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Chapter 10: Analyzing ArgumentsFrom this chapter, you’ll learn how writers typically introduce the point of their argument. how to pare an argument down to the basics in order to better understand it. how to detect errors in logic that indicate an author is excessively biased, or too prejudiced, to be fully trusted. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Common Introductions in ArgumentsArguments can be introduced any number of ways, but there are six common methods authors typically use. They are as follows: Contrast one opinion with another: “While it’s true that Facebook is good for social networking, it’s proving to be remarkably unsuccessful as a study tool.” Challenge a traditional belief: “For years, we’ve assumed that being an only child was a drawback, but, in fact, being an only child has real advantages.” Call for action: “Those who believe in and support the freedom of the Internet need to make themselves heard in both public and private forums. “ copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Common Introductions in Arguments4. Make a prediction: “When it comes to searching for information on the web, all the indicators suggest that within two years Facebook will have overtaken Google.” 5. Cite new research as evidence for a new perspective: “It’s long been assumed that students would find it easier to master their textbooks if the language and graphics were simplified. But recent studies in cognitive research, suggest that making texts simple may make remembering what those texts say harder, rather than easier.” 6. Evaluate a group, person, or argument: “ There are times when members of the television media seem an easy punching bag and criticism of how they cover key political and social events seems unfair and unfounded. But in the case of the flood that tore through Nashville in 2010, the furious criticism of media coverage, or more accurately, of its absence, seems not just fair but a necessary corrective to the media’s stunning neglect of this major disaster.” copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Spot Quiz Read the following passage and identify (1) the opinion being argued and (2) the method of introduction. In the first half of 2010, Google claimed that it had 4,200 requests for consumer information from law enforcement agencies. Already in 2009, the social media site Facebook had claimed that subpoenas from law enforcement were arriving at a rate of 10 to 20 per day. These kinds of numbers are hard evidence for what Susan Freiwald, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law as well as an expert on the issues surrounding electronic surveillance, has publicly pointed out. The main law governing the privacy of communication was enacted in This was long before cell phone, text messaging, tweeting, and ing were widespread. It was before social networking even existed. Thus the law is no longer capable of protecting personal privacy unless it is amended to take into account the new methods and means of communication. It’s definitely a take action introduction but it could also qualify as citing new research and using expert opinion (covered in support actually but experts could also introduce the main idea of an argument.) The opinion is pretty overt: The privacy law of 1986 is in need of revision. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Looking for Support An opinion does not an argument make. To be considered an argument and taken seriously, an opinion needs to have support. Like introductions, support for an opinion can take several different forms. Here are some of the most common: Reasons: Reasons are probably the main method of support used by authors who want to persuade readers to share their opinion, e.g. “Boxers need to wear helmets because so many aging boxers show the signs of early onset dementia, a cognitive impairment tied to multiple concussions. “ Personal Experience: One common way to support an opinion and, in addition, to get readers on your side, is to report personal experiences that support your position, e.g. “I never took very seriously those stories about dogs who saved their owner’s life, but that was before I had a heart attack and my dog got the neighbors’ attention by barking wildly through the window. Now I’m a believer. Dogs really do sense when their owners are in trouble.” Expert Opinion: Writers trying to persuade are very likely to call up the testimony of experts. This is the writer’s way of saying, People who know a lot about this subject agree with me, so you should too, for instance, “Web site design has to be clean and easy to use. What it doesn’t need to be is filled with noisy animation. As usability guru Jakob Nielsen has long pointed out, too many bells and whistles make viewers disappear.” copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012Looking for Support Statistics and Studies: Writers frequently cite studies or statistics to make their case. “Wellness programs in the workplace should not be viewed as an extra benefit employers provide to lure good people into their company. They are also a source of real profit for the employer who implements them. According to research conducted by Leonard L. Berry of Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs improve productivity and reduce absenteeism large margins. These are big benefits for the employer.” Examples: To make their point convincing writers frequently provide readers with several examples. “ Anyone who thinks that head injuries are a plague on professional football need to consider the number of former players who are now suffering from early onset dementia. It’s a long and sad list, one that includes Brent Boyd, a former NFL line man, who began experiencing symptoms in his forties. Also on the list is Hall of Fame player John Mackey. Listed too are the names of football power houses Jimmy Giles and Jerry Eckwood, and these are just a few of the many names that are being added daily. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Supporting DetailsIn 2010, WikiLeaks was much in the news for publishing thousands of documents that the government had classified as secret. Below is a response from Steven Aftergood, a scientist who has his own website, where he publishes information he thinks the public needs to have at its disposal in order to evaluate research. What’s his opinion and how does he support it? I’m all for the exposure of corruption, including classified corruption. And to the extent that WikiLeaks has done that, I support its actions. The problem is, it has done a lot more than that, much of which is problematic. It has invaded personal privacy. It has published libelous material. It has violated intellectual property rights. And above all, it has launched a sweeping attack not simply on corruption, but on secrecy itself. And I think that’s both a strategic and a tactical error. It’s a strategic error because some secrecy is perfectly legitimate and desirable. It’s a tactical error because it has unleashed a furious response from the U.S. government and other governments that I fear is likely to harm the interests of a lot of other people besides WikiLeaks who are concerned with open government. (Excerpted from an interview with Alternet December 3, 2010) Aftergood thinks that WikiLeaks has done more harm than good, and he offers reasons in support of his claim: Wikileaks has (1) invaded personal privacy (2) published libel (3) attacked the very notion of secrecy when some secrecy is necessary (4) unleashed a furious response from the government. A good follow up exercise might be to ask students to summarize the passage. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Supporting DetailsWhat is the author’s opinion and how is that opinion supported? Singer Bruno Mars has been on stage practically since he could walk, and it’s no surprise that his music is informed by the doo-wop* songs he sang with his dad Pete Hernandez, when young Bruno was barely out of diapers. Doo-wop music relied heavily on explicit rhyme and uncomplicated melodies, and to hear its influence on Mars, you need only listen to songs like “Grenade” with its unfussy, straight-forward rhyme scheme, “ I’d jump in front of a train for ya…/Take a bullet straight through my brain/Yes, I would die for you.” As Mars has said in the past, “I’m not going to Shakespeare it out.” Instead, he keeps it simple, just like his dad. (Adapted from Jonah Weiner. “Mr. Showbiz.” Rolling Stone. January 20, 2011,p. 51.) * Doo-wop music was a particular kind of music that emerged in the forties and has never gone out of fashion. It features uncomplicated rhyme, smooth harmonies, and the direct expression of emotion. The author says that Mars’s music has been influenced by the singer’s early performances with his father. The supporting details are an example of that influence. You might want to put out, given Chapter 2’s emphasis on allusions, how Mars uses Shakespeare as a shorthand allusion to complexity of language. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Supporting DetailsWhat is the author’s opinion and how is that opinion supported? “The pharmaceutical industry likes to claim that drugs are expensive because so much of the money earned has to go into research on new and promising medications to treat illness. However, the truth is that the industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research, and that’s a key reason why the medications we buy are so expensive. A big portion of the profits they earn go into advertizing. In fact, a new study by two York University researchers indicates that for every dollar earned, the pharmaceutical industry spent 24.4% on promotional efforts and 13.4 % on research and development. source of study and statistics: The center of the argument is that the pharmaceutical industry prices its drugs so high in order to spend more money on advertising and thereby sell more drugs. The support used here is the result of one study. You might want to point out to students that in a written argument of more than one paragraph, one study would not be enough support. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Spot Quiz: Supporting DetailsWhat is the author’s opinion and how is that opinion supported? My daughter’s experience playing soccer made me a believer in the importance of funding sports for girls. I had never taken much of an interest in sports myself as a kid, so I didn’t press my daughter to take an interest in them either. But then her teacher suggested that playing a sport could make a big difference in my shy and insecure daughter’s self confidence. I took the teacher’s advice and encouraged Melanie to play soccer, and it wasn’t long before I saw a huge difference in her behavior. She stopped looking in the mirror constantly to check her appearance and seemed genuinely excited about her performance in practice. She became more organized and more efficient with her time. Best of all she didn’t spend every waking hour talking on her cell or texting her best friend. She was too busy to waste her time talking about inconsequential matters. She wanted to be the field with her teammates. Most importantly she learned about the thrill of achievement and the desire for excellence. Sports programs for girls should be heavily funded and supported. We have always known that sports was a character builder for boys. It’s time to recognize that it does the same for girls. The argument goes something like this: Sports in school are important for girls because they improve girls’ sense of what they can accomplish and give them self-discipline. Support: My daughter changed dramatically and for the better by playing sports. Here again, students need to know that this is fine for an opening illustration but not enough evidence overall to make the argument convincing. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012A Word to the Wise Personal examples or anecdotes work best in tandem with reasons and studies. They enliven the writing so that readers don’t get restless. They also encourage readers to be sympathetic to those writers willing to share their experiences. But as for making you share the writer’s opinion, don’t rush into doing that until you know more, even if the personal experience described encourages you to like the writer and makes you feel that you know him or her personally. That’s what writers strive to do--come alive for the reader. In part it’s a tactic to get you on their side. That’s fine as long as you keep in mind that the author is trying to influence you. In short, don’t rush to embrace, without thinking through, the ideas of authors you like because they employ an appealing tone. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Recognizing Errors in ReasoningSometimes writers get blinded by their own convictions. So convinced are they that they are right, they don’t offer any support for their claims. Instead, they say the same thing over and over assuming that eventually you’ll come to agree. Or else, they get mentally sloppy and use careless logic or reasoning. Here now are several ways writers can go wrong. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 20121. Irrelevant Reasons Supporting opinions with reasons is one of the key ways writers convince. But to be convincing reasons have to be relevant. They have to be related to the opinion they support. Unfortunately, writers who are heavily biased in favor of their own position are likely to forget the importance of relevance, for example: copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Example: Irrelevant ReasonMuch has recently been written about the role of women in combat during the Iraq War. Thus the time seems ripe to finally admit women into combat duty. In Iraq they were slipped in through the back door due to a lack of man power, but women in the military should routinely be used in combat roles. We are no longer living in the nineteenth century when women were believed to be weaker and frailer then men. Women are capable of leading huge organizations and fighting hard to stay on top. Surely we can now acknowledge their ability to be soldiers who go into combat and fight alongside their male peers. I think students will see that the toughness described here in the world of business is more mental than physical and understand that saying women can be in combat roles because they are strong enough to run big companies confuses two kinds of strength. This is important because one of the main arguments against women being put in combat roles focuses on their lesser physical strength. I don’t know how much time you have but this topic is still likely to incite a heated discussion and can be readily used for writing assignments and web research. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 20122. Circular Reasoning Sometimes writers are so convinced they are correct in their opinions, they can’t imagine any disagreement. Unable to imagine someone who disagrees, they don’t bother to support their opinion. Instead, they repeat it using different words. In other words, they paraphrase themselves and forget to give a reason or illustration in support of their point, for instance: copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Example: Circular ReasoningWhat was different about American politics in the past was that people cared; ordinary citizens were informed, and they stood up for what they believed in, making their will known to those they had elected. People today know nothing about the issues that profoundly affect their lives. They don’t know and they don’t care. They just hope things will get better, and when they don’t they complain. They don’t do anything about them. In that sense, they are very different from the generations of Americans who preceded them. A case could be made for this opinion, but this writer hasn’t done it; the second half of the paragraph pretty much says the same thing the first half does. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
3.Hasty GeneralizationsTo be meaningful, generalizations need to be backed by numerous individual examples. The broader the generalization, the more examples needed to back it up. This is a solid generalization: “Hurricanes are becoming a bigger threat to life and property than they were in the past. The number and intensity of hurricanes has tripled over the course of the last five years with a similar increase shown in mortality and property damage.” Ten years of increases is a lot of evidence to back that generalization. However, not all generalizations are so solid, for instance: copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Example: Hasty GeneralizationThis broad generalization, however, with its puny back up is way too hasty: Cats are dangerous to small children. My neighbor’s cat scratched his small daughter when she pulled the cat’s tail while trying to play with him. To make this claim about cats convincing, the writer would need to supply many more examples. Keep in mind that the broader the generalization the more examples you need. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
4. Inappropriate or Unidentified ExpertsIt makes perfect sense for writers to quote the statements of experts when they are arguing an opinion. Readers are rightly inclined to trust the word of experts who have years of training and experience on the subject under discussion. Unfortunately, in an effort to convince some writers don’t always worry if the experts they quote have the appropriate expertise. Sometimes, they don’t even tell readers who their experts are, preferring instead to say “It’s well know among researchers that….” Well maybe it is, but before you take that as a fact, you should probably determine if the writer says, somewhere else in the reading, who those researchers are. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Example: Inappropriate ExpertThe evidence in favor of charter schools continues to mount as a growing number of educational experts speak out in favor of the charter school movement, which they believe can profoundly improve the way we educate our children. As Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, said in a 2010 speech, “I really think that charters have the potential to revolutionize the way students are educated.” With all due respect, Mr. Gates does not really qualify as an “educational expert.” I’d be more likely to listen to Diane Ravitch, who has years of research on education under her belt. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Final Wrap: Analyzing ArgumentsWhat opinion does the author of the following express? How does the author support that opinion? The social networking site Facebook has not been particularly successful among the Japanese. Facebook users in Japan number fewer than two million, or less than 2 percent of the country’s online population. That is in sharp contrast to the United States, where 60 percent of all Internet users are on Facebook. (Source of Statistics:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/technology/10facebook.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all) Facebook hasn’t had much success among the Japanese—Note that the figures could well be interpreted differently in order to suggest that Facebook is building its base—and the support takes the form of statistics cited that seem to prove the author’s point. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Final Wrap: Analyzing ArgumentsWhat opinion is the author expressing? The author supports that opinion by ________ and ___________? Those convinced that the mass bird deaths in Arkansas at the beginning of 2011 are the result of the birds colliding with a spaceship need not be alarmed. Mass bird deaths are not common but they are also not signs of extraterrestrial invasion. They have occurred in the past, but during times when communication was not quite so rapid or easy, and people just didn’t know they occurred. Cold and wet weather, like Arkansas had on New Year's Eve when the birds fell out of the sky, is often associated with mass bird deaths. Pollution, parasites and disease have also been known to cause mass deaths. Since the 1970s, the U.S. Geological National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin has tracked mass deaths among birds, fish, and other animals, according to wildlife disease specialist LeAnn White. (Information from:http://www.valleynewslive.com/Global/story.asp?S= ) The mass bird deaths were not evidence of a space invasion; they are a normal occurrence. Reasons and expert opinion Three reasons are given to support the opinion (1) They have occurred in the past but people just didn’t know about the deaths (2) Such bird deaths are associated with cold and wet weather like Arkansas experienced on New Year’s Eve (3) Pollution, parasites and disease have also been causes. LeAnn White is the expert cited. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Final Wrap: Analyzing ArgumentsWhat point does the author make? What methods does the author use to introduce that point? What kind of support does the author use? The evidence keeps piling up indicating that many football players have suffered long-term, cognitive effects as a result of the physical injuries they endured on the field. If changes aren’t made to football equipment to offer players more protection against injury, the number of players suffering from cognitive impairment will continue to rise. Football helmets, for instance, need to be redesigned in order to offer players better protection from repeated concussions, which have long-term and devastating effects on the players who suffer them. A study commissioned by the National Football League reports that Alzheimer's disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league's former players vastly more often than in the national population--including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49. A similar study performed by researchers at Purdue University suggests that helmets must be constructed to offer improved protection against concussion injury. (Source of information:http://www.pennstateclips.com/2009/09/ot-one-out-of-every-six-nfl-players.html) Football helmets need to be redesigned to offer more protection against injury. Also possible, football equipment needs to be re-designed to give players more protection against injuries with helmets being the main example. The point of the argument is introduced via reference to the evidence that gets defined later on in the passage. The author gives a reason as support: They need to be re-designed to help players avoid getting the concussions that produce later cognitive impairment. The author also supplies studies in support of that reason. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
Final Wrap: Analyzing ArgumentsWhat is the point the author wants readers to agree with? How is that point introduced? What errors in reasoning mar the argument? Laws against animal cruelty laws vary from state to state, but most states do make abuse of animals a criminal felony, which involves serving a term in prison. Treating animal abuse as a felony needs to become a consistent policy of every state in the nation, not just to protect animals but also to protect people. Numerous studies have consistently shown that people who abuse animals are likely to go on and take human victims. This is a fact eloquently documented in Dr. Helen Sayers book “Animals Are Only the Beginning.” The introduction uses a “We need to take action” approach. The point argued is the need to treat animal abuse as a felony. The author gives a reason for that claim. Making animal abuse a felony would protect people as well as animals. (You might want to talk here about the underlying premise of how prison would make the abuser stop, something I wonder about although I support the idea of animal abuse being a felony). The errors in reasoning are (1) not identifying the studies (2) not indicating the credentials of the author and while you are at it, calling the conclusion of the studies a “fact.” A different study might well show the opposite, and that conclusion would not be a fact either. It would be an interpretation of facts. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012What Do You Think? Should abusing animals be a felony with the punishment including prison time? Whatever your answer, can you offer an argument in support of your point of view. copyright © Laraine Flemming 2012
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