1 How persuasive is this argument? 1 (not at all). 7 (very) NIU should require all students to pass a comprehensive exam in order to graduate because such exams have been shown to be effective for improving achievement and marketability. For instance, a five-year study by the National Scholarship Achievement Board found that the grade point average of undergraduates at universities adopting a comprehensive graduation exam increased by 31% while schools without comprehensive exams showed no improvement during the same period. The study also found that graduating seniors from schools with a comprehensive exam received 20% higher salaries and were 35% more likely to get a job upon graduation than seniors who came from colleges without comprehensive exams. Therefore, NIU should institute a comprehensive exam policy.
2 Ignoring counter-claims makes arguments less persuasive Many students reading this argument might not feel this argument to be very persuasive because they can think of objections to a comprehensive exam policy that are not addressed by the author. List some objections to comprehensive exams
3 Ignoring counter-claims makes arguments less persuasive Many students reading this argument might not feel this argument to be very persuasive because they can think of objections to a comprehensive exam policy that are not addressed by the author. List some objections to comprehensive exams Comprehensive exams can be stressful for some students an unnecessary burden might lower graduation rates making the school less attractive to new applicants
4 Ignoring counter-claims makes arguments less persuasive It is natural to think of opposing information when you disagree with an author s claim. When you try to persuade people without taking into account their possible objections, you will generally not be as effective as when you do address the objections. Therefore it is best not to ignore counter information but to instead: * raise them AND * try to weaken them. Which counter-claims you address depends on your expected audience (e.g., state legislature, other students).
5 Audience can affect what is required in an argument A minimal argument is a claim supported by at least one reason. This may be adequate when you expect your audience to be favorable toward your position. Most of the time, however, arguments are written for a mixed audience, including some that may be openly hostile to your claim. Intelligent people frequently disagree over positions that may seem self-evident or unassailable. It is important to understand the views of a prospective audience and carefully consider exactly what the points of contention are and then rebut expected objections with reasons that would be acceptable to your audience.
6 Audience can affect what is required in an argument Studies have shown that people find arguments that acknowledge but rebut the other side to be more persuasive than either one-sided arguments or arguments that mention the other side without rebutting it. Therefore, a quality argument has a claim, multiple reasons, at least one counter-claim, and a rebuttal. Argument = main claim + pro-reasons + counter-claim + rebuttal
7 Example of a more complete argument Incomplete Argument = main claim + pro-reasons The comprehensive exam example only has two components: main claim: NIU should require all students to pass a comprehensive exam in order to graduate pro-reasons: they have been shown to be effective in improving achievement they have been shown to be effective in improving marketability. Good only if preaching to the converted!
8 Example of a more complete argument More complete Argument = main claim + pro-reasons + counter-claim + rebuttal If the argument is intended for a mixed or hostile audience (such as current students at NIU), a more complete argument would also include: counter: Although, many students might find such exams stressful rebuttal: the benefits of an easier job search, especially one resulting in a better paying job, will reduce more future stress.
9 Professor expectations Our research has found that most college students don t include counters because they think it weakens their argument. Professors, however, assume that students know that effective arguments contain all 4 components. Although they usually do not directly instruct students to include a counterclaim and rebuttal, they will judge the argument as ineffective and incomplete. So assume: Argument = main claim + pro-reasons + counter-claim + rebuttal
10 Impression management In addition to increasing the persuasiveness of your argument, presenting counter-information creates a better impression of you, the author. By acknowledging opponents arguments, you present yourself as: Credible Fair, open-minded, and unthreatened by others positions. Many people consider a one-sided argument to be fallacious. This fallacy is called stacking the deck when you present evidence that supports only your side of the issue. Objective and reasonable in presenting an informed perspective Knowledgeable of a wide range of facts, beliefs and evidence
11 Begin with planning To write a convincing argument, one has to begin with a little planning. Lack of planning is the biggest reason for ineffective arguments. When planning, try to do the following: 1. Identify target audiences. 2. Select strongest pro-reasons for audiences. 3. List potential counter-arguments. 4. Select counter-argument(s) to include. 5. Respond to counter-argument(s). All of this may take only a few minutes but it will make your argument much stronger.
12 Identify target audiences You want to consider who you are attempting to persuade or at least who you will be addressing. What objections might they have to your position? 1. First, try to be as concrete as possible in visualizing these audiences. * Who is a prototypical member? * Brainstorm through different characteristics, such as their vocation, age, gender, culture, leisure activities, religious beliefs, educational background, income level. * Each different group you can identify can be viewed as an audience that you will be trying to persuade.
13 Identify target audiences 2. Second, consider your target audiences beliefs. Think about their opinions, attitudes and perspectives to try to figure out what their objections might be. 3. Finally, consider your target audiences knowledge. How much do you have to tell them and how can you connect.
14 Consider target audiences knowledge Most audiences are likely to have a range of knowledge about any given topic (e.g., very little more than you). As a writer, your task is to both inform and persuade, so you will need to provide an appropriate amount of information as background for your argument and to explain your reasons. Gauging the appropriate level can be difficult. You don t want to bore knowledgeable members and you don t want to completely lose the unknowledgeable ones.
15 For a class paper: Consider target audiences knowledge you can generally assume that your audience is intelligent but somewhat uninformed. part of your job is to show that you can explain and elaborate on information you have learned in the class. students often incorrectly assume an intelligent AND informed audience. For a general audience: you want to direct your presentation to a moderately informed member. Provide information in a manner that reminds them of pertinent facts but does not lecture them.
16 Consider target audiences beliefs It is critical to determine the general disposition of your audience to your claim. If this is unknown, you should consider your audience a mixture of people who are friendly, hostile, and ambivalent toward your claim. Friendly Members Hostile or unfriendly Members Ambivalent Members Uninformed/Undecided Members
17 Consider target audiences beliefs Friendly Members have already thought about the issue and agree with your position. generally, no need to persuade, just shore up belief. for them, it is sufficient to present familiar pro-reasons but select those that won t alienate other members
18 Consider target audiences beliefs Hostile or unfriendly Members have thought about the issue and disagree, perhaps strongly, with your position maybe best you can hope for is to get them to appreciate your side you need to address their objections and provide rebuttals show you understand their perspective and beliefs show you are knowledgeable and fair
19 Consider target audiences beliefs Ambivalent Members have thought about the issue, may have a pro or con leaning, but can see both sides and are not strongly committed to a particular position great to target because they are more persuadable than the first two groups you want them to see you dealing with opposition objections but pitch your rebuttal arguments to them and use reasons that would be acceptable to them.
20 Consider target audiences beliefs Uninformed/Undecided Members may or may not have thought about or care about the issue if they make up a sizeable portion of your audience, you want to both inform and interest them in the issue you have an opportunity to create their first impression of your side make it a positive, memorable one
21 PRACTICE: Claim: NIU should institute a comprehensive exam policy. Say: Friendly, hostile, ambivalent, undecided/unknowledgable audience And Why? 1. Current and prospective students. 2. People who have not attended college. 3. Employers who want well-educated workers. 4. Honors students who want to be highly competitive in the job market. 5. Professors who to help motivate students to learn.
22 1. Current and prospective students. Hostile: Students probably won t want to take the exam. 2. People who have not attended college. Undecided: People unfamiliar with college likely won t have a firm opinion. 3. Employers who want well-educated workers. Friendly: Employers might believe the exam will improve the quality of prospective workers. 4. Honors students who want to be highly competitive in the job market. Ambivalent: On the one hand, honors students probably believe they can do well on the exam and that it may increase the value of their degree. On the other hand, they probably don t want the added external pressure. 5. Professors who to help motivate students to learn. Friendly: Professors may think an exam will help motive students to take school more seriously and study harder to retain what they have taught.
23 Select strongest pro-reasons for target audience Strong reasons for audience. Reasons are not absolutely strong or weak. The strength of a reason depends on who you are trying to convince. What are your strongest reasons or evidence to persuade each audience? They may not necessarily be all the ones you, personally, think are best. Try to think from your audience s perspective and select those that will be most persuasive to your audience.
24 Select strongest pro-reasons for target audience Eliminate weak reasons for audience. Leave out reasons or evidence that may be viewed as irrelevant, untrue, or unimportant to this audience. Also, try to select reasons that will not alienate other members of the audience. This is challenging when the audience is mixed.
25 Select strongest pro-reasons for target audience Engaging introduction. Try to find any common ground or points that you and the audience agree upon. Often it is best to start with this to engage your audience and break through any resistant attitudes they may have adopted before even reading your argument.
26 List potential counter-arguments for target audience Begin by thinking about each of these audiences and try to list as many reasons why each group may disagree with you as you can think of in a few minutes. Try to identify any strong opinions or beliefs they have about your claim or topic. Brainstorm only at this point! Don t begin evaluating until you have listed all the reasons you can. If you have trouble thinking, try to write down your own assumptions. Are any of your assumptions questionable to this audience? These will be potential counter-arguments that you should address.
27 Select counter for target audience You obviously can t address every objection. The main thing is to identify the one or two most important counterarguments and address them.
28 Select counter for target audience Select counter-arguments based on: 1. Necessity. If there is a counter-argument that very readily comes to your mind, then it will also come to the minds of your audience members. If you address it, your audience will likely be more receptive of the rest of your message. 2. Prospects for success. Other things being equal, select counter-arguments for which you have the best rebuttal arguments. If you can, avoid presenting weak arguments or ones whose reason wouldn t be acceptable to your audience. Such arguments work against you by making you look unreasonable and inconsiderate of your audience
29 Response to counter-arguments Approach to counter-arguments. There are many ways to deal with a counter-argument. You have to decide whether you want to concede, dismiss or rebut the counter-claim or qualify one of your own claims or reasons in response to it. 1. Concessions A concession is where you accept a counterargument. 2. Dismiss A dismissal is where you assert that counterargument is simply false or irrelevant. 3. Rebuttal A rebuttal is an argument against a counter-claim. 4. Add a qualifier In the face of a strong counter-argument, one might avoid an outright concession by qualifying one s own claim. This means limiting the scope or degree of certainty that you have asserted.
30 Response: Concession Concession is where you recognize or accept part of the opposing view but contest another part. You essentially say that some fact or belief is true. For example, It is true that many students might find it stressful to take a comprehensive exam. Notice that in a concession you acknowledge that there is some merit to the audiences worries or beliefs. Often people also make it clear that the concession doesn t weaken their main claim by stating that it is not as important as something else. For example, Although many students might find it stressful to take a comprehensive exam, that doesn t mean that it would not be worthwhile. Conceding a point can be an effective part of your presentation if the claim you accept is not central to your own position and your own rebuttal reason would be weak. So concede things that you actually think is true or that has strong support for. Do not concede things that are not so important that it will weaken your argument.
31 Special audience considerations: Response: Concession Conceding things you agree on makes you appear fair and creates common ground, especially to ambivalent and uninformed audiences. Care must be taken to not give the impression that your position has been compromised, especially to an uninformed audience who may not be able to properly assess the effect of the concession on your overall position. So it may be wise to briefly mention or explain how the point you concede it is not critical. For example, Although many students might find it stressful to take a comprehensive exam, stress is not always a bad thing. A moderate amount of stress may motivate them to learn the material at a level that they would otherwise not have reached. In fact, this actually bolsters the argument that comprehensive exams may produce better learning results.
32 Response: Dismiss Dismiss this is where you say the counter is not true or totally irrelevant. For example, Some say such exams are invalid measures of what people learn, but that is not true. Dismiss things that you think are wrong or not important to the argument. Do not dismiss things that you think your audience hold dear. Those will require a rebuttal. Special audience considerations: Dismissals should be done sparingly because they can offend audiences, especially hostile audiences, and make you appear unfair or inconsiderate. Unless you believe that an ambivalent or uninformed audience would see your assertion as self-evident, you should provide a backing argument for the dismissal thus making it a rebuttal and not simply a dismissal.
33 Response: Rebut Rebuttal this is where you argue against the opposing view by presenting reasons or evidence to show that it is weak, illogical, irrelevant, or factually wrong. For example, Some argue that comprehensive exams do more harm than good. However, several studies have shown that universities and colleges that use starting giving such exams got a reversal in the decline scores on standardized achievement test. Do this when you are mentioning a counter that, if conceded, would really weaken your argument. Do select rebuttals that you think will be acceptable to your audience. Just like reasons, rebuttals are not universally strong. Their power depends on the audience s beliefs and knowledge. Special audience considerations: The rebut, if done well, can reinforce a friendly audience s belief in the claim you are arguing for. A strong rebuttal can undercut other side arguments especially for ambivalent, uninformed and undecided members.
34 Response: Qualify or limit statements Sometimes the best thing to do is to not mention a counter but to actually limit your statement so the objection is no longer relevant. If you notice that one could easily object to your claims or assertion, you may come to clarify your own position better. If so, just add a qualifier to make your statements more true. For example, if you want to say: Students will undoubtedly learn more in college if they have to take a comprehensive exam. Someone may counter that by saying: Honors students already learn the most they can learn. Many students could not study any more given all their other responsibilities. By noticing this counter you may decide to change your statement slightly: Many students will learn more in college if they have to take a comprehensive exam.
35 Response: Qualify or limit statements Do qualify your claim appropriately so you can head off simple counterarguments. Special audience considerations: Appropriate qualification may create a positive impression on some audience members, but care must be taken to avoid giving the impression of a major concession. Some people interpret any qualifiers as indicating that the writer is unknowledgeable or uncertain. Others recognize them as necessary restrictions and may look suspiciously on certain kinds of statements that lack them. You must decide how your audience perceives qualifiers before using this response.
36 Writing to a hostile audience Potential problems. Finally, we should make a couple points about to think about when you are writing to a hostile or non-friendly audience. These suggestions we have come up with based on typical problems students have when dealing with hostile audiences. 1. Common ground. Students often focus on the differences in views. It is helpful to show that you understand others perspective and point out the things that you actually agree with. 2. Tone. One of the biggest problems students have in dealing with people they disagree with is the tone of the message. You don t want to talk down, insult, appear angry, attack or be sarcastic. It is important to treat your audience like they are intelligent and with respect. Attacking the person or treating their opinions as ignorant will make your audience more entrenched in their position. One tricky part of tone is to be careful to not use asides to get little digs in to attack or insult your audience. 3. Poor arguments. Often when students have not really worked to understand the audience s perspective, they try to just put in a weak counter to seem like they are trying to be fair or consider the audience. Also do not select a ridiculous or straw man version of their position. Doing so will make you appear unfair and rebutting it will not help persuade the audience. In fact, talk radio uses these poor versions of other counters to make their believers more convinced, not to actually address opposing audiences.
37 Global organization of the argument 1. Try to begin your argument by build a connection with audience and getting them to see the importance of the topic. This is where common ground comes in. 2. Make sure to provide enough information or background context so your audience will understand your position. This is where you need to consider your audiences knowledge or beliefs. But you definitely don t want to include background or details that are unnecessary. It is insulting and boring. 3. State your position clearly and present strong reasons that will be acceptable to your target audience. 4. Acknowledge the most obvious objection and rebut it if possible. Neutralizing objection will help the reader put that out of their mind for a while so they can attend to the rest of your argument. 5. Where you put your counter depends on your counter and your audience. If you have a mostly hostile audience, you could start with a thoughtful presentation of the opposition s perspective and slowly, over the course of the argument, show how your position is more appropriate given the evidence. This is called a Rogerian argument. If your audience is more mixed, you may want to put the counter and rebuttal where ever it would naturally come to the reader s mind. 6. End strong.
38 Exercise for identifying audience? 1. What kind of audience is the author addressing? 2. How did the author construct the text to work for that audience? i.e. Did he/she play to the prejudices of the audience? Did he/she sound antagonistic anywhere? Did he/she seek common ground? 3. Does any of the evidence seem slanted or biased? 4. Given an audience, which reasons would be persuasive? which may be an obvious objection?