myth of building strong relationships via

social media.”

10. Evaluations 210 Understanding evaluations 211

Criteria of evaluation 212

Characterizing evaluation 214

Quantitative Evaluations 215

Qualitative Evaluations 215

Developing an evaluative Argument 217

Formulating Criteria 218

Making Claims 219

Top to bottom: Bill Wight/Getty Images; Red DaxLuma Gallery/Shutterstock; PHOTOEDIT/PhotoEdit, Inc.; Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Presenting Evidence 221

Considering Design and Visuals 223


Projects 231

Two Sample Evaluations 232

Sean Kamperman, The Wikipedia Game: Boring, Pointless, or

Neither? [student essay] 232 “Knowledge building is a connective or associative process, as

the minds behind Wikipedia well know.”

Hayley Tsukayama, My Awkward Week with Google Glass 237

“Why? Because I’m wearing Google Glass. And I hate it.”

11. Causal Arguments 240 Understanding Causal Arguments 241

Arguments That State a Cause and Then Examine

Its Effects 243

Arguments That State an Effect and Then Trace the Effect

Back to Its Causes 244

Arguments That Move through a Series of Links: A Causes B,

Which Leads to C and Perhaps to D 245

Characterizing Causal Arguments 246

They Are Often Part of Other Arguments. 246

They Are Almost Always Complex. 246

They Are Often Definition Based. 247

They Usually Yield Probable Rather Than Absolute Conclusions. 248

Developing Causal Arguments 248

Exploring Possible Claims 248

Defining the Causal Relationships 250

Supporting Your Point 252

Considering Design and Visuals 255


Projects 263

Top to bottom: Cal Sport Media via AP Images; © Ildi Papp/age fotostock; Robyn Beck/ AFP/Getty Images; © Bill Coster/age fotostock

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xxviii CONTeNTS

Two Sample Causal Arguments 264

raven Jiang, Dota 2: The Face of Professional Gaming

[student essay] 264 “The point is that online gaming is going to be a big deal.”

John Tierney, Can a Playground Be Too Safe? 268

“Fear of litigation led New York City officials to remove

seesaws, merry-go-rounds, and the ropes that young Tarzans

used to swing from one platform to another.”

12. Proposals 272 Understanding and Categorizing Proposals 273

Characterizing Proposals 275

Developing Proposals 279

Defining a Need or Problem 279

Making a Strong and Clear Claim 281

Showing That the Proposal Addresses the Need or Problem 283

Showing That the Proposal Is Feasible 286

Considering Design and Visuals 286


Projects 294

Two Sample Proposals 295

Manasi Deshpande, A Call to Improve Campus Accessibility

[student essay] 295 “The University must make campus accessibility a higher

priority and take more seriously the hardship that the campus

at present imposes on people with mobility impairments.”

Virginia Postrel, Let’s Charge Politicians for Wasting Our

Time 303

“If candidates really think it’s valuable to call me, they should

be willing to pay.”

Top to bottom: © Florian Kopp/agefotostock.com; Ron Sanford/Science Source®/Photo Researchers; © Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/LANDOV; AP Wide World Photos

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Part 3: Style and Presentation in Arguments 305

13. Style in Arguments 307 Style and Word Choice 309

Sentence Structure and Argument 312

Punctuation and Argument 314

Special effects: figurative Language 317

Tropes 318

Schemes 326


14. Visual Rhetoric 330 The Power of Visual Arguments 331

Using Visuals in Your Own Arguments 332

Using Images and Visual Design to Create Pathos 332

Using Images to Establish Ethos 335

Using Visual Images to Support Logos 339

15. Presenting Arguments 344 Class and Public Discussions 345


Preparing a Presentation 346

Assess the Rhetorical Situation 347

Nail Down the Specific Details 350

Fashion a Script Designed to Be Heard by an Audience 351

Choose Media to Fit Your Subject 355

Deliver a Good Show 357

A Note about Webcasts: Live Presentations over the Web 359

Part 3 photo: © Photofest, Inc.; top to bottom: © Photofest, Inc.; Martin Lehmann/ Shutterstock; © Ron Kimball/Kimball Stock; © Photofest, Inc.

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16. Multimedia Arguments 361 Old Media Transformed by New Media 362

New Content in New Media 363

New Audiences in New Media 365

Analyzing Multimedia Arguments 368

Making Multimedia Arguments 371

Web Sites 371

Videos 372

Wikis 372

Blogs 373

Social Media 374

Part 4: Research and Arguments 377

17. Academic Arguments 379 Understanding What Academic Argument is 380

Conventions in Academic Argument Are Not Static. 384

Developing an Academic Argument 385

Two Sample Academic Arguments 396

Charlotte Geaghan-breiner, Where the Wild Things Should

Be: Healing Nature Deficit Disorder through the Schoolyard

[student essay] 396 “The most practical solution to this staggering rift

between children and nature involves the schoolyard.”

Lan Xue, China: The Prizes and Pitfalls of Progress 406

“The global science community has a responsibility

to help those developing countries that do not

have adequate resources to solve problems


Part 4 photo: Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images; top to bottom: knape/Getty Images; AP/Invision/Charles Sykes: Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images; © Andy Singer/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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18. Finding Evidence 412 Considering the rhetorical Situation 412


Using Data and evidence from research Sources 415


Collecting Data on Your Own 419

19. Evaluating Sources 427 Assessing Print Sources 430

Assessing electronic Sources 432

Practicing Crap Detection 432

Assessing field research 434

20. Using Sources 436 Practicing infotention 436

building a Critical Mass 437

Synthesizing information 438

Paraphrasing Sources You Will Use Extensively 439

Summarizing Sources 442

Using Quotations Selectively and Strategically 443

Framing Materials You Borrow with Signal Words and

Introductions 445

Using Sources to Clarify and Support Your Own Argument 447

Avoiding “Patchwriting” 451

21. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity 455 Giving Credit 458

Getting Permission for and Using Copyrighted internet Sources 459

Acknowledging Your Sources Accurately and Appropriately 461

Acknowledging Collaboration 462

Top to bottom: © Zoonar M Kang/age fotostock; © Bartomeu Amengual/age fotostock; © imageBROKER/age fotostock; © imagineasia/age fotostock

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xxxii CONTeNTS

22. Documenting Sources 465 MLA Style 467

In-Text Citations 467

Explanatory and Bibliographic Notes 471

List of Works Cited 472

Sample First Page for an Essay in MLA Style 485

Sample List of Works Cited for an Essay in MLA Style 486

APA Style 487

In-Text Citations 487

Content Notes 490

List of References 490

Sample Title Page for an Essay in APA Style 500

Sample First Text Page for an Essay in APA Style 501

Sample References List for an Essay in APA Style 502

Part 5: Arguments 505

23. How Does Popular Culture Stereotype You? 507 Stephanie Hanes, Little Girls or Little Women? The Disney Princess

Effect [newspaper article] 509 “She came to believe that the $4 billion Disney Princess empire

was the first step down a path to scarier challenges, from self-

objectification to cyberbullying to unhealthy body images.”

Making a Visual Argument: Cartoons and Stereotypes [cartoons] 517

Steve Kelley, New Barbie 517

Adam Zyglis, Your Generation’s Sickening 518

Harley Schwadron, The Anti–Gun Control Lobby 518

Part 5 photo: Christian Charisius/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images; top to bottom: Seregram/Shutterstock; B. Deutsch, leftycartoons.com; Everett Collection; Jeff Siner/ Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty Images

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CONTeNTS xxxiii

Barry Deutsch, Really Good Careers 519

Clay Bennett, Hands Up 519

John Deering, Community Relationship Officer 520

Amy Stretten, Appropriating Native American Imagery Honors No One

but the Prejudice [web article] 522 “How does celebrating Native people with war imagery honor a

living people?”

Charles A. riley ii, Disability and the Media: Prescriptions for Change [book excerpt] 527

“People working in the media exert a powerful influence over the

way people with disabilities are perceived.”

Claude M. Steele, An Introduction: At the Root of Identity, from

Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us [book excerpt] 537

“Whenever we’re in a situation where a bad stereotype about one

of our own identities could be applied to us — such as those about

being old, poor, rich, or female — we know it.”

Melinda C. r. burgess et al., Playing with Prejudice: The Prevalence

and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes in Video Games [journal article] 551

“Imagery that associates African American men with the negative

stereotypes of aggression, hostility, and criminality conditions

viewers to associate this constellation of negativity with African

American men in general.”

Amy Zimmerman, It Ain’t Easy Being Bisexual on TV [web article] 561

“Unfortunately, the television and film industries aren’t going out of

their way to showcase bisexual role models.”

Top to bottom: Melanie Stetson Freeman/© 2011 The Christian Science Monitor (www .CSMonitor.com). Reprinted with permission; Eugene Gologursky/Wire Image/Getty Images; Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, Bologna, Italy/Alinari/Bridgeman Images; The Kobal Collection at Art Resource, NY

00_LUN_9864_FM_i-xl.indd 33 8/7/15 9:17 AM


24. What’s Globalization Doing to Language? 568 Lebanon Daily News, Coca-Cola’s Multilingual “America” Ad Didn’t

Hit Any Wrong Notes [editorial] 570 “We can be just as patriotic, and we can act just as freely, if we sing

those words in English or in any [other] languages.”

Kirk Semple, Immigrants Who Speak Indigenous Languages Encounter

Isolation [newspaper article] 573 “For many, not knowing Spanish is as big an impediment as not

knowing English.”

Scott L. Montgomery, Chapter 4: Impacts: A Discussion of Limitations

and Issues for a Global Language, from Does Science Need a Global

Language? English and the Future of Research [book excerpt] 577 “The greatest long-term danger coming from the global spread of

English — could it be to its own native speakers?”

Making a Visual Argument: Santos Henarejos, Speak My Language [infographic] 585

Nicholas Ostler, Is It Globalization That Endangers Languages? [conference report] 589

“Not all languages have the same value to their speakers.”

rose eveleth, Saving Languages through Korean Soap Operas [web article] 596

“Not only the content travels, but the language, the nuance, the

culture is suddenly crossing borders.”

25. Why Is Sustainability Important When It Comes to Food? 600

Christian r. Weisser, Sustainability, from Sustainability: A Bedford

Spotlight Reader [book excerpt] 602 “Sustainability must consider the environment, society, and the

economy to be successful.”

Top to bottom: Makeshift Magazine (mkshft.org); © Frank Fell/age fotostock; AP Photo/ John McConnico; AP Photo/Journal Inquirer, Jared Ramsdell

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robert Paarlberg, Attention Whole Foods Shoppers [magazine article] 610

“It turns out that food prices on the world market tell us very little

about global hunger.”

barbara Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp, Springing Forward and The

Strange Case of Percy Schmeiser, from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle [book excerpt] 620

“How did supermarket vegetables lose their palatability, with so

many people right there watching?”

David H. freedman, Are Engineered Foods Evil? [magazine article] 630

“Despite overwhelming evidence that GM crops are safe to eat, the

debate over their use continues to rage, and in some parts of the

world, it is growing ever louder.”

Making a Visual Argument: Claire Ironside, Apples to Oranges [visual essay] 641

eric Mortenson, A Diversified Farm Prospers in Oregon’s Willamette

Valley by Going Organic and Staying Local [newspaper article] 653 “If you’re not fine-tuning, you’re out of business.”

Katherine Gustafson, School Bus Farmers’ Market, from Change

Comes to Dinner [book excerpt] 657 “Is relocalizing our food economy the answer to our woes?”

26. What Should “Diversity on Campus” Mean and Why? 668

Making a Visual Argument: Diversity Posters [posters] 670

Wendy Aguilar, Talk About It, Be About It 670

Max Smith, Unity within the Community 671

Hayley Kuntz, We All Come from Different Walks of Life 672

David Whittemore, Diversity Is the Largest Picture 673

Top to bottom: AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Clem Murray; © Claire Ironside, all rights reserved; AP Photo/The Herald-Palladium, John Madill; Megan Haaga, for Open Gates, by permission

Fossil fuel inputs of a local, organic apple

organic local farming

commercial preparation/storage

bulk packaging

retail storage/ maintaining


preparation/ manufacturing

home storage/ cooking

204 foood

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Dr. Lynda Kenney, Diversity Makes Life Interesting 674

Jake Nicolella, Reflect on Yesterday. Experience Today. Transform

Tomorrow. 675

Coleman Collins, You Are Not Colorblind 676

Deena Prichep, A Campus More Colorful Than Reality: Beware That

College Brochure [radio transcript] 678 “Diversity is something that’s being marketed.”

Sarah fraas, Trans Women at Smith: The Complexities of Checking

“Female” [student newspaper article] 683 “Education is the only chance at survival while living as trans.”

Young M. Kim and James S. Cole, Student Veterans/Service Members’

Engagement in College and University Life and Education [research report excerpt] 688

“How do student veterans/service members perceive their

experiences at higher education institutions?”

Shabana Mir, Muslim American Women in Campus Culture, from

Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and

Identity [book excerpt] 702 “Muslim American women regularly experience such identity

silencing demands on campus.”

Sheryll Cashin, Introduction from Place, Not Race: A New Vision of

Opportunity in America [book excerpt] 712 “I challenge universities to reform both affirmative action and the

entire admissions process.”

Walter benn Michaels, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned

to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality [book excerpt] 725 “We like to talk about the differences we can appreciate, and we

don’t like to talk about the ones we can’t.”

Top to bottom: © Jake Nicolella for Penn State University; © Jim West/Photoshot; A. S. Alexander Collection of Ernest Hemingway. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library; AP Photo/The Miami Herald/Marsha Halper

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CONTeNTS xxxvii

27. How Has the Internet Changed the Meaning of Privacy? 732

Daniel J. Solove, The Nothing-to-Hide Argument [book excerpt] 734 “The problem with the nothing-to-hide argument is the underlying

assumption that privacy is about hiding bad things.”

rebecca Greenfield, What Your Email Metadata Told the NSA about

You [web article] 746 “But how much could the NSA learn from all that email metadata,


Making a Visual Argument: The Issue of Privacy [cartoons] 751

Nick Anderson, Thanks to the Supreme Court, . . . 751

Alfredo Martirena, 1 Message Reviewed by NSA 752

Larry Lambert, Should I just hit “reply to all” . . . ? 752

danah boyd and Kate Crawford, Excerpt from Six Provocations for

Big Data [conference presentation] 754 “The era of Big Data has begun.”

Todd Zwillich and Christian rudder, It’s Not OK Cupid: Co-Founder

Defends User Experiments [radio interview] 763 “And look, if there’s kind of a public-facing part of what we did, it’s

to point out to every person that uses the Internet, that every site

does these experiments.”

Supreme Court of the United States, Riley v. California [supreme court ruling] 771

“These two cases raise a common question: whether the police may,

without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized

from an individual who has been arrested.”

Amy Davidson, Four Ways the Riley Ruling Matters for the NSA [web article] 786

“New technology doesn’t mean that law enforcement gets a bonanza.”

Glossary 793

Index 804 Top to bottom: AP Photo, 1943; AP Photo; AP Photo/Kin Cheung; AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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Arguments Argument

argument argumentsWRiTing



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Left: Pacific Press/Getty Images; right: © Akintunde Akinleye/Corbis

Everything Is an Argument 1

On May 7, 2014, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama turned to new media to express her concern over the kidnapping of more than 200 young Nigerian girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Her tweet, along with an accompanying photo highlighting the trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, ramped up an argument over what the interna- tional community could do to stop an organization responsible for thou- sands of deaths in northeastern Nigeria. In bringing her appeal to Twitter, the First Lady acknowledged the persuasive power of social media like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and innumerable political and social blogs. The hashtag itself, it would appear, had become a potent tool for rallying audiences around the globe to support specific ideas or causes. But to what ends?

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Just weeks before Obama’s notable appeal, a U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki drew attention with a tweet of her own aimed at countering attempts by Russian social media to co-opt the U.S. State Department’s #UnitedforUkraine hashtag:

The Russian government, it seems, having just annexed the Crimea region and threatening all of Ukraine, was showing more skill than Western nations at using Twitter and other social media to win propa- ganda points in the diplomatic crisis. Yet Psaki’s response via Twitter earned her disapproval from those who interpreted her social media riposte as further evidence of U.S. weakness. For instance, Texas senator Ted Cruz tweeted in reply to Psaki:

Even Michelle Obama took heat for her earnest appeal on behalf of kidnapped girls the same age as her own daughters. While celebrities such as Amy Poehler and Mary J. Blige posted supportive items, Obama’s tweet got quick international pushback from those who argued (in 140 characters) that the anti-terrorist use of drones by the U.S. military was no less reprehensible than the tactics of Boko Haram. And domestic crit- ics saw Obama’s message as a substitute for real action, with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg chiding well-intentioned activists with a dose of reality:

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 5

Clearly, social media play out on crowded, two-way channels, with claims and counterclaims whizzing by, fast and furious. Such tools reach audiences and they also create them, offering an innovative way to make and share arguments. Just as important, anyone, anywhere, with access to a phone, tablet, or other electronic device, can launch arguments that circle the globe in seconds. Social networking and digital tools are increasingly available to all.

We’ve opened this chapter with dramatic, perhaps troubling, examples of Twitter controversies to introduce our claim that argu- ments are all around us, in every medium, in every genre, in everything we do. There may be an argument on the T-shirt you put on in the morning, in the sports column you read on the bus, in the prayers you utter before an exam, in the off-the-cuff political remarks of a teacher lecturing, in the assurances of a health center nurse that “This won’t hurt one bit.”

The clothes you wear, the foods you eat, and the groups you join make nuanced, sometimes unspoken assertions about who you are and what you value. So an argument can be any text — written, spoken, aural, or visual — that expresses a point of view. In fact, some theorists claim that language is inherently persuasive. When you say, “Hi, how’s it going?” in one sense you’re arguing that your hello deserves a response. Even humor makes an argument when it causes readers to recognize — through bursts of laughter or just a faint smile — how things are and how they might be different.

More obvious as arguments are those that make direct claims based on or drawn from evidence. Such writing often moves readers to recog- nize problems and to consider solutions. Persuasion of this kind is usu- ally easy to recognize:

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed by Congress 30 years ago this July, is a gross violation of civil liberties and must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts, and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant.

— Camille Paglia, “The Drinking Age Is Past Its Prime”

We will become a society of a million pictures without much memory, a society that looks forward every second to an immediate replication of what it has just done, but one that does not sustain the difficult labor of transmitting culture from one generation to the next.

— Christine Rosen, “The Image Culture”

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R e s p o n d. Can an argument really be any text that expresses a point of view? What kinds of arguments — if any — might be made by the following items?

a Boston Red Sox cap

a Livestrong bracelet

the “explicit lyrics” label on a best-selling rap CD

the health warnings on a package of cigarettes

a Tesla Model S electric car

a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses

Why We Make Arguments

In the politically divided and entertainment-driven culture of the United States today, the word argument may well call up negative images: the hostile scowl or shaking fist of a politician or news “opinionator” who wants to drown out other voices and prevail at all costs. This winner- take-all view turns many citizens off to the whole process of using rea- soned conversation to identify, explore, and solve problems. Hoping to avoid personal conflict, many people now sidestep opportunities to speak their mind on issues shaping their lives and work. We want to counter this attitude throughout this book.

Some arguments, of course, are aimed at winning, especially those related to politics, business, and law. Two candidates for office, for example, vie for a majority of votes; the makers of one smartphone try to outsell their competitors by offering more features at a lower price; and two lawyers try to outwit each other in pleading to a judge and jury. In your college writing, you may also be called on to make arguments that appeal to a “judge” and “jury” (perhaps your instructor and class- mates). You might, for instance, argue that students in every field should be required to engage in service learning projects. In doing so, you will need to offer better arguments or more convincing evidence than poten- tial opponents — such as those who might regard service learning as a politicized or coercive form of education. You can do so reasonably and responsibly, no name-calling required.

There are many reasons to argue and principled ways to do so. We explore some of them in this section.

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 7

Arguments to Convince and Inform

We’re stepping into an argument ourselves in drawing what we hope is a useful distinction between convincing and — in the next section — persuading. (Feel free to disagree with us.) Arguments to convince lead audiences to accept a claim as true or reasonable — based on informa- tion or evidence that seems factual and reliable; arguments to persuade then seek to move people beyond conviction to action. Academic argu- ments often combine both elements.

Many news reports and analyses, white papers, and academic articles aim to convince audiences by broadening what they know about a sub- ject. Such fact-based arguments might have no motives beyond laying out what the facts are. Here’s an opening paragraph from a 2014 news story by Anahad O’Connor in the New York Times that itself launched a thousand arguments (and lots of huzzahs) simply by reporting the results of a recent scientific study:

Many of us have long been told that saturated fat, the type found in meat, butter and cheese, causes heart disease. But a large and exhaus- tive new analysis by a team of international scientists found no evi- dence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events.

— Anahad O’Connor, “Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link”

Wow. You can imagine how carefully the reporter walked through the scientific data, knowing how this new information might be understood and repurposed by his readers.

Similarly, in a college paper on viability of nuclear power as an alter- native source of energy, you might compare the health and safety record of a nuclear plant to that of other forms of energy. Depending upon your findings and your interpretation of the data, the result of your fact-based presentation might be to raise or alleviate concerns readers have about nuclear energy. Of course, your decision to write the argument might be driven by your conviction that nuclear power is much safer than most people believe.

Even an image can offer an argument designed both to inform and to convince. On the following page, for example, editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart finds a way to frame an issue on the minds of many students today, the burden of crushing debt. As Englehart presents it, the problem is impossible to ignore.

In the excerpt from his book

Disability and the Media:

Prescriptions for Change,

Charles a. riley II intends to

convince other journalists to

adopt a less stereotypical language

for discussing diversity.

lInk to p. 527

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Arguments to persuade

Today, climate change may be the public issue that best illustrates the chasm that sometimes separates conviction from persuasion. The weight of scientific research may convince people that the earth is warming, but persuading them to act on that knowledge doesn’t fol- low easily. How then does change occur? Some theorists suggest that persuasion — understood as moving people to do more than nod in agreement — is best achieved via appeals to emotions such as fear, anger, envy, pride, sympathy, or hope. We think that’s an oversimplifi- cation. The fact is that persuasive arguments, whether in advertise- ments, political blogs, YouTube videos, or newspaper editorials, draw upon all the appeals of rhetoric (see p. 21) to motivate people to act — whether it be to buy a product, pull a lever for a candidate, or volunteer for a civic organization. Here, once again, is Camille Paglia driving home her argument that the 1984 federal law raising the drink- ing age in the United States to 21 was a catastrophic decision in need of reversal:

What this cruel 1984 law did is deprive young people of safe spaces where they could happily drink cheap beer, socialize, chat, and flirt in a free but controlled public environment. Hence in the 1980s we immediately got the scourge of crude binge drinking at campus fraternity keg parties, cut off from the adult world. Women in

© Bob Englehart/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 9

that boorish free-for-all were suddenly fighting off date rape. Club drugs — Ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine (a veterinary tranquilizer) — surged at raves for teenagers and on the gay male circuit scene.

Paglia chooses to dramatize her argument by sharply contrasting a safer, more supportive past with a vastly more dangerous present when drink- ing was forced underground and young people turned to highly risky behaviors. She doesn’t hesitate to name them either: binge drinking, club drugs, raves, and, most seriously, date rape. This highly rhetorical, one might say emotional, argument pushes readers hard to endorse a call for serious action — the repeal of the current drinking age law.

admit it, Duchess of Cornwall. you knew abandoned dogs need homes, but it was heartrending photos on the Battersea Dogs & Cats home Web site that persuaded you to visit the shelter. WPA Pool/Getty Images

R e s p o n d. Apply the distinction made here between convincing and persuading to the way people respond to two or three current political or social issues. Is there a useful distinction between being convinced and being persuaded? Explain your position.

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Arguments to Make Decisions

Closely allied to arguments to convince and persuade are arguments to examine the options in important matters, both civil and personal — from managing out-of-control deficits to choosing careers. Arguments to make decisions occur all the time in the public arena, where they are often slow to evolve, caught up in electoral or legal squabbles, and yet driven by a genuine desire to find consensus. In recent years, for instance, Americans have argued hard to make decisions about health care, the civil rights of same-sex couples, and the status of more than 11 million immigrants in the country. Subjects so complex aren’t debated in straight lines. They get haggled over in every imaginable medium by thousands of writers, politicians, and ordinary citizens working alone or via political organizations to have their ideas considered.

For college students, choosing a major can be an especially momen- tous personal decision, and one way to go about making that decision is to argue your way through several alternatives. By the time you’ve explored the pros and cons of each alternative, you should be a little closer to a reasonable and defensible decision.

Sometimes decisions, however, are not so easy to make.


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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 11

Arguments to Understand and Explore

Arguments to make decisions often begin as choices between opposing positions already set in stone. But is it possible to examine important issues in more open-ended ways? Many situations, again in civil or per- sonal arenas, seem to call for arguments that genuinely explore possi- bilities without constraints or prejudices. If there’s an “opponent” in such situations at all (often there is not), it’s likely to be the status quo or a current trend which, for one reason or another, puzzles just about everyone. For example, in trying to sort through the extraordinary com- plexities of the 2011 budget debate, philosophy professor Gary Gutting was able to show how two distinguished economists — John Taylor and Paul Krugman — draw completely different conclusions from the exact same sets of facts. Exploring how such a thing could occur led Gutting to conclude that the two economists were arguing from the same facts, all right, but that they did not have all the facts possible. Those missing or unknown facts allowed them to fill in the blanks as they could, thus leading them to different conclusions. By discovering the source of a paradox, Gutting potentially opened new avenues for understanding.

Exploratory arguments can also be personal, such as Zora Neale Hurston’s ironic exploration of racism and of her own identity in the essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” If you keep a journal or blog, you have no doubt found yourself making arguments to explore issues near and dear to you. Perhaps the essential argument in any such piece is the writer’s realization that a problem exists — and that the writer or reader needs to understand it and respond constructively to it if possible.

Explorations of ideas that begin by trying to understand another’s perspective have been described as invitational arguments by research- ers Sonja Foss, Cindy Griffin, and Josina Makau. Such arguments are interested in inviting others to join in mutual explorations of ideas based on discovery and respect. Another kind of argument, called Rogerian argument (after psychotherapist Carl Rogers), approaches audiences in similarly nonthreatening ways, finding common ground and establish- ing trust among those who disagree about issues. Writers who take a Rogerian approach try to see where the other person is coming from, looking for “both/and” or “win/win” solutions whenever possible. (For more on Rogerian strategies, see Chapter 7.)

the infographic “Speak My

Language” by Santos henarejos

explores how technology has

affected the way we communicate

around the world.

lInk to p. 585

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R e s p o n d. What are your reasons for making arguments? Keep notes for two days about every single argument you make, using our broad definition to guide you. Then identify your reasons: How many times did you aim to con- vince? To inform? To persuade? To explore? To understand?

occasions for Argument

In a fifth-century BCE textbook of rhetoric (the art of persuasion), the philosopher Aristotle provides an ingenious strategy for classifying arguments based on their perspective on time — past, future, and pres- ent. His ideas still help us to appreciate the role arguments play in soci- ety in the twenty-first century. As you consider Aristotle’s occasions for argument, remember that all such classifications overlap (to a certain extent) and that we live in a world much different than his.

the risks of rogerian argument © David Sipress/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 13

Arguments about the past

Debates about what has happened in the past, what Aristotle called forensic arguments, are the red meat of government, courts, businesses, and academia. People want to know who did what in the past, for what reasons, and with what liability. When you argue a speeding ticket in court, you are making a forensic argument, claiming perhaps that you weren’t over the limit or that the officer’s radar was faulty. A judge will have to decide what exactly happened in the past in the unlikely case you push the issue that far.

More consequentially, in 2014 the federal government and General Motors found themselves deeply involved in arguments about the past as investigators sought to determine just exactly how the massive auto com- pany had allowed a serious defect in the ignition switches of its cars to go undisclosed and uncorrected for a decade. Drivers and passengers died or were injured as engines shut down and airbags failed to go off in subse- quent collisions. Who at General Motors was responsible for not diagnos- ing the fault? Were any engineers or executives liable for covering up the problem? And how should victims of this product defect or their families be compensated? These were all forensic questions to be thoroughly investigated, argued, and answered by regulatory panels and courts.

From an academic perspective, consider the lingering forensic argu- ments over Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Are his expeditions cause for celebration or notably unhappy chapters in human history? Or some of both? Such arguments about past actions — heated enough to spill over into the public realm — are common in disciplines such as history, philosophy, and ethics.

mary Barra, the chief executive officer of general motors, testifies before a congressional panel looking into problems with ignition switches in the company’s cars. AP Photo/Ron Sachs/ picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

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Arguments about the Future

Debates about what will or should happen in the future — deliberative arguments — often influence policies or legislation for the future. Should local or state governments allow or even encourage the use of self-driving cars on public roads? Should colleges and universities lend support to more dual- credit programs so that students can earn college credits while still in high school? Should coal-fired power plants be phased out of our energy grid? These are the sorts of deliberative questions that legislatures, committees, or school boards routinely address when making laws or establishing policies.

But arguments about the future can also be speculative, advancing by means of projections and reasoned guesses, as shown in the following passage from an essay by media maven Marc Prensky. He is arguing that it is time for some college or university to be the first to ban physical, that is to say paper, books on its campus, a controversial proposal to say the least:

Colleges and professors exist, in great measure, to help “liberate” and connect the knowledge and ideas in books. We should certainly pass on to our students the ability to do this. But in the future those liber- ated ideas — the ones in the books (the author’s words), and the ones about the books (the reader’s own notes, all readers’ thoughts and commentaries) — should be available with a few keystrokes. So, as counterintuitive as it may sound, eliminating physical books from col- lege campuses would be a positive step for our 21st-century students, and, I believe, for 21st-century scholarship as well. Academics, researchers, and particularly teachers need to move to the tools of the future. Artifacts belong in museums, not in our institutions of higher learning.

— Marc Prensky, “In the 21st-Century University, Let’s Ban Books”

Arguments about the present

Arguments about the present — what Aristotle terms epideictic or cere- monial arguments — explore the current values of a society, affirming or challenging its widely shared beliefs and core assumptions. Epideictic arguments are often made at public and formal events such as inaugural addresses, sermons, eulogies, memorials, and graduation speeches.

amy Davidson’s article “Four Ways

the Riley ruling Matters for the NSa”

predicts some probable outcomes

of an important Supreme Court


lInk to p. 786

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 15

Members of the audience listen carefully as credible speakers share their wisdom. For example, as the selection of college commencement speakers has grown increasingly contentious, Ruth J. Simmons, the first African American woman to head an Ivy League college, used the oppor- tunity of such an address (herself standing in for a rejected speaker) to offer a timely and ringing endorsement of free speech. Her words per- fectly illustrate epideictic rhetoric:

Universities have a special obligation to protect free speech, open dis- course and the value of protest. The collision of views and ideologies is in the DNA of the academic enterprise. No collision avoidance tech- nology is needed here. The noise from this discord may cause others to criticize the legitimacy of the academic enterprise, but how can knowledge advance without the questions that overturn misconcep- tions, push further into previously impenetrable areas of inquiry and assure us stunning breakthroughs in human knowledge? If there is anything that colleges must encourage and protect it is the persistent questioning of the status quo. Our health as a nation, our health as women, our health as an industry requires it.

— Ruth J. Simmons, Smith College, 2014

Perhaps more common than Smith’s impassioned address are values arguments that examine contemporary culture, praising what’s admira- ble and blaming what’s not. In the following argument, student Latisha Chisholm looks at the state of rap music after Tupac Shakur:

With the death of Tupac, not only did one of the most intriguing rap rivalries of all time die, but the motivation for rapping seems to have changed. Where money had always been a plus, now it is obviously more important than wanting to express the hardships of Black com- munities. With current rappers, the positive power that came from the desire to represent Black people is lost. One of the biggest rappers now got his big break while talking about sneakers. Others announce retirement without really having done much for the soul or for Black people’s morale. I equate new rappers to NFL players that don’t love the game anymore. They’re only in it for the money. . . . It looks like the voice of a people has lost its heart.

— Latisha Chisholm, “Has Rap Lost Its Soul?”

As in many ceremonial arguments, Chisholm here reinforces common values such as representing one’s community honorably and fairly.

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R e s p o n d. In a recent magazine, newspaper, or blog, find three editorials — one that makes a forensic argument, one a deliberative argument, and one a cere- monial argument. Analyze the arguments by asking these questions: Who is arguing? What purposes are the writers trying to achieve? To whom are they directing their arguments? Then decide whether the arguments’ pur- poses have been achieved and how you know.

are rappers since tupac — like Jay Z — only in it for the money? many epideictic arguments either praise or blame contemporary culture in this way. Michael N. Todaro/ FilmMagic/Getty Images

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 17

kinds of Argument

Yet another way of categorizing arguments is to consider their status or stasis — that is, the specific kinds of issues they address. This approach, called stasis theory, was used in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations to provide questions designed to help citizens and lawyers work their way through legal cases. The status questions were posed in sequence because each depended on answers from the preceding ones. Together, the queries helped determine the point of contention in an argument — where the parties disagreed or what exactly had to be proven. A modern version of those questions might look like the following:

● Did something happen?

● What is its nature?

● What is its quality or cause?

● What actions should be taken?

Each stasis question explores a different aspect of a problem and uses different evidence or techniques to reach conclusions. You can use these questions to explore the aspects of any topic you’re considering. You’ll discover that we use the stasis issues to define key types of argument in Part 2.

Did Something Happen? Arguments of Fact

There’s no point in arguing a case until its basic facts are established. So an argument of fact usually involves a statement that can be proved or disproved with specific evidence or testimony. For example, the question

Occasions for Argument

Past Future Present

What is it called? Forensic Deliberative Epideictic

What are its concerns? What happened in the past?

What should be done in the future?

Who or what deserves praise or blame?

What does it look like? Court decisions, legal briefs, legislative hear- ings, investigative reports, academic studies

White papers, proposals, bills, regulations, mandates

Eulogies, graduation speeches, inaugural addresses, roasts

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of pollution of the oceans — is it really occurring? — might seem rela- tively easy to settle. Either scientific data prove that the oceans are being dirtied as a result of human activity, or they don’t. But to settle the mat- ter, writers and readers need to ask a number of other questions about the “facts”:

● Where did the facts come from?

● Are they reliable?

● Is there a problem with the facts?

● Where did the problem begin and what caused it?

For more on arguments based on facts, see Chapters 4 and 8.

What Is the nature of the thing? Arguments of Definition

Some of the most hotly debated issues in American life today involve questions of definition: we argue over the nature of the human fetus, the meaning of “amnesty” for immigrants, the boundaries of sexual assault. As you might guess, issues of definition have mighty consequences, and decades of debate may nonetheless leave the matter unresolved. Here, for example, is how one type of sexual assault is defined in an important 2007 report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice by the National Institute of Justice:

We consider as incapacitated sexual assault any unwanted sexual contact occurring when a victim is unable to provide consent or stop what is happening because she is passed out, drugged, drunk, inca- pacitated, or asleep, regardless of whether the perpetrator was respon- sible for her substance use or whether substances were administered without her knowledge. We break down incapacitated sexual assault into four subtypes. . . .

— “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study: Final Report”

The specifications of the definition go on for another two hundred words, each of consequence in determining how sexual assault on col- lege campuses might be understood, measured, and addressed.

Of course many arguments of definition are less weighty than this, though still hotly contested: Is playing video games a sport? Can Batman be a tragic figure? Is Hillary Clinton a moderate or a progressive? (For more about arguments of definition, see Chapter 9.)

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 19

What Is the Quality or Cause of the thing? Arguments of Evaluation

Arguments of evaluation present criteria and then measure individual people, ideas, or things against those standards. For instance, a Washing- ton Post story examining long-term trend lines in SAT reading scores opened with this qualitative assessment of the results:

Reading scores on the SAT for the high school class of 2012 reached a four-decade low, putting a punctuation mark on a gradual decline in the ability of college-bound teens to read passages and answer ques- tions about sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on the col- lege entrance exam. . . . Scores among every racial group except for those of Asian descent declined from 2006 levels. A majority of test takers — 57 percent — did not score high enough to indicate likely suc- cess in college, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the test.

— Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown, “SAT Reading Scores Hit a Four-Decade Low”

The final sentence is particularly telling, putting the test results in con- text. More than half the high school test-takers may not be ready for college-level readings.

In examining a circumstance or situation like this, we are often led to wonder what accounts for it: Why are the test scores declining? Why are some groups underperforming? And, in fact, the authors of the brief Post story do follow up on some questions of cause and effect:

The 2012 SAT scores come after a decade of efforts to raise test scores under the No Child Left Behind law, the federal education initiative crafted by President George W. Bush. Critics say the law failed to address the barriers faced by many test takers.

“Some kids are coming to school hungry, some without the health care they need, without the vocabulary that middle-class kids come to school with, even in kindergarten,” said Helen F. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University.

Although evaluations differ from causal analyses, in practice the bound- aries between stasis questions are often porous: particular arguments have a way of defining their own issues.

For much more about arguments of evaluation, see Chapter 10; for causal arguments, see Chapter 11.

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What Actions Should Be taken? proposal Arguments

After facts in a controversy have been confirmed, definitions agreed on, evaluations made, and causes traced, it may be time for a proposal argument answering the question Now, what do we do about all this? For example, in developing an argument about out-of-control student fees at your college, you might use all the prior stasis questions to study the issue and determine exactly how much and for what reasons these costs


Suppose you have an opportunity to speak at a student conference on the impact of climate change. You are tentatively in favor of strength- ening industrial pollution standards aimed at reducing global warming trends. But to learn more about the issue, you use the stasis questions to get started.

• Did something happen? Does global warming exist? Maybe not, say many in the oil and gas industry; at best, evidence for global warm- ing is inconclusive. Yes, say most scientists and governments; cli- mate change is real and even seems to be accelerating. To come to your conclusion, you’ll weigh the facts carefully and identify prob- lems with opposing arguments.

• What is the nature of the thing? Skeptics define climate change as a naturally occurring event; most scientists base their definitions on change due to human causes. You look at each definition care- fully: How do the definitions foster the goals of each group? What’s at stake for each group in defining it that way?

• What is the quality or cause of the thing? Exploring the differing assessments of damage done by climate change leads you to ask who will gain from such analysis: Do oil executives want to protect their investments? Do scientists want government money for grants? Where does evidence for the dangers of global warming come from? Who benefits if the dangers are accepted as real and present, and who loses?

• What actions should be taken? If climate change is occurring natu- rally or causing little harm, then arguably nothing needs to be or can be done. But if it is caused mainly by human activity and dangers, action is definitely called for (although not everyone may agree on what such action should be). As you investigate the proposals being made and the reasons behind them, you come closer to developing your own argument.

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 21

are escalating. Only then will you be prepared to offer knowledgeable suggestions for action. In examining a nationwide move to eliminate remedial education in four-year colleges, John Cloud offers a notably moderate proposal to address the problem:

Students age twenty-two and over account for 43 percent of those in remedial classrooms, according to the National Center for Develop- mental Education. . . . [But] 55 percent of those needing remediation must take just one course. Is it too much to ask them to pay extra for that class or take it at a community college?

— John Cloud, “Who’s Ready for College?”

For more about proposal arguments, see Chapter 12.

Appealing to Audiences

Exploring all the occasions and kinds of arguments available will lead you to think about the audience(s) you are addressing and the specific ways you can appeal to them. Audiences for arguments today are amaz- ingly diverse, from the flesh-and-blood person sitting across a desk when you negotiate a student loan to your “friends” on social media, to the “ideal” reader you imagine for whatever you are writing. The figure on the next page suggests just how many dimensions an audience can have as writers and readers negotiate their relationships with a text, whether it be oral, written, or digital.

As you see there, texts usually have intended readers, the people writers hope and expect to address — let’s say, routine browsers of a

the no Child Left Behind act was signed in 2002 with great hopes and bipartisan support. AFP/Getty Images

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newspaper’s op-ed page. But writers also shape the responses of these actual readers in ways they imagine as appropriate or desirable — for example, maneuvering readers of editorials into making focused and knowledgeable judgments about politics and culture. Such audiences, as imagined and fashioned by writers within their texts, are called invoked readers.

Making matters even more complicated, readers can respond to writ- ers’ maneuvers by choosing to join the invoked audiences, to resist them, or maybe even to ignore them. Arguments may also attract “real” readers from groups not among those that writers originally imagined or expected to reach. You may post something on the Web, for instance, and discover that people you did not intend to address are commenting on it. (For them, the experience may be like reading private email intended for someone else: they find themselves drawn to and fasci- nated by your ideas!) As authors of this book, we think about students like you whenever we write: you are our intended readers. But notice how in dozens of ways, from the images we choose to the tone of our language, we also invoke an audience of people who take writing argu- ments seriously. We want you to become that kind of reader.

So audiences are very complicated and subtle and challenging, and yet you somehow have to attract and even persuade them. As always, Aristotle offers an answer. He identified three time-tested appeals that speakers and writers can use to reach almost any audience, labeling them pathos, ethos, and logos — strategies as effective today as they were in ancient times, though we usually think of them in slightly different terms. Used in the right way and deployed at the right moment, emo- tional, ethical, and logical appeals have enormous power, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters.


Readers existing in writer’s mind:

intended/ideal readers


Readers as they actually exist:

real readers


Readers represented in the text:

invoked readers

s o

cial, cultural, institutional, economic, ling uistic

, geo

gra ph



on te

x ts

readers and writers in context

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 23

R e s p o n d. You can probably provide concise descriptions of the intended audience for most textbooks you have encountered. But can you detect their invoked audiences — that is, the way their authors are imagining (and perhaps shaping) the readers they would like to have? Carefully review this entire first chapter, looking for signals and strategies that might identify the audience and readers invoked by the authors of Everything’s an Argument.

Emotional Appeals: pathos

Emotional appeals, or pathos, generate emotions (fear, pity, love, anger, jealousy) that the writer hopes will lead the audience to accept a claim. Here is an alarming sentence from a book by Barry B. LePatner arguing that Americans need to make hard decisions about repairing the coun- try’s failing infrastructure:

When the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis shuddered, buckled, and col- lapsed during the evening rush hour on Wednesday, August 1, 2007, plunging 111 vehicles into the Mississippi River and sending thirteen people to their deaths, the sudden, apparently inexplicable nature of the event at first gave the appearance of an act of God.

— Too Big to Fall: America’s Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward

If you ever drive across a bridge, LePatner has probably gotten your attention. His sober and yet descriptive language helps readers imagine the dire consequence of neglected road maintenance and bad design decisions. Making an emotional appeal like this can dramatize an issue and sometimes even create a bond between writer and readers. (For more about emotional appeals, see Chapter 2.)

Ethical Appeals: Ethos

When writers or speakers come across as trustworthy, audiences are likely to listen to and accept their arguments. That trustworthiness (along with fairness and respect) is a mark of ethos, or credibility. Show- ing that you know what you are talking about exerts an ethical appeal, as does emphasizing that you share values with and respect your audi- ence. Once again, here’s Barry LePatner from Too Big to Fall, shoring up

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his authority for writing about problems with America’s roads and bridges by invoking the ethos of people even more credible:

For those who would seek to dismiss the facts that support the thesis of this book, I ask them to consult the many professional engineers in state transportation departments who face these problems on a daily basis. These professionals understand the physics of bridge and road design, and the real problems of ignoring what happens to steel and concrete when they are exposed to the elements without a strict regi- men of ongoing maintenance.

It’s a sound rhetorical move to enhance credibility this way. For more about ethical appeals, see Chapter 3.

logical Appeals: logos

Appeals to logic, or logos, are often given prominence and authority in U.S. culture: “Just the facts, ma’am,” a famous early TV detective on Dragnet used to say. Indeed, audiences respond well to the use of reasons and evidence — to the presentation of facts, statistics, credible testimony, cogent examples, or even a narrative or story that embodies a sound reason in support of an argument. Following almost two hundred pages of facts, sta- tistics, case studies, and arguments about the sad state of American bridges, LePatner can offer this sober, logical, and inevitable conclusion:

We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that we are in the midst of a transportation funding crisis, which has been exacerbated by an even larger and longer-term problem: how we choose to invest in our infra- structure. It is not difficult to imagine the serious consequences that will unfold if we fail to address the deplorable conditions of our bridges and roads, including the increasingly higher costs we will pay for goods and services that rely on that transportation network, and a concomitant reduction in our standard of living.

For more about logical appeals, see Chapter 4.

Bringing It Home: Kairos and the rhetorical Situation

In Greek mythology, Kairos — the youngest son of Zeus — was the god of opportunity. In images, he is most often depicted as running, and his most unusual characteristic is a shock of hair on his forehead. As Kairos

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 25

dashes by, you have a chance to seize that lock of hair, thereby seizing the opportune moment; once he passes you by, however, you have missed that chance.

Kairos is also a term used to describe the most suitable time and place for making an argument and the most opportune ways of expressing it. It is easy to point to shimmering rhetorical moments, when speakers find exactly the right words to stir an audience: Franklin Roosevelt’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and of course Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream . . .” But kairos matters just as much in less dramatic situations, whenever speakers or writers must size up the core elements of a rhetorical situa- tion to decide how best to make their expertise and ethos work for a particular message aimed at a specific audience. The diagram below hints at the dynamic complexity of the rhetorical situation.

But rhetorical situations are embedded in contexts of enormous social complexity. The moment you find a subject, you inherit all the knowledge, history, culture, and technological significations that sur- round it. To lesser and greater degrees (depending on the subject), you also bring personal circumstances into the field — perhaps your gender, your race, your religion, your economic class, your habits of language. And all those issues weigh also upon the people you write to and for.

Context —


Writers Speakers

Texts Message

Readers Viewers Listeners

the rhetorical situation

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So considering your rhetorical situation calls on you to think hard about the notion of kairos. Being aware of your rhetorical moment means being able to understand and take advantage of dynamic, shifting circumstances and to choose the best (most timely) proofs and evidence for a particular place, situation, and audience. It means seizing moments and enjoying opportunities, not being overwhelmed by them. Doing so might even lead you to challenge the title of this text: is everything an argument?

That’s what makes writing arguments exciting.

R e s p o n d. Take a look at the bumper sticker below, and then analyze it. What is its purpose? What kind of argument is it? Which of the stasis questions does it most appropriately respond to? To what audiences does it appeal? What appeals does it make and how?

© Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Corbis

ronald reagan at the Berlin Wall, June 12, 1987: “mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall!“ © Dennis Brack/ PhotoShot

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C h a p t e r 1 EvErything is an argumEnt 27

CUltUrAl ContExtS For ArgUMEnt

Considering What’s “normal”

If you want to communicate effectively with people across cultures, then learn about the traditions in those cultures and examine the norms guiding your own behavior:

• Explore your assumptions! Most of us regard our ways of thinking as “normal” or “right.” Such assumptions guide our judgments about what works in persuasive situations. But just because it may seem natural to speak bluntly in arguments, consider that others may find such aggression startling or even alarming.

• Remember: ways of arguing differ widely across cultures. Pay atten- tion to how people from groups or cultures other than your own argue, and be sensitive to different paths of thinking you’ll encoun- ter as well as to differences in language.

• Don’t assume that all people share your cultural values, ethical principles, or political assumptions. People across the world have different ways of defining family, work, or happiness. As you present arguments to them, consider that they may be content with their different ways of organizing their lives and societies.

• Respect the differences among individuals within a given group. Don’t expect that every member of a community behaves — or argues — in the same way or shares the same beliefs. Avoid think- ing, for instance, that there is a single Asian, African, or Hispanic culture or that Europeans are any less diverse or more predictable than Americans or Canadians in their thinking. In other words, be skeptical of stereotypes.

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Emotional appeals (appeals to pathos) are powerful tools for influencing what people think and believe. We all make decisions — even including the most important ones — based on our feelings. That’s what the Food and Drug Administration hoped to capitalize on when it introduced nine tough warning labels for cigarettes, one of which you see above. One look at the stained, rotting teeth and the lip sore may arouse emotions of fear strong enough to convince people not to smoke.

In the second panel, Bob Dorigo Jones, an opponent of lawsuit abuse, takes concerns about product liability in a different direction, publishing a book entitled Remove Child before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest, and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever to make us laugh and thereby, perhaps, to wonder why common sense seems in such short supply. In the third panel, editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star Gary Varvel uses the anti-smoking meme to point out a potent irony in burgeoning cam- paigns to legalize marijuana.

Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos

Center: PRNews Photo/Wide World/AP Photo; right: Used with permission of Gary Varvel and Creators Syndicate. All rights reserved.



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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 29

The arguments packed into these three images all appeal to emotion, and research has shown us that we often make decisions based on just such appeals. So when you hear that formal or academic arguments should rely solely on facts to convince us, remember that facts alone often won’t carry the day, even for a worthy cause. The largely successful case made this decade for same-sex marriage provides a notable example of a movement that persuaded people equally by virtue of the reasonableness and the passion of its claims. Like many political and social debates, though, the issue provoked powerful emotions on every side — feelings that sometimes led to extreme words and tactics.

Of course, we don’t have to look hard for arguments fueled with emo- tions such as hatred, envy, and greed, or for campaigns intended to drive wedges between economic or social groups, making them fearful or resentful. For that reason alone, writers should not use emotional appeals rashly or casually. (For more about emotional fallacies, see p. 72.)

Reading Critically for Pathos

On February 24, 2014, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, fresh from two “fact- finding” trips to Cuba, described his experiences on the Senate floor in a rambling, forty-minute speech, praising that island nation’s accomplish- ments in health care and education and urging a normalization of Cuban–American relationships. Later that day, Florida senator Marco Rubio, expecting to speak about growing repression in Venezuela, found it impossible to ignore Harkin’s rosy view of the “fascinating” socialist experiment ninety miles from the coast of the United States. Seizing a kairotic moment, the first-term senator delivered a passionate fifteen- minute rejoinder to Harkin without a script or teleprompter — though Rubio did use posters prepared originally for the Venezuelan talk. After a sarcastic taunt (“Sounded like he had a wonderful trip visiting what he described as a real paradise”), Rubio quickly turned serious, even angry, as he offered his take on the country Harkin had toured:

I heard him also talk about these great doctors that they have in Cuba. I have no doubt they’re very talented. I’ve met a bunch of them. You know where I met them? In the United States because they defected. Because in Cuba, doctors would rather drive a taxi cab or work in a hotel than be a doctor. I wonder if they spoke to him about the out- break of cholera that they’ve been unable to control, or about the

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three-tiered system of health care that exists where foreigners and government officials get health care much better than that that’s avail- able to the general population.

The speech thereafter settles into a rhythm of patterned inquiries designed to raise doubts about what Senator Harkin had seen, Rubio’s informal language rippling with contempt for his colleague’s naïveté:

I heard about their [the Cubans’] wonderful literacy rate, how every- one in Cuba knows how to read. That’s fantastic. Here’s the problem: they can only read censored stuff. They’re not allowed access to the Internet. The only newspapers they’re allowed to read are Granma or the ones produced by the government. . . .

He talked about these great baseball players that are coming from Cuba — and they are. But I wonder if they informed him [that] every single one of those guys playing in the Major Leagues defected. They left Cuba to play here. . . .

So it’s great to have literacy, but if you don’t have access to the information, what’s the point of it? So I wish somebody would have asked about that on that trip. . . .

I wonder if anybody asked about terrorism, because Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. . . .

Language this heated and pointed has risks, especially when a young legislator is taking on a genial and far more experienced colleague. But Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, isn’t shy about allowing his feelings to show. Segueing to his original topic — growing political repression in socialist Venezuela — he uses the kind of verbal repetition common in oratory to drive home his major concern about Cuba, its influence on other nations:

Let me tell you what the Cubans are really good at, because they don’t know how to run their economy, they don’t know how to build, they don’t know how to govern a people. What they are really good at is repression. What they are really good at is shutting off information to the Internet and to radio and television and social media. That’s what they’re really good at. And they’re not just good at it domestically, they’re good exporters of these things.

Rubio’s actual audience in the U.S. Senate was very small, but today all speeches from that chamber are carried nationwide and archived by C-SPAN, and in the age of YouTube, bits and pieces of political addresses reach many listeners. Former speechwriter and Wall Street Journal colum- nist Peggy Noonan was among those who caught Rubio’s remarks and

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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 31

blogged about them: “We have pressed in these parts for American politi- cal figures to speak clearly and with moral confidence about American sympathies in various international disputes. Rubio’s speech is honest political indignation successfully deployed.” You can watch the entire speech on C-SPAN’s Web site (listed as “Rubio Speech on Venezuela”) to see if you agree. And though Cuba and the United States did re-establish diplo- matic relationships roughly ten months after the Harkin/Rubio exchange, issues raised by both senators — from health care to the immigration status of Cuban baseball players — will likely be argued for years to come.

R e s p o n d. Working with a classmate, make a list of reasons why speakers in highly charged situations might need to use emotional appeals cautiously, even sparingly. What consequences might heightened emotional appeals lead to? What is at stake for the speaker in such situations, in terms of credibil- ity and ethos? What are the advantages of evoking emotions in support of your claims or ideas?

Using Emotions to Build Bridges

You may sometimes want to use emotions to connect with readers to assure them that you understand their experiences or “feel their pain,” to borrow a sentiment popularized by President Bill Clinton. Such a bridge is especially important when you’re writing about matters that readers regard as sensitive. Before they’ll trust you, they’ll want

As originally aired on C-SPAN2 on February 24 2014

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assurances that you understand the issues in depth. If you strike the right emotional note, you’ll establish an important connection. That’s what Apple founder Steve Jobs does in a much-admired 2005 commence- ment address in which he tells the audience that he doesn’t have a fancy speech, just three stories from his life:

My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky. I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I started Apple in my par- ents’ garage when I was twenty. We worked hard and in ten years, Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over four thousand employees. We’d just released our finest creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I’d just turned thirty, and then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so, things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge, and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him, and so at thirty, I was out, and very publicly out. . . .

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heavi- ness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world.

— Steve Jobs, “You’ve Got to Find What You Love, Jobs Says”

In no obvious way is Jobs’s recollection a formal argument. But it prepares his audience to accept the advice he’ll give later in his speech, at least partly because he’s speaking from meaningful personal experiences.

A more obvious way to build an emotional tie is simply to help read- ers identify with your experiences. If, like Georgina Kleege, you were blind and wanted to argue for more sensible attitudes toward blind people, you might ask readers in the first paragraph of your argument to confront their prejudices. Here Kleege, a writer and college instructor, makes an emotional point by telling a story:

I tell the class, “I am legally blind.” There is a pause, a collective intake of breath. I feel them look away uncertainly and then look back. After all, I just said I couldn’t see. Or did I? I had managed to get there on my own — no cane, no dog, none of the usual trappings of blindness.

the excerpt from Shabana Mir’s

book Muslim American Women on

Campus opens with comments that

unify the undergraduate experience.

link to P. 702

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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 33

Eyeing me askance now, they might detect that my gaze is not quite focused. . . . They watch me glance down, or towards the door where someone’s coming in late. I’m just like anyone else.

— Georgina Kleege, “Call It Blindness”

Given the way she narrates the first day of class, readers are as likely to identify with the students as with Kleege, imagining themselves sitting in a classroom, facing a sightless instructor, confronting their own preju- dices about the blind. Kleege wants to put her audience on the edge emotionally.

Let’s consider another rhetorical situation: how do you win over an audience when the logical claims that you’re making are likely to go against what many in the audience believe? Once again, a slightly risky appeal to emotions on a personal level may work. That’s the tack that Michael Pollan takes in bringing readers to consider that “the great moral struggle of our time will be for the rights of animals.” In introduc- ing his lengthy exploratory argument, Pollan uses personal experience to appeal to his audience:

The first time I opened Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, I was dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium-rare.

A visual version of michael Pollan’s rhetorical situation. © Robert Mankoff/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

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If this sounds like a good recipe for cognitive dissonance (if not indi- gestion), that was sort of the idea. Preposterous as it might seem to supporters of animal rights, what I was doing was tantamount to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a plantation in the Deep South in 1852.

— Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place”

In creating a vivid image of his first encounter with Singer’s book, Pollan’s opening builds a bridge between himself as a person trying to enter into the animal rights debate in a fair and open-minded, if still skeptical, way and readers who might be passionate about either side of this argument.

Using Emotions to Sustain an Argument

You can also use emotional appeals to make logical claims stronger or more memorable. That is the way that photographs and other images add power to arguments. In a TV attack ad, the scowling cell phone video of a disheveled political opponent may do as much damage as the insin- uation that he bought his home on the cheap from a financier convicted of fraud. In contrast, a human face smiling or showing honest emotion can sell just about any product — that’s why indicted political figures now routinely smile for their mug shots. Using emotion is tricky, how- ever. Lay on too much feeling — especially sentiments like outrage, pity, or shame, which make people uncomfortable — and you may offend the very audiences you hoped to convince.

Still, strong emotions can add energy to a passage or an entire argu- ment, as they do when Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the Ameri- can Interest, argues about what really motivates Americans to donate lavishly to many colleges and universities. As you read the following excerpt, notice how the author paints vivid pictures of people at college sporting events, describes the emotions at those games, and then argues what schools really need to do to win contributions:

But if you want to understand why so many generations of Americans have sent so much dough back to the campuses where they wasted some of the happiest years of their lives, watch the intensity of the tens of thousands of fans who attend these events. Look at the shirt- less boys with faces and torsos painted in the school colors; look at the cheerleaders on the fields, the “waves” surging through the stands.

American universities, those temples of reason (at their best), are tribes. The kids bond to each other and to their schools in the heat of

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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 35

the intense emotions that these contests generate. Those shirtless kids covered in paint, shivering in the November weather as they cheer their team on, will be prosperous, middle-aged alumni one day — and when they are, they will still be stirred by the memory of the emotions and the loyalty that brought them out to the field.

If you want your alumni to give, you first have to make them fall in love with your school. This is not about having better chemistry pro- grams or more faculty with higher name recognition than the school up the road. It is not about scoring higher on world indices of univer- sity quality. It is about competition, drama, intensity, about hope and fear, collective celebrations or collective disasters, seared into young and impressionable hearts where they will never be forgotten — and where they will be annually renewed as each sport in its season pro- duces new highs and lows, new hopes and fears. Alumni watching their schools’ games on TV, or celebrating or mourning their schools’ results each week with friends, family and colleagues, are renewing their ties with their alma maters affirming that being an “Aggie” or a “Tar Heel” is an identity, not a line on the resume.

This is why most of them give. It is irrational and tribal love. It is intense emotion, not a vague sense of obligation or philanthropy. They want to beat State.

— Walter Russell Mead and The American Interest staff, “It All Begins with Football”

Mead’s claim, emotional in itself, may not be exactly what college and university administrators and faculty want to hear. But in using language this evocative, he makes his argument memorable, hoping perhaps to make general readers admit how they have felt and acted themselves.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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It’s difficult to gauge how much emotion will work in a given argu- ment. Some issues — such as racism, immigration, abortion, and gun control — provoke strong feelings and, as a result, are often argued on emotional terms. But even issues that seem deadly dull — such as reform of federal student loan programs — can be argued passionately when pro- posed changes in these programs are set in human terms: reduce support for college loans and Kai, Riley, and Jayden end up in dead-end, low-paying jobs; don’t reform the program and we’re looking at another Wall Street– sized loan bailout and subsequent recession. Both alternatives might scare people into paying enough attention to take political action.

Using Humor

Humor has always played an important role in argument, sometimes as the sugar that makes the medicine go down. You can slip humor into an argument to put readers at ease, thereby making them more open to a proposal you have to offer. It’s hard to say no when you’re laughing. Humor also makes otherwise sober people suspend their judgment and even their prejudices, perhaps because the surprise and naughtiness of wit are combustive: they provoke laughter or smiles, not reflection. Who can resist a no-holds-barred attack on a famous personality, such as this assessment of Twilight star Kristen Stewart:

The original scoffing, scowling, stammering, stuttering, gaping open mouth, temper-tantrum throwing, lip-biting, hair-flipping, plank of wood moody actress . . . A tape recorder in a mannequin could do her job.

Humor deployed cleverly may be why TV shows like South Park and Modern Family became popular with mainstream audiences, despite their willingness to explore controversial themes. Similarly, it’s possible to make a point through humor that might not work in more sober writing. People argue endlessly about eating the right foods, typically defined by diet gurus who favor locally sourced, organically grown, and profoundly dull vegetables. Wall Street Journal columnist Ron Rosenbaum will have none of that. With new research suggesting that fatty diets may have unanticipated health benefits, Rosenbaum deploys some high-calorie humor to argue for the pleasures of dining lavishly:

Preventing obesity is a laudable goal, but it has become the rationale for indiscriminate fat hunters. It can shade into a kind of bullying of

Cartoonists Nick anderson, alfredo

Martirena, and Larry Lambert make

pointed arguments, even as they

make audiences laugh.

link to P. 751

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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 37

the overweight, a badgering of anyone who likes butter or heavy cream. To the antifat crusaders, I say: Attack fatty junk food all you want. I’m with you. But you can deny me my roasted marrow bones when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.

I’m not suggesting that we embrace these life-changing food expe- riences just on grounds of pure pleasure (though there’s much to be said for pure pleasure). As it turns out, the science on the matter is changing as well. We are discovering that fatty delights can actually be good for you: They allow Spaniards, Italians and Greeks to live lon- ger, and they make us satisfied with eating less. I’m speaking up not for obesity-generating fat, then, but for the kind of fatty food that leads to swooning sensual satiety.

Roast goose, for instance, is a supremely succulent, mind-alteringly flavorful fatty food. In most of America, roast goose would be viewed as the raven of cardiac mortality, hoarsely honking “never more.” And listening to the doctors on cable TV, you might think that it’s better to cook up a batch of meth than to cook with butter.

Eating fatty foods has become the culinary version of Breaking Bad: a dangerous walk on the wild side for the otherwise timid consumers of tasteless butter substitutes and Lean Cuisine.

— Ron Rosenbaum, “Let Them Eat Fat”

Our laughter testifies to what some people have thought all along: people who want us to eat tofu are the real problem. Note the pleasure Rosenbaum takes in the emotive power of words themselves: swooning sensual satiety; the raven of cardiac mortality, hoarsely honking “never more.”

A writer or speaker can even use humor to deal with sensitive issues. For example, sports commentator Bob Costas, given the honor of eulo- gizing the great baseball player Mickey Mantle, couldn’t ignore problems in Mantle’s life. So he argues for Mantle’s greatness by admitting the man’s weaknesses indirectly through humor:

It brings to mind a story Mickey liked to tell on himself and maybe some of you have heard it. He pictured himself at the pearly gates, met by St. Peter, who shook his head and said, “Mick, we checked the record. We know some of what went on. Sorry, we can’t let you in. But before you go, God wants to know if you’d sign these six dozen baseballs.”

— Bob Costas, “Eulogy for Mickey Mantle”

Similarly, politicians may use humor to deal with issues they couldn’t acknowledge in any other way. Here, for example, is former president

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George W. Bush at the 2004 Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner dis- cussing his much-mocked intellect:

Those stories about my intellectual capacity do get under my skin. You know, for a while I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, “Intelligence briefing.”

— George W. Bush

Not all humor is well-intentioned or barb-free. In fact, among the most powerful forms of emotional argument is ridicule — humor aimed at a particular target. Eighteenth-century poet and critic Samuel Johnson was known for his stinging and humorous put-downs, such as this comment to an aspiring writer: “Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.” (Expect your own writing teachers to be kinder.) In our own time, the Onion has earned a reputation for its mastery of both ridicule and satire, the art of using over-the-top humor to making a serious point.

But because ridicule is a double-edged sword, it requires a deft hand to wield it. Humor that reflects bad taste discredits a writer completely, as does satire that misses its mark. Unless your target deserves riposte and you can be very funny, it’s usually better to steer clear of such humor.

Using Arguments Based on Emotion

You don’t want to play puppet master with people’s emotions when you write arguments, but it’s a good idea to spend some time early in your work thinking about how you want readers to feel as they consider your persuasive claims. For example, would readers of your editorial about campus traffic policies be more inclined to agree with you if you made them envy faculty privileges, or would arousing their sense of fairness work better? What emotional appeals might persuade meat eaters to consider a vegan diet — or vice versa? Would sketches of stage props on a Web site persuade people to buy a season ticket to the theater, or would you spark more interest by featuring pictures of costumed performers?

Consider, too, the effect that a story can have on readers. Writers and journalists routinely use what are called human-interest stories to give presence to issues or arguments. You can do the same, using a particular

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C h a p t e r 2 Arguments BAsed on emotion: PAthos 39

incident to evoke sympathy, understanding, outrage, or amusement. Take care, though, to tell an honest story.

R e s p o n d. 1. To what specific emotions do the following slogans, sales pitches, and

maxims appeal?

“Just do it.” (ad for Nike)

“Think different.” (ad for Apple computers)

“Reach out and touch someone.” (ad for AT&T)

“By any means necessary.” (rallying cry from Malcolm X)

“Have it your way.” (slogan for Burger King)

“The ultimate driving machine.” (slogan for BMW)

“It’s everywhere you want to be.” (slogan for Visa)

“Know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing!” (tag line for Calvin Klein jeans)

“Don’t mess with Texas!” (anti-litter campaign slogan)

“American by Birth. Rebel by Choice.” (slogan for Harley-Davidson)

2. Bring a magazine to class, and analyze the emotional appeals in as many full-page ads as you can. Then classify those ads by types of emo- tional appeal, and see whether you can connect the appeals to the sub- ject or target audience of the magazine. Compare your results with those of your classmates, and discuss your findings. For instance, how exactly are the ads in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Wired, Sports Illustrated, Motor Trend, and Smithsonian adapted to their specific audiences?

3. How do arguments based on emotion work in different media? Are such arguments more or less effective in books, articles, television (both news and entertainment shows), films, brochures, magazines, email, Web sites, the theater, street protests, and so on? You might explore how a single medium handles emotional appeals or compare different media. For example, why do the comments pages of blogs seem to encourage angry outbursts? Are newspapers an emotionally colder source of information than television news programs? If so, why?

4. Spend some time looking for arguments that use ridicule or humor to make their point: check out your favorite Twitter feeds or blogs; watch for bumper stickers, posters, or advertisements; and listen to popular song lyrics. Bring one or two examples to class, and be ready to explain how the humor makes an emotional appeal and whether it’s effective.

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Whenever you read anything — whether it’s a news article, an advertise- ment, a speech, or a text message — you no doubt subconsciously ana- lyze the message for a sense of the character and credibility of the sender: Is this someone I know and trust? Does the PBS reporter seem biased? Why should I believe an IRS official? Is this scholar really an authority on the subject? Our culture teaches us to be skeptical of most messages, espe- cially those that bombard us with slogans, and such reasonable doubt is a crucial skill in reading and evaluating arguments.

For that reason, people and institutions that hope to influence us do everything they can to establish their character and credibility, what ancient rhetors referred to as ethos. And sometimes slogans such as “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” “Fair & Balanced,” or “Lean Forward” can be effective. At the very least, if a phrase is repeated often enough, it begins to sound plausible. Maybe CNN is the most trusted name in news!

But establishing character usually takes more than repetition, as marketers of all kinds know. It arises from credentials actually earned in

Arguments Based on Character: Ethos

Left to right: © Jon Arnold Images Ltd./Alamy; © Bernhard Classen/age fotostock; Richard Shotwell/ Invision/AP



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C h a p t e r 3 Arguments BAsed on ChArACter: ethos 41

some way. In the auto industry, for instance, companies such as Toyota, General Motors, and Nissan are hustling to present themselves as envi- ronmentally responsible producers of fuel-efficient, low-emission cars — the Prius, Volt, and Leaf. BMW, maker of “the ultimate driving machine,” points to its fuel-sipping i3 and i8 cars as evidence of its com- mitment to “sustainable mobility.” And Elon Musk (who builds rockets as well as Tesla cars) polishes his good-citizenship bona fides by sharing his electric vehicle patents with other manufacturers. All of these com- panies realize that their future success is linked to an ability to project a convincing ethos for themselves and their products.

If corporations and institutions can establish an ethos, consider how much character matters when we think about people in the public arena. Perhaps no individual managed a more exceptional assertion of per- sonal ethos than Jorge Mario Bergoglio did after he became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, following the abdication of Benedict XVI — a man many found scholarly, cold, and out of touch with the modern world. James Carroll, writing for the New Yorker, identifies the precise moment when the world realized that it was dealing with a new sort of pope:

“Who am I to judge?” With those five words, spoken in late July [2013] in reply to a reporter’s question about the status of gay priests in the Church, Pope Francis stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of popes and bishops.

— James Carroll, “Who Am I to Judge?”

Carroll goes on to explain that Francis quickly established his ethos with a series of specific actions, decisions, and moments of identification with ordinary people, marking him as someone even nonbelievers might listen to and respect:

As pope, Francis has simplified the Renaissance regalia of the papacy by abandoning fur-trimmed velvet capes, choosing to live in a two- room apartment instead of the Apostolic Palace, and replacing the papal Mercedes with a Ford Focus. Instead of the traditional red slip- ons, Francis wears ordinary black shoes. . . . Yet Francis didn’t criticize the choices of other prelates. “He makes changes without attacking people,” a Jesuit official told me. In his interview with La Civiltà Cat- tolica, Francis said, “My choices, including those related to the day-to- day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people, and from reading the signs of the times.”

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In that last sentence, Francis acknowledges that ethos is gained, in part, through identification with one’s audience and era. And this man, mov- ingly photographed embracing the sick and disfigured, also posed for selfies!

You can see, then, why Aristotle treats ethos as a powerful argumen- tative appeal. Ethos creates quick and sometimes almost irresistible connections between readers and arguments. We observe people, groups, or institutions making and defending claims all the time and inevitably ask ourselves, Should we pay attention to them? Can we rely on them? Do we dare to trust them? Consider, though, that the same questions will be asked about you and your work, especially in academic settings.

Thinking Critically about Arguments Based on Character

Put simply, arguments based on character (ethos) depend on trust. We tend to accept arguments from those we trust, and we trust them (whether individuals, groups, or institutions) in good part because of their reputations. Three main elements — credibility, authority, and unselfish or clear motives — add up to ethos.

To answer serious and important questions, we often turn to profes- sionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, pastors) or to experts (those with knowledge and experience) for good advice. Based on their backgrounds, such people come with their ethos already established.

AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, Riccardo Aguiari

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C h a p t e r 3 Arguments BAsed on ChArACter: ethos 43

Thus, appeals or arguments about character often turn on claims like these:

● A person (or group or institution) is or is not trustworthy or credible on this issue.

● A person (or group or institution) does or does not have the authority to speak to this issue.

● A person (or group or institution) does or does not have unselfish or clear motives for addressing this subject.

Establishing Trustworthiness and Credibility

Trustworthiness and credibility speak to a writer’s honesty, respect for an audience and its values, and plain old likability. Sometimes a sense of humor can play an important role in getting an audience to lis- ten to or “like” you. It’s no accident that all but the most serious speeches begin with a joke or funny story: the humor puts listeners at ease and helps them identify with the speaker. Writer J. K. Rowling, for example, puts her audience (and herself ) at ease early in the commencement address she delivered at Harvard in 2008 by getting real about such speeches:

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The com- mencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philoso- pher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law, or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the “gay wizard” joke, I’ve come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement.

— J. K. Rowling, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”

In just a few sentences, Rowling pokes fun at herself, undercuts the expectation that graduation addresses change people’s lives, slides in an allusion from her Harry Potter series, and then even offers a smidgen of advice. For an audience well disposed toward her already, Rowling has likely lived up to expectations.

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But using humor to enhance your credibility may be more common in oratory than in the kind of writing you’ll do in school. Fortunately, you have many options, one being simply to make plausible claims and then back them up with evidence. Academic audiences appreciate a reason- able disposition; we will discuss this approach at greater length in the next chapter.

You can also establish trustworthiness by connecting your own beliefs to core principles that are well established and widely respected. This strategy is particularly effective when your position seems to be — at first glance, at least — a threat to traditional values. For example, when former Smith College president Ruth J. Simmons describes her professional self to a commencement audience she is addressing (see Chapter 1), she presents her acquired reputation in terms that align per- fectly with contemporary values:

For my part, I was cast as a troublemaker in my early career and accepted the disapproval that accompanies the expression of unpopu- lar views: unpopular views about disparate pay for women and minor- ities; unpopular views about sexual harassment; unpopular views about exclusionary practices in our universities.

— Ruth J. Simmons

It’s fine to be a rebel when you are on the right side of history. Writers who establish their credibility seem trustworthy. But some-

times, to be credible, you have to admit limitations, too, as New York Times columnist David Brooks does as he wrestles with a problem com- mon in our time, an inability to focus on things that matter:

Like everyone else, I am losing the attention war. I toggle over to my emails when I should be working. I text when I should be paying attention to the people in front of me. I spend hours looking at mildly diverting stuff on YouTube. (“Look, there’s a bunch of guys who can play ‘Billie Jean’ on beer bottles!”)

And, like everyone else, I’ve nodded along with the prohibition ser- mons imploring me to limit my information diet. Stop multitasking! Turn off the devices at least once a week!

And, like everyone else, these sermons have had no effect. Many of us lead lives of distraction, unable to focus on what we know we should focus on.

— David Brooks, “The Art of Focus”

Making such concessions to readers sends a strong signal that you’ve looked critically at your own position and can therefore be trusted when

In “attention Whole Foods

Shoppers,” robert paarlberg

cites research from respected

organizations to support his stance

on what makes food sustainable.

link To p. 610

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C h a p t e r 3 Arguments BAsed on ChArACter: ethos 45

you turn to arguing its merits. Speaking to readers directly, using I or you or us, can also help you connect with them, as can using contractions and everyday or colloquial language — both strategies employed by Brooks. In other situations, you may find that a more formal tone gives your claims greater credibility. You’ll be making such choices as you search for the ethos that represents you best.

In fact, whenever you write a paper or present an idea, you are send- ing signals about your credibility, whether you intend to or not. If your ideas are reasonable, your sources are reliable, and your language is appropriate to the project, you suggest to academic readers that you’re someone whose ideas might deserve attention. Details matter: helpful graphs, tables, charts, or illustrations may carry weight with readers, as will the visual attractiveness of your text, whether in print or digital form. Obviously, correct spelling, grammar, and mechanics are impor- tant too. And though you might not worry about it now, at some point you may need letters of recommendation from instructors or supervi- sors. How will they remember you? Often chiefly from the ethos you have established in your work. Think about that.

Claiming Authority

When you read or listen to an argument, you have every right to ask about the writer’s authority: What does he know about the subject? What experiences does she have that make her especially knowledgeable? Why should I pay attention to this person? When you offer an argument yourself, you have to anticipate and be prepared to answer questions like these, either directly or indirectly.

How does someone construct an authoritative ethos? In examining what he describes as “the fundamental problem with President Obama’s communications ethos,” Ron Fournier, editorial director of National Jour- nal, explains that authority cannot be taken for granted:

He and his advisers are so certain about their moral and political standing that they believe it’s enough to make a declaration. If we say it, the public should believe it.

That’s not how it works. A president must earn the public’s trust. He must teach and persuade; speak clearly, and follow word with action; show empathy toward his rivals, and acknowledge the merits of a critique. A successful president pays careful attention to how his image is projected both to U.S. voters and to the people of the world.

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He knows that to be strong, a leader must look strong. Image matters, especially in an era so dominated by them.

— Ron Fournier, “Is the White House Lying, or Just Bad at Crisis Communications?”

Of course, writers establish their authority in various ways. Sometimes the assertion of ethos will be bold and personal, as it is when writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams attacks those who poisoned the Utah des- erts with nuclear radiation. What gives her the right to speak on this sub- ject? Not scientific expertise, but gut-wrenching personal experience:

I belong to the Clan of One-Breasted Women. My mother, my grand- mothers, and six aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven are dead. The two who survive have just completed rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

I’ve had my own problems: two biopsies for breast cancer and a small tumor between my ribs diagnosed as a “borderline malignancy.”

— Terry Tempest Williams, “The Clan of One-Breasted Women”

We are willing to listen to Williams because she has lived with the nuclear peril she will deal with in the remainder of her essay.

Other means of claiming authority are less dramatic. By simply attaching titles to their names, writers assert that they hold medical or legal or engineering degrees, or some other important credentials. Or they may mention the number of years they’ve worked in a given field or the distinguished positions they have held. As a reader, you’ll pay more attention to an argument about global warming offered by a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Minnesota than one by your Uncle Sid, who sells tools. But you’ll prefer your uncle to the professor when you need advice about a reliable rotary saw.

When readers might be skeptical of both you and your claims, you may have to be even more specific about your credentials. That’s exactly the strategy Richard Bernstein uses to establish his right to speak on the sub- ject of “Asian culture.” What gives a New York writer named Bernstein the authority to write about Asian peoples? Bernstein tells us in a sparkling example of an argument based on character:

The Asian culture, as it happens, is something I know a bit about, hav- ing spent five years at Harvard striving for a Ph.D. in a joint program called History and East Asian Languages and, after that, living either as a student (for one year) or a journalist (six years) in China and Southeast Asia. At least I know enough to know there is no such thing as the “Asian culture.” — Richard Bernstein, Dictatorship of Virtue

During her radio report about

colleges and universities wanting

to emphasize their diversity, Deena

prichep introduces guests by stating

their professions — a sociologist and

a college admissions director — to

establish their ethos.

link To p. 678

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C h a p t e r 3 Arguments BAsed on ChArACter: ethos 47

When you write for readers who trust you and your work, you may not have to make such an open claim to authority. But making this type of appeal is always an option.

Coming Clean about Motives

When people are trying to convince you of something, it’s important (and natural) to ask: Whose interests are they serving? How will they profit from their proposal? Such suspicions go to the heart of ethical arguments.

In a hugely controversial essay published in the Princeton Tory, Tal Fortgang, a first-year student at the Ivy League school, argues that those on campus who used the phrase “Check your privilege” to berate white male students like him for the advantages they enjoy are, in fact, judging him according to gender and race, and not for “all the hard work I have done in my life.” To challenge stereotypical assumptions about the “rac- ist patriarchy” that supposedly paved his way to Princeton, Fortgang writes about the experiences of his ancestors, opening the paragraphs with a striking parallel structure:

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running. . . .

Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero tem- peratures, one of just a handful to survive. . . .

Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other. . . .

Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacri- ficing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most — his wife and kids — to earn that living.

— Tal Fortgang, “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege”

Fortgang thus attempts to establish his own ethos and win the argu- ment against those who make assumptions about his roots by dramatiz- ing the ethos of his ancestors:

That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their

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struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still [be] conquering them now.

As you might imagine, the pushback to “Checking My Privilege” was enormous, some of the hundreds of comments posted to an online ver- sion accusing Fortgang himself of assuming the very ethos of victim- hood against which he inveighs. Peter Finocchiaro, a reviewer on Slate, is especially brutal: “Only a few short months ago he was living at home with his parents. His life experience, one presumes, is fairly limited. So in that sense, he doesn’t really know any better. . . . He is an ignorant 19-year-old white guy from Westchester.” You can see in this debate how ethos quickly raises issues of knowledge and motives. Fortgang tries to resist the stereotype others would impose on his character, but others regard the very ethos he fashions in his essay as evidence of his naïveté about race, discrimination, and, yes, privilege.

We all, of course, have connections and interests that bind us to other human beings. It makes sense that a young man would explore his social identity, that a woman might be concerned with women’s issues, that members of minority groups might define social and cul- tural conditions on their own terms — or even that investors might look out for their investments. It’s simply good strategy to let your audi- ences know where your loyalties lie when such information does, in fact, shape your work.

Using Ethos in Your Own Writing

● Establish your credibility by acknowledging your audience’s values, showing respect for them, and establishing common ground where (and if) possible. How will you convince your audience you are trust- worthy? What will you admit about your own limitations?

● Establish your authority by showing you have done your homework and know your topic well. How will you show that you know your topic well? What appropriate personal experience can you draw on?

● Examine your motives for writing. What, if anything, do you stand to gain from your argument? How can you explain those advantages to your audience?

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C h a p t e r 3 Arguments BAsed on ChArACter: ethos 49

R E S P O N D. 1. Consider the ethos of these public figures. Then describe one or two

products that might benefit from their endorsements as well as sev- eral that would not.

Edward Snowden — whistleblower

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting — actress

James Earl Jones — actor

Michael Sam — athlete

Megyn Kelly — TV news commentator

Miley Cyrus — singer

Seth Meyers — late-night TV host

Cristiano Ronaldo — soccer player

2. Opponents of Richard Nixon, the thirty-seventh president of the United States, once raised doubts about his integrity by asking a single

CulTurAl ConTExTs for ArguMEnT


In the United States, students are often asked to establish authority by drawing on personal experiences, by reporting on research they or oth- ers have conducted, and by taking a position for which they can offer strong evidence. But this expectation about student authority is by no means universal.

Some cultures regard student writers as novices who can most effectively make arguments by reflecting on what they’ve learned from their teachers and elders — those who hold the most important knowl- edge and, hence, authority. When you’re arguing a point with people from cultures other than your own, ask questions like:

• Whom are you addressing, and what is your relationship with that person?

• What knowledge are you expected to have? Is it appropriate or expected for you to demonstrate that knowledge — and if so, how?

• What tone is appropriate? And remember: politeness is rarely, if ever, inappropriate.

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ruinous question: Would you buy a used car from this man? Create your own version of the argument of character. Begin by choosing an intriguing or controversial person or group and finding an image online. Then download the image into a word-processing file. Create a caption for the photo that is modeled after the question asked about Nixon: Would you give this woman your email password? Would you share a campsite with this couple? Would you eat lasagna that this guy fixed? Finally, write a serious 300-word argument that explores the character flaws or strengths of your subject(s).

3. Take a close look at your Facebook page (or your page on any other social media site). What are some aspects of your character, true or not, that might be conveyed by the photos, videos, and messages you have posted online? Analyze the ethos or character you see projected there, using the advice in this chapter to guide your analysis.

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Left to right: Yui Mok/Press Association via AP Images; © NBC/Photofest, Inc.; © Frank Cotham/The New Yorker/The Cartoon Bank

Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos


These three images say a lot about the use and place of logic (logos) in Western and American culture. The first shows Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC TV series Sherlock, just one of many actors to play Arthur Conan Doyle’s much-loved fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, who solves perplexing crimes by using precise observation and impeccable logic. The second refers to an equally popular TV (and film) series char- acter, Spock, the Vulcan officer in Star Trek who tries to live a life guided by reason alone — his most predicable observation being some version of “that would not be logical.” The third is a cartoon spoofing a pseudo- logical argument (nine out of ten prefer X) made so often in advertising that it has become something of a joke.

These images attest to the prominent place that logic holds for most people: like Holmes, we want to know the facts on the assumption that they will help us make sound judgments. We admire those whose logic is, like Spock’s, impeccable. So when arguments begin, “Nine out of ten authorities recommend,” we respond favorably: those are good odds. But

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the three images also challenge reliance on logic alone: Sherlock Holmes and Spock are characters drawn in broad and often parodic strokes; the “nine out of ten” cartoon itself spoofs abuses of reason. Given a choice, however, most of us profess to respect and even prefer appeals to logos — that is, claims based on facts, evidence, and reason — but we’re also inclined to read factual arguments within the context of our feel- ings and the ethos of people making the appeals.

Thinking Critically about Hard Evidence

Aristotle helps us out in classifying arguments by distinguishing two kinds:

Artistic Proofs Arguments the writer/ speaker creates

Constructed arguments

Appeals to reason; common sense

Inartistic Proofs Arguments the writer/ speaker is given

Hard evidence

Facts, statistics, testimonies, witnesses, contracts, documents

We can see these different kinds of logical appeals at work in a single paragraph from President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address. Typically in such speeches — nationally televised and closely reviewed — the president assesses the current condition of the United States and then lays out an agenda for the coming years, a laundry list of commitments and goals. One of those items mentioned about halfway through the 2014 address focuses on the admirable objective of improv- ing the conditions of working women:

Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship — and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode. This year, let’s all come together — Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street — to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.

— Barack Obama, State of the Union address

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C h a p t e r 4 Arguments BAsed on FActs And reAson: Logos 53

As you see, Obama opens the paragraph with an important “inartistic” proof, that ratio of just 77 cents to a dollar representing what women earn in the United States compared to men. Beginning with that fact, he then offers a series of reasonable “artistic” appeals phrased as applause lines: that is wrong; a woman deserves equal pay; a mother deserves a day off . . . a father does, too.” Obama then concludes the paragraph by stating the core principle behind all these claims, what we’ll later describe as the warrant in an argument (see Chapter 7): when women succeed, America succeeds.

Note, then, the importance of that single number the president puts forward. It is evidence that, despite decades of political commitment to pay equity and even federal laws banning gender discrimination in employment and compensation, much work remains to be done. Who can be satisfied with the status quo in the face of that damning number? But where did that statistic come from, and what if it is wrong?

Now, no one expects footnotes and documentation in a presidential address. The ethos of the office itself makes the public (at least some portion of it) willing to accept a president’s factual claims, if only because his remarks have surely been vetted by legions of staffers. Yet some sta- tistics and claims assume a life of their own, repeated so often that most people — even presidents and their speechwriters — assume that they are true. Add the problem of “confirmation bias,” the tendency of most people to believe evidence that confirms their views of the world, and you have numbers that will not die.

We live, however, in an age of critics and fact-checkers. Writing for the Daily Beast, Christina Hoff Sommers, a former professor of philoso- phy and no fan of contemporary feminism, complains that the president is perpetuating an error: “What is wrong and embarrassing is the Presi- dent of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid.” And in case you won’t believe Sommers (and most feminists and those in the president’s camp wouldn’t), she directs skeptics to a more objective source, the Washington Post, which routinely fact-checks the State of the Union and other major addresses.

Like Sommers, that paper does raise questions about the 77/100 earn- ings ratio, and its detailed analysis of that number suggests just how complicated evidential claims can be. Here’s a shortened version of the Post’s statement, which you’ll note cites several government sources:

There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women — such as women tending to leave the workforce when they have children — make it difficult to make simple comparisons.

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Obama is using a figure (annual wages, from the Census Bureau) that makes the disparity appear the greatest. The Bureau of Labor Sta- tistics, for instance, shows that the gap is 19 cents when looking at weekly wages. The gap is even smaller when you look at hourly wages — it is 14 cents — but then not every wage earner is paid on an hourly basis, so that statistic excludes salaried workers. . . .

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis surveyed eco- nomic literature and concluded that “research suggests that the actual gender wage gap (when female workers are compared with male workers who have similar characteristics) is much lower than the raw

Factual arguments are often made or enhanced by charts, graphs, and infographics. Here Payscale, an online salary and wage information site, presents numbers to explain the pay equity issue: “Yes, men do earn more than women on average, but not that much more when they work the same job and they have similar experience and abilities.” We reproduce here just a portion of the full infographic. PayScale, Inc., by permission

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C h a p t e r 4 Arguments BAsed on FActs And reAson: Logos 55

wage gap.” They cited one survey, prepared for the Labor Department, which concluded that when such differences are accounted for, much of the hourly wage gap dwindled, to about 5 cents on the dollar.

Is the entire paragraph of the president’s address discredited because his hard evidence seems overstated or oversimplified? Not if we accept the constructed arguments he makes on the general principle of fairness for offering women — and men — more support as laborers in the job force. But he might have been more convincing at this point in a very lengthy speech if someone in the White House had taken a moment to check the government’s own numbers, as the Washington Post did. This ongoing controversy over wage equity does, however, illustrate how closely logical arguments — whether artistic or inartistic — will be read and criticized. And so the connections between them matter.

R E S P O N D. Discuss whether the following statements are examples of hard evidence or constructed arguments. Not all cases are clear-cut.

1. Drunk drivers are involved in more than 50 percent of traffic deaths.

2. DNA tests of skin found under the victim’s fingernails suggest that the defendant was responsible for the assault.

3. A psychologist testified that teenage violence could not be blamed on video games.

4. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

5. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

6. Air bags ought to be removed from vehicles because they can kill young children and small-framed adults.


Gathering factual information and transmitting it faithfully practically define what we mean by professional journalism and scholarship. We’ll even listen to people we don’t agree with if their evidence is really good. Below, a reviewer for the conservative National Review praises William Julius Wilson, a liberal sociologist, because of how well he presents his case:

In his eagerly awaited new book, Wilson argues that ghetto blacks are worse off than ever, victimized by a near-total loss of low-skill jobs in and around inner-city neighborhoods. In support of this thesis, he

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musters mountains of data, plus excerpts from some of the thousands of surveys and face-to-face interviews that he and his research team con- ducted among inner-city Chicagoans. It is a book that deserves a wide audience among thinking conservatives.

— John J. DiIulio Jr., “When Decency Disappears” (emphasis added)

When your facts are compelling, they may stand on their own in a low- stakes argument, supported by little more than saying where they come from. Consider the power of phrases such as “reported by the Wall Street Journal” or “according to FactCheck.org.” Such sources gain credibility if they have reported facts accurately and reliably over time. Using such credible sources in an argument can also reflect positively on you.

In scholarly arguments, which have higher expectations for accuracy, what counts is drawing sober conclusions from the evidence turned up through detailed research or empirical studies. The language of such material may seem dryly factual to you, even when the content is inher- ently interesting. But presenting new knowledge dispassionately is (ide- ally at least) the whole point of scholarly writing, marking a contrast between it and the kind of intellectual warfare that occurs in many media forums, especially news programs and blogs. Here for example is a portion of a lengthy opening paragraph in the “Discussion and Conclu- sions” section of a scholarly paper arguing that people who spend a great deal of time on Facebook often frame their lives by what they observe there:

The results of this research support the argument that using Facebook affects people’s perceptions of others. For those that have used Face- book longer, it is easier to remember positive messages and happy pictures posted on Facebook; these readily available examples give users an impression that others are happier. As expected in the first hypothesis, the results show that the longer people have used Face- book, the stronger was their belief that others were happier than themselves, and the less they agreed that life is fair. Furthermore, as predicted in the second hypothesis, this research found that the more “friends” people included on their Facebook whom they did not know personally, the stronger they believed that others had better lives than themselves. In other words, looking at happy pictures of others on Facebook gives people an impression that others are “always” happy and having good lives, as evident from these pictures of happy moments. In contrast to their own experiences of life events, which

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C h a p t e r 4 Arguments BAsed on FActs And reAson: Logos 57

are not always positive, people are very likely to conclude that others have better lives than themselves and that life is not fair.

— Hui-Tzu Grace Chou, PhD, and Nicholas Edge, BS, “‘They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am’:

The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives”

There are no fireworks in this conclusion, no slanted or hot language, no unfair or selective reporting of data, just a faithful attention to the facts and behaviors uncovered by the study. But one can easily imagine these facts being subsequently used to support overdramatized claims about the dangers of social networks. That’s often what happens to scholarly studies when they are read and interpreted in the popular media.

Of course, arguing with facts can involve challenging even the most reputable sources if they lead to unfair or selective reporting or if the stories are presented or “framed” unfairly.

In an ideal world, good information — no matter where it comes from — would always drive out bad. But you already know that we don’t live in an ideal world, so sometimes bad information gets repeated in an echo chamber that amplifies the errors.


You’ve probably heard the old saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and, to be sure, it is possible to lie with numbers, even those that are accurate, because numbers rarely speak for themselves. They need to be interpreted by writers — and writers almost always have agendas that shape the interpretations.

Of course, just because they are often misused doesn’t mean that sta- tistics are meaningless, but it does suggest that you need to use them carefully and to remember that your careful reading of numbers is essential. Consider the attention-grabbing map on the next page that went viral in June 2014. Created by Mark Gongloff of the Huffington Post in the wake of a school shooting in Oregon, it plotted the location of all seventy-four school shootings that had occurred in the United States since the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012, when twenty elemen- tary school children and six adults were gunned down by a rifle-wielding killer. For the graphic, Gongloff drew on a list assembled by the group Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization formed by former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg to counter the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Both the map and Everytown’s

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sobering list of shootings received wide attention in the media, given the startling number of incidents it recorded.

It didn’t take long before questions were raised about their accuracy. Were American elementary and secondary school children under such frequent assault as the map based on Everytown’s list suggested? Well, yes and no. Guns were going off on and around school campuses, but the firearms weren’t always aimed at children. The Washington Post, CNN, and other news outlets soon found themselves pulling back on their initial reporting, offering a more nuanced view of the controver- sial number. To do that, the Washington Post began by posing an impor- tant question:

What constitutes a school shooting? That five-word question has no simple answer, a fact underscored

by the backlash to an advocacy group’s recent list of school shoot- ings. The list, maintained by Everytown, a group that backs policies to limit gun violence, was updated last week to reflect what it identi- fied as the 74 school shootings since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., a massacre that sparked a national debate over gun control.

Multiple news outlets, including this one, reported on Everytown’s data, prompting a backlash over the broad methodology used. As we wrote in our original post, the group considered any instance of a fire- arm discharging on school property as a shooting — thus casting a broad net that includes homicides, suicides, accidental discharges

Everytown for Gun Safety Action

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and, in a handful of cases, shootings that had no relation to the schools themselves and occurred with no students apparently present.

— Niraj Chokshi, “Fight over School Shooting List Underscores Difficulty in Quantifying Gun Violence”

CNN followed the same path, re-evaluating its original reporting in light of criticism from groups not on the same page as Everytown for Gun Safety:

Without a doubt, that number is startling. So . . . CNN took a closer look at the list, delving into the circum-

stances of each incident Everytown included. . . . CNN determined that 15 of the incidents Everytown included were

situations similar to the violence in Newtown or Oregon — a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school. That works out to about one such shooting every five weeks, a startling figure in its own right.

Some of the other incidents on Everytown’s list included personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals.

— Ashley Fantz, Lindsey Knight, and Kevin Wang, “A Closer Look: How Many Newtown-like

School Shootings since Sandy Hook?”

Other news organizations came up with their own revised numbers, but clearly the interpretation of a number can be as important as the statis- tic itself. And what were Mark Gongloff’s Twitter reactions to these reas- sessments? They made an argument as well:

One lesson, surely, is that when you rely on statistics in your argu- ments, make sure you understand where they come from, what they

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mean, and what their limitations might be. Check and double-check them or get help in doing so: you don’t want to be accused of using ficti- tious data based on questionable assumptions.

R E S P O N D. Statistical evidence becomes useful only when interpreted fairly and rea- sonably. Go to the USA Today Web site and look for the daily graph, chart, or table called the “USA Today Snapshot.” Pick a snapshot, and use the information in it to support three different claims, at least two of which make very different points. Share your claims with classmates. (The point is not to learn to use data dishonestly but to see firsthand how the same statistics can serve a variety of arguments.)

Surveys and Polls

When they verify the popularity of an idea or a proposal, surveys and polls provide strong persuasive appeals because they come as close to expressing the will of the people as anything short of an election — the most decisive poll of all. However, surveys and polls can do much more than help politicians make decisions. They can be important elements in scientific research, documenting the complexities of human behav- ior. They can also provide persuasive reasons for action or inter- vention. When surveys show, for example, that most American sixth-graders can’t locate France or Wyoming on a map — not to men- tion Ukraine or Afghanistan — that’s an appeal for better instruction in geography. It always makes sense, however, to question poll numbers, especially when they support your own point of view. Ask who com- missioned the poll, who is publishing its outcome, who was surveyed (and in what proportions), and what stakes these parties might have in its outcome.

Are we being too suspicious? No. In fact, this sort of scrutiny is exactly what you might anticipate from your readers whenever you use (or cre- ate) surveys to explore an issue. You should be confident that enough subjects have been surveyed to be accurate, that the people chosen for the study were representative of the selected population as a whole, and that they were chosen randomly — not selected because of what they are likely to say. In a splendid article on how women can make research- based choices during their pregnancy, economist Emily Oster explores, for example, whether an expectant mother might in fact be able to drink

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responsibly. She researches not only the results of the data, but also who was surveyed, and how their participation might have influenced the results:

It is possible to unearth research that points to light drinking as a problem, but this work is deeply flawed. One frequently cited study from the journal Pediatrics, published in 2001, interviewed women about their drinking while they were pregnant and then contacted them for a child behavior assessment when their children were about 6. The researchers found some evidence that lighter drinking had an impact on behavior and concluded that even one drink a day could cause behavior problems.

So what’s wrong with this finding? In the study, 18% of the women who didn’t drink at all and 45% of

the women who had one drink a day reported using cocaine during pregnancy. Presumably your first thought is, really? Cocaine? Perhaps the problem is that cocaine, not the occasional glass of Chardonnay, makes your child more likely to have behavior problems.

— Emily Oster, “Take Back Your Pregnancy”

Clearly, polls, surveys, and studies need to be examined critically. You can’t take even academic research at face value until you have explored its details.

The meaning of polls and surveys is also affected by the way that questions are posed. In the recent past, research revealed, for example, that polling about same-sex unions got differing responses according to how questions are worded. When people were asked whether gay and lesbian couples should be eligible for the same inheritance and partner health benefits that heterosexual couples receive, a majority of those polled said yes — unless the word marriage appeared in the question; then the responses are primarily negative. If anything, the differences here reveal how conflicted people may have been about the issue and how quickly opinions might shift — as they did. Re member, then, to be very careful in reviewing the wording of survey or poll questions.

Finally, always keep in mind that the date of a poll may strongly affect the results — and their usefulness in an argument. In 2010, for example, nearly 50 percent of California voters supported building more nuclear power plants. Less than a year later, that percentage had dropped to 37 percent after the meltdown of Japanese nuclear power plants in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. On public and poli- tical issues, you need to be sure that you are using timely information.

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R E S P O N D. Choose an important issue and design a series of questions to evoke a range of responses in a poll. Try to design a question that would make people strongly inclined to agree, another question that would lead them to oppose the same proposition, and a third that tries to be more neutral. Then try out your questions on your classmates.

Testimonies and Narratives

Writers can support arguments by presenting human experiences in the form of narrative or testimony — particularly if those experiences are their own. In courts, judges and juries often take into consideration detailed descriptions and narratives of exactly what occurred. Look at this report- er’s account of a court case in which a panel of judges decided, based on the testimony presented, that a man had been sexually harassed by another man. The narrative, in this case, supplies the evidence:

The Seventh Circuit, in a 1997 case known as Doe v. City of Belleville, drew a sweeping conclusion allowing for same-sex harassment cases of many kinds. . . . This case, for example, centered on teenage twin broth- ers working a summer job cutting grass in the city cemetery of Belleville, Ill. One boy wore an earring, which caused him no end of grief that par- ticular summer — including a lot of menacing talk among his coworkers about sexually assaulting him in the woods and sending him “back to San Francisco.” One of his harassers, identified in court documents as a large former marine, culminated a verbal campaign by backing the earring-wearer against a wall and grabbing him by the testicles to see “if he was a girl or a guy.” The teenager had been “singled out for this abuse,” the court ruled, “because the way in which he projected the sex- ual aspect of his personality” — meaning his gender — “did not conform to his coworkers’ view of appropriate masculine behavior.”

— Margaret Talbot, “Men Behaving Badly”

Personal perspectives can support a claim convincingly and logically, especially if a writer has earned the trust of readers. In arguing that Tea Party supporters of a government shutdown in 2011 had no business being offended when some opponents described them as “terrorists,” Froma Harrop, one of the writers who used the term, argued logically and from experience why the characterization was appropriate:

[T]he hurt the tea party writers most complained of was to their feel- ings. I had engaged in name-calling, they kept saying. One professing to want more civility in our national conversation, as I do, should not be flinging around the terrorist word.

amy Stretten shares her personal

experience with prejudice to

strengthen her argument in

“appropriating Native american

Imagery honors No One but the


liNk To P. 522

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May I presume to disagree? Civility is a subjective concept, to be sure, but hurting people’s feelings in the course of making solid argu- ments is fair and square. The decline in the quality of our public dis- course results not so much from an excess of spleen, but a deficit of well-constructed arguments. Few things upset partisans more than when the other side makes a case that bats home.

“Most of us know that effectively scoring on a point of argument opens us to the accusation of mean-spiritedness,” writes Frank Partsch, who leads the National Conference of Editorial Writers’ Civil- ity Project. “It comes with the territory, and a commitment to civility should not suggest that punches will be pulled in order to avoid such accusations.”

— Froma Harrop, “Hurt Feelings Can Be a Consequence of Strong Arguments”

This narrative introduction gives a rationale for supporting the claim Harrop is making: we can expect consequences when we argue ineffec- tively. (For more on establishing credibility with readers, see Chapter 3.)

R E S P O N D. Bring to class a full review of a recent film that you either enjoyed or did not enjoy. Using testimony from that review, write a brief argument to your classmates explaining why they should see that movie (or why they should avoid it), being sure to use evidence from the review fairly and rea- sonably. Then exchange arguments with a classmate, and decide whether the evidence in your peer’s argument helps to change your opinion about the movie. What’s convincing about the evidence? If it doesn’t convince you, why doesn’t it?

Using Reason and Common Sense

If you don’t have “hard facts,” you can turn to those arguments Aristotle describes as “constructed” from reason and common sense. The formal study of such reasoning is called logic, and you probably recognize a famous example of deductive reasoning, called a syllogism:

All human beings are mortal.

Socrates is a human being.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

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In valid syllogisms, the conclusion follows logically — and techni- cally — from the premises that lead up to it. Many have criticized syllo- gistic reasoning for being limited, and others have poked fun at it, as in the cartoon above.

But we routinely see something like syllogistic reasoning operating in public arguments, particularly when writers take the time to explain key principles. Consider the step-by-step reasoning Michael Gerson uses to explain why exactly it was wrong for the Internal Revenue Service in 2010–2011 to target specific political groups, making it more difficult for them to organize politically:

Why does this matter deserve heightened scrutiny from the rest of us? Because crimes against democracy are particularly insidious. Represen- tative government involves a type of trade. As citizens, we cede power to public officials for important purposes that require centralized power: defending the country, imposing order, collecting taxes to promote the common good. In exchange, we expect public institutions to be even- handed and disinterested. When the stewards of power — biased judges

© Randy Glasbergen/glasbergen.com

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or corrupt policemen or politically motivated IRS officials — act unfairly, it undermines trust in the whole system.

— Michael Gerson, “An Arrogant and Lawless IRS”

Gerson’s criticism of the IRS actions might be mapped out by the follow- ing sequence of statements.

Crimes against democracy undermine trust in the system.

Treating taxpayers differently because of their political beliefs is a crime against democracy.

Therefore, IRS actions that target political groups undermine the American system.

Few writers, of course, think about formal deductive reasoning when they support their claims. Even Aristotle recognized that most people argue perfectly well using informal logic. To do so, they rely mostly on habits of mind and assumptions that they share with their readers or listeners — as Gerson essentially does in his paragraph.

In Chapter 7, we describe a system of informal logic that you may find useful in shaping credible appeals to reason — Toulmin argument. Here, we briefly examine some ways that people use informal logic in their everyday lives. Once again, we begin with Aristotle, who used the term enthymeme to describe an ordinary kind of sentence that includes both a claim and a reason but depends on the audience’s agreement with an assumption that is left implicit rather than spelled out. Enthymemes can be very persuasive when most people agree with the assumptions they rest on. The following sentences are all enthymemes:

We’d better cancel the picnic because it’s going to rain.

Flat taxes are fair because they treat everyone the same.

I’ll buy a PC instead of a Mac because it’s cheaper.

Sometimes enthymemes seem so obvious that readers don’t realize that they’re drawing inferences when they agree with them. Consider the first example:

We’d better cancel the picnic because it’s going to rain.

Let’s expand the enthymeme a bit to say more of what the speaker may mean:

We’d better cancel the picnic this afternoon because the weather bureau is predicting a 70 percent chance of rain for the remainder of the day.

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Embedded in this brief argument are all sorts of assumptions and frag- ments of cultural information that are left implicit but that help to make it persuasive:

Picnics are ordinarily held outdoors.

When the weather is bad, it’s best to cancel picnics.

Rain is bad weather for picnics.

A 70 percent chance of rain means that rain is more likely to occur than not.

When rain is more likely to occur than not, it makes sense to cancel picnics.

For most people, the original statement carries all this information on its own; the enthymeme is a compressed argument, based on what audi- ences know and will accept.



In the United States, student writers are expected to draw on “hard facts” and evidence as often as possible in supporting their claims: while ethi- cal and emotional appeals are important, logical appeals tend to hold sway in academic writing. So statistics and facts speak volumes, as does reasoning based on time-honored values such as fairness and equity. In writing to global audiences, you need to remember that not all cultures value the same kinds of appeals. If you want to write to audiences across cultures, you need to know about the norms and values in those cultures. Chinese culture, for example, values authority and often indirect allusion over “facts” alone. Some African cultures value cooperation and commu- nity over individualism, and still other cultures value religious texts as providing compelling evidence. So think carefully about what you con- sider strong evidence, and pay attention to what counts as evidence to others. You can begin by asking yourself questions like:

• What evidence is most valued by your audience: Facts? Concrete examples? Firsthand experience? Religious or philosophical texts? Something else?

• Will analogies count as support? How about precedents?

• Will the testimony of experts count? If so, what kinds of experts are valued most?

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But sometimes enthymemes aren’t self-evident:

Be wary of environmentalism because it’s religion disguised as science.

iPhones are undermining civil society by making us even more focused on ourselves.

It’s time to make all public toilets unisex because to do otherwise is discriminatory.

In these cases, you’ll have to work much harder to defend both the claim and the implicit assumptions that it’s based on by drawing out the infer- ences that seem self-evident in other enthymemes. And you’ll likely also have to supply credible evidence; a simple declaration of fact won’t suffice.

Providing logical Structures for argument

Some arguments depend on particular logical structures to make their points. In the following pages, we identify a few of these logical structures.


Arguments based on degree are so common that people barely notice them, nor do they pay much attention to how they work because they seem self-evident. Most audiences will readily accept that more of a good thing or less of a bad thing is good. In her novel The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand asks: “If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the con- cept of servility of the spirit?” Most readers immediately comprehend the point Rand intends to make about slavery of the spirit because they already know that physical slavery is cruel and would reject any forms of slavery that were even crueler on the principle that more of a bad thing is bad. Rand still needs to offer evidence that “servility of the spirit” is, in fact, worse than bodily servitude, but she has begun with a logical struc- ture readers can grasp. Here are other arguments that work similarly:

If I can get a ten-year warranty on an inexpensive Kia, shouldn’t I get the same or better warranty from a more expensive Lexus?

The health benefits from using stem cells in research will surely out- weigh the ethical risks.

Better a conventional war now than a nuclear confrontation later.

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Analogies, typically complex or extended comparisons, explain one idea or concept by comparing it to something else.

Here, writer and founder of literacy project 826 Valencia, Dave Eggers, uses an analogy in arguing that we do not value teachers as much as we should:

When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. . . . No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition. And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on inter- national standardized tests, we blame the teachers.

— Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari, “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries”

A demonstrator at an immigrants’ rights rally in new York city in 2007. Arguments based on values that are widely shared within a society — such as the idea of equal rights in American culture — have an automatic advantage with audiences. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

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Arguments from precedent and arguments of analogy both involve com- parisons. Consider an assertion like this one, which uses a comparison as a precedent:

If motorists in most other states can pump their own gas safely, surely the state of Oregon can trust its own drivers to be as capable. It’s time for Oregon to permit self-service gas stations.

You could tease out several inferences from this claim to explain its rea- sonableness: people in Oregon are as capable as people in other states; people with equivalent capabilities can do the same thing; pumping gas is not hard; and so forth. But you don’t have to because most readers get the argument simply because of the way it is put together.

Here is an excerpt from an extended argument by blogger Abby Phillip, in which she argues that the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014 may not follow the same pattern as past outbreaks:

An idea long viewed as an unlikely possibility is now becoming increasingly real: Ebola might not go away for a very long time.

It has never happened before in the thirty-eight-year history of the virus. Every other time Ebola has made the unlikely jump from the animal world to the human one, it has been snuffed out within days, weeks or, at most, months.

This time, though, in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Ebola virus is raging like a forest fire, in the words of several public health officials. And some of them are raising the possibility that the outbreak- turned-full-fledged-epidemic could become fundamentally different from any other Ebola outbreak on record, in that it might stick around.

“What’s always worked before — contact tracing, isolation and quarantine — is not going to work, and it’s not working now,” said Daniel Lucey, a professor of microbiology and immunology at George- town University Medical Center, who spent three weeks treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and will soon travel to the Liberian capital of Monrovia for another five-week stint.

“In my opinion,” Lucey added, “a year from now, we won’t have one or two cases; we’ll have many cases of Ebola.”

Unlike past outbreaks, in which Ebola emerged in the sparsely pop- ulated countryside of central Africa, this outbreak has become an exponentially spreading urban menace.

— Abby Phillip, “This Ebola Outbreak Could Be Here to Stay”

Christian rudder discusses the

precedents set by Facebook,

Google, and his own company,

OKCupid, in the interview “It’s Not

OK Cupid: Co-Founder Defends User


liNk To P. 763

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Unfortunately, the prediction proved to be more accurate than Phillip might have preferred.

You’ll encounter additional kinds of logical structures as you create your own arguments. You’ll find some of them in Chapter 5, “Fallacies of Argument,” and still more in Chapter 7 on Toulmin argument.

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Left to right: Roy Delgado/www.Cartoonstock.com; © Bish/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.; © Eric Allie/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Fallacies of Argument 5

Do these editorial cartoons strike a chord with you? All three are compli- cated. The first panel pokes fun at slippery slope arguments, which aim to thwart action by predicting dire consequences: chase that Frisbee and you’ll soon be pulling milk carts. The second item uses a scare tactic (a potential fallacy of argument) to raise opposition to the educational reform called “Common Core,” suggesting ominously that the program’s cookie-cutter approach will produce children who all think alike. And the third cartoon points to a fallacy of argument that a prominent politi- cian has perhaps slipped into — the sentimental appeal; it alludes to Hillary Clinton’s comment in a 2014 interview with Diane Sawyer that she and husband Bill “came out of the White House not only dead broke but in debt.”

Fallacies are argumentative moves flawed by their very nature or structure. Because such tactics can make productive principled argu- ment more difficult, they potentially hurt everyone involved, including the people responsible for them. The worst sorts of fallacies muck up the


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frank but civil conversations that people should be able to have, regard- less of their differences.

Yet it’s hard to deny the power in offering audiences a compelling either/or choice or a vulnerable straw man in an argument. For exactly that reason, it’s important that you can recognize and point out fallacies in the work of others — and avoid them in your own writing. This chapter aims to help you meet these goals: here we’ll introduce you to fallacies of argument classified according to the emotional, ethical, and logical appeals we’ve discussed earlier (see Chapters 2, 3, and 4).

Fallacies of Emotional Argument

Emotional arguments can be powerful and suitable in many circum- stances, and most writers use them frequently. However, writers who pull on their readers’ heartstrings or raise their blood pressure too often can violate the good faith on which legitimate argument depends.

Scare Tactics

Politicians, advertisers, and public figures sometimes peddle their ideas by frightening people and exaggerating possible dangers well beyond their statistical likelihood. Such ploys work because it’s easier to imag- ine something terrible happening than to appreciate its rarity.

Scare tactics can also be used to stampede legitimate fears into panic or prejudice. Laborers who genuinely worry about losing their jobs can be persuaded to fear immigrants who might work for less money. Seniors living on fixed incomes can be convinced that minor changes to entitle- ment programs represent dire threats to their well-being. Such tactics have the effect of closing off thinking because people who are scared often act irrationally. Even well-intended fear campaigns — like those directed against smoking, unprotected sex, or the use of illegal drugs — can misfire if their warnings prove too shrill. People just stop listening.

Either/Or Choices

Either/or choices can be well-intentioned strategies to get something accomplished. Parents use them all the time (“Eat your broccoli, or you won’t get dessert”). But they become fallacious arguments when they

In “The Nothing-to-Hide Argument,”

Daniel J. Solove tries to dismantle the

either-or fallacy in relation to our

expectation of privacy.

link TO p. 734

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C H A p T e r 5 Fallacies oF argument 73

reduce a complicated issue to excessively simple terms or when they’re designed to obscure legitimate alternatives. Here, for example, is Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, offering the nation of Israel just such a choice in an interview with Charlie Rose in January 2014:

It is up to them [the Israelis] to decide what kind of a state they want to be. Do they want to be a democratic state where Israel will be the state for all of its citizens? Or do they want to be a state for the Jewish people, therefore excluding 1.6 million Palestinian Arabs who are Israelis from their society? That debate is not our debate. That debate is their debate.

But Joel B. Pollak, writing for Breitbart News Network, describes Man- sour’s claim as a “false choice” since Israel already is a Jewish state that nonetheless allows Muslims to be full citizens. The either/or argument Mansour pre sents, according to Pollack, does not describe the realities of this complex political situation.

a false choice? © Adam Zyglis/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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Slippery Slope

The slippery slope fallacy portrays today’s tiny misstep as tomorrow’s slide into disaster. Some arguments that aim at preventing dire conse- quences do not take the slippery slope approach (for example, the par- ent who corrects a child for misbehavior now is acting sensibly to prevent more serious problems as the child grows older). A slippery slope argument becomes wrongheaded when a writer exaggerates the likely consequences of an action, usually to frighten readers. As such, slippery slope arguments are also scare tactics. In recent years, the issue of gun ownership in America has evoked many slippery slope argu- ments. Here’s one perspective on the tactic:

The leadership of the NRA is exceptionally fond of the Slippery Slope argument. “Universal background checks will inevitably be followed by a national registry of gun-owners which will inevitably be followed by confiscation of all their guns.” Or, “A ban on assault-style weapons and thirty+ round magazines will inevitably be followed by a ban on hand guns with ten-round magazines, that will inevitably be followed by bans on all guns, including antique dueling pistols inherited from our Founding Fathers.”

Problem number one with this slide down the fearsome slope is how much weaponry has changed since the days of militias with muskets. Even the NRA agrees that lines have to be drawn somewhere. They do not favor legalization of civilian use of rocket-propelled gre- nades, bazookas or stinger missiles. If there is a slippery slope we are starting approximately half-way down.

— Michael Wolkowitz, “Slippery Slopes, Imagined and Real”

Social and political ideas and proposals do have consequences, but they aren’t always as dire as writers fond of slippery slope tactics would have you believe.

Overly Sentimental Appeals

Overly sentimental appeals use tender emotions excessively to distract readers from facts. Often, such appeals are highly personal and individ- ual and focus attention on heartwarming or heartrending situations that make readers feel guilty if they challenge an idea, a policy, or a pro- posal. Emotions become an impediment to civil discourse when they keep people from thinking clearly.

Such sentimental appeals are a major vehicle of television news, where tugging at viewers’ heartstrings can mean high ratings. For example,

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when a camera documents the day-to-day sacrifices of a single parent trying to meet mortgage payments and keep her kids in college, the wom- an’s on-screen struggles can seem to represent the plight of an entire class of people threatened by callous bankers and college administrators. But while such human interest stories stir genuine emotions, they seldom give a complete picture of complex social or economic issues.

Bandwagon Appeals

Bandwagon appeals urge people to follow the same path everyone else is taking. Such arguments can be relatively benign and seem harmless. But they do push people to take the easier path rather than think inde- pendently about what choices to make or where to go.

Many American parents seem to have an innate ability to refute bandwagon appeals. When their kids whine, Everyone else is going camp- ing without chaperones, the parents reply, And if everyone else jumps off a cliff (or a railroad bridge or the Empire State Building), you will too? The chil- dren groan — and then try a different line of argument.

this image, taken from a gun control protest, is designed to elicit sympathy by causing the viewer to think about the dangers guns pose to innocent children and, thus, support the cause. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

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Unfortunately, not all bandwagon approaches are so transparent. In recent decades, bandwagon issues have included a war on drugs, the nuclear freeze movement, campaigns against drunk driving, campaigns for immigration reform, bailouts for banks and businesses, and many fads in education from high-stakes testing to MOOCs. All these issues are too complex to permit the suspension of judgment that bandwagon tactics require.

Fallacies of Ethical Argument

Because readers give their closest attention to authors they respect or trust, writers usually want to present themselves as honest, well- informed, likable, or sympathetic. But not all the devices that writers use to gain the attention and confidence of readers are admirable. (For more on appeals based on character, see Chapter 3.)

Appeals to False Authority

Many academic research papers find and reflect on the work of repu- table authorities and introduce these authorities through direct quota- tions or citations as credible evidence. (For more on assessing the

some bandwagon appeals work better than others.

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C H A p T e r 5 Fallacies oF argument 77

reliability of sources, see Chapter 19.) False authority, however, occurs when writers offer themselves or other authorities as sufficient warrant for believing a claim:

Claim X is true because I say so. Warrant What I say must be true.

Claim X is true because Y says so. Warrant What Y says must be true.

Though they are seldom stated so baldly, claims of authority drive many political campaigns. American pundits and politicians are fond of citing the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights (Canadians have their Charter of Rights and Freedoms) as ultimate authorities, a rea- sonable practice when the documents are interpreted respectfully. However, the rights claimed sometimes aren’t in the texts themselves or don’t mean what the speakers think they do. And most constitu- tional matters are debatable — as volumes of court records prove. Like- wise, religious believers often base arguments on books or traditions that wield great authority in a particular religious community. But the power of such texts is usually limited to that group and less capable of persuading others solely on the grounds of authority.

In short, you should pay serious attention to claims supported by respected authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, or the Globe and Mail. But don’t accept information simply because it is put forth by such offices and agencies. To quote a Russian proverb made famous by Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”


A writer who asserts or assumes that a particular position is the only one that is conceivably acceptable is expressing dogmatism, a fallacy of character that undermines the trust that must exist between those who make and listen to arguments. When people or organizations write dogmatically, they imply that no arguments are necessary: the truth is self-evident and needs no support. Here is an extreme example of such an appeal, quoted in an Atlantic story by Tracy Brown

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Hamilton and describing an anti-smoking appeal made by the Third Reich:

“Brother national socialist, do you know that your Fuhrer is against smoking and thinks that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and omissions, and does not have the right to damage his body with drugs?”

— From Tracy Brown Hamilton, “The Nazis’ Forgotten Anti-Smoking Campaign”

Subjects or ideas that can be defended with facts, testimony, and good reasons ought not to be off the table in a free society. In general, when- ever someone suggests that even raising an issue for debate is totally unacceptable — whether on the grounds that it’s racist, sexist, unpatri- otic, blasphemous, insensitive, or offensive in some other way — you should be suspicious.

Ad Hominem Arguments

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man”) arguments attack the character of a person rather than the claims he or she makes: when you destroy the credibility of your opponents, you either destroy their ability to present reasonable appeals or distract from the successful arguments they may be offering. Such attacks, of course, aren’t aimed at men only, as colum- nist Jamie Stiehm proved when she criticized Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for delaying an Obamacare mandate objected to by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order. Stiehm directly tar- gets Sotomayor’s religious beliefs:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

— Jamie Stiehm, “The Catholic Supreme Court’s War on Women”

Stiehm then widens her ad hominem assault to include Catholics in general:

Sotomayor’s blow brings us to confront an uncomfortable reality. More than WASPs, Methodists, Jews, Quakers or Baptists, Catholics often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

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Arguably, ad hominem tactics like this turn arguments into two-sided affairs with good guys and bad guys (or gals), and that’s unfortunate, since character often really does matter in argument. People expect the proponent of peace to be civil, a secretary of the treasury to pay his or her taxes, and the champion of family values to be a faithful spouse. But it’s fallacious to attack an idea by uncovering the foibles of its advocates or by attacking their motives, backgrounds, or unchangeable traits.

Stacking the Deck

Just as gamblers try to stack the deck by arranging cards so they are sure to win, writers stack the deck when they show only one side of the story — the one in their favor. In a Facebook forum on the documentary film Super Size Me (which followed a 32-year-old man who ate three meals a day at McDonald’s for thirty days with drastic health conse- quences), one student points out an example of stacking the deck:

One of the fallacies was stacking the deck. Spurlock stated many facts and gave plenty of evidence of what can happen if you eat fast food in abundance. Weight gain, decline in health, habit forming, and a toll on your daily life. But he failed to show what could happen if you ate the fast food and participated in daily exercise and took vitamins. The fal- lacy is that he does not show us both sides of what can happen. Possibly you could eat McDonald’s for three meals a day for thirty days and if you engaged in daily exercise and took vitamins maybe your health would be just fine. But we were not ever shown that side of the experiment.

— Heather Tew Alleman, on a Facebook forum

In the same way, reviewers have been critical of documentaries by Michael Moore and Dinesh D’Souza that resolutely show only one side of a story or prove highly selective in their coverage. When you stack the deck, you take a big chance that your readers will react like Alleman and decide not to trust you: that’s one reason it’s so important to show that you have considered alternatives in making any argument.

Fallacies of logical Argument

You’ll encounter a problem in any argument when the claims, warrants, or proofs in it are invalid, insufficient, or disconnected. In theory, such problems seem easy enough to spot, but in practice, they can be

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camouflaged by a skillful use of words or images. Indeed, logical fallacies pose a challenge to civil argument because they often seem reasonable and natural, especially when they appeal to people’s self-interests.

Hasty Generalization

A hasty generalization is an inference drawn from insufficient evidence: because my Fiat broke down, then all Fiats must be junk. It also forms the basis for most stereotypes about people or institutions: because a few people in a large group are observed to act in a certain way, all members of that group are inferred to behave similarly. The resulting conclusions are usually sweeping claims of little merit: women are bad drivers; men are slobs; English teachers are nitpicky; computer jocks are . . . , and on and on.

To draw valid inferences, you must always have sufficient evidence (see Chapter 18) and you must qualify your claims appropriately. After all, people do need generalizations to make reasonable decisions in life. Such claims can be offered legitimately if placed in context and tagged with sensible qualifiers — some, a few, many, most, occasionally, rarely, pos- sibly, in some cases, under certain circumstances, in my limited experience.

Faulty Causality

In Latin, faulty causality is known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which translates as “after this, therefore because of this” — the faulty assump- tion that because one event or action follows another, the first causes the second. Consider a lawsuit commented on in the Wall Street Journal in which a writer sued Coors (unsuccessfully), claiming that drinking copi- ous amounts of the company’s beer had kept him from writing a novel.

Some actions do produce reactions. Step on the brake pedal in your car, and you move hydraulic fluid that pushes calipers against disks to create friction that stops the vehicle. In other cases, however, a supposed connec- tion between cause and effect turns out to be completely wrong. For exam- ple, doctors now believe that when an elderly person falls and breaks a hip or leg, the injury usually caused the fall rather than the other way around.

That’s why overly simple causal claims should always be subject to scrutiny. In summer 2008, writer Nicholas Carr posed a simple causal question in a cover story for the Atlantic: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Carr essentially answered yes, arguing that “as we come to rely on com- puters to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelli- gence that flattens” and that the more one is online the less he or she is able to concentrate or read deeply.

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But others, like Jamais Cascio (senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies), soon challenged that causal connection: rather than making us stupid, Cascio argues, Internet tools like Google will lead to the development of “‘fluid intelligence’ — the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge.” The final word on this contentious causal relationship — the effects on the human brain caused by new technology — has yet to be written, and will probably be available only after decades of complicated research.

Begging the Question

Most teachers have heard some version of the following argument: You can’t give me a C in this course; I’m an A student. A member of Congress accused of taking kickbacks can make much the same argument: I can’t be guilty of accepting such bribes; I’m an honest person. In both cases, the claim is made on grounds that can’t be accepted as true because those grounds themselves are in question. How can the accused bribe-taker defend herself on grounds of honesty when that honesty is in doubt? Looking at the arguments in Toulmin terms helps to see the fallacy:

Claim You can’t give me a C in this course . . . Reason . . . because I’m an A student. Warrant An A student is someone who can’t receive Cs.

Claim Representative X can’t be guilty of accepting bribes . . . Reason . . . because she’s an honest person. Warrant An honest person cannot be guilty of accepting


With the warrants stated, you can see why begging the question — assuming as true the very claim that’s disputed — is a form of circular argu- ment that goes nowhere. (For more on Toulmin argument, see Chapter 7.)

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Equivocations — half truths or arguments that give lies an honest appearance — are usually based on tricks of language. Consider the pla- giarist who copies a paper word for word from a source and then declares that “I wrote the entire paper myself” — meaning that she physically copied the piece on her own. But the plagiarist is using wrote equivocally and knows that most people understand the word to mean composing and not merely copying words.

Parsing words carefully can sometimes look like equivocation or be the thing itself. For example, early in 2014 Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen promised to turn over to a committee of the House of Representatives all the relevant emails in a scandal involv- ing the agency. Subsequently, the agency revealed that some of those requested emails had been destroyed by the failure of a computer’s hard drive. But Koskinen defended his earlier promise by telling the chair of the committee, “I never said I would provide you emails we didn’t have.” A simple statement of fact or a slick equivocation?

non Sequitur

A non sequitur is an argument whose claims, reasons, or warrants don’t connect logically. You’ve probably detected a non sequitur when you react to an argument with a puzzled, “Wait, that doesn’t follow.” Chil- dren are adept at framing non sequiturs like this one: You don’t love me or you’d buy me a new bicycle! It doesn’t take a parental genius to realize that love has little connection with buying children toys.

Non sequiturs often occur when writers omit steps in an otherwise logical chain of reasoning. For example, it might be a non sequitur to argue that since postsecondary education now costs so much, it’s time to move colleges and university instruction online. Such a suggestion may have merit, but a leap from brick-and-mortar schools to virtual ones is extreme. Numerous issues and questions must be addressed step-by- step before the proposal can be taken seriously.

Politicians sometimes resort to non sequiturs to evade thorny issues or questions. Here for example is presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a 2011 CNBC Republican primary debate turning moderator John Harwood’s question about changing political positions into one about demonstrating personal integrity:

Harwood: . . . Your opponents have said you switched positions on many issues. . . . What can you say to Republicans to persuade them

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C H A p T e r 5 Fallacies oF argument 83

that the things you say in the campaign are rooted in something deeper than the fact that you are running for office?

Romney: John, I think people know me pretty well. . . . I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman for . . . 42 years. . . . I have been in the same church my entire life.

Conservative writer Matt K. Lewis took Romney to task for this move, pointing out that a steady personal life is no guarantor of a consistent political philosophy:

This, of course, is not to say that values and character do not matter — they do — but it is to say that Romney’s answer was a non sequitur. Everyone knows Mitt Romney is a decent, respectable per- son. The question is whether or not he can be trusted to advance con- servatism as president.

Straw Man

Those who resort to the straw man fallacy attack arguments that no one is really making or portray opponents’ positions as more extreme or far less coherent than they actually are. The speaker or writer thus sets up an argument that is conveniently easy to knock down (like a man of straw), proceeds to do so, and then claims victory over an opponent who may not even exist.

Straw men are especially convenient devices for politicians who want to characterize the positions of their opponents as more extreme than they actually are: consider obvious memes such as “war on women” and “war on Christmas.” But straw man arguments are often more subtle. For instance, Steven Novella of Yale University argues that political com- mentator Charles Krauthammer slips into the fallacy when he miscon- strues the meaning of “settled science” in a column on climate change. Novella rebuts Krauthammer’s assertion that “There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervi- ous to challenge” by explaining why such a claim is deceptive:

Calling something an established scientific fact means that it is rea- sonable to proceed with that fact as a premise, for further research or for policy. It does not mean “static, impervious to challenge.” That is the straw man. Both evolution deniers and climate change deniers use this tactic to misinterpret scientific confidence as an anti-scientific resistance to new evidence or arguments. It isn’t. It does mean that

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the burden of proof has shifted to those opposing the theory that is now well-established (because it has already met a significant burden of proof ).

— Steven Novella, NeuroLogica Blog, February 25, 2014

In other words, Krauthammer’s definition of science is not one that most scientists use.

Red Herring

This fallacy gets its name from the old British hunting practice of dragging a dried herring across the path of the fox in order to throw the hounds off the trail. A red herring fallacy does just that: it changes the subject abruptly or introduces an irrelevant claim or fact to throw readers or listeners off the trail. For example, people skeptical about climate change will routinely note that weather is always changing and point to the fact that Vikings settled in Greenland one thousand years ago before harsher conditions drove them away. True, scientists will say, but the point is irrelevant to arguments about worldwide global warming caused by human activity.

The red herring is not only a device writers and speakers use in the arguments they create, but it’s also a charge used frequently to under- mine someone else’s arguments. Couple the term “red herring” in a Web search to just about any political or social cause and you’ll come up with numerous articles complaining of someone’s use of the device.

climate change + red herring

common core + red herring

immigration reform + red herring

“Red herring” has become a convenient way of saying “I disagree with your argument” or “your point is irrelevant.” And perhaps making a too- easy rebuttal like that can itself be a fallacy?

Faulty Analogy

Comparisons can help to clarify one concept by measuring it against another that is more familiar. Consider the power and humor of this comparison attributed to Mark Twain, an implicit argument for term limits in politics:

Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.

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C H A p T e r 5 Fallacies oF argument 85

When comparisons such as this one are extended, they become analogies — ways of understanding unfamiliar ideas by comparing them with something that’s better known (see p. 68). But useful as such comparisons are, they may prove false if either taken on their own and pushed too far, or taken too seriously. At this point, they turn into faulty analogies — inaccurate or inconsequential comparisons between objects or concepts. Economist Paul Krugman provides an eye-opening analysis of a familiar but, as he sees it, false analogy between personal and gov- ernment debt:

Deficit-worriers portray a future in which we’re impoverished by the need to pay back money we’ve been borrowing. They see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments.

This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways. First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all

they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. The debt from World War II was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew, and with it the income subject to taxation.

Second — and this is the point almost nobody seems to get — an overborrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.

Whether you agree with the Nobel laureate or not, his explanation offers insight into how analogies work (or fail) and how to think about them critically.

R E S P O N D. 1. Examine each of the following political slogans or phrases for logical


“Resistance is futile.” (Borg message on Star Trek: The Next Generation)

“It’s the economy, stupid.” (sign on the wall at Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters)

“Make love, not war.” (antiwar slogan popularized during the Vietnam War)

“A chicken in every pot.” (campaign slogan)

“Guns don’t kill, people do.” (NRA slogan)

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“Dog Fighters Are Cowardly Scum.” (PETA T-shirt)

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” (attributed to Harry S Truman)

2. Choose a paper you’ve written for a college class and analyze it for signs of fallacious reasoning. Then find an editorial, a syndicated col- umn, and a news report on the same topic and look for fallacies in them. Which has the most fallacies — and what kind? What may be the role of the audience in determining when a statement is fallacious?

3. Find a Web site that is sponsored by an organization (the Future of Music Coalition, perhaps), a business (Coca-Cola, Pepsi), or another group (the Democratic or Republican National Committee), and ana- lyze the site for fallacious reasoning. Among other considerations, look at the relationship between text and graphics and between indi- vidual pages and the pages that surround or are linked to them.

4. Political blogs such as Mother Jones and InstaPundit typically provide quick responses to daily events and detailed critiques of material in other media sites, including national newspapers. Study one such blog for a few days to see whether and how the site critiques the arti- cles, political commentary, or writers it links to. Does the blog ever point out fallacies of argument? If so, does it explain the problems with such reasoning or just assume readers will understand the falla- cies? Summarize your findings in a brief oral report to your class.

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All images © Andy Anderson, Lone River Productions

Rhetorical Analysis 6

If you watched the 2013 Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, you may remember the commercial. For two solemn minutes, still photographs of rural America and the people who work there moved across the screen accompanied by the unmistakable voice of the late Paul Harvey reading words he had first delivered in 1978. Maria Godoy of NPR described it this way: “It may not have been as dra- matic as the stadium blackout that halted play for more than a half- hour, or as extravagant as Beyonce’s halftime show. But for many viewers of Super Bowl XLVII, one of the standout moments was a deceptively simple ad for the Dodge Ram called ‘God Made a Farmer.’” It was a fourth quarter interrupted by cattle, churches, snowy farmyards, bales of hay, plowed fields, hardworking men, and a few sturdy women. Occasionally, a slide discreetly showed a Ram truck, sponsor of the video, but there were no overt sales pitches — only a product logo in the final frame. Yet visits to the Ram Web site spiked immediately, and sales of Ram pickups did too. (The official video has been viewed on YouTube more than 17 million times.)


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So how to account for the appeal of such an unconventional and unexpected commercial? That would be the work of a rhetorical analy- sis, the close reading of a text or, in this case, a video commercial, to figure out exactly how it functions. Certainly, the creators of “God Made a Farmer” counted on the strong emotional appeal of the photographs they’d commissioned, guessing perhaps that the expert images and Harvey’s spellbinding words would contrast powerfully with the frivolity and emptiness of much Super Bowl ad fare:

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’”

They pushed convention, too, by the length of the spot and the muted product connection, doubtless hoping to win the goodwill of a huge audience suddenly all teary-eyed in the midst of a football game. And they surely gained the respect of a great many truck-buying farmers.

Rhetorical analyses can also probe the contexts that surround any argument or text — its impact on a society, its deeper implications, or even what it lacks or whom it excludes. Predictably, the widely admired Ram commercial (selected #1 Super Bowl XLVII spot by Adweek) acquired its share of critics, some attacking it for romanticizing farm life, others for ignoring the realities of industrial agriculture. And not a few writers noted what they regarded as glaring absences in its representation of farmers. Here, for instance, is copywriter and blogger Edye Deloch- Hughes, offering a highly personal and conflicted view of the spot in what amounts to an informal rhetorical analysis:

. . . I was riveted by the still photography and stirring thirty-five-year- old delivery of legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. But as I sat mesmerized, I waited to see an image that spoke to my heritage. What flashed before me were close-ups of stoic white men whose faces drowned out the obligatory medium shots of a minority token or two; their images minimized against the amber waves of grain.

God made a Black farmer too. Where was my Grandpa, Grandma and Great Granny? My Auntie and Uncle Bolden? And didn’t God make Hispanic and Native American farmers? They too were under- represented.

I am the offspring of a century and a half of African-American care- takers of the land, from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, who experienced their toils and troubles, their sun ups and sun downs. Their injustices and beat-downs. I wrestled with my mixed emotions; loving the commercial and feeling dejected at the same time.

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 89

. . . Minimizing positive Black imagery and accomplishments is as American as wrestling cattle. We’re often footnotes or accessories in history books, TV shows, movies and magazines as well as TV com- mercials. When content is exceptional, the omission is harder to rec- ognize or criticize. Some friends of mine saw — or rather felt — the omission as I did. Others did not. I say be aware and vocal about how you are represented — if represented at all, otherwise your importance and relevance will be lost.

— Edye Deloch-Hughes, “So God Made a Black Farmer Too”

As this example suggests, whenever you undertake a rhetorical analysis, follow your instincts and look closely. Why does an ad for a cell phone or breakfast sandwich make people want one immediately? How does an op-ed piece in the Washington Post suddenly change your long-held posi- tion on immigration? A rhetorical analysis might help you understand. Dig as deep as you can into the context of the item you are analyzing, especially when you encounter puzzling, troubling, or unusually suc- cessful appeals — ethical, emotional, or logical. Ask yourself what strate- gies a speech, editorial, opinion column, film, or ad spot employs to move your heart, win your trust, and change your mind — or why, maybe, it fails to do so.

Composing a Rhetorical Analysis

You perform a rhetorical analysis by analyzing how well the compo- nents of an argument work together to persuade or move an audience. You can study arguments of any kind — advertisements (as we’ve seen), editorials, political cartoons, and even songs, movies, or photographs. In every case, you’ll need to focus your rhetorical analysis on elements that stand out or make the piece intriguing or problematic. You could begin by exploring some of the following issues:

● What is the purpose of this argument? What does it hope to achieve?

● Who is the audience for this argument? Who is ignored or excluded?

● What appeals or techniques does the argument use — emotional, log- ical, ethical?

● What type of argument is it, and how does the genre affect the argu- ment? (You might challenge the lack of evidence in editorials, but you wouldn’t make the same complaint about bumper stickers.)

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● Who is making the argument? What ethos does it create, and how does it do so? What values does the ethos evoke? How does it make the writer or creator seem trustworthy?

● What authorities does the argument rely on or appeal to?

● What facts, reasoning, and evidence are used in the argument? How are they presented?

● What claims does the argument make? What issues are raised — or ignored or evaded?

● What are the contexts — social, political, historical, cultural — for this argument? Whose interests does it serve? Who gains or loses by it?

● How is the argument organized or arranged? What media does the argument use and how effectively?

● How does the language or style of the argument persuade an audience?

In answering questions like these, try to show how the key devices in an argument actually make it succeed or fail. Quote freely from a written piece, or describe the elements in a visual argument. (Anno- tating a visual text is one option.) Let readers know where and why an argument makes sense and where it falls apart. If you believe that an argument startles, challenges, insults, or lulls audiences, explain why that is the case and provide evidence. Don’t be surprised when your rhetorical analysis itself becomes an argument. That’s what it should be.

Understanding the Purpose of Arguments You Are Analyzing

To understand how well any argument works, begin with its purpose: Is it to sell running shoes? To advocate for limits to college tuition? To push a political agenda? In many cases, that purpose may be obvious. A con- servative blog will likely advance right-wing causes; ads from a baby food company will likely show happy infants delighted with stewed prunes.

But some projects may hide their persuasive intentions. Perhaps you’ve responded to a mail survey or telephone poll only to discover that the questions are leading you to switch your cable service or buy apart- ment insurance. Do such stealthy arguments succeed? Do consumers

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 91

resent the intrusion? Answering questions like these provides material for useful rhetorical analyses that assess the strengths, risks, and ethics of such strategies.

Understanding Who Makes an Argument

Knowing who is claiming what is key to any rhetorical analysis. That’s why persuasive appeals usually have a name attached to them. Remem- ber the statements included in TV ads during the last federal election: “Hello, I’m X — and I approve this ad”? Federal law requires such state- ments so we can tell the difference between ads a candidate endorses and ones sponsored by groups not even affiliated with the campaigns. Their interests and motives might be very different.

But knowing a name is just a starting place for analysis. You need to dig deeper, and you could do worse than to Google such people or groups to discover more about them. What else have they produced? Who publishes them: the Wall Street Journal, the blog The Daily Kos, or even a LiveJournal celebrity gossip site such as Oh No They Didn’t? Check out related Web sites for information about goals, policies, contribu- tors, and funding.

Funny, offensive, or both? © Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

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R E S P O N D. Describe a persuasive moment that you can recall from a speech, an editorial, an advertisement, a YouTube clip, or a blog posting. Or research one of the following famous persuasive moments and describe the circumstances — the historical situation, the issues at stake, the purpose of the argument — that make it so memorable.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention (1848)

Chief Tecumseh’s address to General William Henry Harrison (1810)

Winston Churchill’s radio addresses to the British people during World War II (1940)

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Ronald Reagan’s tribute to the Challenger astronauts (1986)

Toni Morrison’s speech accepting the Nobel Prize (1993)

Will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song/collage on YouTube (2008)

Identifying and Appealing to Audiences

Most arguments are composed with specific audiences in mind, and their success depends, in part, on how well their strategies, content, tone, and language meet the expectations of that audience. So your rhe- torical analysis of an argumentative piece should identify its target read- ers or viewers (see “Appealing to Audiences,” p. 21) if possible, or make an educated guess about the audience, since most arguments suggest whom they intend to reach and in what ways.

Both a flyer stapled to a bulletin board in a college dorm (“Why you shouldn’t drink and drive”) and a forty-foot billboard for Bud Light might be aimed at the same general population — college students. But each will adjust its appeals for the different moods of that group in different moments. For starters, the flyer will appeal to students in a serious vein, while the beer ad will probably be visually stunning and virtually text-free.

You might also examine how a writer or an argument establishes cred- ibility with an audience. One effective means of building credibility is to show respect for your readers or viewers, especially if they may not agree

the Lebanon Daily News explores

how audiences reacted to an

expensive marketing campaign in

“Coca-Cola’s Multilingual ‘america’

ad Didn’t hit any Wrong Notes.”

lInk to P. 570

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 93

with you. In introducing an article on problems facing African American women in the workplace, editor in chief of Essence Diane Weathers consid- ers the problems that she faced with respecting all her potential readers:

We spent more than a minute agonizing over the provocative cover line for our feature “White Women at Work.” The countless stories we had heard from women across the country told us that this was a workplace issue we had to address. From my own experience at sev- eral major magazines, it was painfully obvious to me that Black and White women are not on the same track. Sure, we might all start out in the same place. But early in the game, most sisters I know become stuck — and the reasons have little to do with intelligence or drive. At some point we bump our heads against that ceiling. And while White women may complain of a glass ceiling, for us, the ceiling is concrete.

So how do we tell this story without sounding whiny and paranoid, or turning off our White-female readers, staff members, advertisers and girlfriends? Our solution: Bring together real women (several of them highly successful senior corporate executives), put them in a room, promise them anonymity and let them speak their truth.

— Diane Weathers, “Speaking Our Truth”

Retailers like Walmart build their credibility by simple “straight talk” to shoppers: our low prices make your life better. Beth Hall/Bloomberg News/Getty Images

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Both paragraphs affirm Weathers’s determination to treat audiences fairly and to deal honestly with a difficult subject. The strategy would merit attention in any rhetorical analysis.

Look, too, for signals that writers share values with readers or at least understand an audience. In the following passage, writer Jack Solomon is clear about one value that he hopes readers have in common — a pref- erence for “straight talk”:

There are some signs in the advertising world that Americans are get- ting fed up with fantasy advertisements and want to hear some straight talk. Weary of extravagant product claims . . . , consumers trained by years of advertising to distrust what they hear seem to be developing an immunity to commercials.

— Jack Solomon, “Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising”

But straight talk still requires common sense. If ever a major television ad seriously misread its audience, it may have been a spot that ran dur- ing the 2014 Winter Olympics for Cadillac’s pricey new plug-in hybrid, the ELR. The company seemed to go out of its way to offend a great many people, foreign and domestic. As is typical strategy in rhetorical analy- ses, Huffington Post’s Carolyn Gregoire takes care to describe in detail the item she finds offensive:

The opening shot shows a middle-aged man, played by the actor Neal McDonough, looking out over his backyard pool, asking the question: “Why do we work so hard? For this? For stuff?”

As the ad continues, it becomes clear that the answer to this rhe- torical question is actually a big fat YES. And it gets worse. “Other countries, they work,” he says. “They stroll home. They stop by the cafe. They take August off. Off.”

Then he reveals just what it is that makes Americans better than all those lazy, espresso-sipping foreigners.

“Why aren’t you like that?” he says. “Why aren’t we like that? Because we’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers, that’s why.”

— Carolyn Gregoire, “Cadillac Made a Commercial about the American Dream, and It’s a Nightmare”

Her conclusion then is blistering, showing how readily a rhetorical anal- ysis becomes an argument — and subject to criticism itself:

Cadillacs have long been a quintessentially American symbol of wealth and status. But as this commercial proves, no amount of

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 95

wealth or status is a guarantee of good taste. Now, the luxury car com- pany is selling a vision of the American Dream at its worst: Work yourself into the ground, take as little time off as possible, and buy expensive sh*t (specifically, a 2014 Cadillac ELR).

Examining Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos

Some emotional appeals are just ploys to win over readers with a pretty face, figurative or real. You’ve seen ads promising an exciting life and attractive friends if only you drink the right soda or wear a particular brand of clothes. Are you fooled by such claims? Probably not, if you pause to think about them. But that’s the strategy — to distract you from thought just long enough to make a bad choice. It’s a move worth com- menting on in a rhetorical analysis.

how well does the emotional appeal here work?

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Yet emotions can add real muscle to arguments, too, and that’s worth noting. For example, persuading people not to drink and drive by making them fear death, injury, or arrest seems like a fair use of an emotional appeal. The public service announcement on page 95 uses an emotion- laden image to remind drivers to think of the consequences.

In a rhetorical analysis, you might note the juxtaposition of image with text, leading readers to connect casual notes left on windshields with the very serious consequences of drunk driving.

In analyzing emotional appeals, judge whether the emotions raised — anger, sympathy, fear, envy, joy, love, lust — advance the claims offered. Consider how columnist Ron Rosenbaum (whom we met in Chapter 2) makes the reasonable argument he offers for fatty foods all the more attractive by larding it with voluptuous language:

The foods that best hit that sweet spot and “overwhelm the brain” with pleasure are high-quality fatty foods. They discourage us from overeat- ing. A modest serving of short ribs or Peking duck will be both deeply pleasurable and self-limiting. As the brain swoons into in sensate delight, you won’t have to gorge a still-craving cortex with mediocre sensations. “Sensory-specific satiety” makes a slam-dunk case (it’s sci- ence!) for eating reasonable servings of superbly satisfying fatty foods.

— Ron Rosenbaum, “Let Them Eat Fat”

Does the use of evocative language (“swoons,” “insensate delight,” “superbly satisfying,” “slam-dunk”) convince you, or does it distract from considering the scientific case for “sensory-specific satiety”? Your task in a

health food? Kittipojn Pravalpatkul/Shutterstock

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 97

rhetorical analysis is to study an author’s words, the emotions they evoke, and the claims they support and then to make this kind of judgment.

R E S P O N D. Browse YouTube or another Web site to find an example of a powerful emotional argument that’s made visually, either alone or using words as well. In a paragraph, defend a claim about how the argument works. For example, does an image itself make a claim, or does it draw you in to con- sider a verbal claim? What emotion does the argument generate? How does that emotion work to persuade you?

Examining Arguments Based on Character: Ethos

It should come as no surprise: readers believe writers who seem honest, wise, and trustworthy. So in analyzing the effectiveness of an argument, look for evidence of these traits. Does the writer have the experience or authority to write on this subject? Are all claims qualified reasonably? Is evidence presented in full, not tailored to the writer’s agenda? Are impor- tant objections to the author’s position acknowledged and addressed? Are sources documented? Above all, does the writer sound trustworthy?

When a Norwegian anti-immigration extremist killed seventy-six innocent people in July 2011, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg addressed the citizens of Norway (and the world), and in doing so evoked the char- acter or ethos of the entire nation:

We will not let fear break us! The warmth of response from people in Norway and from the whole world makes me sure of this one thing: evil can kill a single person, but never defeat a whole people. The strongest weapon in the world — that is freedom of expression and democracy.

In analyzing this speech, you would do well to look at the way this passage deploys the deepest values of Norway — freedom of expression and democracy — to serve as a response to fear of terrorism. In doing so, Stoltenberg evokes ethical ideals to hold onto in a time of tragedy.

Or take a look at the following paragraph from a blog posting by Timothy Burke, a teacher at Swarthmore College and parent of a pre- school child who is trying to think through the issue of homework for elementary school kids:

In his article “are engineered Foods

evil?” David h. Freedman examines

the credibility of both advocates and

critics of genetically modified food.

lInk to P. 630

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So I’ve been reading a bit about homework and compar-

ing notes with parents. There is a lot of variation across

districts, not just in the amount of homework that kids

are being asked to do, but in the kind of homework. Some

districts give kids a lot of time-consuming busywork;

other districts try to concentrate on having homework

assignments be substantive work that is best accom-

plished independently. Some give a lot from a very early

point in K-12 education; some give relatively little. As

both a professional educator and an individual with per-

sonal convictions, I’d tend to argue against excessive

amounts of homework and against assigning busywork.

But what has ultimately interested me more about read-

ing various discussions of homework is how intense the

feelings are swirling around the topic and how much

that intensity strikes me as a problem in and of itself.

Not just as a symptom of a kind of civic illness, an inabil-

ity to collectively and democratically work through com-

plex issues, but also in some cases as evidence of an

educational failure in its own right.

In considering the role of ethos in rhetorical analyses, pay attention to the details right down to the choice of words or, in an image, the shapes and colors. The modest, tentative tone that Burke uses in his blog is an example of the kind of choice that can shape an audience’s percep- tion of ethos. But these details need your interpretation. Language that’s hot and extreme can mark a writer as either passionate or loony. Work that’s sober and carefully organized can paint an institution as compe- tent or overly cautious. Technical terms and abstract phrases can make a writer seem either knowledgeable or pompous.

Examining Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: logos

In analyzing most arguments, you’ll have to decide whether an argu- ment makes a plausible claim and offers good reasons for you to believe

Burke establishes his ethos by citing his reading and his talks with other parents.

he underscores his right to address the matter.

he expresses concern about immoderate arguments and implies that he will demonstrate an opposite approach.

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 99

it. Not all arguments will package such claims in a single neat sentence, or thesis — nor should they. A writer may tell a story from which you have to infer the claim. Visual arguments may work the same way: view- ers have to assemble the parts and draw inferences in order to get the point.

Some conventional arguments (like those on an editorial page) may be perfectly obvious: writers stake out a claim and then present reasons that you should consider, or they may first present reasons and lay out a case that leads you to accept a claim in the conclusion. Consider the fol- lowing example. In a tough opinion piece in Time, political commentator John McWhorter argues that filmmaker Spike Lee is being racist when he rails against hipsters moving into Fort Greene, a formerly all-black neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Lee fears that the whites are rais- ing housing prices, pushing out old-time residents and diminishing the African American character of Fort Greene. McWhorter, an African American like Lee, sees matters differently:

Basically, black people are getting paid more money than they’ve ever seen in their lives for their houses, and a once sketchy neighborhood is now quiet and pleasant. And this is a bad thing . . . why?

Lee seems to think it’s somehow an injustice whenever black people pick up stakes. But I doubt many of the blacks now set to pass fat inheritances on to their kids feel that way. This is not the old story of poor blacks being pushed out of neighborhoods razed down for highway construction. Lee isn’t making sense.

— John McWhorter, “Spike Lee’s Racism Isn’t Cute”

When you encounter explicit charges like these, you analyze whether and how the claims are supported by good reasons and reliable evidence. A lengthy essay may, in fact, contain a series of claims, each developed to support an even larger point. Here’s McWhorter, for instance, expand- ing his argument by suggesting that Lee’s attitudes toward whites are irreconcilable.

“Respect the culture” when you move in, Lee growls. But again, he isn’t making sense. We can be quite sure that if whites “respected” the culture by trying to participate in it, Lee would be one of the first in line to call it “appropriation.” So, no whites better open up barbecue joints or spoken word cafes or try to be rappers. Yet if whites walk on by the culture in “respectful” silence, then the word on the street becomes that they want to keep blacks at a distance.

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Indeed, every paragraph in an argument may develop a specific and related idea. In a rhetorical analysis, you need to identify all these sepa- rate propositions and examine the relationships among them: Are they solidly linked? Are there inconsistencies that the writer should acknowl- edge? Does the end of the piece support what the writer said (and prom- ised) at the beginning?

You’ll also need to examine the quality of the information pre- sented in an argument, assessing how accurately such information is reported, how conveniently it’s displayed (in charts or graphs, for example), and how well the sources cited represent a range of respected opinions on a topic. (For more information on the use of evidence, see Chapter 4.)

Knowing how to judge the quality of sources is more important now than ever before because the digital universe is full of junk. In some ways, the computer terminal has become the equivalent of a library ref- erence room, but the sources available online vary widely in quality and have not been evaluated by a library professional. As a consequence, you must know the difference between reliable, firsthand, or fully docu- mented sources and those that don’t meet such standards. (For using and documenting sources, see Chapters 19, 20, and 22.)

an anti-fur protestor in london makes a rather specific claim. © Charles Platiau/Reuters/Corbis

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 101

Examining the Arrangement and Media of Arguments

Aristotle carved the structure of logical argument to its bare bones when he observed that it had only two parts:

● statement

● proof

You could do worse, in examining an argument, than to make sure that every claim a writer makes is backed by sufficient evidence. Some argu- ments are written on the fly in the heat of the moment. Most arguments that you read and write, however, will be more than mere statements followed by proofs. Some writers will lay their cards on the table imme- diately; others may lead you carefully through a chain of claims toward a conclusion. Writers may even interrupt their arguments to offer back- ground information or cultural contexts for readers. Sometimes they’ll tell stories or provide anecdotes that make an argumentative point. They’ll qualify the arguments they make, too, and often pause to admit that other points of view are plausible.

In other words, there are no formulas or acceptable patterns that fit all successful arguments. In writing a rhetorical analysis, you’ll have to assess the organization of a persuasive text on its own merits.

It’s fair, however, to complain about what may be absent from an argu- ment. Most arguments of proposal (see Chapter 12), for example, include a section that defends the feasibility of a new idea, explaining how it might be funded or managed. In a rhetorical analysis, you might fault an editorial that supports a new stadium for a city without addressing fea- sibility issues. Similarly, analyzing a movie review that reads like an off- the-top-of-the-head opinion, you might legitimately ask what criteria of evaluation are in play (see Chapter 10).

Rhetorical analysis also calls for you to look carefully at an argu- ment’s transitions, headings and subheadings, documentation of sources, and overall tone or voice. Don’t take such details for granted, since all of them contribute to the strength — or weakness — of an argument.

Nor should you ignore the way a writer or an institution uses media. Would an argument originally made in a print editorial, for instance, work better as a digital presentation (or vice versa)? Would a lengthy paper have more power if it included more images? Or do these images distract from a written argument’s substance?

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Finally, be open to the possibility of new or nontraditional structures of arguments. The visual arguments that you analyze may defy conven- tional principles of logic or arrangement — for example, making juxtapo- sitions rather than logical transitions between elements or using quick cuts, fades, or other devices to link ideas. Quite often, these nontradi- tional structures will also resist the neatness of a thesis, leaving readers to construct at least a part of the argument in their heads. As we saw with the “God Made a Farmer” spot at the beginning of this chapter, advertisers are growing fond of soft-sell multimedia productions that can seem like something other than what they really are — product pitches. We may be asked not just to buy a product but also to live its lifestyle or embrace its ethos. Is that a reasonable or workable strategy for an argument? Your analysis might entertain such possibilities.

looking at Style

Even a coherent argument full of sound evidence may not connect with readers if it’s dull, off-key, or offensive. Readers naturally judge the cred- ibility of arguments in part by how stylishly the case is made — even when they don’t know exactly what style is (for more on style, see Chap- ter 13). Consider how these simple, blunt sentences from the opening of an argument shape your image of the author and probably determine whether you’re willing to continue to read the whole piece:

We are young, urban, and professional. We are literate, respectable, intel- ligent, and charming. But foremost and above all, we are unemployed.

— Julia Carlisle, “Young, Privileged, and Unemployed”

The strong, straightforward tone and the stark juxtaposition of being “intelligent” with “unemployed” set the style for this letter to the editor.

Now consider the brutally sarcastic tone of Nathaniel Stein’s hilari- ous parody of the Harvard grading policy, a piece he wrote following up on a professor’s complaint of out-of-control grade inflation at the school. Stein borrows the formal language of a typical “grading standards” sheet to mock the decline in rigor that the professor has lamented:

The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement.

For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistin- guishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 103

stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats. . . .

An overall course grade of A+ is reserved for those students who have not only demonstrated outstanding achievement in coursework but have also asked very nicely.

Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

— Nathaniel Stein, “Leaked! Harvard’s Grading Rubric”

Both styles probably work, but they signal that the writers are about to make very different kinds of cases. Here, style alone tells readers what to expect.

Manipulating style also enables writers to shape readers’ responses to their ideas. Devices as simple as repetition, parallelism, or even para- graph length can give sentences remarkable power. Consider this pas- sage from an essay by Sherman Alexie in which he explores the complex reaction of straight men to the announcement of NBA star Jason Collins that he is gay:

Homophobic basketball fans will disparage his skills, somehow equat- ing his NBA benchwarmer status with his sexuality. But let’s not forget that Collins is still one of the best 1,000 basketball players in the world. He has always been better than his modest statistics would indicate, and his teams have been dramatically more efficient with him on the court. He is better at hoops than 99.9 percent of you are at anything you do. He might not be a demigod, but he’s certainly a semi- demigod. Moreover, his basketball colleagues universally praise him as a physically and mentally tough player. In his prime, he ably bat- tled that behemoth known as Shaquille O’Neal. Most of all, Collins is widely regarded as one of the finest gentlemen to ever play the game. Generous, wise, and supportive, he’s a natural leader. And he has a degree from Stanford University.

In other words, he’s a highly attractive dude. — Sherman Alexie, “Jason Collins Is the Envy of

Straight Men Everywhere”

In this passage, Alexie uses a sequence of short, direct, and roughly par- allel sentences (“He is . . . He might . . . He ably battled . . . He has”) to present evidence justifying the playful point he makes in a pointedly

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emphatic, one-sentence paragraph. The remainder of his short essay then amplifies that point.

In a rhetorical analysis, you can explore such stylistic choices. Why does a formal style work for discussing one type of subject matter but not another? How does a writer use humor or irony to underscore an important point or to manage a difficult concession? Do stylistic choices, even something as simple as the use of contractions or personal pro- nouns, bring readers close to a writer, or do technical words and an impersonal voice signal that an argument is for experts only?

To describe the stylistic effects of visual arguments, you may use a different vocabulary and talk about colors, camera angles, editing, bal- ance, proportion, fonts, perspective, and so on. But the basic principle is this: the look of an item — whether a poster, an editorial cartoon, or a film documentary — can support the message that it carries, undermine it, or muddle it. In some cases, the look will be the message. In a rhetori- cal analysis, you can’t ignore style.

Jason collins © Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports Images

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 105

this poster, promoting travel to the bicycle-friendly city of Münster, Germany, demonstrates visually the amount of space needed to transport the same number of people by car, bicycle, and bus. Foto Presseamt Münster, City of Münster, Press Office

R E S P O N D. Find a recent example of a visual argument, either in print or on the Inter- net. Even though you may have a copy of the image, describe it carefully in your paper on the assumption that your description is all readers may have to go on. Then make a judgment about its effectiveness, supporting your claim with clear evidence from the “text.”

Examining a Rhetorical Analysis

On the following pages, well-known political commentator and colum- nist for the New York Times David Brooks argues that today’s college grad- uates have been poorly prepared for life after school because of what he sees as a radical excess of supervision. Responding to his argument with a detailed analysis is Rachel Kolb, a student at Stanford University.

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It’s not about You


Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent

another class of graduates off into the world. These

graduates possess something of inestimable value.

Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give

away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and

begin adulthood anew.

But, especially this year, one is conscious of the

many ways in which this year’s graduating class has

been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job

market, the hangover from decades of excessive bor-

rowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely

structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised

generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage

years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an

unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly

wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married,

buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will

confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle

niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to

clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare

people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has

emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environ-

ment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast

out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which

they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-

boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the com-

mencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see

© David Levene/ eyevine/Redux Pictures


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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 107

that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own

course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and

find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still

the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of

limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of

adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful

young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse,

a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and


Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue

their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first

and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age

22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a

developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life.

They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A rela-

tive suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure

that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must

develop management skills so his department can function. Another

young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never

thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans,

but this is where she can make her contribution.

Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a

problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.

The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course,

when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things

that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they

did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and

miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s

excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.

Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express

their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means sup-

pressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural

address . . . at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means

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being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a

regimented checklist.

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the cen-

ter of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a

life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage

their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and

most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that

life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into

some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

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Understanding Brooks’s Binaries

RAChEl kolB

As a high school and college student, I was given an incred- ible range of educational and extracurricular options, from interdisciplinary studies to summer institutes to student- organized clubs. Although today’s students have more opportunities to adapt their educations to their specific personal goals, as I did, David Brooks argues that the struc- ture of the modern educational system nevertheless leaves young people ill-prepared to meet the challenges of the real world. In his New York Times editorial “It’s Not about You,” Brooks illustrates excessive supervision and uncontrolled individualistic rhetoric as opposing problems that complicate young people’s entry into adult life, which then becomes less of a natural progression than an out- right paradigm shift. Brooks’s argument itself mimics the pattern of moving from “perversely structured” youth to “unprecedentedly wide open” adulthood: it operates on the basis of binary oppositions, raising familiar notions about how to live one’s life and then dismantling them. Throughout, the piece relies less on factual evidence than on Brooks’s own authoritative tone and skill in using rhe- torical devices.

In his editorial, Brooks objects to mainstream cultural messages that sell students on individuality, but bases his conclusions more on general observations than on specific facts. His argument is, in itself, a loose form of rhetorical analysis. It opens by telling us to “sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days,” where we will find messages such as: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.” As though moving down a checklist, it then scrutinizes the problems with this rhetoric of “expressive individualism.” Finally, it turns to Atul Gawande’s “countercultural address” about working collectively, en route to confronting the

connects article to personal experience to create an ethical appeal.

Provides brief overview of Brooks’s argument. states Brooks’s central claim.

transition sentence.

Courtesy of Rachel Kolb


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individualism of modern America. C-Span and Harvard Medical School aside, however, Brooks’s argument is astonishingly short on external sources. He cites no basis for claims such as “this year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history” or “most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life,” despite the fact that these claims are funda- mental to his observations. Instead, his argument per- suades through painting a picture — first of “limitless possibilities,” then of young men and women called into action by problems that “summon their life” — and hoping that we will find the illustration familiar.

Instead of relying on the logos of his argument, Brooks assumes that his position as a baby boomer and New York Times columnist will provide a sufficient enough ethos to validate his claims. If this impression of age and social sta- tus did not enter our minds along with his bespectacled portrait, Brooks reminds us of it. Although he refers to the theology of the baby boomer generation as the “worst of all,” from the beginning of his editorial he allots himself as another “sensible middle-aged person” and distances him- self from college graduates by referring to them as “they” or as “today’s grads,” contrasting with his more inclusive reader-directed “you.” Combined with his repeated use of passive sentence constructions that create a confusing sense of responsibility (“The graduates are sent off into the world”; “graduates are told”), this sense of distance could be alienating to the younger audiences for which this edi- torial seems intended. Granted, Brooks compensates for it by embracing themes of “excellence” and “fulfillment” and by opening up his message to “most of us” in his final paragraph, but nevertheless his self-defined persona has its limitations. Besides dividing his audience, Brooks risks reminding us that, just as his observations belong only to this persona, his arguments apply only to a subset of American society. More specifically, they apply only to the well-educated middle to upper class who might be more likely to fret after the implications of “supervision” and

comments criti- cally on author’s use of evidence.

analyzes author’s intended audience.

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 111

“possibilities,” or the readers who would be most likely to flip through the New York Times.

Brooks overcomes his limitations in logos and ethos through his piece’s greatest strength: its style. He effec- tively frames cultural messages in binaries in order to rein- force the disconnect that exists between what students are told and what they will face as full members of society. Throughout his piece, he states one assumption after another, then prompts us to consider its opposite. “Serious things” immediately take the place of “rapturous talk”; “look[ing] inside” replaces “look[ing] outside”; “suppressing yourself” becomes an alternative to being “independent- minded.” Brooks’s argument is consumed with dichoto- mies, culminating with his statement “It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.” He frames his ideas within a tight framework of repetition and parallel struc- ture, creating muscular prose intended to engage his read- ers. His repeated use of the phrase “but, of course” serves as a metronomic reminder, at once echoing his earlier assertions and referring back to his air of authority.

Brooks illustrates the power of words in swaying an audience, and in his final paragraph his argument shifts beyond commentary. Having tested our way of thinking, he now challenges us to change. His editorial closes with one final binary, the claim that “The purpose in life is not to find yourself” but “to lose yourself.” And, although some of Brooks’s previous binaries have clanged with oversimplifi- cation, this one rings truer. In accordance with his adop- tion of the general “you,” his concluding message need not apply only to college graduates. By unfettering its restric- tions at its climax, Brooks liberates his argument. After all, only we readers bear the responsibility of reflecting, of jus- tifying, and ultimately of determining how to live our lives.

Work Cited

Brooks, David. “It’s Not about You.” Everything’s an Argument. By Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford, 2016. 106–8. Print. Rpt. of “It’s Not about You.” New York Times 30 May 2011.

closely analyzes Brooks’s style.

analyzes author’s conclusion.

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● Finding a topic

A rhetorical analysis is usually assigned: you’re asked to show how an argu-

ment works and to assess its effectiveness. When you can choose your own

subject for analysis, look for one or more of the following qualities:

• a complex verbal or visual argument that challenges you — or disturbs or

pleases you

• a text that raises current or enduring issues of substance

• a text that you believe should be taken more seriously

Look for arguments to analyze in the editorial and op-ed pages of any news-

paper, political magazines such as the Nation or National Review, Web sites of

organizations and interest groups, political blogs such as Huffington Post or

Power Line, corporate Web sites that post their TV ad spots, videos and state-

ments posted to YouTube, and so on.

● Researching Your topic

Once you’ve got a text to analyze, find out all you can about it. Use library or

Web resources to explore:

• who the author is and what his or her credentials are

• if the author is an institution, what it does, what its sources of funding

are, who its members are, and so on

• who is publishing or sponsoring the piece, and what the organization typ-

ically publishes

• what the leanings or biases of the author and publisher might be

• what the context of the argument is — what preceded or provoked it and

how others have responded to it

● Formulating a Claim

Begin with a hypothesis. A full thesis might not become evident until you’re

well into your analysis, but your final thesis should reflect the complexity of

the piece that you’re studying. In developing a thesis, consider questions

such as the following:

to writing a rhetorical analysisgUIDE

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 113

• How can I describe what this argument achieves?

• What is the purpose, and is it accomplished?

• What audiences does the argument address and what audiences does it

ignore, and why?

• Which of its rhetorical features will likely influence readers most: ethos of

the author? emotional appeals? logical progression? style?

• What aspects of the argument work better than others?

• How do the rhetorical elements interact?

Here’s the hardest part for most writers of rhetorical analyses: whether you

agree or disagree with an argument usually doesn’t matter in a rhetorical

analysis. You’ve got to stay out of the fray and pay attention only to how — and

to how well — the argument works.

● Examples of Possible Claims for a Rhetorical Analysis

• Some people admire the directness and confidence of Hillary Clinton;

others are put off by her bland and sometimes tone-deaf rhetoric. A close

look at several of her speeches and public appearances will illuminate

both sides of this debate.

• Today’s editorial in the Daily Collegian about campus crimes may scare

first-year students, but its anecdotal reporting doesn’t get down to hard

numbers — and for a good reason. Those statistics don’t back the position

taken by the editors.

• The imageboard 4chan has been called an “Internet hate machine,” yet

others claim it as a great boon to creativity. A close analysis of its home-

page can help to settle this debate.

• The original design of New York’s Freedom Tower, with its torqued sur-

faces and evocative spire, made a stronger argument about American val-

ues than its replacement, a fortress-like skyscraper stripped of imagination

and unable to make any statement except “I’m 1,776 feet tall.”

● Preparing a Proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your rhetorical analysis,

here’s a format you might use:

• Provide a copy of the work you’re analyzing, whether it’s a print text, a

photograph, a digital image, or a URL, for instance.

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• Offer a working hypothesis or tentative thesis.

• Indicate which rhetorical components seem especially compelling and

worthy of detailed study and any connections between elements. For

example, does the piece seem to emphasize facts and logic so much that

it becomes disconnected from potential audiences? If so, hint at that pos-

sibility in your proposal.

• Indicate background information you intend to research about the author,

institution, and contexts (political, economic, social, and religious) of the


• Define the audience you’d like to reach. If you’re responding to an assign-

ment, you may be writing primarily for a teacher and classmates. But they

make up a complex audience in themselves. If you can do so within the

spirit of the assignment, imagine that your analysis will be published in a

local newspaper, Web site, or blog.

• Conclude by briefly discussing the key challenges you anticipate in pre-

paring a rhetorical analysis.

● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your rhetorical analysis? Does it call for

an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or something else?

• What medium is most appropriate for your analysis? Would it be best

delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod-

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs,

charts — and what function will they play in your analysis? Make sure

they are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the


● thinking about organization

Your rhetorical analysis is likely to include the following:

• Facts about the text you’re analyzing: Provide the author’s name; the title

or name of the work; its place of publication or its location; the date it was

published or viewed.

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 115

• Contexts for the argument: Readers need to know where the text is com-

ing from, to what it may be responding, in what controversies it might be

embroiled, and so on. Don’t assume that they can infer the important

contextual elements.

• A synopsis of the text that you’re analyzing: If you can’t attach the origi-

nal argument, you must summarize it in enough detail so that a reader

can imagine it. Even if you attach a copy of the piece, the analysis should

include a summary.

• Some claim about the work’s rhetorical effectiveness: It might be a simple

evaluative claim or something more complex. The claim can come early in

the paper, or you might build up to it, providing the evidence that leads

toward the conclusion you’ve reached.

• A detailed analysis of how the argument works: Although you’ll probably

analyze rhetorical components separately, don’t let your analysis become

a dull roster of emotional, ethical, and logical appeals. Your rhetorical

analysis should be an argument itself that supports a claim; a simple list

of rhetorical appeals won’t make much of a point.

• Evidence for every part of the analysis.

• An assessment of alternative views and counterarguments to your own


● getting and giving Response: Questions for Peer Response

If you have access to a writing center, discuss the text that you intend to ana-

lyze with a writing consultant before you write the paper. Try to find people

who agree with the argument and others who disagree, and take notes on

their observations. Your instructor may assign you to a peer group for the

purpose of reading and responding to one another’s drafts; if not, share your

draft with someone on your own. You can use the following questions to

evaluate a draft. If you’re evaluating someone else’s draft, be sure to illustrate

your points with examples. Specific comments are always more helpful than

general observations.

The Claim

• Does the claim address the rhetorical effectiveness of the argument itself

rather than the opinion or position that it takes?

• Is the claim significant enough to interest readers?

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• Does the claim indicate important relationships between various rhetori-

cal components?

• Would the claim be one that the creator of the piece would regard as seri-

ous criticism?

Evidence for the Claim

• Is enough evidence given to support all your claims? What evidence do

you still need?

• Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are its sig-

nificance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed discussion


• Do you use appropriate evidence, drawn from the argument itself or from

other materials?

• Do you address objections readers might have to the claim, criteria, or


• What kinds of sources might you use to explain the context of the argu-

ment? Do you need to use sources to check factual claims made in the


• Are all quotations introduced with appropriate signal phrases (for

instance, “As Áida Álvarez points out”), and do they merge smoothly into

your sentences?

Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? How effective is this orga-

nization? Would some other structure work better?

• Will readers understand the relationships among the original text, your

claims, your supporting reasons, and the evidence you’ve gathered (from

the original text and any other sources you’ve used)? If not, what could be

done to make those connections clearer? Are more transitional words and

phrases needed? Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


• Is the style suited to the subject and appropriate to your audience? Is it

too formal? Too casual? Too technical? Too bland or boring?

• Which sentences seem particularly effective? Which ones seem weakest,

and how could they be improved? Should some short sentences be com-

bined, or should any long ones be separated into two or more sentences?

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C h a p t e r 6 RhetoRical analysis 117

• How effective are the paragraphs? Do any seem too skimpy or too long?

Do they break the analysis at strategic points?

• Which words or phrases seem particularly effective, accurate, and power-

ful? Do any seem dull, vague, unclear, or inappropriate for the audience or

your purpose? Are definitions provided for technical or other terms that

readers might not know?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Check the spelling of the author’s name, and make sure that the name

of any institution involved with the work is correct. Note that the names

of many corporations and institutions use distinctive spelling and


• Get the title of the text you’re analyzing right.

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Does the assignment require a specific format? Check the original assign-

ment sheet to be sure.

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R E S P O N D. Find an argument on the editorial page or op-ed page in a recent newspa- per. Then analyze it rhetorically, using principles discussed in this chapter. Show how it succeeds, fails, or does something else entirely. Perhaps you can show that the author is unusually successful in connecting with read- ers but then has nothing to say. Or perhaps you discover that the strong logical appeal is undercut by a contradictory emotional argument. Be sure that the analysis includes a summary of the original essay and basic publi- cation information about it (its author, place of publication, and publisher).

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Arguments Argument

argument argumentsWRiTing

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Structuring Arguments 7

These two sets of statements illustrate the most basic ways in which Western culture structures logical arguments. The first piles up specific examples and draws a conclusion from them: that’s inductive reasoning and structure. The second sets out a general principle (the major prem- ise of a syllogism) and applies it to a specific case (the minor premise) in order to reach a conclusion: that’s deductive reasoning and structure. In everyday reasoning, we often omit the middle statement, resulting in what Aristotle called an enthymeme: “Since dairy products make me sick, I better leave that ice cream alone.” (See p. 65 for more on enthymemes.)

But the arguments you will write in college call for more than just the careful critical thinking offered within inductive and deductive reason- ing. You will also need to define claims, explain the contexts in which you are offering them, consider counterarguments fairly and carefully, defend your assumptions, offer convincing evidence, appeal to particular audi- ences, and more. And you will have to do so using a clear structure that moves your argument forward. This chapter introduces you to three helpful ways to structure arguments. Feel free to borrow from all of them!

I get hives after eating ice cream. My mouth swells up when I eat cheese. Yogurt triggers my asthma.

Dairy products make me sick.

Dairy products make me sick. Ice cream is a dairy product.

Ice cream makes me sick.

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The Classical Oration

The authors of this book once examined a series of engineering reports and found that — to their great surprise — these reports were generally structured in ways similar to those used by Greek and Roman rhetors two thousand years ago. Thus, this ancient structuring system is alive and well in twenty-first-century culture. The classical oration has six parts, most of which will be familiar to you, despite their Latin names:

Exordium: You try to win the attention and goodwill of an audience while introducing a topic or problem.

Narratio: You present the facts of the case, explaining what happened when, who is involved, and so on. The narratio puts an argument in context.

Partitio: You divide up the topic, explaining what the claim is, what the key issues are, and in what order they will be treated.

Confirmatio: You offer detailed support for the claim, using both logical reasoning and factual evidence.

Refutatio: You carefully consider and respond to opposing claims or evidence.

Peroratio: You summarize the case and move the audience to action.

danah boyd and Kate Crawford

provide a narratio that establishes

a context for their argument when

they examine the motivations behind

Big Data in Six Provocations for Big


link TO p. 754

That’s Life used with the permission of Mike Twohy and The Cartoonist Group. All rights reserved.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 123

This structure is powerful because it covers all the bases: readers or lis- teners want to know what your topic is, how you intend to cover it, and what evidence you have to offer. And you probably need a reminder to present a pleasing ethos when beginning a presentation and to conclude with enough pathos to win an audience over completely. Here, in outline form, is a five-part updated version of the classical pattern, which you may find useful on many occasions:


● gains readers’ interest and willingness to listen

● establishes your qualifications to write about your topic

● establishes some common ground with your audience

● demonstrates that you’re fair and even-handed

● states your claim


● presents information, including personal stories or anecdotes that are important to your argument

lines of Argument

● presents good reasons, including logical and emotional appeals, in support of your claim

Alternative Arguments

● carefully considers alternative points of view and opposing arguments

● notes the advantages and disadvantages of these views

● explains why your view is preferable to others


● summarizes the argument

● elaborates on the implications of your claim

● makes clear what you want the audience to think or do

● reinforces your credibility and perhaps offers an emotional appeal

Not every piece of rhetoric, past or present, follows the structure of the oration or includes all its components. But you can identify some of its

07_LUN_9864_ch07_119_150.indd 123 6/19/15 2:18 PM


elements in successful arguments if you pay attention to their design. Here are the words of the 1776 Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes nec-

essary for one people to dissolve the political bands

which have connected them with another, and to

assume among the powers of the earth, the separate

and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of

Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opin-

ions of mankind requires that they should declare the

causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men

are created equal, that they are endowed by their Cre-

ator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these

are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness — that to

secure these rights, Governments are instituted among

Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the

governed — That whenever any Form of Government

becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the

People to alter or to abolish it and to institute new Gov-

ernment, laying its Foundation on such principles and

organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall

seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long

established should not be changed for light and tran-

sient causes; and accordingly all experience hath

shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while

evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abol-

ishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But

when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing

invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce

them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is

their duty, to throw off such Government and to

Opens with a brief exordium explaining why the document is necessary, invoking a broad audience in acknowledging a need to show “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” important in this case, the lines that follow explain the assumptions on which the document rests.

A narratio follows, offering background on the situation: because the government of george iii has become destructive, the framers of the Declaration are obligated to abolish their allegiance to him.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 125

provide new Guards for their future security. — Such

has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and

such is now the necessity which constrains them to

alter their former Systems of Government. The history

of the present King of Great Britain is a history of

repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct

object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over

these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a

candid world. — Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

The authors might have structured this argument by beginning with the last two sentences of the excerpt and then listing the facts intended to prove the king’s abuse and tyranny. But by choosing first to explain the purpose and “self-evident” assumptions behind their argument and only then moving on to demonstrate how these “truths” have been denied by the British, the authors forge an immediate connection with readers and build up to the memorable conclusion. The structure is both familiar and inventive — as your own use of key elements of the oration should be in the arguments you compose.

Arguably, the partitio begins here, followed by the longest part of the document (not reprinted here), a confirmatio that lists the “long train of abuses and usurpations” by george iii.

the Declaration of independence National Archives

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Rogerian and invitational Arguments

In trying to find an alternative to confrontational and angry arguments like those that so often erupt in legislative bodies around the world, scholars and teachers of rhetoric have adapted the nonconfrontational principles employed by psychologist Carl Rogers in personal therapy sessions. In simple terms, Rogers argued that people involved in dis- putes should not respond to each other until they could fully, fairly, and even sympathetically state the other person’s position. Scholars of rhet- oric Richard E. Young, Alton L. Becker, and Kenneth L. Pike developed a four-part structure that is now known as Rogerian argument:

1. Introduction: You describe an issue, a problem, or a conflict in terms rich enough to show that you fully understand and respect any alter- native position or positions.

2. Contexts: You describe the contexts in which alternative positions may be valid.

3. Writer’s position: You state your position on the issue and present the circumstances in which that opinion would be valid.

4. Benefits to opponent: You explain to opponents how they would ben- efit from adopting your position.

The key to Rogerian argumentation is a willingness to think about opposing positions and to describe them fairly. In a Rogerian structure, you have to acknowledge that alternatives to your claims exist and that they might be reasonable under certain circumstances. In tone, Rogerian arguments steer clear of heated and stereotypical language, emphasiz- ing instead how all parties in a dispute might gain from working together.

In the same vein, feminist scholars Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin have outlined a form of argument they label “invitational,” one that begins with careful attention to and respect for the person or the audience you are in conversation with. Foss and Griffin show that such listening — in effect, walking in the other person’s shoes — helps you see that person’s points of view more clearly and thoroughly and thus offers a basis for moving together toward new understandings. The kind of argument they describe is what another rhetorician, Krista Ratcliffe, calls “rhetori- cal listening,” which helps to establish productive connections between people and thus helps enable effective cross-cultural communications.

Invitational rhetoric has as its goal not winning over opponents but getting people and groups to work together and identify with each other;

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 127

it strives for connection, collaboration, and the mutually informed cre- ation of knowledge. As feminist scholar Sally Miller Gearhart puts it, invitational argument offers a way to disagree without hurting one another, to disagree with respect. This kind of argument is especially important in a society that increasingly depends on successful collabo- ration to get things done. In college, you may have opportunities to prac- tice invitational rhetoric in peer-review sessions, when each member of a group listens carefully in order to work through problems and issues. You may also practice invitational rhetoric looking at any contested issue from other people’s points of view, taking them into account, and engaging them fairly and respectfully in your own argument. Students we know who are working in high-tech industries also tell us how much such arguments are valued, since they fuel innovation and “out of the box” thinking.

Invitational arguments, then, call up structures that more resemble good two-way conversations or free-ranging dialogues than straight-line marches from thesis to conclusion. Even conventional arguments bene- fit from invitational strategies by giving space early on to a full range of perspectives, making sure to present them thoroughly and clearly. Remember that in such arguments your goal is enhanced understanding so that you can open up a space for new perceptions and fresh ideas.

Consider how Frederick Douglass tried to broaden the outlook of his audiences when he delivered a Fourth of July oration in 1852. Most nineteenth-century Fourth of July speeches followed a pattern of prais- ing the Revolutionary War heroes and emphasizing freedom, democracy, and justice. Douglass, a former slave, had that tradition in mind as he delivered his address, acknowledging the “great principles” that the “glo- rious anniversary” celebrates. But he also asked his (white) listeners to see the occasion from another point of view:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? . . . I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high inde- pendence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.

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The rich inheritance of justice, lib- erty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

— Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Although his speech is in some ways confrontational, Douglass is also invit- ing his audience to see a version of reality that they could have discov- ered on their own had they dared to imagine the lives of African Ameri- cans living in the shadows of Ameri-

can liberty. Issuing that invitation, and highlighting its consequences, points a way forward in the conflict between slavery and freedom, black and white, oppression and justice, although response to Douglass’s invi- tation was a long time in coming.

In May 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama used elements of invita- tional argument in delivering a speech to high school graduates from several high schools in Topeka, Kansas. Since the speech occurred on the sixtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to disallow “separate but equal” schools in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which was initiated in Topeka, Mrs. Obama invited the audience to experience the ups and downs of students before and after the deci- sion, putting themselves in the places of the young African Americans who, in 1954, desperately wanted the freedom to attend well-funded schools open to white students. So she tells the stories of some of these young people, inviting those there to walk a while in their shoes. And she concludes her speech with a call for understanding and cooperation:

Every day, you have the same power to choose our better history — by opening your hearts and minds, by speaking up for what you know is right, by sharing the lessons of Brown v. Board of Education, the lessons you learned right here in Topeka, wherever you go for the rest of our lives. I know you all can do it. I am so proud of all of you, and I cannot wait to see everything you achieve in the years ahead.

Frederick Douglass © World History Archive/Alamy

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 129

In this speech, Mrs. Obama did not castigate audience members for fail- ing to live up to the ideals of Brown v. Board of Education (though she could have done so), nor does she dwell on current ills in Topeka. Rather, she invokes “our better history” and focuses on the ways those in Topeka have helped to write that history. She identifies with her audience and asks them to identify with her — and she aims to inspire the young grad- uates to follow her example.

The use of invitational argument and careful listening in contempo- rary political life are rare, but in spite of much evidence to the contrary (think of the repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness of political attack ads), the public claims to prefer nonpartisan and invitational rhetoric to one-on-one, winner-take-all battles, suggesting that such an approach strikes a chord in many people, especially in a world that is increasingly open to issues of diversity. The lesson to take from Rogerian or invita- tional argument is that it makes good sense in structuring your own arguments to learn opposing positions well enough to state them accu- rately and honestly, to strive to understand the points of view of your opponents, to acknowledge those views fairly in your own work, and to look for solutions that benefit as many people as possible.

R E S P O N D. Choose a controversial topic that is frequently in the news, and decide how you might structure an argument on the subject, using the general principles of the classical oration. Then look at the same subject from a Rogerian or invitational perspective. How might your argument differ? Which approach would work better for your topic? For the audiences you might want to address?

michelle Obama speaking in topeka, Kansas AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

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Toulmin Argument

In The Uses of Argument (1958), British philosopher Stephen Toulmin pre- sented structures to describe the way that ordinary people make rea- sonable arguments. Because Toulmin’s system acknowledges the complications of life — situations when we qualify our thoughts with words such as sometimes, often, presumably, unless, and almost — his method isn’t as airtight as formal logic that uses syllogisms (see p. 121 in this chapter and p. 63 in Chapter 4). But for that reason, Toulmin logic has become a powerful and, for the most part, practical tool for under- standing and shaping arguments in the real world.

Toulmin argument will help you come up with and test ideas and also figure out what goes where in many kinds of arguments. Let’s take a look at the basic elements of Toulmin’s structure:

Claim the argument you wish to prove

Qualifiers any limits you place on your claim



support for your claim

Warrants underlying assumptions that support your claim

Backing evidence for warrant

If you wanted to state the relationship between them in a sentence, you might say:

My claim is true, to a qualified degree, because of the following rea- sons, which make sense if you consider the warrant, backed by these additional reasons.

These terms — claim, evidence, warrants, backing, and qualifiers — are the building blocks of the Toulmin argument structure. Let’s take them one at a time.

Making Claims

Toulmin arguments begin with claims, debatable and controversial statements or assertions you hope to prove.

A claim answers the question So what’s your point? or Where do you stand on that? Some writers might like to ignore these questions and avoid stating a position. But when you make a claim worth writing about, then it’s worth standing up and owning it.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 131

Is there a danger that you might oversimplify an issue by making too bold a claim? Of course. But making that sweeping claim is a logical first step toward eventually saying something more reasonable and subtle. Here are some fairly simple, undeveloped claims:

Congress should enact legislation that establishes a path to citizen- ship for illegal immigrants.

It’s time for the World Health Organization (WHO) to exert leadership in coordinating efforts to stem the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

NASA should launch a human expedition to Mars.

Veganism is the most responsible choice of diet.

Military insurance should not cover the cost of sex change surgery for service men and women.

Good claims often spring from personal experiences. You may have rel- evant work or military or athletic experience — or you may know a lot about music, film, sustainable agriculture, social networking, inequities in government services — all fertile ground for authoritative, debatable, and personally relevant claims.

R E S P O N D. Claims aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes they’re buried deep within an argument, and sometimes they’re not present at all. An important skill in reading and writing arguments is the ability to identify claims, even when they aren’t obvious.

Collect a sample of six to eight letters to the editor of a daily newspaper (or a similar number of argumentative postings from a political blog). Read each item, and then identify every claim that the writer makes. When you’ve compiled your list of claims, look carefully at the words that the writer or writers use when stating their positions. Is there a common vocabulary? Can you find words or phrases that signal an impending claim? Which of these seem most effective? Which ones seem least effective? Why?

Offering Evidence and Good Reasons

You can begin developing a claim by drawing up a list of reasons to sup- port it or finding evidence that backs up the point.

Evidence and Reason(s) So Claim

academic arguments such as

“playing with prejudice: the

prevalence and Consequences of

racial Stereotypes in Video Games”

by Melinda C. r. Burgess et al. often

closely follow the toulmin structure,

making sure that their claims are well


link TO p. 551

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One student writer wanted to gather good reasons in support of an assertion that his college campus needed more official spaces for park- ing bicycles. He did some research, gathering statistics about parking- space allocation, numbers of people using particular designated slots, and numbers of bicycles registered on campus. Before he went any fur- ther, however, he listed his primary reasons for wanting to increase bicycle parking:

● Personal experience: At least twice a week for two terms, he was unable to find a designated parking space for his bike.

● Anecdotes: Several of his friends told similar stories. One even sold her bike as a result.

● Facts: He found out that the ratio of car to bike parking spaces was 100 to 1, whereas the ratio of cars to bikes registered on campus was 25 to 1.

● Authorities: The campus police chief told the college newspaper that she believed a problem existed for students who tried to park bicycles legally.

On the basis of his preliminary listing of possible reasons in support of the claim, this student decided that his subject was worth more research. He was on the way to amassing a set of good reasons and evidence that were sufficient to support his claim.

In shaping your own arguments, try putting claims and reasons together early in the writing process to create enthymemes. Think of these enthymemes as test cases or even as topic sentences:

Bicycle parking spaces should be expanded because the number of bikes on campus far exceeds the available spots.

It’s time to lower the driving age because I’ve been driving since I was fourteen and it hasn’t hurt me.

National legalization of marijuana is long overdue since it is already legal in over twenty states, has shown to be less harmful than alcohol, and provides effective relief from pain associated with cancer.

Violent video games should be carefully evaluated and their use mon- itored by the industry, the government, and parents because these games cause addiction and psychological harm to players.

As you can see, attaching a reason to a claim often spells out the major terms of an argument.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 133

But your work is just beginning when you’ve put a claim together with its supporting reasons and evidence — because readers are certain to begin questioning your statement. They might ask whether the rea- sons and evidence that you’re offering really do support the claim: should the driving age really be changed just because you’ve managed to drive since you were fourteen? They might ask pointed questions about your evidence: exactly how do you know that the number of bikes on campus far exceeds the number of spaces available? Eventually, you’ve got to address potential questions about the quality of your assumptions and the quality of your evidence. The connection between claim and reason(s) is a concern at the next level in Toulmin argument.

Determining Warrants

Crucial to Toulmin argument is appreciating that there must be a logical and persuasive connection between a claim and the reasons and data supporting it. Toulmin calls this connection the warrant. It answers the question How exactly do I get from the data to the claim? Like the warrant in legal situations (a search warrant, for example), a sound warrant in an argument gives you authority to proceed with your case.

Anticipate challenges to your claims. © 2009 Charles Barsotti/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

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So ClaimReason(s)

Since Warrant

The warrant tells readers what your (often unstated) assumptions are — for example, that any practice that causes serious disease should be banned by the government. If readers accept your warrant, you can then present specific evidence to develop your claim. But if readers dis- pute your warrant, you’ll have to defend it before you can move on to the claim itself.

Stating warrants can be tricky because they can be phrased in various ways. What you’re looking for is the general principle that enables you to justify the move from a reason to a specific claim — the bridge connect- ing them. The warrant is the assumption that makes the claim seem believable. It’s often a value or principle that you share with your read- ers. Here’s an easy example:

Don’t eat that mushroom: it’s poisonous.

The warrant supporting this enthymeme can be stated in several ways, always moving from the reason (it’s poisonous) to the claim (Don’t eat that mushroom):

Anything that is poisonous shouldn’t be eaten.

If something is poisonous, it’s dangerous to eat.

Here’s the relationship, diagrammed:


So don’t eat it!


The mushroom is poisonous.

Since (Warrant)

Eating poisonous things is dangerous.

In “Little Girls or Little Women? the

Disney princess effect,” Stephanie

hanes interviews blogger and mom

Mary Finucane, who believes that

girls’ princess obsession is harmful to

their development as strong women.

What warrants lie behind this claim?

link TO p. 509

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 135

Perfectly obvious, you say? Exactly — and that’s why the statement is so convincing. If the mushroom in question is a death cap or destroying angel (and you might still need expert testimony to prove that it is), the warrant does the rest of the work, making the claim that it supports seem logical and persuasive.

Let’s look at a similar example, beginning with the argument in its basic form:

We’d better stop for gas because the gauge has been reading empty for more than thirty miles.

In this case, you have evidence that is so clear (a gas gauge reading empty) that the reason for getting gas doesn’t even have to be stated: the tank is almost empty. The warrant connecting the evidence to the claim is also pretty obvious:

If the fuel gauge of a car has been reading empty for more than thirty miles, then that car is about to run out of gas.

Since most readers would accept this warrant as reasonable, they would also likely accept the statement the warrant supports.

Naturally, factual information might undermine the whole argument: the fuel gauge might be broken, or the driver might know that the car will go another fifty miles even though the fuel gauge reads empty. But in most cases, readers would accept the warrant.

Now let’s consider how stating and then examining a warrant can help you determine the grounds on which you want to make a case. Here’s a political enthymeme of a familiar sort:

Flat taxes are fairer than progressive taxes because they treat all tax- payers in the same way.

A simple icon — a skull and crossbones — can make a visual argument that implies a claim, a reason, and a warrant. PhotoLink/Getty Images

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Warrants that follow from this enthymeme have power because they appeal to a core American value — equal treatment under the law:

Treating people equitably is the American way.

All people should be treated in the same way.

You certainly could make an argument on these grounds. But stating the warrant should also raise a flag if you know anything about tax policy. If the principle is obvious and universal, then why do federal and many progressive state income taxes require people at higher levels of income to pay at higher tax rates than people at lower income levels? Could the warrant not be as universally popular as it seems at first glance? To explore the argument further, try stating the contrary claim and warrants:

Progressive taxes are fairer than flat taxes because people with more income can afford to pay more, benefit more from government, and shelter more of their income from taxes.

People should be taxed according to their ability to pay.

People who benefit more from government and can shelter more of their income from taxes should be taxed at higher rates.

Now you see how different the assumptions behind opposing positions really are. If you decided to argue in favor of flat taxes, you’d be smart to recognize that some members of your audience might have fundamen- tal reservations about your position. Or you might even decide to shift your entire argument to an alternative rationale for flat taxes:

Flat taxes are preferable to progressive taxes because they simplify the tax code and reduce the likelihood of fraud.

Here, you have two stated reasons that are supported by two new warrants:

Taxes that simplify the tax code are desirable.

Taxes that reduce the likelihood of fraud are preferable.

Whenever possible, you’ll choose your warrant knowing your audience, the context of your argument, and your own feelings.

Be careful, though, not to suggest that you’ll appeal to any old war- rant that works to your advantage. If readers suspect that your argument for progressive taxes really amounts to I want to stick it to people who work harder than I, your credibility may suffer a fatal blow.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 137

Examples of Claims, Reasons, and Warrants

So the federal government should

ban e-cigarettes from all public places.

E-cigarettes legitimize smoking among youth and entice children by

using flavors like bubblegum.


The Constitution was established to “promote the general welfare,” and citizens are thus entitled to

protection from harmful actions by others.

So it should be abolished.

The Electoral College gives small states undue influence.


No states should have undue influence on presidential elections.

So the legal age for drinking should be lowered.

I’ve been drinking since age fourteen without problems.


What works for me should work for everyone else.

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R E S P O N D. At their simplest, warrants can be stated as “X is good” or “X is bad.” Return to the letters to the editor or blog postings that you analyzed in the exer- cise on p. 131, this time looking for the warrant that is behind each claim. As a way to start, ask yourself these questions:

If I find myself agreeing with the letter writer, what assumptions about the subject matter do I share with him/her?

If I disagree, what assumptions are at the heart of that disagreement?

The list of warrants you generate will likely come from these assumptions.

Offering Evidence: Backing

The richest, most interesting part of a writer’s work — backing — remains to be done after the argument has been outlined. Clearly stated claims and warrants show you how much evidence you will need. Take a look at this brief argument, which is both debatable and controversial, espe- cially in tough economic times:

NASA should launch a human expedition to Mars because Americans need a unifying national goal.

Here’s one version of the warrant that supports the enthymeme:

What unifies the nation ought to be a national priority.

To run with this claim and warrant, you’d first need to place both in context. Human space exploration has been debated with varying intensity follow- ing the 1957 launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite, after the losses of the U.S. space shuttles Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003), and after the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Acquiring such background knowledge through reading, conversation, and inquiry of all kinds will be necessary for making your case. (See Chapter 3 for more on gaining authority.)

Sticker honoring the retirement of the Space Shuttle program © Steven Barrymore

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 139

There’s no point in defending any claim until you’ve satisfied readers that questionable warrants on which the claim is based are defensible. In Toulmin argument, evidence you offer to support a warrant is called backing.


What unifies the nation ought to be a national priority.


Americans want to be part of something bigger than themselves. (Emotional appeal as evidence)

In a country as diverse as the United States, common purposes and values help make the nation stronger. (Ethical appeal as evidence)

In the past, government investments such as the Hoover Dam and the Apollo moon program enabled many — though not all — Americans to work toward common goals. (Logical appeal as evidence)

In addition to evidence to support your warrant (backing), you’ll need evidence to support your claim:

Argument in Brief (Enthymeme/Claim)

NASA should launch a human expedition to Mars because Americans now need a unifying national goal.


The American people are politically divided along lines of race, ethnic- ity, religion, gender, and class. (Fact as evidence)

A common challenge or problem often unites people to accomplish great things. (Emotional appeal as evidence)

A successful Mars mission would require the cooperation of the entire nation — and generate tens of thousands of jobs. (Logical appeal as evidence)

A human expedition to Mars would be a valuable scientific project for the nation to pursue. (Appeal to values as evidence)

As these examples show, appeals to values and emotions can be just as appropriate as appeals to logic and facts, and all such claims will be stronger if a writer presents a convincing ethos. In most arguments, appeals work together rather than separately, reinforcing each other. (See Chapter 3 for more on ethos.)

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Using Qualifiers

Experienced writers know that qualifying expressions make writing more precise and honest. Toulmin logic encourages you to acknowledge limitations to your argument through the effective use of qualifiers. You can save time if you qualify a claim early in the writing process. But you might not figure out how to limit a claim effectively until after you’ve explored your subject or discussed it with others.


few more or less often

it is possible in some cases perhaps

rarely many under these conditions

it seems typically possibly

some routinely for the most part

it may be most if it were so

sometimes one might argue in general

Never assume that readers understand the limits you have in mind. Rather, spell them out as precisely as possible, as in the following examples:

So (Qualifier) ClaimReason(s)



So (it is likely) you will get into law school.

Your LSAT scores are in the 98th percentile.


High LSAT scores are an important factor in law school admissions.

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 141



People who don’t go to college earn less than those who do.



In most cases, people who don’t go to college earn less than those who do.

Understanding Conditions of Rebuttal

In the Toulmin system, potential objections to an argument are called conditions of rebuttal. Understanding and reacting to these conditions are essential to support your own claims where they’re weak and also to recognize and understand the reasonable objections of people who see the world differently. For example, you may be a big fan of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and prefer that federal tax dollars be spent on these programs. So you offer the following claim:

Claim The federal government should support the arts.

You need reasons to support this thesis, so you decide to present the issue as a matter of values:


in Brief

The federal government should support the arts because it also supports the military.

Now you’ve got an enthymeme and can test the warrant, or the premises of your claim:

Warrant If the federal government can support the military, then it can also support other programs.

But the warrant seems frail: you can hear a voice over your shoulder say- ing, “In essence, you’re saying that Because we pay for a military, we should pay for everything!” So you decide to revise your claim:



If the federal government can spend huge amounts of money on the military, then it can afford to spend moderate amounts on arts programs.

Now you’ve got a new warrant, too:



A country that can fund expensive programs can also afford less expensive programs.

This is a premise that you can defend, since you believe strongly that the arts are just as essential as a strong military is to the well-being of the

07_LUN_9864_ch07_119_150.indd 141 6/19/15 2:18 PM


country. Although the warrant now seems solid, you still have to offer strong grounds to support your specific and controversial claim. So you cite statistics from reputable sources, this time comparing the federal budgets for the military and the arts. You break them down in ways that readers can visualize, demonstrating that much less than a penny of every tax dollar goes to support the arts.

But then you hear those voices again, saying that the “common defense” is a federal mandate; the government is constitutionally obli- gated to support a military, and support for the arts is hardly in the same league! Looks like you need to add a paragraph explaining all the bene- fits the arts provide for very few dollars spent, and maybe you should suggest that such funding falls under the constitutional mandate to “promote the general welfare.” Though not all readers will accept these grounds, they’ll appreciate that you haven’t ignored their point of view: you’ve gained credibility by anticipating a reasonable objection.

Dealing with conditions of rebuttal is an essential part of argument. But it’s important to understand rebuttal as more than mere opposition. Anticipating objections broadens your horizons, makes you more open to alternative viewpoints, and helps you understand what you need to do to support your claim.

Within Toulmin argument, conditions of rebuttal remind us that we’re part of global conversations: Internet newsgroups and blogs provide potent responses to positions offered by participants in discussions; instant messaging and social networking let you respond to and chal- lenge others; links on Web sites form networks that are infinitely variable and open. In cyberspace, conditions of rebuttal are as close as your screen.

R E S P O N D. Using an essay or a project you are composing, do a Toulmin analysis of the argument. When you’re done, see which elements of the Toulmin scheme are represented. Are you short of evidence to support the warrant? Have

the new neA logo

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 143

you considered the conditions of rebuttal? Have you qualified your claim adequately? Next, write a brief revision plan: How will you buttress the argument in the places where it is weakest? What additional evidence will you offer for the warrant? How can you qualify your claim to meet the con- ditions of rebuttal? Then show your paper to a classmate and have him/her do a Toulmin analysis: a new reader will probably see your argument in dif- ferent ways and suggest revisions that may not have occurred to you.

Outline of a Toulmin Argument

Consider the claim that was mentioned on p. 137:

Claim The federal government should ban e-cigarettes.

Qualifier The ban would be limited to public spaces.



E-cigarettes have not been proven to be harmless. E-cigarettes legitimize smoking and also are aimed at recruiting teens and children with flavors like bubble- gum and cotton candy.

Warrants The Constitution promises to “promote the general welfare.” Citizens are entitled to protection from harmful actions by others.

Backing The United States is based on a political system that is supposed to serve the basic needs of its people, includ- ing their health.

Evidence Analysis of advertising campaigns that reveal direct appeals to children Lawsuits recently won against e-cigarette companies, citing the link between e-cigarettes and a return to regular smoking Examples of bans on e-cigarettes already imposed in many public places

Authority Cite the FDA and medical groups on effect of e-cigarette smoking.


of Rebuttal

E-cigarette smokers have rights, too. Smoking laws should be left to the states. Such a ban could not be enforced.

Responses The ban applies to public places; smokers can smoke in private.

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A Toulmin Analysis

You might wonder how Toulmin’s method holds up when applied to an argument that is longer than a few sentences. Do such arguments really work the way that Toulmin predicts? In the following short argument, well-known linguist and author Deborah Tannen explores the con- sequences of a shift in the meaning of one crucial word: compromise. Tannen’s essay, which originally appeared as a posting on Politico.com on June 15, 2011, offers a series of interrelated claims based on reasons, evidence, and warrants that culminate in the last sentence of the essay. She begins by showing that the word compromise is now rejected by both the political right and the political left and offers good reasons and evi- dence to support that claim. She then moves back to a time when “a compromise really was considered great,” and offers three powerful pieces of evidence in support of that claim. The argument then comes back to the present, with a claim that the compromise and politeness of the nineteenth century have been replaced by “growing enmity.” That claim is supported with reasoning and evidence that rest on an under- lying warrant that “vituperation and seeing opponents as enemies is corrosive to the human spirit.” The claims in the argument — that com- promise has become a dirty word and that enmity and an adversarial spirit are on the rise — lead to Tannen’s conclusion: rejecting compro- mise breaks the trust necessary for a democracy and thus undermines the very foundation of our society. While she does not use traditional qualifying words, she does say that the situation she describes is a “threat” to our nation, which qualifies the claim to some extent: the situ- ation is not the “death” of our nation but rather a “threat.” Tannen’s annotated essay follows.

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Why is “Compromise” now a Dirty Word?


When did the word “compromise” get compromised?

When did the negative connotations of “He was

caught in a compromising position” or “She compro-

mised her ethics” replace the positive connotations of

“They reached a compromise”?

House Speaker John Boehner said it outright on 60

Minutes last year. When talking about “compromise,”

Boehner said, “I reject the word.”

“When you say the word ‘compromise,’ ” he explained,

“. . . a lot of Americans look up and go, ‘Uh-oh, they’re

gonna sell me out.’ ” His position is common right now.

In the same spirit, Tony Perkins wrote in a recent

CNN.com op-ed piece, “When it comes to conservative

principles, compromise is the companion of losers.”

The political right is particularly vehement when it

comes to compromise. Conservatives are now strongly

swayed by the tea party movement, whose clarion call is

a refusal to compromise, regardless of the practical


But the rejection of compromise is more widespread

than that. The left regularly savages President Barack

Obama for compromising too soon, too much or on the

wrong issues. Many who fervently sought universal health

coverage, for example, could not celebrate its near accom-

plishment because the president gave up the public option.

The death of compromise has become a threat to our

nation as we confront crucial issues such as the debt

ceiling and that most basic of legislative responsibilities:

a federal budget. At stake is the very meaning of what

had once seemed unshakable: “the full faith and credit”

of the U.S. government.

contextual information leading up to initial claim

initial claim


Photo: Stephen Voss, courtesy of Deborah Tannen


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Back when the powerful nineteenth-century senator

Henry Clay was called “the great compromiser,” achiev-

ing a compromise really was considered great. On three

occasions, the Kentucky statesman helped the Senate

preserve the Union by crafting compromises between

the deadlocked slave-holding South and the Northern

free states. In 1820, his Missouri Compromise stemmed

the spread of slavery. In 1833, when the South was poised

to defy federal tariff laws favored by the North and the

federal government was about to authorize military

action, Clay found a last-minute compromise. And his

Compromise of 1850 averted civil war for at least a


It was during an 1850 Senate debate that Clay stated

his conviction: “I go for honorable compromise whenever

it can be made.” Something else he said then holds a key

to how the dwindling respect for compromise is related

to larger and more dangerous developments in our

nation today.

“All legislation, all government, all society,” Clay said, “is

formed upon the principle of mutual concession, polite-

ness, comity, courtesy; upon these, everything is based.”

Concession, politeness, comity, courtesy — none of

these words could be uttered now with the assurance of

listeners’ approval. The word “comity” is rarely heard;

“concession” sounds weak; “politeness” and “courtesy”

sound quaint — much like the contemporary equivalent,


That Clay lauded both compromise and civil dis-

course in the same speech reveals the link between, on

the one hand, the word “compromise” falling into disre-

pute, and, on the other, the glorification of aggression

that I wrote about in my book, The Argument Culture: Stop-

ping America’s War of Words.

Today we have an increasing tendency to approach

every task — and each other — in an ever more adversar-

ial spirit. Nowhere is this more evident, or more destruc-

tive, than in the Senate.







Writing ArgumentS146

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Though the two-party system is oppositional by

nature, there is plenty of evidence that a certain (yes)

comity has been replaced by growing enmity. We don’t

have to look as far back as Clay for evidence. In 1996, for

example, an unprecedented fourteen incumbent sena-

tors announced that they would not seek reelection. And

many, in farewell essays, described an increase in vitu-

peration and partisanship that made it impossible to do

the work of the Senate.

“The bipartisanship that is so crucial to the operation

of Congress,” Howell Heflin of Alabama wrote, “especially

the Senate, has been abandoned.” J. James Exon of

Nebraska described an “ever-increasing vicious polariza-

tion of the electorate” that had “all but swept aside the

former preponderance of reasonable discussion.”

But this is not happening only in the Senate. There is

a rising adversarial spirit among the people and the

press. It isn’t only the obvious invective on TV and radio.

A newspaper story that criticizes its subject is praised as

“tough”; one that refrains from criticism is scorned as a

“puff piece.”

The notion of “balance” today often leads to a search

for the most extreme opposing views — so they can be

presented as “both sides,” leaving no forum for subtlety,

multiple perspectives or the middle ground, where most

people stand. Framing issues in this polarizing way rein-

forces the impression that Boehner voiced: that compro-

mising is selling out.

Being surrounded by vituperation and seeing oppo-

nents as enemies is corrosive to the human spirit. It’s

also dangerous to our democracy. The great anthropolo-

gist Margaret Mead explained this in a 1962 speech.

“We are essentially a society which must be more

committed to a two-party system than to either party,”

Mead said. “The only way you can have a two-party sys-

tem is to belong to a party formally and to fight to the

death . . .” not for your party to win but “for the right of

the other party to be there too.”










C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 147

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Today, this sounds almost as quaint as “comity” in

political discourse.

Mead traced our two-party system to our unique rev-

olution: “We didn’t kill a king and we didn’t execute a

large number of our people, and we came into our own

without the stained hands that have been associated

with most revolutions.”

With this noble heritage, Mead said, comes “the obli-

gation to keep the kind of government we set up” — where

members of each party may “disagree mightily” but still

“trust in each other and trust in our political opponents.”

Losing that trust, Mead concluded, undermines the

foundation of our democracy. That trust is exactly what

is threatened when the very notion of compromise is




Writing ArgumentS148

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C h a p t e r 7 Structuring ArgumentS 149

What Toulmin Teaches

As Tannen’s essay demonstrates, few arguments you read have perfectly sequenced claims or clear warrants, so you might not think of Toulmin’s terms in building your own arguments. Once you’re into your subject, it’s easy to forget about qualifying a claim or finessing a warrant. But remembering what Toulmin teaches will always help you strengthen your arguments:

● Claims should be clear, reasonable, and carefully qualified.

● Claims should be supported with good reasons and evidence. Remem- ber that a Toulmin structure provides the framework of an argument, which you fill out with all kinds of data, including facts, statistics, precedents, photographs, and even stories.

● Claims and reasons should be based on assumptions your audience will likely accept. Toulmin’s focus on warrants can be confusing because it asks us to look at the assumptions that underlie our arguments — something many would rather not do. Toulmin pushes us to probe the values that support any argument and to think of how those values relate to particular audiences.

● Effective arguments respectfully anticipate objections readers might offer. Toulmin argument acknowledges that any claim can crumble under certain conditions, so it encourages a complex view that doesn’t demand absolute or unqualified positions.

It takes considerable experience to write arguments that meet all these conditions. Using Toulmin’s framework brings them into play automati- cally. If you learn it well enough, constructing good arguments can become a habit.

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As you think about organizing your argument, remember that cultural factors are at work: patterns that you find persuasive are probably ones that are deeply embedded in your culture. In the United States, many people expect a writer to “get to the point” as directly as possible and to articulate that point efficiently and unambiguously. The organi- zational patterns favored by many in business hold similarities to the classical oration — a highly explicit pattern that leaves little or nothing unexplained — introduction and thesis, background, overview of the parts that follow, evidence, other viewpoints, and conclusion. If a piece of writing follows this pattern, American readers ordinarily find it “well organized.”

So it’s no surprise that student writers in the United States are expected to make their structures direct and their claims explicit, leav- ing little unspoken. Their claims usually appear early in an argument, often in the first paragraph.

But not all cultures take such an approach. Some expect any claim or thesis to be introduced subtly, indirectly, and perhaps at the end of a work, assuming that audiences will “read between the lines” to under- stand what’s being said. Consequently, the preferred structure of argu- ments (and face-to-face negotiations, as well) may be elaborate, repetitive, and full of digressions. Those accustomed to such writing may find more direct Western styles overly simple, childish, or even rude.

When arguing across cultures, look for cues to determine how to structure your presentations effectively. Here are several points to consider:

• Do members of your audience tend to be very direct, saying explic- itly what they mean? Or are they restrained, less likely to call a spade a spade? Consider adjusting your work to the expectations of the audience.

• Do members of your audience tend to respect authority and the opinions of groups? They may find blunt approaches disrespectful or contrary to their expectations.

• Consider when to state your thesis: At the beginning? At the end? Somewhere else? Not at all?

• Consider whether digressions are a good idea, a requirement, or an element to avoid.

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Left to right: Zoonar/N.Sorokin/age fototstock; Alfred Eisenstaedt/Getty Images; © David R. Frazier, Photolibrary, Inc./Alamy

Arguments of Fact 8

Many people believe that extensive use of the Internet, and especially social media, is harmful to memory and to learning, but recent research by scholars of literacy provides evidence suggesting that they are prob­ ably wrong.

In the past, female screen stars like Marilyn Monroe could be buxom and curvy, less concerned about their weight than actresses today. Or so the legend goes. But measuring the costumes worn by Monroe and other actresses reveals a different story.

When an instructor announces a tough new attendance policy for her course, a student objects that there is no evidence that students who regularly attend classes perform any better than those who do not. The instructor begs to differ.

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Understanding Arguments of Fact

Factual arguments come in many varieties, but they all try to establish whether something is or is not so, answering questions such as Is a his- torical legend true? Has a crime occurred? or Are the claims of a scientist accu- rate? At first glance, you might object that these aren’t arguments at all but just a matter of looking things up and then writing reports. And you’d be correct to an extent: people don’t usually argue factual matters that are settled or undisputed (The earth revolves around the sun), that might be decided with simple research (The Mendenhall Glacier has receded 1.75 miles since 1958), or that are the equivalent of a rule (One mile mea- sures 5,280 feet). Reporting facts, you might think, should be free of the friction of argument.

Yet facts become arguments whenever they’re controversial on their own or challenge people’s beliefs and lifestyles. Disagreements about childhood obesity, endangered species, or energy production ought to have a kind of clean, scientific logic to them. But that’s rarely the case because the facts surrounding them must be interpreted. Those inter­ pretations then determine what we feed children, where we can build a dam, or how we heat our homes. In other words, serious factual argu­ ments almost always have consequences. Can we rely on wind and solar power to solve our energy needs? Will the Social Security trust fund really go broke? Is it healthy to eat fatty foods? People need well­reasoned factual arguments on subjects of this kind to make informed decisions. Such arguments educate the public.

For the same reason, we need arguments to challenge beliefs that are common in a society but held on the basis of inadequate or faulty infor­ mation. Corrective arguments appear daily in the media, often based on studies written by scientists or researchers that the public would not encounter on their own. Many people, for example, believe that talking on a cell phone while driving is just like listening to the radio. But their intuition is not based on hard data: scientific studies show that using a cell phone in a car is comparable to driving under the influence of alco­ hol. That’s a fact. As a result, fourteen states (and counting) have banned the use of handheld phones in cars.

Factual arguments also routinely address broad questions about how we understand the past. For example, are the accounts that we have of the American founding — or the Civil War, Reconstruction, or the heroics of the “Greatest Generation” in World War II — accurate? Or

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 153

do the “facts” that we teach today sometimes reflect the perspectives and prejudices of earlier times or ideologies? The telling of history is almost always controversial and rarely settled: the British and Ameri­ cans will always tell different versions of what happened in North America in 1776.

The Internet puts mountains of information at our fingertips, but we need to be sure to confirm whether or not that information is fact, using what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection,” the ability to distinguish between accurate information and inaccurate information, misinforma­ tion, or disinformation. (For more on “crap detection,” see Chapter 19, “Evaluating Sources.”)

As you can see, arguments of fact do much of the heavy lifting in our world. They report on what has been recently discovered or explore the implications of that new information. They also add interest and complexity to our lives, taking what might seem simple and adding new dimensions to it. In many situations, they’re the precursors to other forms of analysis, especially causal and proposal arguments. Before we can explore why things happen as they do or solve problems, we need to do our best to determine the facts.

© Bagley/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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R E S P O N D. For each topic in the following list, decide whether the claim is worth arguing to a college audience, and explain why or why not.

Earthquakes are increasing in number and intensity.

Many people die annually of heart disease.

Fewer people would be obese if they followed the Paleo Diet.

Japan might have come to terms more readily in 1945 if the Allies in World War II hadn’t demanded unconditional surrender.

Boys would do better in school if there were more men teaching in elementary and secondary classrooms.

The sharp drop in oil prices could lead drivers to go back to buying gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.

There aren’t enough high-paying jobs for college graduates these days.

Hydrogen may never be a viable alternative to fossil fuels because it takes too much energy to change hydrogen into a usable form.

Proponents of the Keystone Pipe Line have exaggerated the benefits it will bring to the American economy.

Characterizing Factual Arguments

Factual arguments are often motivated by simple human curiosity or suspicion: Are people who earn college degrees happier than those who don’t? If being fat is so unhealthy, why aren’t mortality rates rising? Researchers may notice a pattern that leads them to look more closely at some phe- nomenon or behavior, exploring questions such as What if ? or How come? Or maybe a writer first notes something new or different or unexpected and wants to draw attention to that fact: Contrary to expectations, suicide rates are much higher in rural areas than in urban ones.

Such observations can lead quickly to hypotheses — that is, toward tentative and plausible statements of fact whose merits need to be examined more closely. Maybe being a little overweight isn’t as bad for people as we’ve been told? Maybe people in rural areas have less access to mental health services? To support such hypotheses, writers then have to uncover evidence that reaches well beyond the casual observations that triggered an initial interest — like a news reporter motivated to see whether there’s a verifiable story behind a source’s tip.

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 155

For instance, the authors of Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, were intrigued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s claim that car seats for children were 54 percent effective in preventing deaths in auto crashes for children below the age of four. In a New York Times op­ed column entitled “The Seat­ Belt Solution,” they posed an important question about that factual claim:

But 54 percent effective compared with what? The answer, it turns out, is this: Compared with a child’s riding completely unrestrained.

Their initial question about that claim led them to a more focused inquiry, then to a database on auto crashes, and then to a surprising conclusion: for kids above age twenty­four months, those in car seats were statistically safer than those without any protection but weren’t safer than those confined by seat belts (which are much simpler, cheaper, and more readily available devices). Looking at the statistics every which way, the authors wonder if children older than two years would be just as well off physically — and their parents less stressed and better off financially — if the government mandated seat belts rather than car seats for them.

What kinds of evidence typically appear in sound factual arguments? The simple answer might be “all sorts,” but a case can be made that fac­ tual arguments try to rely more on “hard evidence” than do “constructed” arguments based on logic and reason (see Chapter 4). Even so, some pieces of evidence are harder than others!

Developing a Factual Argument

Entire Web sites are dedicated to finding and posting errors from news and political sources. Some, like Media Matters for America and Accu­ racy in Media, take overtly partisan stands. Here’s a one­day sampling of headlines from Media Matters:

Hillary Clinton Overcompensates on Foreign Policy Because She’s a Woman

Fox Host Defends Calling Michelle Obama Fat

Fox News Decries Granting Undocumented Children Their Right to Public Education

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And here’s a listing from Accuracy in Media:

An Inside Look at How Democrats Rig the Election Game

Why Obamacare Is Unfixable

The American Left: Friends to Our Country’s Enemies

It would be hard to miss the blatant political agendas at work on these sites.

Other fact­checking organizations have better reputations when it comes to assessing the truths behind political claims and media presen­ tations. Though both are also routinely charged with bias, Pulitzer Prize– winning PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org at least make an effort to be fair­minded across a broader political spectrum. FactCheck, for example, provides a detailed analysis of the claims it investigates in relatively neutral and denotative language, and lists the sources its researchers used — just as if its writers were doing a research paper. At its best, FactCheck.org demonstrates what one valuable kind of factual argument can accomplish.

Any factual argument that you might compose — from how you state your claim to how you present evidence and the language you

Politifact uses a meter to rate political claims from “true” to “Pants on fire.” Tampa Bay Times, all rights reserved

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 157

use — should be similarly shaped by the occasion for the argument and a desire to serve the audiences that you hope to reach. We can offer some general advice to help you get started.

R E S P O N D. The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania hosts FactCheck.org, a Web site dedicated to separating facts from opinion or falsehood in the area of politics. It claims to be politically neutral. Find a case that interests you, either a recent controversial item listed on its homepage or another from its archives. Carefully study the item. Pay attention to the devices that FactCheck uses to suggest or ensure objectivity and the way that it handles facts and statistics. Then offer your own brief factual argument about the site’s objectivity.

Identifying an Issue

To offer a factual argument of your own, you need to identify an issue or problem that will interest you and potential readers. Look for situations or phenomena — local or national — that seem out of the ordinary in the expected order of things. For instance, you might notice that many people you know are deciding not to attend college. How widespread is this change, and who are the people making this choice?

Or follow up claims that strike you as at odds with the facts as you know them or believe them. Maybe you doubt explanations being offered for your favorite sport team’s current slump or for the declining number of minority men in your college courses. Or you might give a local spin to factual questions that other people have already formulated on a national level. Do people in your town seem to be flocking to high­MPG vehicles or resisting bans on texting while driving or smoking in public places outdoors? You will likely write a better paper if you take on a fac­ tual question that genuinely interests you.

In fact, whole books are written when authors decide to pursue factual questions that intrigue them. But you want to be careful not to argue mat­ ters that pose no challenge for you or your audiences. You’re not offering anything new if you just try to persuade readers that smoking is harmful to their well­being. So how about something fresh in the area of health?

Quick preliminary research and reading might allow you to move from an intuition to a hypothesis, that is, a tentative statement of your claim: Having a dog is good for your health. As noted earlier, factual

In their report “Student Veterans/

Service Members’ engagement in

College and University Life and

education,” Young M. Kim and

James S. Cole offer an argument of

fact when they present data from

the National Survey of Student


lInk to p. 688

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arguments often provoke other types of analysis. In developing this claim, you’d need to explain what “good for your health” means, poten­ tially an argument of definition. You’d also likely find yourself research­ ing causes of the phenomenon if you can demonstrate that it is factual. As it turns out, your canine hypothesis would have merit if you defined “good for health” as “encouraging exercise.” Here’s the lead to a New York Times story reporting recent research:

If you’re looking for the latest in home exercise equipment, you may want to consider something with four legs and a wagging tail.

Several studies now show that dogs can be powerful motivators to get people moving. Not only are dog owners more likely to take regu- lar walks, but new research shows that dog walkers are more active overall than people who don’t have dogs.

One study even found that older people are more likely to take reg- ular walks if the walking companion is canine rather than human.

— Tara Parker-Pope, “Forget the Treadmill. Get a Dog,” March 14, 2011

As always, there’s another side to the story: what if people likely to get dogs are the very sort already inclined to be more physically active? You could explore that possibility as well (and researchers have) and then either modify your initial hypothesis or offer a new one. That’s what hypotheses are for. They are works in progress.

Here’s an actual ad based on the claim that exercise (and dog ownership) is good for health.

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R E S P O N D. Working with a group of colleagues, generate a list of twenty favorite “mysteries” explored on TV shows, in blogs, or in tabloid newspapers. Here are three to get you started — the alien crash landing at Roswell, the exis­ tence of Atlantis, and the uses of Area 51. Then decide which — if any — of these puzzlers might be resolved or explained in a reasonable factual argument and which ones remain eternally mysterious and improbable. Why are people attracted to such topics? Would any of these items provide material for a noteworthy factual argument?

Researching Your Hypothesis

How and where you research your subject will depend, naturally, on your subject. You’ll certainly want to review Chapter 18, “Finding Evidence,” Chapter 19, “Evaluating Sources,” and Chapter 20, “Using Sources,” before constructing an argument of fact. Libraries and the Web will provide you with deep resources on almost every subject. Your task will typically be to separate the best sources from all the rest. The word best here has many connotations: some reputable sources may be too technical for your audiences; some accessible sources may be pitched too low or be too far removed from the actual facts.

You’ll be making judgment calls like this routinely. But do use pri­ mary sources whenever you can. For example, when gathering a com­ ment from a source on the Web, trace it whenever possible to its original site, and read the comment in its full context. When statistics are quoted, follow them back to the source that offered them first to be sure that they’re recent and reputable. Instructors and librarians can help you appreciate the differences. Understand that even sources with pro­ nounced biases can furnish useful information, provided that you know how to use them, take their limitations into account, and then share what you know about the sources with your readers.

Sometimes, you’ll be able to do primary research on your own, espe­ cially when your subject is local and you have the resources to do it. Consider conducting a competent survey of campus opinions and atti­ tudes, for example, or study budget documents (often public) to deter­ mine trends in faculty salaries, tuition, student fees, and so on. Primary research of this sort can be challenging because even the simplest sur­ veys or polls have to be intelligently designed and executed in a way that samples a representative population (see Chapter 4). But the work could pay off in an argument that brings new information to readers.

read the chapter from Scott L.

Montgomery’s book Does Science

Need a Global Language? English

and the Future of Research. What

kinds of research does Montgomery

use? Does the fact that much of

the research is apparent only in his

footnotes impact his argument?

lInk to p. 577

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Refining Your Claim

As you learn more about your subject, you might revise your hypothesis to reflect what you’ve discovered. In most cases, these revised hypothe­ ses will grow increasingly complex and specific. Following are three ver­ sions of essentially the same claim, with each version offering more information to help readers judge its merit:

● Americans really did land on the moon, despite what some people think!

● Since 1969, when the Eagle supposedly landed on the moon, some people have been unjustifiably skeptical about the success of the United States’ Apollo program.

● Despite plentiful hard evidence to the contrary — from Saturn V launches witnessed by thousands to actual moon rocks tested by independent labs worldwide — some people persist in believing falsely that NASA’s moon landings were actually filmed on deserts in the American Southwest as part of a massive propaganda fraud.

© KES/CartoonStock.com

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 161

The additional details about the subject might also suggest new ways to develop and support it. For example, conspiracy theorists claim that the absence of visible stars in photographs of the moon landing is evidence that it was staged, but photographers know that the camera exposure needed to capture the foreground — astronauts in their bright space suits — would have made the stars in the background too dim to see. That’s a key bit of evidence for this argument.

As you advance in your research, your thesis will likely pick up even more qualifying words and expressions, which help you to make rea­ sonable claims. Qualifiers — words and phrases such as some, most, few, for most people, for a few users, under specific conditions, usually, occasionally, seldom, and so on — will be among your most valuable tools in a factual argument. (See p. 140 in Chapter 7 for more on qualifiers.)

Sometimes it is important to set your factual claim into a context that helps explain it to others who may find it hard to accept. You might have to concede some ground initially in order to see the broader picture. For instance, professor of English Vincent Carretta anticipated strong objec­ tions after he uncovered evidence that Olaudah Equiano — the author of The Interesting Narrative (1789), a much­cited autobiographical account of his Middle Passage voyage and subsequent life as a slave — may actually have been born in South Carolina and not in western Africa. Speaking to the Chronicle of Higher Education about why Equiano may have fabricated his African origins to serve a larger cause, Carretta explains:

“Whether [Equiano] invented his African birth or not, he knew that what that movement needed was a first-person account. And because they were going after the slave trade, it had to be an account of some- one who had been born in Africa and was brought across the Middle Passage. An African American voice wouldn’t have done it.”

— Jennifer Howard, “Unraveling the Narrative”

Carretta asks readers to appreciate that the new facts that he has dis­ covered about The Interesting Narrative do not undermine the work’s his­ torical significance. If anything, his research has added new dimensions to its meaning and interpretation.

Deciding Which Evidence to Use

In this chapter, we’ve blurred the distinction between factual arguments for scientific and technical audiences and those for the general public (in magazines, blogs, social media sites, television documentaries, and

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so on). In the former kind of arguments, readers will expect specific types of evidence arranged in a formulaic way. Such reports may include a hypothesis, a review of existing research on the subject, a description of methods, a presentation of results, and finally a formal discussion of the findings. If you are thinking “lab report,” you are already familiar with an academic form of a factual argument with precise standards for evidence.

Less scientific factual arguments — claims about our society, institu­ tions, behaviors, habits, and so on — are seldom so systematic, and they may draw on evidence from a great many different media. For instance, you might need to review old newspapers, scan videos, study statistics on government Web sites, read transcripts of congressional hearings, record the words of eyewitnesses to an event, glean information by fol­ lowing experts on Twitter, and so on. Very often, you will assemble your arguments from material found in credible, though not always concur­ ring, authorities and resources — drawing upon the factual findings of scientists and scholars, but perhaps using their original insights in novel ways.

For example, you might be intrigued by a comprehensive report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (2010) providing the results of a study of more than 2,000 eight­ to eighteen­year­old American children:

The study found that the average time spent reading books for plea- sure in a typical day rose from 21 minutes in 1999 to 23 minutes in 2004, and finally to 25 minutes in 2010. The rise of screen-based media has not melted children’s brains, despite ardent warnings oth- erwise: “It does not appear that time spent using screen media (TV, video games and computers) displaces time spent with print media,” the report stated. Teens are not only reading more books, they’re involved in communities of like-minded book lovers.

— Hannah Withers and Lauren Ross, “Young People Are Reading More Than You”

Reading about these results, however, may raise some new ques­ tions for you: Is twenty­five minutes of reading a day really something to be happy about? What is the quality of what these young people are reading? Such questions might lead you to do a new study that could challenge the conclusion of the earlier research by bringing fresh facts to the table.

Often, you may have only a limited number of words or pages in which to make a factual argument. What do you do then? You present your best evidence as powerfully as possible. But that’s not difficult. You can make a persuasive factual case with just a few examples: three or

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 163

four often suffice to make a point. Indeed, going on too long or present­ ing even good data in ways that make it seem uninteresting or pointless can undermine a claim.

presenting Your Evidence

In Hard Times (1854), British author Charles Dickens poked fun at a peda­ gogue he named Thomas Gradgrind, who preferred hard facts before all things human or humane. When poor Sissy Jupe (called “girl number twenty” in his awful classroom) is unable at his command to define horse, Gradgrind turns to his star pupil:

“Bitzer,” said Thomas Gradgrind. “Your definition of a horse.” “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four

grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.” Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

“Now girl number twenty,” said Mr. Gradgrind. “You know what a horse is.”

— Charles Dickens, Hard Times

But does Bitzer? Rattling off facts about a subject isn’t quite the same thing as knowing it, especially when your goal is, as it is in an argument of fact, to educate and persuade audiences. So you must take care how you present your evidence.

Factual arguments, like any others, take many forms. They can be as simple and pithy as a letter to the editor (or Bitzer’s definition of a horse) or as comprehensive and formal as a senior thesis or even a dissertation. Such a thesis might have just two or three readers mainly interested in the facts you are presenting and the competence of your work. So your presentation can be lean and relatively simple.

But to earn the attention of readers in some more public forum, you may need to work harder to be persuasive. For instance, Pew Research Center’s May 2014 formal report, Young Adults, Student Debt, and Economic Well-Being, which spends time introducing its authors and establishing their expertise, is twenty­three pages long, cites a dozen sources, and contains sixteen figures and tables. Like many such studies, it also includes a foreword, an overview, and a detailed table of contents. All these elements help readers find the facts they need while also estab­ lishing the ethos of the work, making it seem serious, credible, well conceived, and worth reading.

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Considering Design and Visuals

When you prepare a factual argument, consider how you can present your evidence most effectively. Precisely because factual arguments often rely on evidence that can be measured, computed, or illustrated, they benefit from thoughtful, even artful presentation of data. If you have lots of examples, you might arrange them in a list (bulleted or oth­ erwise) and keep the language in each item roughly parallel. If you have an argument that can be translated into a table, chart, or graph (see Chapter 14), try it. And if there’s a more dramatic medium for your fac­ tual argument — a Prezi slide show, a multimedia mashup, a documen­ tary video posted via a social network — experiment with it, checking to be sure it would satisfy the assignment.

For an example of how to use design

and visuals in a factual argument, see

the annotated metadata screenshot

in “What Your email Metadata told

the NSa about You” by rebecca

Greenfield. how does design

reinforce the argument?

lInk to p. 746

“What the frack?” uses images to present its case against fracking. © Jess Nelson Design

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 165

Infographics like this one turn facts and data into arguments. USAID

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Images and photos — from technical illustrations to imaginative re­creations — have the power to document what readers might other­ wise have to imagine, whether actual conditions of drought, poverty, or a disaster like devastating typhoon Haiyan that displaced over 4 million people in the Philippines in 2013, or the dimensions of the Roman forum as it existed in the time of Julius Caesar. Readers today expect the argu­ ments they read to include visual elements, and there’s little reason not to offer this assistance if you have the technical skills to create them.

Consider the rapid development of the genre known as info­ graphics — basically data presented in bold visual form. These items can be humorous and creative, but many, such as “Learning Out of Poverty” on the preceding page, make powerful factual arguments even when they leave it to viewers to draw their own conclusions. Just search “info­ graphics” on the Web to find many examples.

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 167

● Finding a topic

You’re entering an argument of fact when you:

• make a claim about fact or existence that’s controversial or surprising:

Climate change is threatening species in all regions by extending the range of non-

native plants and animals.

• correct an error of fact: The overall abortion rate is not increasing in the United

States, though rates are increasing in some states.

• challenge societal myths: Many Mexicans fought alongside Anglos in battles

that won Texas its independence from Mexico.

• wish to discover the state of knowledge about a subject or examine a

range of perspectives and points of view: The rationales of parents who

homeschool their children reveal some surprising differences.

● Researching Your topic

Use both a library and the Web to locate the information you need. A research

librarian is often a valuable resource, as are experts or eyewitnesses. Begin

research by consulting the following types of sources:

• scholarly books on your subject

• newspapers, magazines, reviews, and journals (online and print)

• online databases

• government documents and reports

• Web sites, blogs, social networking sites, and listservs or newsgroups

• experts in the field, some of whom might be right on your campus

Do field research if appropriate — a survey, a poll, or systematic observation.

Or invite people with a stake in the subject to present their interpretations of

the facts. Evaluate all sources carefully, making sure that each is authorita­

tive and credible.

to writing an argument of factgUIDE

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● Formulating a Hypothesis

Don’t rush into a thesis. Instead, begin with a hypothesis that expresses your

beliefs at the beginning of the project but that may change as you learn more.

It’s OK to start with a question to which you don’t have an answer or with a

broad, general interest in a subject:

• Question: Have higher admissions standards at BSU reduced the numbers of entering first­year students from small, rural high schools?

• Hypothesis: Higher admissions standards at BSU are reducing the num­ ber of students admitted from rural high schools, which tend to be smaller

and less well­funded than those in suburban and urban areas.

• Question: Have music sites like Pandora and Spotify reduced the amount of illegal downloading of music?

• Hypothesis: Services like Pandora and Spotify may have done more than lawsuits by record companies to discourage illegal downloads of


• Question: How dangerous is nuclear energy, really?

• Hypothesis: The danger posed by nuclear power plants is far less than that attributable to other viable energy sources.

• Question: Why can’t politicians and citizens agree about the threat posed by the huge federal deficit?

• Hypothesis: People with different points of view read different threats into the budget numbers and so react differently.

● Examples of Arguable Factual Claims

• A campus survey that shows that far more students have read Harry Potter

and the Prisoner of Azkaban than Hamlet indicates that our current core cur­

riculum lacks depth.

• Evidence suggests that the European conquest of the Americas may have

had more to do with infectious diseases than any superiority in technol­

ogy or weaponry.

• In the long run, dieting may be more harmful than moderate overeating.

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 169

● preparing a proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your project, here’s a

format that may help:

State your thesis or hypothesis completely. If you are having trouble doing so, try outlining it in Toulmin terms:




Alternatively, you might describe the complications of a factual issue you hope to explore in your project, with the thesis perhaps coming later.

• Explain why the issue you’re examining is important, and provide the context for raising the issue. Are you introducing new information, mak- ing available information better known, correcting what has been reported incorrectly, or complicating what has been understood more simply?

• Identify and describe those readers you most hope to reach with your argument. Why is this group of readers most appropriate for your proj- ect? What are their interests in the subject? How might you involve them in the paper?

• Discuss the kinds of evidence you expect to use in the project and the research the paper will require.

• Briefly discuss the key challenges you anticipate in preparing your argument.

● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your argument of fact? Does it call

for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or something


• What medium is most appropriate for your argument? Would it be best delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod­

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

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• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs, charts — and what function will they play in your argument? Make sure they

are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the argument.

● thinking about organization

The simplest structure for a factual argument is to make a claim and then

prove it. But even a basic approach needs an introductory section that pro­

vides a context for the claim and a concluding section that assesses the

implications of the argument. A factual argument that corrects an error or

provides an alternative view of some familiar concept or historical event will

also need a section early on explaining what the error or the common belief

is. Be sure your opening section answers the who, what, where, when, how, and

(maybe) why questions that readers will bring to the case.

Factual arguments offered in some academic fields follow formulas and

templates. A format favored in the hard sciences and also in the social and

behavioral sciences is known by its acronym, IMRAD, which stands for Intro­

duction, Methods, Research, and Discussion. Another typical format calls for

an abstract, a review of literature, a discussion of method, an analysis, and a

references list. When you have flexibility in the structure of your argument, it

makes sense to lead with a striking example to interest readers in your sub­

ject and then to conclude with your strongest evidence. Pay particular atten­

tion to transitions between key points.

If you are defending a specific claim, anticipate the ways people with dif­

ferent points of view might respond to your argument. Consider how to

address such differences respectfully in the body of your argument. But don’t

let a factual argument with a persuasive thesis end with concessions or refu­

tations, especially in pieces for the general public. Such a strategy leaves

readers thinking about problems with your claim at precisely the point when

they should be impressed by its strengths. On the other hand, if your factual

argument becomes exploratory, you may find yourself simply presenting a

range of positions.

● getting and giving Response: Questions for peer Response

Your instructor may assign you to a group for the purpose of reading and

responding to each other’s drafts. If not, ask for responses from serious read­

ers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following questions to evaluate

a colleague’s draft. Since specific comments help more than general

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C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 171

observations, be sure to illustrate your comments with examples. Some of

the questions below assume a conventional, thesis­driven project, but more

exploratory or invitational arguments of fact also need to be clearly phrased,

organized, and supported with evidence.

The Claim

• Does the claim clearly raise a serious and arguable factual issue?

• Is the claim as clear and specific as possible?

• Is the claim qualified? If so, how?

Evidence for the Claim

• Is the evidence provided enough to persuade readers to believe your

claim? If not, what additional evidence would help? Does any of the evi­

dence seem inappropriate or ineffective? Why?

• Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or do you

explain its significance and appropriateness? Is more discussion needed?

• Are readers’ potential objections to the claim or evidence addressed ade­

quately? Are alternative positions understood thoroughly and presented


• What kinds of sources are cited? How credible and persuasive will they be

to readers? What other kinds of sources might work better?

• Are all quotations introduced with appropriate signal phrases (such as “As

Tyson argues, . . .”) and blended smoothly into the writer’s sentences?

• Are all visuals titled and labeled appropriately? Have you introduced them

and commented on their significance?

Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? Is this organization


• Will readers understand the relationships among the claims, supporting

reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might those connections be

clearer? Is the function of every visual clear? Are more transitions needed?

Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 171 6/19/15 2:24 PM


• Are all visuals carefully integrated into the text? Is each visual introduced

and commented on to point out its significance? Is each visual labeled as

a figure or a table and given a caption as well as a citation?

• Is the style suited to the subject? Is it too formal, casual, or technical? Can

it be improved?

• Which sentences seem effective? Which ones seem weaker, and how

could they be improved? Should short sentences be combined, and any

longer ones be broken up?

• How effective are the paragraphs? Too short or too long? How can they be


• Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or inappro­

priate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are technical or unfamil­

iar terms defined?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Is an appropriate and consistent style of documentation used for paren­

thetical citations and the list of works cited or references? (See Chapter 22.)

• Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it appropriately

designed and attractively presented? How could it be improved?

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 172 6/19/15 2:24 PM

C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 173

P R O J E C T S. 1. Turn a database of information you find in the library or online into a

traditional argument or, alternatively, into an infographic that offers a variety of potential claims. FedStats, a government Web site, provides endless data, but so can the sports or financial sections of a news­ paper. Once you find a rich field of study, examine the data and draw your ideas from it, perhaps amplifying these ideas with material from other related sources of information. If you decide to create an info­ graphic, you’ll find good examples at VizWorld or Cool Infographics online. Software tools you can use to create infographics include Piktochart and Google Public Data. Have fun.

2. Write an argument about one factual matter you are confident — based on personal experience or your state of knowledge — that most people get wrong, time and again. Use your expertise to correct this false impression.

3. Tough economic and political times sometimes reinforce and some­ times undermine cultural myths. With your classmates, generate a list of common beliefs about education, employment, family life, mar­ riage, social progress, technology, and so on that seem to be under unusual scrutiny today. Does it still pay to invest in higher education? Do two-parent households matter as much as they used to? Can children today expect to do better than their parents? Is a home still a good investment? Pick one area to explore in depth, narrow the topic as much as you can, and then gather facts that inform it by doing research, perhaps work­ ing collaboratively to expand your findings. Turn your investigation into a factual argument.

4. Since critic and writer Nicholas Carr first asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” many have answered with a resounding “yes,” arguing that extensive time online is reducing attention spans and leaving readers less critical than ever. Others have disagreed, saying that new tech­ nologies are doing just the opposite — expanding our brain power. Do some research on this controversy, on the Web or in the library, and consult with a wide range of people interested in the subject, perhaps gathering them together for a discussion or panel discussion. Then offer a factual argument based on what you uncover, reflecting the range of perspectives and opinions you have encountered.

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Why You Should Fear Your toaster More than nuclear power

tAYloR pEARSon

For the past month or so, headlines everywhere have

been warning us of the horrible crises caused by the

damaged Japanese nuclear reactors. Titles like “Japan

Nuclear Disaster Tops Scale” have fueled a new wave

of protests against anything nuclear — namely, the

construction of new nuclear plants or even the contin­

ued operation of existing plants. However, all this reig­

nited fear of nuclear energy is nothing more than

media sensationalism. We need nuclear energy. It’s

clean, it’s efficient, it’s economic, and it’s probably the

only thing that will enable us to quickly phase out fos­

sil fuels.

Death Toll

First, let’s address what is probably everyone’s main con­

cern about nuclear energy: the threat it poses to us and

the likelihood of a nuclear power plant killing large num­

bers of people. The actual number of deaths caused by

nuclear power plant accidents, even in worst­case sce­

narios, have been few. Take the Chernobyl accident — the

worst and most lethal nuclear incident to date. As tragic

readers will certainly notice the title.

A recent nuclear disaster in Japan provides a chal- lenging context for Pearson’s claim: we need nuclear energy.

the first-person plural point of view (we) helps Pearson to connect with his audience.

two Sample Factual Arguments

Taylor Pearson wrote “Why You Should Fear Your Toaster More

Than Nuclear Power” while he was a sophomore at the University of

Texas at Austin. The assignment asked for a public argument — one

good enough to attract readers who could put it down if they lost

interest. In other words, a purely academic argument wouldn’t work.

So Pearson allows himself to exercise his sense of humor. Nor did the

paper have to be formally documented. However, Pearson was

expected to identify crucial sources the way writers do in magazines

and newspapers. The paper provides an example of a factual argu­

ment with a clear thesis: “We need nuclear energy.”


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as it was, the incident has killed only eighty-two people.

More specifically, according to a 2005 release by the

World Health Organization, thirty-two were killed in the

effort to put out the fires caused by the meltdown and

thirty-eight died within months of the accident as a

result of acute radiation poisoning. Since the accident

occurred in 1986, an additional twelve people have died

from the radiation they were exposed to during the acci-

dent. Almost all deaths were highly exposed rescue

workers. Other nuclear power accidents have been few

and never resulted in more than ten deaths per incident.

Still think that’s too dangerous? To provide some per-

spective, let’s consider an innocuous household appli-

ance, the toaster: over three thousand people died from

toaster accidents the first year the appliances were pro-

duced and sold in the 1920s, and they still cause around

fifty accident-related deaths every year in the United

States. So your toaster is far more likely to kill you than

any nuclear power plant and subsequently give you a

painfully embarrassing epitaph.

In fact, in comparison to the other major means of

energy production in the United States, nuclear power

is remarkably safe. According to the U.S. Department

of Labor, coal mining currently causes about sixty-

five deaths and eleven thousand injuries per year,

while oil drilling is responsible for approximately

125 deaths per year in the United States. Annual death

tolls fluctuate depending upon the demand for these

resources and the subsequent drilling or mining

required, but the human cost is still exponentially

more than that of nuclear energy. However, in the

decades that nuclear power has been used in the United

States, there have been zero deaths caused by nuclear

power accidents — none at all. That’s much better than

the thousands of lives coal, oil, and toasters have cost us.

If you care about saving human lives, then you should

like nuclear energy.

Pearson deflates fears by putting deaths caused by nuclear plants in perspective.

C h a p t e r 8 ARGUMENTS OF FACT 175

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Despite nuclear energy causing remarkably few deaths,

people are also terrified of another aspect of nuclear

power — radiation. Everyone’s scared of developing a

boulder­size tumor or our apples growing to similar size

as a result of the awful radiation given off by nuclear

power plants or their potential meltdowns. However, it

should comfort you to know (or perhaps not) that you

receive more radiation from a brick wall than from a

nuclear power plant.

We live in a radioactive world — nearly everything

gives off at least a trace amount of radiation; that

includes brick walls. Yes, while such a wall emits about

3.5 millirems of radiation per year, a nuclear power plant

gives off about .3 millirems per year. (Millirem is just a

unit of radiation dosage.) Of course, this low level of

emission is a result of the numerous safeguards set up

around the reactors to suppress radiation. So what hap­

pens if those safeguards fail? Will everyone surrounding

the plant turn into a mutant?

To answer that question, let’s examine the reactor

failures in the recent Japanese nuclear crisis following

several devastating earthquakes. The damage from the

quakes took out the power to several nuclear plants,

which caused their core cooling systems to go offline. To

prevent reactor meltdowns, workers had to douse the

failing reactors in thousands of gallons of seawater to

cool the fuel rods, which contain all the radioactive

materials. Worries about the resulting radioactive sea­

water contaminating the ocean and sea life flared as a

result. But just how radioactive is the water? Officials

from Tokyo Electric Power Company said the water

“would have to be drunk for a whole year in order to

accumulate one millisievert.” People are generally

exposed to about 1 to 10 millisieverts each year from

background radiation caused by substances in the air

and soil. “You would have to eat or drink an awful lot to

the argument uses technical terms but makes sure they are accessible to readers.

the argument is full of data and statistics from what seem to be reputable authorities and sources.

WrItIng Arguments176

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 176 6/19/15 2:24 PM

get any level of radiation that would be harmful,” said

British nuclear expert Laurence Williams. You get

exposed to 5 millisieverts during a coast­to­coast flight

across the United States. According to the U.S. Food and

Drug Administration, you receive between 5 and 60 mil­

lisieverts in a CAT scan, depending on the type. So drink­

ing water for a year that was in direct contact with

containers of radioactive material used in those Japa­

nese nuclear plants will expose you to a fifth of the radi­

ation you would get from the weakest CAT scan. How



But even if we have little to fear from nuclear power

plants themselves, what about the supposedly deadly

by­products of these plants? Opponents of nuclear

energy cite the fact that while nuclear power plants don’t

emit greenhouse gases, they do leave behind waste that

remains radioactive for thousands of years. However,

this nuclear waste problem is exaggerated. According to

Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Stanford Uni­

versity, John McCarthy, a 1,000­megawatt reactor pro­

duces only 1.5 cubic meters of waste after a year of

operation. The current solution is to put the waste in

protective containers and store them in caverns cut in

granite. At the very least, with such a small amount of

waste per reactor, the caverns don’t have to be dug very


Nuclear power plants do produce waste that needs to

be kept away from living things, but the actual amount of

waste produced is small and therefore manageable. If

the United States got all its power from nuclear plants,

the amount of waste produced would be equivalent to

one pill of aspirin per person, per year — tiny compared

to the amount of waste produced by plants that use fos­

sil fuels; the U.S. Energy Information Administration

notes that coal alone produces about 1.8 billion metric

tons of CO2 emissions per year.

As the argu- ment explores various aspects of nuclear energy, head- ings keep the reader on track.

Pearson strate- gically concedes a downside of nuclear energy.

C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 177

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 177 6/19/15 2:24 PM

Quantity is not the only factor that has been exagger­

ated — the amount of time the waste remains danger­

ously radioactive has also been inflated. After about five

hundred years, the fission products’ radiation levels drop

to below the level at which we typically find them in

nature; the thousands of years opponents of nuclear

energy refer to are the years the waste will be radioac­

tive, not excessively so. You don’t want to stand right

next to this material even after those first five hundred

years, but if it can exist in nature without doing any

noticeable damage, then it doesn’t pose any serious

threat. Essentially, everything is radioactive; to criticize

something for being radioactive without specifying the

level of radioactivity means nothing.

Meeting Our Energy Demands

Although I’ve done a lot here in an attempt to defend

nuclear energy, I still acknowledge it’s not perfect. While

the nuclear waste problem isn’t something to be too

worried about, it would still be better if we could satisfy

our demand for energy without producing waste, radio­

active or otherwise. However, I believe nuclear energy is

the only realistic option we have to one day achieve an

entirely clean energy reality.

We live in an age dominated by energy — to power our

cars, our homes, and our computers. Let’s face it: we’re not

going to give up the lifestyle that energy gives us. But

under the current means of energy production — primarily

coal in the United States — we’re pumping out billions of

tons of greenhouse gases that will eventually destroy our

planet. So we have a dilemma. While we want to do some­

thing about global warming, we don’t want to change our

high­energy­consumption way of life. What are our


Currently, completely clean sources of energy haven’t

been developed enough to make them a realistic option

to supply all our energy needs. For solar energy to match

the concluding paragraphs compare nuclear power to potential alternatives.

WrItIng Arguments178

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 178 6/19/15 2:24 PM

the energy production of nuclear power plants presently

in use, we would have to cover an area the size of New

Jersey with solar panels. That’s not a realistic option;

we’re not going to build that many panels just to get our­

selves off of our addiction to fossil fuels. The same is true

of the other renewable energy sources: wind, geother­

mal, hydroelectric, etc. The technologies simply aren’t

mature enough.

However, nuclear power is realistic. We have the

means and the technology to make enough nuclear

power plants to satisfy our electricity demands. Nuclear

plants produce a lot of power with relatively little waste.

Moving from coal to nuclear plants could provide us

with adequate power until we develop more efficient

renewable sources of electricity.

So what’s stopping us? Of course, those heavily

invested in coal and other fossil fuels lobby the govern­

ment to keep their industries profitable, but a large

source of opposition is also the American public. Because

of the atom bombs of World War II, the Cold War, and

Chernobyl, we’re scared of all things nuclear. Anytime

we hear the word “radiation,” images of mushroom

clouds and fallout enter our minds. But nuclear power

plants aren’t bombs. No matter what happens to them,

they will never explode. Strong as it might be, our fear of

nuclear power is overblown and keeping us from using a

source of energy that could literally save our planet. We

need to stop the fearmongering before we burn our

planet to a crisp.

Of course, that’s if our toasters don’t kill us first.

Pearson ends his argument by asking readers to acknowledge that their fears of nuclear power aren’t based in fact.

C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 179

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What the numbers Show about n.F.l. player Arrests


Off­the­field violence by professional football players is coming under

new focus this week after the release of a video involving the star Balti­

more Ravens running back Ray Rice, followed by a bungled response by

the National Football League.

But what do the numbers show about N.F.L. players’ tangles with the

law more broadly? Are some teams’ players more likely to get into legal

trouble? Are arrests rising or falling? What are the most common offenses?

USA Today maintains a database of arrests, charges, and citations of

N.F.L. players for anything more serious than a traffic citation. Maintained

by Brent Schrotenboer, it goes back to 2000 and covers, to date, 713

instances in which pro football players have had a run­in with the law

that was reported by the news media.

The data set is imperfect; after all, it depends on news media outlets

finding out about every time a third­string offensive lineman is pulled


ray rice was arraigned on domestic violence charges in may 2014. He was fired by the Baltimore ravens in september 2014. AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish, Pool

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 180 6/19/15 2:24 PM

over for driving drunk, and so some arrests may well fall through the

cracks. Moreover, arrests are included even if charges are dropped or the

player is found not guilty, so it presumably includes legal run­ins in which

the player did nothing wrong.

Finally, for purposes of these tabulations, a simple drug possession

charge in which no one was hurt counts the same as a case like that of Mr.

Rice, who is on tape punching his fiancée out cold (she is now his wife), or

even that of the former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who is in

jail awaiting trial on murder charges.

But with those caveats aside, here’s what the data show about how pro

football players are interacting with the law. The numbers show a league

in which drunk­driving arrests are a continuing problem and domestic

violence charges are surprisingly common; in which the teams that have

the most players getting in legal trouble don’t always fit the impressions

fans might have; and in which teams with high arrest rates tend to stay

that way over time.

One N.F.L. player in 40 is arrested in a given year. There are 32 teams, each with 53 players on its roster plus another eight on its practice squad

(plus more players who show up for training camp but do not make the

team, but we didn’t attempt to account for them). Thus over the nearly

15 years that the USA Today data goes back, the 713 arrests mean that 2.53

percent of players have had a serious run­in with the law in an average

year. That may sound bad, but the arrest rate is lower than the national

average for men in that age range.

Arrests peaked in the mid-2000s, and are way down this year. The peak year for arrests of N.F.L. players was 2006, followed closely by 2007

and 2008. (These are calendar years, not N.F.L. seasons.) One important

caveat: The apparent increase could be a result of increased coverage of

professional athletes’ legal troubles by Internet media. In other words, we

don’t know for sure whether more N.F.L. players were being arrested in

those years, or whether TMZ and other outlets were better positioned to

find out about it.

Despite the Ray Rice episode, 2014 is on track to be the year with the

fewest arrests of N.F.L. players on record. Through Sept. 10, there had only

been 21. If the final four months of the year proceed at the same pace of

arrests as the first eight, that will come to 28, well below the previous low

of 36 in 2004.

C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 181

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 181 6/19/15 2:24 PM

The most common accusation is driving while drunk, but domestic violence is a big problem. Some 28 percent of the arrests in the database were for driving under the influence, with 202 incidents. Other frequent

categories of charges include assault and battery (88 cases) and drug­

related offenses (82). This data is also a reminder that domestic violence

has been a problem among N.F.L. players since long before Ray and Janay

Rice got on that Atlantic City elevator: There have been 85 charges for

domestic violence and related offenses since 2000.

The Minnesota Vikings have had the most players arrested since 2000. The number of arrests by team range from a low of 11 (tie between the

Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams) versus a high of 44 (the Vikings),

with the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos close behind. (The Hous­

ton Texans also have 11 but started playing in 2002.)

To look at it a different way, across the league from 2000 through 2013,

2.53 percent of players were arrested per year, but for the Vikings, that

number is 5 percent. For the teams tied for fewest arrests, it is 1.3


The Ravens have received negative publicity over Rice, whom they

fired, and over other players’ legal troubles this year, but their 22 player

WrItIng Arguments182

Reasons for NFL players being charged/cited between 2000 and 2014

260 240 220 200 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0


88 85 82

43 38 35 21

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Although driving under the influence is the top reason nfL players ran into trouble with the law, the next three biggest reasons are very concerning. Data from USA Today

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 182 6/19/15 2:24 PM

arrests since 2000 make them right at the leaguewide average. The Oak­

land Raiders have cultivated an image of being a franchise for tough,

rowdy bad boys. The team’s players, however, have had 19 scrapes with

the law since 2000, below average.

The frequency of arrests in a franchise tends to be consistent over time. One might imagine that the number of players from a given fran­ chise who are arrested is a random phenomenon. Maybe, in the rankings

above, for example, the Vikings and the Bengals were just unlucky and the

Cardinals and Rams were just lucky.

But there’s a simple way to test that. If the results were random, you

would expect there to be no correlation between the number of player

arrests in one time period with a subsequent time period. You could even

imagine a negative correlation, if teams that had a run of players getting

in trouble took extra care not to sign players reputed to have character


But that is not what happened over the last 14 years. If you chart the

number of arrests of players from each franchise in the first seven years of

the data, 2000 to 2006, versus the number of arrests that franchise experi­

enced from 2007 to 2013, the correlation is a pretty solid 53 percent. [This]

shows a clear pattern in which those franchises with high numbers of

arrests in the early years also tended to have high numbers of arrests in

later years and vice versa.

The data don’t tell us anything about why these patterns are so per­

sistent, but there are two possibilities that seem to stand out. First,

there could be club culture. The top management of a franchise may

send a message to personnel scouts and coaches that they are either

more or less tolerant of signing players who have had legal problems in

the past. (One might imagine that the personal style of the coach could

play a role as well, but coaches tend not to have long tenures in the

modern N.F.L.; no coach has led his team continuously for the entirety

of the time covered by this arrest data, though the Patriots’ Bill Belichick

misses that honor by only a few weeks, having been hired in late Janu­

ary 2000.)

Second, there is geography. Different cities have different patterns of

living and different approaches to law enforcement. Perhaps players for

the Jets and the Giants (both with persistently low arrest rates) are at less

risk of arrest for D.U.I. because people are less likely to need to drive

C h a p t e r 8 Arguments of fAct 183

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 183 6/19/15 2:24 PM

themselves to nightclubs in Manhattan. Or perhaps in some cities, young

African­American men driving expensive cars attract more police atten­

tion than in others.

Regardless of the reasons, a handful of franchises have persistently

higher numbers of players who end up being arrested, and may want to

learn from their rivals in other cities as to why.

WrItIng Arguments184

08_LUN_9864_ch08_151_184.indd 184 6/19/15 2:24 PM


Left to right: AP Photo/Seth Wenig; Bill Wight/Getty Images; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Arguments of Definition 9

A student writes a cookbook for her master’s thesis, hoping to make it easier for people to eat good, healthy food for less money. Her work helps redefine current definitions of thesis.

A panel of judges must decide whether computer-enhanced images will be eligible in a contest for landscape photography. At what point is an electronically manipulated image no longer a photograph?

A conservative student group accuses the student government on cam- pus of sponsoring a lecture series featuring a disproportionate number of “left-wing” writers and celebrities. A spokesperson for the student government defends its program by questioning the definition of left- wing used to classify some of the speakers.

09_LUN_9864_ch09_185_209.indd 185 6/19/15 2:39 PM


Understanding Arguments of Definition

Definitions matter. Just ask a scientist, a mathematician, an engineer, a judge — or just an everyday person who wants to marry someone of the same sex. In 1996, the Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage in federal law this way:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife. 1 U.S.C. 7.

This decision and its definitions of marriage and spouse have been chal- lenged over and over again in the ensuing decades, leading eventually to another Supreme Court decision, in the summer of 2013, that declared DOMA unconstitutional. The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, found that the earlier law was discriminatory and that it labeled same-sex unions as “less worthy than the marriage of others.” In so ruling, the court affirmed that the federal government cannot differen tiate between a “marriage” of heterosexuals and one of homo- sexuals. Laws regarding marriage — and thus attempting to define or redefine the term — are still ongoing, and you might want to check the status of such controversies in your own state.

In any case, such decisions demonstrate that arguments of definition aren’t abstract academic exercises: they are contentious and very often have important consequences for ordinary people. That’s because they wield the power to say what someone or something is or can be. Such arguments can both include or exclude: A wolf in Montana either is an endangered species or it isn’t. An unsolicited kiss is or is not sexual harassment. A person merits official political refugee status in the United States or doesn’t. Another way of approaching definitional argu- ments, however, is to think of what falls between is and is not in a defini- tional claim. In fact, many definitional disputes occur in that murky realm.

Consider the controversy over how to define human intelligence. Some argue that human intelligence is a capacity that is measured by tests of verbal and mathematical reasoning. In other words, it’s defined by IQ and SAT scores. Others define intelligence as the ability to perform

09_LUN_9864_ch09_185_209.indd 186 6/19/15 2:39 PM

C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 187

specific practical tasks. Still others interpret intelligence in emotional terms as a competence in relating to other people. Any of these positions could be defended reasonably, but perhaps the wisest approach would be to construct a definition of intelligence that is rich enough to incorpo- rate all these perspectives — and maybe more.

The fact is that crucial political, social, and scientific terms — such as intelligence, social justice, war, or marriage — are reargued, reshaped, and updated for the times.

The use of drones in air strikes — and the loss of civilian lives involved — has led to a heated national controversy. Commenting in The Daily Kos, MinistryOfTruth wrote:

We all cringe when we hear of the innocent lives lost at war and civil- ians caught in the crossfire. These civilian deaths are always sad and tragic reminders of the cost of war. The Military/Industrial Complex doesn’t like that. Reports of civilian deaths make the wars unpopular, and that’s not the right way to continue to justify an ever growing military budget full of expensive drone missiles and the longest war in American history, is it? Nope. So what do they do? Re-define the dead civilians.

— MinistryOfTruth, in The Daily Kos

Blogger MinistryOfTruth goes on to quote from a lengthy article in the New York Times concluding that the administration “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that . . . in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” As this

example illustrates, during war times it is especially important to watch how definitions get shifted and changed to shape or change reality.

The argument over how to define militants and combatants will not be settled simply by consulting a dictionary, no matter how up to date it is. In fact, dictionaries inevitably reflect the way that particular groups of people use words at a specified time and place. And like any form of writing, these reference books mirror the prejudices of their makers — as shown, perhaps most famously, in the entries of lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784),

Red DaxLuma Gallery/ Shutterstock

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who gave the English language its first great dictionary. Johnson, no friend of the Scots, defined oats as “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” (To be fair, he also defined lexicographer as “a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.”) Thus, it’s possible to disagree with dictionary definitions or to regard them merely as starting points for arguments.

the Dictionary for Landlubbers defines words according to their point of view! Excerpted from SAILING: A Dictionary for Landlubbers, Old Salts, & Armchair Drifters. Copyright © 1981 by Henry Beard and Roy McKie. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

R E S P O N D. Briefly discuss how you might define the italicized terms in the following controversial claims of definition. Compare your definitions of the terms with those of your classmates.

Graphic novels are serious literature.

Burning a nation’s flag is a hate crime.

Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington aren’t journalists.

College sports programs have become big businesses.

Plagiarism can be an act of civil disobedience.

Satanism is a religion properly protected by the First Amendment.

Campaign contributions are acts of free speech that should never be regulated.

The District of Columbia should not have all the privileges of an American state.

Polygamous couples should have the legal privileges of marriage.

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 189

Kinds of Definition

Because there are different kinds of definitions, there are also different ways to make a definition argument. Fortunately, identifying a particular type of definition is less important than appreciating when an issue of definition is at stake. Let’s explore some common definitional issues.

Formal Definitions

Formal definitions are what you find in dictionaries. Such definitions place a term in its proper genus and species — first determining its class and then identifying the features or criteria that distinguish it from other members of that class. That sounds complicated, but a definition will help you see the principle. To define hybrid car, you might first place it in a general class — passenger vehicles. Then the formal definition would distinguish hybrid cars from other passenger vehicles: they can move using two or more sources of power, either separately or in combination. So the full definition might look like this: a hybrid car is a passenger vehicle (genus) that can operate using two or more sources of power, separately or in combination (species).

Many arguments involve deciding whether an object meets the crite- ria set by a formal definition. For instance, suppose that you are

2014 Honda insight: fully hybrid or something else? PHOTOEDIT/PhotoEdit, Inc.

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considering whether a Toyota Prius and a Honda Insight are comparable hybrid vehicles. Both are clearly passenger cars, so the genus raises no questions. But not all vehicles that claim to be hybrids are powered by two sources: some of them are just electrically assisted versions of a regular gasoline car. That’s the species question. Looking closely, you discover that a Prius can run on either gas or electric power alone. But does the Insight have that flexibility? Not quite. It has an electric motor that assists its small gas engine, but the vehicle never runs on electricity alone. So technically the Insight is labeled a mild hybrid whereas the Prius is called a full hybrid. This definitional distinction obviously has consequences for consumers concerned about CO2 emissions.

Operational Definitions

Operational definitions identify an object or idea by what it does or by what conditions create it. For example, someone’s offensive sexual imposition on another person may not meet the technical definition of harassment unless it is considered unwanted, unsolicited, and repeated. These three conditions then define what makes an act that might be acceptable in some situations turn into harassment. But they might also then become part of a highly contentious debate: were the conditions actually present in a given case? For example, could an offensive act really be harassment if the accused believed sexual interest was mutual and therefore solicited?

As you might imagine, arguments arise from operational definitions whenever people disagree about what the conditions define or whether these conditions have been fulfilled. Here are some examples of those types of questions:

Questions Related to Conditions

● Can institutional racism occur in the absence of specific and individ- ual acts of racism?

● Can someone who is paid for their community service still be called a volunteer?

● Can an offensive act be termed harassment if the accused believed sexual interest was mutual and therefore solicited?

how does amy Zimmerman’s

piece “It ain’t easy Being Bisexual

on tV” add complexity to and

challenge typical culturally reinforced

operational definitions of sexuality?

linK tO p. 561

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 191

Questions Related to Fulfillment of Conditions

● Has an institution supported traditions or policies that have led to widespread racial inequities?

● Was the compensation given to a volunteer really “pay” or simply “reimbursement” for expenses?

● Should a person be punished for harassment if he or she believed the offensive action to be solicited?

Prince Charming considers whether an action would fulfill the conditions for an operational definition. Cartoonstock Ltd./www.CartoonStock.com

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R E S P O N D. This chapter opens with several rhetorical situations that center on defi- nitional issues. Select one of these situations, and then, using the strategy of formal definition, set down some criteria of definition. For example, identify the features of a photograph that make it part of a larger class (art, communication method, journalistic technique). Next, identify the features that make it distinct from other members of that larger class. Then use the strategy of operational definition to establish criteria for the same object: what does it do? Remember to ask questions related to conditions (Is a computer-scanned photograph still a photograph?) and questions related to fulfillment of conditions (Does a good photocopy of a photograph achieve the same effect as the photograph itself?).

Definitions by Example

Resembling operational definitions are definitions by example, which define a class by listing its individual members. Such definitions can be helpful when it is easier to illustrate or show what related people or

An app like Discovr music defines musical styles by example when it connects specific artists or groups to others who make similar sounds. Discovr Music 2012

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 193

things have in common than to explain each one in precise detail. For example, one might define the broad category of tablets by listing the major examples of these products or define heirloom tomatoes by recall- ing all those available at the local farmers’ market.

Arguments of this sort may focus on who or what may be included in a list that defines a category — classic movies, worst natural disasters, groundbreaking painters. Such arguments often involve comparisons and contrasts with the items that most readers would agree belong in this list. One could ask why Washington, D.C., is denied the status of a state: how does it differ from the fifty recognized American states? Or one might wonder why the status of planet is denied to asteroids, when both planets and asteroids are bodies that orbit the sun. A comparison between planets and asteroids might suggest that size is one essential feature of the eight recognized planets that asteroids don’t meet. (In 2006, in a famous exercise in definitional argument, astronomers decided to deny poor Pluto its planetary classification.)

Developing a Definitional Argument

Definitional arguments don’t just appear out of the blue; they often evolve out of daily life. You might get into an argument over the defini- tion of ordinary wear and tear when you return a rental car with some soiled upholstery. Or you might be asked to write a job description for a new position to be created in your office: you have to define the job posi- tion in a way that doesn’t step on anyone else’s turf. Or maybe employ- ees on your campus object to being defined as temporary workers when they’ve held their same jobs for years. Or someone derides one of your best friends as just a nerd. In a dozen ways every day, you encounter situ- ations that are questions of definition. They’re so frequent and indis- pensable that you barely notice them for what they are.

Formulating Claims

In addressing a question of definition, you’ll likely formulate a tentative claim — a declarative statement that represents your first response to such situations. Note that such initial claims usually don’t follow a single definitional formula.

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Claims of Definition

A person paid to do public service is not a volunteer.

Institutional racism can exist — maybe even thrive — in the absence of overt civil rights violations.

Political bias has been consistently practiced by the mainstream media.

Theatergoers shouldn’t confuse musicals with operas.

White lies are hard to define but easy to recognize.

None of the statements listed here could stand on its own because it likely reflects a first impression and gut reaction. But that’s fine because making a claim of definition is typically a starting point, a cocky moment that doesn’t last much beyond the first serious rebuttal or challenge. Statements like these aren’t arguments until they’re attached to rea- sons, data, warrants, and evidence (see Chapter 7).

Finding good reasons to support a claim of definition usually requires formulating a general definition by which to explore the subject. To be persuasive, the definition must be broad and not tailored to the specific controversy:

A volunteer is . . .

Institutional racism is . . .

Political bias is . . .

A musical is . . . but an opera is . . .

A white lie is . . .

Now consider how the following claims might be expanded with a gen- eral definition to become full-fledged definitional arguments:

Arguments of Definition

Someone paid to do public service is not a volunteer because volun- teers are people who . . .

Institutional racism can exist even in the absence of overt violations of civil rights because, by definition, institutional racism is . . .

Political bias in the media is evident when . . .

Musicals focus on words first while operas . . .

The most important element of a white lie is its destructive nature; the act of telling one hurts both the receiver and the sender.

Notice, too, that some of the issues can involve comparisons between things — such as operas and musicals.

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 195

Crafting Definitions

Imagine that you decide to tackle the concept of paid volunteer in the fol- lowing way:

Participants in the federal AmeriCorps program are not really volun- teers because they receive “education awards” for their public service. Volunteers are people who work for a cause without receiving compensation.

In Toulmin terms, as explained in Chapter 7, the argument looks like this:

Claim Participants in AmeriCorps aren’t volunteers . . .

Reason . . . because they are paid for their service.

Warrant People who are compensated for their services are, ordinarily, employees.

As you can see, the definition of volunteers will be crucial to the shape of the argument. In fact, you might think you’ve settled the matter with this tight little formulation. But now it’s time to listen to the readers over your shoulder (again, see Chapter 7), who are pushing you further. Do the terms of your definition account for all pertinent cases of volunteerism — in particular, any related to the types of public service AmeriCorps members might be involved in? What do you do with unpaid interns: how do they affect your definition of volunteers? Consider, too, the word cause in your original claim of the definition:

Volunteers are people who work for a cause without receiving compensation.

Cause has political connotations that you may or may not intend. You’d better clarify what you mean by cause when you discuss its definition in your paper. Might a phrase such as the public good be a more comprehen- sive or appropriate substitute for a cause? And then there’s the matter of compensation in the second half of your definition:

Volunteers are people who work for a cause without receiving compensation.

Aren’t people who volunteer to serve on boards, committees, and com- missions sometimes paid, especially for their expenses? What about members of the so-called all-volunteer military? They’re financially compensated during their years of service, and they enjoy benefits after they complete their tours of duty.

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As you can see, you can’t just offer up a definition as part of an argu- ment and expect that readers will accept it. Every part of a definition has to be interrogated, critiqued, and defended. So investigate your subject in the library, on the Internet, and in conversation with others, including experts if you can. You might then be able to present your definition in a single paragraph, or you may have to spend several pages coming to terms with the complexity of the core issue.

After conducting research of this kind, you’ll be in a better position to write an extended definition that explains to your readers what you believe makes a volunteer a volunteer, how to identify institutional rac- ism, or how to distinguish between a musical and an opera.

Matching Claims to Definitions

Once you’ve formulated a definition that readers will accept — a demanding task in itself — you might need to look at your particular sub- ject to see if it fits your general definition. It should provide evidence of one of the following:

● It is a clear example of the class defined.

● It clearly falls outside the defined class.

● It falls between two closely related classes or fulfills some conditions of the defined class but not others.

● It defies existing classes and categories and requires an entirely new definition.

How do you make this key move in an argument? Here’s an example from an article by Anthony Tommasini entitled “Opera? Musical? Please Respect the Difference.” Early in the piece, Tommasini argues that a key element separates the two musical forms:

Both genres seek to combine words and music in dynamic, felicitous and, to invoke that all-purpose term, artistic ways. But in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.

His claim of definition (or of difference) makes sense because it clarifies aspects of the two genres.

This explains why for centuries opera-goers have revered works writ- ten in languages they do not speak. . . . As long as you basically know

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 197

what is going on and what is more or less being said, you can be swept away by a great opera, not just by music, but by visceral drama.

In contrast, imagine if the exhilarating production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes now on Broadway . . . were to play in Japan without any kind of titling technology. The wit of the musical is embedded in its lyrics. . . .

But even after having found a distinction so perceptive, Tommasini (like most writers making arguments of definition) still has to acknowledge exceptions.

Theatergoing audiences may not care much whether a show is a musical or an opera. But the best achievements in each genre . . . have been from composers and writers who grounded themselves in a tra- dition, even while reaching across the divide. [emphasis added]

If evidence you’ve gathered while developing an argument of definition suggests that similar limitations may be necessary, don’t hesitate to modify your claim. It’s amazing how often seemingly cut-and-dried matters of definition become blurry — and open to compromise and accommodation — as you learn more about them. That has proved to be the case as various campuses across the country have tried to define hate speech or internship — tricky matters. And even the Supreme Court has never said exactly what pornography is. Just when matters seem to be settled, new legal twists develop. Should virtual child pornography cre- ated with software be illegal, as is the real thing? Or is a virtual image — even a lewd one — an artistic expression that is protected (as other works of art are) by the First Amendment?

Considering Design and Visuals

In thinking about how to present your argument of definition, you may find a simple visual helpful, such as the Venn diagram on page 198 from Wikimedia Commons that defines sustainability as the place where our society and its economy intersect with the environment. Such a visual might even suggest a structure for an oral presentation.

Remember too that visuals like photographs, charts, and graphs can also help you make your case. Such items might demonstrate that the conditions for a definition have been met — as the widely circulated and horrific photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq helped to define

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torture. Or you might create a graphic yourself to illustrate a concept you are defining, perhaps through comparison and contrast.

Finally, don’t forget that basic design elements — such as boldface and italics, headings, or links in online text — can contribute to (or detract from) the credibility and persuasiveness of your argument of definition. (See Chapter 14 for more on “Visual Rhetoric.”)





See this diagram in context as one

of the visuals supporting Christian r.

Weisser’s definitional argument in


linK tO p. 602

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 199

● Finding a topic

You’re entering an argument of definition when you:

• formulate a controversial or provocative definition: The American Dream,

which once meant a McMansion in a gated community, now has taken on a new


• challenge a definition: For most Americans today, the American Dream involves

not luxury but the secure pensions, cheap energy costs, and health insurance that

workers in the 1950s and 1960s supposedly enjoyed.

• try to determine whether something fits an existing definition: Expanding

opportunity is (or is not) central to the American Dream.

• seek to broaden an existing definition or create a new definition to accom-

modate wider or differing perspectives: In a world where information is eas-

ily and freely shared, it may be time to explore alternative understandings of the

American Dream.

Look for issues of definition in your everyday affairs — for instance, in the

way that jobs are classified at work, that key terms are used in your academic

major, that politicians characterize social issues that concern you, and so on.

Be especially alert to definitional arguments that may arise when you or oth-

ers deploy adjectives such as true, real, actual, or genuine: a true patriot, real

reform, authentic Mexican food.

● Researching Your topic

You can research issues of definition by using the following sources:

• college dictionaries and encyclopedias

• unabridged dictionaries

• specialized reference works and handbooks, such as legal and medical


• your textbooks (check their glossaries)

• newsgroups and blogs that focus on particular topics, especially political


• community or advocacy groups that are engaged in legal or social issues

• social media postings by experts you respect

to writing an argument of definitiongUiDE

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Browse in your library reference room and use the electronic indexes and

databases to determine how often disputed or contentious terms or phrases

occur in influential online newspapers, journals, and Web sites.

When dealing with definitions, ask librarians about the most appropriate

and reliable sources. For instance, to find the definition of a legal term, Black’s

Law Dictionary or a database such as FindLaw may help. Check USA.gov for

how the government defines terms.

● Formulating a Claim

After exploring your subject, try to formulate a thesis that lets readers know

where you stand or what issues are at stake. Begin with the following types

of questions:

• questions related to genus: Is assisting in suicide a crime?

• questions related to species: Is marijuana a harmful addictive drug or a useful

medical treatment?

• questions related to conditions: Must the imposition of sexual attention be

both unwanted and unsolicited to be considered sexual harassment?

• questions related to fulfillment of conditions: Has our college kept in place

traditions or policies that might constitute racial discrimination?

• questions related to membership in a named class: Can a story put together

out of thirty-one retweets be called a novel, or even a short story?

If you start with a thesis, it should be a complete statement that makes a

claim of definition and states the reasons supporting it. You may later

decide to separate the claim from its supporting reasons. But a working

thesis should be a fully articulated thought that spells out all the details

and qualifications: Who? What? Where? When? How many? How regularly?

How completely?

However, since arguments of definition are often exploratory and tenta-

tive, an initial thesis (if you have one) may simply describe problems in for-

mulating a particular definition: What we mean by X is likely to remain unsettled

until we can agree more fully about Y and Z; The key to understanding what consti-

tutes X may lie in appreciating how different groups approach Y and Z.

● Examples of Definitional Claims

• Assisting a gravely ill person in committing suicide should not be consid-

ered murder when the motive for the act is to ease a person’s suffering and

not to benefit from the death.

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 201

• Although somewhat addictive, marijuana should not be classified as a

dangerous drug because it damages individuals and society less than her-

oin or cocaine and because it helps people with life-threatening diseases

live more comfortably.

• Giving college admission preference to all racial minorities can be an

example of class discrimination because such policies may favor middle-

and upper-class students who are already advantaged.

• Attempts to define the concept of freedom need to take into account the

way the term is historically understood in cultures worldwide, not just in

the countries of Western Europe and North America.

● preparing a proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your project, here’s a

format that may help:

State your thesis or hypothesis completely. If you’re having trouble doing so, try outlining it in Toulmin terms:




Alternatively, you might describe the complications of a definitional issue you hope to explore in your project, with the thesis perhaps coming later.

• Explain why this argument of definition deserves attention. What’s at stake? Why is it important for your readers to consider?

• Identify whom you hope to reach through your argument and why these readers would be interested in it. How might you involve them in the paper?

• Briefly discuss the key challenges that you anticipate in preparing your argument.

• Determine what sources you expect to consult: Web? Databases? Dictio- naries? Encyclopedias? Periodicals?

• Determine what visuals to include in your definitional argument.

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● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your argument of definition? Does it

call for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or some-

thing else?

• What medium is most appropriate for your argument? Would it be best

delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod-

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs,

charts — and what function will they play in your argument? Make sure

they are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the


● thinking about Organization

Your argument of definition is likely to include some of the following parts:

• a claim involving a question of definition

• a general definition of some key concept

• a careful look at your subject in terms of that general definition

• evidence for every part of the argument, including visual evidence if


• a careful consideration of alternative views and counterarguments

• a conclusion drawing out the implications of the argument

It’s impossible, however, to predict what emphasis each of those parts might

receive or what the ultimate shape of an argument of definition will be. Try to

account for the ways people with different points of view will likely respond

to your argument. Then, consider how to address such differences civilly in

the body of your argument.

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 203

● getting and giving Response: Questions for peer Response

Your instructor may assign you to a group for the purpose of reading and

responding to each other’s drafts. If not, ask for responses from serious read-

ers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following questions to evaluate

a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your comments with examples; spe-

cific comments help more than general observations.

The Claim

• Is the claim clearly an issue of definition?

• Is the claim significant enough to interest readers?

• Are clear and specific criteria established for the concept being defined?

Do the criteria define the term adequately? Using this definition, could

most readers identify what’s being defined and distinguish it from other

related concepts?

Evidence for the Claim

• Is enough evidence furnished to explain or support the definition? If not,

what kind of additional evidence is needed?

• Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are its sig-

nificance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed discussion


• Are all the conditions of the definition met in the concept being


• Are any objections readers might have to the claim, criteria, evidence, or

way the definition is formulated adequately addressed? Have you repre-

sented other points of view completely and fairly?

• What kinds of sources are cited? How credible and persuasive will they be

to readers? What other kinds of sources might work better?

• Are all quotations introduced with appropriate signal phrases (such as “As

Tyson argues, . . .”) and blended smoothly into the writer’s sentences?

• Are all visual sources labeled, introduced, and commented upon?

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Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? Is this organization


• Will readers understand the relationships among the claims, supporting

reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might those connections be

clearer? Is the function of every visual clear? Are more transitions needed?

Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


• Are all visuals (or other elements such as audio or video clips) carefully

integrated into the text? Is each visual introduced and commented on to

point out its significance? Is each visual labeled as a figure or a table and

given a caption as well as a citation?

• Is the style suited to the subject? Is it too formal, casual, or technical? Can

it be improved?

• Which sentences seem effective? Which ones seem weaker, and how

could they be improved? Should short sentences be combined, and any

longer ones be broken up?

• How effective are the paragraphs? Too short or too long? How can they be


• Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or inappro-

priate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are technical or unfamil-

iar terms defined?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Is the documentation appropriate and consistent? (See Chapter 22.)

• Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it appropriately

designed and attractively presented?

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C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 205

P R O J E C T S. 1. Write an argument of definition about a term such as military combat-

ants or illegal alien that has suddenly become culturally significant or recently changed in some important way. Either defend the way the term has come to be defined or raise questions about its appropriate- ness, offensiveness, inaccuracy, and so on. Consider words or expres- sions such as terrorism, marriage equality, racist, assisted suicide, enhanced interrogation, tea partier, collateral damage, forcible rape, net neutrality, etc.

2. Write an essay in which you compare or contrast the meaning of two related terms, explaining the differences between them by using one or more methods of definition: formal definition, operational definition, definition by example. Be clever in your choice of the initial terms: look for a pairing in which the differences might not be immediately appar- ent to people unfamiliar with how the terms are used in specific com- munities. Consider terms such as liberal/progressive, classy/cool, lead soprano/prima donna, student athlete/jock, highbrow /intellectual, and so on.

3. In an essay at the end of this chapter, Natasha Rodriguez explores the adjective underprivileged, trying to understand why this label bothers her so much. She concludes that needing financial aid should not be conflated with being disadvantaged. After reading this selection care- fully, respond to Rodriguez’s argument in an argument of definition of your own. Or, alternatively, explore a concept similar to “underprivi- leged” with the same intensity that Rodriguez brings to her project. Look for a term to define and analyze either from your major or from an area of interest to you.

4. Because arguments of definition can have such important conse- quences, it helps to develop one by first getting input from lots of “stakeholders,” that is, from people or groups likely to be affected by any change in the way a term is defined. Working with a small group, identify a term in your school or wider community that might need a fresh formulation or a close review. It could be a familiar campus word or phrase such as nontraditional student, diversity, scholastic dishonesty, or social justice; or it may be a term that has newly entered the local environment, perhaps reflecting an issue of law enforcement, safety, transportation, health, or even entertainment. Once you have settled on a significant term, identify a full range of stakeholders. Then, through some systematic field research (interviews, questionnaires) or by examining existing documents and materials (such as library sources, Web sites, pamphlets, publications), try to understand how the term currently functions in your community. Your definitional argument will, in effect, be what you can learn about the meanings that word or phrase has today for a wide variety of people.

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Who Are You Calling Underprivileged?


I have come to loathe the word “underprivileged.” When I

filled out my college applications, I checked off the

Latino/Hispanic box whenever I was asked to give my

ethnicity. My parents in turn indicated their income,

hoping that we would qualify for financial aid. But while

I waited for acceptances and rejections, several colleges I

was considering sent me material that made me feel

worthless rather than excited about attending those


The first mailing I received was a brochure that fea-

tured a photograph of African-American, Asian, and

Latino teens standing around in a cluster, their faces full

of laughter and joy. The title of the brochure was “Help

for Underprivileged Students.” At first I was confused:

“Underprivileged” was not a word that I associated with

myself. But there was the handout, with my name

printed boldly on the surface.

The text went on to inform me that, since I was a stu-

dent who had experienced an underprivileged life, I

could qualify for several kinds of financial aid and schol-

arships. While I appreciated the intent, I was turned off

by that one word — “underprivileged.”

I had never been called that before. The word made

me question how I saw myself in the world. Yes, I needed

financial aid, and I had received generous scholarships

to help me attend a private high school on the Upper

East Side of New York. Surely that didn’t mean that I had

the author questions the connotations of underprivileged.


two Sample Definitional Arguments

Courtesy of Natasha Rodriguez

Natasha Rodriguez is a student at Sarah Lawrence College, where

she edits the features section of her school newspaper, the Phoenix.

09_LUN_9864_ch09_185_209.indd 206 6/19/15 2:39 PM

lived a less-privileged life than others. My upbringing

had been very happy.

What does “underprivileged” actually mean? Accord-

ing to most dictionaries, the word refers to a person who

does not enjoy the same standard of living or rights as a

majority of people in a society. I don’t fit that definition.

Even though my family does not have a lot of money, we

have always had enough to get by, and I have received an

excellent education.

What angered me most about the label was why col-

leges would ever use such a term. Who wants to be called

underprivileged? I’m sure that even those who have had

no opportunities would not want their social status

rubbed in their faces so blatantly. People should be

referred to as underprivileged only if they’re the ones

who are calling themselves that.

Misfortune, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s not appropriate to slap labels on people that they

might not like or even agree with. Social research has

found that those who are negatively labeled usually have

lower self-esteem than others who are not labeled in

that way. So why does the label of “underprivileged”


Most colleges brag about the diversity of their stu-

dents. But I don’t want to be bragged about if my ethnic-

ity is automatically associated with “underprivileged.”

Several colleges that had not even received information

on my parents’ finances just assumed that I was under-

privileged because I had checked “Latino/Hispanic” on

their applications.

That kind of labeling has to stop. Brochures and hand-

outs could be titled “Help for Students in Need” rather

than “Help for Underprivileged Students.” I am sure that

many people, myself included, are more than willing to

admit that they require financial aid, and would feel fine

about a college that referred to them as a student in need.

That’s a definition I can agree with. I am a student in

need; I’m just not an underprivileged one.

the author then gives a standard definition for underprivileged and explains why she refuses the label.

the author examines the assumptions colleges make based on ethnicity and income.

the essay concludes with the author’s own self-definition.

C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 207

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Friending: the Changing Definition of Friendship in the Social Media Era


March 6, 2014

In just two months, I boosted my LinkedIn connections from 300 to almost

500. I was proud of winning the numbers game. However, recently when I

was trying to request an informational interview via LinkedIn, I was

depressed that less than 5% actually responded to me. I think I know most

of them, but I actually don’t. Or they don’t think so. Maybe this is social

media’s fault. It creates the illusion of intimacy and closeness that doesn’t

actually exist. Maybe I should blame myself. I rushed to think of my social

media connections as true friends that I could rely on.

I forgot the rules of friendship. Social media is a new platform for com-

munication that expands and accelerates the way we connect and engage

people, but the old rules of thumb for building relationships are still there.

To understand what makes a friend a “friend” in social media, we’d better

step back and think about the chemistry needed in true friendship (sans

social media).

To make a true friend, we first need to get to know the person well,

such that we understand what she likes and dislikes, what experiences

have made her who she is today, and what her values are in life. Yet know-

ing someone does not guarantee a lasting friendship. For example, some

people know their boss pretty well, yet they may not define their boss as a

friend. In addition to knowing each other well, building friendships takes

time; it’s necessary for both sides to have some investment in the


Now let’s get back to the world of social media and reconsider the pro-

cess of making friends. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other social


Joyce Xinran Liu is a graduate in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwest-

ern University’s Medill School. She posted this piece on a blog called Vitamin IMC, a site

developed by the graduate students in the program to “educate marketers, potential stu-

dents and companies about integrated marketing communications — what it is, how it’s

applied and how it builds profit within organizations.”

09_LUN_9864_ch09_185_209.indd 208 6/19/15 2:39 PM

media platforms have provided tons of personal information — both ongo-

ing and historical — about people we want to know. For example, we can

gain insights into someone’s social life and interests through Facebook,

get up-to-the-minute status updates from Twitter, and read someone’s

full professional experience on LinkedIn. A five-minute search on a social

media platform can make us feel that we are old friends of the person we

want to make friends with. But this is only one side of the story since the

person we are searching into may not feel the same way as we do. This is

often the case. A one-way connection without reciprocal engagement can

never be thought of as a friendship, even on social media.

When acquaintances share their joys, complaints or even private

information on social media, does it mean that they deem all of these

online connections as real friends? Probably not. But why share their pri-

vate information then? My argument is that they sacrifice their privacy in

exchange for intimacy. Some people may want to make more friends,

attract more attention, or even enhance self-esteem with the inflated inti-

macy they receive from friends, acquaintances and mere strangers on

social media. These shared social media updates make people feel close,

but it doesn’t always mean they are close.

It’s not social media’s fault that it helps us develop a wide net of con-

nections, yet still leaves us wanting more. We’ve created the myth of

building strong relationships via social media. It’s possible to build friend-

ship online, but more often we need to integrate online engagement with

offline interaction. Overall, social media has changed ways people inter-

act with each other, but it has not affected the rooted norms and social-

ization process of making friends either online or offline. And it’s time to

adjust our expectations for building relationships in this new media


C h a p t e r 9 Arguments of Definition 209

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Left to right: Mario Tama/Getty Images; Jonah Willihnganz, The Stanford Storytelling Project; Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“We don’t want to go there for coffee. Their beans aren’t fair trade, the drinks are high in calories, and the stuff is way overpriced.”

The campus storytelling project has just won a competition sponsored by NPR, and everyone involved is thrilled. Then they realize that this year all but one of the leaders of this project will graduate and that they have very few new recruits. So they put their heads together to figure out what qualities they need in new recruits that will help maintain the excellence of their project.

Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane is playing at the Student Union for only one more night, but the new Captain America is featured across the street in 3-D. Guess which movie your roomie wants to see? You intend to set her straight.

Evaluations 10


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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 211

Understanding Evaluations

Evaluations are everyday arguments. By the time you leave home in the morning, you’ve likely made a dozen informal evaluations: You’ve selected dressy clothes because you have a job interview with a law firm. You’ve chosen low-fat yogurt and fruit over the pancakes you really love. You’ve queued up the perfect playlist on your iPhone for your hike to campus. In each case, you’ve applied criteria to a particular problem and then made a decision. That’s evaluating on the fly.

Some professional evaluations require more elaborate standards, evi- dence, and paperwork (imagine an aircraft manufacturer certifying a new jet for passenger service), but they don’t differ structurally from the simpler choices that people make all the time. People love to voice their opinions, and they always have. In fact, a mode of ancient rhetoric — called the ceremonial or epideictic (see Chapter 1) — was devoted entirely to speeches of praise and blame.

Today, rituals of praise and blame are a significant part of American life. Adults who would choke at the notion of debating causal or defini- tional claims will happily spend hours appraising the Oakland Raiders, Boston Red Sox, or Tampa Bay Rays. Other evaluative spectacles in our culture include awards shows, beauty pageants, most-valuable-player presentations, lists of best-dressed or worst-dressed celebrities, “sexiest people” magazine covers, literary prizes, political opinion polls, con- sumer product magazines, and — the ultimate formal public gesture of evaluation — elections. Indeed, making evaluations is a form of enter- tainment in America and generates big audiences (think of The Voice) and revenues.

arguments about sports are usually evaluations of some kind. Cal Sport Media via AP Images

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R E S P O N D. The last ten years have seen a proliferation of “reality” talent shows — Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, American (or Canadian or Australian or many other) Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and so on. Write a short opinion piece assessing the merits of a particular “talent” show. What should a proper event of this kind accomplish? Does the event you’re reviewing do so?

Criteria of Evaluation

Arguments of evaluation can produce simple rankings and winners or can lead to profound decisions about our lives, but they always involve standards. The particular standards we establish for judg ing anything — whether an idea, a work of art, a person, or a product — are called criteria of evaluation. Sometimes criteria are self-evident: a car that gets fifteen miles per gallon is a gas hog, and a piece of fish that smells even a little off shouldn’t be eaten. But criteria get complicated when a subject is abstract: What features make a song a classic? What con- stitutes a fair wage? How do we measure a successful foreign policy or college career? Struggling to identify such difficult criteria of evaluation can lead to important insights into your values, motives, and preferences.

Why make such a big deal about criteria when many acts of evalua- tion seem effortless? We should be suspicious of our judgments espe- cially when we make them casually. It’s irresponsible simply to think that spontaneous and uninformed quips should carry the same weight as well-informed and well-reasoned opinions. Serious evaluations always require reflection, and when we look deeply into our judgments, we sometimes discover important questions that typically go unasked, many prefaced by why:

● You challenge the grade you received in a course, but you don’t ques- tion the practice of grading.

● You argue passionately that a Republican Congress is better for Amer- ica than a Democratic alternative, but you fail to ask why voters get only two choices.

● You argue that buying a hybrid car makes more sense than keeping an SUV, but you don’t ask whether taking alternative forms of trans- portation (like the bus or a bike) makes the most sense of all.

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 213

Push an argument of evaluation hard enough and even simple judg- ments become challenging and intriguing.

In fact, for many writers, grappling with criteria is the toughest step in producing an evaluation. When you offer an opinion about a topic you know reasonably well, you want readers to learn something from your judgment. So you need time to think about and then justify the criteria for your opinion, whatever the subject.

Do you think, for instance, that you could explain what (if anything) makes a veggie burger good? Though many people have eaten veggie burgers, they probably haven’t spent much time thinking about them. But it wouldn’t be enough to claim merely that a proper one should be juicy or tasty — such trite claims are not even interesting. The following criteria offered on the Cook’s Illustrated Web site show what happens when experts give the issue a closer look:

We wanted to create veggie burgers that even meat eaters would love. We didn’t want them to taste like hamburgers, but we did want them to act like hamburgers, having a modicum of chew, a harmonious blend of savory ingredients, and the ability to go from grill to bun without falling apart. [emphasis added]

— Cook’s Illustrated

After a lot of experimenting, Cook’s Illustrated came up with a recipe that met these criteria.

What criteria of evaluation are embedded in this visual argument? © Ildi Papp/age fotostock

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Criteria of evaluation aren’t static, either. They differ according to time and audience. Much market research, for example, is designed to find out what particular consumers want now and may want in the future — what their criteria are for buying a product. In good times, people may demand homes with soaring entryways, lots of space, and premium appliances. In tougher times, they may care more about effi- cient use of space, quality insulation, and energy-efficient stoves and dishwashers. Shifts in values, attitudes, and criteria happen all the time.

R E S P O N D. Choose one item from the following list that you understand well enough to evaluate. Develop several criteria of evaluation that you could defend to distinguish excellence from mediocrity in the area. Then choose an item that you don’t know much about and explain the research you might do to discover reasonable criteria of evaluation for it.

smartwatches U.S. vice presidents

NFL quarterbacks organic vegetables

social networking sites all-electric cars

TV journalists spoken word poetry

video games athletic shoes

graphic narratives country music bands

Navajo rugs sci-fi films

Characterizing Evaluation

One way of understanding evaluative arguments is to consider the types of evidence they use. A distinction explored in Chapter 4 between hard evidence and constructed arguments based on reason is helpful here: we defined hard evidence as facts, statistics, testimony, and other kinds of arguments that can be measured, recorded, or even found — the so- called smoking gun in a criminal investigation. We defined constructed arguments based on reason as those that are shaped by language and various kinds of logic.

We can talk about arguments of evaluation the same way, looking at some as quantitative and others as qualitative. Quantitative arguments

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 215

of evaluation rely on criteria that can be measured, counted, or demon- strated in some mechanical fashion (something is taller, faster, smoother, quieter, or more powerful than something else). In contrast, qualitative arguments rely on criteria that must be explained through language and media, relying on such matters as values, traditions, and emotions (something is more ethical, more beneficial, more handsome, or more noble than something else). A claim of evaluation might be supported by arguments of both sorts.

Quantitative Evaluations

At first glance, quantitative evaluations seem to hold all the cards, especially in a society as enamored of science and technology as our own is. Making judgments should be easy if all it involves is measuring and counting — and in some cases, that’s the way things work out. Who’s the tallest or heaviest or loudest person in your class? If your class- mates allow themselves to be measured, you could find out easily enough, using the right equipment and internationally sanctioned standards of measurement — the meter, the kilo, or the decibel.

But what if you were to ask, Who’s the smartest person in class? You could answer this more complex question quantitatively, using IQ tests or college entrance examinations that report results numerically. In fact, almost all college-bound students in the United States submit to this kind of evaluation, taking either the SAT or the ACT to demonstrate their verbal and mathematical prowess. Such measures are widely accepted by educators and institutions, but they are also vigorously challenged. What do they actually measure? They predict likely academic success only in college, which is one kind of intelligence.

Quantitative measures of evaluation can be enormously useful, but even the most objective measures have limits. They’ve been devised by fallible people who look at the world from their own inevitably limited perspectives.

Qualitative Evaluations

Many issues of evaluation that are closest to people’s hearts aren’t sub- ject to quantification. What makes a movie great? If you suggested a quan- titative measure like length, your friends would probably hoot, “Get serious!” But what about box-office receipts, adjusted for inflation? Would films that made the most money — an easily quantifiable

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measure — be the “best pictures”? That select group would include mov- ies such as Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Titanic, Ava- tar, and E.T. An interesting group of films — but the best?

To define the criteria for “great movie,” you’d more likely look for the standards and evidence that serious critics explore in their arguments, abstract or complicated issues such as their societal impact, cinematic technique, dramatic structures, intelligent casting, and so on. Most of these markers of quality could be defined and identified with some pre- cision but not measured or counted. You’d also have to make your case rhetorically, convincing the audience to accept the markers of quality you are offering and yet appreciating that they might not. A movie reviewer making qualitative judgments might spend as much time defending criteria of evaluation as providing evidence that these stan- dards are present in a particular film. But putting those standards into action can be what makes a review something worth reading. Consider how Roger Ebert, in writing about Toy Story, the first all-computer-made feature film, teaches his readers how to find evidence of quality in a great movie:

Toy Story creates a universe out of a couple of kids’ bedrooms, a gas station, and a stretch of suburban highway. Its heroes are toys, which come to life when nobody is watching. Its conflict is between an

Web sites such as netflix and Rotten tomatoes offer recommendations for films based on users’ past selections and the ratings of other users and critics. sometimes those judgments are at odds. then whom do you trust? © Denis ALLARD/REA/Redux

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 217

old-fashioned cowboy who has always been a little boy’s favorite toy, and the new space ranger who may replace him. The villain is the mean kid next door who takes toys apart and puts them back together again in macabre combinations. And the result is a visionary roller- coaster ride of a movie.

For the kids in the audience, a movie like this will work because it tells a fun story, contains a lot of humor, and is exciting to watch. Older viewers may be even more absorbed, because Toy Story, the first feature made entirely by computer, achieves a three-dimensional real- ity and freedom of movement that is liberating and new. The more you know about how the movie was made, the more you respect it.

R E S P O N D. For examples of powerful evaluation arguments, search the Web or your library for eulogies or obituaries of famous, recently deceased individuals. Try to locate at least one such item, and then analyze the types of claims it makes about the accomplishments of the deceased. What types of crite- ria of evaluation hold the obituary or eulogy together? Why should we respect or admire the person?

Developing an Evaluative Argument

Developing an argument of evaluation can seem like a simple process, especially if you already know what your claim is likely to be. To con- tinue the movie theme for one more example:

Citizen Kane is the finest film ever made by an American director.

Having established a claim, you would then explore the implications of your belief, drawing out the reasons, warrants, and evidence that might support it:

Claim Citizen Kane is the finest film ever made by an Ameri- can director . . .

Reason . . . because it revolutionizes the way we see the world.

Warrant Great films change viewers in fundamental ways.

Evidence Shot after shot, Citizen Kane presents the life of its protagonist through cinematic images that viewers can never forget.

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The warrant here is, in effect, an implied statement of criteria — in this case, the quality that defines “great film” for the writer. It may be impor- tant for the writer to share that assumption with readers and perhaps to identify other great films that similarly make viewers appreciate new perspectives.

As you can see, in developing an evaluative argument, you’ll want to pay special attention to criteria, claims, and evidence.

Formulating Criteria

Although even casual evaluations (The band sucks!) might be traced to reasonable criteria, most people don’t defend their positions until they are challenged (Oh yeah?). Similarly, writers who address readers with whom they share core values rarely discuss their criteria in great detail. A film critic like the late Roger Ebert (see p. 216) isn’t expected to restate all his principles every time he writes a movie review. Ebert assumes that his readers will — over time — come to appreciate his standards. Still, criteria can make or break a piece.

So spend time developing your criteria of evaluation. What exactly makes a shortstop an all-star? Why is a standardized test an unreliable measure of intelligence? Fundamentally, what distinguishes an inspired rapper from a run-of-the-mill one? List the possibilities and then pare them down to the essentials. If you offer vague, dull, or unsupportable principles, expect to be challenged.

You’re most likely to be vague about your beliefs when you haven’t thought (or read) enough about your subject. Push yourself at least as far as you imagine readers will. Anticipate readers looking over your shoul- der, asking difficult questions. Say, for example, that you intend to argue that anyone who wants to stay on the cutting edge of personal technology will obviously want Apple’s latest iPad because it does so many amazing things. But what does that mean exactly? What makes the device “amaz- ing”? Is it that it gives access to email and the Web, has a high-resolution screen, offers an astonishing number of apps, and makes a good e-reader? These are particular features of the device. But can you identify a more fundamental quality to explain the product’s appeal, such as an iPad user’s experience, enjoyment, or feeling of productivity? You’ll often want to raise your evaluation to a higher level of generality like this so that your appraisal of a product, book, performance, or political figure works as a coherent argument, and not just as a list of random observations.

What criteria do Barbara Kingsolver

and Steven L. hopp use to

distinguish heirloom tomatoes from

those normally found in the grocery

store? What arguments do their

criteria support?

link to p. 620

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 219

Be certain, too, that your criteria of evaluation apply to more than just your topic of the moment. Your standards should make sense on their own merits and apply across the board. If you tailor your criteria to get the outcome you want, you are doing what is called “special pleading.” You might be pleased when you prove that the home team is awesome, but it won’t take skeptics long to figure out how you’ve cooked the books.

R E S P O N D. Local news and entertainment magazines often publish “best of” issues or articles that catalog their readers’ and editors’ favorites in such categories as “best place to go on a first date,” “best ice cream sundae,” and “best den- tist.” Sometimes the categories are specific: “best places to say ‘I was retro before retro was cool’” or “best movie theater seats.” Imagine that you’re the editor of your own local magazine and that you want to put out a “best of ” issue tailored to your hometown. Develop ten categories for evalua- tion. For each category, list the evaluative criteria that you would use to make your judgment. Next, consider that because your criteria are war- rants, they’re especially tied to audience. (The criteria for “best dentist,” for example, might be tailored to people whose major concern is avoiding pain, to those whose children will be regular patients, or to those who want the cheapest possible dental care.) For several of the evaluative cat- egories, imagine that you have to justify your judgments to a completely different audience. Write a new set of criteria for that audience.

Making Claims

In evaluations, claims can be stated directly or, more rarely, strongly implied. For most writers, strong statements followed by reasonable qualifications work best. Consider the differences between the following three claims and how much greater the burden of proof is for the first claim:

Jessica Williams is the funniest “correspondent” ever on The Daily Show.

Jessica Williams has emerged as one of the funniest of The Daily Show’s “correspondents.”

Jessica Williams may come to be regarded as one of the funniest and most successful of the “correspondents” on The Daily Show.

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Here’s a second set of examples demonstrating the same principle, that qualifications generally make a claim of evaluation easier to deal with and smarter:

The Common Core Standards movement sure is a dumb idea.

The Common Core Standards movement in educational reform is likely to do more harm than good.

While laudable in their intentions to raise standards and improve stu- dent learning, the Common Core Standards adopted throughout the United States continue to put so high a premium on testing that they may well undermine the goals they seek to achieve.

The point of qualifying a statement isn’t to make evaluative claims bland but to make them responsible and reasonable. Consider how Reagan Tankersley uses the criticisms of a musical genre he enjoys to frame a claim he makes in its defense:

Structurally, dubstep is a simple musical form, with formulaic pro- gressions and beats, something that gives a musically tuned ear little to grasp or analyze. For this reason, a majority of traditionally trained musicians find the genre to be a waste of time. These people have a legitimate position. . . . However, I hold that it is the simplicity of dub- step that makes it special: the primal nature of the song is what digs so deeply into fans. It accesses the most primitive area in our brains that connects to the uniquely human love of music.

— Reagan Tankersley, “Dubstep: Why People Dance”

Tankersley doesn’t pretend that dubstep is something it’s not, nor does he expect his argument to win over traditionally minded critics. Yet he still makes a claim worth considering.

the funniest of all? Jessica Williams reporting on The Daily Show.

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 221

One tip: Nothing adds more depth to an opinion than letting others challenge it. When you can, use the resources of the Internet or local discussion boards to get responses to your opinions or topic proposals. It can be eye-opening to realize how strongly people react to ideas or points of view that you regard as perfectly normal. Share your claim and then, when you’re ready, your first draft with friends and classmates, asking them to identify places where your ideas need additional sup- port, either in the discussion of criteria or in the presentation of evidence.

presenting Evidence

Generally, the more evidence in an evaluation the better, provided that the evidence is relevant. For example, in evaluating the performance of two laptops, the speed of their processors would be essential; the quality of their keyboards or the availability of service might be less crucial yet still worth mentioning. But you have to decide how much detail your readers want in your argument. For technical subjects, you might make your basic case briefly and then attach additional supporting documents at the end — tables, graphs, charts — for those who want more data.

Just as important as relevance in selecting evidence is presentation. Not all pieces of evidence are equally convincing, nor should they be treated as such. Select evidence that is most likely to influence your readers, and then arrange the argument to build toward your

Sheryll Cashin analyzes the

implications of affirmative action

in the introduction to her book

Place, Not Race: A New Vision of

Opportunity in America. What

evidence does she use to support

her stance that the system is


link to p. 712

Dubstep DJs Benga, artwork, and skream of Magnetic Man perform. Chiaki Nozu/Wire Image/ Getty Images

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best material. In most cases, that best material will be evidence that’s specific, detailed, memorable, and derived from credible sources. The details in these paragraphs from Sean Wilsey’s review of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, tell you precisely what makes the work “lush,” “absorbing,” and well worth reading:

It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and tech- nical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complex- ity, and innovation completely its own. Then there are the actual words. Generally this is where graphic narratives stumble. Very few cartoonists can also write — or, if they can, they manage only to hit a few familiar notes. But Fun Home quietly succeeds in telling a story, not only through well-crafted images but through words that are equally revealing and well chosen. Big words, too! In 232 pages this memoir sent me to the dictionary five separate times (to look up “bargeboard,” “buss,” “scutwork,” “humectant,” and “perseverated”).

A comic book for lovers of words! Bechdel’s rich language and pre- cise images combine to create a lush piece of work — a memoir where concision and detail are melded for maximum, obsessive density. She has obviously spent years getting this memoir right, and it shows. You can read Fun Home in a sitting, or get lost in the pictures within the pictures on its pages. The artist’s work is so absorbing you feel you are living in her world.

— Sean Wilsey, “The Things They Buried”

The details in this passage make the case that Alison Bechdel’s novel is one that pushes both comics and memoirs in new directions.

In evaluation arguments, don’t be afraid to concede a point when evi- dence goes contrary to the overall claim you wish to make. If you’re really skillful, you can even turn a problem into an argumentative asset, as Bob Costas does in acknowledging the flaws of baseball great Mickey Mantle in the process of praising him:

None of us, Mickey included, would want to be held to account for every moment of our lives. But how many of us could say that our best moments were as magnificent as his?

— Bob Costas, “Eulogy for Mickey Mantle”

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 223

R E S P O N D. Take a close look at the cover of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In what various ways does it make an argument of evaluation designed to make you want to read the work? Examine other books, magazines, or media packages (such as video game or software boxes) and describe any strategies they use to argue for their merit.

Considering Design and Visuals

Visual components play a significant role in many arguments of evalua- tion, especially those based on quantitative information. As soon as num- bers are involved in supporting a claim, think about ways to arrange them in tables, charts, graphs, or infographics to make the information more accessible to readers. Visual elements are especially helpful when com- paring items. Indeed, a visual spread like the one in the federal govern- ment’s comparison of electric and hybrid cars (see p. 224) becomes an argument in itself about the vehicles the government has analyzed for fuel economy. The facts seem to speak for themselves because they are presented with care and deliberation. In the same way, you will want to make sure that you use similar care when using visuals to inform and persuade readers.

But don’t ignore other basic design features of a text — such as head- ings for the different criteria you’re using or, in online evaluations, links to material related to your subject.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Cover illustration © 2007 by Alison Bechdel. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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U.S. Department of Energy

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 225

● Finding a topic

You’re entering an argument of evaluation when you:

• make a judgment about quality: Citizen Kane is probably the finest film ever

made by an American director.

• challenge such a judgment: Citizen Kane is vastly overrated by most film


• construct a ranking or comparison: Citizen Kane is a more intellectually

challenging movie than Casablanca.

• explore criteria that might be used in making evaluative judgments: Crite-

ria for judging films are evolving as the production and audiences of films become

ever more international.

Issues of evaluation crop up everywhere — in the judgments you make about

public figures or policies; in the choices you make about instructors and

courses; in the recommendations you offer about books, films, or television

programs; in the preferences you exercise in choosing products, activities, or

charities. Evaluations typically use terms that indicate value or rank — good/

bad, effective/ineffective, best/worst, competent/incompetent, successful/unsuccessful.

When you can choose a topic for an evaluation, consider writing about some-

thing on which others regularly ask your opinion or advice.

● Researching Your topic

You can research issues of evaluation by using the following sources:

• journals, reviews, and magazines (for current political and social issues)

• books (for assessing judgments about history, policy, etc.)

• biographies (for assessing people)

• research reports and scientific studies

• books, magazines, and Web sites for consumers

• periodicals and Web sites that cover entertainment and sports

• blogs and social media sites that explore current topics

to writing an evaluationgUiDE

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Surveys and polls can be useful in uncovering public attitudes: What kinds of

movies are young people seeing today? Who are the most admired people in the coun-

try? What activities or businesses are thriving or waning? You’ll discover that Web

sites, newsgroups, and blogs thrive on evaluation. (Ever receive an invitation

to “like” something on social media?) Browse these public forums for ideas,

and, when possible, explore your own topic ideas there. But remember that

all sources need to be evaluated themselves; examine each source carefully,

making sure that it is legitimate and credible.

● Formulating a Claim

After exploring your subject, try to draw up a full and specific claim that

lets readers know where you stand and on what criteria you’ll base your

judgments. Come up with a thesis that’s challenging enough to attract

readers’ attention. In developing a thesis, you might begin with questions

like these:

• What exactly is my opinion? Where do I stand?

• Can I make my judgment more clear-cut?

• Do I need to narrow or qualify my claim?

• By what standards will I make my judgment?

• Will readers accept my criteria, or will I have to defend them, too? What

criteria might others offer?

• What evidence or major reasons can I offer in support of my evaluation?

For a conventional evaluation, your thesis should be a complete statement.

In one sentence, make a claim of evaluation and state the reasons that sup-

port it. Be sure your claim is specific. Anticipate the questions readers might

have: Who? What? Where? Under what conditions? With what exceptions? In all

cases? Don’t expect readers to guess where you stand.

For a more exploratory argument, you might begin (and even end) with

questions about the process of evaluation itself. What are the qualities we

seek — or ought to — in our political leaders? What does it say about our cultural

values when we find so many viewers entertained by so-called reality shows on

television? What might be the criteria for collegiate athletic programs consistent

with the values of higher education? Projects that explore topics like these

might not begin with straightforward theses or have the intention to per-

suade readers.

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 227

● Examples of Evaluative Claims

• Though they may never receive Oscars for their work, Tom Cruise and

Keanu Reeves deserve credit as actors who have succeeded in a wider

range of film roles than most of their contemporaries.

• People are returning to cities because they find life there more civilized

than in the suburbs.

• Lena Dunham’s writing and acting on Girls is the most honest presenta-

tion of the lives of twentysomething women today.

• Jimmy Carter has been highly praised for his work as a former president

of the United States, but history may show that even his much-derided

term in office laid the groundwork for the foreign policy and economic

successes now attributed to later administrations.

• Young adults today are shying away from diving into the housing market

because they no longer believe that homeownership is a key element in

economic success.

● preparing a proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your project, here’s a

format that may help:

State your thesis completely. If you’re having trouble doing so, try outlining it in Toulmin terms:




Alternatively, you might describe your intention to explore a particular ques- tion of evaluation in your project, with the thesis perhaps coming later.

• Explain why this issue deserves attention. What’s at stake?

• Identify whom you hope to reach through your argument and why these readers would be interested in it.

• Briefly discuss the key challenges you anticipate in preparing your argument.

• Determine what research strategies you’ll use. What sources do you expect to consult?

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● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your argument of evaluation? Does it

call for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or some-

thing else?

• What medium is most appropriate for your argument? Would it be best

delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod-

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs,

charts — and what function will they play in your argument? Make sure

they are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the


● thinking about organization

Your evaluation will likely include elements such as the following:

• an evaluative claim that makes a judgment about a person, idea, or object

• the criterion or criteria by which you’ll measure your subject

• an explanation or justification of the criteria (if necessary)

• evidence that the particular subject meets or falls short of the stated


• consideration of alternative views and counterarguments

All these elements may be present in arguments of evaluation, but they

won’t follow a specific order. In addition, you’ll often need an opening para-

graph to explain what you’re evaluating and why. Tell readers why they

should care about your subject and take your opinion seriously.

● getting and giving Response: Questions for peer Response

Your instructor may assign you to a group for the purpose of reading and

responding to each other’s drafts. If not, ask for responses from serious read-

ers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following questions to evaluate

a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your comments with examples; spe-

cific comments help more than general observations.

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 229

The Claim

• Is the claim an argument of evaluation? Does it make a judgment about


• Does the claim establish clearly what’s being evaluated?

• Is the claim too sweeping? Does it need to be qualified?

• Will the criteria used in the evaluation be clear to readers? Do the criteria

need to be defined more precisely?

• Are the criteria appropriate ones to use for this evaluation? Are they con-

troversial? Should they be defended?

Evidence for the Claim

• Is enough evidence provided to show that what’s being evaluated meets

the established criteria? If not, what additional evidence is needed?

• Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are its sig-

nificance and appropriateness analyzed? Is more detailed discussion


• Are any objections readers might have to the claim, criteria, or evidence

adequately addressed?

• What kinds of sources are cited? How credible and persuasive will they be

to readers? What other kinds of sources might work better?

• Are all quotations introduced with appropriate signal phrases (such as “As

Tyson argues, . . .”) and blended smoothly into the writer’s sentences?

• Are all visual sources labeled, introduced, and commented upon?

Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? Is this organization


• Will readers understand the relationships among the claims, supporting

reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might those connections be

clearer? Is the function of every visual clear? Are more transitions needed?

Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


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• Are all visuals carefully integrated into the text? Is each visual introduced

and commented on to point out its significance? Is each visual labeled as

a figure or a table and given a caption as well as a citation?

• Is the style suited to the subject? Is it too formal, casual, or technical? Can

it be improved?

• Which sentences seem effective? Which ones seem weaker, and how

could they be improved? Should short sentences be combined, and any

longer ones be broken up?

• How effective are the paragraphs? Too short or too long? How can they be


• Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or inappro-

priate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are technical or unfamil-

iar terms defined?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Is the documentation appropriate and consistent? (See Chapter 22.)

• Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it appropriately

designed and attractively presented?

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 231

P R O J E C T S. 1. What kinds of reviews or evaluations do you consult most often or

read regularly — those of TV shows, sports teams, video games, fash- ions, fishing gear, political figures? Try composing an argument of evaluation in your favorite genre: make and defend a claim about the quality of some object, item, work, or person within your area of inter- est or special knowledge. Let the paper demonstrate an expertise you have gained by your reading. If it helps, model your evaluation upon the work of a reviewer or expert you particularly respect.

2. Prepare a project in which you challenge what you regard as a wrong- headed evaluation, providing sound reasons and solid evidence for challenging this existing and perhaps commonly held view. Maybe you believe that a classic novel you had to read in high school is over- rated or that people who criticize video games really don’t understand them. Explain why the topic of your evaluation needs to be reconsid- ered and provide reasons, evidence, and, if necessary, different criteria of evaluation for doing so. For an example of this type of evaluation, see Sean Kamperman’s “The Wikipedia Game” on pp. 232–36.

3. Write an evaluation in which you compare or assess the contributions or achievements of two or three notable people working within the same field or occupation. They may be educators, entrepreneurs, art- ists, legislators, editorial cartoonists, fashion designers, programmers, athletes — you name it. While your first instinct might be to rank these individuals and pick a “winner,” this evaluation will work just as well if you can help readers appreciate the different paths by which your subjects have achieved distinction.

4. Within this chapter, the authors claim that criteria of evaluation can change depending on times and circumstances: “In good times, people may demand homes with soaring entryways, lots of space, and premium appliances. In tougher times, they may care more about efficient use of space, quality insulation, and energy-efficient stoves and dishwashers.” Working in a group, discuss several scenarios of change and then explore how those circumstances could alter the way we evaluate particular objects, activities, or productions. For example, what impact might global warming have upon the way we determine desirable places to live or vacation? How might a continued economic downturn change the crite- ria by which we judge successful careers or good educational paths for our children? If people across the globe continue to put on weight, how might standards of personal beauty or fashion alter? If government institutions continue to fall in public esteem, how might we modify our expectations for elected officials? Following the discussion, write a paper or prepare a project in which you explore how one scenario for change might revise customary values and standards of evaluation.

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the Wikipedia game: Boring, pointless, or neither?


When most people think about Wikipedia — the self- styled “free, Web-based, collaborative, multilingual ency- clopedia project” — they are likely reminded of the preliminary research they did for that term paper on post- structuralism, or of the idle minutes they may’ve spent exploring an interesting topic just for the heck of it — the neuroanatomy of purple-striped jellyfish, for example, or Jersey Shore. First and foremost a layman’s tool, Wikipedia has struggled to find legitimacy alongside more reputable reference sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, even in spite of the outstanding quality of many of its entries. But fortunately for the makers of the Free Encyclopedia — and for the rest of us — Wikipedia’s usefulness goes far beyond its intended “encyclopedic” purpose. Under the right cir- cumstances, it can be as much a source of entertainment as one of knowledge and self-improvement.

A prime example of this fact is a phenomenon identi- fied as the Wikipedia game — or, as it’s now known to users of Apple and Android smart phones, “WikiHunt.” WikiHunt is a simple game whose rules draw upon the unique architectural features of wikis, in that players

opening para- graph provides a context and a subtle evalu- ative thesis: “Wikipedia’s usefulness goes far beyond its intended ‘encyclopedic’ purpose.”

WikiHunt is introduced as a cultural phenomenon.


two Sample Evaluations

Sean Kamperman wrote “The Wikipedia Game: Boring, Pointless, or

Neither?” in spring 2010 for a lower-division course on rhetoric and

media at the University of Texas at Austin. In his topic proposal he

briefly described Wikipedia games familiar to many students and then

indicated what he intended to explore: “A lot of scholars have been very

critical of Wikipedia — some going so far as to discourage its use alto-

gether, even for the purpose of gathering background info. Does the fact

that games like these use Wikipedia detract from their educational

value? Or do the games in some way rebut these criticisms, demon-

strating that the practical uses of user-generated online encyclopedias

go beyond traditional research and, by extension, considerations of fac-

tual correctness?” His paper is the answer to those questions.

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perform “moves” by following the links that connect one Wikipedia entry to another. Driven by cultural conditions of dilettantism and the spurts of creativity that tend to come on in times of extreme boredom, dozens if not hun- dreds of Wikipedia users in high school computer labs, college dormitories, and professional workspaces around the globe have “discovered” the game on their own. Some have even gone so far as to claim sole proprietorship — as in the case of two of my friends, who swear they invented the game while sitting through a lecture on academic dis- honesty. Questions of original authorship aside, the Wiki- pedia game would appear to be a bona fide grassroots phenomenon — and one well worth examining if we con- sider its possible implications for learning and education.

If you’ve never played the Wikipedia game, it’s fun — educational — and, for the most part, free; indeed, all you’ll need is one or more friends, two computers, and an Internet connection. To begin, navigate to the Wikipedia homepage and click the “Random article” link on the left- hand side of the screen. As advertised, this link will lead you and your friend to two randomly generated Wikipedia articles. The objective from here is to get from your article to your opponent’s using nothing but links to other articles. These links, which appear within the text of the articles themselves, are bits of hypertext denoted in blue; click on any of them, and you’ll be instantly transported to another article and another set of links. Depending on which ver- sion of the rules you’re going by, either the player who fin- ishes first or the one who gets to his or her opponent’s page using the fewest number of links is the winner. Easy, right?

Not exactly. What makes the Wikipedia game hard — and coincidentally, what makes it so much fun — is the vastness of the Web site’s encyclopedic content. Click the “Random article” button enough times, and you’ll see a pattern emerge: the majority of articles that pop up are short ones covering extremely obscure topics, usually hav- ing to do with something related to European club soccer. Entries such as these, labeled “orphans” for their relative

understanding that not every reader will know WikiHunt, Kamperman offers a detailed explanation.

the paper returns to its thesis when it notes how unexpectedly hard WikiHunt is.

233C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations

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writing Arguments234

paucity of length and links, in fact comprise the majority of Wikipedia articles. So the chances of you or your oppo- nent hitting the randomly-generated-article jackpot and getting a “Jesus” or an “Adolf Hitler” — two pages with tons of links — are pretty slim. Rather, the task at hand usually requires that players navigate from orphan to orphan, as was the case in a game I played just last night with my friends David and Paige. They were unlucky enough to pull up an article on the summer village of Whispering Hills, Alberta, and I was no less unfortunate to get one on “block- ing,” an old 3D computer animation technique that makes characters and objects look like they’re moving. Between these two pages, we were supplied with a total of nineteen links — they had nine doors to choose from, whereas I had ten. That’s not a lot to work with. As you can probably surmise, games like this one take more than a few idle minutes — not to mention a heck of a lot of brainpower and spontaneous strategizing.

Indeed, what makes the Wikipedia game interesting is that it welcomes comparison between the players’ respec- tive strategies and methods for getting from point A to point B, highlighting differences between their thought processes and respective knowledge sets. To elaborate using the aforementioned example, I initially knew noth- ing about either Whispering Hills, Alberta, or “Blocking (animation).” What I did know, however, was that in order to get to Canada, I’d have to go through the good old U.S. of A. So I clicked a link at the bottom of the page entitled “Categories: animation techniques,” and from there looked for a well-known technique that I knew to be associated with an American software company. Selecting “Power- Point animation,” I was led from there to the article on Microsoft — which, thanks to the company’s late ’90s monopolistic indiscretions, furnished me with a link to the U.S. Department of Justice. Five clicks later and I was in Alberta, looking for a passageway to Whispering Hills, one of the province’s smallest, obscurest villages. I finally found it in a series of lists on communities in Alberta — but not before my opponents beat me to the punch and got to my

Kamperman uses his own experience to show precisely how WikiHunt tracks users’ processes of thought and “knowledge sets.”

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235C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations

page on “blocking” first. David, a computer science major, had taken a different approach to clinch the win; rather than drawing upon his knowledge of a macroscopic, big- picture subject like geography, he skipped from the article on Canada to a page entitled “Canadian industrial research and development organizations,” from which he quickly bored through twelve articles on various topics in the com- puter sciences before falling on “Blocking (animation).” In his case, specialized knowledge was the key to winning.

But did David and Paige really win? Perhaps — but in the wide world of the Wikipedia game, there are few hard- and-fast rules to go by. Whereas my opponents got to their destination quicker than I, my carefully planned journey down the funnel from big (“United States”) to small (“List of summer villages in Alberta”) got me to Whispering Hills using two fewer links than they. So in this example, one sees not a clear-cut lesson on how to win the game, but rather a study in contrasting styles. A player can rely on specialized knowledge, linking quickly to familiar domains and narrowing the possibilities from there; or, she/he may choose to take a slower, more methodical approach, employing abstract, top-down reasoning skills to systematically sift through broader categories of infor- mation. Ultimately, victory is possible in either case.

Its more casual, entertaining uses aside, Wikipedia gets a bad rap, especially in the classroom. Too many col- lege professors and high school English teachers have simply written it off, some even going so far as to expressly forbid their students from using it while at school. These stances and attitudes are understandable. Teaching students how to find good sources and prop- erly credit them is hard enough without the competing influence of the Wikipedia community, whose definition of an acceptably accurate source seems to extend not only to professionally or academically vetted articles, but to blogs as well, some obviously plagiarized. But to deny Wikipedia a place in the classroom is to deny both stu- dents and teachers alike the valuable experience of play- ing a game that shows us not only what we know, but

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writing Arguments236

how we know — how our brains work when posed with the everyday challenge of having to connect ostensibly unrelated pieces of information, and furthermore, how they work differently in that respect.

Knowledge building is a connective or associative pro- cess, as the minds behind Wikipedia well know. A casual perusal of any Wikipedia article reveals reams and reams of blue hypertext — bits of text that, when set in isolation, roughly correspond to discrete categories of information about the world. In a sense, the visual rhetoric of Wikipe- dia invokes the verbal rhetoric of exploration, prompting intrepid Web-using truth seekers to go sailing through a bright blue sea of information that is exciting by virtue of its seeming limitlessness. It should comfort teachers to know that, in quickly navigating through linked knowl- edge categories to reach their respective destinations, Wikipedia gamers aren’t relying too much on their under- standing of the articles themselves; rather, what they’re relying on is their ability to understand relationships.

The fact that so many people have independently found the fun at the heart of Wikipedia should be a heads-up. The Wikipedia game is a grassroots techno- logical innovation that sheds new light on what it means to know — and, perhaps more importantly, one that reminds us that, yes, learning can be fun. It isn’t too hard to imagine versions of the game that could be played by kids in school, and how teachers could then use the g a m e t o l e a r n m o r e a b o u t t h e s t u f f o f t h e i r trade — namely, learning and how it works. So the next time you hear a friend, teacher, or coworker dismiss the Free Encyclopedia as “unreliable” or “unacademic,” do knowledge a favor and challenge them to the following:

“Villa of Livia” to “List of Montreal Expos

broadcasters” . . .

. . . no click-backs . . .

. . . twenty links or less.


acknowledging reservations about Wiki- pedia, the paper asserts that WikiHunt shows players “how we know.”

argues that WikiHunt is about learning relationships between ideas.

Defends Wikipedia as supporting a game that proves to be about “learning and how it works.”

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My Awkward Week with google glass


April 29, 2014

It’s a Wednesday night, and I’m turning heads on the

sidewalk. People are slowing halfway down the block as

I approach. They’re whispering about me as I walk

through the room. Strangers are watching me, some-

times even stopping me on the street.

Why? Because I’m wearing Google Glass. And I hate


I shouldn’t feel this way. I like new technology — I’ve been a tech

reporter at the Washington Post for more than three years. And I admire the

vision of technology that Google promises Glass can offer: a device that

lets you keep track of e-mails, texts and other messages in a seamless

way — all through a screen that’s perched just over your right eye.

Headed into a week with Glass, on loan from a co-worker, I was pre-

pared to review a buggy product. Glass, after all, is still in testing, and has

only been released to developers, media and just a handful of “normal”

people who were willing to spend $1,500 on an untested product. I

expected tension headaches from constantly trying to focus on a floating

screen above my line of vision. (I got only one headache, for what it’s

worth.) I even prepared myself to be comfortable talking aloud to the

product in public because you can control Glass through voice


What I wasn’t prepared for was the attention I got. Sporting Glass put

me among only a handful of people in Washington, and that meant get-

ting a lot of looks. Most of it was good attention from curious people, but

it still made me miserable. For wallflowers like me, wearing something

that draws constant attention is more or less my personal idea of hell.

I’ve heard just about every privacy concern raised about Glass, but, as

the one wearing the device, I wasn’t expecting that the privacy most


The Washington Post/Getty Images

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for the Washington Post.

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invaded would be my own. That type of anxiety should lessen over time,

particularly as Google works with designer labels such as Luxottica’s Oak-

ley and Ray-Ban to make prettier models. But anyone who opts to buy

Glass should be ready and willing to become a constant topic of conversa-

tion and to answer questions from strangers. Wearing Google Glass in

public is like wearing a sandwich-board that says “Talk to me!” And, given

the rare but highly publicized fights, robberies and other major incidents

some Glass users have experienced, I was a little wary about wearing the

device in public.

In the name of fairness, though, I did wear them — nearly everywhere:

to work, to the grocery store, out with friends, even to choir rehearsal.

Here’s a sample of what I heard (or overheard) from friends and strangers

in the week I spent with Glass:

“Is she wearing Google Glass?” “Is that what I think that is?” “Are you

recording, like, right now?” “You look ridiculous.”

Or, my personal favorite, delivered deadpan, from a friend: “Oh,


But beyond the personal privacy issues, I found that Google Glass is an

intriguing device that has a lot of flaws. After more than two years in

development, the number of remaining technical bugs is surprising.

On the hardware side, the problems ranged from the device becoming

too warm — sometimes after just 10 minutes of use — to needing to be

charged multiple times a day. The sensors on the device were far from

perfect, and there were many times when I had to re-tap, re-swipe or (and

maybe this was the worst part) jerk my head up repeatedly to wake up the

device when it went dormant. I probably reset the device at least half a

dozen times in the course of normal use because it wouldn’t respond to

my frantic taps, or refused to connect to my smartphone even when there

were no other network problems.

Glass works better with Google’s Android phones (in my case, an HTC

One M8 on loan from HTC) than with the iPhone, if only because the inte-

gration between the Google systems is much smoother. As for software,

developers have been smart about designing Glass apps to minimize the

amount of data bombarding users. Big names such as Facebook, Twitter

and CNN provide a strong app core for Glass. The CNN app, for example,

will let you see headlines for top stories, or by subject, and serves head-

lines, photos and short video.

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C h a p t e r 1 0 Evaluations 239

There are other apps that would be nice to have, however, particularly

more photo apps to take advantage of the point-of-view vantage you get

with the device.

The iPhone experience with Glass is improving. In fact, Google added a

feature allowing Glass users to see iPhone text notifications during the

week I wore the device. And some functions of Glass, such as the ability to

project what a Glass user sees to a paired phone, were fantastic and use-

ful in ways I didn’t anticipate.

But though I tried, very hard, to make Glass a part of my life, I simply

didn’t feel comfortable with the screen hovering just out of my line of

sight. I didn’t get any direct challenges about filming others without their

permission — not that I ever did film people without permission — but

nearly every person who questioned me about Glass asked if I was


What struck me most, however, was what happened when I let others

try on the device, giving me a glimpse of how I appeared when I was wear-

ing Glass: a conversation partner who was like a dinner guest who keeps

looking at the door, as if to check if there’s another person in the room

they’d rather be talking to. Think of every person wearing earbuds or a

Bluetooth headset who has annoyed you for the same reason. Now multi-

ply it by a factor of 10.

All of which goes against what Glass is supposedly all about: the idea

that you can avoid those awkward moments when you try to sneak a peek

at your smartphone, which is always much more obvious than you think.

After a few earnest days of trying to make the thing work, I stopped

trying to force the issue and used it as I would in real life — in situations

when I needed to watch something hands-free, or when I wasn’t required

to actively engage with other people. In those cases, Glass worked as

promised. It delivered updates to keep me informed without overwhelm-

ing me and acted as a useful second screen to my smartphone.

But that also meant that, more often than not, Glass ended up perched

on the top of my head — the way you wear your sunglasses indoors — or

discreetly tucked into my bag, in order to keep it from being the only sub-

ject of conversation.

Would I buy Google Glass? Not now, especially with that $1,500 price

tag. The device has a lot of evolving to do before it’s ready for the world.

The world has some evolving to do before it’s ready for Glass, too.

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Left to right: c. byatt-norman/Shutterstock; Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images; AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

In spite of the fact that they have thrived for over fifty million years, around nine years ago colonies of bees started dying . . . and dying. Are pesticides the cause? Or perhaps it’s the move agriculture has made from planting cover crops like alfalfa and clover that create natural fer- tilizers to using synthetic fertilizers that cater to crop monocultures but leave no food support for bees? Scientists believe a combination of these factors account for the current loss of bees.

Small business owners and big companies alike still seem reluctant to hire new employees. Is it because of complex government regulations, continuing uncertainties about health care costs, worries about debt, improvements in productivity — or all of the above? People needing jobs want to know.

Most state governments use high taxes to discourage the use of tobacco products. But when anti-smoking campaigns and graphic warning labels convince people to quit smoking, tax revenues decline, reducing support for health and education programs. Will raising taxes even higher restore that lost revenue?

Causal Arguments 11


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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 241

Understanding Causal Arguments

Americans seem to be getting fatter, so fat in fact that we hear often about the “obesity crisis” in the United States. But what is behind this rise in weight? Rachel Berl, writing for U.S. News and World Report, points to unhealthy foods and a sedentary lifestyle:

“There is no single, simple answer to explain the obesity patterns” in America, says Walter Willett, who chairs the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Part of this is due to lower incomes and education, which result in purchases of cheap foods that are high in refined starch and sugar. More deeply, this also reflects lower public investment in education, public transportation, and rec- reational facilities,” he says. The bottom line: cheap, unhealthy foods mixed with a sedentary lifestyle have made obesity the new normal in America. And that makes it even harder to change, Willett says.

— Rachel Pomerance Berl

Many others agree that as processed fast food and other things such as colas have gotten more and more affordable, consumption of them has gone up, along with weight. But others offer different theories for the rise in obesity.

Whatever the reasons for our increased weight, the consequences can be measured by everything from the width of airliner seats to the rise of diabetes in the general population. Many explanations are offered

© Bartomeu Amengual/age fotostock

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by scientists, social critics, and health gurus, and some are refuted. Fig- uring out what’s going on is a national concern — and an important exer- cise in cause-and-effect argument.

Causal arguments — from the causes of poverty in rural communities to the consequences of ocean pollution around the globe — are at the heart of many major policy decisions, both national and international. But arguments about causes and effects also inform many choices that people make every day. Suppose that you need to petition for a grade change because you were unable to turn in a final project on time. You’d probably enumerate the reasons for your failure — the death of your cat, followed by an attack of the hives, followed by a crash of your computer — hoping that an associate dean reading the petition might see these explanations as tragic enough to change your grade. In identi- fying the causes of the situation, you’re implicitly arguing that the effect (your failure to submit the project on time) should be considered in a new light. Unfortunately, the administrator might accuse you of faulty causality (see p. 80) and judge that failure to complete the project is due more to your procrastination than to the reasons you offer.

Causal arguments exist in many forms and frequently appear as part of other arguments (such as evaluations or proposals). It may help focus your work on causal arguments to separate them into three major categories:

Arguments that state a cause and then examine its effects

Effect B

Effect C

Effect D

leads toCause A

Arguments that state an effect and then trace the effect back to its causes

Cause A

Cause B

Cause C

stems fromEffect D

Arguments that move through a series of links: A causes B, which leads to C

and perhaps to D

leads to Cause BCause A leads to Cause C leads to Effect D

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 243

Arguments That State a Cause and Then Examine Its Effects

What would happen if Congress suddenly came together and passed immigration reform that gave millions of people in the United States a legal pathway to citizenship? Before such legislation could be enacted, the possible effects of this “cause” would have to be examined in detail and argued intensely. Groups on various sides of this hot-button issue are actually doing so now, and the sides present very different scenarios. In this debate, you’d be successful if you could convincingly describe the consequences of such a change. Alternatively, you could challenge the causal explanations made by people you don’t agree with. But speculation about causes and effects is always risky because life is complicated.

Consider the following passage from researcher Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World, from 2011, describing possible consequences of the commitment to increase the production of ethanol from corn:

At the time the decision was made to expand corn ethanol production, we seemed to have an excess of arable land, and corn prices were low. Using some corn for ethanol looked like it would help farmers, and also help increase fuel for our vehicles. There was also a belief that cellulosic ethanol production might be right around the corner, and could substitute, so there would not be as much pressure on food supplies.

Now the situation has changed. Food prices are much higher, and the number of people around the world with inadequate food supply

In her visual essay “apples to

Oranges,” Claire Ironside depicts

the striking effects that would result

from the cause she is championing: a

move to locally grown, organic food.

lInk To p. 641

Paresh nath, cartoonist for India’s National Herald, personifies the causes for a world food crisis in this item from march 2011. © Paresh Nath, Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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is increasing. The ethanol we are using for our cars is much more in direct competition with the food people around the world are using, and the situation may very well get worse, if there are crop failures.

— Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World

Note that the researcher here begins by pointing out the cause-effect relationship that the government was hoping for and then points to the potential effects of that policy when circumstances change. As it turns out, using corn for fuel did have many unintended consequences, for example, inflating the price not only of corn but of wheat and soybeans as well, leading to food shortages and even food riots around the globe.

Arguments That State an Effect and Then Trace the Effect Back to Its Causes

This type of argument might begin with a specific effect (a catastrophic drop in sales of music CDs) and then trace it to its most likely causes (the introduction of MP3 technology, new modes of music distribution, a preference for single song purchases). Or you might examine the rea- sons that music executives offer for their industry’s dip and decide whether their causal analyses pass muster.

Like other kinds of causal arguments, those tracing effects to a cause can have far-reaching significance. In 1962, for example, the scientist Rachel Carson seized the attention of millions with a famous causal argument about the effects that the overuse of chemical pesticides might have on the environment. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of her book-length study of this subject. Note how she begins with the effects before saying she’ll go on to explore the causes:

[A] strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of much ill- ness among their families. . . . There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among chil- dren, who would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours. The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with browned and withered vegetation as though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were now lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 245

In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs and lawns, the fields and streams. No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it them- selves. . . . What has silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Today, one could easily write a causal argument of the first type about Silent Spring and the environmental movement that it spawned.

Arguments That Move through a Series of links: A Causes B, Which leads to C and perhaps to D

In an environmental science class, for example, you might decide to argue that, despite reductions in acid rain, tightened national regula- tions regarding smokestack emissions from utility plants are still needed for the following reasons:

1. Emissions from utility plants in the Midwest still cause significant levels of acid rain in the eastern United States.

2. Acid rain threatens trees and other vegetation in eastern forests.

3. Powerful lobbyists have prevented midwestern states from passing strict laws to control emissions from these plants.

4. As a result, acid rain will destroy most eastern forests by 2030.

In this case, the first link is that emissions cause acid rain; the second, that acid rain causes destruction in eastern forests; and the third, that states have not acted to break the cause-and-effect relationship that is established by the first two points. These links set the scene for the fourth link, which ties the previous points together to argue from effect: unless X, then Y.

R E S P O N D. The causes of some of the following events and phenomena are well known and frequently discussed. But do you understand these causes well enough to spell them out to someone else? Working in a group, see how well (and in how much detail) you can explain each of the following events

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or phenomena. Which explanations are relatively clear, and which seem more open to debate?


popularity of Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift or the band Wolf Alice

Cold War

Edward Snowden’s leak of CIA documents

Ebola crisis in western Africa

popularity of the Transformers films

swelling caused by a bee sting

sharp rise in cases of autism or asthma

climate change

Characterizing Causal Arguments

Causal arguments tend to share several characteristics.

They Are often part of other Arguments.

Many stand-alone causal arguments address questions that are funda- mental to our well-being: Why are juvenile asthma and diabetes increasing so dramatically in the United States? What are the causes of the rise in cases of malaria in Africa, and what can we do to counter this rise? What will happen to Europe if its birthrate continues to decline?

But causal analyses often work to support other arguments — especially proposals. For example, a proposal to limit the time that chil- dren spend playing video games might first draw on a causal analysis to establish that playing video games can have bad results — such as vio- lent behavior, short attention spans, and decreased social skills. The causal analysis provides a rationale that motivates the proposal. In this way, causal analyses can be useful in establishing good reasons for argu- ments in general.

They Are Almost Always Complex.

The complexity of most causal relationships makes it difficult to estab- lish causes and effects. For example, in 2011 researchers at Northwest- ern University reported a startling correlation: youths who participated in church activities were far more likely to grow into obese adults than

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 247

their counterparts who were not engaged in religious activities. How does one even begin to explain such a peculiar and unexpected finding? Too many church socials? Unhealthy food at potluck meals? More regu- lar social engagement? Perhaps.

Or consider the complexity of analyzing the causes of food poisoning when they strike large populations: in 2008, investigators spent months trying to discover whether tomatoes, cilantro, or jalapeño peppers were the cause of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella. More than seventeen states were affected. But despite such challenges, whenever it is possible to demonstrate convincing causal connections between X and Y, we gain important knowledge and powerful arguments. That’s why, for example, great effort went into establishing an indisputable link between smok- ing and lung cancer. Once proven, decisive legal action could finally be taken to warn smokers.

They Are often Definition Based.

One reason that causal arguments are complex is that they often depend on careful definitions. Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Education, for example, show that the number of high school drop- outs is rising and that this rise has caused an increase in youth unem- ployment. But exactly how does the study define dropout? A closer look may suggest that some students (perhaps a lot) who drop out later “drop back in” and complete high school or that some who drop out

Causal arguments can also be confusing. © Ed Arno/The New Yorker Collection/ The Cartoon Bank

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become successful entrepreneurs or business owners. Further, how does the study define employment? Until you can provide definitions for all key terms in a causal claim, you should proceed cautiously with your argument.

They Usually Yield probable Rather Than Absolute Conclusions.

Because causal relationships are almost always complex or subtle, they seldom can yield more than a high degree of probability. Consequently, they are almost always subject to criticism or open to charges of false causality. (We all know smokers who defy the odds to live long, cancer- free lives.) Scientists in particular are wary when making causal claims.

Even after an event, proving precisely what caused it can be hard. During the student riots of the late 1960s, for example, a commission was charged with determining the causes of riots on a particular cam- pus. After two years of work and almost a thousand pages of evidence and reports, the commission was unable to pinpoint anything but a broad network of contributing causes and related conditions. And how many years is it likely to take to unravel all the factors responsible for the extended recession and economic decline in the United States that began in 2008? After all, serious scholars are still arguing about the forces responsible for the Great Depression of 1929.

To demonstrate that X caused Y, you must find the strongest possible evidence and subject it to the toughest scrutiny. But a causal argument doesn’t fail just because you can’t find a single compelling cause. In fact, causal arguments are often most effective when they help readers appreciate how tangled our lives and landscapes really are.

Developing Causal Arguments

Exploring possible Claims

To begin creating a strong causal claim, try listing some of the effects — events or phenomena — that you’d like to know the causes of:

● Why do college tuition costs routinely outstrip the rate of inflation?

● What’s really behind the slow pace of development of alternative energy sources?

● Why are almost all the mothers in animated movies either dead to begin with or quickly killed off?

after exploring the effects of the

mobile supermarket in an urban

setting, Katherine Gustafson

concludes that these markets aren’t

likely to be the best method of

getting sustainable, affordable food

into cities.

lInk To p. 657

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 249

● Why is same-sex marriage more acceptable to American society than it was a decade ago?

● Why do so few younger Americans vote, even in major elections?

Or try moving in the opposite direction, listing some phenomena or causes you’re interested in and then hypothesizing what kinds of effects they may produce:

● How will the growing popularity of e-readers change our relation- ships to books?

● What will happen as the result of efforts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act?

● What will be the consequences if more liberal (or conservative) judges are appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

● What will happen as China and India become dominant industrial- ized nations?

Read a little about the causal issues that interest you most, and then try them out on friends and colleagues. They might suggest ways to refocus or clarify what you want to do or offer leads to finding information about your subject. After some initial research, map out the causal relationship you want to explore in simple form:

X might cause (or might be caused by) Y for the following reasons:



3. (add more as needed)

Such a statement should be tentative because writing a causal argument should be an exercise in which you uncover facts, not assume them to be true. Often, your early assumptions (Tuition was raised to renovate the stadium) might be undermined by the facts you later discover (Tuition doesn’t fund the construction or maintenance of campus buildings).

You might even decide to write a wildly exaggerated or parodic causal argument for humorous purposes. Humorist Dave Barry does this when he explains the causes of El Niño and other weather phenomena: “So we see that the true cause of bad weather, contrary to what they have been claiming all these years, is TV weather forecasters, who have also single- handedly destroyed the ozone layer via overuse of hair spray.” Most of the causal reasoning you do, however, will take a serious approach to subjects that you, your family, and your friends care about.

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R E S P O N D. Working with a group, write a big Why? on a sheet of paper or computer screen, and then generate a list of why questions. Don’t be too critical of the initial list:


— do people laugh?

— do swans mate for life?

— do college students binge drink?

— do teenagers drive fast?

— do babies cry?

— do politicians take risks on social media?

Generate as lengthy a list as you can in fifteen minutes. Then decide which of the questions might make plausible starting points for intriguing causal arguments.

Defining the Causal Relationships

In developing a causal claim, you can examine the various types of causes and effects in play in a given argument and define their relation- ship. Begin by listing all the plausible causes or effects you need to con- sider. Then decide which are the most important for you to analyze or the easiest to defend or critique. The following chart on “Causes” may help you to appreciate some important terms and relationships.

© Bill Coster/age fotostock

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 251

Even the most everyday causal analysis can draw on such distinctions among reasons and causes. What persuaded you, for instance, to choose the college you decided to attend? Proximate reasons might be the loca- tion of the school or the college’s curriculum in your areas of interest. But what are the necessary reasons — the ones without which your choice of that college could not occur? Adequate financial support? Good test scores and academic record? The expectations of a parent?

Once you’ve identified a causal claim, you can draw out the reasons, warrants, and evidence that can support it most effectively:

Claim Certain career patterns cause women to be paid less than men.

Reason Women’s career patterns differ from men’s.

Warrant Successful careers are made during the period between ages twenty-five and thirty-five.

Evidence Women often drop out of or reduce work during the decade between ages twenty-five and thirty-five to raise families.

Type of Causes What It Is or Does What It Looks Like

Sufficient cause Enough for something to occur on its own

Lack of oxygen is sufficient to cause death Cheating on an exam is sufficient to fail a course

Necessary cause Required for something to occur (but in combination with other factors)

Fuel is necessary for fire Capital is necessary for economic growth

Precipitating cause Brings on a change Protest march ignites a strike by workers Plane flies into strong thunderstorms

Proximate cause Immediately present or visible cause of action

Strike causes company to declare bankruptcy Powerful wind shear causes plane to crash

Remote cause Indirect or underlying explanation for action

Company was losing money on bad designs and inept manufacturing Wind shear warning failed to sound in cockpit

Reciprocal causes One factor leads to a second, which reinforces the first, creating a cycle

Lack of good schools leads to poverty, which further weakens education, which leads to even fewer opportunities . . .

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Claim Lack of community and alumni support caused the football coach to lose his job.

Reason Ticket sales and alumni support have declined for three seasons in a row despite a respectable team record.

Warrant Winning over fans is as important as winning games for college coaches in smaller athletic programs.

Evidence Over the last ten years, coaches at several programs have been sacked because of declining support and revenues.

R E S P O N D. Here’s a schematic causal analysis of one event, exploring the difference among precipitating, necessary, and sufficient causes. Critique and revise the analysis as you see fit. Then create another of your own, beginning with a different event, phenomenon, incident, fad, or effect.

Event: Traffic fatality at an intersection

Precipitating cause: A pickup truck that runs a red light, totals a Prius, and injures its driver

Necessary cause: Two drivers who are navigating Friday rush-hour traffic (if no driving, then no accident)

Sufficient cause: A truck driver who is distracted by a cell-phone conversation

Supporting Your point

In drafting your causal argument, you’ll want to do the following:

● Show that the causes and effects you’ve suggested are highly probable and backed by evidence, or show what’s wrong with the faulty causal reasoning you may be critiquing.

● Assess any links between causal relationships (what leads to or fol- lows from what).

● Show that your explanations of any causal chains are accurate, or identify where links in a causal chain break down.

● Show that plausible cause-and-effect explanations haven’t been ignored or that the possibility of multiple causes or effects has been considered.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 253

In other words, you will need to examine your subject carefully and find appropriate ways to support your claims. There are different ways to accomplish that goal.

For example, in studying effects that are physical (as they would be with diseases or climate conditions), you can offer and test hypotheses, or theories about possible causes. That means researching such topics thor- oughly because you’ll need to draw upon authorities and research articles for your explanations and evidence. (See Chapter 17, “Academic Argu- ments,” and Chapter 18, “Finding Evidence.”) Don’t be surprised if you find yourself debating which among conflicting authorities make the most plausible causal or explanatory arguments. Your achievement as a writer may be simply that you present these differences in an essay, leaving it to readers to make judgments of their own — as John Tierney does in “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” at the end of this chapter (see p. 268).

But not all the evidence in compelling causal arguments needs to be strictly scientific or scholarly. Many causal arguments rely on ethno- graphic observations — the systematic study of ordinary people in their daily routines. How would you explain, for example, why some people step aside when they encounter someone head-on and others do not? In an argument that attempts to account for such behavior, investigators Frank Willis, Joseph Gier, and David Smith observed “1,038 displace- ments involving 3,141 persons” at a Kansas City shopping mall. In results that surprised the investigators, “gallantry” seemed to play a significant role in causing people to step aside for one another — more so than other causes that the investigators had anticipated (such as deferring to some- one who’s physically stronger or higher in status). Doubtless you’ve read of other such studies, perhaps in psychology courses. You may even decide to do a little fieldwork on your own — which raises the possibility of using personal experiences in support of a causal argument.

Indeed, people’s experiences generally lead them to draw causal con- clusions about things they know well. Personal experience can also help build your credibility as a writer, gain the empathy of listeners, and thus support a causal claim. Although one person’s experiences cannot ordi- narily be universalized, they can still argue eloquently for causal relation- ships. Listen to Sara Barbour, a recent graduate of Columbia University, as she draws upon her own carefully described experiences to bemoan what may happen when e-readers finally displace printed books:

In eliminating a book’s physical existence, something crucial is lost forever. Trapped in a Kindle, the story remains but the book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given, or received. We may be

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able to read it, but we can’t share it with others in the same way, and its ability to connect us to people, places, and ideas is that much less powerful.

I know the Kindle will eventually carry the day — an electronic reader means no more embarrassing coffee stains, no more library holds and renewals, no more frantic flipping through pages for a lost quote, or going to three bookstores in one afternoon to track down an evasive title. Who am I to advocate the doom of millions of trees when the swipe of a finger can deliver all 838 pages of Middlemarch into my waiting hands?

But once we all power up our Kindles something will be gone, a kind of language. Books communicate with us as readers — but as important, we communicate with each other through books them- selves. When that connection is lost, the experience of reading — and our lives — will be forever altered.

— Sara Barbour, “Kindle vs. Books: The Dead Trees Society,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2011

All these strategies — testing hypotheses, presenting experimental evi- dence, and offering personal experience — can help you support a causal argument or undermine a causal claim you regard as faulty.

R E S P O N D. One of the fallacies of argument discussed in Chapter 5 is the post hoc, ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy. Causal argu- ments are particularly prone to this kind of fallacious reasoning, in which a writer asserts a causal relationship between two entirely unconnected events. When Angelina Jolie gave birth to twins in 2008, for instance, the stock market rallied by nearly six hundred points, but it would be difficult to argue that either event is related to the other.

Because causal arguments can easily fall prey to this fallacy, you might find it instructive to create and defend an absurd connection of this kind. Begin by asserting a causal link between two events or phenomena that likely have no relationship: The enormous popularity of Doctor Who is par- tially due to global warming. Then spend a page or so spinning out an imagi- native argument to defend the claim. It’s OK to have fun with this exercise, but see how convincing you can be at generating plausibly implausible arguments.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 255

Considering Design and Visuals

You may find that the best way to illustrate a causal relationship is to present it visually. Even a simple bar graph or chart can demonstrate a relationship between two variables that might be related to a specific cause, like the one above showing the dramatic effects of lowered birth- rates. The report that uses this figure explores the effects that such a change would have on the economies of the world.

Or you may decide that the most dramatic way to present important causal information about a single issue or problem is via an infographic, cartoon, or public service announcement. Our arresting example on the next page is part of a campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). An organization that advocates for animal rights, PETA promotes campaigns that typically try to sway people to adopt vegetar- ian diets by depicting the practices of the agriculture industry as cruel.











0 Year 0 Year 30 Year 60 Year 90



The comparative size of successive generations across time when fertility is constant at 1.3 births per woman

a simple graph can provide dramatic evidence for a causal claim — in this case, the effect of reduced fertility rates on a population. Data from Statistics Bureau, MIC; Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

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Peta’s ad campaign expands its focus to environmentalists by explaining through causal links why they should consider vegetarian diets. Courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; peta.org

(Many of us have also seen their celebrity anti-fur campaigns; see p. 100 for one example.) Their “Meat’s Not Green!” campaign, however, attempts to reach an audience that might not buy into the animal rights argument. Instead, it appeals to people who have environmentalist beliefs by presenting data that claims a causal link between animal farming and environmental destruction. How much of this data sur- prises you?

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 257

● Finding a Topic

You’re entering a causal argument when you:

• state a cause and then examine its effects: The ongoing economic downturn

has led more people to return to college to enhance their job market credentials.

• describe an effect and trace it back to its causes: There has been a recent

surge in the hiring of part-time contract workers, likely due to the reluctance of

businesses to hire permanent employees who would be subject to new health care


• trace a string of causes to figure out why something happened: The hous-

ing and financial markets collapsed in 2008 after government mandates to

encourage homeownership led banks to invent questionable financial schemes in

order to offer subprime mortgages to borrowers who bought homes they could not

afford with loans they could not pay back.

• explore plausible consequences (intended or not) of a particular action,

policy, or change: The ban on incandescent lightbulbs may draw more attention

to climate change than any previous government action.

Spend time brainstorming possibilities for causal arguments. Many public

issues lend themselves to causal analysis and argument: browse the home-

page of a newspaper or news source on any given day to discover plausible

topics. Consider topics that grow from your own experiences.

It’s fair game, too, to question the accuracy or adequacy of existing argu-

ments about causality. You can write a strong paper by raising doubts about

the facts or assumptions that others have made and perhaps offering a bet-

ter causal explanation on your own.

● Researching Your Topic

Causal arguments will lead you to many different resources:

• current news media — especially magazines and newspapers (online or in


• online databases

• scholarly journals

to writing a causal argumentgUIDE

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• books written on your subject (here you can do a keyword search, either in

your library or online)

• blogs, Web sites, or social networking sites

In addition, why not carry out some field research? Conduct interviews

with appropriate authorities on your subject, create a questionnaire aimed at

establishing a range of opinions on your subject, or arrange a discussion

forum among people with a stake in the issue. The information you get from

interviews, questionnaires, or open-ended dialogue might provide ideas to

enrich your argument or evidence to back up your claims.

● Formulating a Claim

For a conventional causal analysis, try to formulate a claim that lets readers

know where you stand on some issue involving causes and effects. First,

identify the kind of causal argument that you expect to make (see pp. 241–45

for a review of these kinds of arguments) or decide whether you intend,

instead, to debunk an existing cause-and-effect claim. Then explore your

relationship to the claim. What do you know about the subject and its causes

and effects? Why do you favor (or disagree with) the claim? What significant

reasons can you offer in support of your position?

End this process by formulating a thesis — a complete sentence that says,

in effect, A causes (or does not cause or is caused by) B, followed by a summary of

the reasons supporting this causal relationship. Make your thesis as specific

as possible and be sure that it’s sufficiently controversial or intriguing to hold

a reader’s interest. Of course, feel free to revise any such claim as you learn

more about a subject.

For causal topics that are more open-ended and exploratory, you may not

want to take a strong position, particularly at the outset. Instead, your argu-

ment might simply present a variety of reasonable (and possibly competing)

explanations and scenarios.

● Examples of Causal Claims

• Right-to-carry gun laws have led to increased rates of crime in states that

have approved such legislation.

• Sophisticated use of social media is now a must for any political candi-

date who hopes to win.

• Grade inflation is lowering the value of a college education.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 259

• The proliferation of images in film, television, and computer-generated

texts is changing the way we read and use information.

• Experts don’t yet agree on the long-term impact that sophisticated use of

social media will have on American political campaigns, though some

effects are already evident.

● preparing a proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your project, here’s a

format that may help:

State your thesis completely. If you’re having trouble doing so, try outlining it in Toulmin terms:




Alternatively, you might indicate an intention to explore a particular causal question in your project, with the thesis perhaps coming later.

• Explain why this issue deserves attention. What’s at stake?

• Identify whom you hope to reach through your argument and why this group of readers would be interested in it.

• Briefly discuss the key challenges you anticipate in preparing your argument.

• Determine what research strategies you’ll use. What sources do you expect to consult?

• Briefly identify and explore the major stakeholders in your argument and what alternative perspectives you may need to consider as you formulate your argument.

● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your causal argument? Does it call

for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or something


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• What medium is most appropriate for your argument? Would it be best

delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod-

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs,

charts — and what function will they play in your argument? Make sure they

are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the argument.

● Thinking about organization

Your causal argument will likely include elements such as the following:

• a specific causal claim somewhere in the paper — or the identification of a

significant causal issue

• an explanation of the claim’s significance or importance

• evidence sufficient to support each cause or effect — or, in an argument

based on a series of causal links, evidence to support the relationships

among the links

• a consideration of other plausible causes and effects, and evidence that

you have thought carefully about these alternatives before offering your

own ideas

● getting and giving Response: Questions for peer Response

Your instructor may assign you to a group for the purpose of reading and

responding to each other’s drafts. If not, ask for responses from serious read-

ers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following questions to evaluate

a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your comments with examples; spe-

cific comments help more than general observations.

The Claim

• Does the claim state a causal argument?

• Does the claim identify clearly what causes and effects are being


• What about the claim will make it appeal to readers?

• Is the claim too sweeping? Does it need to be qualified? How might it be

narrowed and focused?

• How strong is the relationship between the claim and the reasons given to

support it? How could that relationship be made more explicit?

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 261

Evidence for the Claim

• What’s the strongest evidence offered for the claim? What, if any, evi-

dence needs to be strengthened?

• Is enough evidence offered to show that these causes are responsible for

the identified effect, that these effects result from the identified cause, or

that a series of causes and effects are linked? If not, what additional evi-

dence is needed? What kinds of sources might provide this evidence?

• How credible will the sources be to potential readers? What other sources

might be more persuasive?

• Is evidence in support of the claim analyzed logically? Is more discussion


• Have alternative causes and effects been considered? Have objections to

the claim been carefully considered and presented fairly? Have these

objections been discussed?

Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? Is this organization


• Will readers understand the relationships among the claims, supporting

reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might those connections be

clearer? Is the function of every visual clear? Are more transitions needed?

Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


• Are all visuals (or other elements such as audio or video clips) carefully

integrated into the text? Is each visual introduced and commented on to

point out its significance? Is each visual labeled as a figure or a table and

given a caption as well as a citation?

• Is the style suited to the subject? Is it too formal, casual, or technical? Can

it be improved?

• Which sentences seem effective? Which ones seem weaker, and how

could they be improved? Should short sentences be combined, and any

longer ones be broken up?

• How effective are the paragraphs? Too short or too long? How can they be


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• Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or inappro-

priate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are technical or unfamil-

iar terms defined?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Is the documentation appropriate and consistent? (See Chapter 22.)

• Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it appropriately

designed and attractively presented?

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 263

P R O J E C T S. 1. Develop an argument exploring one of the cause-and-effect topics

mentioned in this chapter. Just a few of those topics are listed below:

Disappearance of honeybees in the United States

Causes of long-term unemployment or declining job markets

Using the tax code to discourage/encourage specific behaviors (i.e., smoking, eating unhealthy foods, hiring more workers)

Increasing numbers of obese children and/or adults

Ramifications of increasing amounts of time spent on social media sites

Results of failing to pass immigration reform legislation

Repercussions of U.S. ethanol policy

What is lost/gained as paper books disappear

2. Write a causal argument about a subject you know well, even if the topic does not strike you as particularly “academic”: What accounts for the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy? What are the likely conse- quences of students living more of their lives via social media? How are video games changing the way students you know learn? Why do women love shoes? In this argument, be sure to separate precipitating or proximate causes from sufficient or necessary ones. In other words, do a deep and revealing causal analysis about your subject, giving readers new insights.

3. John Tierney’s essay “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” (see p. 268) explores some unintended consequences of noble-minded efforts in recent decades to make children’s playgrounds safer. After reading the Tierney piece, list any comparable situations you know of where unin- tended consequences may have undermined the good (or maybe even bad?) intentions of those who took action or implemented some change. Choose the most intriguing situation, do the necessary research, and write a causal argument about it.

4. Raven Jiang’s “Dota 2: The Face of Professional Gaming” (see p. 264) argues that crowdfunding and netstreaming are two major causes in the rise of big-money professional gaming, which he sees as a phe- nomenon that is here to stay (“Watch out NFL, America’s sport is about to change”). In a project of your own, describe the causes that have led to a particular effect on your campus or in your community or place of work. You may point out, as Jiang does, both advantages and disadvantages of the change brought about by the causes you analyze.

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Dota 2: The Face of professional gaming


August 5, 2014

Just over a week ago, history was made when a team of

five young Chinese men left Seattle with $5 million in

winnings. The game they were playing was not poker but

“Dota 2,” a multiplayer online game made by the

Bellevue-based gaming company Valve. This year’s

annual “Dota 2” Internationals tournament, the fourth

one since its creation, presented the largest prize pool

ever seen in professional gaming — a total of $10.9 mil-

lion. ESPN covered the matches and it seemed like every

media outlet was trying to get in on the story, if only as a

human interest piece. There is a sense that we are enter-

ing new uncharted territories.

Since the early 2000s, much has been written and said

about the slow but steady rise of professional video gam-

ing. What happened this month at Seattle is a coming-

of-age story that we are all familiar with, but it is also so

much more. A confluence of factors had brought the 2014

“Dota 2” Internationals into the mainstream conscious-

ness and they represent an interesting microcosm of the

technological forces that are shaping our future, gaming

and otherwise.

Kickstarter brought the idea of crowdfunding into our

daily lives, but Valve made it addictive with “Dota 2.”

Unlike past video gaming tournaments that relied solely

on sponsorships for prize money, which were often the

first thing on the chopping boards when it came to cor-

porate budget cuts, the Internationals were almost

the introduc- tory paragraph presents the “effect”: a huge rise in profes- sional online gaming.

a causal claim is stated.

the first cause is introduced: crowdfunding.

Two Sample Causal Arguments


Raven Jiang is an undergraduate at Stanford University, studying

computer science. His piece was first published in the Stanford Daily, a

student-produced newspaper founded in 1892.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 265

entirely crowdfunded via in-game item purchases by

online players. In the weeks leading up to the event, fans

could purchase tournament-related in-game items to

contribute to the prize pool and to eventually earn vanity

visual effects that they could show off in-game on their

characters. And just like a Kickstarter campaign, there

was a counter tracking the amount raised, with final

rewards that fans earn determined by the final

total — think Kickstarter fundraising goals. For example,

the reward for hitting $3.5 million this time was access to

special chat emoticons. In this way, much like purchas-

ing swag at an indie concert, fans not only contribute to

the prize pool but feel like they get something back in


So, fans pay both to support the goal of having a more

exciting tournament with bigger stakes and to gain per

sonal items; Valve takes a cut as profits and professional

Dota players get to make a career out of their passion. As

Michael Scott once said, this is a win-win-win outcome.

The final prize pool of $10.9 million was more than three

times that of last year. To put that into perspective, the

second placing team this year won more money than

last year’s winning team. That’s a growth rate that would

make Bernie Madoff jealous.

The successful use of crowdfunding by Valve is a great

example of the value of crowdfunding as a whole. The

reason why corporate sponsorships have historically

been unreliable is because they are a poor indirect proxy

for consumer demand. Much like the homemade gadgets

that find their audience on Kickstarter, Valve is tapping

into an underserved demand by getting the consumers

to directly pay for the cost of production.

The other major force behind the modern “Dota 2”

juggernaut is live game streaming. YouTube brought us

video sharing and Netflix brought us the Internet’s take

on cable TV, but online gaming is helping to turn a very

different form of visual entertainment into its own

industry. Just like the Super Bowl, we now have the huge

the benefits of crowdfunding are stated.

the author points out benefits to the winners as well as the viewers.

the second major cause is presented to support the claim.

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writing Arguments266

events that draw millions of viewers in the likes of the

Internationals. But beyond that familiar format, there is

also a burgeoning cottage industry of individual gamers

who stream their gaming sessions live online and make

money off of advertising and product placements. A pop-

ular full-time game streamer can take home a six-digit

income doing what his parents say will never amount to

much, probably right in their basement.

The prevalence of game streaming has created the

interesting situation in which many fans of popular

online games seldom ever actually feel the need to play

them, because watching is so much less stressful, less

time-consuming, and more readily accessible. In some

sense, “Dota 2,” a game notorious for its complex game

mechanics, can probably thank the rise of stream watch-

ing for the success of its annual championship events,

because let’s face it: If every sports fan had to be able to

play the game in order to understand and enjoy watch-

ing it, then college football would be bankrupt. With the

professionalization of online gaming that parallels the

paths taken by its traditional counterparts, it is no won-

der Google recently decided to fork out a cool billion dol-

lars to acquire the major game streaming site Twitch.tv.

The point is that online gaming is going to be a big

deal. And it is a big deal not just because video gaming is

becoming big money, but because its rise is symbolic of

the same technological shifts that are changing all other

aspects of our lives.

The future is already here in South Korea, where pro-

fessional “Starcraft” gamers are literally national celebri-

ties. Significant milestones like the recent “Dota 2”

Internationals suggest that the U.S. is on its way there.

Watching the live stream of the Internationals with its

extremely professional production value, the seasoned

commentators throwing team and player stats at each

other and the incredible amount of skill and concentra-

tion exhibited by the competitors, an alien visitor from

Alpha Centauri would be hard-pressed to say what

the author gives proof that online video gaming is already big time in south Korea and the united states.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 267

exactly differentiates “Dota 2” from sports. (I suppose

there has not been any accusation of steroid abuse. Yet.)

That said, it is not all rainbows and unicorns. There is

a general feeling that this year’s matches at the Interna-

tionals have not been as exciting and eventful as last

year’s. Perhaps the unprecedented prize pool this year

was causing players to be more risk-averse, leading to

fewer clutch plays and comebacks from behind. Both of

the teams in the final were also Chinese, who are known

for being more methodological both in play style and

training processes. The old fan favorite Na’Vi, the Eastern

European past championship winners known for their

dramatic comebacks and eccentric play styles, did not

manage to get into the final four this year. Still, even if

“Dota 2” does falter, it has already pushed the boundaries

for professional gaming and paved the way for the future.

Watch out NFL, America’s sport is about to change.

the downsides of the dramatic rise in online gaming are presented.

the concluding sentence assures readers that even if Dota 2 itself fails, what it represents has already had a major impact on the future of gaming.

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Can a playground Be Too Safe?


When seesaws and tall slides and other perils were disappearing from

New York’s playgrounds, Henry Stern drew a line in the sandbox. As the

city’s parks commissioner in the 1990s, he issued an edict concerning the

ten-foot-high jungle gym near his childhood home in northern


“I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot

how good it felt to get to the top of them,” Mr. Stern said. “I didn’t want to

see that playground bowdlerized. I said that as long as I was parks com-

missioner, those monkey bars were going to stay.”

a childhood relic: jungle gyms, like this one in riverside Park in manhattan, have disappeared from most american playgrounds in recent decades. © Dith Pran/The New York Times/Redux

John Tierney is a journalist and coauthor of the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest

Human Strength (2011). He writes the science column “Findings” for the New York Times,

where this piece was originally published on July 18, 2011. You will note that, as a journalist,

Tierney cites sources without documenting them formally. An academic version of this

argument might offer both in-text citations and a list of sources at the end.


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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 269

His philosophy seemed reactionary at the time, but today it’s shared by

some researchers who question the value of safety-first playgrounds.

Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for

that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emo-

tional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are

ultimately worse than a broken bone.

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the play-

ground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud

University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As

playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few

features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and

high speed.”

After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England, and Aus-

tralia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring

heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near

dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wres-

tling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most com-

mon is climbing heights.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too

boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and

risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to

the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let chil-

dren encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then

progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common

form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage,

either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many

parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop

a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s

hurt in a fall before the age of nine is less likely as a teenager to have a

fear of heights.

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on

the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques

developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to

Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian

University for Science and Technology.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,”

they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this

11_LUN_9864_ch11_240_271.indd 269 6/19/15 3:10 PM


“anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for

thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem

adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death

before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be out-

weighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of


“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of chil-

dren being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful

children and increased levels of psychopathology.”

The old tall jungle gyms and slides disappeared from most American

playgrounds across the country in recent decades because of parental

concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers

and — the most frequently cited factor — fear of lawsuits.

Shorter equipment with enclosed platforms was introduced, and the

old pavement was replaced with rubber, wood chips, or other materials

designed for softer landings. These innovations undoubtedly prevented

some injuries, but some experts question their overall value.

“There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have low-

ered the average risk on playgrounds,” said David Ball, a professor of risk

management at Middlesex University in London. He noted that the risk of

some injuries, like long fractures of the arm, actually increased after the

introduction of softer surfaces on playgrounds in Britain and Australia.

“This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t, because it is a common

phenomenon,” Dr. Ball said. “If children and parents believe they are in

an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more

risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe,

but because they don’t understand its properties, they overrate its


Reducing the height of playground equipment may help toddlers, but it

can produce unintended consequences among bigger children. “Older

children are discouraged from taking healthy exercise on playgrounds

because they have been designed with the safety of the very young in

mind,” Dr. Ball said. “Therefore, they may play in more dangerous places,

or not at all.”

Fear of litigation led New York City officials to remove seesaws, merry-

go-rounds, and the ropes that young Tarzans used to swing from one plat-

form to another. Letting children swing on tires became taboo because of

fears that the heavy swings could bang into a child.

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C h a p t e r 1 1 Causal arguments 271

“What happens in America is defined by tort lawyers, and unfortu-

nately that limits some of the adventure playgrounds,” said Adrian

Benepe, the current parks commissioner. But while he misses the Tarzan

ropes, he’s glad that the litigation rate has declined, and he’s not nostalgic

for asphalt pavement.

“I think safety surfaces are a godsend,” he said. “I suspect that parents

who have to deal with concussions and broken arms wouldn’t agree that

playgrounds have become too safe.” The ultra-safe enclosed platforms of

the 1980s and 1990s may have been an overreaction, Mr. Benepe said, but

lately there have been more creative alternatives.

“The good news is that manufacturers have brought out new versions

of the old toys,” he said. “Because of height limitations, no one’s building

the old monkey bars anymore, but kids can go up smaller climbing walls

and rope nets and artificial rocks.”

Still, sometimes there’s nothing quite like being ten feet off the ground,

as a new generation was discovering the other afternoon at Fort Tryon

Park. A soft rubber surface carpeted the pavement, but the jungle gym of

Mr. Stern’s youth was still there. It was the prime destination for many

children, including those who’d never seen one before, like Nayelis

Serrano, a ten-year-old from the South Bronx who was visiting her cousin.

When she got halfway up, at the third level of bars, she paused, as if

that was high enough. Then, after a consultation with her mother, she

continued to the top, the fifth level, and descended to recount her


“I was scared at first,” she explained. “But my mother said if you don’t

try, you’ll never know if you could do it. So I took a chance and kept going.

At the top I felt very proud.” As she headed back for another climb, her

mother, Orkidia Rojas, looked on from a bench and considered the pros

and cons of this unfamiliar equipment.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I’d like to see it in our playground. Why not? It’s

kind of dangerous, I know, but if you just think about danger you’re never

going to get ahead in life.”

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Left to right: © Florian Kopp/agefotostock.com; spaxiax/Shutterstock; AP Photo/Eric Gay

A student looking forward to spring break proposes to two friends that they join a group that will spend the vacation helping to build a school in a Haitian village.

The members of a club for undergrad business majors talk about their common need to create informative, appealing, interactive résumés. After much talk, three members suggest that the club develop a résumé app especially for business majors looking for a first job.

A project team at a large architectural firm works for three months developing a response to an RFP (request for proposal) to convert a uni- versity library into a digital learning center.

Proposals 12


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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 273

Understanding and Categorizing Proposals

We live in an era of big proposals — complex programs for health care reform, bold dreams to privatize space exploration, multibillion-dollar designs for high-speed rail systems, ceaseless calls to improve educa- tion, and so many other such ideas brought down to earth by sobering proposals for budget reform and deficit reduction. As a result, there’s often more talk than action because persuading people (or legislatures) to do something — or anything! — is always hard. But that’s what proposal arguments do: they provide thoughtful reasons for supporting or some- times resisting change.

Such arguments, whether national or local, formal or casual, are important not only on the national scene but also in all of our lives. How many proposals do you make or respond to in one day? A neighbor might suggest that you volunteer to help clean up an urban creek bed; a cam- pus group might demand that students get better seats at football games; a supervisor might ask for ideas to improve customer satisfac- tion at a restaurant; you might offer an ad agency reasons to hire you as a summer intern — or propose to a friend that you take in the latest zom- bie film. In each case, the proposal implies that some action should take place and suggests that there are sound reasons why it should.

This cartoon, by steve Breen, suggests that high-speed rail proposals are going to run into a major obstacle in California. By permission of Steve Breen and Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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In their simplest form, proposal arguments look something like this:

A should do B because of C.


Our student government should endorse the Academic Bill of Rights


because students should not be punished in their courses for their personal political views.

Proposals come at us so routinely that it’s not surprising that they cover a dizzyingly wide range of possibilities. So it may help to think of proposal arguments as divided roughly into two kinds — those that focus on specific practices and those that focus on broad matters of policy. Here are several examples of each kind:

Proposals about Practices

● The college should allow students to pay tuition on a month-by- month basis.

● Commercial hotels should stop opposing competitors like Airbnb.

● College athletes should be paid for the services they provide.

Proposals about Policies

● The college should adopt a policy guaranteeing that students in all majors can graduate in four years.

● The United Nations should make saving the oceans from pollution a global priority.

● Major Silicon Valley firms should routinely reveal the demographic makeup of their workforces.

R E S P O N D. People write proposal arguments to solve problems and to change the way things are. But problems aren’t always obvious: what troubles some people might be no big deal to others. To get an idea of the range of problems people face on your campus (some of which you may not even have thought of as problems), divide into groups, and brainstorm about things that annoy you on and around campus, including wastefulness in the caf- eterias, 8:00 a.m. classes, and long lines for football or concert tickets. Ask each group to aim for at least a dozen gripes. Then choose three problems, and as a group, discuss how you’d prepare a proposal to deal with them.

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 275

Characterizing Proposals

Proposals have three main characteristics:

1. They call for change, often in response to a problem.

2. They focus on the future.

3. They center on the audience.

Proposals always call for some kind of action. They aim at getting some- thing done — or sometimes at preventing something from being done. Pro- posals marshal evidence and arguments to persuade people to choose a course of action: Let’s build a completely green house. Let’s oppose the latest Supreme Court ruling on Internet privacy. Let’s create a campus organization for first-generation college students. Let’s ban drones from campus airspace, especially at sporting events. But you know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” It’s usually easier to convince audiences what a good course of action is than to persuade them to take it (or pay for it). Even if you present a cogent proposal, you may still have work to do.

Proposal arguments must appeal to more than good sense. Ethos matters, too. It helps if a writer suggesting a change carries a certain gravitas earned by experience or supported by knowledge and research. If your word and credentials carry weight, then an audience is more likely to listen to your proposal. So when the commanders of three Apollo moon missions, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, and Eugene Cernan, wrote an open letter to President Obama expressing their dismay at his admin- istration’s decision to cancel NASA’s plans for advanced spacecraft and new lunar missions, they won a wide audience:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President’s plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.

Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.

But even their considerable ethos was not enough to carry the day with the space agency and the man who made the decision.

What is Charles a. riley II proposing

in Disability and the Media:

Prescriptions for Change? how

does his argument center on the


link to P. 527

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Yet, as the space program example obviously demonstrates, proposal arguments focus on the future — what people, institutions, or govern- ments should do over the upcoming weeks, months, or, in the NASA moon-mission example, decades. This orientation toward the future presents special challenges, since few of us have crystal balls. Proposal arguments must therefore offer the best evidence available to suggest that actions we recommend will achieve what they promise.

In May 2014, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation aimed at reducing student loan debt, in part by allowing for refinancing. In an interview in Rolling Stone, Senator Warren explained:

Homeowners refinance their loans when interest rates go down. Businesses refinance their loans. But right now, there’s no way for students to be able to do that. I’ve proposed that we reduce the inter- est rate on the outstanding loan debt to the same rate Republicans and Democrats came together last year to set on new loans [3.86 percent]. For millions of borrowers, that would cut interest rates in half or more.

Yet Warren’s proposal soon came under fire, particularly from senators who argued that the proposed bill did little to reduce borrowing or lower

all that remains of the american space program? Michael Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 277

the cost of higher education. So despite the concerns of bankers and economists that the $1.1 trillion student loan debt is dampening the national economy, the bill was turned aside on June 11, 2014.

Which raises the matter of audiences, and we are left asking whether Senator Warren’s bill spoke equally well to students, parents, bankers, and members of Congress. Some of those audiences failed to be convinced.

Some proposals are tailored to general audiences; consequently, they avoid technical language, make straightforward and relatively simple points, and sometimes use charts, graphs, and tables to make data com- prehensible. You can find such arguments, for example, in newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, and political documents like Senator Warren’s proposed legislation. And such appeals to a broad group make sense when a proposal — say, to finance new toll roads or build an art museum — must surf on waves of community support and financing.

But often proposals need to win the approval of specific groups or individuals (such as financiers, developers, public officials, and legisla- tors) who have the power to make change actually happen. Such argu- ments will usually be more technical, detailed, and comprehensive than those aimed at the general public because people directly involved with an issue have a stake in it. They may be affected by it themselves and thus have in-depth knowledge of the subject. Or they may be responsible for implementing the proposal. You can expect them to have specific


12_LUN_9864_ch12_272_304.indd 277 6/19/15 3:22 PM


questions about it and, possibly, formidable objections. So identifying your potential audiences is critical to the success of any proposal. On your own campus, for example, a plan to alter admissions policies might be directed both to students in general and (perhaps in a different form) to the university president, members of the faculty council, and admis- sions officers.

An effective proposal also has to be compatible with the values of the audience. Some ideas may make good sense but cannot be enacted. For example, many American towns and cities have a problem with expand- ing deer populations. Without natural predators, the deer are moving closer to homes, dining on gardens and shrubbery, and endangering traffic. Yet one obvious and feasible solution — culling the herds through hunting — is usually not saleable to communities (perhaps too many people remember Bambi).

R E S P O N D. Work in a group to identify about half a dozen problems on your campus or in the local community, looking for a wide range of issues. (Don’t focus on problems in individual classes.) Once you have settled on these issues, then use various resources — the Web, the phone book (if you can find one), a campus directory — to locate specific people, groups, or offices whom you might address or influence to deal with the issues you have identified.

Proposals have to take audience values into account. shooting deer, even when they’re munching on garden flowers, is unacceptable to most suburbanites. Ron Sanford/Science Source®/ Photo Researchers

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 279

Developing Proposals

In developing a proposal, you will have to do some or all of the following:

● Define a problem that needs a solution or describe a need that is not currently addressed.

● Make a strong claim that addresses the problem or need. Your solu- tion should be an action directed at the future.

● Show why your proposal will fix the problem or address the need.

● Demonstrate that your proposal is feasible.

This might sound easy, but writing a proposal argument can be a process of discovery. At the outset, you think you know exactly what ought to be done, but by the end, you may see (and even recommend) other options.

Defining a need or Problem

To make a proposal, first establish that a need or problem exists. You’ll typically dramatize the problem that you intend to fix at the beginning of your project and then lead up to a specific claim. But in some cases, you could put the need or problem right after your claim as the major reason for adopting the proposal:

Let’s ban cell phones on campus now. Why? Because we’ve become a school of walking zombies. No one speaks to or even acknowledges the people they meet or pass on campus. Half of our students are so busy chattering to people that they don’t participate in the community around them.

How can you make readers care about the problem you hope to address? Following are some strategies:

● Paint a vivid picture of the need or problem.

● Show how the need or problem affects people, both those in the immediate audience and the general public as well.

● Underscore why the need or problem is significant and pressing.

● Explain why previous attempts to address the issue may have failed.

For example, in proposing that the military draft be restored in the United States or that all young men and women give two years to national service (a tough sell!), you might begin by drawing a picture of

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a younger generation that is self-absorbed, demands instant gratifica- tion, and doesn’t understand what it means to participate as a full member of society. Or you might note how many young people today fail to develop the life skills they need to strike out on their own. Or like congressional representative Charles Rangel (D-New York), who regu- larly proposes a Universal National Service Act, you could define the issue as a matter of fairness, arguing that the current all-volunteer army shifts the burden of national service to a small and unrepresenta- tive sample of the American population. Speaking on CNN on January 26, 2013, Rangel said:

Since we replaced the compulsory military draft with an all-volunteer force in 1973, our nation has been making decisions about wars with- out worry over who fights them. I sincerely believe that reinstating the draft would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation. That is why I wrote the Universal National Service Act, known as the “draft” bill, which requires all men and women between ages 18 and 25 to give two years of service in any capacity that promotes our national defense.

Of course, you would want to cite authorities and statistics to prove that any problem you’re diagnosing is real and that it touches your likely audience. Then readers may be ready to hear your proposal.

File this cartoon under “anticipate objections to your proposal.” © Mike Keefe/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 281

In describing a problem that your proposal argument intends to solve, be sure to review earlier attempts to fix it. Many issues have a long his- tory that you can’t afford to ignore (or be ignorant of). Understand too that some problems seem to grow worse every time someone tinkers with them. You might pause before proposing any new attempt to reform the current system of financing federal election campaigns when you discover that previous reforms have resulted in more bureaucracy, more restrictions on political expression, and more unregulated money flow- ing into the system. “Enough is enough” can be a potent argument when faced with such a mess.

R E S P O N D. If you review “Let’s Charge Politicians for Wasting Our Time” at the end of this chapter, a brief proposal by political and culture writer/blogger Virginia Postrel, you’ll see that she spends quite a bit of time pointing out the irritation caused by unwanted political robocalls to her landline, even though she recognizes that such calls are illegal on cell phones. Does this focus on the landline take away from her proposal that the politicians should have to pay a fee for such calls as well as for unsolic- ited email messages they send, a proposal also put forward by technol- ogy guru Esther Dyson? Would you advise her to revise her argument — and if so, how?

Making a Strong and Clear Claim

After you’ve described and analyzed a problem, you’re prepared to offer a fix. Begin with your claim (a proposal of what X or Y should do), fol- lowed by the reason(s) that X or Y should act and the effects of adopting the proposal:

Claim Communities should encourage the development of charter schools.

Reason Charter schools are not burdened by the bureaucracy that is associated with most public schooling.

Effects Instituting such schools will bring more effective education to communities and offer an incentive to the public schools to improve their programs.

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Having established a claim, you can explore its implications by drawing out the reasons, warrants, and evidence that can support it most effectively:

Claim In light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that federal drug laws cannot be used to prosecute doctors who prescribe drugs for use in suicide, our state should immediately pass a bill legalizing physician- assisted suicide for patients who are terminally ill.

Reason Physician-assisted suicide can relieve the suffering of those who are terminally ill and will die soon.

Warrant The relief of suffering is desirable.

Evidence Oregon voters have twice approved the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in effect since 1997, and to date the suicide rate has not risen sharply, nor have doctors given out a large number of prescriptions for death-inducing drugs. Several other states are consider- ing ballot initiatives in favor of doctor-assisted suicide.

The reason sets up the need for the proposal, whereas the warrant and evidence demonstrate that the proposal is just and could meet its objec- tive. Your actual argument would develop each point in detail.

R E S P O N D. For each problem and solution below, make a list of readers’ likely objec- tions to the solution offered. Then propose a solution of your own, and explain why you think it’s more workable than the original.

Problem Future deficits in the Social Security system Solution Raise the age of retirement to seventy-two.

Problem Severe grade inflation in college courses Solution Require a prescribed distribution of grades in every

class: 10% A; 20% B; 40% C; 20% D; 10% F.

Problem Increasing rates of obesity in the general population Solution Ban the sale of high-fat sandwiches and entrees in

fast-food restaurants.

Problem Inattentive driving because drivers are texting Solution Institute a one-year mandatory prison sentence for

the first offense.

Problem Increase in sexual assaults on and around campus Solution Establish a 10:00 p.m. curfew on weekends.

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 283

Showing that the Proposal Addresses the need or Problem

An important but tricky part of making a successful proposal lies in relating the claim to the need or problem that it addresses. Facts and probability are your best allies. Take the time to show precisely how your solution will fix a problem or at least improve upon the current situa- tion. Sometimes an emotional appeal is fair play, too. Here’s former NBA player John Amaechi using that approach when he asks superstar Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers not to appeal a $100,000 penalty he received for hurling an antigay slur at a referee:

Kobe, stop fighting the fine. You spoke ill-advised words that shot out like bullets, and if the emails I received from straight and gay young people and sports fans in Los Angeles alone are anything to go by, you did serious damage with your outburst.

A young man from a Los Angeles public school emailed me. You are his idol. He is playing up, on the varsity team, he has your post- ers all over his room, and he hopes one day to play in college and then in the NBA with you. He used to fall asleep with images of passing

rose eveleth explains how subtitled

television and movies could help to

preserve endangered languages in

“Saving Languages through Korean

Soap Operas.”

link to P. 596

a proposal argument in four panels. You might compare this argument with Taylor Pearson’s “Why You should Fear Your Toaster More Than Nuclear Power” in Chapter 8. © Andy Singer/ Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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you the ball to sink a game-winning shot. He watched every game you played this season on television, but this week he feels less safe and less positive about himself because he stared adoringly into your face as you said the word that haunts him in school every single day.

Kobe, stop fighting the fine. Use that money and your influence to set a new tone that tells sports fans, boys, men, and the society that looks up to you that the word you said in anger is not OK, not ever. Too many athletes take the trappings of their hard-earned success and leave no tangible legacy apart from “that shot” or “that special game.”

— John Amaechi, “A Gay Former NBA Player Responds to Kobe Bryant”

The paragraph describing the reaction of the schoolboy provides just the tie that Amaechi needs between his proposal and the problem it would address. The story also gives his argument more power.

Alternatively, if you oppose an idea, these strategies work just as well in reverse: if a proposal doesn’t fix a problem, you have to show exactly why. Here are a few paragraphs from an editorial posting by Doug Bandow for Forbes in which he refutes a proposal for reinstating military conscription:

All told, shifting to conscription would significantly weaken the mili- tary. New “accessions,” as the military calls them, would be less

left: John amaechi; right: Kobe Bryant. Left: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg News/Getty Images; right: © Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/LANDOV

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 285

bright, less well educated, and less positively motivated. They would be less likely to stay in uniform, resulting in a less experienced force. The armed forces would be less effective in combat, thereby costing America more lives while achieving fewer foreign policy objectives.

Why take such a step? One argument, most recently articulated by Thomas Ricks of the

Center for a New American Security, is that a draft would save “the government money.” That’s a poor reason to impress people into service.

First, conscription doesn’t save much cash. It costs money to man- age and enforce a draft — history demonstrates that not every inductee would go quietly. Conscripts serve shorter terms and reenlist less fre- quently, increasing turnover, which is expensive. And unless the gov- ernment instituted a Czarist lifetime draft, everyone beyond the first ranks would continue to expect to be paid.

Second, conscription shifts rather than reduces costs. Ricks sug- gested that draftees should “perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around.” Better to make people do grunt work than to pay them to do it? Force poorer young people into uniform in order to save richer old people tax dollars. Ricks believes that is a good reason to jail people for refusing to do as the government demands?

The government could save money in the same way by drafting FBI agents, postal workers, Medicare doctors, and congressmen. Nothing warrants letting old politicians force young adults to pay for Washing- ton’s profligacy. Moreover, by keeping some people who want to serve out while forcing others who don’t want to serve in — creating a veri- table evasion industry along the way — conscription would raise total social costs. It would be a bad bargain by any measure.

— Doug Bandow, “A New Military Draft Would Revive a Very Bad Old Idea”

Finally, if your own experience backs up your claim or demonstrates the need or problem that your proposal aims to address, then consider using it to develop your proposal (as John Amaechi does in addressing his pro- posal to Kobe Bryant). Consider the following questions in deciding when to include your own experiences in showing that a proposal is needed or will in fact do what it claims:

● Is your experience directly related to the need or problem that you seek to address or to your proposal about it?

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● Will your experience be appropriate and speak convincingly to the audience? Will the audience immediately understand its significance, or will it require explanation?

● Does your personal experience fit logically with the other reasons that you’re using to support your claim?

Be careful. If a proposal seems crafted to serve mainly your own inter- ests, you won’t get far.

Showing that the Proposal is Feasible

To be effective, proposals must be feasible — that is, the action proposed can be carried out in a reasonable way. Demonstrating feasibility calls on you to present evidence — from similar cases, from personal experience, from observational data, from interview or survey data, from Internet research, or from any other sources — showing that what you propose can indeed be done with the resources available. “Resources available” is key: if the proposal calls for funds, personnel, or skills beyond reach or reason, your audience is unlikely to accept it. When that’s the case, it’s time to reassess your proposal, modify it, and test any new ideas against these revised criteria. This is also when you can reconsider proposals that oth- ers might suggest are better, more effective, or more workable than yours. There’s no shame in admitting that you may have been wrong. When drafting a proposal, ask friends to think of counterproposals. If your own proposal can stand up to such challenges, it’s likely a strong one.

Considering Design and Visuals

Because proposals often address specific audiences, they can take a number of forms — a letter, a memo, a Web page, a feasibility report, an infographic, a brochure, a prospectus, or even an editorial cartoon (see Andy Singer’s “No Exit” item on p. 283). Each form has different design requirements. Indeed, the design may add powerfully to — or detract sig- nificantly from — the effectiveness of the proposal. Typically, though, proposals are heavy in photographs, tables, graphs, comparison charts, and maps, all designed to help readers understand the nature of a problem and how to solve it. Needless to say, any visual items should be handsomely presented: they contribute to your ethos.

Lengthy reports also usually need headings — or, in an oral report, slides — that clearly identify the various stages of the presentation. Those headings, which will vary, would include items such as Introduction, Nature of the Problem, Current Approaches or Previous Solutions,

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 287

Proposal/Recommendations, Advantages, Counterarguments, Feasibility, Implementation, and so on. So before you produce a final copy of any pro- posal, be sure its design enhances its persuasiveness.

A related issue to consider is whether a graphic image might help readers understand key elements of the proposal — what the challenge is, why it demands action, and what exactly you’re suggesting — and help make the idea more attractive. That strategy is routinely used in profes- sional proposals by architects, engineers, and government agencies.

For example, the artist rendering below shows the Bionic Arch, a pro- posed skyscraper in Taiwan designed by architect Vincent Callebaut. As a proposal, this one stands out because it not only suggests an addition to the city skyline, but it also offers architectural innovations to make the structure more environmentally friendly. If you look closely, you’ll notice that each floor of the building includes suspended “sky gardens” that, according to the proposal, will help solve the problem of city smog by siphoning away toxic fumes. According to Callebaut, “The skyscraper reduces our ecological footprint in the urban area. It respects the environ- ment and gives a new symbiotic ecosystem for the biodiversity of Taiwan. The Bionic Arch is the new icon of sustainable development.” Who wouldn’t support a building that looked great and helped clean the air?

The Bionic arch proposes to do more than add retail and office space. AP/Wide World Photos

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● Finding a topic or identifying a Problem

You’re entering a proposal argument when you:

• make a claim that supports a change in practice: Bottled water should carry

a warning label describing the environmental impact of plastic.

• make a claim that supports a change in policy: Government workers, espe-

cially legislators and administrative officials, should never be exempt from laws

or programs imposed on other citizens.

• make a claim that resists suggested changes in practice or policy: The sur-

est way to guarantee that HOV lanes on freeways improve traffic flow is not to

build any.

• explore options for addressing existing issues or investigate opportunities

for change: Urban planners need to examine the long-term impact digital tech-

nologies may have on transportation, work habits, housing patterns, power usage,

and entertainment opportunities in cities of the future.

Since your everyday experience often calls on you to consider problems and to

make proposals, begin your brainstorming for topics with practical topics

related to your life, education, major, or job. Or make an informal list of propos-

als that you would like to explore in broader academic or cultural

areas — problems you see in your field or in the society around you. Or do some

freewriting on a subject of political concern, and see if it leads to a call for action.

● Researching Your topic

For many proposals, you can begin your research by consulting the following

types of sources:

• newspapers, magazines, reviews, and journals (online and print)

• television or radio news reports

• online databases

• government documents and reports

• Web sites, blogs, social networking sites, listservs, or newsgroups

• books

• experts in the field, some of whom might be right on your campus

to writing a proposalgUiDE

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 289

Consider doing some field research, if appropriate — a survey of student

opinions on Internet accessibility, for example, or interviews with people

who have experienced the problem you are trying to fix.

Finally, remember that your proposal’s success can depend on the credi-

bility of the sources you use to support it, so evaluate each source carefully

(see Chapter 19).

● Formulating a Claim

As you think about and explore your topic, begin formulating a claim about

it. To do so, come up with a clear thesis that makes a proposal and states the

reasons that this proposal should be adopted. To start formulating a claim,

explore and respond to the following questions:

• What do I know about the proposal that I’m making?

• What reasons can I offer to support my proposal?

• What evidence do I have that implementing my proposal will lead to the

results I want?

Rather than make a specific proposal, you may sometimes want to explore

the range of possibilities for addressing a particular situation or circum-

stance. In that case, a set of open-ended questions might be a more produc-

tive starting point than a focused thesis, suggesting, for instance, what goals

any plausible proposal might have to meet.

● Examples of Proposal Claims

• Because lowering the amount of fuel required to be blended with ethanol

would lower greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tons and decrease

land use that is releasing unhealthy amounts of carbon into the atmo-

sphere, the EPA proposal to reduce ethanol produced from corn should be


• Every home should be equipped with a well-stocked emergency kit that

can sustain inhabitants for at least three days in a natural disaster.

• Congress should repeal the Copyright Extension Act, since it disrupts the

balance between incentives for creators and the right of the public to

information as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

• To simplify the lives of consumers and eliminate redundant products,

industries that manufacture rechargeable batteries should agree on a

design for a universal power adapter.

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• People from different economic classes, age groups, political philosophies,

and power groups (government, Main Street, Wall Street) all have a stake

in reforming current budget and tax policies. But how do we get them to

speak and to listen to each other? That is the challenge we face if we hope

to solve our national economic problems.

● Preparing a Proposal

If your instructor asks you to prepare a proposal for your project, here’s a

format that may help:

State the thesis of your proposal completely. If you’re having trouble doing so, try outlining it in Toulmin terms:




Alternatively, you might describe your intention to explore a particular problem in your project, with the actual proposal (and thesis) coming later.

• Explain why this issue deserves attention. What’s at stake?

• Identify and describe those readers whom you hope to reach with your proposal. Why is this group of readers appropriate? Can you identify indi- viduals who can actually fix a problem?

• Briefly discuss the major difficulties that you foresee for your proposal. How will you demonstrate that the action you propose is necessary and workable? Persuade the audience to act? Pay for the proposal?

• Determine what research strategies you’ll use. What sources do you expect to consult?

● Considering Format and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular format and/or medium.

If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good choice:

• What format is most appropriate for your proposal? Does it call for an

academic essay, a report, an infographic, a brochure, or something else?

• What medium is most appropriate for your argument? Would it be best

delivered orally to a live audience? Presented as an audio essay or pod-

cast? Presented in print only or in print with illustrations?

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 291

• Will you need visuals, such as moving or still images, maps, graphs,

charts — and what function will they play in your argument? Make sure

they are not just “added on” but are necessary components of the


● thinking about organization

Proposals can take many different forms but generally include the following


• a description of the problem you intend to address or the state of affairs

that leads you to propose the action

• a strong and specific proposal, identifying the key reasons for taking the

proposed action and the effects that taking this action will have

• a clear connection between the proposal and a significant need or problem

• a demonstration of ways in which the proposal addresses the need

• evidence that the proposal will achieve the desired outcome

• a consideration of alternative ways to achieve the desired outcome and a

discussion of why these may not be feasible

• a demonstration that the proposal is feasible and an explanation of how it

may be implemented

● getting and giving Response: Questions for Peer Response

Your instructor may assign you to a group for the purpose of reading and

responding to each other’s drafts. If not, ask for responses from serious read-

ers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following questions to evaluate

a colleague’s draft. Since specific comments help more than general observa-

tions, be sure to illustrate your comments with examples. Some of the ques-

tions below assume a conventional, thesis-driven project, but more

exploratory, open-ended proposal arguments also need to be clearly phrased,

organized, and supported with evidence.

The Claim

• Does the claim clearly call for action? Is the proposal as clear and specific

as possible? Is it realistic or possible to accomplish?

• Is the proposal too sweeping? Does it need to be qualified? If so, how?

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• Does the proposal clearly address the problem that it intends to solve? If

not, how could the connection be strengthened?

• Is the claim likely to get the audience to act rather than just to agree? If

not, how could it be revised to do so?

Evidence for the Claim

• Is enough evidence furnished to get the audience to support the proposal?

If not, what kind of additional evidence is needed? Does any of the evi-

dence provided seem inappropriate or otherwise ineffective? Why?

• Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are its sig-

nificance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed discussion


• Are objections that readers might have to the claim or evidence ade-

quately and fairly addressed?

• What kinds of sources are cited? How credible and persuasive will they be

to readers? What other kinds of sources might work better?

• Are all quotations introduced with appropriate signal phrases (such as “As

Tyson argues, . . .”) and blended smoothly into the writer’s sentences?

• Are all visual sources labeled, introduced, and commented upon?

Organization and Style

• How are the parts of the argument organized? Is this organization


• Will readers understand the relationships among the claims, supporting

reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might those connections be

clearer? Is the function of every visual clear? Are more transitions needed?

Would headings or graphic devices help?

• Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to sentence, and

paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? If not, how could they be


• Are all visuals carefully integrated into the text? Is each visual introduced

and commented on to point out its significance? Is each visual labeled as

a figure or a table and given a caption as well as a citation?

• Is the style suited to the subject? Is it too formal, casual, or technical? Can

it be improved?

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 293

• Which sentences seem effective? Which ones seem weaker, and how

could they be improved? Should short sentences be combined, and any

longer ones be broken up?

• How effective are the paragraphs? Too short or too long? How can they be


• Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or inappro-

priate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are technical or unfamil-

iar terms defined?

Spelling, Punctuation, Mechanics, Documentation, and Format

• Are there any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and the like?

• Is the documentation appropriate and consistent? (See Chapter 22.)

• Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it appropriately

designed and attractively presented?

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P R O J E C T S. 1. Identify a proposal currently in the news or one advocated unrelent-

ingly by the media that you really don’t like. It may be a political initia- tive, a cultural innovation, a transportation alternative, or a lifestyle change. Spend time studying the idea more carefully than you have before. And then compose a proposal argument based on your deeper understanding of the proposal. You may still explain why you think it’s a bad idea. Or you may endorse it, using your new information and your interesting perspective as a former dissenter.

2. The uses and abuses of technology and media — from smartphones and smartwatches to social networks — seem to be on everyone’s mind. Write a proposal argument about some pressing dilemma caused by the digital screens that are changing (ruining?) our lives. You might want to explain how to bring traditional instructors into the digital age or establish etiquette for people who walk in traffic using handheld electronic devices. Or maybe you want to keep par- ents off of social networks. Or maybe you have a great idea for sepa- rating professional and private lives online. Make your proposal in some pertinent medium: print op-ed, cartoon, photo essay, info- graphic, set of PowerPoint or Prezi slides, podcast.

3. Write a proposal to yourself diagnosing some minor issue you would like to address, odd behavior you’d like to change, or obsession you’d like to curb. Explore the reasons behind your mania and the problems it causes you and others. Then come up with a plausible proposal to resolve the issue and prove that you can do it. Make the paper hilarious.

4. Working in a group initially, come up with a list of problems — local, national, or international — that seem just about insoluble, from per- suading nations to cut down on their CO2 emissions to figuring out how to keep tuition costs in check. After some discussion, focus on just one or two of these matters and then discuss not the issues them- selves but the general reasons that the problems have proven intrac- table. What exactly keeps people from agreeing on solutions? Are some people content with the status quo? Do some groups profit from the current arrangements? Are alternatives to the status quo just too costly or not feasible for other reasons? Do people find change uncom- fortable? Following the discussion, work alone or collaboratively on an argument that examines the general issue of change: What makes it possible in any given case? What makes it difficult? Use the problems you have discussed as examples to illustrate your argument. Your challenge as a writer may be to make such an open-ended discussion interesting to general readers.

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A Call to improve Campus Accessibility



Wes Holloway, a sophomore at the University of Texas at

Austin (UT), never considered the issue of campus acces-

sibility during his first year on campus. But when an

injury his freshman year left him wheelchair-bound, he

was astonished to realize that he faced an unexpected

challenge: maneuvering around the UT campus. Hills

that he had effortlessly traversed became mountains;

doors that he had easily opened became anvils; and

streets that he had mindlessly crossed became treacher-

ous terrain. Says Wes: “I didn’t think about accessibility

until I had to deal with it, and I think most people are the

same way.”

For the ambulatory individual, access for the mobility

impaired on the UT campus is easy to overlook. Auto-

matic door entrances and bathrooms with the universal

handicapped symbol make the campus seem sufficiently

accessible. But for many students and faculty at UT,

including me, maneuvering the UT campus in a wheel-

chair is a daily experience of stress and frustration.

Although the University has made a concerted and con-

tinuing effort to improve access, students and faculty

with physical disabilities still suffer from discriminatory

hardship, unequal opportunity to succeed, and lack of


The paper opens with a personal example and dramatizes the issue of campus accessibility.

Both problem and solution are previewed here, with more details provided in subsequent sections of the paper.

two Sample Proposals

Courtesy of Manasi Deshpande

Manasi Deshpande wrote a longer version of this essay for a

course preparing her to work as a consultant in the writing center at

the University of Texas at Austin. We have edited it to emphasize the

structure of her complex proposal. Note, too, how she reaches out to a

general audience to make an argument that might seem to have a

narrow constituency. This essay is documented using MLA style.


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writing Arguments296

The University must make campus accessibility a

higher priority and take more seriously the hardship that

the campus at present imposes on people with mobility

impairments. Better accessibility would also benefit the

numerous students and faculty with temporary disabili-

ties and help the University recruit a more diverse body

of students and faculty.

Assessment of Current Efforts

The current state of campus accessibility leaves substan-

tial room for improvement. There are approximately 150

academic and administrative buildings on campus

(Grant). Eduardo Gardea, intern architect at the Physical

Plant, estimates that only about nineteen buildings com-

ply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to Penny Seay, PhD, director of the Center for

Disability Studies at UT Austin, the ADA in theory

“requires every building on campus to be accessible.”

However, as Bill Throop, associate director of the Physical

Plant, explains, there is “no legal deadline to make the

entire campus accessible”; neither the ADA nor any other

law mandates that certain buildings be made compliant

by a certain time. Though not bound by specific legal

obligation, the University should strive to fulfill the spirit

of the law and recognize campus accessibility as a press-

ing moral obligation.

The Benefits of Change

Benefits for People with Permanent Mobility Impairments

Improving campus accessibility would significantly

enhance the quality of life of students and faculty with

mobility impairments. The campus at present poses dis-

criminatory hardship on these individuals by making

daily activities such as getting to class and using the

bathroom unreasonably difficult. Before Wes Holloway

leaves home, he must plan his route carefully to avoid

hills, use ramps that are easy to maneuver, and enter

The introduc- tion’s final paragraph summarizes the argument.

The author’s fieldwork (mainly inter- views) enhances her authority and credibility.

The paper uses several layers of headings to organize its diverse materials.

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 297

the side of the building with the accessible entrance. As

he goes to class, Wes must go out of his way to avoid

poorly paved sidewalks and roads. Sometimes he cannot

avoid them and must take an uncomfortable and bumpy

ride across potholes and uneven pavement. If his desti-

nation does not have an automatic door, he must wait

for someone to open the door for him because it is too

heavy for him to open himself. To get into Burdine Hall,

he has to ask a stranger to push him through the heavy

narrow doors because his fingers would get crushed if

he pushed himself. Once in the classroom, Wes must

find a suitable place to sit, often far away from his class-

mates because stairs block him from the center of the


Other members of the UT community with mobility

impairments suffer the same daily hardships as Wes.

According to Mike Gerhardt, student affairs administra-

tor of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD),

approximately eighty students with physical disabilities,

including twenty to twenty-five students using wheel-

chairs, are registered with SSD. However, the actual num-

ber of students with mobility impairments is probably

higher because some students choose not to seek ser-

vices from SSD. The current state of campus accessibility

discriminates against all individuals with physical dis-

abilities in the unnecessary hardship it imposes and in

the ways it denies them independence.

Benefits for People with Temporary Mobility Impairments

In addition to helping the few members of the UT campus

with permanent mobility impairments, a faster rate of

accessibility improvement would also benefit the much

larger population of people with temporary physical dis-

abilities. Many students and faculty will become tempo-

rarily disabled from injury at some point during their time

at the University. They will encounter difficulties similar

to those facing people with permanent disabilities, includ-

ing finding accessible entrances, opening doors without

The author outlines the challenges faced by a student with mobility impairment.

accessibility issues are given a human face with examples of the problems that mobility- impaired people face on campus.

The author broadens the appeal of her proposal by showing how improved accessibility will benefit everyone on campus.

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writing Arguments298

automatic entrances, and finding convenient classroom

seating. And, according to Dr. Jennifer Maedgen, assistant

dean of students and director of SSD, about 5 to 10 percent

of the approximately one thousand students registered

with SSD at any given time have temporary disabilities. By

improving campus accessibility, the University would in

fact reach out to all of its members, even those who have

never considered the possibility of mobility impairment

or the state of campus accessibility.

Benefits for the University

Better accessibility would also benefit the University as a

whole by increasing recruitment of handicapped indi-

viduals and thus promoting a more diverse campus.

When prospective students and faculty with disabilities

visit the University, they might decide not to join the UT

community because of poor access. On average, about

one thousand students, or 2 percent of the student popu-

lation, are registered with SSD. Mike Gerhardt reports

that SSD would have about 1,500 to 3,000 registered stu-

dents if the University reflected the community at large

with respect to disability. These numbers suggest that

the University can recruit more students with disabilities

by taking steps to ensure that they have an equal oppor-

tunity to succeed.


Arguments against devoting more effort and resources to

campus accessibility have some validity but ultimately

prove inadequate. Some argue that accelerating the rate

of accessibility improvements and creating more efficient

services require too much spending on too few people.

However, this spending actually enhances the expected

quality of life of all UT community members rather than

just the few with permanent physical disabilities. Unfore-

seen injury can leave anyone with a permanent or tempo-

rary disability at any time. In making decisions about

campus accessibility, administrators must realize that

Numbers provide hard evidence for an important claim.

The author offers a new but related argu- ment: enhanced accessibility could bolster recruitment efforts.

The paper briefly notes possible objec- tions to the proposal.

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 299

having a disability is not a choice and that bad luck does

not discriminate. They should consider how their deci-

sions would affect their campus experience if they

became disabled. Despite the additional cost, the Univer-

sity should make accessibility a priority and accommo-

date more accessibility projects in its budget.


Foster Empathy and Understanding for Long-Term Planning

The University should make campus accessibility a

higher priority and work toward a campus that not only

fulfills legal requirements but also provides a user-

friendly environment for the mobility impaired. It is dif-

ficult for the ambulatory person to empathize with the

difficulties faced by these individuals. Recognizing this

problem, the University should require the administra-

tors who allocate money to ADA projects to use wheel-

chairs around the campus once a year. Administrators

must realize that people with physical disabilities are

not a small, distant, irrelevant group; anyone can join

their ranks at any time. Administrators should ask them-

selves if they would find the current state of campus

accessibility acceptable if an injury forced them to use a

wheelchair on a permanent basis.

In addition, the University should actively seek stu-

dent input for long-term improvements to accessibility.

The University is in the process of creating the ADA

Accessibility Committee, which, according to the office

of the Dean of Students’ Web site, will “address institu-

tionwide, systemic issues that fall under the scope of the

Americans with Disabilities Act.” Students should play a

prominent and powerful role in this new ADA Accessibil-

ity Committee. The Committee should select its student

representatives carefully to make sure that they are

driven individuals committed to working for progress

and representing the interests of students with disabili-

ties. The University should consider making Committee

after estab- lishing a case for enhanced campus acces- sibility, the author offers specific sugges- tions for action.

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writing Arguments300

positions paid so that student representatives can devote

sufficient time to their responsibilities.

Improve Services for the Mobility Impaired

The University should also work toward creating more

useful, transparent, and approachable services for its

members with physical disabilities by making better use

of online technology and helping students take control

of their own experiences.

First, SSD can make its Web site more useful by updat-

ing it frequently with detailed information on construc-

tion sites that will affect accessible routes. The site

should delineate alternative accessible routes and

approximate the extra time required to use the detour.

This information would help people with mobility

impairments to plan ahead and avoid delays, mitigating

the stress of maneuvering around construction sites.

The University should also develop software for an

interactive campus map. The software would work like

MapQuest or Google Maps but would provide detailed

descriptions of accessible routes on campus from one

building to another. It would be updated frequently with

new ADA improvements and information on construc-

tion sites that impede accessible routes.

Since usefulness of services is most important for

students during their first encounters with the campus,

SSD should hold one-on-one orientations for new stu-

dents with mobility impairments. SSD should inform

students in both oral and written format of their rights

and responsibilities and make them aware of problems

that they will encounter on the campus. Beyond making

services more useful, these orientations would give stu-

dents the impression of University services as open and

responsive, encouraging students to report problems

that they encounter and assume the responsibility of


As a continuing resource for people with physical dis-

abilities, the SSD Web site should include an anonymous

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C h a p t e r 1 2 ProPosals 301

forum for both general questions and specific com-

plaints and needs. Many times, students notice problems

but do not report them because they find visiting or call-

ing SSD time-consuming or because they do not wish to

be a burden. The anonymity and immediate feedback

provided by the forum would allow for more freedom of

expression and provide students an easier way to solve

the problems they face.

Services for the mobility impaired should also

increase their transparency by advertising current acces-

sibility projects on their Web sites. The University should

give its members with mobility impairments a clearer

idea of its efforts to improve campus accessibility.

Detailed online descriptions of ADA projects, including

the cost of each project, would affirm its resolve to create

a better environment for its members with physical



Although the University has made progress in accessibil-

ity improvements on an old campus, it must take bolder

steps to improve the experience of its members with

mobility impairments. At present, people with perma-

nent mobility impairments face unreasonable hardship,

unequal opportunity to succeed, and lack of indepen-

dence. To enhance the quality of life of all of its members

and increase recruitment of disabled individuals, the

University should focus its resources on increasing

the rate of accessibility improvements and improving

the quality of its services for the mobility impaired.

As a public institution, the University has an obliga-

tion to make the campus more inclusive and serve as an

example for disability rights. With careful planning and a

genuine desire to respond to special needs, practical and

cost-effective changes to the University campus can sig-

nificantly improve the quality of life of many of its mem-

bers and prove beneficial to the future of the University

as a whole.

The writer reiterates her full proposal.

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writing Arguments302

Works Cited

Gardea, Eduardo. Personal interview. 24 Mar. 2005. Gerhardt, Michael. Personal interview. 8 Apr. 2005. Grant, Angela. “Making Campus More Accessible.” Daily Texan

Online. 14 Oct. 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2005. Holloway, Wesley Reed. Personal interview. 5 Mar. 2005. Maedgen, Jennifer. Personal interview. 25 Mar. 2005. Office of the Dean of Students, University of Texas at Austin.

“ADA Student Forum.” 6 Apr. 2005. Web. 23 Apr. 2005. Seay, Penny. Personal interview. 11 Mar. 2005. Throop, William. Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2005.

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let’s Charge Politicians for Wasting our time

ViRginiA PoStREl

There’s an election today here in California, and that means my landline

at home is ringing constantly with robocalls from assorted public figures

whose recorded voices urge me to get out and vote for their favorite can-

didates. One called the other day while I was conducting an interview on

the mobile phone I use for most purposes. I didn’t answer, but it inter-

rupted the flow of the conversation. Yesterday I picked up the receiver to

find five voice mails, all from recorded political voices (including two

identical messages from the same sheriff candidate).

Our phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry, but those

rules for telemarketers don’t apply to political campaigns. The folks who

make the laws aren’t about to do away with a technique that works.

Political robocalls are illegal to mobile phones but OK to most land-

lines, as long as they meet disclosure requirements. Everyone I know

hates such calls, and even political consultants know they’re a problem.

“Some voters get turned off by too many robocalls,” cautions a political-

strategy website. The cumulative annoyance, it warns, means that voters

may resent yours even if they’re rare. Yep.

Recorded, automatically dialed messages arguably constitute a legiti-

mate and potentially important form of political speech. If I weren’t so

annoyed, I might actually like to know who’s endorsing whom for sheriff.

But it’s ridiculous that the only way to limit the onslaught is to pay some-

one $24.99 to tell organizations, who may or may not listen, that I don’t

want them bothering me.

Here’s a better idea: You should be able to set a charge for calling you.

Every number that isn’t on your “free” list would automatically be assessed

a fee. The phone company would get a percentage of the revenue, and

you’d be able to adjust the fee to different levels at different times of the

day or for different seasons. (The nearer the election, the higher I’d make

my charge.) If candidates really think it’s valuable to call me, they should


Virginia Postrel posted this column on the Bloomberg View on June 3, 2014. She has

also written for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Atlantic.

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be willing to pay. Otherwise, they’re just forcing me to subsidize their

political efforts with my time and attention.

Technology investor Esther Dyson has for years been pushing a simi-

lar idea for e-mail. Unsolicited phone calls are much more annoying, and

the technological challenges of “reversing the charges” should be much

easier. Although you can’t track down the true scamsters who break the

do-not-call law and peddle fraudulent schemes from phony numbers,

the politicians and charities that pester us for support aren’t trying to

hide. They’re just trying to get something scarce and precious — our time

and attention — for free.

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Arguments Argument

argument arguments style and presentation in

part 3

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Style in Arguments


All photos © Photofest, Inc.


The images above all reflect the notable styles of musicians from differ- ent times and musical traditions: Yo-Yo Ma, Count Basie, Kiss, and Rihanna. One could argue that these performers craft images to define their stage personalities, but how they present themselves also reflects the music they play and the audiences they perform for. Imagine Yo-Yo Ma appearing in Kiss makeup at Carnegie Hall. It doesn’t work.

Writers, too, like to think of themselves as creating styles that express their ethos and life experiences — and they do. But in persuasive situa- tions, style is also a matter of the specific choices they make — strategically and self-consciously — to influence audiences.

So it’s not surprising that writers adapt their voices to a range of rhe- torical situations, from very formal to very casual. At the formal and pro- fessional end of the scale, consider the opening paragraph of a dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to a Supreme Court decision affecting affir- mative action in Michigan public universities. Writing doesn’t get much

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more consequential than this, and that earnestness is reflected in the justice’s sober, authoritative, but utterly clear style:

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do. this case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws. although that guarantee is traditionally understood to prohibit intentional discrimination under existing laws, equal protection does not end there. another fundamental strand of our equal protection jurisprudence focuses on process, securing to all citizens the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self- government. that right is the bedrock of our democracy, for it pre- serves all other rights.

— sonia sotomayor, dissenting opinion, april 22, 2014

Contrast this formal style (perhaps the equivalent of Yo-Yo Ma’s tux- edo?) to the more personal language Alexis C. Madrigal uses in an article for the Atlantic to argue that we are finally tiring of the relentless “stream” of information pouring down on us via social media. His sub- ject is serious and his readers are too, but Madrigal employs a rougher style to express the resentment of people he sees as victimized by a once-promising technology that trivializes everything:

nowadays, i think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new update from their social apps.

it is too damn hard to keep up. and most of what’s out there is crap. When the half-life of a post is half a day or less, how much time

can media makers put into something? When the time a reader spends on a story is (on the high end) two minutes, how much time should media makers put into something?

— alexis C. Madrigal, “2013: the year ‘the stream’ Crested”

Just a paragraph later, Madrigal again tunes his style to accommodate both high and low notes (maybe riffing like Count Basie?). First, he alludes to one of the toughest novels of the twentieth century, and then he chooses sentence structures — a fragment followed by two very short, emphatic, not-quite-parallel clauses — to mark the contrast between the formidable book and social media:

i am not joking when i say: it is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. the internet is never finished.

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C h a p t e r 1 3 Style in ArgumentS 309

Far more casual in subject matter and style is a blog item by Huffing- ton Post book editor Claire Fallon, arguing (tongue-in-cheek) that Shake- speare’s Romeo is one of those literary figures readers just love to hate. The range of Fallon’s vocabulary choices — from “most romantic dude” to “penchant for wallowing” — suggests the (Rihanna-like?) playfulness of the exercise. Style is obviously a big part of Fallon’s game:

romeo, romeo, wherefore art thou such a wishy-washy doofus? shakespeare himself would likely be baffled by the elevation of romeo to the position of “most romantic dude in literature” — he spends his first scene in the play insisting he’s heartbroken over a girl he goes on to completely forget about the second he catches a glimpse of Juliet! poor rosaline (or rather, nice bullet-dodging, rosaline). romeo’s appar- ent penchant for wallowing in the romantic misery of unrequited love finds a new target in naive Juliet, who then dies for a guy who proba- bly would have forgotten about her as soon as their honeymoon ended. yes, romeo is self-absorbed, fickle, and rather whiny, but we clearly love him anyway.

— Claire Fallon, “11 Unlikeable Classical Book Characters We love to Hate”

As you might guess from these examples, style always involves making choices about language across a wide range of situations. Style can be public or personal, conventional or creative, and everything in between. When you write, you’ll find that you have innumerable tools and options for expressing yourself exactly as you need to. This chapter introduces you to some of them.

Style and Word Choice

Words matter—and those you choose will define the style of your arguments.

For most academic arguments, what is called formal or professional style is appropriate. Such language sounds weighty because it usually is. It is not shy about employing highbrow terms, conventional vocabulary, or technical language because that’s what readers of academic journals or serious magazines and newspapers expect. Formal writing typically avoids contractions, phrases that mimic speech, and sometimes even the pronoun I. But what may be most remarkable about the style is how little it draws attention to itself — and that’s usually deliberate. Here’s a

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levelheaded paragraph from the Economist arguing that digital education may yet have a huge impact on colleges and universities:

so demand for education will grow. Who will meet it? Universities face a new competitor in the form of massive open online courses, or MooCs. these digitally-delivered courses, which teach students via the web or tablet apps, have big advantages over their established rivals. With low startup costs and powerful economies of scale, online courses dramatically lower the price of learning and widen access to it, by removing the need for students to be taught at set times or places. the low cost of providing courses — creating a new one costs about $70,000 — means they can be sold cheaply, or even given away. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business school considers MooCs a potent “disruptive technology” that will kill off many inefficient uni- versities. “Fifteen years from now more than half of the universities [in america] will be in bankruptcy,” he predicted last year.

— “the Future of Universities: the digital degree”

The editors assume that readers of the Economist will understand techni- cal terms such as “startup costs” and “economies of scale,” though they do pause to explain “MOOCs” — a much-hyped innovation yet to catch on. Even as it delivers what seems like bad news for universities, the paragraph is efficient and cool in tone — modeling a style you’ll often use in academic projects.

Colloquial words and phrases, slang, and even first- and second-person pronouns (I, me, we, you) can create relationships with audiences that feel much more intimate. When you use everyday language in arguments, read- ers are more likely to identify with you personally and, possibly, with the ideas you represent or advocate. In effect, such vocabulary choices lessen the distance between you and readers.

Admittedly, some colloquial terms simply bewilder readers not tuned in to them. A movie review in Rolling Stone or a music review in Spin might leave your parents (or some authors) scratching their heads. Jon Dolan, for example, has this to say about Drake’s song “Draft Day”:

drake’s latest statement-of-drakeness casually big-ups his sports bros Johnny Manziel and andrew Wiggins over a dreamy sample of lauryn Hill’s “doo Wop (that thing),” then drops a little Jennifer lawrence fan fic: “on some Hunger Games sh–t/i would die for my dis- trict.” it’s baller brio with a characteristic light touch. May the odds be ever in your favor, son!

— Jon dolan, Rolling Stone, “drake, ‘draft day’ ”

In an excerpt from his book Whistling

Vivaldi and Other Clues to How

Stereotypes Affect Us, Claude M.

Steele presents a compelling example

of the impact of subtle stylistic


link to p. 537

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C h a p t e r 1 3 Style in ArgumentS 311

Huh, we say. But you probably get it. Be alert, too, to the use of jargon, the special vocabulary of members of

a profession, trade, or field. Although jargon serves as shorthand for experts, it can alienate readers who don’t recognize technical words or acronyms.

Another verbal key to an argument’s style is its control of conno- tation, the associations that surround many words. Consider the straightforward connotative differences among the following three statements:

students from the labor action Committee (laC) carried out a hunger strike to call attention to the below-minimum wages that are being paid to campus temporary workers, saying, “the university must pay a living wage to all its workers.”

left-wing agitators and radicals tried to use self-induced starvation to stampede the university into caving in to their demands.

Champions of human rights put their bodies on the line to protest the university’s tightfisted policy of paying temporary workers scandal- ously low wages.

The style of the first sentence is the most neutral, presenting facts and offering a quotation from one of the students. The second sentence uses loaded terms like “agitators,” “radicals,” and “stampede” to create a nega- tive image of this event, while the final sentence uses other loaded words to create a positive view. As these examples demonstrate, the words you choose can change everything about a sentence.

But now watch how author Sherman Alexie, in an essay about Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA star (see p. 103) makes the connotations surrounding three colloquial terms all meaning “beautiful” key to a con- troversial claim he intends to put forward:

Cut. shredded. Jacked. those are violent straight-boy adjectives that mean “beautiful.” But we straight boys aren’t supposed to think of other men as beautiful. We’re supposed to think of the most physi- cally gifted men as warrior soldiers, as dangerous demigods.

and there’s the rub: When we’re talking about professional ath- letes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. it might not be homo- sexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.

Here, words actually become the argument.

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R E S P O N D. Review the excerpts in this section and choose one or two words or phrases that you think are admirably selected or unusually interesting choices. Then explore the meanings and possibly the connotations of the word or words in a nicely developed paragraph or two.

Sentence Structure and Argument

Writers of effective arguments know that “variety is the spice of life” when it comes to stylish sentences. A strategy as simple as varying sen- tence length can keep readers attentive and interested. For instance, the paragraph from the Economist in the preceding section (p. 310) has sen- tences as short as four words and as lengthy as thirty-six. Its authors almost certainly didn’t pause as they wrote and think, hmm, we need a little variation here. Instead, as experienced writers, they simply made sure that their sentences complemented the flow of their ideas and also kept readers engaged.

Sentences, you see, offer you more options and special effects than you can ever exhaust. To pull examples from selections earlier in this chapter, just consider how dramatic, punchy, or even comic short sen- tences can be:

the internet is never finished. — alexis C. Madrigal

May the odds be ever in your favor, son! — Jon dolan

Longer sentences can explain ideas, build drama, or sweep readers along:

With low startup costs and powerful economies of scale, online courses dramatically lower the price of learning and widen access to it, by removing the need for students to be taught at set times or places.

— The Economist

Meanwhile, sentences of medium length handle just about any task assigned without a fuss. They are whatever you need them to be: ser- viceable, discrete, thoughtful, playful. And they pair up nicely with companions:

But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do. — sonia sotomayor

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C h a p t e r 1 3 Style in ArgumentS 313

Balanced or parallel sentences, in which clauses or phrases are deliber- ately matched, as highlighted in the following examples, draw attention to ideas and relationships:

Ulysses can be finished . the internet is never finished . — alexis C. Madrigal

When we’re talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking

about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abili-

ties of other males. it might not be homosexual, but it certainly is


— sherman alexie

Sentences with especially complicated structures or interruptions make you pay attention to their motions and, therefore, their ideas:

the low cost of providing courses — creating a new one costs about $70,000 — means they can be sold cheaply, or even given away.

— The Economist

drake’s latest statement-of-drakeness casually big-ups his sports bros Johnny Manziel and andrew Wiggins over a dreamy sample of lauryn Hill’s “doo Wop (that thing),” then drops a little Jennifer lawrence fan fic: “on some Hunger Games sh–t/i would die for my district.”

— Jon dolan

Even sentence fragments — which don’t meet all the requirements for full sentence status — have their place when used for a specific effect:

Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. — alexis C. Madrigal

poor rosaline (or rather, nice bullet-dodging, rosaline). — Claire Fallon

Cut. shredded. Jacked. — sherman alexie

You see, then, that there’s much more to the rhetoric of sentences than just choosing subjects, verbs, and objects — and far more than we can explain in one section. But you can learn a lot about the power of sentences simply by observing how the writers you admire engineer them — and maybe imitating some of those sentences yourself. You might also make it a habit to read and re-read your own sentences aloud (or in your head) as you compose them to gauge whether words and phrases are meshing with your ideas. And then tinker, tinker, tinker — until the sentences feel right.

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R E S P O N D. Working with a classmate, first find a paragraph you both admire, perhaps in one of the selections in Part 2 of this book. Then, individually write paragraphs of your own that imitate the sentences within it — making sure that both these new items are on subjects different from that of the original paragraph. When you are done, compare your paragraphs and pick out a few sentences you think are especially effective.

punctuation and Argument

In a memorable comment, actor and director Clint Eastwood said, “You can show a lot with a look. . . . It’s punctuation.” He’s certainly right about punctuation’s effect, and it is important that as you read and write argu- ments, you consider punctuation closely.

Eastwood may have been talking about the dramatic effect of end punctuation: the finality of periods; the tentativeness of ellipses (. . .); the query, disbelief, or uncertainty in question marks; or the jolt in the now-appearing-almost-everywhere exclamation point! Yet even excla- mations can help create tone if used strategically. In an argument about the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, consider how Jane Mayer evokes the sense of desperation in some of the suspected terrorists:

as we reached the end of the cell-block, hysterical shouts, in broken english, erupted from a caged exercise area nearby. “Come here!” a man screamed. “see here! they are liars! . . . no sleep!” he yelled. “no food! no medicine! no doctor! everybody sick here!”

— Jane Mayer, “the experiment”

Punctuation that works within sentences can also do much to enhance meaning and style. The semicolon, for instance, marks a pause that is stronger than a comma but not as strong as a period. Semicolons function like “plus signs”; used correctly, they join items that are alike in structure, conveying a sense of balance, similarity, or even contrast. Do you recall Nathaniel Stein’s parody of grading standards at Harvard Uni- versity (see p. 102)? Watch as he uses a semicolon to enhance the humor in his description of what an A+ paper achieves:

nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes.

— nathaniel stein, “leaked! Harvard’s Grading rubric”

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C h a p t e r 1 3 Style in ArgumentS 315

In many situations, however, semicolons, with their emphasis on sym- metry and balance, can feel stodgy, formal, and maybe even old- fashioned, and lots of writers avoid them, perhaps because they are very difficult to get right. Check a writing handbook before you get too friendly with semicolons.

Much easier to manage are colons, which function like pointers within sentences: they say pay attention to this. Philip Womack’s London Telegraph review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 demon- strates how a colon enables a writer to introduce a lengthy illustration clearly and elegantly:

the first scene of david yates’s film picks up where his previous installment left off: with a shot of the dark lord Voldemort’s noseless face in triumph as he steals the most powerful magic wand in the world from the tomb of Harry’s protector, professor dumbledore.

— philip Womack

“you can show a lot with a look. . . . it’s punctuation.” © Photofest, Inc.

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And Paul Krugman shows how to use a colon to catch a reader’s attention:

recently two research teams, working independently and using differ- ent methods, reached an alarming conclusion: the West antarctic ice sheet is doomed.

— paul Krugman, “point of no return”

Colons can serve as lead-ins for complete sentences, complex phrases, or even single words. As such, they are versatile and potentially dramatic pieces of punctuation.

Like colons, dashes help readers focus on important, sometimes addi- tional details. But they have even greater flexibility since they can be used singly or in pairs. Alone, dashes function much like colons to add infor- mation. Here’s Eugene Washington commenting pessimistically on a political situation in Iraq, using a single dash to extend his thoughts:

the aim of U.s. policy at this point should be minimizing the calamity, not chasing rainbows of a unified, democratic, pluralistic iraq — which, sadly, is something the power brokers in iraq do not want.

— eugene robinson, “the ‘Ungrateful Volcano’ of iraq”

And here are paired dashes used to insert such information in the open- ing of the Philip Womack review of Deathly Hallows 2 cited earlier:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 — the eighth and final film in the blockbusting series — begins with our teenage heroes fighting for their lives, and for their entire world.

And finally, notice how in an essay about President Obama’s second term, writer Peggy Noonan surrounds a single word with dashes to emphasize it:

all this is weird, unprecedented. the president shows no sign — none — of being overwhelmingly concerned and anxious at his pre- dicaments or challenges.

— peggy noonan, “the daydream and the nightmare”

As these examples illustrate, punctuation often enhances the rhythm of an argument. Take a look at how Maya Angelou uses a dash along with another punctuation mark — ellipsis points — to create a pause or hesi- tation, in this case one that builds anticipation:

then the voice, husky and familiar, came to wash over us — “the win- nah, and still heavyweight champeen of the world . . . Joe louis.”

— Maya angelou, “Champion of the World”

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R E S P O N D. Try writing a brief movie review for your campus newspaper, experi- menting with punctuation as one way to create an effective style. See if using a series of questions might have a strong effect, whether exclama- tion points would add or detract from the message you want to send, and so on. When you’ve finished the review, compare it to one written by a classmate, and look for similarities and differences in your choices of punctuation.

Special Effects: Figurative language

You don’t have to look hard to find examples of figurative language add- ing style to arguments. When a writing teacher suggests you take a weed whacker to your prose, she’s using a figure of speech (in this case, a meta- phor) to suggest you cut the wordiness. To indicate how little he trusts the testimony of John Koskinen, head of the Internal Revenue Service, political pundit Michael Gerson takes the metaphor of a “witch hunt” and flips it on the bureaucrat, relying on readers to recognize an allusion to Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

democrats were left to complain about a republican “witch hunt” — while Koskinen set up a caldron, added some eye of newt and toe of frog and hailed the thane of Cawdor.

— Michael Gerson, “an arrogant and lawless irs”

explore the meaning and

effectiveness of figurative expressions

such as “Gourmet hay” and

“‘trail mix’ for earthworms” in eric

Mortenson’s “a Diversified Farm

prospers in Oregon’s Willamette

Valley by Going Organic and Staying


link to p. 653

John Koskinen Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Figurative language like this — indispensable to writers — dramatizes ideas, either by clarifying or enhancing the thoughts themselves or by framing them in language that makes them stand out. As a result, figu- rative language makes arguments attractive, memorable, and powerful. An apt simile, a timely rhetorical question, or a wicked understatement might do a better job bringing an argument home than whole para- graphs of evidence.

Figures of speech are usually classified into two main types: tropes, which involve a change in the ordinary meaning of a word or phrase; and schemes, which involve a special arrangement of words. Here is a brief alphabetical listing — with examples — of some of the most familiar kinds.


To create tropes, you often have to think of one idea or claim in rela- tionship to others. Some of the most powerful — one might even say inevitable — tropes involve making purposeful comparisons between ideas: analogies, metaphors, and similes. Other tropes such as irony, signifying, and understatement are tools for expressing attitudes toward ideas: you might use them to shape the way you want your audience to think about a claim that you or someone else has made.


An allusion is a connection that illuminates one situation by comparing it to another similar but usually more famous one, often with historical or literary connections. Allusions work with events, people, or concepts — expanding and enlarging them so readers better appreciate their signifi- cance. For example, a person who makes a career-ending blunder might be said to have met her Waterloo, the famous battle that terminated Napoleon’s ambitions. Similarly, every impropriety in Washington brings up mentions of Watergate, the only scandal to lead to a presidential resignation; any daring venture becomes a moon shot, paralleling the ambitious program that led to a lunar landing in 1969. Using allusions can be tricky: they work only if readers get the connection. But when they do, they can pack a wallop. When on page 317 Michael Gerson mentions “eye of newt” and “toe of frog” in the same breath as IRS chief John Koskinen, he knows what fans of Macbeth are thinking. But other readers might be left clueless.

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analogies compare two things, often point by point, either to show simi- larity or to suggest that if two concepts, phenomena, events, or even people are alike in one way, they are probably alike in other ways as well. Often extended in length, analogies can clarify or emphasize points of comparison, thereby supporting particular claims.

Here’s the first paragraph of an essay in which a writer who is also a runner thinks deeply about the analogies between the two tough activities:

When people ask me what running and writing have in common, i tend to look at the ground and say it might have something to do with disci- pline: you do both of those things when you don’t feel like it, and make them part of your regular routine. you know some days will be harder than others, and on some you won’t hit your mark and will want to quit. But you don’t. you force yourself into a practice; the practice becomes habit and then simply part of your identity. a surprising amount of suc- cess, as Woody allen once said, comes from just showing up.

— rachel toor, “What Writing and running Have in Common”

this cartoon draws a number of suggestive analogies (and one potent allusion) in the way it depicts the pope and personifies “economic inequality.” © John Cole/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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To be effective, an analogy has to make a good point and hold up to scru- tiny. If it doesn’t, it can be criticized as a faulty analogy, a fallacy of argu- ment (see p. 84).


antonomasia is an intriguing trope that simply involves substituting a descriptive phrase for a proper name. It is probably most familiar to you from sports or entertainment figures: “His Airness” still means Michael Jordan; Aretha Franklin remains “The Queen of Soul,” jazz singer Mel Torme was “The Velvet Fog,” and Superman, of course, is “The Man of Steel.” In politics, antonomasia is sometimes used neutrally (Ronald Reagan as “The Gipper”), sometimes as a backhanded compliment (Margaret Thatcher as “The Iron Lady”), and occasionally as a crude and sexist put-down (Sarah Palin as “Caribou Barbie”). As you well know if you have one, nicknames can pack potent arguments into just one phrase.


Hyperbole is the use of overstatement for special effect, a kind of fire- works in prose. The tabloid gossip magazines that scream at you in the checkout line survive by hyperbole. Everyone has seen these overstated arguments and perhaps marveled at the way they sell.

Hyperbole can, however, serve both writers and audiences when very strong opinions need to be registered. One senses exasperation in the no-holds-barred opening of Rex Reed’s review of the film Tammy — the paragraph ripples with hyperbole and other tropes:

the good news is that Tammy is not a crappy remake of the 1957 Tammy movie with debbie reynolds that spawned three sequels and a tV comedy series. the bad news is that this one is much worse. it’s a desperate and brainless vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, which she wrote herself, with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed, with all the efficiency and verve of an abandoned Volkswagen on the Jersey turn- pike. there isn’t a single shred of evidence that either of them has one iota of talent in the world of filmmaking. Tammy is not just a celebra- tion of everything vulgar and stupid in the dumbing down of ameri- can movies. it’s a rambling, pointless and labored attempt to cash in on Ms. McCarthy’s fan base without respect for any audience with a collective iQ of 10. and it’s about as funny as a liver transplant.

— rex reed, “Melissa McCarthy Gives ‘tammy’ Her all, but it’s nowhere near enough”

Can you tell that Reed did not like the film?

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irony is a complex trope in which words convey meanings that are in tension with or even opposite to their literal meanings. Readers who catch the irony realize that a writer is asking them (or someone else) to think about all the potential connotations in their language. One of the most famous uses of satiric irony in literature occurs in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when Antony punctuates his condemna- tion of Caesar’s assassins with the repeated word “honourable.” He begins by admitting, “So are they all, honourable men” but ends railing against “the honourable men / Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar.” Within just a few lines, Antony’s funeral speech has altered the mean- ing of the term.

In popular culture, irony often takes a humorous bent in publica- tions such as the Onion and the appropriately named Ironic Times. Yet even serious critics of society and politics use satiric devices to under- cut celebrities and politicians, particularly when such powerful figures ignore the irony in their own positions. After Hillary Clinton argued that Americans don’t regard her and her husband as part of the coun- try’s problem with income inequality “because we pay ordinary income tax . . . and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” Washington Post columnist and fellow liberal Ruth Marcus offered advice rich in sar- casm and irony:

and for goodness’ sake — truly well-off ? hard work? you are truly well- off by anyone’s definition of the term. and hard work is the guys tear- ing up my roof right now. it’s not flying by private jet to pick up a check for $200,000 to stand at a podium for an hour. . . .

— ruth Marcus, “Hillary Clinton’s Money Woes”


A bedrock of our language, metaphor creates or implies a comparison between two things, illuminating something unfamiliar by correlating it to something we usually know much better. For example, to explain the complicated structure of DNA, scientists Watson and Crick famously used items people would likely recognize: a helix (spiral) and a zipper. Metaphors can clarify and enliven arguments. In the following passage, novelist and poet Benjamin Sáenz uses several metaphors (highlighted) to describe his relationship to the southern border of the United States:

it seems obvious to me now that i remained always a son of the border ,

a boy never quite comfortable in an american skin, and certainly not

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comfortable in a Mexican one. My entire life, i have lived in a liminal

space, and that space has both defined and confined me. that liminal

space wrote and invented me. it has been my prison , and it has also

been my only piece of sky . — Benjamin sáenz, “notes from another Country”

In another example from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, he quotes an 1896 issue of Munsey’s Magazine that uses a metaphor to explain what, at that time, the bicycle meant to women and to clarify the new freedom it gave women who weren’t accustomed to being able to ride around on their own:

to men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy , another

machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and

play. to women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world .


Metonymy is a rhetorical trope in which a writer uses a particular object to stand for a general concept. You’ll recognize the move immediately in the expression “The pen is mightier than the sword” — which obviously is not about Bics and sabers. Metonyms are vivid and concrete ways of compacting big concepts into expressive packages for argument: the term Wall Street can embody the nation’s whole complicated banking

it’s not just a street; it’s a metonym! Martin Lehmann/Shutterstock

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and investment system, while all the offices and officials of the U.S. mili- tary become the Pentagon. You can quickly think of dozens of expressions that represent larger, more complex concepts: Nashville, Hollywood, Big Oil, the Press, the Oval Office, even perhaps the electorate.


oxymoron is a rhetorical trope that states a paradox or contradiction. John Milton created a classic example when he described Hell as a place of “darkness visible.” We may be less poetic today, but we nevertheless appreciate the creativity (or arrogance) in expressions such as light beer, sports utility vehicle, expressway gridlock, or negative economic growth. You might not have much cause to use this figure in your writing, but you’ll get credit for noting and commenting on oxymoronic ideas or behaviors.

Rhetorical Question

rhetorical questions, which we use frequently, are questions posed by a speaker or writer that don’t really require answers. Instead, an answer is implied or unimportant. When you say “Who cares?” or “What differ- ence does it make?” you’re using such questions.

Rhetorical questions show up in arguments for many reasons, most often perhaps to direct readers’ attention to the issues a writer intends to explore. For example, Erin Biba asks a provocative, open-ended rhe- torical question in her analysis of Facebook “friending”:

so if we’re spending most of our time online talking to people we don’t even know, how deep can the conversation ever get?

— erin Biba, “Friendship Has its limits”


signifying, in which a speaker or writer cleverly and often humorously needles another person, is a distinctive trope found extensively in Afri- can American English. In the following passage, two African American men (Grave Digger and Coffin Ed) signify on their white supervisor (Anderson), who has ordered them to discover the originators of a riot:

“i take it you’ve discovered who started the riot,” anderson said. “We knew who he was all along,” Grave digger said. “it’s just nothing we can do to him,” Coffin ed echoed.

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“Why not, for God’s sake?” “He’s dead,” Coffin ed said. “Who?” “lincoln,” Grave digger said. “He hadn’t ought to have freed us if he didn’t want to make provi-

sions to feed us,” Coffin ed said. “anyone could have told him that.” — Chester Himes, Hot Day, Hot Night

Coffin Ed and Grave Digger demonstrate the major characteristics of effective signifying — indirection, ironic humor, fluid rhythm, and a sur- prising twist at the end. Rather than insulting Anderson directly by pointing out that he’s asked a dumb question, they criticize the question indirectly by ultimately blaming a white man for the riot (and not just any white man, but one they’re supposed to revere). This twist leaves the supervisor speechless, teaching him something and giving Grave Digger and Coffin Ed the last word — and last laugh.

Take a look at the example of signifying from a Boondocks cartoon (see below). Note how Huey seems to be sympathizing with Jazmine and then, in two surprising twists, reveals that he has been needling her all along.

in these Boondocks strips, Huey signifies on Jazmine, using indirection, ironic humor, and two surprising twists. © THE BOONDOCKS © 1999 Aaron McGruder. Dist. by UNIVERSAL UCLICK. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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A simile uses like or as to compare two things. Here’s a simile from an essay on cosmology from the New York Times:

through his general theory of relativity, einstein found that space, and

time too, can bend, twist, and warp, responding much as a trampoline

does to a jumping child.

— Brian Greene, “darkness on the edge of the Universe”

And here is a series of similes, from an excerpt of a Wired magazine review of a new magazine for women:

Women’s magazines occupy a special niche in the cluttered infoscape of modern media. ask any Vogue junkie: no girl-themed Web site or Cnn segment on women’s health can replace the guilty pleasure of slipping a glossy fashion rag into your shopping cart. smooth as a pint of chocolate Häagen-dazs, feckless as a thousand-dollar slip dress, women’s magazines wrap culture, trends, health, and trash in a single, decadent package. But like the diet dessert recipes they print, these slick publications can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

— tiffany lee Brown, “en Vogue”

Here, three similes — smooth as a pint of chocolate Häagen-Dazs and feckless as a thousand-dollar slip dress in the third sentence, and like the diet dessert recipes in the fourth — add to the image of women’s magazines as a mishmash of “trash” and “trends.”


Understatement uses a quiet message to make its point. In her mem- oir, Rosa Parks — the civil rights activist who made history in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger — uses under- statement so often that it becomes a hallmark of her style. She refers to her lifelong efforts to advance civil rights as just a small way of “car- rying on.”

Understatement can be particularly effective in arguments that might seem to call for its opposite. Outraged that New York’s Metropolitan Opera has decided to stage The Death of Klinghoffer, a work depicting the murder by terrorists of a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger on a cruise ship in 1985, writer Eve Epstein in particular points to an aria in which a

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terrorist named Rambo blames all the world’s problems on Jews, and then, following an evocative dash, she makes a quiet observation:

rambo’s aria echoes the views of Der Stürmer, Julius streicher’s nazi newspaper, without a hint of irony or condemnation. the leitmotif of the morally and physically crippled Jew who should be disposed of has been heard before — and it did not end well.

— eve epstein, “the Met’s staging of Klinghoffer should Be scrapped”

“It did not end well” alludes, of course, to the Holocaust.

R E S P O N D. Use online sources (such as American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches at americanrhetoric.com/top100speechesall.html) to find the text of an es- say or a speech by someone who uses figures of speech liberally. Pick a paragraph that is rich in figures and rewrite it, eliminating every bit of figurative language. Then read the original and your revised version aloud to your class. Can you imagine a rhetorical situation in which your pared- down version would be more appropriate?


Schemes are rhetorical figures that manipulate the actual word order of phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to achieve specific affects, adding sty- listic power or “zing” to arguments. The variety of such devices is beyond the scope of this work. Following are schemes that you’re likely to see most often, again in alphabetical order.


anaphora, or effective repetition, can act like a drumbeat in an argu- ment, bringing the point home. Sometimes an anaphora can be quite obvious, especially when the repeated expressions occur at the begin- ning of a series of sentences or clauses. Here is President Lyndon Johnson urging Congress in 1965 to pass voting rights legislation:

there is no constitutional issue here. the command of the Constitu- tion is plain.

there is no moral issue. it is wrong — deadly wrong — to deny any of your fellow americans the right to vote in this country.

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there is no issue of states rights or national rights. there is only the struggle for human rights.

i have not the slightest doubt what will be your answer.

Repetitions can occur within sentences or paragraphs as well. Here, in an argument about the future of Chicago, Lerone Bennett Jr. uses repeti- tion to link Chicago to innovation and creativity:

[Chicago]’s the place where organized Black history was born, where gospel music was born, where jazz and the blues were reborn, where the Beatles and the rolling stones went up to the mountaintop to get the new musical commandments from Chuck Berry and the rock’n’roll apostles. — lerone Bennett Jr. “Blacks in Chicago”


antithesis is the use of parallel words or sentence structures to highlight contrasts or opposition:

Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures. — samuel Johnson

those who kill people are called murderers; those who kill animals, sportsmen.

Inverted Word Order

inverted word order is a comparatively rare scheme in which the parts of a sentence or clause are not in the usual subject-verb-object order. It can help make arguments particularly memorable:

into this grey lake plopped the thought, i know this man, don’t i? — doris lessing

Hard to see, the dark side is. — yoda


parallelism involves the use of grammatically similar phrases or clauses for special effect. Among the most common of rhetorical effects, paral- lelism can be used to underscore the relationships between ideas in phrases, clauses, complete sentences, or even paragraphs. You probably

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recognize the famous parallel clauses that open Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities:

it was the best of times,

it was the worst of times . . .

The author’s paralleled clauses and sentences go on and on through more than a half-dozen pairings, their rhythm unforgettable. Or con- sider how this unattributed line from the 2008 presidential campaign season resonates because of its elaborate and sequential parallel structure:

rosa sat so that Martin could walk. Martin walked so that obama could run. obama ran so that our children could fly.

R E S P O N D. Identify the figurative language used in the following slogans. Note that some slogans may use more than one device.

“A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.” (Florida Orange Juice)

“Open happiness.” (Coca-Cola)

“Be all that you can be.” (U.S. Army)

“Breakfast of champions.” (Wheaties)

“America runs on Dunkin’.” (Dunkin’ Donuts)

“Like a rock.” (Chevrolet trucks)

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CulturAl ContExtS For ArgumEnt

levels of Formality and other issues of Style

At least one important style question needs to be asked when arguing across cultures: what level of formality is most appropriate? In the United States, a fairly informal style is often acceptable and even appreciated. Many cultures, however, tend to value formality. If in doubt, err on the side of formality:

• Take care to use proper titles as appropriate (Ms., Mr., Dr., and so on).

• Don’t use first names unless you’ve been invited to do so.

• Steer clear of slang and jargon. When you’re communicating with members of other cultures, slang may not be understood, or it may be seen as disrespectful.

• Avoid potentially puzzling pop cultural allusions, such as sports analogies or musical references.

When arguing across cultures or languages, another stylistic issue might be clarity. When communicating with people whose native lan- guages are different from your own, analogies and similes almost always aid in understanding. Likening something unknown to something familiar can help make your argument forceful — and understandable.

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To commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” its lyrics composed by Francis Scott Key in September 1814 following the failed British bombardment of Fort McHenry outside Baltimore, the Smithsonian Institution asked a group of artists to reflect on what the American flag means today. Most of the artists expressed their ideas and opinions visually, through paintings, photographs, mon- tages, sculptures, films, even a graphic “fantasy.” Three of their items are reproduced above: left to right, a steel-and-aluminum flag by architect Daniel Libeskind; a figure in acrylic and watercolor by Anita Kunz; and a photo collage by graphic designer David Carson. Even so small a sam- pling of visual rhetoric underscores what you doubtless already know: images tease our imaginations, provoke responses from viewers, and, yes, make arguments. They have clout.

Visual Rhetoric

Left: Artwork © Daniel Libeskind, all rights reserved. Photo © Henry Leutwyler Studio, all rights reserved. Center: © Anita Kunz, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Right: © David Carson, all rights reserved.



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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 331

The Power of Visual Arguments

Even in everyday situations, images — from T-shirts to billboards to ani- mated films and computer screens — influence us. Media analyst Kevin Kelly ponders the role screens and their images now play in our lives:

Everywhere we look, we see screens. The other day I watched clips from a movie as I pumped gas into my car. The other night I saw a movie on the backseat of a plane. We will watch anywhere. Screens playing video pop up in the most unexpected places — like ATM machines and supermarket checkout lines and tiny phones; some movie fans watch entire films in between calls. These ever-present screens have created an audience for very short moving pictures, as brief as three minutes, while cheap digital creation tools have empow- ered a new generation of filmmakers, who are rapidly filling up those screens. We are headed toward screen ubiquity.

— Kevin Kelly, “Becoming Screen Literate”

Of course, visual arguments weren’t invented by YouTube, and their power isn’t novel either. The pharaohs of Egypt lined the banks of the Nile River with statues of themselves to assert their authority, and there is no shortage of monumental effigies in Washington, D.C., today.

Not only the high and mighty: sculpture of a Great Depression–era breadline at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.c. © Mel Longhurst/Photoshot

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Still, the ease with which all of us make and share images is unprec- edented: people are uploading a billion shots a day to Snapchat, a photo- messaging application that deletes items after only a brief viewing. And most of us have easily adjusted to instantaneous multichannel, multi- media connectivity (see Chapter 16). We expect it to be seamless too. The prophet of this era was Marshall McLuhan, who nearly fifty years ago proclaimed that “the medium is the massage,” with the play on message and massage intentional. As McLuhan says, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us. . . . All media works us over completely.”

R E S P O N D. Find an advertisement, either print or digital, that uses both verbal and visual elements. Analyze its argument first by pointing out the claims the ad makes (or implies) and then by identifying the ways it supports them verbally and/or visually. (If it helps, go over the questions about multi- media texts offered in Chapter 16 on pp. 368–70.) Then switch ads with a classmate and discuss his/her analysis. Compare your responses to the two ads. If they’re different — and they probably will be — how might you account for the differences?

Using Visuals in Your Own Arguments

Given the power of images, it’s only natural that you would use them in your own composing. In fact, many college instructors now expect papers for their courses to be posted to the Web, where digital photos, videos, and design elements are native. Other instructors invite or even require stu- dents to do multimedia reports or to use videos, photo collages, cartoons, or other media to make arguments — an assignment not unlike that given to the artists in the Smithsonian’s “Star-Spangled Banner” project. If using visual media still strikes you as odd in academic settings, just consider that such arguments can have all the reach and versatility of more con- ventional verbal appeals to pathos, ethos, and logos. Often even more.

Using Images and Visual Design to Create Pathos

Many advertisements, YouTube videos, political posters, rallies, marches, and even church services use visual images to trigger emo- tions. You can’t flip through a magazine, watch a video, or browse the

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Web without being cajoled or seduced by figures or design elements of all kinds — most of them fashioned in some way to attract your eye and attention.

Technology has also made it incredibly easy for you to create on-the- spot photographs and videos that you can use for making arguments of your own. With a GoPro camera strapped to your head, you could docu- ment transportation problems in and around campus and then present your visual evidence in a paper or an oral report. You don’t have to be a professional these days to produce poignant, stirring, or even satirical visual texts.

Yet just because images are powerful doesn’t mean they always work. When you compose visually, you have to be certain to generate impres- sions that support your arguments, not weigh against them.

Shape Visuals to Convey Appropriate Feelings

To appeal visually to your readers’ emotions, think first of the goal of your writing: you want every image or use of multimedia to advance that purpose. Consider, for a moment, the iconic Apollo 8 “earthrise” photo- graph of our planet hanging above the horizon of the moon. You could

still striking almost fifty years later, this 1968 Apollo 8 photograph of the earth shining over the moon can support many kinds of arguments. NASA

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adapt this image to introduce an appeal for additional investment in the space program. Or it might become part of an argument about the need to preserve frail natural environments, or a stirring appeal against nationalism: From space, we are one world. Any of these claims might be supported successfully without the image, but the photograph — like most visuals — will probably touch members of your audience more strongly than words alone could.

Consider Emotional Responses to Color

As the “earthrise” photo demonstrates, color can have great power too: the beautiful blue earth floating in deep black space carries a message of its own. Indeed, our response to color is part of our biological and cul- tural makeup. So it makes sense to consider what shades are especially effective with the kinds of arguments you’re making, whether they occur in images themselves or in elements such as headings, fonts, back- grounds, screens, banners and so on. And remember that a black-and- white image can also be a memorable design choice.

In most situations, let your selection of colors be guided by your own good taste, by designs you admire, or by the advice of friends or helpful professionals. Some design and presentation software will even help you choose colors by offering dependable “default” shades or an array of pre-existing designs and compatible colors (for example, of presentation slides). To be emotionally effective, the colors you choose for a design should follow certain commonsense principles. If you’re using back- ground colors on a political poster, Web site, or slide, the contrast between words and background should be vivid enough to make reading easy. For example, white letters on a yellow background are not usually legible. Similarly, bright background colors should be avoided for long documents because reading is easiest with dark letters against a light or white background. Avoid complex patterns; even though they might look interesting and be easy to create, they often interfere with other more important elements of a presentation.

When you use visuals in your college projects, test them on prospec- tive readers. That’s what professionals do because they appreciate how delicate the choices of visual and multimedia texts can be. These responses will help you analyze your own arguments and improve your success with them.

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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 335

Using Images to Establish Ethos

If you are on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social networking sites, you no doubt chose photographs for those sites with an eye to creating a sense of who you are, what you value, and how you wish to be perceived. You fashioned a self-image. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can boost your credibility as a writer by using visual design strategically: we know one person whose Facebook presentation of images and media so impressed a prospective employer that she got a job on the spot. So whether you are using photographs, videos, or other media on your per- sonal pages or in your college work, it pays to attend to how they con- struct your ethos.

Understand How Images Enhance Credibility and Authority

You might have noticed that just about every company, organization, institution, government agency, or club now sports a logo or an emblem. Whether it’s the Red Cross, the Canadian Olympic Committee, or per- haps the school you attend, such groups use carefully crafted images to

how does the image of the student

from Mt. holyoke impact your

response to Sarah Fraas’s piece

“trans Women at Smith: the

Complexities of Checking ‘Female’”?

lInk TO P. 683

eve arnold took this powerful black-and-white photograph in 1958 at a party in Virginia for students being introduced to mixed-race schools. how might a full-color image have changed the impact of the scene? © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

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signal their authority and trustworthiness. An emblem or a logo can also carry a wealth of cultural and historical implications. That’s why univer- sity Web sites typically include the seal of the institution somewhere on the homepage (and always on its letterhead) or why the president of the United States travels with a presidential seal to hang on the speaker’s podium.

Though you probably don’t have a personal logo or trademark, your personal ethos functions the same way when you make an argument. You can establish it by offering visual evidence of your knowledge or competence. In an essay on safety issues in competitive biking, you might include a photo of yourself in a key race, embed a video showing how often serious accidents occur, or include an audio file of an inter- view with an injured biker. The photo proves that you have personal experience with biking, while the video and audio files show that you have done research and know your subject well, thus helping to affirm your credibility.

Predictably, your choice of medium also says something important about you. Making an appeal on a Web site sends signals about your technical skills, contemporary orientation, and personality. So if you direct people to a Facebook or Flickr page, be sure that any materials

how does a photograph like this 1999 Bruce Davidson shot of President Bill clinton shape your sense of clinton’s ethos? Based on this image alone, what words might you use to describe clinton as a politician? © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 337

there present you favorably. Be just as careful in a classroom that any handouts or slides you use for an oral report demonstrate your compe- tence. And remember that you don’t always have to be high-tech to be effective: when reporting on a children’s story that you’re writing, the most sensible medium of presentation might be cardboard and paper made into an oversized book and illustrated by hand.

You demonstrate your ethos simply by showing an awareness of the basic design conventions for any kind of writing you’re doing. It’s no accident that lab reports for science courses are sober and unembel- lished. Visually, they reinforce the professional ethos of scientific work. The same is true of a college research paper. So whether you’re compos- ing a term paper, a résumé, a film, an animated comic, or a Web site, look for successful models and follow their design cues.

Consider How Details of Design Reflect Your Ethos

As we have just suggested, almost every design element you use in a paper or project sends signals about character and ethos. You might resent the tediousness of placing page numbers in the appropriate cor- ner, aligning long quotations just so, and putting footnotes in the right place, but these details prove that you are paying attention. Gestures as simple as writing on official stationery (if, for example, you are repre- senting a club or campus organization) or dressing up for an oral presen- tation matter too: suddenly you seem more mature and competent.

Even the type fonts that you select for a document can mark you as warm and inviting or as efficient and contemporary. The warm and

take a look at these three government logos, each of which intends to convey credibility, authority, and maybe more. Do they accomplish their goals? Why or why not? Left to right: NASA; Courtesy Internal Revenue Service; Courtesy Environmental Protection Agency

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inviting fonts often belong to a family called serif. The serifs are those little flourishes at the ends of the strokes that make the fonts seem handcrafted and artful:

Cleaner, modern fonts go without those little flourishes and are called sans serif. These fonts are cooler, simpler, and, some argue, more readable on a computer screen (depending on screen resolution):

Other typographic elements send messages as well. The size of type can make a difference. If your text or headings are in boldface and too large, you’ll seem to be shouting:

LOSE WEIGHT! PAY NOTHING!* Tiny type, on the other hand, might make you seem evasive:

*Excludes the costs of enrollment and required meal purchases. Minimum contract:

12 months.

Finally, don’t ignore the signals you send through your choice of illustra- tions and photographs themselves. Images communicate your prefer- ences, sensitivities, and inclusiveness — sometimes inadvertently. Conference planners, for example, are careful to create brochures that represent all participants, and they make sure that the brochure photos don’t show only women, only men, or only members of one racial or ethnic group.

R E S P O N D. Choose a project or an essay you have written recently and examine it for how well visually it establishes your credibility and how well it is designed. Ask a classmate or friend to look at it and describe the ethos you convey through the item. Then go back to the drawing board with a memo to yourself about how you might use images or media to improve it.

Consider the design choices made by

the creators of the diversity posters

in Chapter 26. Which ones are

effective? Do any design choices get

in the way of their messages?

lInk TO P. 670

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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 339

Using Visual Images to Support logos

Not that long ago, media critics ridiculed the colorful charts and graphs in newspapers like USA Today. Now, comparable features appear in even the most traditional publications because they work: they convey infor- mation efficiently and persuasively. We now expect evidence to be pre- sented graphically and have learned to use and interact with multiple streams of data and information.

Organize Information Visually

Graphic presentation calls for design that enables readers and viewers to look at an item and understand what it does. A brilliant, much-copied ex- ample of such an intuitive design is a seat adjuster invented many years ago by Mercedes-Benz (see photo at left). It’s shaped like a tiny seat. Push any element of the control, and the real seat moves in that direction — back and forth, up and down. No instructions are necessary.

Who’s missing in this picture of senior advisers to the president taken in December 2012? the New York Times, which published the item, pointed out that, if you looked very closely, you could see Valerie Jarrett’s leg. The White House, photo by Pete Souza

Mercedes-Benz’s seat adjuster © Ron Kimball/Kimball Stock

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Good visual design can work the same way in an argument by con- veying evidence, data, and other information without elaborate instruc- tions. Titles, headings, subheadings, enlarged quotations, running heads, and boxes are some common visual signals:

● Use headings to guide your readers through your print or electronic document. For long and complex pieces, use subheadings as well, and make sure they are parallel.

● Use type font, size, and color to show related information among headings.

● Arrange headings or text on a page to enforce relationships among comparable items, ideas, or bits of evidence.

● Use a list or a box to set off material for emphasis or to show that it differs from the rest of the presentation. You can also use shading, color, and typography for emphasis.

● Place your images and illustrations strategically. What you position front and center will appear more important than items in less conspicuous places. Images of comparable size will be treated as equally important.

Remember, too, that design principles evolve and change from medium to medium. A printed text or presentation slide, for example, ordinarily works best when its elements are easy to read, simply organized, and sur- rounded by restful white space. But some electronic texts thrive on visual clutter, packing a grab bag of data into a limited space (See the “info- graphic of Infographics” on p. 342.) Look closely, though, and you’ll proba- bly find the logic in these designs.

Use Visuals to Convey Data Efficiently

Words are capable of great precision and subtlety, but some information is conveyed far more effectively by charts, graphs, drawings, maps, or photos — as several items in Chapter 4 illustrate. When making an argu- ment, especially to a large group, consider what information might be more persuasive and memorable in nonverbal form.

A pie chart is an effective way of comparing parts to the whole. You might use a pie chart to illustrate the ethnic composition of your school, the percentage of taxes paid by people at different income levels, or the consumption of energy by different nations. Pie charts depict such infor- mation memorably.

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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 341

A graph is an efficient device for comparing items over time or accord- ing to other variables. You could use a graph to trace the rise and fall of test scores over several decades, to show college enrollment by sex, race, and Hispanic origin, or to track bicycle usage in the United States, as in the bar graph on p. 342.

Diagrams or drawings are useful for attracting attention to details. Use drawings to illustrate complex physical processes or designs of all sorts. After the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, for example, engineers prepared drawings and diagrams to help citizens understand precisely what led to the total collapse of the buildings.

You can use maps to illustrate location and spatial relationships — something as simple as the distribution of office space in your student union or as complex as poverty in the United States, as in the map on p. 343. In fact, scholars in many fields now use geographic information system (GIS) technology to merge maps with databases in all fields to offer new kinds of arguments about everything from traffic patterns and health care trends to character movements in literary works. Plotting data this way yields information far different from what might be offered in words alone. You can find more about GIS applications online.

Timelines allow you to represent the passage of time graphically, and online tools like Dipity can help you create them for insertion into your documents. Similarly, Web pages can make for valuable illustrations. Programs like ShrinkTheWeb let you create snapshots of Web sites that can then be inserted easily into your writing. And when you want to combine a variety of graphs, charts, and other texts into a single visual argument, you might create an infographic using software such as Google Public Data Explorer, Many Eyes, StatPlanet, and Wordle.

Follow Professional Guidelines for Presenting Visuals

Charts, graphs, tables, illustrations, timelines, snapshots of Web sites, and video clips play such an important role in many fields that profes- sional groups have come up with guidelines for labeling and formatting these items. You need to become familiar with those conventions as you advance in a field. A guide such as the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition) describes these rules in detail. See also Chapter 15, “Presenting Arguments.”

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Data visualization is a popular new way of sharing research. Here is a look at some of the visual devices, informational elements, and general trends found in the modern day infographic.

Average number of symbols per key: 5.1

Frequency of arrows & connecting lines in infographics:

Percentage of infographics with the following char ts:

CONCEPT & DESIGN Ivan Cash SOURCE 49 infographics collected at random from www.good.is/infographics






Line Char tPie Chart


Pictoral Char t

Average number of sources per infographic: 2.29









United States

United Kingdom








Average number of words per infographic title: 4.36

Relative popularity of different infographic themes:









Bar Chart

22% 24% 24%



18 %

2% 2%

2% 2%



4 %


Percentage of infographics with key:

Sans Serif Condensed Sans Serif Serif


38% lines




85% 15%

pe r







A v e r a g e


© Ivan Cash, CashStudios.com

Source: 2008-2012 American Community Survey These �gures have a margin of error, please see the

report at www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/acs-25.pdf

6.1% 5.1%

4.1% 3.7%

3.4% 3.4%

3.1% 2.5%



2.4% 2.3%

2.1% 2.0%


Portland, OR Madison, WI

Minneapolis, MN Boise, ID

Seattle, WA San Francisco, CA

Washington, DC Sacramento, CA

Tucson, AZ Oakland, CA

Denver, CO New Orleans, LA

Richmond, VA Philadelphia, PA

Honolulu, HI United States

15 Large Cities With the Highest Percentage


U.S. Census Bureau

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C h a p t e r 1 4 Visual RhetoRic 343

Remember to Check for Copyrighted Material

You also must be careful to respect copyright rules when using visual items that were created by someone else. If you do introduce any bor- rowed items into academic work, be careful to document them fully. It’s relatively easy these days to download visual texts of all kinds from the Web. Some of these items — such as clip art or government documents — may be in the public domain, meaning that you’re free to use them with- out requesting permission or paying a royalty. But other visual texts may require permission, especially if you intend to publish your work or use the item commercially. Remember: anything you place on a Web site is considered “published.” (See Chapter 21 for more on intellectual prop- erty and fair use.)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census, 2012 American Community Survey 5-year �le

! !

! !

! !

! !

! !

! !


! !

! !

! !

! !

! !

! !

! !




















































30.0% or more




Less than 10.0%

U.S. 25.7%

Living in Poverty Areas Percent state population living in neighborhoods where

20% or more of people have incomes below the poverty level

U.S. 18.1%

U.S. Census Bureau

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For many arguments you make in college, the format you’ve used since grade school is still a sensible choice — a traditional paper with double spacing, correct margins, MLA- or APA-style notes, and so on. Printed texts like these offer a methodical way to explain abstract ideas or to set down complicated chains of reasoning. Even spruced up with images or presented online (to enable color, media, and Web links), such con- ventional arguments — whether configured as essays, newsletters, or brochures — are cheap to create and easy to reproduce and share. You will find examples of printed texts throughout this book and especially in Part 4 on “Research and Arguments.”

But print isn’t your only medium for advancing arguments. Some- times, you’ll need to make a case orally, drawing on the visual or multi- media strategies discussed in previous chapters. Like Lawrence Lessig above, speaking about Internet gambling, you might need slides and Web tools to back up points in a lecture; or like Josette Sheeran, a panel- ist at a conference on world food security, you may find yourself engaged in serious discussions; or maybe like fellow student George Chidiac, you just need to deliver a first-rate oral report in class. Knowing how to speak eloquently to a point is a basic rhetorical skill.

Presenting Arguments

Left to right: AP Photo/Paul Chiasson, CP; AP Photo/Andrew Medichini; Courtesy of George Chidiac



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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 345

Class and Public Discussions

No doubt you find yourself arguing all the time at school, maybe over a poem with a classmate in an English course or perhaps with a teaching assistant whose interpretation of economic trends you’re sure is flat wrong. Or maybe you spoke up at a campus meeting against the admin- istration’s enforcement of “free speech zones” — or wish you had. The fact is, lots of people are shy about joining class discussions or public debates, even those that interest them. They find such occasions intim- idating. Perhaps they don’t want to tip their hands, or fear they know too little about a subject, or simply don’t like the give-and-take of spir- ited debate.

You can improve your participation in such situations by observing both effective and ineffective speakers. Watch how the participants who enliven a discussion stay on topic, add new information or ideas, and pay attention to all members of the group. Notice, too, that less success- ful speakers often can’t stop talking, somehow make all discussions about themselves, or just play the smart aleck when they don’t know much about a topic. Surely, you can do better.

You can start just by joining in on conversations whenever you can. If speaking is a problem, take it slow at first — a comment or two, some- thing as simple as “That’s a really good idea!” or “I wonder how accurate this data is?” The more that you hear your own voice in discussions, the more comfortable you’ll be offering your opinions in detail. Here are some more tips:

● Do the required reading in a class so that you know what you’re talk- ing about. That alone will give you a leg up in most groups.

● Listen carefully and purposefully, and jot down important points.

● Speak briefly to the point under discussion so that your comments are relevant. Don’t do all the talking.

● Ask questions about issues that bother you: others probably have the same thoughts.

● Occasionally, summarize points that have already been made to make sure that everyone is “on the same page.” Keep the summary brief.

● Respond to questions or comments by others in specific rather than vague terms.

● Try to learn the names of people in a discussion, and then use them.

● When you’re already a player in a discussion, invite others to join in.

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Preparing a Presentation

Sooner or later, you’ll be asked to deliver a presentation in a college class. That’s because the ability to explain material clearly to an audi- ence is a skill much admired by potential employers. Unfortunately, instructors sometimes give little practical advice about how to hone that talent, which is not a natural gift for most people. While it’s hard to gen- eralize here, capable presenters attribute their success to the following strategies and perceptions:

● They make sure they know their subjects thoroughly.

● They pay attention to the values, ideas, and needs of their listeners.

● They use patterns and styles that make their spoken arguments easy to follow.

● They realize that oral arguments are interactive. (Live audiences can argue back!)

● They appreciate that most oral presentations involve visuals, and they plan accordingly. (We’ll address multimedia presentations in the next chapter.)

● They practice, practice — and then practice some more.

We suggest a few additional moves for when you are specifically required to make a formal argument or presentation in class (or on the job): assess the rhetorical situation you face, nail down the details of the pre- sentation, fashion a script or plan, choose media to fit your subject, and then deliver a good show.

Cultural Contexts for argument

speaking up in Class

Speaking up in class is viewed as inappropriate or even rude in some cultures. In the United States and Canada, however, doing so is ex- pected and encouraged. Some instructors even assign credit for such class participation.

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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 347

assess the rhetorical situation

Whether asked to make a formal oral report in class, to speak to the gen- eral public, or to join a panel discussion, ask yourself the same questions about rhetorical choices that you face whenever you make an argument.

understanding Purpose. Figure out the major purpose of the assign- ment or situation. Is it to inform and enlighten your audience? To con- vince or persuade them? To explore a concept or principle? To stimulate discussion? To encourage a decision? Something else? Very important in school, will you be speaking to share your expertise or to prove that you have it (as you might in a class report)?

assessing the audience. Determine who will be listening to your talk. Just an instructor and classmates? Interested observers at a public meet- ing? People who know more about the subject than you do — or less? Or will you be a peer of the audience members — typically, a classmate? What mix of age groups, of gender, of political affiliation, of rank, etc., will be in the group? What expectations will listeners bring to the talk, and what opinions are they likely to hold? Will this audience be invited to ask questions after the event?

Deciding on Content. What exactly is the topic for the presentation? What is its general scope? Are you expected to make a narrow and spe- cific argument drawn from a research assignment? Are you expected to argue facts, definitions, causes and effects? Will you be offering an eval- uation or perhaps a proposal? What degree of detail is necessary, and how much evidence should you provide for your claims?

Choosing structure and style. Will your instructor or audience expect a specific type of report? What “parts” must your presentation include: introduction, background information, thesis, evidence, refutation, discussion, conclusion? Can you model the talk after other reports you have heard or public events you have attended? Can you modify a con- ventional presentation to suit your topic better? Will the audience expect a serious presentation in academic style or can you be friendly and col- loquial, perhaps even funny? Crucially, by what standards is your report likely to be assessed or graded?

Compare the Supreme Court ruling

in Chapter 27 to the cartoons in

the same chapter. Consider how

audience has shaped the way these

pieces address a similar topic.

link to PP. 771 anD 751

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Following are three excerpts from a detailed, three-page outline that sophomore George Chidiac worked up on his own to prepare for a fifteen-minute oral report on Thomas More’s “Petition for Free Speech” (1523) — an important document on the path to establishing free speech as a natural right. Chidiac’s outline of rhetorical issues and concerns prepped him well enough to deliver the entire report without notes. His thesis is highlighted, but also notice the question Chidiac asks at the very end: So what? He recognizes an obligation to explain why his report should matter to his audience.

Oral Report Outline


10 minutes

Share what I’ve learned in my research

Help colleagues appreciate the research I’ve done

Here’s a live audience watching an HD broadcast of a performance inside the opera house right in front of them. Probably a grumpy group. Lonely Planet/Getty Images

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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 349


Introduce myself

Agenda — subject of presentation

Define free speech: the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint

Set the stage and present a dilemma

Stage: From history of free speech, we are going to micro-focus to Renaissance, to 16th-century England, to April 18, 1523, in the House of Commons where I want to share insight on a pivotal point in the advancement of free speech in a political context.

Dilemma: The king called all his advisers and those able to enact legislation to raise funds to go to war. You are the intermediary between the main legislative body and the king. You have three obligations: one to truth, one to the king, and one to the body you’re representing. The king wants money, the legislative body cannot object, and you want truth and the best outcome to win out. How do you reconcile this?


What’s my message? What’s the focal point of my presentation?

I want to provide a snapshot in time of the evolution of free speech.

Thomas More, in his Petition for Free Speech, incrementally advanced free speech as a duty and a right.


Who made this happen? Who was involved?

Thomas More

Brief bio: Before he became Speaker → Chancellor of England, friend of King Henry VIII, theologian, poet, father

Henry VIII

William Roper (minor role)

Brief bio: son-in-law and chief biographer

* * *

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Why was More’s Petition “successful”? Why did Henry VIII accept the petition?

Henry VIII’s character

Humanist — or wished to subscribe to humanist principles

Resembled More

Rediscovery and reevaluation of classical civilization and application into modern intellectual and social culture

Spirit of amicitia — friendship with counsel — constancy, mutual loyalty, and concern for justice where the crux was “freedom of speech”

Parliamentary expectations

Relationship between king and Parliament

Still a matter of license, not true freedom — sufferance

Members of Parliament acting in goodwill

By accepting the petition, Henry acknowledged that while not all parliamentary speech should be permitted, not all speech critical of monarchy is slanderous

Oncoming war

* * *


What do I want my colleagues to take with them? Big lesson?

Freedom of speech we have today wasn’t always enjoyed.

nail Down the specific Details

Big-picture rhetorical considerations are obviously important in an oral report, but so are the details. Pay attention to exactly how much time you have to prepare for an event, a lecture, or a panel session, and how long the actual presentation should be: never infringe on the time of other speakers. Determine what visual aids, slides, or handouts might make the presentation successful. Will you need an overhead projector,

“a Campus More Colorful than

reality: Beware that College

Brochure” is a transcript of Deena

prichep’s interview on Npr. the Npr

Web site (and this textbook) contain

a picture of the controversial campus

brochure, but those listening on the

radio would not have had this visual


link to P. 678

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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 351

a flip chart, a whiteboard? Decide whether presentation software, such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, will help you make a stronger report. Then figure out where to acquire the equipment as well as the expertise to use it. If you run into problems, especially with classroom reports, consider low-tech alternatives. Sometimes, speaking clearly or sharing effective handouts works better than a plodding slideshow.

If possible, check out where your presentation will take place. In a classroom with fixed chairs? A lecture or assembly hall? An informal sit- ting area? Will you have a lectern? Other equipment? Will you sit or stand? Remain in one place or move around? What will the lighting be, and can you adjust it? Take nothing for granted, and if you plan to use media equipment, be ready with a backup strategy if a projector bulb dies or a Web site won’t load.

Not infrequently, oral presentations are group efforts. When that’s the case, plan and practice accordingly. The work should be divvied up according to the strengths of the participants: you will need to work out who speaks when, who handles the equipment, who takes the ques- tions, and so on.

fashion a script Designed to Be Heard by an audience

Unless you are presenting a formal lecture (pretty rare in college), most oral presentations are delivered from notes. But even if you do deliver a live presentation from a printed text, be sure to compose a script that is designed to be heard rather than read. Such a text — whether in the form of note cards, an overhead list, or a fully written-out paper — should fea- ture a strong introduction and conclusion, an unambiguous structure with helpful transitions and signposts, concrete diction, and straightfor- ward syntax.

strong introductions and Conclusions. Like readers, listeners remember beginnings and endings best. Work hard, therefore, to make these ele- ments of your spoken argument memorable and personable. Consider including a provocative or puzzling statement, opinion, or question; a memorable anecdote; a powerful quotation; or a strong visual image. If you can connect your report directly to the interests or experiences of your listeners in the introduction or conclusion, then do so.

Be sure that your introduction clearly explains what your presenta- tion will cover, what your focus will be, and perhaps even how the pre- sentation will be arranged. Give listeners a mental map of where you are

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taking them. If you are using presentation software, a bare-bones outline sometimes makes sense, especially when the argument is a straightfor- ward academic presentation: thesis + evidence.

The conclusion should drive home and reinforce your main point. You can summarize the key arguments you have made (again, a simple slide could do some of the work), but you don’t want to end with just a rehash, especially when the presentation is short. Instead, conclude by underscoring the implications of your report: what do you want your audience to be thinking and feeling at the end?

Clear structures and signposts. For a spoken argument, you want your organizational structure to be crystal clear. So make sure that you have a sharply delineated beginning, middle, and end and share the structure with listeners. You can do that by remembering to pause between major points of your presentation and to offer signposts marking your move- ment from one topic to the next. They can be transitions as obvious as next, on the contrary, or finally. Such words act as memory points in your spoken argument and thus should be explicit and concrete: The second crisis point in the breakup of the Soviet Union occurred hard on the heels of the first, rather than just The breakup of the Soviet Union led to another crisis. You can also keep listeners on track by repeating key words and con- cepts and by using unambiguous topic sentences to introduce each new idea. These transitions can also be highlighted as you come to them on a whiteboard or on presentation slides.

straightforward syntax and Concrete Diction. Avoid long, complicated sentences in an oral report and use straightforward syntax (subject- verb-object, for instance, rather than an inversion of that order). Remem- ber, too, that listeners can grasp concrete verbs and nouns more easily than they can mentally process a steady stream of abstractions. When you need to deal with abstract ideas, illustrate them with concrete examples.

Take a look at the following text that student Ben McCorkle wrote about The Simpsons, first as he prepared it for an essay and then as he adapted it for a live oral and multimedia presentation:

Print Version

The Simpson family has occasionally been described as a nuclear fam- ily, which obviously has a double meaning: first, the family consists of two parents and three children, and, second, Homer works at a nuclear power plant with very relaxed safety codes. The overused label “dys- functional,” when applied to the Simpsons, suddenly takes on new

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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 353

meaning. Every episode seems to include a scene in which son Bart is being choked by his father, the baby is being neglected, or Homer is sitting in a drunken stupor transfixed by the television screen. The comedy in these scenes comes from the exaggeration of commonplace household events (although some talk shows and news programs would have us believe that these exaggerations are not confined to the madcap world of cartoons).

— Ben McCorkle, “The Simpsons: A Mirror of Society”

oral Version (with a visual illustration)

What does it mean to describe the Simpsons as a nuclear family? Clearly, a double meaning is at work. First, the Simpsons fit the dic- tionary meaning — a family unit consisting of two parents and some children. The second meaning, however, packs more of a punch. You

Homer simpson in a typical pose © Photofest, Inc.

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see, Homer works at a nuclear power plant [pause here] with very relaxed safety codes!

Still another overused family label describes the Simpsons. Did everyone guess I was going to say dysfunctional? And like nuclear, when it comes to the Simpsons, dysfunctional takes on a whole new meaning.

Remember the scene when Bart is being choked by his father? How about the many times the baby is being neglected? Or the classic view — Homer sitting in a stupor transfixed by the TV

screen! My point here is that the comedy in these scenes often comes from

double meanings — and from a lot of exaggeration of everyday house- hold events.

Note that the second version presents the same information as the first, but this time it’s written to be heard. The revision uses simpler syntax, so the argument is easy to listen to, and employs signposts, repetition, a list, and italicized words to prompt the speaker to give special emphasis where needed.

R E S P O N D. Take three or four paragraphs from an essay that you’ve recently written. Then, following the guidelines in this chapter, rewrite the passage to be heard by a live audience. Finally, make a list of every change that you made.

repetition, Parallelism, and Climactic order. Whether they’re used alone or in combination, repetition, parallelism, and climactic order are espe- cially appropriate for spoken arguments that sound a call to arms or that seek to rouse the emotions of an audience. Perhaps no person in the twentieth century used them more effectively than Martin Luther King Jr., whose sermons and speeches helped to spearhead the civil rights movement. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washing- ton, D.C., on August 23, 1963, with hundreds of thousands of marchers before him, King called on the nation to make good on the “promissory note” represented by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Look at the way that King uses repetition, parallelism, and climactic order in the following paragraph to invoke a nation to action:

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to

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C h a p t e r 1 5 Presenting Arguments 355

believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquillizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

— Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” (emphasis added)

The italicized words highlight the way that King uses repetition to drum home his theme and a series of powerful verb phrases (to rise, to open, to lift) to build to a strong climax. These stylistic choices, together with the vivid image of the “bad check,” help to make King’s speech powerful, persuasive — and memorable.

You don’t have to be as highly skilled as King to take advantage of the power of repetition and parallelism. Simply repeating a key word in your argument can impress it on your audience, as can arranging parts of sentences or items in a list in parallel order.

Choose media to fit Your subject

Visual materials — charts, graphs, posters, and presentation slides — are major tools for conveying your message and supporting your claims. People are so accustomed to visual (and aural) texts that they genuinely expect to see them in most oral reports. And, in many cases, a picture, video, or graph can truly be worth a thousand words. (For more about visual argument, see Chapter 14.)

successful use of Visuals. Be certain that any visuals that you use are large enough to be seen by all members of your audience. If you use slides or overhead projections, the information on each frame should be simple, clear, and easy to process. For slides, use 24-point type for major headings, 18 point for subheadings, and at least 14 point for other text. Remember, too, to limit the number of words per slide. The same rules of clarity and simplicity hold true for posters, flip charts, and whiteboards. (Note that if your presentation is based on source materials — either text or images — remember to include a slide that lists all those sources at the end of the presentation.)

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Four simple and evocative slides from a presentation entitled “We Learn through stories.” imagine the commentary that might accompany them. Photo: Fotovika/Shutterstock; Diagrams: Darren Kuropatwa; Robot designed by Simon Child from the Noun Project-Creative Commons — Attribution (CC BY 3.0)

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Use presentation software to furnish an overview for a report or lec- ture and to give visual information and signposts to listeners. Audiences will be grateful to see the people you are discussing, the key data points you are addressing, the movement of your argument as it develops. But if you’ve watched many oral presentations, you’re sure to have seen some bad ones. Perhaps nothing is deadlier than a speaker who stands up and just reads from each screen. Do this and you’ll just put people to sleep. Also remember not to turn your back on your audience when you refer to these visuals. And if you prepare supplementary materials (such as bibliographies or other handouts), don’t distribute them until the audience actually needs them, or wait until the end of the presentation so that they don’t distract listeners from your spoken arguments. (For advice on creating multimedia arguments, see Chapter 16.)

The best way to test the effectiveness of any images, slides, or other visuals is to try them out on friends, family members, classmates, or roommates. If they don’t get the meaning of the visuals right away, revise and try again.

accommodations for everyone. Remember that visuals and accompany- ing media tools can help make your presentation accessible but that some members of your audience may not be able to see your presenta- tion or may have trouble seeing or hearing them. Here are a few key rules to remember:

● Use words to describe projected images. Something as simple as “That’s Eleanor Roosevelt in 1944” can help even sight-impaired audi- ence members appreciate what’s on a screen.

● If you use video, take the time to label sounds that might not be audible to audience members who are hearing impaired. (Be sure your equipment is caption capable and use the captions; they can be helpful to everyone when audio quality is poor.)

● For a lecture, consider providing a written handout that summarizes your argument or putting the text on an overhead projector — for those who learn better by reading and listening.

Deliver a good show

In spite of your best preparation, you may feel some anxiety before a live presentation. This is natural. (According to one Gallup poll, Americans often identify public speaking as a major fear — scarier than possible attacks from outer space.) Experienced speakers say that they have

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strategies for dealing with anxiety, and even suggest that a little nervousness — and its accompanying adrenaline — can work to a speaker’s advantage.

The most effective strategy seems to be simply knowing your topic and material thoroughly. Confidence in your own knowledge goes a long way toward making you an eloquent speaker. In addition to being well prepared, you may want to try some of the following strategies:

● Practice a number of times, running through every part of the presen- tation. Leave nothing out, even audio or video clips. Work with the equipment you intend to use so that you are familiar with it. It also may help to visualize your presentation, imagining the scene in your mind as you run through your materials.

● Time your presentation to make sure you stay within your allotted slot.

● Tape yourself (video, if possible) at least once so that you can listen to your voice. Tone of voice and body language can dispose audiences for — or against — speakers. For most oral arguments, you want to develop a tone that conveys commitment to your position as well as respect for your audience.

● Think about how you’ll dress for your presentation, remembering that audience members notice how a speaker looks. Dressing for a presentation depends on what’s appropriate for your topic, audience, and setting, but experienced speakers choose clothes that are com- fortable, allow easy movement, and aren’t overly casual. Dressing up indicates that you take pride in your appearance, have confidence in your argument, and respect your audience. (Notice George Chidiac’s bow tie on p. 344.)

● Get some rest before the presentation, and avoid consuming too much caffeine.

● Relax! Consider doing some deep-breathing exercises. Then pause just before you begin, concentrating on your opening lines.

● Maintain eye contact with members of your audience. Speak to them, not to your text or to the floor.

● Interact with the audience whenever possible; doing so will often help you relax and even have some fun.

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● Most speakers make a stronger impression standing than sitting, so stand if you have that option. Moving around a bit may help you maintain good eye contact.

● Remember to allow time for audience responses and questions. Keep your answers brief so that others may join the conversation.

● Finally, at the very end of your presentation, thank the audience for its attention to your arguments.

a note about Webcasts: live Presentations over the Web

This discussion of live oral presentations has assumed that you’ll be speaking before an audience in the same room with you. Increasingly, though — especially in business, industry, and science — the presenta- tions you make will be live, but you won’t occupy the same physical space as the audience. Instead, you might be in front of a camera that will capture your voice and image and relay them via the Web to attend- ees who might be anywhere in the world. In another type of Webcast, participants can see only your slides or the software that you’re demon- strating, using a screen-capture relay without cameras: you’re not visible but still speaking live.

In either case, most of the strategies that work well for oral presenta- tions with an in-house audience will continue to serve in Webcast envi- ronments. But there are some significant differences:

● Practice is even more important in Webcasts, since you need to be able to access online any slides, documents, video clips, names, dates, and sources that you provide during the Webcast.

● Because you can’t make eye contact with audience members, it’s important to remember to look into the camera (if you are using one), at least from time to time. If you’re using a stationary Webcam, per- haps one mounted on your computer, practice standing or sitting without moving out of the frame and yet without looking stiff.

● Even though your audience may not be visible to you, assume that if you’re on camera, the Web-based audience can see you. If you slouch, they’ll notice. Assume too that your microphone is always live. Don’t mutter under your breath, for example, when someone else is speak- ing or asking a question.

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R E S P O N D. Attend a presentation on your campus, and observe the speaker’s delivery. Note the strategies that the speaker uses to capture and hold your atten- tion (or not). What signpost language and other guides to listening can you detect? How well are visuals integrated into the presentation? What aspects of the speaker’s tone, dress, eye contact, and movement affect your understanding and your appreciation (or lack of it)? What’s most memorable about the presentation, and why? Finally, write up an analysis of this presentation’s effectiveness.

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Left to right: Iain Masterton/age fotostock/Superstock; imageBROKER/Superstock; Yoko Aziz/Superstock

Multimedia Arguments 16

The very first paragraph in this edition of Everything’s an Argument fea- tures a tweet by Michelle Obama focusing on political kidnapping in Nigeria. And elsewhere in the book, we draw on examples from a wide range of media and genres, including online news sources, blog posts and comments, editorial cartoons, ads, maps, infographics, bumper stickers, even a selfie — and of the pope, no less. In one way or another, all of these items illustrate principles of persuasion. And while much of this book is about more conventional forms of argument — essays, extended articles, and academic papers — the fact is that many argu- ments are now shaped, distributed, and connected in ways that no one imagined a generation ago.

Online sources used daily such as Gawker and Huffington Post and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have virtually redefined the nature of influence and persuasion. The cascade of information you take for granted, the 24-hour news cycle, the incessant connectivity of screens simply amazes anyone old enough to remember when newspa- pers were flung on doorsteps by kids on bicycles. More to the point here:

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all this online and onscreen activity is rhetorical in both its aims and its methods. We want to spend a chapter exploring new media, teasing out some connections between traditional modes of persuasion and those currently reshaping our social and political lives.

Old Media Transformed by New Media

Civic arguments and opinions used to be delivered orally, typically in speeches, debates, and dialogues and often at public forums. Later, espe- cially after the development of printing, they arrived via paper, and then through other media such as film and over-the-air broadcasting. Some of these traditional channels of communication were actual physical objects distributed one by one: books, journals, newspapers, fliers, pho- tographs. Other “old media” such as movies, TV news, or radio shows were more like performances that could not be distributed or shared readily, at least not until audio- and videotape became cheap. Yet these media were all-powerful, handy, and relatively inexpensive shapers of opinion: books and serious magazines appealed to readers accustomed to intellectual challenges; well-staffed newspapers provided profes- sional (if sometimes sensational) coverage of local and world affairs; nightly, the three national TV networks reached large and relatively undistracted audiences, establishing some degree of cultural consensus.

At least that’s the romantic side of old media. We all recognize today the remarkable limitations of paper books and journals or celluloid film and print photographs. But we didn’t appreciate quite how clumsy, hard to locate, hard to distribute, hard to search, and hard to archive analog objects could be until they went digital.

Fortunately, to one degree or another, electronic media have made peace with all these genres and formats and transformed them — though almost always with some compromises. Books on e-readers have become like ancient scrolls again, handy for sequential reading, but not so great for moving back and forth or browsing. Magazine articles or newspaper editorials (when not blocked by paywalls) can be found instantly online (or in databases), complete with updates and corrections, links that help establish their context, and, usually, lots and lots of comments. The downside? Lots and lots of inane, offensive, and bitter comments. And of course films and music are now accessible everywhere. You can experience Lawrence of Arabia — with its awesome horizons and desert landscapes — on your iPhone while in line at McDonald’s. Or maybe you can’t.

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nBa superstar leBron James chose a traditional genre to announce his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, explaining, “i’m doing this essay because i want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted” (emphasis added). Of course, his essay appeared online at sportsillustrated.com. Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/ Contour by Getty Images; Graphics: si.com

The bigger point is that the serious, attentive, and carefully researched arguments that represent the best of old media are in no danger of disappearing. Books, research articles, and serious pieces of journalism are still being ground out — and read attentively — in the new media world because they play an essential role there. They provide the logos (see Chapter 4) for innumerable Web sites and Web 2.0 networks, the full-bodied arguments, research studies, and no-nonsense science prop- ping up all those links in tighter, punchier new media features. They give clout and credibility to the quick blog post, the Facebook status, even the trending Twitter hashtag.

New Content in New Media

As you well know, new media represent a vast array of interconnected, electronic platforms where ideas and arguments (and a great deal else) can be introduced and shared. In these “environments,” the content is almost anything that can be delivered digitally — words, pictures, move- ment, and sounds. Perhaps the first Web capability that writers and

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thinkers appreciated was the distribution of traditional printed texts via online databases; it made possible huge advances in speed, accuracy, and efficiency. (Consider, for a moment, the professional databases in every field and discipline that are available through your school library.)

Online content quickly evolved once it became apparent that just about anyone could create a Web site — and they did. Soon valuable sites emerged, covering every imaginable topic, many of them focusing on serious social and political concerns. Today, such blogs range from those that collect short items and links to promote a topic or point of view (Instapundit, The Daily Kos) to slick, full-featured magazines with original content and extensive commentary (Salon, Gawker). Social, political, and cultural sites such as Slate, Drudge, and Politico have become powerful shapers of opinion by showcasing a wide variety of writers and argu- ments. Right from the beginning, blogs demonstrated that interactive online sites could create virtual communities and audiences, enabling people (sometimes acting as citizen journalists) to find allies for their causes and concerns.

Enter Web 2.0 social media and the wildly diverse worlds they now represent. Consider the vast difference among platforms and environ- ments such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Flickr, Pinterest, Yelp, and, of course, Twitter. Reviews on Yelp are by nature evaluative arguments,

the ubiquitous hashtag is liable to turn up anywhere. knape/Getty Images

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and many Facebook postings have a persuasive bent, though they may not go much beyond observations, claims, or complaints supported by links or images. Both services are hugely influential because of their vast reach, as is Twitter — despite (or, maybe, because of) its 140-character limit. Indeed, the frameworks of these self-selected environments encourage posting and, to varying degrees, opinion making and sharing. And what gets posted in social media? Everything allowed — especially stuff already available in digital form on other online sites: cool pic- tures, funny people and pets, outrageous videos, trendy performers, and, yes, lots of links to serious talk about politics, culture, and social issues.

New Audiences in New Media

When it comes to making arguments, perhaps the most innovative aspect of new media is its ability to summon audiences. Since ancient times (see p. 21), rhetoricians have emphasized the need to frame arguments to influence people, but new media and social networks now create places for specific audiences to emerge and make the arguments themselves, assembling them in bits and pieces, one comment or supporting link at a time. Audiences muster around sites that represent their perspectives on politics or mirror their social conditions and interests.

“It’s Not OK Cupid: Co-Founder

Defends User experiments” is aimed

at an audience made possible by

technology: those interested in the

phenomenon of online dating.

liNk TO p. 763

“like” is easy; contributing is hard. (see Chapter 1 on the difference between convincing and persuading.)

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It seems natural. Democrats engage with different blog sites than do Libertarians; champions of immigration or gun rights advocates have their favored places too. Within social networks themselves, supporters of causes can join existing activist communities or create new alliances among people with compatible views. And then all those individuals con- tribute to the never-ending newsfeeds: links, favorite books and authors, preferred images or slogans, illustrative videos, and so on. They stir the pot and generate still more energy, concern, and emotion. It can be very exciting or begin to sound like an echo chamber. But activity within vir- tual communities itself is potent and powerful. Some have attributed President Obama’s second-term electoral victory, in part, to the buzz his campaign generated within social media. These days, assembling an audi- ence may be just as important as making or winning arguments.

That principle may help account for the Twitter phenomenon. There, celebrities and political figures alike, for a wide variety of reasons, attract “followers” cued into their occasional 140-character musings (Hillary Clinton: 1.6M followers; Pope Francis: 4.2M; Taylor Swift: 40M+). In some respects, “following” becomes a measure of ethos, the trust and connec- tion people have in the person offering a point of view (see Chapter 3). Sometimes that ethos is largely just about media fame, but in other cases it may measure genuine influence that public figures have earned by virtue of their ideas or opinions. People who sign on as their followers

Here’s what twitter’s audience looked like when the government of turkey tried to ban the service. Adem Altam/Getty Images

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signal their willingness to listen to their Twitter commentary — ideas they probably agree with already.

But logos would seem to have little chance of emerging in a platform like Twitter: can you do much more than make a bare claim or two in the few words and symbols allowed? That’s where hashtags come in. Hashtags are words prefixed with a # sign in a Twitter posting to identify a topic and place around which an audience may gather. It provides a way of linking related comments within the vast environment or, just as important, drawing audiences to specific ideas. This is the point, for instance, of Mrs. Obama holding up a card with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag (see p. 3) — using her ethos to attract an even larger audience to the issue she and many others support. So, once again, the audience in new media becomes a tangible object — its political power evident in the sheer num- ber of people weighing in on controversies, expressing their sentiments succinctly, but also accumulating a sense of direction, solidarity, and grav- ity. It’s also why political journalists or print publications now routinely identify trending hashtags in their reporting or even direct audiences to Twitter to track breaking stories or social movements as they unfold there.

It’s a kind of suasion Aristotle could not have imagined.

no comment necessary. © Andy Singer/Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

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Analyzing Multimedia Arguments

As the previous section suggests, a multimedia argument can be complex. But you can figure it out by giving careful attention to its key components: the creators and distributors; the medium it uses; the viewers and readers it hopes to reach; its content and purpose; its design. Following are some questions to ask when you want to under- stand the rhetorical strategies in arguments and interactions you encounter in social media or on blogs, Web sites, or other nontraditional media. It’s worth noting that the questions here don’t differ entirely from those you might ask about books, journal articles, news stories, or print ads when composing a rhetorical analysis (see Chapter 6).

Questions about Creators and Distributors

● Who is responsible for this multimedia text? Did someone else dis- tribute, repurpose, or retweet the item?

● What can you find out about these people and any other work they might have done?

● What does the creator’s attitude seem to be toward the content: seri- ous, ironic, emotionally charged, satiric, comic? What is the attitude of the distributor, if different from the creator?

● What do the creator and the distributor expect the effects of the text or posting to be? Do they share the same intentions? (Consider, for example, that someone might post an item in order to mock or criticize it.)

Questions about the Medium

● Which media are used by this text? Images only? Words and images? Sound, video, animation, graphs, charts? Does the site or environ- ment where the text appears suggest a metaphor: photo album, pin- up board, message board, chat room?

● In what ways is this text or its online environment interactive? Who can contribute to or comment on it? Where can an item be sent or redirected? How did it get to where you encountered it?

● How do various texts work together in the site? Do they make argu- ments? Accumulate evidence? Provide readers with examples and illustrations?

● What effect does the medium have on messages or items within it? How would a message, text, or item be altered if different media were used?

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● Do claims or arguments play an explicit role in the medium? How are they presented, clarified, reinforced, connected, constrained, or com- mented upon?

Questions about Audience and Viewers

● What are the likely audiences for the text or medium? How are people invited into the text or site? Who might avoid the experience?

● How does the audience participate in the site or platform? Does the audience respond to content, create it, or something else? What audi- ence interactions or connections occur there? Can participants inter- act with each other?

● How does the text or media site evoke or reward participation? Are audience members texted or emailed about events or interactions in the site?

Questions about Content and purpose

● What purpose does the multimedia text achieve? What is it designed to convey?

● What social, cultural, or political values does the text or site support? Cultural interaction? Power? Resistance? Freedom?

● Does the text, alone or in reaction to others, reinforce these values or question them? Does the text constitute an argument in itself or con- tribute to another claim in some way — as an illustration, example, exception, metaphor, analogy?

● What emotions does the multimedia site or text evoke? Are these the emotions that it intends to raise? How does it do it?

Questions about Design

● How does the site present itself? What draws you to it? How easy is the environment to sign up for, learn, or use?

● How is the multimedia text or environment structured? Does the structure enhance its purpose or functionality? If it presents data, is the information easy to understand? (See also Chapter 14, “Visual Rhetoric.”)

● How are arguments, concepts, or ideas presented or framed within the text or environment? How are ideas identified? How are they amplified or connected to other supporting texts and ideas?

● What details are emphasized in the text or media environment? What details are omitted or de-emphasized? To what effect? Is

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anything downplayed, ambiguous, confusing, distracting, or obvi- ously omitted? Why?

● What, if anything, is surprising about the design of the text or envi- ronment? What do you think is the purpose of that surprise?

● How are you directed to move within the text or site? Are you encour- aged to read further? Click on links? Contribute links and information?

R E S P O N D. Using the discussion of multimedia arguments in this chapter and the ques- tions about multimedia texts and platforms above, find a multimedia text that makes an intriguing argument or a social media platform where you sometimes encounter debates about political and social issues. Then write a brief rhetorical analysis of the text or the site, focusing more on the way the messages are conveyed than on the messages that are in play.

this is the central image on the homepage of Wikipedia, a collaborative nonprofit encyclopedia project. since its launch (as nupedia) in 2000, Wikipedia has grown to include 31 million articles in 285 languages (4.5 million articles in english), all of them authored by volunteers around the world. this central image acts as a logo, a portal to access the site’s content, and, in a way, a mission statement for the organization. How does your eye construct this logo? What do you notice first, and how do your eyes move around the page? do the parts make sense when you put them together? Creative Commons

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Making Multimedia Arguments

Though you have likely been active in new media platforms for quite some time — browsing Web sites, checking Facebook, sending text mes- sages, following “Texas Humor” on Twitter — you may not have thought of these activities as rhetorical. But they certainly can be, especially those that might have classroom or extracurricular connections. Here we discuss just a few such situations. In other chapters in this section, we talk in more detail about visual rhetoric (often a component in new media) and oral presentations, which now almost always have a digital component.

Web Sites

It’s likely you have already created Web sites for a class or for an organi- zation to which you belong. In planning any Web site, pay careful atten- tion to your rhetorical situation (see Chapter 1) — the purpose of your site, its intended audience, and the overall impression that you want to make. To get started, you may want to study several sites that you admire, looking for effective design ideas or ways of organizing naviga- tion and information. Creating a map or storyboard for your site will help you to think through the links from page to page.

Experienced Web designers such as Robin Williams cite several impor- tant principles for Web-based presentations. The first of these is contrast, which is achieved through the use of color, icons, boldface, and so on; contrast helps guide readers through the site (see also Chapter 14). The second principle, proximity, calls on you to keep together the parts of a page that are closely related, again for ease of reading. Repetition means using a consistent design throughout the site for the elements (such as headings and links) that help readers move smoothly through the envi- ronment. Finally, designers concentrate on an overall impression or mood for the site, which means that the colors and visuals on the pages should help to create that impression rather than challenge or undermine it.

Here are some additional tips that may help you design your site:

● The homepage should be informative, eye-catching, and inviting (see Chapter 14) — especially when making an argument. Use titles and illustrations to make clear what the site is about.

● Think carefully about two parts of every page — the navigation area (menus or links) and the content areas. You want to make these two areas distinct from one another. And make sure you have a navigation

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area for every page, including links to the key sections of the site and a link back to the homepage. Ease of navigation is one key to a suc- cessful Web site.

● Either choose a design template that is provided by Web-writing tools or create a template of your own that ensures that the elements of each page are consistent.

● Consider how to balance claims and evidence on a page. Claims might be connected to supporting links, or they can be enhanced by images or videos that dramatize a position you want to champion.

● Remember to include Web contact information on every page, but not your personal address or phone number.


When is a video the best medium for delivering a message? Given the ease with which competent digital films can be produced, the answer is certainly more often than ever before. You will see videos routinely now, for example, on college and university sites, showcasing distinguished students and faculty or explaining programs. It is an effective way to enhance the ethos of a group or institution. Videos can also document public events or show how to do practical things such as registering to vote or navigating an unfamiliar campus. So whenever a video fits well with the purpose of the message, consider creating one.

You can, of course, shoot a video with your smartphone. But more sophisticated software might be needed to edit your film and get it ready for prime time: iMovie, Movie Maker, Blender (for animation) or Animoto, Camtasia, and Soundslides (for combining media such as digital video, photos, music, and text).


To make working on group projects easier, many classes use wikis, which are Web-based sites that enable writers to collaborate in the creation of a single project or database. The most famous group effort of this kind is, of course, Wikipedia, but software such as DokuWiki, MediaWiki, or Tiki Wiki helps people to manage similar, if less ambitious, efforts of their own, whether it be exploring questions raised in academic courses or examining and supporting needs within a community. Wiki projects can be argumentative in themselves, or they might furnish raw data and evi- dence for subsequent projects.

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If asked to participate in a wiki, you should, naturally, learn how to use the assigned software and follow course or project guidelines for entering and documenting the material you contribute. Just as you will expect your colleagues to use reliable sources or make accurate observa- tions, they will depend on you to do your part in shaping the project. Within the wiki, participants will be able to draw upon each other’s strengths and, ideally, to compensate for any weaknesses. So take your responsibilities seriously.


Perhaps no Web texts have been more instrumental in advancing politi- cal, social, and cultural issues than blogs, which are now too numerous to count. Blogs open an ideal space for building interactive communi- ties, engaging in arguments, and giving voice to views and opinions of ordinary citizens. Today, just about all major news media, including the most prestigious newspapers and journals, feature the functional- ity of blogs or sponsor blogs themselves as part of their electronic versions.

Here is an example of a video entitled “a Beautiful rose,” created by Jeremiah dohn for a class assignment and subsequently accepted by the online journal The Jump. The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects

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Like everything else, blogs have downsides: they are idiosyncratic, can be self-indulgent and egoistic, and can distort issues by spreading misinformation very quickly. If you’re a fan of blogs, be sure to read care- fully, remembering that information on blogs hasn’t been critically reviewed in the way that traditional print sources edit their stories. But also remember that blogs have reported many instances of the main- stream news sources failing to live up to their own standards.

Activist blogs of all kinds get plenty of attention, and you can easily join in on the conversation there, sharing your arguments in the com- ments section. If you do blog yourself, or comment on others’ postings, remember to follow commonsense good manners: be respectful and think carefully about what you are saying and about the impression you want to leave with those who read you. Blogging software, in case you want to open shop yourself, includes Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress.

Social Media

You likely know a great deal already about the strengths and weaknesses of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, or what- ever platforms you use — especially their remarkable ability to absorb big chunks of time.

But do consider how these media may be influencing your political and cultural views, and pay attention to how arguments there are made, supported, and connected. Think about how people with similar views come together in social media and perhaps what role these platforms now play in shaping current social and political activism. What audience roles have you assumed, what causes do you follow or champion, what ethos have you fashioned for yourself in these environments?

Then consider opportunities for using these platforms in your aca- demic work. Social media provide tools for connecting with experts in a field, collaborating on projects with classmates, or sharing your insights with people around the world. Twitter will keep you up-to-date on news and events in almost every field and discipline. And platforms like Facebook or Kickstarter can help you find people who share your ideas and are even willing to support them financially. Social media offer potent (if occasionally risky) tools for expanding all the worlds you live in — including the academic one.

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R E S P O N D. Go to a blog that you admire or consult frequently. Then answer the fol- lowing questions:

Why is a blog — a digital presentation — the best way to present this material?

What advantages over a print text or a live oral and multimedia pre- sentation does the blog have?

How could you “translate” the argument(s) of this site into print for- mat, oral format, or social media platform? What might be gained or lost in the process?

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Arguments Argument

argument argumentsresearch and

ParT 4

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Left to right: Imaginechina via AP Images; AP/Invision/Charles Sykes; © Javier Larrea/age fotostock

Academic Arguments 17

Much of the writing you will do in college (and some of what you will no doubt do later in your professional work) is generally referred to as aca- demic discourse or academic argument. Although this kind of writing has many distinctive features, in general it shares these characteristics:

● It is based on research and uses evidence that can be documented.

● It is written for a professional, academic, or school audience likely to know something about its topic.

● It makes a clear and compelling point in a fairly formal, clear, and sometimes technical style.

● It follows agreed-upon conventions of format, usage, and punctuation.

● It is documented, using some professional citation style.

Academic writing is serious work, the kind you are expected to do when- ever you are assigned a term essay, research paper, or capstone project. Manasi Deshpande’s proposal “A Call to Improve Campus Accessibility”

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in Chapter 12 is an example of an academic argument of the kind you may write in college. You will find other examples of such work through- out this book.

Understanding What Academic Argument Is

academic argument covers a wide range of writing, but its hallmarks are an appeal to reason and a faith in research. As a consequence, such arguments cannot be composed quickly, casually, or off the top of one’s head. They require careful reading, accurate reporting, and a conscien- tious commitment to truth. But academic pieces do not tune out all appeals to ethos or emotion: today, we know that these arguments often convey power and authority through their impressive lists of sources and their immediacy. But an academic argument crumbles if its facts are skewed or its content proves to be unreliable.

Look, for example, how systematically Susannah Fox and Lee Rainie, director and codirector of the Pew Internet Project, present facts and evi- dence in arguing that the Internet has been, overall, a big plus for society and individuals alike.

[Today,] 87% of american adults now use the Internet, with near- saturation usage among those living in households earning $75,000 or more (99%), young adults ages 18–29 (97%), and those with college degrees (97%). Fully 68% of adults connect to the Internet with mobile devices like smartphones or tablet computers.

The adoption of related technologies has also been extraordinary: Over the course of Pew research center polling, adult ownership of cell phones has risen from 53% in our first survey in 2000 to 90% now. Ownership of smartphones has grown from 35% when we first asked in 2011 to 58% now.

Impact: asked for their overall judgment about the impact of the Internet, toting up all the pluses and minuses of connected life, the public’s verdict is overwhelmingly positive: 90% of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for them personally and only 6% say it has been a bad thing, while 3% volunteer that it has been some of both. 76% of Internet users say the Internet has been a good thing for society, while 15% say it has been a bad thing and 8% say it has been equally good and bad.

— susannah Fox and Lee rainie, “The Web at 25 in the U.s.”

Note, too, that these writers draw their material from research and polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, a well-known and respected

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 381

organization. Chances are you immediately recognize that this para- graph is an example of a researched academic argument.

You can also identify academic argument by the way it addresses its audiences. Some academic writing is clearly aimed at specialists in a field who are familiar with both the subject and the terminology that surrounds it. As a result, the researchers make few concessions to general readers unlikely to encounter or appreciate their work. You see that single-mindedness in this abstract of an article about migraine headaches in a scientific journal: it quickly becomes unreadable to nonspecialists.


Migraine is a complex, disabling disorder of the brain that manifests itself as attacks of often severe, throbbing head pain with sensory sen- sitivity to light, sound and head movement. There is a clear familial tendency to migraine, which has been well defined in a rare autoso- mal dominant form of familial hemiplegic migraine (FhM). FhM muta- tions so far identified include those in cacna1a (P/Q voltage-gated ca(2+) channel), aTP1a2 (n(+)-K(+)-aTPase) and scn1a (na(+) chan- nel) genes. Physiological studies in humans and studies of the experi- mental correlate — cortical spreading depression (csd) — provide understanding of aura, and have explored in recent years the effect of migraine preventives in csd. . . .

— Peter J. Goadsby, “recent advances in Understanding Migraine Mechanisms, Molecules, and Therapeutics,”

Trends in Molecular Medicine (January 2007)

Yet this very article might later provide data for a more accessible argu- ment in a magazine such as Scientific American, which addresses a broader (though no less serious) readership. Here’s a selection from an article on migraine headaches from that more widely read journal (see also the infographic on p. 382):

at the moment, only a few drugs can prevent migraine. all of them were developed for other diseases, including hypertension, depression and epilepsy. Because they are not specific to migraine, it will come as no surprise that they work in only 50 percent of patients — and, in them, only 50 percent of the time — and induce a range of side effects, some potentially serious.

recent research on the mechanism of these antihypertensive, anti- epileptic and antidepressant drugs has demonstrated that one of their effects is to inhibit cortical spreading depression. The drugs’ ability to prevent migraine with and without aura therefore supports the school

Nicholas Ostler’s conference paper

“Is It Globalization that endangers

Languages?” meets the criteria listed

here for academic argument and

provides a potential model for your

own writing.

lInk to p. 589

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of thought that cortical spreading depression contributes to both kinds of attacks. Using this observation as a starting point, investiga- tors have come up with novel drugs that specifically inhibit cortical spreading depression. Those drugs are now being tested in migraine sufferers with and without aura. They work by preventing gap junc- tions, a form of ion channel, from opening, thereby halting the flow of calcium between brain cells.

— David W. Dodick and J. Jay Gargus, “Why Migraines Strike,” Scientific American (August 2008)

Such writing still requires attention, but it delivers important and com- prehensible information to any reader seriously interested in the subject and the latest research on it.

Infographic: The Root of Migraine Pain © Tolpa Studios, Inc.

Even when academic writing is less technical and demanding, its style will retain a degree of formality. In academic arguments, the focus is on the subject or topic rather than the authors, the tone is straightfor- ward, the language is largely unadorned, and all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. Here’s an abstract for an academic paper written by a scholar of communications on the Burning Man phenomenon, demonstrating those qualities:

Every August for more than a decade, thousands of information tech- nologists and other knowledge workers have trekked out into a barren

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 383

stretch of alkali desert and built a temporary city devoted to art, tech- nology, and communal living: Burning Man. drawing on extensive archival research, participant observation, and interviews, this paper explores the ways that Burning Man’s bohemian ethos supports new forms of production emerging in silicon Valley and especially at Google. It shows how elements of the Burning Man world — including the build- ing of a socio-technical commons, participation in project-based artistic labor, and the fusion of social and professional interaction — help shape and legitimate the collaborative manufacturing processes driving the growth of Google and other firms. The paper thus develops the notion that Burning Man serves as a key cultural infrastructure for the Bay area’s new media industries.

— Fred Turner, “Burning Man at Google: a cultural Infrastructure for new Media Production”

You might imagine a different and far livelier way to tell a story about the annual Burning Man gathering in Nevada, but this piece respects the conventions of its academic field.

Another way you likely identify academic writing — especially in term papers or research projects — is by the way it draws upon sources and builds arguments from research done by experts and reported in journal articles and books. Using an evenhanded tone and dealing with all points of view fairly, such writing brings together multiple voices and

A scene from Burning man Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images

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intriguing ideas. You can see these moves in just one paragraph from a heavily documented student essay examining the comedy of Chris Rock:

The breadth of passionate debate that [Chris] Rock’s comedy elicits from intellectuals is evidence enough that he is advancing discussion of the foibles of black America, but Rock continually insists that he has no political aims: “Really, really at the end of the day, the only important thing is being funny. I don’t go out of my way to be politi- cal” (qtd. in Bogosian 58). His unwillingness to view himself as a black leader triggers Justin Driver to say, “[Rock] wants to be caustic and he wants to be loved” (32). Even supporters wistfully sigh, “One wishes Rock would own up to the fact that he’s a damned astute social critic” (Kamp 7).

— Jack Chung, “The Burden of Laughter: Chris Rock Fights Ignorance His Way”

Readers can quickly tell that author Jack Chung has read widely and thought carefully about how to support his argument.

As you can see even from these brief examples, academic arguments cover a broad range of topics and appear in a variety of media — as a brief note in a journal like Nature, for example, a poster session at a con- ference on linguistics, a short paper in Physical Review Letters, a full research report in microbiology, or an undergraduate honors thesis in history. What do all these projects have in common? One professor we know defines academic argument as “carefully structured research,” and that seems to us to be a pretty good definition.

Conventions in Academic Argument Are Not Static.

Far from it. In fact, the rise of new technologies and the role that blogs, wikis, social media sites, and other digital discourses play in all our lives are affecting academic writing as well. Thus, scholars today are pushing the envelope of traditional academic writing in some fields. Physicians, for example, are using narrative (rather than charts) more often in medi- cine to communicate effectively with other medical personnel. Profes- sional journals now sometimes feature serious scholarly work in new formats — such as comics (as in legal scholar Jamie Boyle’s work on intel- lectual property, or Nick Sousanis’s Columbia University PhD disserta- tion, which is entirely in comic form). And student writers are increasingly producing serious academic arguments using a wide vari- ety of modalities, including sound, still and moving images, and more.

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Developing an Academic Argument

In your first years of college, the academic arguments you make will probably include the features and qualities we’ve discussed above — and which you see demonstrated in the sample academic arguments at the end of this chapter. In addition, you can make a strong academic argu- ment by following some time-tested techniques.

Choose a topic you want to explore in depth. Unless you are assigned a topic (and remember that even assigned topics can be tweaked to match your interests), look for a subject that intrigues you — one you want to learn more about. One of the hardest parts of producing an academic argument is finding a topic narrow enough to be manageable in the time you have to work on it but also rich enough to sustain your interest over the same period. Talk with friends about possible topics and explain to them why you’d like to pursue research on this issue. Look through your Twitter feeds and social network postings to identify themes or topics that leap out as compelling. Browse through books and articles that interest you, make a list of potential subjects, and then zero in on one or two top choices.

Get to know the conversation surrounding your topic. Once you’ve chosen a topic, expect to do even more reading and browsing — a lot more. Familiarize yourself with what’s been said about your subject and espe- cially with the controversies that currently surround it. Where do schol- ars agree, and where do they disagree? What key issues seem to be at stake? You can start by exploring the Internet, using key terms that are associated with your topic. But you may be better off searching the more specialized databases at your library with the assistance of a librarian who can help you narrow your search and make it more efficient. Library databases will also give you access to materials not available via Google or other online search engines — including, for example, full-text ver- sions of journal articles. For much more on identifying appropriate sources, see Chapter 18, “Finding Evidence.”

Assess what you know and what you need to know. As you read about your topic and discuss it with others, keep notes on what you have learned, including what you already know about it. Such notes should soon reveal where the gaps are in your knowledge. For instance, you may discover a need to learn about legal issues and thus end up doing research in a law school library. Or perhaps talking with experts about your topic might be

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helpful. Instructors on your campus may have the knowledge you need, so explore your school’s Web site to find faculty or staff to talk with. Make an appointment to visit them during office hours and bring the sorts of questions to your meeting that show you’ve done basic work on the subject. And remember that experts are now only a click away: a student we know, working on Internet privacy concerns, wrote a brief message to one of the top scholars in the field asking for help with two particular questions — and got a response within two days!

Come up with a claim about your topic. The chapters in Part 2, “Writing Arguments,” offer instruction in formulating thesis statements, which most academic arguments must have. Chapters 8–12, in particular, explain how to craft claims tailored to individual projects ranging from arguments of fact to proposals. Remember here, though, that good claims are controversial. After all, you don’t want to debate something that everyone already agrees upon or accepts.

In addition, your claim needs to say something consequential about that important or controversial topic and be supported with strong evi- dence and good reasons (see Chapter 18). Here, for example, is the claim that student Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner makes after observing the alien- ation of today’s children from the natural world and arguing for the redesign of schoolyards that invite children to interact with nature: “As a formative geography of childhood, the schoolyard serves as the perfect place to address nature deficit disorder.” Charlotte develops her claim and supports it with evidence about the physical, psychological, aca- demic, and social benefits of interacting with the natural world. She includes images illustrating the contrast between traditional school- yards and “biophilic,” or nature-oriented, schoolyards and establishes guidelines for creating natural play landscapes. (See Charlotte’s complete essay, reprinted at the end of this chapter.)

Consider your rhetorical stance and purpose. Once you have a claim, ask yourself where you stand with respect to your topic and how you want to represent yourself to those reading your argument:

● You may take the stance of a reporter: you review what has been said about the topic; analyze and evaluate contributions to the conversa- tion surrounding it; synthesize the most important strands of that conversation; and finally draw conclusions based on them.

● You may see yourself primarily as a critic: you intend to point out the problems and mistakes associated with some view of your topic.

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 387

● You may prefer the role of an advocate: you present research that strongly supports a particular view on your topic.

Whatever your perspective, remember that in academic arguments you want to come across as fair and evenhanded, especially when you play the advocate. Your stance will always be closely tied to your purpose, which in most of your college writing will be at least twofold: to do the best job in fulfilling an assignment for a course and to support the claim you are making to the fullest extent possible. Luckily, these two purposes work well together.

think about your audience(s). Here again, you will often find that you have at least two audiences — and maybe more. First, you will be writing to your instructor, so take careful notes when the assignment is given and, if possible, set up a conference to nail down your teacher’s expecta- tions: what will it take to convince this audience that you have done a terrific job of writing an academic argument? Beyond your instructor, you should also think of your classmates as an audience — informed, intelligent peers who will be interested in what you have to say. Again, what do you know about these readers, and what will they expect from your project?

Finally, consider yet another important audience — people who are already discussing your topic. These will include the authors whose work you have read and the larger academic community of which they are now a part. If your work appears online or in some other medium, you will reach more people than you initially expect, and most if not all of them will be unknown to you. As a result, you need to think carefully about the various ways your argument could be read — or misread — and plan accordingly.

Concentrate on the material you are gathering. Any academic argument is only as good as the evidence it presents to support its claims. Give each major piece of evidence (say, a lengthy article that addresses your sub- ject directly) careful scrutiny:

● Summarize its main points.

● Analyze how those points are pertinent.

● Evaluate the quality of the supporting evidence.

● Synthesize the results of your analysis and evaluation.

● Summarize what you think about the article.

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In other words, test each piece of evidence and then decide which to keep — and which to throw out. But do not gather only materials that favor your take on the topic. You want, instead, to look at all legitimate perspectives on your claim, and in doing so, you may even change your mind. That’s what good research for an academic argument can do: remember the “conscientious commitment to truth” we mentioned ear- lier? Keep yourself open to discovery and change. (See Chapter 19, “Eval- uating Sources,” and Chapter 20, “Using Sources.”)

Give visual and nonprint materials the same scrutiny you would to print sources, since these days you will likely be gathering or creating such materials in many fields. Remember that the graphic representa- tion of data always involves an interpretation of that material: numbers can lie and pictures distort. (For more information on evaluating visuals, see Chapter 14.) In addition, infographics today often make complex academic arguments in a visual form. (See p. 164 for one such example.)

take special care with documentation. As you gather materials for your academic argument, record where you found each source so that you can cite it accurately. For print sources, develop a working bibliography either on your computer or in a notebook you can carry with you. For each book, write the name of the author, the title of the book, the city of publication, the publisher, the date of publication, and the place that you found it (the section of the library, for example, and the call number for the book). For each print article, write the name of the author, the title of the article, the title of the periodical, and the volume, issue, publication date, and exact page numbers. Include any other information you may later need in preparing a works cited list or references list.

For electronic sources, keep a careful record of the information you’ll need in a works cited list or references list. Write the author and title information, the name of the database or other online site where you found the source, the full URL, the date the document was first pro- duced, the date it was published on the Web or most recently updated, and the date you accessed and examined it. The simplest way to ensure that you have this information is to print a copy of the source, highlight source information, and write down any other pertinent information.

Remember, too, that different academic fields use different systems of documentation, so if your instructor has not recommended a style of documentation to you, ask in class about it. Scholars have developed these systems over long periods of time to make research in an area reliable and routine. Using documentation responsibly shows that you

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understand the conventions of your field or major and that you have paid your dues, thereby establishing your position as a member of the academic community. (For more detailed information, see Chapter 22, “Documenting Sources.”)

think about organization. As you review the research materials you have gathered, you are actually beginning the work of drafting and designing your project. Study the way those materials are organized, especially any from professional journals, whether print or digital. You may need to include in your own argument some of the sections or fea- tures you find in professional research:

● Does the article open with an abstract, summarizing its content?

● Does the article give any information about the author or authors and their credentials?

● Is there a formal introduction to the subject or a clear statement of a thesis or hypothesis?

● Does the article begin with a “review of literature,” summarizing recent research on its topic?

● Does the piece describe its methods of research?

● How does the article report its results and findings?

● Does the article use charts and graphs or other visuals to report data?

● Does the piece use headings and subheadings?

● How does the work summarize its findings or how does it make recommendations?

● Does the essay offer a list of works cited or references?

Anticipate some variance in the way materials are presented from one academic field to another.

As you organize your own project, check with your instructor to see if there is a recommended pattern for you to follow. If not, create a scratch outline or storyboard to describe how your essay will proceed. In review- ing your evidence, decide which pieces support specific points in the argument. Then try to position your strongest pieces of evidence in key places — near the beginning of paragraphs, at the end of the introduc- tion, or toward a powerful conclusion. In addition, strive to achieve a balance between, on the one hand, your own words and argument and, on the other hand, the sources that you use or quote in support of the argument. The sources of evidence are important supports, but they

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shouldn’t overpower the structure of your argument itself. Finally, remember that your organization needs to take into account the place- ment of visuals — charts, tables, photographs, and so on. (For specific advice on structuring arguments, review the “Thinking about Organiza- tion” sections in the “Guides to Writing” for Chapters 8–12.)

Consider style and tone. Most academic argument adopts the voice of a reasonable, fair-minded, and careful thinker who is interested in coming as close to the truth about a topic as possible. A style that achieves that tone may have some of the following features:

● It strives for clarity and directness, though it may use jargon appro- priate to a particular field.

● It favors denotative rather than connotative language.

● It is usually impersonal, using first person (I) sparingly.

● In some fields, it may use the passive voice routinely.

● It uses technical language, symbols, and abbreviations for efficiency.

● It avoids colloquialisms, slang, and sometimes even contractions.

The examples at the end of this chapter demonstrate traditional aca- demic style, though there is, as always, a range of possibilities in its manner of expression.

Consider genre, design, and visuals. Most college academic arguments look more like articles in professional journals than like those one might find in a glossier periodical like Scientific American — that is, they are still usually black on white, use a traditional font size and type (like 11-point Times New Roman), and lack any conscious design other than inserted tables or figures. But such conventions are changing.

Indeed, student writers today can go well beyond print, creating digi- tal documents that integrate a variety of media and array data in strik- ingly original ways. But always consider what genres best suit your topic, purpose, and audience and then act accordingly. As you think about the design possibilities for your academic argument, you may want to con- sult your instructor — and to test your ideas and innovations on friends or classmates.

In choosing visuals to include in your argument, be sure each one makes a strong contribution to your message and is appropriate and fair to your topic and your audience. Treat visuals as you would any other sources and integrate them into your text. Like quotations, paraphrases, and summaries, visuals need to be introduced and commented on in

The Trouble with Diversity: How

We Learned to Love Identity and

Ignore Inequality by Walter Benn

Michaels exemplifies a clear and

direct academic style. even though

the author makes a complex

argument, addressing a broad and

difficult issue, his writing remains

straightforward and readable.

lInk to p. 725

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 391

some way. In addition, label and number (“Figure 1,” “Table 2,” and so on) each visual, provide a caption that includes source information and describes the visual, and cite the source in your references page or works cited list. Even if you create a visual (such as a bar graph) by using infor- mation from a source (the results, say, of a Gallup poll), you must cite the source. If you use a photograph you took yourself, cite it as a personal photograph.

Reflect on your draft and get responses. As with any important piece of writing, an academic argument calls for careful reflection on your draft. You may want to do a “reverse outline” to test whether a reader can pull a logical and consistent pattern out of the paragraphs or sections you have written. In addition, you can also judge the effectiveness of your overall argument, assessing what each paragraph contributes and what may be missing. Turning a critical eye to your own work at the draft stage

this bar chart, based on data from a sandler training survey of 1,053 adults, would be listed in your works cited or references under the authors’ names. Data from Sandler Training survey of 1,053 adults.







Boss Clients/ Customers

Significant other

Colleagues Parents



15 13


Who’s the most difficult to “sell yourself” to? Pe

rc en

ta ge

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can save much grief in the long run. Be sure to get some response from classmates and friends too: come up with a set of questions to ask them about your draft and push them for honest responses. Find out what in your draft is confusing or unclear to others, what needs further evidence, and so on.

Edit and proofread your text. Proofread an academic argument at least three times. First review it for ideas, making sure that all your main points and supporting evidence make sense and fit nicely together. Give special attention to transitions and paragraph structure and the way you have arranged information, positioned headings, and captioned graphic items. Make sure the big picture is in focus.

Then read the text word by word to check spelling, punctuation, quo- tation marks, apostrophes, abbreviations — in short, all the details that can go wrong simply because of a slip in attention. To keep their focus at this level, some readers will even read an entire text backwards. Notice too where your computer’s spelling and grammar checkers may be underlining particular words and phrases. Don’t ignore these clear signals.

Finally, check that every source mentioned in the academic argument appears in the works cited or references list and that every citation is correct. This is also the time to make any final touchups to your overall design. Remember that how the document looks is part of what estab- lishes its credibility.

R E S P O N D. 1. Look closely at the following five passages, each of which is from an

opening of a published work, and decide which ones provide examples of academic argument. How would you describe each one, and what are its key features? Which is the most formal and academic? Which is the least? How might you revise them to make them more — or less — academic?

During the Old Stone Age, between thirty-seven thousand and eleven thousand years ago, some of the most remarkable art ever conceived was etched or painted on the walls of caves in southern France and northern Spain. After a visit to Lascaux, in the Dordogne, which was discovered in 1940, Picasso reportedly said to his guide, “They’ve invented everything.” What those first artists invented was a language of signs for which there will never be a Rosetta stone; perspective, a technique that was not redis- covered until the Athenian Golden Age; and a bestiary of such vitality and finesse that, by the flicker of torchlight, the animals seem to surge

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 393

from the walls, and move across them like figures in a magic-lantern show (in that sense, the artists invented animation). They also thought up the grease lamp — a lump of fat, with a plant wick, placed in a hollow stone — to light their workplace; scaffolds to reach high places; the prin- ciples of stenciling and Pointillism; powdered colors, brushes, and stumping cloths; and, more to the point of Picasso’s insight, the very con- cept of an image. A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas — but not from a void.

— Judith Thurman, “First Impressions,” The New Yorker

I stepped over the curb and into the street to hitchhike. At the age of ten I’d put some pretty serious mileage on my thumb. And I knew how it was done. Hold your thumb up, not down by your hip as though you didn’t much give a damn whether you got a ride or not. Always hitch at a place where a driver could pull out of traffic and give you time to get in without risking somebody tailgating him.

— Harry Crews, “On Hitchhiking,” Harper’s

Coral reef ecosystems are essential marine environments around the world. Host to thousands (and perhaps millions) of diverse organisms, they are also vital to the economic well-being of an estimated 0.5 billion people, or 8% of the world’s population who live on tropical coasts (Hoegh-Guldberg 1999). Income from tourism and fishing industries, for instance, is essential to the economic prosperity of many countries, and the various plant and animal species present in reef ecosystems are sources for different natural products and medicines. The degrada- tion of coral reefs can therefore have a devastating impact on coastal populations, and it is estimated that between 50% and 70% of all reefs around the world are currently threatened (Hoegh-Guldberg). Anthro- pogenic influences are cited as the major cause of this degradation, including sewage, sedimentation, direct trampling of reefs, over-fishing of herbivorous fish, and even global warming (Umezawa et al. 2002; Jones et al. 2001; Smith et al. 2001).

— Elizabeth Derse, “Identifying the Sources of Nitrogen to Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Utilizing the Nitrogen Isotope Signature

of Macroalgae,” Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal

While there’s a good deal known about invertebrate neurobiology, these facts alone haven’t settled questions of their sentience. On the one hand, invertebrates lack a cortex, amygdala, as well as many of the other major brain structures routinely implicated in human emotion. And unsurpris- ingly, their nervous systems are quite minimalist compared to ours: we have roughly a hundred thousand bee brains worth of neurons in our heads. On the other hand, some invertebrates, including insects, do pos- sess the rudiments of our stress response system. So the question is still on the table: do they experience emotion in a way that we would recog- nize, or just react to the world with a set of glorified reflexes?

— Jason Castro, “Do Bees Have Feelings?” Scientific American

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 393 6/24/15 3:41 PM


Bambi’s mother, shot. Nemo’s mother, eaten by a barracuda. Lilo’s mother, killed in a car crash. Koda’s mother in Brother Bear, speared. Po’s mother in Kung Fu Panda 2, done in by a power-crazed peacock. Ariel’s mother in the third Little Mermaid, crushed by a pirate ship. Human baby’s mother in Ice Age, chased by a saber-toothed tiger over a waterfall. . . . The mothers in these movies are either gone or useless. And the father figures? To die for!

— Sarah Boxer, “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?” The Atlantic

2. Working with another student in your class, find examples from two or three different fields of academic arguments that strike you as being well written and effective. Spend some time looking closely at them. Do they exemplify the key features of academic arguments dis- cussed in this chapter? What other features do they use? How are they organized? What kind of tone do the writers use? What use do they make of visuals? Draw up a brief report on your findings (a list will do), and bring it to class for discussion.

3. Read the following three paragraphs, and then list changes that the writer might make to convert them into an academic argument:

The book — the physical paper book — is being circled by a shoal of sharks, with sales down 9 percent this year alone. It’s being chewed by the e-book. It’s being gored by the death of the bookshop and the library. And most importantly, the mental space it occupied is being eroded by the thousand Weapons of Mass Distraction that surround us all. It’s hard to admit, but we all sense it: it is becoming almost physically harder to read books.

In his gorgeous little book The Lost Art of Reading — Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, the critic David Ulin admits to a strange feeling. All his life, he had taken reading as for granted as eating — but then, a few years ago, he “became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read.” He would sit down to do it at night, as he always had, and read a few paragraphs, then find his mind was wandering, imploring him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. “What I’m struggling with,” he writes, “is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there’s something out there that merits my attention.”

I think most of us have this sense today, if we are honest. If you read a book with your laptop thrumming on the other side of the room, it can be like trying to read in the middle of a party, where everyone is shouting to each other. To read, you need to slow down. You need men- tal silence except for the words. That’s getting harder to find.

— Johann Hari, “How to Survive the Age of Distraction”

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 395

4. Choose two pieces of your college writing, and examine them closely. Are they examples of strong academic writing? How do they use the key features that this chapter identifies as characteristic of academic arguments? How do they use and document sources? What kind of tone do you establish in each? After studying the examples in this chapter, what might you change about these pieces of writing, and why?

5. Go to a blog that you follow, or check out one on the Huffington Post or Ricochet. Spend some time reading the articles or postings on the blog, and look for ones that you think are the best written and the most interesting. What features or characteristics of academic argument do they use, and which ones do they avoid?

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Where the Wild things Should Be: Healing nature Deficit Disorder through the Schoolyard


The developed world deprives children of a basic and

inalienable right: unstructured outdoor play. Children

today have substantially less access to nature, less free

range, and less time for independent play than previous

generations had. Experts in a wide variety of fields cite

the rise of technology, urbanization, parental over-

scheduling, fears of stranger-danger, and increased traf-

fic as culprits. In 2005 journalist Richard Louv articulated

the causes and consequences of children’s alienation

from nature, dubbing it “nature deficit disorder.” Louv is

not alone in claiming that the widening divide between

children and nature has distressing health repercus-

sions, from obesity and attention disorders to depression

and decreased cognitive functioning. The dialogue sur-

rounding nature deficit disorder deserves the attention

and action of educators, health professionals, parents,

developers, environmentalists, and conservationists


The most practical solution to this staggering rift

between children and nature involves the schoolyard.

The schoolyard habitat movement, which promotes the

“greening” of school grounds, is quickly gaining interna-

tional recognition and legitimacy. A host of organiza-

tions, including the National Wildlife Federation, the

American Forest Foundation, and the Council for Envi-

ronmental Education, as well as their international

counterparts, have committed themselves to this cause.

However, while many recognize the need for “greened

title begins with a reference many readers will recognize (sendak) and then points to the direction the argument will take.

Background information introduces a claim that states an effect and traces it back to its various causes.

considerable evidence supports the claim.

Presents a solu- tion to the problem and foreshadows full thesis

two Sample Academic Arguments


Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner wrote this academic argument for her

first-year writing class at Stanford University.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 396 6/24/15 3:41 PM

school grounds,” not many describe such landscapes

beyond using adjectives such as “lush,” “green,” and “nat-

ural.” The literature thus lacks a coherent research-based

proposal that both asserts the power of “natural” school

grounds and delineates what such grounds might look


My research strives to fill in this gap. I advocate for

the schoolyard as the perfect place to address nature

deficit disorder, demonstrate the benefits of greened

schoolyards, and establish the tenets of natural school-

yard design in order to further the movement and inspire

future action.

Asphalt Deserts: The State of the Schoolyard Today

As a formative geography of childhood, the schoolyard

serves as the perfect place to address nature deficit dis-

order. Historian Peter Stearns argues that modern child-

hood was transformed when schooling replaced work as

the child’s main social function (1041). In this contempo-

rary context, the schoolyard emerges as a critical setting

for children’s learning and play. Furthermore, as parental

traffic and safety concerns increasingly constrain chil-

dren’s free range outside of school, the schoolyard

remains a safe haven, a protected outdoor space just for


Despite the schoolyard’s major significance in chil-

dren’s lives, the vast majority of schoolyards fail to meet

children’s needs. An outdated theoretical framework is

partially to blame. In his 1890 Principles of Psychology, psy-

chologist Herbert Spencer championed the “surplus

energy theory”: play’s primary function, according to

Spencer, was to burn off extra energy (White). Play, how-

ever, contributes to the social, cognitive, emotional, and

physical growth of the child (Hart 136); “[l]etting off steam”

is only one of play’s myriad functions. Spencer’s theory

thus constitutes a serious oversimplification, but it still

continues to inform the design of children’s play areas.

the author identifies a weakness in the proposed solution.

ending para- graph of the introduction presents the full thesis and outlines the entire essay.

Author uses subheads to help guide readers through the argument.

explains why it’s valuable to focus on the schoolyard

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 397

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Most US playgrounds conform to an equipment-based

model constructed implicitly on Spencer’s surplus

energy theory (Frost and Klein 2). The sports fields,

asphalt courts, swing sets, and jungle gyms common to

schoolyards relegate nature to the sidelines and priori-

tize gross motor play at the expense of dramatic play or

exploration. An eight-year-old in England says it best:

“The space outside feels boring. There’s nothing to do.

You get bored with just a square of tarmac” (Titman 42).

Such an environment does not afford children the

chance to graduate to new, more complex challenges as

they develop. While play equipment still deserves a spot

in the schoolyard, equipment-dominated playscapes leave

the growing child bereft of stimulating interactions with

the environment.

Also to blame for the failure of school grounds to

meet children’s needs are educators’ and developers’

adult-centric aims. Most urban schoolyards are sterile

environments with low biodiversity (see fig. 1). While

concrete, asphalt, and synthetic turf may be easier to

maintain and supervise, they exacerbate the “extinction

Quotations by children provide evidence to support the claim and bring in a personal touch. note that the writer is following mLA style for in-text citations.

Presents reasons why schoolyards continue to be poorly designed

Fig. 1: Addison Elementary in Palo Alto, CA, conforms to the traditional playground model, dominated by synthetic landcover and equipment. Photo by Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner

note that the figure is intro- duced in the text and has a caption.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 398 6/24/15 3:41 PM

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 399

of experience,” a term that Pyle has used to describe the

disappearance of children’s embodied, intuitive experi-

ences in nature. Asphalt deserts are major instigators of

this “cycle of impoverishment” (Pyle 312). Loss of biodi-

versity begets environmental apathy, which in turn

allows the process of extinction to persist. Furthermore,

adults’ preference for manicured, landscaped grounds

does little to enhance children’s creative outdoor play.

Instead of rich, stimulating play environments for chil-

dren, such highly ordered schoolyards are constructed

with adults’ convenience in mind.

The Greener, the Better: The Benefits of Greened School Grounds

A great body of research documents the physiological,

cognitive, psychological, and social benefits of contact

with nature. Health experts champion outdoor play as an

antidote to two major trends in children of the developed

world: the Attention Deficit Disorder and obesity epi-

demics. A 2001 study by Taylor, Kuo, and Sullivan indi-

cates that green play settings decrease the severity of

symptoms in children with ADD. They also combat inac-

tivity in children by diversifying the “play repertoire” and

providing for a wider range of physical activity than tra-

ditional playgrounds. In the war against childhood obe-

sity, health advocates must add the natural schoolyard to

their arsenal.

The schoolyard also has the ability to influence the

way children play. Instead of being prescribed a play

structure with a clear purpose (e.g., a swing set), children

in natural schoolyards must discover the affordances of

their environment — they must imagine what could be.

In general, children exhibit more prosocial behavior and

higher levels of inclusion in the natural schoolyard

(Dyment 31). A 2006 questionnaire-based study of a

greening initiative in Toronto found that the naturaliza-

tion of the school grounds yielded a decrease in aggres-

s i v e a c t i o n s a n d d i s c i p l i n a r y p r o b l e m s a n d a

Author cites research that discusses the health benefits of interacting with nature.

social benefits of interacting with nature

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 399 6/24/15 3:41 PM


corresponding increase in civility and cooperation

(Dyment 28). The greened schoolyard offers benefits

beyond physical and mental health; it shapes the charac-

ter and quality of children’s play interactions.

The schoolyard also has the potential to shape the

relationship between children and the natural world. In

the essay “Eden in a Vacant Lot,” Pyle laments the loss of

vacant lots and undeveloped spaces in which children

can play and develop intimacy with the land. However,

Pyle overlooks the geography of schoolyards, which can

serve as enclaves of nature in an increasingly urbanized

and developed world. Research has shown that school

ground naturalization fosters nature literacy and inti-

macy just as Pyle’s vacant lots do. For instance, a school

ground greening program in Toronto dramatically

enhanced children’s environmental awareness, sense of

stewardship, and curiosity about their local ecosystem

(Dyment 37). When integrated with nature, the school-

yard can mitigate the effects of nature deficit disorder

and reawaken children’s innate biophilia, or love of


Biophilic Design: Establishing the Tenets of Natural Schoolyard Design

The need for naturalized schoolyards is urgent. But

how might theory actually translate into reality? Here

I will propose four principles of biophilic schoolyard

design, or landscaping that aims to integrate nature and

natural systems into the man-made geography of the


The first is biodiversity. Schools should strive to incor-

porate a wide range of greenery and wildlife on their

grounds (see fig. 2). Native plants should figure promi-

nently so as to inspire children’s interest in their local

habitats. Inclusion of wildlife in school grounds can fos-

ter meaningful interactions with other species. Certain

plants and flowers, for example, attract birds, butterflies,

and other insects; aquatic areas can house fish, frogs,

the author establishes four guidelines for redesigning schoolyards.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 400 6/24/15 3:41 PM

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 401

tadpoles, and pond bugs. School pets and small-scale

farms also serve to teach children important lessons

about responsibility, respect, and compassion for ani-

mals. Biodiversity, the most vital feature of biophilic

design, transforms former “asphalt deserts” into realms

teeming with life.

The second principle that schoolyard designers

should keep in mind is sensory stimulation. The greater

the degree of sensory richness in an environment, the

more opportunities it affords the child to imagine, learn,

and discover. School grounds should feature a range of

colors, textures, sounds, fragrances, and in the case of

the garden, tastes. Such sensory diversity almost always

accompanies natural environments, unlike concrete,

which affords comparatively little sensory stimulation.

Diversity of topography constitutes another dimen-

sion of a greened schoolyard (Fjortoft and Sageie 83). The

best school grounds afford children a range of places to

climb, tunnel, frolic, and sit. Natural elements function

as “play equipment”: children can sit on stumps, jump

over logs, swing on trees, roll down grassy mounds, and

climb on boulders. The playscape should also offer nooks

Fig. 2: A seating area at Ohlone School in Palo Alto, CA, features a healthy range of plant species. Photo by Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 401 6/24/15 3:41 PM


and crannies for children to seek shelter and refuge.

While asphalt lots and play structures are still fun for

children, they should not dominate the school grounds

(see fig. 3).

Last but not least, naturalized schoolyards must

embody the theory of loose parts proposed by architect

Simon Nicholson. “In any environment,” he writes, “both

the degree of inventiveness and the possibility of discov-

ery are directly proportional to the number and kinds of

variables in it” (qtd. in Louv 87). Loose parts — sand, water,

leaves, nuts, seeds, rocks, and sticks — are abundant

in the natural world. The detachability of loose parts

makes them ideal for children’s construction projects.

A figure illus- trates a specific point about play structures.

Fig. 3: Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA, has integrated traditional equipment, such as a playhouse and slide, into the natural setting. Photo by Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 402 6/24/15 3:41 PM

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 403

While some might worry about the possible hazards of

loose parts, conventional play equipment is far from

safe: more than 200,000 of children’s emergency room

visits every year in the United States are linked to these

built structures (Frost 217). When integrated into the

schoolyard through naturalization, loose parts offer the

child the chance to gain ever-increasing mastery of

the environment.

The four tenets proposed provide a concrete basis for

the application of biophilic design to the schoolyard.

Such design also requires a frame-shift away from adult

preferences for well-manicured grounds and towards

children’s needs for wilder spaces that can be con-

structed, manipulated, and changed through play (Lester

and Maudsley 67; White and Stoecklin). Schoolyards

designed according to the precepts of biodiversity, sen-

sory stimulation, diversity of topography, and loose parts

will go a long way in healing the rift between children

and nature, a rift that adult-centric design only widens.

Grounds for Change

In conclusion, I have shown that natural schoolyard

design can heal nature deficit disorder by restoring free

outdoor play to children’s lives in the developed world.

Successful biophilic schoolyards challenge the conven-

tional notion that natural and man-made landscapes are

mutually exclusive. Human-designed environments, and

especially those for children, should strive to integrate

nature into the landscape. All schools should be designed

with the four tenets of natural schoolyard design in


Though such sweeping change may seem impractical

given limitations on school budgets, greening initiatives

that use natural elements, minimal equipment, and vol-

unteer work can be remarkably cost-effective. Peninsula

School in Menlo Park, California, has minimized mainte-

nance costs through the inclusion of hardy native spe-

cies; it is essentially “designed for neglect” (Dyment 44).

Author restates her claim.

Offers examples of successful biophilic school- yard design

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 403 6/24/15 3:41 PM


Gardens and small-scale school farms can also become

their own source of funding, as they have for Ohlone Ele-

mentary School in Palo Alto, California. Ultimately, the

cognitive, psychological, physiological, and social bene-

fits of natural school grounds are priceless. In the words

of author Richard Louv, “School isn’t supposed to be a

polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider

world” (Louv 226). With this in mind, let the schoolyard

restore to children their exquisite intimacy with nature:

their inheritance, their right.

Works Cited

Dyment, Janet. “Gaining Ground: The Power and Potential of School Ground Greening in the Toronto District School Board.” Evergreen, 2006. Web. 8 May 2012.

Fjortoft, Ingunn, and Jostein Sageie. “The Natural Environ- ment as a Playground for Children.” Landscape and Urban Planning 48.1/2 (2000): 83–97. Web. 28 May 2012.

Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar, 1992. Print.

Frost, Joe L., and Barry L. Klein. Children’s Play and Playgrounds. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1979. Print.

Hart, Roger. “Containing Children: Some Lessons on Plan- ning for Play from New York City.” Environment and Urban- ization 14.2 (2002): 135–48. Web. 28 May 2012.

Lester, Stuart, and Martin Maudsley. Play, Naturally: A Review of Children’s Natural Play. London: Play England, National Children’s Bureau, 2007. Print.

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2005. Print.

Nicholson, S. “How Not to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts.” Landscape Architecture 62 (1971): 30–35. Chil- dren, Youth, and Environments. Web. 28 May 2012.

Pyle, Robert M. “Eden in a Vacant Lot: Special Places, Species, and Kids in the Neighborhood of Life.” Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Ed. Peter H. Kahn and Stephen R. Kellert. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. 305–27. Print.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 404 6/24/15 3:41 PM

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 405

Stearns, Peter N. “Conclusion: Change, Globalization and Childhood.” Journal of Social History 38.4 (2005): 1041–46. Print.

Taylor, Andrea F., Frances E. Kuo, and William C. Sullivan. “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings.” Environment and Behavior 33.1 (2001): 54–77. Print.

Titman, Wendy. Special Places; Special People: The Hidden Cur- riculum of Schoolgrounds. Surrey, England: World Wide Fund for Nature, 1994. Web. 8 May 2012.

White, Randy. “Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development & the Earth’s Future.” Taproot 16.2 (2006). White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group. Web. 28 May 2012.

White, Randy, and Vicki Stoecklin. “Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments: Returning to Nature.” Early Child- hood News Mar. 1998. White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group. Web. 28 May 2012.

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China: the prizes and pitfalls of progress



Pushes to globalize science must not threaten local innovations in devel-

oping countries, argues Lan Xue.

Developing countries such as China and India have emerged both as sig-

nificant players in the production of high-tech products and as important

contributors to the production of ideas and global knowledge. China’s



This article was written by Lan Xue, a faculty member in the School of Public Policy and

Management and the director of the China Institute for Science and Technology Policy, both

at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. It was published in the online edition of Nature in

July 2008.

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 407

rapid ascent as a broker rather than simply a consumer of ideas and inno-

vation has made those in the “developed” world anxious. A 2007 report by

UK think tank Demos says that “U.S. and European pre-eminence in

science-based innovation cannot be taken for granted. The centre of grav-

ity for innovation is starting to shift from west to east.”1

But the rapid increase in research and development spending in

China — of the order of 20% per year since 1999 — does not guarantee a

place as an innovation leader. Participation in global science in developing

countries such as China is certainly good news for the global scientific

community. It offers new opportunities for collaboration, fresh perspec-

tives, and a new market for ideas. It also presents serious challenges for

the management of innovation in those countries. A major discovery in

the lab does not guarantee a star product in the market. And for a country

in development, the application of knowledge in productive activities and

the related social transformations are probably more important than the

production of the knowledge itself. By gumming the works in information

dissemination, by misplacing priorities, and by disavowing research that,

although valuable, doesn’t fit the tenets of modern Western science,

developing countries may falter in their efforts to become innovation


Vicious Circle

China’s scientific publications (measured by articles recorded in the Web

of Science) in 1994 were around 10,000, accounting for a little more than

1% of the world total. By 2006, the publications from China rose to more

than 70,000, increasing sevenfold in 12 years and accounting for almost

6% of the world total (see graph, next page). In certain technical areas, the

growth has been more dramatic. China has been among the leading coun-

tries in nanotechnology research, for example, producing a volume of

publications second only to that of the United States.

The publish-or-perish mentality that has arisen in China, with its

focus on Western journals, has unintended implications that threaten to

obviate the roughly 8,000 national scientific journals published in Chi-

nese. Scientists in developing countries such as China and India pride

themselves on publishing articles in journals listed in the Science Citation

Index (SCI) and the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) lists. In some top-

tier research institutions in China, SCI journals have become the required

outlet for research.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 407 6/24/15 3:41 PM


A biologist who recently returned to China from the United States was

told by her colleague at the research institute in the prestigious Chinese

Academy of Sciences (CAS) that publications in Chinese journals don’t

really count toward tenure or promotion. Moreover, the institute values

only those SCI journals with high impact factors. Unfortunately, the over-

whelming majority of the journals in SCI and SSCI lists are published in

developed countries in English or other European languages. The lan-

guage requirement and the high costs of these journals mean that few

researchers in China will have regular access to the content. Thus as

China spends more and publishes more, the results will become harder to

find for Chinese users. This trend could have a devastating impact on the

Nature Publishing Group. Illustration by D. Parkins.

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 408 6/24/15 3:41 PM

C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 409

local scientific publications and hurt China’s ability to apply newly devel-

oped knowledge in an economically useful way.

Several members of the CAS expressed their concerns on this issue

recently at the 14th CAS conference in Beijing. According to Molin Ge, a

theoretical physicist at the Chern Institute of Mathematics, Nankai Uni-

versity, Tianjin, as more high-quality submissions are sent to overseas

journals, the quality of submissions to local Chinese journals declines,

which lowers the impact of the local Chinese journals. This becomes a

vicious circle because the lower the impact, the less likely these local jour-

nals are to get high-quality submissions.2

Setting Agendas

Research priorities in developing countries may be very different from

those in developed nations, but as science becomes more globalized, so

too do priorities. At the national level, developing countries’ research pri-

orities increasingly resemble those of the developed nations, partly as a

result of international competitive pressures. For example, after the

United States announced its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in

2001, Japan and nations in Europe followed suit, as did South Korea, China,

India, and Singapore. According to a 2004 report by the European Union,3

public investment in nanotechnology had increased from €400 million

(U.S. $630 million) in 1997 to more than €3 billion in 2004.

Part of the pressure to jump on the international bandwagon comes

from researchers themselves. Scientists in the developing world maintain

communications with those elsewhere. It is only natural that they want to

share the attention that their colleagues in the developed Western world

and Japan are receiving by pursuing the same hot topics. The research is

exciting, fast-moving, and often easier to publish. At the same time, there

are many other crucial challenges to be met in developing countries. For

example, public health, water and food security, and environmental protec-

tion all beg for attention and resources. If people perceive these research

areas as less intellectually challenging and rewarding, the issues will fail to

receive the resources, support, and recognition they require. Without better

agenda-setting practices, the scientific community will continue to face

stinging criticism. It can send a satellite to Mars but not solve the most

basic problems that threaten millions of lives in the developing world.

The introduction of Western scientific ideals to the developing world

can generate an environment that is hostile to the indigenous research

17_LUN_9864_ch17_377_411.indd 409 6/24/15 3:41 PM


that prima facie does not fit those ideals. The confrontation between

Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine dates back to the

early days of the twentieth century when Western medicine was first

introduced in China. The debate reached a peak last year when a famous

actress, Xiaoxu Chen, died from breast cancer. She allegedly insisted on

treatment by Chinese traditional medicine, raising the hackles of some

who claimed it to be worthless. Many Chinese still support traditional

medicine and say that the dominance of Western medicine risks endan-

gering China’s scientific and cultural legacy.

A similar row erupted around earthquake prediction. In the 1960s and

1970s, China set up a network of popular earthquake-prediction stations,

using simple instruments and local knowledge. For the most part, the net-

work was decommissioned as China built the modern earthquake-

monitoring system run by the China Earthquake Administration. When

the system failed to predict the recent Sichuan earthquake, several people

claimed that non-mainstream approaches had predicted its imminence.

Scientists in the agency have tended to brush off such unofficial and indi-

vidual predictions. To many this seems arrogant and bureaucratic.

It would be foolish and impossible to stop the globalization of science.

There are tremendous benefits to science enterprises in different coun-

tries being integrated into a global whole. One should never think of turn-

ing back the clock. At the same time, it is possible to take some practical

steps to minimize the harmful effects of this trend on local innovation.

Prioritizing for the People

First of all, there is a need to re-examine the governance of global science

in recognition of the changing international geography of science. Many

international norms and standards should be more open and accommo-

dating to the changing environment in developing countries. For example,

there is a need to re-evaluate the SCI and SSCI list of journals to include

quality journals in the developing countries. In the long run, the relevant

scientific community could also think about establishing an international

panel to make decisions on the selection of journals for these indices,

given their important influence. The recent move by Thomson Reuters,

the parent company of ISI, to expand its coverage of the SCI list by adding

700 regional academic journals is a step in the right direction.4

English has become the de facto global language of science. Developing

countries should invest in public institutions to provide translation

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C h a p t e r 1 7 AcAdemic Arguments 411

services so that global scientific progress can be disseminated quickly.

Developing countries can learn from Japan, a world leader in collecting

scientific information and making it available to the public in the local

language. At the same time, there should also be international institu-

tions to provide similar services to the global science community so that

“results and the knowledge generated through research should be freely

accessible to all,” as advocated by Nobel Laureates John Sulston and

Joseph Stiglitz.5

When setting agendas, governments in developing countries must be

careful in allocating their resources for science to achieve a balance

between following the science frontier globally and addressing crucial

domestic needs. A balance should also be struck between generating

knowledge and disseminating and using knowledge. In addition, the

global science community has a responsibility to help those developing

countries that do not have adequate resources to solve problems


Finally, special efforts should be made to differentiate between

pseudoscience and genuine scientific research. For the latter, one should

tolerate or even encourage such indigenous research efforts in developing

countries even if they do not fit the recognized international science para-

digm. After all, the real advantage of a globalized scientific enterprise is

not just doing the same research at a global scale, but doing new and

exciting research in an enriched fashion.


1. Charles Leadbeater and James Wilsdon, The Atlas of Ideas: How Asian Inno- vation Can Benefit Us All (Demos, 2007).

2. Y. Xie et al., “Good Submissions Went Overseas—Chinese S&T Journals Could Not Keep Up with Their Overseas Peers,” Chinese Youth Daily, June 25, 2008.

3. http://ec.europa.eu/nanotechnology/pdf/nano_com_en_new.pdf 4. http://scientific.thomsonreuters.com/press/2008/8455931/ 5. Joseph Stiglitz and John Sulston, “Science is Being Held Back by Outdated

Laws,” The Times, July 5, 2008.

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In making and supporting claims for academic arguments, writers use all kinds of evidence: data from journal articles; scholarly books; records from archives; blogs, wikis, social media sites, and other digital sources; personal observations and fieldwork; surveys; and even DNA. But such evidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Instead, the quality of evidence — how and when it was collected, by whom, and for what purposes — may become part of the argument itself. Evidence may be persuasive in one time and place but not in another; it may convince one kind of audience but not another; it may work with one type of argument but not with the kind you are writing. The point is that finding “good” evidence for a research project is rarely a simple matter.

Considering the Rhetorical Situation

To be most persuasive, evidence should match the time and place in which you make your argument — that is to say, your rhetorical situation.

Left to right: © Wavebreakmedia, Ltd./age fotostock; www.CartoonStock.com; © Zoonar M Kang/age fotostock

Finding Evidence 18


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C h a p t e r 1 8 Finding EvidEncE 413

For example, arguing that government officials in the twenty-first cen- tury should use the same policies to deal with economic troubles that were employed in the middle of the twentieth might not be convincing on its own. After all, almost every aspect of the world economy has changed in the past fifty years. In the same way, a writer may achieve excellent results by citing a detailed survey of local teenagers as evi- dence for education reform in her small rural hometown, but she may have less success using the same evidence to argue for similar reforms in a large inner-city community.

College writers also need to consider the fields that they’re working in. In disciplines such as experimental psychology or economics, quanti- tative data — the sort that can be observed and counted — may be the best evidence. In many historical, literary, or philosophical studies, how- ever, the same kind of data may be less appropriate or persuasive, or even impossible to come by. As you become more familiar with a disci- pline, you’ll gain a sense of what it takes to support a claim. The follow- ing questions will help you understand the rhetorical situation of a particular field:

● What kinds of data are preferred as evidence? How are such data gathered and presented?

● How are definitions, causal analyses, evaluations, analogies, and examples used as evidence?

● How does the field use firsthand and secondhand sources as evi- dence? What kinds of data are favored?

● How are statistics or other numerical information used and presented as evidence? Are tables, charts, or graphs commonly used? How much weight do they carry?

● What or who counts as an authority in this field? How are the creden- tials of authorities established?

● What weight do writers in the field give to precedence — that is, to examples of similar actions or decisions made in the past?

● Is personal experience allowed as evidence? When?

● How are quotations used as part of evidence?

● How are still or moving images or sound(s) used as part of evidence, and how closely are they related to the verbal parts of the argument being presented?

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As these questions suggest, evidence may not always travel well from one field to another. Nor does it always travel easily from culture to cul- ture. Differing notions of evidence can lead to arguments that go nowhere fast. For instance, when Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci inter- viewed Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, in 1979, she argued in a way that’s common in North American and Western European cul- tures: she presented claims that she considered to be adequately backed up with facts (“Iran denies freedom to people. . . . Many people have been put in prison and even executed, just for speaking out in opposition”). In response, Khomeini relied on very different kinds of evidence — analogies (“Just as a finger with gangrene should be cut off so that it will not destroy the whole body, so should people who corrupt others be pulled out like weeds so they will not infect the whole field”) and, above all, the authority of the Qur’an. Partly because of these differing beliefs about what counts as evidence, the interview ended unsuccessfully.

The need for evidence depends a lot on the rhetorical situation. © Mick Stevens/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

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Using Data and Evidence from Research Sources

The evidence you will use in most academic arguments — books, articles, videos, documents, photographs and other images — will likely come from sources you locate in libraries, in databases, or online. How well you can navigate these complex territories will determine the success of many of your academic and professional projects. Research suggests that most students overestimate their ability to manage these tools and, perhaps more important, don’t seek the help they need to find the best materials for their projects. We can’t cover all the nuances of doing academic research here, but we can at least point you in the right directions.

CUltURal ContExtS foR aRgUmEnt

the Rhetorical Situation

To take another example, a Harvard Business Review blog post from December 4, 2013, on “How to Argue across Cultures” recounts the story of a Western businessperson who was selling bicycles produced in China to a buyer in Germany. When the business owner went to pick up the bicycles, he noticed that they rattled. In considering how to bring up this defect with the Chinese supplier, the businessperson could have confronted him directly, relying on physical evidence to support his claim. He rejected this form of evidence, however, because he knew that such a confrontation would result in loss of face for the supplier and very likely lead to an undesirable outcome. So instead, he suggested that he and the Chinese supplier take a couple of bikes out for a ride, during which the bikes rattled away. At the end of the ride, the Western businessperson quietly mentioned that he “thought his bike had rattled” and then departed, leaving the Chinese supplier to consider his subtle presentation of evidence. And it worked: when the Germans received the bicycle delivery, the rattle had been repaired.

It’s always good to remember, then, that when arguing across cul- tural divides, whether international or more local, you need to think carefully about how you’re accustomed to using evidence — and about what counts as evidence to other people (without surrendering your own intellectual principles).

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Explore library resources: printed works and databases. Your college library has printed materials (books, periodicals, reference works) as well as ter- minals that provide access to its electronic catalogs, other libraries’ cata- logs via the Internet, and numerous proprietary databases (such as Academic Search Complete, Academic OneFile, JSTOR) not available publicly on the Web. Crucially, libraries also have librarians whose job it is to guide you through these resources, help you identify reputable materi- als, and show you how to search for materials efficiently. The best way to begin a serious academic argument then is often with a trip to the library or a discussion with your professor or librarian. Also be certain that you know your way around the library. If not, ask the staff there to help you locate the following tools: general and specialized encyclopedias; bio- graphical resources; almanacs, yearbooks, and atlases; book and periodi- cal indexes; specialized indexes and abstracts; the circulation computer or library catalog; special collections; audio, video, and art collections; and the interlibrary loan office.

At the outset of a project, determine what kinds of sources you will need to support your project. (You might also review your assignment to see whether you’re required to consult different kinds of sources.) If you’ll use print sources, find out whether they’re readily available in your library or whether you must make special arrangements (such as an interlibrary loan) to acquire them. For example, your argument for a senior thesis might benefit from material available mostly in old news- papers and magazines: access to them might require time and ingenuity. If you need to locate other nonprint sources (such as audiotapes, video- tapes, artwork, or photos), find out where those are kept and whether you need special permission to examine them.

Most academic resources, however, will be on the shelves or available electronically through databases. Here’s when it’s important to under- stand the distinction between library databases and the Internet/Web. Your library’s computers hold important resources that aren’t on the Web or aren’t available to you except through the library’s system. The most important of these resources is the library’s catalog of its holdings (mostly books), but college libraries also pay to subscribe to scholarly databases — for example, guides to journal and magazine articles, the Academic Search Complete database (which holds the largest collection of multidisciplinary journals), the LexisNexis database of news stories and legal cases, and compilations of statistics — that you can use for free.

You should consult these electronic sources through your college library, perhaps even before turning to the Web. But using these

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professional databases isn’t always easy or intuitive, even when you can reach them on your own computer. You likely need to learn how to focus and narrow your searches (by date, field, types of material, and so on) so that you don’t generate unmanageable lists of irrelevant items. That’s when librarians or your instructor can help, so ask them for assistance. They expect your questions.

For example, librarians can draw your attention to the distinction between subject headings and keywords. The Library of Congress Sub- ject Headings (LCSH) are standardized words and phrases that are used to classify the subject matter of books and articles. Library catalogs and databases usually use the LCSH headings to index their contents by author, title, publication date, and subject headings. When you do a sub- ject search of the library’s catalog, you need to use the exact wording of the LCSH headings. On the other hand, searches with keywords use the computer’s ability to look for any term in any field of the electronic record. So keyword searching is less restrictive, but you’ll have to think hard about your search terms to get usable results and to learn how to limit or expand your search.

Determine, too, early on, how current your sources need to be. If you must investigate the latest findings about, say, a new treatment for malaria, check very recent periodicals, medical journals, and the Web. If you want broader, more detailed coverage and background information, look for scholarly books. If your argument deals with a specific time period, newspapers, magazines, and books written during that period may be your best assets.

How many sources should you consult for an academic argument? Expect to look over many more sources than you’ll end up using, and be sure to cover all major perspectives on your subject. Read enough sources to feel comfortable discussing it with someone with more knowledge than you. You don’t have to be an expert, but your readers should sense that you are well informed.

Explore online resources. Chances are your first instinct when you need to find information is to do a quick keyword search on the Web, which in many instances will take you to a source in Wikipedia, the free encyclo- pedia launched by Jimmy Wales in 2001. For years, many teachers and institutions argued that the information on Wikipedia was suspect and could not be used as a reliable source. Times have changed, however, and many serious research efforts now include a stop at Wikipedia. As always, however, let the buyer beware: you need to verify the credibility

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of all of your sources! If you intend to support a serious academic argu- ment, remember to approach the Web carefully and professionally.

Like the catalogs and databases in your college library, the Internet offers two ways to search for sources related to an argument — one using subject categories and one using keywords. A subject directory organized by categories (such as you might find at About.com) allows you to choose a broad category like “entertainment” or “science,” and then click on increasingly narrow categories like “movies” or “astronomy,” and then “thrillers” or “the solar system,” until you reach a point where you’re given a list of Web sites or the opportunity to do a keyword search.

With the second kind of Internet search option, a search engine, you start right off with a keyword search — filling in a blank, for example, on Google’s homepage. Because the Internet contains vastly more material than even the largest library catalog or database, exploring it with a search engine requires careful choices and combinations of keywords. For an argument about the fate of the antihero in contemporary films, for example, you might find that film and hero produce far too many pos- sible matches, or hits. You might further narrow the search by adding a third keyword — say, American or current. In doing such searches, you’ll need to observe the search logic that is followed by a particular data- base. Using and between keywords (movies and heroes) usually indicates that both terms must appear in a file for it to be called up. Using or between keywords usually instructs the computer to locate every file in which either one word or the other shows up, and using not tells the computer to exclude files containing a particular word from the search results (movies not heroes).

More crucial with a tool like Google is to discover how the resources of the site itself can refine your choice or direct you to works better suited to academic argument. When you search for any term, you can click “Advanced Search” at the bottom of the results page and bring up a full screen of options to narrow your search in important ways.

But that’s not the end of your choices. With an academic argument, you might want to explore your topic in either Google Books or Google Scholar. Both resources send you to the level of materials you might need for a term paper or professional project. And Google offers other options as well: it can direct you to images, photographs, blogs, and so on. The lesson is simple. If your current Web searches typically involve no more than using the first box that a search engine offers, you aren’t close to using all the power available to you. Explore that tool you use all the time and see what it can really do.

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Collecting Data on Your own

Not all your supporting materials for an academic argument must come from print or online sources. You can present research that you have car- ried out or been closely involved with; this kind of research usually requires that you collect and examine data. Here, we discuss the kinds of firsthand research that student writers do most often.

Most search engines offer many kinds of research tools like this “Advanced Search” page from search.com. Explore them from the “More” and “Even More” menus on search pages.

SEaRChing onlinE oR in DatabaSES

• Don’t rely on simple Web searches only.

• Find library databases targeted to your subject.

• Use advanced search techniques to focus your search.

• Learn the difference between subject heading and keyword searches.

• Understand the differences between academic and popular sources.

• Admit when you don’t know how to find material — you won’t be alone!

• Routinely ask for help from librarians and instructors.

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Perform experiments. Academic arguments can be supported by evi- dence you gather through experiments. In the sciences, data from exper- iments conducted under rigorously controlled conditions is highly valued. For other kinds of writing, more informal experiments may be acceptable, especially if they’re intended to provide only part of the sup- port for an argument.

If you want to argue, for instance, that the recipes in Bon Appétit magazine are impossibly tedious to follow and take far more time than the average person wishes to spend preparing food, you might ask five or six people to conduct an experiment — following two recipes from a recent issue and recording and timing every step. The evidence that you gather from this informal experiment could provide some concrete support — by way of specific examples — for your contention.

But such experiments should be taken with a grain of salt (maybe organic in this case). They may not be effective with certain audiences. And if your experiments can easily be attacked as skewed or sloppily done (“The people you asked to make these recipes couldn’t cook a Pop- Tart”), then they may do more harm than good.

make observations. “What,” you may wonder, “could be easier than observing something?” You just choose a subject, look at it closely, and record what you see and hear. But trained observers say that recording an observation accurately requires intense concentration and mental agility. If observing were easy, all eyewitnesses would provide reliable stories. Yet experience shows that when several people observe the same phenomenon, they generally offer different, sometimes even con- tradictory, accounts of those observations.

Before you begin an observation yourself, decide exactly what you want to find out, and anticipate what you’re likely to see. Do you want to observe an action that is repeated by many people — perhaps how people behave at the checkout line in a grocery store? Or maybe you want to study a sequence of actions — for instance, the stages involved in stu- dent registration, which you want to argue is far too complicated. Or maybe you are motivated to examine the interactions of a notoriously contentious campus group. Once you have a clear sense of what you’ll analyze and what questions you’ll try to answer through the observa- tion, use the following guidelines to achieve the best results:

● Make sure that the observation relates directly to your claim.

● Brainstorm about what you’re looking for, but don’t be rigidly bound to your expectations.

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● Develop an appropriate system for collecting data. Consider using a split notebook page or screen: on one side, record the minute details of your observations; on the other, record your thoughts or impressions.

● Be aware that the way you record data will affect the outcome, if only in respect to what you decide to include in your observational notes and what you leave out.

● Record the precise date, time, and place of the observation(s).

You may be asked to prepare systematic observations in various sci- ence courses, including anthropology or psychology, where you would follow a methodology and receive precise directions. But observation can play a role in other kinds of arguments and use various media: a photo essay, for example, might serve as an academic argument in some situations.

Conduct interviews. Some evidence is best obtained through direct interviews. If you can talk with an expert — in person, on the phone, or online — you might obtain information you couldn’t have gotten through any other type of research. In addition to an expert opinion, you might ask for firsthand accounts, biographical information, or suggestions of other places to look or other people to consult. The following guidelines will help you conduct effective interviews:

● Determine the exact purpose of the interview, and be sure it’s directly related to your claim.

● Set up the interview well in advance. Specify how long it’ll take, and if you wish to record the session, ask permission to do so.

● Prepare a written list of both factual and open-ended questions. (Brain- storming with friends can help you come up with good questions.) Leave plenty of space for notes after each question. If the interview proceeds in a direction that you hadn’t expected but that seems prom- ising, don’t feel that you have to cover every one of your questions.

● Record the subject’s full name and title, as well as the date, time, and place of the interview.

● Be sure to thank those people whom you interview, either in person or with a follow-up letter or email message.

A serious interview can be eye-opening when the questions get a subject to reveal important experiences or demonstrate his or her knowledge or wisdom.

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Use questionnaires to conduct surveys. Surveys usually require the use of questionnaires. Questions should be clear, easy to understand, and designed so that respondents’ answers can be easily analyzed. Ques- tions that ask respondents to say “yes” or “no” or to rank items on a scale (1 to 5, for example, or “most helpful” to “least helpful”) are par- ticularly easy to tabulate. Because tabulation can take time and effort, limit the number of questions you ask. Note also that people often resent being asked to answer more than about twenty questions, espe- cially online.

Here are some other guidelines to help you prepare for and carry out a survey:

● Ask your instructor if your college or university requires that you get approval from the local Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct survey research. Many schools waive this requirement if students are doing such research as part of a required course, but you should check to make sure. Securing IRB permission usually requires filling out a series of online forms, submitting all of your questions for approval, and asking those you are surveying to sign a consent form saying they agree to participate in the research.

● Write out your purpose in conducting the survey, and make sure that its results will be directly related to your purpose.

● Brainstorm potential questions to include in the survey, and ask how each relates to your purpose and claim.

● Figure out how many people you want to contact, what the demo- graphics of your sample should be (for example, men in their twen- ties or an equal number of men and women), and how you plan to reach these people.

● Draft questions that are as free of bias as possible, making sure that each calls for a short, specific answer.

● Think about possible ways that respondents could misunderstand you or your questions, and revise with these points in mind.

● Test the questions on several people, and revise those questions that are ambiguous, hard to answer, or too time-consuming to answer.

● If your questionnaire is to be sent by mail or email or posted on the Web, draft a cover letter explaining your purpose and giving a clear deadline. For mail, provide an addressed, stamped return envelope.

In his article “Immigrants Who Speak

Indigenous Languages encounter

Isolation,” Kirk Semple draws on

several different surveys to provide

the necessary factual grounding for

his argument.

link to P. 573

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● On the final draft of the questionnaire, leave plenty of space for answers.

● Proofread the final draft carefully. Typos will make a bad impression on those whose help you’re seeking.

● After you’ve done your tabulations, set out your findings in clear and easily readable form, using a chart or spreadsheet if possible.

A key requirement of survey questions is that they be easy to understand. © George Price/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

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Draw upon personal experience. Personal experience can serve as pow- erful evidence when it’s appropriate to the subject, to your purpose, and to the audience. If it’s your only evidence, however, personal experience usually won’t be sufficient to carry the argument. Your experiences may be regarded as merely “anecdotal,” which is to say possibly exceptional, unrepresentative, or even unreliable. Nevertheless, personal experience can be effective for drawing in listeners or readers, as James Parker does in the following example. His full article goes on to argue that — in spite of his personal experience with it — the “Twee revolution” has some good things going for it, including an “actual moral application”:

Eight years ago or so, the alternative paper I was working for sent me out to review a couple of folk-noise-psych-indie-beardie-weirdie bands. I had a dreadful night. The bands were bad enough — “fumbling,” I scratched in my notebook, “infantile” — but what really did me in was the audience. Instead of baying for the blood of these lightweights . . . the gathered young people — behatted, bebearded, besmiling — obliged them with patters of validating applause. I had seen it before, this fond curiosity, this acclamation of the undercooked, but never so much of it in

Wes Anderson, film’s primary advocate of Twee, and Moonrise Kingdom Indian Paintbrush/The Kobal Collection

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one place: the whole event seemed to exult in its own half-bakedness. Be as crap as you like was the message to the performers. The crapper, the better. We’re here for you. I tottered home, wrote a homicidally nasty ner- vous breakdown of a review, and decided I should take myself out of circulation for a while. No more live reviews until I calmed down. A wave of Twee — as I now realize — had just broken over my head.

— James Parker, The Atlantic, July/August 2014, p. 36

R E S P O N D. 1. The following is a list of general topic ideas from the Yahoo! Directo-

ry’s “Issues and Causes” page. Narrow one or two of the items down to a more specific subject by using research tools in the library or online such as scholarly bo