Week 7: Knowledge Check Reflection: Visual Rhetorical Analysis around YOU

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This Knowledge Check Reflection activity was adapted from assignment on p. 349 of your textbook. Please read the below instructions and produce a brief argument.  

Over the course of week seven, you need to take a photo of (5) different visual arguments you encounter throughout your week. These visual arguments need to be taken from stimuli around you but 2 of the 5 can be screencaps of arguments you experience online, but no more.  The goal is for you to notice visual arguments around you, I don’t want to just see popular online visual arguments that you looked up inorganically. 

These 5 occurrences of visual rhetoric need to use both verbal and visual elements. Analyze each images’ argument first by pointing out the claim(s) the visual argument makes and then explain how you came to that conclusion. As you analyze each of these images if you need extra help, consider the questions about multimodal texts offered in Chapter 16 on pp. 388-390. Your analysis should explicitly answer the following questions for each of your 5 visual arguments:

  • What is/are the claim(s) the visual argument makes?
  • What elements of the text communicate the argument?
  • Is this an explicit or implicit argument?
  • Describe the context in which you came across this visual argument (i.e. “I found this political bumper sticker when I was grocery shopping at my local target” “I found this advertisement in the magazine of my doctor’s office” etc.) 


  • Reflective exercise must meet a minimum of 500 words in length (total, not for each of the 5 visuals. Try and keep each visual analysis around 100-150 words)
  • Original Title at the top of your reflection “Walker WK1 Reflection” is not original. Try and think outside of the box and pull something unique and individual from our weekly assigned readings
  • Assignment will be Assessed using Knowledge Check Rubric Below 


A Note about the Cover

Is everything really an argument? Seeing the images on the cover of
this book might make you wonder. The “Free Speech Zone” sign, for
example, instantly calls to mind the debates across the United States
about the limits of free expression, especially on college campuses.
The ominous-looking hand coming out of the laptop suggests the ease
with which hackers obtain personal data. Does the image of teens
playing on cell phones in the back seat of a car argue for or against the
ways that technology is shaping how we are communicating with one
another? The polar bear on a shrinking ice floe reminds us of the
scientific fact of climate change but also invites a discussion of how
powerful visuals can sway our opinions and beliefs. As for the “100%
vegan” sticker, what’s your impression? Is it a proud proclamation of


one’s identity or values? A straightforward fact about a food’s origins?
A sharp commentary on the influence of advertising on the food
industry? What’s your take?





Eighth Edition

Everything’s an Argument with Readings
Andrea A. Lunsford


John J. Ruszkiewicz


Keith Walters



For Bedford/St. Martin’s

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When we began work on this text in 1996 (the first edition came out in
1998), we couldn’t have anticipated all the events of the next two
tumultuous decades, or all the changes to public and private discourse,
or the current deeply divided state of our nation. But we have tried
hard, over these decades, to track such changes and the ways rhetoric
and argument have evolved and responded to them.

Certainly, we recognized the increasingly important role digital culture
plays in all our lives, and so with each new edition we have included
more on the technologies of communication, particularly those
associated with social media; and we early on recognized that, like
rhetoric itself, social media can be used for good or for ill, to bring
people together or to separate them.

We have also carefully tracked the forms that arguments take today,
from cartoons and graphic narratives to blogs and other postings to
multimodal projects of almost every conceivable kind. While argument
has always surrounded us, today it does so in an amazing array of
genres and forms, including aural and visual components that
strengthen and amplify arguments.

The sheer proliferation of information (not to mention misinformation,
disinformation, and outright lies) that bombards all writers led us to
reaffirm our commitment to studying and teaching style, since (as
Richard Lanham and others argue) in the age of information overload,
style is the tool writers possess to try to capture and keep the attention
of audiences. Attention to style reveals other changes, such as the


increasing use of informal registers and conversational styles even in
academic arguments.

Perhaps most important, though, a look back over the last twenty-two
years reaffirms the crucial role that rhetoric can and should play in
personal, work, and school lives. At its best, rhetoric is the art, theory,
and practice of ethical communication, needed more sorely today than
perhaps ever before. Everything’s an Argument with Readings presents
this view of rhetoric and illustrates it with a fair and wide range of
perspectives and views, which we hope will inspire student writers to
think of themselves as rhetors, as Quintilian’s “good person, speaking

Key Features
Two books in one, neatly linked. Up front is a brief guide to
Aristotelian, Toulmin, and Rogerian argument; common types of
arguments; presenting arguments; and researching arguments. In the
back is a thematically organized anthology of readings in a wide range
of genres. Handy cross-references in the margins allow students to
move easily from the argument chapters to specific examples in the
readings and from the readings to appropriate rhetorical instruction.

Short, relatable excerpts weave in the debates that rage around us.
From #metoo tweets and protest posters to essays and scholarly
writing, boldfaced examples illustrate the arguments happening in
politics, economics, journalism, and media, with brief student-friendly

Five thematic readings chapters that encourage students to explore


complex arguments. Readings on “How Does Popular Culture
Stereotype You?,” “Has the Internet Destroyed Privacy?,” and “How
Free Should Campus Speech Be?” demand that students consider the
many sides of contemporary issues across the political spectrum, going
beyond a simple pro/con stance.

A real-world, full-color design that builds students’ understanding
of visual rhetoric. Presenting readings in the style of their original
publications helps students recognize and think about the effect that
design and visuals have on written and multimodal arguments.

New to This Edition
A new section on rhetorical listening in Chapter 1. The very first
chapter of the eighth edition now emphasizes the importance of
listening rhetorically and respectfully, encouraging readers to move
beyond “echo chambers” and build bridges among all viewpoints.

Eight new full-length models in the guide provide engaging, topical
arguments of fact, definition, evaluation, cause and effect, proposals,
and rhetorical analysis. Legal scholar Stephen L. Carter offers a
Toulmin analysis of whether racial epithets should be considered free
speech, while New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof presents an
op-ed in defense of public wilderness.

Five new annotated student essays address topics students care about,
from millennials’ love of food to breaking a social media addiction.

Thirty-one engaging new readings on hot-button issues such as free
speech, food, language, privacy, and stereotypes. Selections


represent a range of genres and span the full gamut of social and
political views, including:

excerpts from a recent Gallup poll showing what college students
think about First Amendment issues
visual arguments and a scholarly essay supporting and critiquing
the concept of racial microaggressions
best-selling essayist Roxane Gay on the language we use to
describe sexual violence
an Economist blog post acknowledging that sport shooting can be,
well, fun
an argument against veganism . . . written by a vegan

A new introduction in the instructor’s notes. Focusing on the
teaching of argument, this new introduction gives experienced and
first-time instructors a strong pedagogical foundation. Sample syllabi
for both semester and quarter courses provide help for pacing all types
of courses.

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Reading comprehension quizzes, to help you quickly gauge your
students’ understanding of the assigned reading.
Interactive exercises and tutorials for reading, writing, and
Diagnostics provide opportunities to assess areas for improvement
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reports show performance by topic, class, and student as well as
improvement over time.


Pre-built units—including readings, videos, quizzes, and more—
are easy to adapt and assign by adding your own materials and
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made assessment options, such as LearningCurve adaptive
quizzing and Exercise Central.
Use LaunchPad on its own or integrate it with your school’s
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their own or as part of an assignment.

Smart search. Built on research with more than 1,600 student
writers, the smart search in Writer’s Help 2.0 provides reliable
results even when students use novice terms, such as flow and
Trusted content from our best-selling handbooks. Andrea
Lunsford’s user-friendly tone ensures that students have clear
advice and examples for all of their writing questions.
Diagnostics that help establish a baseline for instruction.
Assign diagnostics to identify areas of strength and areas for
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Adaptive exercises that engage students. Writer’s Help 2.0
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Student access is packaged with Everything’s an Argument with
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Instructor Resources
You have a lot to do in your course. We want 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
macmillanlearning.com. Visit the instructor resources tab for
Everything’s an Argument with Readings. In addition to chapter
overviews and teaching tips, the instructor’s manual offers an
introduction about teaching the argument course, sample syllabi,
correlations to the Council of Writing Program Administrators’
Outcomes Statement, and potential answers to the “Respond” questions
in the book.

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
thousands of people we have taught in our writing courses over nearly
four decades, particularly students at the Ohio State University,
Stanford 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
qualified 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
rhetorically challenging.

We are deeply grateful to the editors at Bedford/St. Martin’s who have
contributed their formidable talents to this book. In particular, we want
to thank the ingenious and efficient Rachel Goldberg for guiding us so
patiently and confidently—helping us locate just the right items
whenever we needed fresh examples and images and gracefully
recasting passage after passage to satisfy permissions mandates. Senior
content project manager Ryan Sullivan was relentlessly upbeat and
kind in all his communications, making the ever-more-complex stages
of production almost a pleasure. We also appreciate the extensive
support and help of Lexi DeConti, who kept us attuned to examples
and readings that might appeal to students today. We are similarly
grateful to senior program manager John Sullivan, whose support was
unfailing; Kalina Ingham, Arthur Johnson, and Tom Wilcox, for text
permissions; Angela Boehler and Krystyna Borgen, for art
permissions; William Boardman, for our cover design; Bridget Leahy,
copyeditor; and William Hwang, editorial assistant. All of you made
editing the eighth edition feel fresh and creative.

We’d also like to thank the astute instructors who reviewed the seventh
edition: Brigitte Anderson, University of Pikeville; Samantha Battrick,
Truman State University; Kathryn Bennett, Old Dominion University;
Jeanne Bohannon, Kennesaw State University; Rebecca Cepek,
Duquesne University; Laura Dumin, University of Central Oklahoma;
Tim Engles, Eastern Illinois University; Karen Feldman, Seminole
State College of Florida; Africa Fine, Palm Beach State College;


Darius Frasure, Mountain View College; Erin Gallagher, Washington
State University; Ben Graydon, Daytona State College; Joseph
Hernandez, Mt. San Jacinto College; Julie Moore-Felux, Northwest
Vista College; Laurie Murray, Anderson University; Kolawole Olaiya,
Anderson University; Leslie Rapparlie, University of Colorado;
Thomas Reynolds, Northwestern State University; Loreen Smith,
Isothermal Community College; Benjamin Syn, University of
Colorado; Gina Szabady, Lane Community College; Amy Walton,
Iowa State University; and Miriam Young, Truman State University.

Thanks, too, to Sherrie Weller of Loyola Chicago University and
Valerie Duff-Stroutmann of Newbury College, who updated the
instructor’s notes for this eighth edition with a new introduction, new
model syllabi, new points for discussion, and new classroom activities.
We hope this resource will be useful as instructors build their courses.
Finally, we are grateful to the students whose fine argumentative
essays or materials appear in our chapters: Cameron Hauer, Kate
Beispel, Jenny Kim, Laura Tarrant, Natasha Rodriguez, Caleb Wong,
Juliana Chang, George Chidiac, and Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner. 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

Correlation to Council of Writing Program


Administrators’ (WPA) Outcomes
Everything’s an Argument with Readings works with the Council of
Writing Program Administrators’ Outcomes Statement for first-year
composition courses (last updated 2014).

2014 WPA

Support in Everything’s an Argument with Readings, 8e


Learn and use
key rhetorical
analyzing and
composing a
variety of texts.

Chapter 1, “Understanding Arguments and Reading
Them Critically” (pp. 3–31), establishes the central
elements of the rhetorical situation and encourages
rhetorical listening.

Chapter 6, “Rhetorical Analysis” (pp. 97–132), further
develops these concepts and teaches students how to
analyze a rhetorical analysis and compose their own.

Each chapter offers dozens of written, visual, and
multimodal texts to analyze, in both the guide portion
and the thematic reader.

Gain experience
reading and
composing in
several genres to
understand how
shape and are
shaped by
readers’ and

Everything’s an Argument with Readings provides
engaging readings across genres, from academic essays
and newspaper editorials to tweets and infographics.
“Respond” boxes throughout each chapter (e.g., pp.
56–57) invite students to think critically about the
material. For more genre variety, Everything’s an
Argument with Readings also contains a five-chapter
thematic reader with additional multimodal genres,
including an art installation, Web articles, scholarly
essays, and political cartoons.


practices and

Each chapter on a specific type of argument features
project ideas (e.g., p. 186), giving students detailed
prompts to write their own arguments of fact,
arguments of definition, evaluations, causal arguments,
and proposals.

Develop facility
in responding to
a variety of
situations and
contexts, calling
for purposeful
shifts in voice,
tone, level of
design, medium,
and/or structure.

Chapter 13, “Style in Arguments” (pp. 321–45),
addresses word choice, tone, sentence structure,
punctuation, and figurative language, with engaging
examples of each.

The “Cultural Contexts for Argument” boxes
throughout the text (e.g., p. 163) address how people
from other cultures might respond to different styles or
structures of argument. This feature offers suggestions
on how to think about argument in an unfamiliar
cultural context.

Understand and
use a variety of
technologies to
address a range
of audiences.

Chapter 16, “Multimodal Arguments” (pp. 381–402),
addresses how new media has transformed the array of
choices for making arguments and reaching audiences.
This chapter teaches how to analyze multimodal
arguments as well as how to create them through Web
sites, videos, wikis, blogs, social media, memes, posters,
and comics.

Match the
capacities of
(e.g., print &
electronic) to

Chapter 14, “Visual Rhetoric” (pp. 346–62), discusses
the power of visual rhetoric and how students can use
visuals in their own work.

Chapter 15, “Presenting Arguments” (pp. 363–80),
includes material on incorporating various media into
presentations and Webcasts.

Chapter 16, “Multimodal Arguments” (pp. 381–402),
analyzes the evolving landscape of argument across
media platforms.


Chapter 17, “Academic Arguments” (pp. 405–37),
covers the conventions of academic arguments.

Critical Thinking,
Reading, and

Use composing
and reading for
inquiry, learning,
thinking, and
in various

Chapter 1, “Understanding Arguments and Reading
Them Critically” (pp. 3–31), features a section called
“Why Listen to Arguments Rhetorically and
Respectfully” (pp. 7–8). It teaches students to listen
openly and constructively and calls attention to the
need to escape “echo chambers,” respectfully consider
all viewpoints, and find common ground.

Throughout Everything’s an Argument with Readings,
students are invited to delve deeper into current issues
in the world around them, considering the various
arguments presented in tweets, newspapers, scholarly
papers, court rulings, and even bumper stickers.
Everything’s an Argument with Readings guides students
in asking critical questions about these contexts and
learning how to respond to and create their own
compositions. Chapters dedicated to central types of
argument explain how students might best approach
each writing situation. The chapters close with a guide
to writing arguments of that type:

Chapter 8, “Arguments of Fact” (pp. 164–96)

Chapter 9, “Arguments of Definition” (pp. 197–223)

Chapter 10, “Evaluations” (pp. 224–54)

Chapter 11, “Causal Arguments” (pp. 255–85)

Chapter 12, “Proposals” (pp. 286–318)


Chapter 16, “Multimodal Arguments” (pp. 381–402)

Read a diverse
range of texts,
especially to
assertion and
evidence, to
patterns of
organization, to
between verbal
and nonverbal
elements, and
how these
features function
for different
audiences and

Chapter 7, “Structuring Arguments” (pp. 135–63),
examines making claims and using evidence to support
those claims. It delves into the structure of Rogerian and
Toulmin arguments, showing how different argument
types work for different writing situations.

Each Guide to Writing features sections on
“Formulating a Claim” and “Thinking about
Organization” (e.g., pp. 212 and 214), emphasizing the
use of evidence and the structure of the argument.

Locate and
evaluate primary
and secondary
including journal
articles, essays,
databases, and
informal Internet

Chapter 18, “Finding Evidence” (pp. 438–53), covers
locating evidence from print, electronic, and field
research sources.

Chapter 19, “Evaluating Sources” (pp. 454–63),
addresses how to assess those sources effectively.

Use strategies — 
such as

Chapter 20, “Using Sources,” provides detailed
explanations of summary, paraphrase, and quotation
and when to use each approach (pp. 467–73). The


critique, and
— to compose
texts that
integrate the
writer’s ideas
with those from

chapter discusses framing with introductory phrases
and signal verbs, and it presents multiple ways to
connect source material to a student’s own ideas — by
establishing a context, introducing a term or concept,
developing a claim, highlighting differences, and
avoiding “patchwriting” (pp. 480–82).

Chapter 21, “Plagiarism and Academic Integrity” (pp.
484–93), highlights the importance of acknowledging
another writer’s work.

Chapter 22, “Documenting Sources” (pp. 494–532),
concludes the research section of the book with a
discussion of MLA and APA documentation, including a
wide range of citation models in both formats.


Develop a
writing project
through multiple

Chapter 17, “Academic Arguments” (pp. 405–37),
stresses the importance of working through multiple
drafts of a project, using revision and peer feedback to
improve the document.

Develop flexible
strategies for
rereading, and

Writing is a fundamental focus of Everything’s an
Argument with Readings, and students learn to critique
their own work and the work of others in almost every
part of the book. Each Guide to Writing, focusing on a
specific type of argument in the Part 2 chapters,
contains step-by-step advice on drafting, researching,
and organizing, as well as peer review questions about
the claim being made, the evidence provided for the
claim, and the organization and style of the essay.

The Guide to Writing also asks students to review their
spelling, punctuation, mechanics, documentation, and


Use composing
processes and
tools as a means
to discover and
reconsider ideas.

Chapter 7, “Structuring Arguments” (pp. 135–63),
provides a clear explanation for how to construct an
argument and support it effectively, and it includes a
brief annotated model from a classic text.

The “Developing an Academic Argument” section (pp.
411–18) in Chapter 17, “Academic Arguments” (pp.
405–37), guides students through the specific process of
developing a paper in an academic setting, from
selecting a topic and exploring it in depth to entering
into the conversation around the chosen topic. Two
annotated examples of academic arguments are
provided at the end of the chapter.

Experience the
and social
aspects of

Many “Respond” questions have students work in pairs
or groups to analyze rhetorical situations, arguments, or
appeals. See p. 36, for instance.

In Chapter 21, “Plagiarism and Academic Integrity”
(pp. 484–93), students learn the importance of giving
credit, getting permission to use the materials of others,
citing sources appropriately, and acknowledging
collaboration with their peers.

Learn to give and
act on
feedback to
works in

Each Guide to Writing, focusing on a specific type of
argument in the Part 2 chapters, contains a “Getting
and Giving Response: Questions for Peer Review”
section (e.g., pp. 183–85) tailored to that argument type.
These questions address the claim being made, the
evidence provided for the claim, and the organization
and style of the essay.

Adapt composing
processes for a
variety of
technologies and

Awareness of technology runs throughout Everything’s
an Argument with Readings, beginning in the first
chapter with an exploration of arguments made via
Twitter. A particular focus on multimodal arguments is
made in Chapter 14, “Visual Rhetoric” (pp. 346–62),


which covers how effective images can be and instructs
students on incorporating them to achieve specific
rhetorical purposes, and in Chapter 16, “Multimodal
Arguments” (pp. 381–402), which focuses on how
technology offers new platforms and opportunities for
composition, as well as some new pitfalls to avoid.
These chapters provide students with tools for creating
their own multimodal compositions.

Reflect on the
development of
practices and
how those
influence their

Everything’s an Argument with Readings presents
students with an important foundation in the purpose
and history of rhetoric (e.g., “Why We Make
Arguments,” pp. 8–9; “The Classical Oration,” pp.
136–39) as well as thoughtful reflections on how
composition and argument have changed in an
increasingly digital world (e.g., “Old Media
Transformed by New Media,” pp. 382–83;
“Conventions in Academic Argument Are Not Static,”
p. 410).

Knowledge of

knowledge of
punctuation, and
spelling, through
practice in
composing and

Chapter 13, “Style in Arguments” (pp. 321–45), covers
sentence structure and punctuation.

Chapter 17, “Academic Arguments” (pp. 405–37),
discusses drafting, revising, and editing.

The Guide to Writing in each Part 2 chapter asks
students to review their spelling, punctuation,
mechanics, documentation, and format.

Understand why

The argument chapters in Part 2 address genre
conventions, discussing how the approach and structure


conventions for
tone, and
mechanics vary.

of a document adapt to its genre. Each chapter also
includes a Guide to Writing and Sample Arguments,
which highlight differing uses of sources and tone (e.g.,
“Guide to Writing a Proposal,” pp. 300–305).

Gain experience
variations in

Each of the Part 2 chapters offers a section on
characterizing that particular genre (e.g.,
“Characterizing Evaluation,” pp. 229–32) as well as a
section to guide students to develop a paper in that
particular genre (e.g., “Developing an Evaluative
Argument,” pp. 233–39). These chapters pay particular
attention to the nuances and variations of differing
purposes and approaches.

For more genre variety, Everything’s an Argument with
Readings also contains a five-chapter thematic reader
with additional multimodal genres, including
infographics, professional reports, scholarly journal
articles, and comic strips.

Learn common
formats and/or
design features
for different
kinds of texts.

Part 3, “Style and Presentation in Arguments,” offers
four chapters on how to design an argument, paying
attention to how these choices will vary depending on
the student’s rhetorical purpose (e.g., “Using Images
and Visual Design to Create Pathos,” pp. 350–52).

The “Considering Design and Visuals” section (e.g., pp.
238–39) in each Part 2 argument chapter acquaints
students with common design features and formats of
that type of document.

The Guide to Writing in each Part 2 chapter contains a
“Considering Genre and Media” section that invites
students to think about how to choose the appropriate
format and medium for a particular argument.


Explore the
concepts of
property (such
as fair use and
copyright) that

Chapter 20, “Using Sources,” explores the topics of
summary, paraphrase, and quotation and when each
approach might be most appropriate (pp. 466–73). The
chapter discusses framing with introductory phrases
and signal verbs, and it presents multiple ways to
connect source material to a student’s own ideas by
establishing a context, introducing a term or concept,
developing a claim, highlighting differences, and
avoiding “patchwriting” (pp. 474–82).

Chapter 21, “Plagiarism and Academic Integrity” (pp.
484–93), shines a light on the importance of
acknowledging the work of another.

The section on MLA style in Chapter 22, “Documenting
Sources” (pp. 496–515), provides guidance on how to
get permission for copyrighted material (including
Internet sources) and how to navigate Creative
Commons and fair use. It also offers an in-depth
examination of in-text citations and Works Cited entries,
with more than fifty examples of citation types and
sample pages from a student essay.

applying citation
systematically in
their own work.

Chapter 22, “Documenting Sources” (pp. 494–532),
examines in-text citations and Works Cited entries for
both MLA and APA style, with more than fifty examples
of citation types and sample pages from a student essay.


Brief Contents

Part 1 Reading and Understanding Arguments

1. Understanding Arguments and Reading Them Critically

2. Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos

3. Arguments Based on Character: Ethos

4. Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos

5. Fallacies of Argument

6. Rhetorical Analysis

Part 2 Writing Arguments

7. Structuring Arguments

8. Arguments of Fact

9. Arguments of Definition

10. Evaluations

11. Causal Arguments

12. Proposals

Part 3 Style and Presentation in Arguments

13. Style in Arguments

14. Visual Rhetoric

15. Presenting Arguments

16. Multimodal Arguments

Part 4 Research and Arguments

17. Academic Arguments

18. Finding Evidence


19. Evaluating Sources

20. Using Sources

21. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

22. Documenting Sources

Part 5 Arguments

23. How Does Popular Culture Stereotype You?

24. How Does What We Eat Define Who We Are?

25. How Does Language Influence Our World?

26. Has the Internet Destroyed Privacy?

27. How Free Should Campus Speech Be?



Readings by Type of Argument



Part 1 Reading and Understanding Arguments

1. Understanding Arguments and Reading Them Critically

Everything Is an Argument

Why Read Arguments Critically and Rhetorically?

Why Listen to Arguments Rhetorically and Respectfully?

Why We Make Arguments

Arguments to Convince and Inform

Arguments to Persuade

Arguments to Make Decisions

Arguments to Understand and Explore

Occasions for Argument

Arguments about the Past

Arguments about the Future

Arguments about the Present

Kinds of Argument

Did Something Happen? Arguments of Fact

What Is the Nature of the Thing? Arguments of

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

What Actions Should Be Taken? Proposal Arguments



Appealing to Audiences

Emotional Appeals: Pathos

Ethical Appeals: Ethos

Logical Appeals: Logos

Bringing It Home: Kairos and the Rhetorical Situation


2. Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos

Reading Critically for Pathos

Using Emotions to Build Bridges

Using Emotions to Sustain an Argument

Using Humor

Using Arguments Based on Emotion

3. Arguments Based on Character: Ethos

Thinking Critically about Arguments Based on Character

Establishing Trustworthiness and Credibility

Claiming Authority

Coming Clean about Motives


4. Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos

Thinking Critically about Hard Evidence



Surveys and Polls

Testimonies and Narratives


Using Reason and Common Sense


Providing Logical Structures for Argument




5. Fallacies of Argument

Fallacies of Emotional Argument

Scare Tactics

Either/Or Choices

Slippery Slope

Overly Sentimental Appeals

Bandwagon Appeals

Fallacies of Ethical Argument

Appeals to False Authority


Ad Hominem Arguments

Stacking the Deck

Fallacies of Logical Argument

Hasty Generalization

Faulty Causality

Begging the Question


Non Sequitur


Straw Man

Red Herring

Faulty Analogy


6. Rhetorical Analysis

Composing a Rhetorical Analysis: Reading and Viewing

Understanding the Purpose of Arguments You Are

Understanding Who Makes an Argument

Identifying and Appealing to Audiences

Examining Arguments Based on Emotion: Pathos

Examining Arguments Based on Character: Ethos

Examining Arguments Based on Facts and Reason: Logos

Examining the Arrangement and Media of Arguments

Looking at Style

Examining a Rhetorical Analysis

Nicholas Kristof, Fleeing to the Mountains

“When public lands are lost — or mined in ways
that scar the landscape — something has been lost
forever on our watch. A public good has been
privatized, and our descendants have been robbed.”

Cameron Hauer, Appeal, Audience, and Narrative in
Kristof’s Wilderness [STUDENT ESSAY]


“To a liberal readership still reeling from the shock
of the 2016 election, the invocation of Trump is an
invitation for the audience to adopt Kristof’s pro-
wilderness platform as a plank of a broader anti-
Trump agenda.”


Part 2 Writing Arguments

7. Structuring Arguments

The Classical Oration

Rogerian and Invitational Arguments

Toulmin Argument

Making Claims

Offering Evidence and Good Reasons

Determining Warrants

Offering Evidence: Backing

Using Qualifiers

Understanding Conditions of Rebuttal

Outline of a Toulmin Argument

A Toulmin Analysis

Stephen L. Carter, Offensive Speech Is Free Speech.
If Only We’d Listen

“The First Amendment protects not admirable
speech or good speech or likeable speech. It
protects speech.”


What Toulmin Teaches


8. Arguments of Fact

Understanding Arguments of Fact

Characterizing Factual Arguments

Developing a Factual Argument

Identifying an Issue

Researching Your Hypothesis

Refining Your Claim

Deciding Which Evidence to Use

Presenting Your Evidence

Considering Design and Visuals



Two Sample Factual Arguments

Kate Beispel, The Snacktivities and Musings of a
Millennial Foodie [STUDENT ESSAY]

“Where there’s a food line, there’s a Millennial
waiting: foodie culture is accessible to anyone
who wants to be a part of it.”

Michael Hiltzik, Don’t Believe Facebook: The
Demise of the Written Word Is Very Far Off


“Video is a linear medium: You have to allow it
to unspool frame by frame to glean what it’s
saying. Text can be absorbed in blocks; the eye
searches for keywords or names or other
pointers such as quotation marks.”

9. Arguments of Definition

Understanding Arguments of Definition

Kinds of Definition

Formal Definitions

Operational Definitions

Definitions by Example

Negative Definitions

Developing a Definitional Argument

Formulating Claims

Crafting Definitions

Matching Claims to Definitions

Considering Design and Visuals



Two Sample Definitional Arguments

Natasha Rodriguez, Who Are You Calling
Underprivileged? [STUDENT ESSAY]

“The word made me question how I saw myself


in the world.”

Rob Jenkins, Defining the Relationship

“I used to think the boundaries and expectations
were clear on both sides, but that no longer
seems to be the case.”

10. Evaluations

Understanding Evaluations

Criteria of Evaluation

Characterizing Evaluation

Quantitative Evaluations

Qualitative Evaluations

Developing an Evaluative Argument

Formulating Criteria

Making Claims

Presenting Evidence

Considering Design and Visuals



Two Sample Evaluations

Jenny Kim, The Toxicity in Learning [STUDENT

“Across all disciplines, there is an unhealthy
infatuation with a 4.0 GPA that detracts from


true learning.”

Becca Stanek, I took vitamins every day for a decade.
Then I found out they’re useless

“At my appointment last Wednesday, my doctor
bluntly informed me that my multivitamins
weren’t doing a darn thing for me.”

11. Causal Arguments

Understanding Causal Arguments

Arguments That State a Cause and Then Examine Its

Arguments That State an Effect and Then Trace the
Effect Back to Its Causes

Arguments That Move through a Series of Links: A
Causes B, Which Leads to C and Perhaps to D

Characterizing Causal Arguments

They Are Often Part of Other Arguments

They Are Almost Always Complex

They Are Often Definition Based

They Usually Yield Probable Rather Than Absolute

Developing Causal Arguments

Exploring Possible Claims

Defining the Causal Relationships

Supporting Your Point


Considering Design and Visuals



Two Sample Causal Arguments

Laura Tarrant, Forever Alone (and Perfectly Fine)

“Singleness doesn’t have to be a steppingstone
on the way to a relationship, nor does it have to
result from some emotional deficiency. Rather,
singleness is its own alternative lifestyle.”

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, America’s Birthrate Is
Now a National Emergency

“People’s willingness to have children is not
only a sign of confidence in the future, but a
sign of cultural health.”

12. Proposals

Understanding and Categorizing Proposals

Characterizing Proposals

Developing Proposals

Defining a Need or Problem

Making a Strong and Clear Claim

Showing That the Proposal Addresses the Need or

Showing That the Proposal Is Feasible


Considering Design and Visuals



Two Sample Proposals

Caleb Wong, Addiction to Social Media: How to

“Like tooth-brushing and nail-biting, using
social media regularly is a habit.”

Lenore Skenazy, My Free-Range Parenting

“We are crippling kids by convincing them they
can’t solve any issues on their own.”

Part 3 Style and Presentation in Arguments

13. Style in Arguments

Style and Word Choice


Sentence Structure and Argument

Punctuation and Argument

Special Effects: Figurative Language




14. Visual Rhetoric


The Power of Visual Arguments

Using Visuals in Your Own Arguments

Using Images and Visual Design to Create Pathos

Using Images to Establish Ethos

Using Visual Images to Support Logos

15. Presenting Arguments

Class and Public Discussions


Preparing a Presentation

Assess the Rhetorical Situation

Nail Down the Specific Details

Fashion a Script Designed to Be Heard by an

Choose Media to Fit Your Subject

Deliver a Good Show

A Note about Webcasts: Live Presentations over the

16. Multimodal Arguments

Old Media Transformed by New Media

New Content in New Media

New Audiences in New Media

Analyzing Multimodal Arguments

Making Multimodal Arguments

Web Sites

Videos and Video Essays




Social Media



A Final Note on Time

Part 4 Research and Arguments

17. Academic Arguments

Understanding What Academic Argument Is

Conventions in Academic Argument Are Not Static

Developing an Academic Argument

Two Sample Academic Arguments

Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner, Where the Wild Things
Should Be: Healing Nature Deficit Disorder through
the Schoolyard [STUDENT ESSAY]

“The most practical solution to this staggering
rift between children and nature involves the

Sidra Montgomery, The Emotion Work of “Thank
You for Your Service”

“The well-meaning intent behind TYFYS isn’t
always received by post-9/11 veterans in the
same way.”


18. Finding Evidence

Considering the Rhetorical Situation


Searching Effectively


Collecting Data on Your Own

19. Evaluating Sources

Assessing Print Sources

Assessing Electronic Sources

Practicing Crap Detection

Assessing Field Research

20. Using Sources

Practicing Infotention

Building a Critical Mass

Synthesizing Information

Paraphrasing Sources You Will Use Extensively

Summarizing Sources

Using Quotations Selectively and Strategically

Framing Materials You Borrow with Signal Words
and Introductions

Using Sources to Clarify and Support Your Own

Avoiding “Patchwriting”

21. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

Giving Credit


Getting Permission for and Using Copyrighted Internet

Acknowledging Your Sources Accurately and

Acknowledging Collaboration

22. Documenting Sources

MLA Style

In-Text Citations

Explanatory and Bibliographic Notes

List of Works Cited

Sample First Page for an Essay in MLA Style

Sample List of Works Cited for an Essay in MLA

APA Style

In-Text Citations

Content Notes

List of References

Sample Title Page for an Essay in APA Style

Sample First Text Page for an Essay in APA Style

Sample References List for an Essay in APA Style

Part 5 Arguments

23. How Does Popular Culture Stereotype You?

Alli Joseph, With Disney’s Moana, Hollywood Almost
Gets It Right: Indigenous People Weigh In [WEB


“But the film’s achievements are not enough for
some to cite progress toward more accurate, less-
stereotypical portrayal of other cultures in film.”

D.K., Shooting Guns: It’s Rather Fun, Actually

“For the majority of gun owners, being told that
their harmless hobby is somehow responsible for
the deaths of other people must be deeply

Nicole Pasulka, How a Bible-Belt Evangelical Church
Embraced Gay Rights [WEB ARTICLE]

“Despite some opposition from within the
congregation, this Bible Belt church is now making
a religious argument for gay rights.”

C. Richard King, Redskins: Insult and Brand [BOOK

“As much a weapon as a word, then, it injures and
excludes, denying history and humanity.”

Melinda C. R. Burgess, et al., Playing with Prejudice:
The Prevalence and Consequences of Racial Stereotypes
in Video Games [JOURNAL ARTICLE]

“[I]magery 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.”

Breakfast Series [ARTWORK]

Sara Morrison, Covering the Transgender Community:
How Newsrooms Are Moving Beyond the “Coming Out”
Story to Report Crucial Transgender Issues [REPORT]

“How do journalists cover a community, which has
been for so long maligned and voiceless, in ways
that are considerate of that community’s needs as
well as those of readers, some of whom need basic
concepts explained?”

24. How Does What We Eat Define Who We Are?

Sophie Egan, The American Food Psyche [BOOK

“Korean tacos and naan pizza and California rolls.
Some might consider these horrors. Sullied versions
of the true cultural entities. But not us. In America,
collisions are commendable.”

Department of Agriculture, How Do Your Eating Habits
Differ from Your Grandparents’? [GRAPH]


Rob Greenfield, An Argument against Veganism . . . 
from a Vegan [BLOG POST]

“There are cultures of people who eat meat and
animal products in a manner that causes less harm
to earth and animals than some vegan diets do.”

Jess Kapadia, I Still Don’t Understand the Cultural
Appropriation of Food [WEB ARTICLE]

“I’d venture to say that this many years into the age
of pop food media and recipe sharing, no food
belongs to anyone anymore.”

Briahna Joy Gray, The Question of Cultural
Appropriation [MAGAZINE ARTICLE]

“I think when we talk about appropriation, we’re
really talking about two separate issues: first, an
issue of cultural exploitation, and second, an issue
of cultural disrespect.”

James Dubick, Brandon Mathews, and Clare Cady,
Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of Food Insecurity
for College Students [REPORT]

“One in five students surveyed had the very lowest
levels of food security. Thirteen percent were


25. How Does Language Influence Our World?

Ernie Smith, They Should Stop: In Defense of the
Singular They [BLOG POST]

“It may be the most controversial word use in the
English language — because it highlights a hole in
the language where a better-fitting word should go.”

John McWhorter, Thick of Tongue [WEB ARTICLE]

“I am not referring to black slang. Plenty of black
people use little street slang and yet still have a
black sound. The question is why you could tell
most black people were black if they read you a
shopping list over the phone.”

Japanese American Citizens League, from The Power of

“During WWII, the U.S. government used
euphemistic language to control public perceptions
about the forced removal of Japanese American
citizens from their West Coast homes to desolate
American concentration camps further inland.”

English and Languages other Than English in the United

Roxane Gay, The Careless Language of Sexual Violence


“It was an eleven-year-old girl whose body was
ripped apart, not a town. It was an eleven-year-old
girl whose life was ripped apart, not the lives of the
men who raped her.”

Jorge Encinas, How Latino Players Are Helping Major
League Baseball Learn Spanish [BLOG POST]

“Spanish-speaking fans, millions of whom watch
Spanish-language broadcasts of baseball games,
will have little idea of the lingering challenge some
Latino players in the States have long faced.”

26. Has the Internet Destroyed Privacy?

Lindsay McKenzie, Getting Personal about
Cybersecurity [WEB ARTICLE]

“Today’s students may be digital natives, but that
doesn’t mean institutions can count on them to
protect themselves from cyberattacks.”

Privacy [CARTOONS]

Brian Crane, Oh, My Gosh! When Did Facebook
Start with Mind Infiltration?

Chris Slane, Window on the Internet

Chris Wildt, Impressive Résumé …

Mike Smith, I Agree with Apple . . .

J. D. Crowe, Congress Kills Internet Privacy


Lauren Salm, 70 Percent of Employers Are Snooping
Candidates’ Social Media Profiles [WEB ARTICLE]

“The bottom line? Think before you post, because
there’s always someone watching.”

Deanna Hartley, Creative Ways to Get Noticed by
Employers on Social Media [WEB ARTICLE]

“[S]ocial media could work in your favor if you’re
looking for a job—if you do it right.”

Lauren Carroll, Congress Let Internet Providers “Spy
On” Your Underwear Purchases, Advocacy Group Says

“Beyond shopping habits, ISPs and advertisers can
glean more significant personal information about
their customers from Internet browsing patterns.”

Franklin Foer, from World without Mind: The Existential
Threat of Big Tech [BOOK EXCERPT]

“Data provides an X-ray of the soul. Companies
turn that photograph of the inner self into a
commodity to be traded on a market, bought and
sold without our knowledge.”

Amanda Hess, How Privacy Became a Commodity for
the Rich and Powerful [WEB ARTICLE]


“We’ve come to understand that privacy is the
currency of our online lives, paying for petty
conveniences with bits of personal information.”

27. How Free Should Campus Speech Be?

John Palfrey, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces [BOOK EXCERPT]

“While diversity and free expression are too often
pitted against one another as competing values, they are
more compatible than they are opposing.”

Gallup/Knight Foundation, Free Speech on Campus: What
Students Think about First Amendment Issues [REPORT]

“College students generally endorse First Amendment
ideals in the abstract. The vast majority say free speech
is important to democracy and favor an open learning
environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety
of ideas.”

Ben Schwartz, Shutting Up [WEB ARTICLE]

“Comedy isn’t supposed to be anything, except what
the comedian tries to make it—harmless, mean,
political, dirty, dumb.”


Turner Consulting Group, Racial Microaggressions



Alexandra Dal, Questions [CARTOON]

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Why a Moratorium on Microaggressions

“Distributing lists of ‘forbidden’ phrases to campus
administrators or faculty members or mandating
microaggression training for employees are unlikely to
be helpful.”

Sarah Brown, Activist Athletes [WEB ARTICLE]

“Since athletes are at the mercy of their coaches in
terms of playing time and scholarships, coaches and
team managers exercise a great deal of influence over
their players’ choices.”

Catherine Nolan-Ferrell, Balancing Classroom Civility and

“I cannot claim complete neutrality about the subject
matter, but I do promise students that I will discuss
multiple perspectives and explain how and why I
reached my point of view.”



Readings by Type of Argument




CHAPTER 1 Understanding Arguments and
Reading Them Critically

On October 15, 2017, actor and activist Alyssa Milano took to Twitter
to issue a call to action:

Milano was joining the conversation surrounding a spate of revelations
about very high-profile and powerful men accused of sexual


harassment: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Harvey
Weinstein. Milano’s tweet argues for standing up and speaking out—in
big numbers—and her message certainly hit a nerve: within 24 hours,
4.7 million people around the world had joined the “me too”
conversation, with over 12 million posts and comments. Some of these
comments pointed out that the “me too” movement is actually more
than ten years old: it began with activist Tarana Burke, who was
directing a Girls for Gender Equity program in Brooklyn, aimed at
giving voice to young women of color. As Burke told CNN after
Milano’s tweet went viral: “It’s not about a viral campaign for me. It’s
about a movement.”

Burke’s reaction to the 2017 meme makes an important point, one that
was echoed in some of the responses Milano received and further
elaborated by Jessi Hempel, the editorial director of Backchannel, in
“The Problem with #metoo and Viral Outrage.” Hempel says that “on
its surface,” #metoo has what looks to be the makings of an “earnest
and effective social movement.” But like Burke, Hempel wonders
whether #metoo will actually have the power and longevity of a true
social movement. She’s concerned that while millions of people are
weighing in, at last, on a long-ignored issue, the campaign may not
culminate in real change:

In truth, however, #MeToo is a too-perfect meme. It harnesses
social media’s mechanisms to drive users (that’s you and me)
into escalating states of outrage while exhausting us to the
point where we cannot meaningfully act.

Hempel cites extensive research by Yale professor Molly Crockett that


suggests that “digital technologies may be transforming the way we
experience outrage, and limiting how much we can actually change
social realities.” In other words, expressing outrage online lets us talk
the talk but not walk the walk of actual change.

In spite of these caveats, the work begun by Tarana Burke over a
decade ago and given new urgency by Alyssa Milano has led to a
series of high-profile firings, and some criminal convictions, in many
sectors of society, from the Hollywood film industry (Weinstein’s
company had to declare bankruptcy) to New York’s cultural scene (the
Metropolitan Opera fired its conductor, James Levine) to Congress
(Senator Al Franken was forced to resign his seat) to the world of
sports (Olympics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175
years in prison for assaulting as many as 160 women athletes). In short,
it now looks as though #metoo does constitute a genuine movement
that will continue to lead to actual, concrete changes in cultural
attitudes and practices. Certainly, the argument over its effectiveness
and reach will continue, much of it playing out on social media

As this example shows, arguments on social media occur on crowded,
two-way channels, with claims and counterclaims whizzing by, fast
and furious. Such tools reach audiences (like the 4.7 million who
initially responded to #metoo) and they also create them, offering an
innovative way to make and share arguments. Just as importantly,
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—for


better or for worse, as shown by the recent example of Facebook’s
allowing data from 50 million users to be used for political purposes.


Everything Is an Argument
As you know from your own experiences with social media, arguments
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, on the bumper sticker on the car in front of you, 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
recognize problems and to consider solutions. Persuasion of this kind is
usually easy to recognize:

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed by
Congress [in 1984], 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

—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”

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


a Golden State Warriors cap

Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34

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

the health warnings on a package of cigarettes

a Tesla Model 3 electric car

a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses


Why Read Arguments
Critically and
More than two millennia ago, Aristotle told students that they needed
to know and understand and use the arts of rhetoric for two major
reasons: to be able to get their ideas across effectively and persuasively
and to protect themselves from being manipulated by others. Today,
we need these abilities more than ever before: as we are inundated with
“alternative facts,” “fake news,” mis- and disinformation, and often
even outright lies, the ability to read between the lines, to become fact-
checkers, to practice what media critic Howard Rheingold calls “crap
detection” (see “Practicing Crap Detection” in Chapter 19), and to read
with careful attention are now survival skills.

This need is so acute that new courses are springing up on college


campuses, such as one at the University of Washington named
(provocatively) “Calling Bullshit,” which Professors Carl Bergstrom
and Jevin West define as “language, statistical figures, graphics, and
other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and
overwhelming a reader or listener with a blatant disregard for truth and
logical coherence.” (Search for “The Fine Art of Sniffing Out Crappy
Science” on the Web.) These professors are particularly interested in
the use of statistics and visual representation of data to misinform or
confuse, and in showing how “big data” especially can often obscure
rather than reveal valid claims, although they acknowledge the power
of verbal misinformation as well.

You can practice self-defense against such misrepresentation by
following some sound advice:

Pay attention, close attention, to what you are reading or viewing.
While it’s tempting to skim, avoid the temptation, especially when
the stakes are high. Keep focused on the text at hand, with your
critical antenna up!
Keep an eye out for “click bait,” those subject lines or headings
that scream “read me, read me” but usually lead to little
Be skeptical. Check the author, publisher, sources: how reliable
are they?
Look for unstated assumptions behind claims—and question them.
Distinguish between facts that have verifiable support and claims
and those which may or may not be completely empty.
Learn to triangulate: don’t take the word of a single source but
look for corroboration from other reliable sources.


Become a fact checker! Get familiar with nonpartisan fact-
checkers like Politifact, FactCheck.org, the Sunlight Foundation,
and Snopes.com.

You will find additional information about reading attentively and
critically throughout this book, especially in Chapters 6 and 19.


Why Listen to Arguments
Rhetorically and
Rhetorician Krista Ratcliffe recommends that we all learn to listen
rhetorically, which she defines as “a stance of openness” you can take
in relation to any person, text, or culture. Taking such a stance is not
easy, especially when emotions and disagreements run high, but doing
so is a necessary step in understanding where other people are coming
from and in acknowledging that our own stances are deeply influenced
by forces we may not even be aware of. Even when we stand on the
shoulders of giants, our view is limited and partial, and it’s good to
remember that this maxim is true for everyone.

Amid the extreme divisions in the United States today, amid the
charges and countercharges, the ongoing attacks of one group on
another, it’s especially important to learn to listen to others, even
others with whom we drastically disagree. Scholars and pundits alike
have written about the “echo chambers” we often inhabit, especially
online, where we hear only from people who think as we do, act as we
act, believe as we believe. Such echo chambers are dangerous to a
democracy. As a result, some are advocating for rhetorical listening.
Oprah Winfrey, for example, brought together a group of women, half
of whom supported Trump and half of whom supported Clinton, over
“croissants and great jam.” At first no one wanted to participate, but
once Winfrey got them together and they started listening to one


another’s stories, the women began to find small patches of common
ground. Listening openly and respectfully was the key. So it is with the
website and app “Hi from the Other Side,” where people can sign up to
be paired with someone on another side of an issue, get guidance on
how to begin a conversation, and eventually meet to pursue common
ground and common interests (see
https://www.hifromtheotherside.com for more information).

You can begin to practice rhetorical listening as you get to know
people who differ from you on major issues, listening to their views
carefully and respectfully, asking them for that same respect, and
beginning to search for some common ground, no matter how small.
Arguments are never won by going nowhere except “Yes I can”/“No
you can’t” over and over again, yet that’s the way many arguments are
conducted today. Learning to listen rhetorically and beginning to find
some small commonality is usually a better way to argue constructively
than plunging right in with accusations or dramatic claims.


Why We Make Arguments
As this discussion suggests, 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,
belligerent tweet, or shaking fist of a politician or news pundit who
wants to drown out other voices and prevail at all costs. This winner-
take-all view has a long history, but it often turns people off to the
whole process of using reasoned conversation to identify, explore, and
solve problems. Hoping to avoid perpetual standoffs with people on
“the other side,” many people now sidestep opportunities to speak their
minds on issues shaping their lives and work. We want to counter this
attitude throughout this book: we urge you to examine your values and
beliefs, to understand where they come from, and to voice them clearly
and cogently in arguments you make, all the while respecting the
values and beliefs of others.

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 classmates). 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 those with other perspectives—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.

Arguments to Convince and
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
information or evidence that seems factual and reliable; arguments to
persuade then seek to move people beyond conviction to action.
Academic arguments 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
subject. 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 exhaustive new analysis by a team of international
scientists found no evidence 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 the viability of nuclear power as an
alternative 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.

Today, images offer especially powerful arguments designed both to
inform and to convince. For example, David Plunkert’s cover art for
the August 28, 2017, issue of the New Yorker is simple yet very
striking. Plunkert, who doesn’t often involve himself with political
subjects, said he was prompted to do so in response to what he saw as
President Trump’s “weak pushback” against the hateful violence on
exhibit in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017: “A picture
does a better job showing my thoughts than words do; it can have a
light touch on a subject that’s extremely scary.”


In the excerpt from his scholarly journal article, Scott O. Lilienfeld
aims to persuade psychologists and other academics to put aside
the term “microaggressions” because—though they may be
offensive—these slights and insults aimed at minorities have not
been proven to be psychologically harmful.

LINK TO Lilienfeld, “Why a Moratorium on Microaggressions Is
Needed,” in Chapter 27

Arguments to Persuade

Today, climate change may be the public issue that best illustrates the
chasm that sometimes separates conviction from persuasion. Although
the weight of scientific research attests to the fact that the earth is


warming and that humans are responsible for a good bit of that
warming, convincing people to accept this evidence and persuading
them to act on it still doesn’t follow 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 oversimplification. The fact is that persuasive
arguments, whether in advertisements, political blogs, YouTube
videos, tweets, or newspaper editorials, draw upon all the appeals of
rhetoric (see Appealing to Audiences in Chapter 10) 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
drinking 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 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

Paglia chooses to dramatize her argument by sharply contrasting a


safer, more supportive past with a vastly more dangerous present when
drinking 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

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.


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.


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 undocumented 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 momentous
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.


In the excerpt from her professional report “Covering the
Transgender Community,” Sara Morrison explores how journalists
are working to incorporate correct terminology, respect the
preferred gender pronouns and identities of their transgender
subjects, and address the issues that matter to transgender

LINK TO Morrison, “Covering the Transgender Community,” in
Chapter 23

Arguments to Understand and

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
personal arenas, seem to call for arguments that genuinely explore
possibilities 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 complexities of the 2011 budget debate, philosophy
professor Gary Gutting was able to show how two distinguished
economists—John Taylor and Paul Krugman—drew 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

Explorations of ideas that begin by trying to understand another’s
perspective have been described as invitational arguments by


researchers 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 establishing 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 risks of Rogerian argument


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 convince? To inform? To persuade? To explore? To



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
present. His ideas still help us to appreciate the role arguments play in
society 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.

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.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many researchers both in and


outside the government devoted themselves to trying to understand the
effects of hacking on the election and, more specifically, the extent to
which Russia was involved in such activities. Cybersecurity experts
from agencies such as the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security argued
that they had extensive evidence to show that Russia had conducted a
number of hacking expeditions and had manipulated messages on
social media to try to disrupt the American elections. Others inside the
Trump administration argued that the evidence wasn’t convincing; the
president even declared that it had been “made up.” As this book goes
to press, the argument over what happened is still raging. What hacks
actually occurred in the run-up to the election? Which state voting
procedures, if any, were violated? What part did the Russian
government play? These are all forensic questions to be carefully
investigated, argued, and answered by agencies and special counsels
currently at work.

Some forensic arguments go on . . . and on and on. Consider, for
example, the lingering arguments 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.


In his 2016 blog post at Tedium, Ernie Smith argues that the plural
pronoun they will and should continue to be used to represent a
subject in a gender-neutral way, even though it defies
conventional grammar.

LINK TO Smith, “They Should Stop: In Defense of the Singular
They,” in Chapter 25

James B. Comey, former director of the FBI who was fired by President Trump,
testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, 2017.

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 analyst Marc Prensky. He argues that
while professors and colleges will always be responsible for teaching
students to learn from the knowledge provided by print texts, it’s about
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:

So, as counterintuitive as it may sound, eliminating physical
books from college 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

Arguments about the Present
Arguments about the present—what Aristotle terms epideictic or
ceremonial 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. 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 opportunity of such an address (herself
standing in for a rejected speaker) to offer a timely and ringing
endorsement of free speech. Her words perfectly illustrate epideictic

Universities have a special obligation to protect free speech,
open discourse and the value of protest. The collision of views
and ideologies is in the DNA of the academic enterprise. No
collision avoidance technology 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 misconceptions, 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
admirable 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 communities. 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.


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.


In a recent magazine, newspaper, or blog, find three editorials—one

that makes a forensic argument, one a deliberative argument, and

one a ceremonial 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’ purposes have been achieved and how you


Occasions for Argument
Past Future Present

What is it

Forensic Deliberative Epideictic

What are

What happened in the past? What should be
done in the

Who or what
deserves praise or

does it
look like?

Court decisions, legal briefs,
legislative hearings,
investigative reports,
academic studies

White papers,
proposals, bills,

addresses, roasts


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

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 of pollution of the oceans—is it really occurring?—might
seem relatively 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 matter, 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, incapacitated, or asleep, regardless of
whether the perpetrator was responsible 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
college 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 LeBron James a hero for our age? (For
more about arguments of definition, see Chapter 9.)

What Is the Quality or Cause of
the Thing? Arguments of
Arguments of evaluation present criteria and then measure individual
people, ideas, or things against those standards. For instance, a 2017
article in the Atlantic examined “How Pixar Lost Its Way,” arguing
that “The golden age of Pixar is over.” Chronicling the company’s
success from the first Toy Story (1995), the writer identifies what Pixar
accomplished so well:


The theme that the studio mined with greatest success during
its first decade and a half was parenthood, whether real
(Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) or implicit (Monsters, Inc.,
Up). Pixar’s distinctive insight into parent-child relations
stood out from the start, in Toy Story, and lost none of its
power in two innovative and unified sequels.

—Christopher Orr, “How Pixar Lost Its Way”

As we read this article, we are bound to ask what happened: why and
how did Pixar lose its way? And Christopher Orr probes further,
suggesting that the sale of Pixar to Disney and the dependence on
sequel after sequel led to the downturn. As he concludes his analysis of
Pixar’s evolution, Orr distressingly notes the announcement of plans
for Toy Story 4, which unravels the trilogy’s neat arc.

Although evaluations differ from causal analyses, in practice the
boundaries 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.

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 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 Developmental 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.


The No Child Left Behind Act was signed in 2002 with great hopes and bipartisan
support, but it did not lead to the successes those proposing it had hoped for.


Suppose you have an opportunity to speak at a student conference on
the impact of climate change. You are tentatively in favor of
strengthening 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
warming is inconclusive. Yes, say most scientists and
governments; climate change is real and even seems to be
accelerating. To come to your conclusion, you’ll weigh the facts
carefully and identify problems 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 carefully: 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
naturally 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.


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
amazingly 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,
to the unknown people around the world who may read a blog you
have posted. The figure below 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
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.


Readers and writers in context

Making matters even more complicated, readers can respond to
writers’ 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 fascinated 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 arguments seriously. We want you to become that kind of

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, emotional, ethical, and logical appeals have enormous power,
as we’ll see in subsequent chapters.

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 country’s failing infrastructure:

When the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis shuddered, buckled,
and collapsed 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.
Showing that you know what you are talking about exerts an ethical
appeal, as does emphasizing that you share values with and respect
your audience. Once again, here’s Barry LePatner from Too Big to
Fall, shoring up 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 regimen 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, statistics, 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 infrastructure. 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. He is most often depicted as running, and his most
unusual characteristic is a shock of hair on his forehead. As Kairos
dashes by, you have a chance to seize that lock of hair, thereby seizing
the opportune moment; once he passes you by, however, you’ve
missed your chance.

Time as Occasion (Kairos) by Italian Renaissance painter Francesco de’ Rossi

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 rhetorical moments, when speakers find exactly
the right words to stir—and stir up—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 majestic “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 situation 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
surround 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.


The rhetorical situation

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.


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?


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
attention to how people from groups or cultures other than your
own argue, and be sensitive to different paths of thinking you’ll


encounter 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
thinking, 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.


CHAPTER 2 Arguments Based on Emotion:

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 many environmental advocates are counting on when they use
images like those above to warn of the catastrophic effects of global
warming on the earth and its peoples. The first image shows a boy and
his boat on what used to be a lake but is now cracked dry earth; the
second, a polar bear stranded on a small ice floe as the oceans rise
around it; and the third, a graphic design of a melting earth.

Of course, some people don’t believe the warnings about climate
change, arguing instead that they represent a hoax and that even if the
climate is changing, it is not a result of human activities. And, as we
would expect, this opposite side of the argument also uses emotionally
persuasive images, like the following one from American Patriot, a
news commentary YouTube channel.


The arguments packed into these four 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 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.

Recent research also shows that images that evoke fear are less
effective than those that arouse interest, worry, or hope. When the Yale
Center for Climate Change Communication asked both supporters and
deniers of climate change what they felt when they thought about this
topic, they got the following results:


In spite of the findings from such research, we don’t have to look hard
for arguments that appeal to fear, 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. But used carefully
and ethically, appeals to emotions—especially ones like worry or hope
—can be very helpful in moving an audience to action. (For more
about emotional fallacies, see “Fallacies of Emotional Argument” in
Chapter 5.)


Reading Critically for
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 speech praising that island nation’s accomplishments in
health care and education and urging a normalization of Cuban–
American relationships, a recommendation taken up by then-President
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, who announced on
December 17, 2014, that such normalization would begin. Many in the
United States applauded this move, but others, including many Cuban
Americans in the Miami area, objected strenuously. Florida senator
Marco Rubio was one of those speaking most passionately against
normalization of relationships. Shortly after Senator Harkin’s talk
about the “fascinating” socialist experiment ninety miles from the coast
of the United States, Rubio delivered a fifteen-minute rejoinder to
Harkin without a script or teleprompter. 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 outbreak of cholera


that they’ve been unable to control, or about the three-tiered
system of health care that exists where foreigners and
government officials get health care much better than that
that’s available to the general population.

Language this heated and pointed has risks, especially when a young
legislator is taking on a far more experienced colleague. But Rubio, the
son of Cuban immigrants, isn’t shy about allowing his feelings to
show: in the following passage, he uses the kind of emotion-stirring
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.

When the Obama administration indeed loosened restrictions on travel
to Cuba and began establishing diplomatic relations, Rubio stuck to his
guns, consistently and emotionally arguing against this move. And
while he was a bitter primary campaign rival of Donald Trump, who
ridiculed Rubio during the campaign as “little Marco” who was always
sweating (“It looked like he had just jumped into a swimming pool
with his clothes on”), once Trump was elected president Rubio
continued his impassioned campaign to reverse policy on Cuba. So in


June 2017, when President Trump announced tightening of restrictions
on travel to Cuba and other changes to the Obama policy, Rubio spoke
glowingly of the president, saying that “A year and a half ago, an
American president landed in Havana and outstretched his hand to a
regime. Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to
the people of Cuba.” It’s likely that we have not heard the end of this
debate, and that we will continue to hear emotion-filled arguments on
all sides of this contentious issue.

Senator Rubio with President Trump

Working with a classmate, find a speech or a print editorial that you

think uses emotional appeals effectively but sparingly, in an

understated way. Make a list of those appeals and briefly explain

how each one appeals to an audience. What difference would it


have made if the emotional appeals had been presented more

forcefully and dramatically? Would doing so have been likely to

appeal more strongly to the audience—and why or why not? What is

at stake for the writer or speaker in such situations, in terms of

credibility and ethos? What are the advantages of evoking emotions

in support of your claims or ideas?


Using Emotions to Build
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
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
commencement 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 parents’ 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 heaviness 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

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

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

A more obvious way to build an emotional tie is simply to help readers
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 who in July 2017 was featured on PBS’s “Brief but
Spectacular” video series, makes an emotional point by telling a story:


Alexandra Dal’s cartoon “Questions” offers insight into what it
feels like to be on the receiving end of racial microaggressions on a
regular basis.

LINK TO Alexandra Dal, “Questions,” in Chapter 27

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. 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
prejudices 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
introducing 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. If this sounds like a good recipe for
cognitive dissonance (if not indigestion), 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”

A visual version of Michael Pollan’s rhetorical situation


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. In a TV political attack ad, a video clip of a
scowling, blustering candidate talking dismissively about an important
issue has the potential to damage that candidate considerably. In
contrast, a human face smiling or showing honest emotion can sell just
about any product—that’s why so many political figures now routinely
smile at any camera they see. Using emotion is tricky, however, and it
can sometimes backfire. 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

Still, strong emotions can add energy to a passage or an entire
argument, as they do in Richard Lloyd Parry’s Ghosts of the Tsunami:
Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone. In this passage, Parry
describes in vivid detail the scene that greeted one mother the day the
2011 earthquake hit:

On the near side was Hitomi’s home village of Magaki and
then an expanse of paddies stretching to the Fuji lake; the
polished blue and red roofs of other hamlets glittered at the
edges of the hills. It was an archetypal view of the Japanese
countryside: abundant nature, tamed and cultivated by man.
But now she struggled to make sense of what she saw.


Everything up to and in between the hills was water. There
was only water: buildings and fields had gone. The water was
black in the early light; floating on it were continents and
trailing archipelagos of dark scummy rubble, brown in color
and composed of tree trunks. Every patch of land that was not
elevated had been absorbed by the river, which had been
annexed in turn by the sea.

In this new geography, the Fuji lake was no longer a lake. . . .
The river was no longer a river. . . . Okawa Elementary
School was invisible, hidden from view by the great shoulder
of hills from which Hitomi looked down. But the road, the
houses, and Magaki, where Hitomi’s home and family had
been, were washed from the earth.

A wrecked car lies submerged in floodwaters after the earthquake and tsunami
in Fukushima prefecture, Japan.


As this example suggests, it can be difficult to gauge how much
emotion will work in a given argument. 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 proposed 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 model/actor Cara Delevingne in the 2017 sci-fi
flop Valerian:

As played by model Cara Delevingne with a smirk that just
won’t quit, Laureline is way ballsier than Valerian, who still
looks in need of a mother’s love. She can pose and preen like
an expert in her space gear—and those eyebrows!—but
there’s no there there.

—Peter Travers, in Rolling Stone

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 that well
in more academic writing. The subject of standardized testing, for
instance, has generated much heat and light, as researchers and
teachers and policy makers argue endlessly over whether it is helpful—
or not. TV talk show host and satirist John Oliver took a crack at the


subject in a segment of Last Week Tonight, arguing that the testing
business in America has gotten way out of hand and that it does not
help students but rather funnels money into the coffers of companies
such as Pearson, who dominate the testing market.

After introducing the subject, Oliver goes on one of his signature
humorous rampages, skewering the country’s obsession with testing:

Look, standardized tests are the fastest way to terrify any
child with five letters outside of just whispering the word

After showing a video clip of kids rapping about the joys of testing,
Oliver continues:

Standardized tests look like amazing fun. I wish I could take
one right now: bring me a pencil please—a number 2 pencil!
But it just gets better, because an elementary school in Texas


even held a test-themed pep rally featuring a monkey mascot.

Fade to a monkey cavorting around the auditorium stage, swooning
over testing fun and yelling “here comes the monkey.” Then after a
video clip showing teachers describing how many students get
physically sick while taking tests (“Something is wrong with our
system when we just assume that a certain number of kids will vomit”),
Oliver asks,

Is it any wonder that students are sick of tests? . . . If
standardized tests are bad for teachers and bad for kids, who
exactly are they good for? Well, it turns out, they’re operated
by companies like Pearson, who control forty percent of the
testing market.

Pearson, Oliver says, is

the equivalent of Time Warner Cable: either you never had
an interaction with them and don’t care, or they ruined your
[entire] life.

Viewers may not agree with Oliver’s claims about standardized testing,
but his use of humor and satire certainly gets him a large viewing
audience and keeps them listening to the end.

A writer or speaker can even use humor to deal with sensitive issues.
For example, sports commentator Bob Costas, given the honor of
eulogizing 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
George W. Bush at the 2004 Radio and TV Correspondents’ Dinner
discussing 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 make 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 incident to evoke sympathy, understanding, outrage, or
amusement. Take care, though, to tell an honest story.


1. To what specific emotions do the following slogans, sales
pitches, and maxims appeal?

“Make America Great Again” (Donald Trump rallying cry)

“Just do it.” (ad for Nike)


“Think different.” (ad for Apple computers)

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

“There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else,
there’s MasterCard.” (slogan for MasterCard)

“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)

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

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

2. Bring a magazine to class, and analyze the emotional appeals
in as many full-page ads as you can. Then practice your critical
reading skills by classifying those ads by types of emotional
appeal, and see whether you can connect the appeals to the
subject 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 sections 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.


CHAPTER 3 Arguments Based on Character:

Whenever you read anything—whether it’s a news article, an
advertisement, a speech, or a tweet—you no doubt subconsciously
analyze the message for a sense of the character and credibility of the
sender: Is this someone I know and trust? Does the Fox News reporter
—or the Doctors Without Borders Web site—seem biased, and if so,
how? Why should I believe an advertisement for a car? Is this scholar
really an authority on the subject? Our culture teaches us to be
skeptical of most messages, especially 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,” “The Most Trusted Name in News,”
or “Lean In” can be effective. At the very least, if a phrase is repeated
often enough, it begins to sound plausible. Maybe Fox News really IS
the most watched and most trusted news source!


But establishing character usually takes more than repetition, as
marketers of all kinds know. It arises from credentials actually earned
in some way. In the auto industry, for instance, Subaru builds on its
customer loyalty by telling buyers that love makes a Subaru, and
companies such as Toyota, General Motors, and Nissan are hustling to
present themselves as environmentally responsible producers of fuel-
efficient, low-emission cars—the Prius, Bolt, and Leaf. BMW, maker
of “the ultimate driving machine,” points to its fuel-sipping i3 and i8
cars as evidence of its commitment to “sustainable mobility.” And
Elon Musk (who builds rockets as well as Tesla cars) polishes his
good-citizenship bona fides by releasing an affordable mass market
electric car and by sharing his electric vehicle patents with other
manufacturers. All of these companies 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
personal 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

“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
Cattolica, 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.”


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

You can see, then, why Aristotle treats ethos as a powerful
argumentative 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
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
professionals (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. 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.


The UMass Amherst Information Security department uses humor
in its posters reminding students that their pets’ names are not
the best choice for a secure password.

Trustworthiness and
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 listen 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 by getting real about
such speeches, recalling her own commencement:

The speaker that day was the distinguished British
philosopher 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.

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


LINK TO McKenzie, “Getting Personal about Cybersecurity,” in
Chapter 26

In just two sentences, Rowling pokes fun at herself and undercuts the
expectation that graduation addresses change people’s lives. For an
audience well disposed toward her already, Rowling has likely lived up
to expectations.

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
reasonable 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 presents her
acquired reputation in terms that align perfectly with contemporary

For my part, I was cast as a troublemaker in my early career
and accepted the disapproval that accompanies the expression
of unpopular views: unpopular views about disparate pay for
women and minorities; 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
sometimes, to be credible, you have to admit limitations, too, as New
York Times columnist Frank Bruni does as he positions himself in
relation to issues of oppression and deep-seated bias in an editorial
titled “I’m a White Man: Hear Me Out.” First acknowledging his racial
and socioeconomic privilege as a white man from an upper-class
background (private school, backyard swimming pool), Bruni then
addresses another, less-privileged facet of his identity:

But wait. I’m gay. . . . Gay from a different, darker day, . . .
when gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew
hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were
closeted than out. . . . Then AIDS spread, and . . . our rallying
cry, “silence = death,” defined marginalization as well as any
words could.

—Frank Bruni, “I’m a White Man: Hear Me Out”

Making such concessions to readers sends a strong signal that you’ve
looked critically at your own position and can therefore be trusted
when 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 Bruni. 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 an essay or present an idea, you are
sending 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 important too. And though you might not worry about it now, at
some point you may need letters of recommendation from instructors
or supervisors. How will they remember you? Often chiefly from the
ethos you have established in your work. Think about that.


Rob Greenfield establishes his ethos right in the title of his blog
post, “An Argument against Veganism . . . from a Vegan.”

LINK TO Greenfield, “An Argument against Veganism . . . from a
Vegan,” in Chapter 24

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 an essay about
John McCain’s decision to vote against a Senate bill to repeal the
Affordable Care Act, AP reporter Laurie Kellman notes some of
McCain’s experiences that help build his credibility:

Longtime colleagues . . . say [McCain] developed his
fearlessness as a navy aviator held as a prisoner for more than
five years in Vietnam. Resilience, they say, has fueled his long
Senate career and helped him overcome two failed
presidential campaigns. For some, McCain has become the
moral voice of the Republican Party.

—Laurie Kellman, “Cancer Isn’t Silencing McCain”


Here Kellman stresses McCain’s length of service in the Senate as well
as his military service and prisoner of war status, and she refers to him
as a “standard bearer” and “moral voice” of the Republican Party. In
doing so, she indicates that McCain’s ethos is hard won and to be taken

Senator John McCain

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
deserts with nuclear radiation. What gives her the right to speak on this
subject? Not scientific expertise, but gut-wrenching personal

I belong to the Clan of One-Breasted Women. My mother, my
grandmothers, 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

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

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 sustainability offered by a
professor of ecology and agriculture 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

In our current political climate, the ethos of experts—such as scientists
or other academics with deep knowledge about a subject—is being
questioned. Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins, professors of
public policy and political science, identify this trend particularly at the
right end of the political spectrum:


Data from the General Social Survey demonstrate that
declining public faith in science is concentrated among
conservatives. Compared to Democrats, Republicans are
significantly less likely to trust what scientists say, more
critical of political bias in academe and less confident in
colleges and universities. Negative attitudes toward science
and the media also intersect, with one-third of Republicans
reporting no trust in journalists to accurately report scientific

—Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins, “How
Information Became Ideological”

Like the attacks on “fake news,” here Grossmann and Hopkins identify
an assault on the ethos of scientists and other academic experts.

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 subject 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, having 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



—Richard Bernstein, Dictatorship of Virtue

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
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 questions go to the heart of ethical

In a hugely controversial 2014 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 “racist 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 temperatures, 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, sacrificing 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 argument
against those who make assumptions about his roots by dramatizing 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 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

As you might imagine, the pushback to “Checking My Privilege” was


enormous, some of the hundreds of comments posted to an online
version accusing Fortgang himself of assuming the very ethos of
victimhood 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,

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 cultural
conditions on their own terms—or even that investors might look out
for their investments. It’s simply good strategy, not to mention ethical,
to let your audiences know where your loyalties lie when such
information does, in fact, shape your work.

Using Ethos in Your Own Writing

Establish your credibility by listening carefully to and
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 trustworthy? 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?


In the United States, students are often asked to establish authority by
drawing on personal experiences, by reporting on research they or
others 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
knowledge 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
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.



1. Consider the ethos of these public figures. Then describe one or
two products that might benefit from their endorsements as
well as several that would not.

Edward Snowden—whistleblower

Beyoncé—singer, dancer, actress

Denzel Washington—actor

Tom Brady—football player

Rachel Maddow—TV news commentator

Ariana Grande—singer

Seth Meyers—late-night TV host

Lin-Manuel Miranda—hip hop artist and playwright

Venus Williams—tennis player

2. Opponents of Richard Nixon, the thirty-seventh president of the
United States, once raised doubts about his integrity by asking
a single 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. Practice reading rhetorically and critically by taking a close

look at your own 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.


CHAPTER 4 Arguments Based on Facts and
Reason: Logos

In 2018, it feels like facts are under siege, as these three images
suggest. Cartoonists are having a field day with a “post-fact” world,
while serious scientists are hard at work trying to understand “why
facts don’t change our minds.” From Kellyanne Conway’s evocation of
“alternative facts” to Donald Trump’s tendency to label reports that do
not support his views as “fake news,” we are witnessing a world in
which the statement by Through the Looking-Glass’s White Queen that
“sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before
breakfast” seems, well, unremarkable. After the 2016 election, for
example, President Trump declared that there was “serious voter fraud”
in Virginia, in New Hampshire, in California, and elsewhere, although
researchers could find no evidence to back up his claim, and fact-
checkers across the board found the “fact” to be baseless. In June 2017,
three CNN employees resigned after the network retracted a story that
claimed Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with
ties to Trump officials”; the journalists had used only one unreliable
source to back up this supposedly factual claim. We could go on and


on with such examples from across the political spectrum, and no
doubt you could add your own to the list.

In “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” Elizabeth Kolbert surveys
cognitive science research that’s trying to understand why this is so,
pointing to a series of experiments at Stanford University that found
that “Even after the evidence for their beliefs had been totally refuted,
people fail to make appropriate revisions to those beliefs”:

Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and
elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the
research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of
Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a
clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people
are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed
more relevant than it does now.

Scientists working on this issue point to the “confirmation” or
“myside” bias, the strong tendency to accept information that supports
our beliefs and values and to reject information that opposes them, as
well as to our tendency to think we know a whole lot more than we
actually do. A study at Yale asked graduate students to rate their
knowledge of everyday items, including toilets, and to write up an
explanation of how such devices worked. While the graduate students
rated their knowledge/understanding as high before they wrote up the
explanations, that exercise showed them that they didn’t really know
how toilets worked, and their self-assessment dropped significantly.
The researchers, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, call this effect
the “illusion of explanatory depth” and find that it is very widespread.


“Where it gets us into trouble,” they say, is in “the political domain.”
As Kolbert writes, “It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without
knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an
immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about.” Sloman
and Fernbach explain: “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not
emerge from deep understanding. . . . This is how a community of
knowledge can become dangerous.”

Such findings are important to all of us, and they suggest several steps
all writers, readers, and speakers should take as they deal with
arguments based on facts and reason. First, examine your own beliefs
in particular facts and pieces of information: do you really know what
you’re talking about or are you simply echoing what others you know
say or think? Second, you need to become a conscientious fact-
checker, digging deep to make sure claims are backed by evidence.
Doing so is especially important with information you get from social
media, where misinformation, disinformation, and even outright lies
may be presented as “facts” that you might retweet or post, thus
perpetuating false or questionable information.

Finally, don’t give up on facts. The researchers discussed above also
show that, when given a choice, most people still say they respect and
even prefer appeals to claims based on facts, evidence, and reason. Just
make sure that the logical appeals you are using are factually correct
and ethical as well.


Thinking Critically about
Hard Evidence
Aristotle helps us out in classifying arguments by distinguishing two


Arguments the


Appeals to reason; common sense


Arguments the
writer/speaker is


Facts, statistics, testimonies,
witnesses, contracts, documents

We can see these different kinds of logical appeals at work in a passage
from a statement made on September 5, 2017, by Attorney General Jeff

Good morning. I am here today to announce that the program
known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama
Administration is being rescinded. The DACA program was
implemented in 2012 and essentially provided a legal status
for recipients for a renewable two-year term, work
authorization and other benefits, including participation in
the social security program, to 800,000 mostly-adult illegal
aliens. This policy was implemented unilaterally to great
controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected
legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous
occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.


In other words, the executive branch, through DACA,
deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch
specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such
an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an
unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive
Branch. The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among
other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors
on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian
consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of
Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.

Jeff Sessions announcing that DACA would be rescinded by the Trump

Sessions opens his statement with a simple “good morning” and a
direct announcement of his purpose: to rescind the Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program initiated by the Obama


administration in 2012. In the next sentence, he uses “inartistic”
evidence of what DACA provided (it was renewable and provided
work authorization and other benefits) for “800,000 mostly-adult
illegal aliens.” Noting that Congress had refused on several occasions
to extend benefits to the “same group of illegal aliens,” Sessions offers
the constructed argument that Obama’s “open-ended circumvention of
immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority.”
Presumably now drawing on hard evidence, Sessions argues that
DACA led to “a surge of unaccompanied minors,” that it denied jobs to
“hundreds of thousands” of Americans, and, by neglecting the “rule of
law,” it subjected the United States to “the risk of crime, violence, and
even terrorism.”

Sessions says early on in his statement that DACA was implemented
amidst “great controversy,” and indeed that fact checks out. Other
claims made in the statement, however, were quickly challenged. The
nonpartisan FactCheck.org, for example, calls out Sessions’s
description of DACA recipients as “mostly-adult illegal aliens” (a label
he uses several times), citing research by Professor Tom Wong of the
University of California, San Diego, whose national survey of 3,063
DACA holders in summer 2017 found that “on average they were six
and a half years old when they arrived in the U.S. Most of them—54
percent—were under the age of 7.” So while they are adults today, they
were not adults when they were brought to the United States. Likewise,
FactCheck.org points out that Sessions’s claim that DACA contributed
to a “surge of unaccompanied minors” is, at best, misleading and out of


It is true that there was a surge of unaccompanied children
that caught the Obama administration off guard in fiscal
2012. The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the
border peaked in fiscal 2014 at 68,541, dropping 42 percent to
39,970 in fiscal 2015 before rising again in fiscal year 2016 to

But the children who crossed the border illegally were not
eligible for DACA. As we said earlier, the criteria for DACA is
continuous residence in the United States since June 15, 2007.

If you were reading or listening to this statement and wanted to do
some fact-checking of your own, you might well begin by determining
whether DACA really led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In today’s political climate, in fact, it’s important that every one of us
read with a critical eye, refusing to accept claims without proof,
constructed arguments, or even “hard evidence” that we can’t fact-
check for ourselves.


Two DACA “Dreamers” protesting near Trump Tower in New York the day after
Sessions’s statement rescinding the program

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

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. The crowds at President Trump’s inauguration were the largest
on record.

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.
Carole Cadwalladr, a reviewer for the British newspaper the Guardian,
praises the research underlying It’s Complicated: The Networked Lives
of Teens. Drawing on almost a decade of research by assistant
professor danah boyd of New York University,

the book is grounded in hard academic research: proper
interviews conducted with actual teenagers. What comes
across most strongly, more so than the various “myths” and
“panics” that the author describes, is just how narrow and
circumscribed many of these teenagers’ lives have become.

Here the “hard academic research” the reviewer mentions is the
ethnographic research that yields an accurate description of these
young people’s lives.

When your facts are compelling, they might 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
inherently interesting. But presenting new knowledge dispassionately
is (ideally 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 Conclusions” 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:

As expected in the first hypothesis, the results show that the
longer people have used Facebook, 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.

—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 careful attention to the


Lindsay McKenzie cites statistics in her Web article about how
secure students feel in protecting themselves from cyberattacks.

LINK TO McKenzie, “Getting Personal about Cybersecurity,” in
Chapter 26

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

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 all too often 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 it is certainly 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
statistics 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 below 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
elementary 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 sobering list of shootings received wide
attention in the media, given the startling number of incidents it

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
controversial number. To do that, the Washington Post began by
posing an important 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 shootings. The list, maintained by Everytown, a
group that backs policies to limit gun violence, was updated
last week to reflect what it identified 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 firearm discharging on school
property as a shooting—thus casting a broad net that includes
homicides, suicides, accidental discharges 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
circumstances 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

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


Arguments over gun violence in schools reached a new peak in 2018
after seventeen students and staff members were killed at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, leading to a nationwide
student walkout on March 14 and massive protests at eight hundred
sites around the world on March 24 (including over half a million in
Washington, D.C., alone), all organized and led by students. Articulate
and media savvy, the student leaders knew to rely on “hard evidence”
and solid, fact-checked statistics, and they conducted the research
necessary to do so. Students across the United States learned a lesson
well: when you rely on statistics in your arguments, make sure you
understand where they come from, what they 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 fictitious data based on
questionable assumptions.


Statistical evidence becomes useful only when interpreted fairly and

reasonably. Go to the Business Insider Australia Web site and look

for one or more charts of the day


(www.businessinsider.com/au/category/chart-of-the-day). Choose

one, 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


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 behavior. They can also provide persuasive reasons for action
or intervention. When surveys show, for example, that most American
sixth-graders can’t locate France or Wyoming on a map—not to
mention 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 our own point of view. Ask
who commissioned 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? Not at all, and especially not today. In
fact, this sort of scrutiny is exactly what you might anticipate from
your readers whenever you use (or create) 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 were likely to say. In a splendid
article on how women can make research-based choices during
pregnancy, economist Emily Oster explores, for example, whether an
expectant mother might in fact be able to drink responsibly. She
researches not only the results of the data, but also who was surveyed,
and how their participation might have influenced the results. One
2001 study of pregnant women’s drinking habits and their children’s
behavior years later cautioned that even a single drink per day while
pregnant could cause behavioral issues. However, Oster uncovered a
serious flaw in the study, noting that

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. . . . [R]eally? Cocaine? Perhaps the
problem is that cocaine, not the occasional glass of
Chardonnay, makes your child more likely to have behavior

—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 past, research revealed, for example, that


polling about same-sex unions got differing responses according to
how questions were 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 were 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 have clearly done.
Remember, 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 2014, for example,
a Reuters poll found that 20 percent of California residents said they
supported “CalExit,” a proposal for California to secede from the
United States and become a country in its own right. In 2017, however,
the same poll found that figure had jumped from 20 percent to 32
percent. The pollsters note, however, that the “margin of error for the
California answers was plus or minus 5 percentage points.” On public
and political issues, you need to be sure that you are using the most
timely information you can get.


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


In his article “Thick of Tongue,” linguist John McWhorter shares
his personal experience as a black man whom others insist
“sounds white.”

LINK TO McWhorter, “Thick of Tongue,” in Chapter 25

classmates and note what you learn about how to improve your


Testimonies and Narratives

Writers often support arguments by presenting human experiences in
the form of narrative or testimony—particularly if those experiences
are their own. When Republican Senator Orrin Hatch condemned
KKK, neo-Nazi, and white nationalist protests in Charlottesville,
Virginia, in August 2017, he did so by calling on personal experience:

In courts, judges and juries often take into consideration detailed
descriptions and narratives of exactly what occurred. In the case of Doe
v. City of Belleville, the judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
decided, based on the testimony presented, that a man (known as H.)


had been sexually harassed by other men in his workplace. The
narrative, in this case, supplies the evidence, noting that one coworker

constantly referred to H. as “queer” and “fag” and urged H.
to “go back to San Francisco with the rest of the queers.” . . .
The verbal taunting of H. turned physical one day when [a
coworker] trapped [him] against a wall, proceeded to grab H.
by the testicles and, having done so, announced to the
assemblage of co-workers present, “Well, I guess he’s a guy.”

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 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 feelings. 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.

May I presume to disagree? Civility is a subjective concept, to
be sure, but hurting people’s feelings in the course of making
solid arguments is fair and square. The decline in the quality
of our public discourse 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’ Civility 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
ineffectively. (For more on establishing credibility with readers, see
Chapter 3.)


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 reasonably. 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

All human beings are mortal.

Socrates is a human being.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.


In valid syllogisms, the conclusion follows logically—and technically
—from the premises that lead up to it. Many have criticized syllogistic
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. Representative 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
evenhanded and disinterested. When the stewards of power—
biased judges or corrupt policemen or politically motivated
IRS officials—act unfairly, it undermines trust in the whole

—Michael Gerson, “An Arrogant and Lawless IRS”

Gerson’s criticism of the IRS actions might be mapped out by the
following 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

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.

Embedded in this brief argument are all sorts of assumptions and


fragments 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
audiences know and will accept.

But sometimes enthymemes aren’t self-evident:

Be wary of environmentalism because it’s religion disguised as

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 inferences that seem self-evident in other enthymemes. And you’ll
likely also have to supply credible evidence; just calling something a
fact doesn’t make it one, so a simple declaration of fact won’t suffice.


In the United States, student writers are expected to draw on “hard
facts” and evidence as often as possible in supporting their claims:
while ethical and emotional appeals are increasingly important and
often used in making decisions, logical appeals still 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 community over individualism, and still other cultures
value religious texts as providing compelling evidence. So think
carefully about what you consider 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?


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

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 concept 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 structure 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 outweigh the ethical risks.

Better a conventional war now than a nuclear confrontation

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 a strong advantage with

Analogies, typically complex or extended comparisons, explain one


Alli Joseph discusses the portrayal of Pacific Islanders in Disney’s
Moana and compares it to the studio’s previous depictions of
ethnic minorities.

LINK TO Joseph, “With Disney’s Moana, Hollywood Almost Gets It
Right,” in Chapter 23

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

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 international standardized tests, we blame
the teachers.

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



Arguments from precedent and arguments of analogy both involve
comparisons. 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

You could tease out several inferences from this claim to explain its
reasonableness: 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. In any case, that argument has begun to have traction: as of
January 2018, Oregon began permitting self-service pumps in fifteen
rural counties, though doing so called forth virulent pushback on social
media. So the debate goes on!

Here is an excerpt from an analytical argument by Kriston Capps that
examines attempts by the sculptor of Wall Street’s Charging Bull to
have a new, competing sculpture, Fearless Girl, removed on the basis
of legal precedents supporting the rights of visual artists. Sculptor
Arturo Di Modica’s assertion,

that Visbal’s work infringes on his own, is unlikely to hold
sway, under recent readings of the Visual Artists Rights Act. .
. . The argument that Fearless Girl modifies or destroys
Charging Bull by blocking its path would represent a leap that


courts have been reluctant to take even in clearer cases.

—Kriston Capps, “Why Wall Street’s Charging Bull
Sculptor Has No Real Case against Fearless Girl”

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.


CHAPTER 5 Fallacies of Argument

Do these cartoons ring a bell with you? The first panel skewers
slippery slope arguments, which aim to thwart action by predicting dire
consequences: “occupy” enough spaces and the Occupy movement
looks just like the Tea Party. In the second item, an example of a straw
man argument, the first author of an academic paper puts down his
coauthor by shifting the subject, saying that the coauthor is an egotist
who cares only for fame, not what the coauthor had said at all. And the
third image provides an example of a very common fallacy, the ad
hominem argument, in which a speaker impugns the character of an
opponent rather than addressing the arguments that person raises.
Rather than argue the point that human cloning is wrong, the bird says,
simply, “you’re an idiot.”

Candidate Donald Trump made something of a specialty of the ad
hominem argument. Rather than address their arguments directly, he
attacked the characters of his opponents: Marco Rubio was always
“little Marco,” Hillary Clinton was always “crooked,” Elizabeth
Warren was “goofy,” and Cruz was always “Lyin’ Ted.” Early on in
the campaign, when asked about rival candidate Carly Fiorina’s plans,


he said, “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean,
she’s a woman and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really,
folks, come on.” Classic ad hominem, and oftentimes such tactics work
all too well!

Fallacies are argumentative moves flawed by their nature or structure.
Because such tactics can make principled argument more difficult, they
potentially hurt everyone involved, including the people responsible
for them. The worst sorts of fallacies muck up the frank but civil
conversations that people should be able to have, regardless of their

Yet it’s hard to deny the power in offering audiences a compelling
either/or choice or a vulnerable straw man in an argument: these
fallacies can have great persuasive power. 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
Emotional arguments can be powerful and suitable in many
circumstances, and most writers use them frequently. However, writers
who pull on their readers’ heartstrings or raise their blood pressure too
often—or who oversentimentalize—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
imagine 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 entitlement 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 or seem
hysterical. 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
reduce a complicated issue to excessively simple terms (e.g., “You’re
either for me or against me”) 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 on PBS 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
Mansour’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 presents, according to Pollack, does not describe
the realities of this complex political situation.


A false choice?

Slippery Slope
The slippery slope fallacy portrays today’s tiny misstep as tomorrow’s
slide into disaster. Some arguments that aim at preventing dire
consequences do not take the slippery slope approach (for example, the
parent 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


arguments. Here are two examples:

“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

—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
individual and focus attention on heartwarming or heartrending
situations that make readers feel guilty if they challenge an idea, a
policy, or a proposal. Emotions can 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,
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
woman’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.

The first 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. The second image supports the other side of the

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 independently 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
camping 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 children groan—and then try a different line of

Advertisers use bandwagon appeals frequently, as this example of a
cellphone ad demonstrates:

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—and for
freedom of speech, campaigns for immigration reform, bailouts for
banks and businesses, and many fads in education. All these issues are


too complex to permit the suspension of judgment that bandwagon
tactics require.


Fallacies of Ethical
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
reputable authorities and introduce these authorities through direct
quotations or citations as credible evidence. (For more on assessing the
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, and Britain has had its Bill of Rights
since the seventeenth century) as ultimate authorities, a reasonable


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 constitutional matters are
debatable—as volumes of court records prove. Likewise, 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 often 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 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?”

—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,
whenever someone suggests that even raising an issue for debate is
totally unacceptable—whether on the grounds that it’s racist, sexist,
unpatriotic, 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. During the 2016 presidential primary, Marco
Rubio criticized rival candidate Ted Cruz for not speaking Spanish:
was that a valid argument for why Cruz would not make a good
president? Such attacks, of course, aren’t aimed at men only, as
columnist Jamie Stiehm proved when she criticized Supreme Court
Justice Sonia Sotomayor for delaying an Affordable Care Act mandate
objected to by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order.
Stiehm directly targets 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

Stiehm then widens her ad hominem assault to include Catholics in

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

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. Even though the
norms of civic discourse were strained to the limit during and after the
2016 presidential election, most people still expect the proponent of
peace to be civil, a secretary of the treasury to pay his or her taxes, the
champion of family values to be a faithful spouse, and the head of the
Environmental Protection Agency to advocate for protecting the
environment. But it’s fallacious to attack any of these people for their
traits, backgrounds, looks, or other irrelevant information.


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 2016 New Yorker article, writer
Kathryn Schulz discusses the Netflix series Making a Murderer.
Schulz notes that the filmmakers have been accused of limiting their
evidence in order to convince viewers that the accused, Steven Avery,
had been framed for the crime:

Ricciardi and Demos have dismissed the idea, claiming that
they simply set out to investigate Avery’s case and didn’t have
a position on his guilt or innocence. Yet . . . the filmmakers
minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than
savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical
and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence
against him, . . . evidence that would be nearly impossible to
plant. . . . Ricciardi and Demos instead stack the deck to
support their case for Avery, and, as a result, wind up
mirroring the entity that they are trying to discredit.

—Kathryn Schulz, “Dead Certainty: How Making a
Murderer Goes Wrong”

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 Schulz
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.


Look closely at Alexandra Dal’s and the Turner Consulting Group’s
visual arguments showing how damaging microaggressions can
be. Then compare them to Scott O. Lilienfeld’s argument against
the use of microaggressions. Do you see any fallacies in the trio of

LINK TO Turner Consulting Group, “Racial Microaggressions”; Dal,
“Questions”; and Lilienfeld, “Why a Moratorium on
Microaggressions Is Needed,” in Chapter 27

Fallacies of Logical

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 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

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, possibly, 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
assumption 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 copious amounts of the company’s beer had kept him from
writing a novel. This argument is sometimes referred to as the
“Twinkie defense,” referring to a claim that the person who shot and
killed San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk had eaten so many
Twinkies and other sugary foods that his reasoning had been impaired.
The phrase is now sometimes used to label the claims of criminals that
their acts were caused by something beyond their control.

Of course, 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 connection between cause and effect turns out to be
completely wrong. For example, 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 computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our
own intelligence that flattens” and that the more one is online the less
he or she is able to concentrate or read deeply.

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 bribes.

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
argument that goes nowhere. (For more on Toulmin argument, see
Chapter 7.)


Equivocations—half truths or arguments that give lies an honest
appearance—are usually based on tricks of language. Consider the
plagiarist 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, during the 2016 presidential campaign,
Hillary Clinton was asked regularly (some would say she was
hounded) about her use of a private email server and about whether any
of the emails contained classified information. Here’s what she said on
February 1, 2016:

The emails that I was received were not marked classified.
Now, there are disagreements among agencies on what should
have been perhaps classified retroactively, but at the time that
doesn’t change the fact that they were not marked classified.

—NPR Morning Edition, February 1, 2016

Many commentators at the time felt that this statement was a clear
equivocation, and this controversy continued to haunt Clinton
throughout her campaign.

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.”
Children are adept at framing non sequiturs like this one: You don’t
love me or you’d buy me a new bike. 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 Donald Trump replying to questions in
a 2017 interview with Michael Scherer of Time Magazine:

Scherer: Mitch McConnell has said he’d rather you stop
tweeting, that he sees it as a distraction.

Trump: Mitch will speak for himself. Mitch is a wonderful
man. Mitch should speak for himself.

Here Trump does not respond to the claim the interviewer says Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made, but instead abruptly
changes the subject, commenting instead on McConnell, saying he is a
“wonderful man.”


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 commentator Charles Krauthammer slips into the fallacy when
he misconstrues 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, impervious to challenge” by explaining why such a claim is

Calling something an established scientific fact means that it is
reasonable 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.


—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
undermine 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

climate change + red herring

white supremacy + 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.

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 Analogies in Chapter 4).
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. Secretary of Education
Betsy DeVos found herself in a national controversy following a
statement she made after meeting with Historically Black Colleges and
Universities presidents in Washington, when she made an analogy
between HCBUs and her advocacy of “school choice” today:

They [African Americans] saw that the system wasn’t
working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they
took it upon themselves to provide the solution. HBCUs are


real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living
proof that when more options are provided to students, they
are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success
has shown that more options help students flourish.

What commentators immediately pointed out was that this statement
included a false analogy. HBCUs were not created to provide more
choice for African American students (and thus be analogous to
DeVos’s push for charter schools and school “choice”) but rather
because these students had little to no choice; after the Civil War,
African American students were barred from most white public

This fallacy (sometimes spelled paralepsis and often compared with
occultatio) has been so predominant in the last two years that we think
it’s worthy of inclusion here. Basically, this fallacy occurs when
speakers or writers say they will NOT talk about something, thus doing
the very thing they say they’re not going to do. It’s a way of getting a
point into an argument obliquely, of sneaking it in while saying that
you are not doing so. Although paralipsis is rampant today, it is not
new: Socrates famously used it in his trial when he said he would not
mention his grieving wife and children who would suffer so mightily at
his death. In the 2016 presidential campaign and in the first years of his
presidency, Donald Trump used paralipsis repeatedly. Here, for
instance, he is at a campaign rally in Fort Dodge, Iowa, speaking about
rival candidate Marco Rubio:


I will not call him a lightweight, because I think that’s a
derogatory term, so I will not call him a lightweight. Is that
OK with you people? I refuse to say that he’s a lightweight.

Although he is the most conspicuous user of paralipsis today, Trump is
by no means the only politician to use this fallacy. Here’s a
commentator reporting on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a
2016 town hall meeting in Iowa:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday called Bill Clinton’s
sexual scandals “totally disgraceful and unacceptable” but


said he would not use the former president’s infidelities
against Hillary Clinton. “Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton.
What Bill Clinton did, I think we can all acknowledge was
totally, totally, totally disgraceful and unacceptable.”

—Reporter Lisa Hagen, The Hill

In saying he would not use the former president’s scandalous behavior
against Hillary Clinton, he in fact does just the opposite.

Finally, you may run across the use of paralipsis anywhere, even at the
movies, as spoken here by Robert Downey Jr.’s character Tony Stark:

I’m not saying I’m responsible for this country’s longest run
of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I’m not saying that from
the ashes of captivity, never has a phoenix metaphor been
more personified! I’m not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on
a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven’t come
across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best
day. It’s not about me!

—Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 2 (2010)

You may be tempted to use this fallacy in your own writing, but
beware: it is pretty transparent and may well backfire on you. Better to
say what you believe to be the truth—and stick to it.


1. Examine each of the following political slogans or phrases for


logical fallacies.

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

“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)

“Build bridges, not walls.” (attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.)

“Stronger Together” (campaign slogan)

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

“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. Hone your critical reading skills by choosing a paper you’ve
written for a college class and analyze it for signs of fallacious
reasoning. Then find an editorial, a syndicated column, 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? How effective do you think the fallacies were in
speaking to their intended audience?

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 analyze the site for fallacious
reasoning. Among other considerations, look at the


relationship between text and graphics and between individual
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 articles, 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 fallacies?
Summarize your findings in a brief oral report to your class.


CHAPTER 6 Rhetorical Analysis

If you watched the 2016 Super Bowl between the Carolina Panthers
and the Denver Broncos, you may remember the commercial in which
the images above appeared. For a full 60 seconds, “Portraits” — which
celebrates the seventy-fifth birthday of Jeep — shows still photographs
of the faces of a wide range of people, all of whom have had some
connection with the iconic Jeep. B. B. King, one of the most influential
blues musicians of all time, recorded a cover of the famous Duke
Ellington song, “Jeep’s Blues,” and Marilyn Monroe rode in a Jeep
when she visited troops in 1954. One of the noncelebrities in the
commercial is a young woman holding her hands in front of her face;
who knows what her connection might be? This advertisement, which
won the Super Clio for the best ad of the 2016 Super Bowl, plays in
black and white, flashing from one memorable face to another, as a
voice speaks to viewers:

I’ve seen things no man should bear and those that every man
should dare, from the beaches of Normandy to the farthest
reaches of the earth. In my life, I’ve lived millions of lives. I’ve
outrun robots and danced with dinosaurs. I’ve faced the faces


of fear, and of fortitude, and witnessed great beauty in the
making. I’ve kept the company of kings — and queens. But
I’m no royalty or saint. I’ve traveled, trekked, wandered, and
roamed only to find myself right where I belong.

As the portraits are shown, they are occasionally joined by an image of
a Jeep, and the ad closes with these lines:

Within seconds of its showing, the ad had been viewed on YouTube
over 15,000 times. So how do we account for the power of such
advertisements? That would be the work of a rhetorical analysis, the
close, critical reading of a text or, in this case, a video commercial, to
figure out exactly how it functions. Certainly, Iris, the ad agency that
created “Portraits,” counted on the strong emotional appeal of the
photographs, assuming that the faces represented would stir strong
sentiments, along with the lyrical words of the voiceover.


The ad’s creators pushed the envelope of convention, too, by rejecting
the over-the-top, schmaltzy, or super-cute techniques of other
advertisements and by the muted product connection. As Super Clio
commissioner Rob Reilly put it, “I liked the restraint it showed for the
Super Bowl, to not use the typical tricks. Jeep could have easily shown
driving footage . . . but they chose to show very little product and tell a
great story.” Another Clio juror found that the ad “credits people with
intelligence and asks you to decode it.” (For more information on
analyzing images, see Chapter 14.)

Rhetorical analysis and critical reading 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 Jeep commercial found its share of critics. In a
review of the ad for Wired, Jenna Garrett helps viewers understand
some of the choices made by the advertisers, such as the decision to
show the ad in portrait format (and thus using only a third of the TV
screen) in recognition that many would be watching on cell phones and
tablets (indeed, she reports, the ad looks very fine on those devices).
But she then turns to faults she finds with the ad:

Some of the photos are legitimately great, taken by the likes of
celebrity photographer Martin Schoeller. But others look like
vacation snapshots, and many of the Jeep images were “fan
photos” taken by people doing, well, whatever. Although the
photos make the point that Jeep has been everywhere and
loved by everyone, the ad doesn’t feel cohesive. The pictures of
Terminator and T-rex, for example, were jarring, particularly


the Terminator’s red eyes (the only splash of color in the
entire ad). And speaking from a strictly technical perspective,
the photos are all over the map in terms of contrast, and some
of the crops are entirely too tight.

— Jenna Garrett, “Why Jeep’s $10M Super Bowl Ad Only
Used a Third of the Screen”

Other reviewers found the advertisement over-sentimental, even
saccharine; still others noted some lack of diversity.

Whenever you undertake a rhetorical analysis, do what these reviewers
did: read (and view) critically, noting every detail and asking yourself
how those details affect the audience, how they build agreement or
adherence to the argument — or how they do not do so. And ask plenty
of questions: 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 position on
immigration? Critical reading and rhetorical analysis can help you
understand and answer these questions. Dig as deep as you can into the
context of the item you are analyzing, especially when you encounter
puzzling, troubling, or unusually successful appeals — ethical,
emotional, or logical. Ask yourself what strategies a speech, editorial,
opinion column, film, or ad uses to move your heart, win your trust,
and change your mind — or why, maybe, it fails to do so.


Composing a Rhetorical
Analysis: Reading and
Viewing Critically
You perform a rhetorical analysis by analyzing how well the
components of an argument work together to persuade or move an
audience. You can study arguments of any kind — advertisements (as
we’ve seen), Web sites, editorials, political cartoons, and even songs,
movies, photographs, buildings, or shopping malls. 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
Who is the audience for this argument? Who is ignored or
What appeals or techniques does the argument use — emotional,
logical, ethical?
What type of argument is it, and how does the genre affect the
argument? (You might challenge the lack of evidence in editorials,
but you wouldn’t make the same complaint about bumper
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?
Can you detect the use of misinformation, disinformation, “fake”
news, or outright lies?
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?
Can you identify fallacies in the argument — emotional, ethical,
or logical? (See Chapter 5.)
How is the argument organized or arranged? What media does the
argument use and how effectively?
How does the language and style of the argument work to
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.
(Annotating 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 conservative 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
apartment insurance. Do such stealthy arguments succeed? Do
consumers 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.
Remember the statements included in TV ads during the last federal
election: “Hello, I’m X — and I approve this ad”? Federal law requires
such statements 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.

Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsing Kamala Harris, who won the 2016 race to
replace long-time California senator Barbara Boxer

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 Live-Journal celebrity gossip site such as Oh No They
Didn’t? Check out related Web sites for information about goals,


policies, contributors, and funding.

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


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)

Former President Obama’s eulogy in memory of the

worshippers killed at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston



Sara Morrison’s report “Covering the Transgender Community”
has a clear audience: journalists and others interested in how
transgender individuals are represented in the media.

LINK TO Morrison, “Covering the Transgender Community,” in
Chapter 23

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
rhetorical analysis of an argumentative piece should identify its target
readers or viewers (see Appealing to Audiences in Chapter 1) 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


credibility with an audience. One effective means of building
credibility is to show respect for your readers or viewers, especially if
they may not agree with you. In introducing an article on problems
facing African American women in the workplace, editor-in-chief of
Essence Diane Weathers considers 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 several 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: we always have low prices. Here the use of red, white, and blue says
“we’re all-American,” while the simple layout and direct statement (a promise,
really) say they are talking the talk as well as walking the walk.

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
preference for “straight talk”:

There are some signs in the advertising world that Americans
are getting 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


— 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
during 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 analyses, Huffington Post’s Carolyn Gregoire takes care to
describe in detail the item she finds offensive — a shot of a man
overlooking the pool in his backyard and asking why we work so hard,
“For this? For stuff?”:

[I]t becomes clear that the answer to this rhetorical 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


analysis 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 wealth or status is a guarantee of good taste. Now,
the luxury car company 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
commenting on in a rhetorical analysis.

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. Public service announcements often use emotion-
laden images to remind drivers to think of the consequences.

In analyzing emotional appeals, judge whether the emotions raised —
anger, sympathy, fear, envy, joy, love, lust — advance the claims
offered. Look, for example, at these photographs of protests in
Charlottesville, Virginia, over the possible removal of a statue of
General Robert E. Lee.


This photo shows proud members of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux
Klan, some carrying Confederate flags. What emotions do you think these
protesters wanted to appeal to? What emotions does the photo stir in you?


Or how about this photo, from the same rally, showing counterprotesters: again,
what emotions are being appealed to? How effective do you find either of these
photos in appealing to your emotions?

The August 2017 rally in Charlottesville stirred emotions across the
country, as ordinary people, commentators, and politicians weighed in
on issues of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, fascism, race-based hatred,
and bigotry. President Trump at first suggested that there was plenty of
blame on “all sides,” but later adjusted that statement when many
accused him of drawing a false equivalency between those advocating
for Nazism and those who were protesting against it.

But arguments that appeal to emotions don’t have to be as highly
charged — and dangerous — as the Charlottesville event was.
Consider, for example, how columnist Ron Rosenbaum makes the
reasonable argument he offers for fatty foods all the more attractive by
loading it with emotional language:

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

Short ribs: health food? Who does this photo appeal to — and who might it turn

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 consider a verbal claim? What emotion does

the argument generate? How does that emotion work to persuade



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 important 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 character 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
preschool child who is trying to think through the issue of homework
for elementary school kids:

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
perception 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 competent or overly cautious. Technical terms and
abstract phrases can make a writer seem either knowledgeable or


Examining Arguments
Based on Facts and
Reason: Logos
In analyzing most arguments, you’ll have to decide whether an
argument makes a plausible claim and offers good reasons for you to
believe 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: viewers have to assemble the parts and draw inferences in
order to get the point. Take a look, for instance, at this advertisement
for GEICO insurance:


This ad draws attention with a snappy photo of a large silver watch and
a headline: “That watch won’t pay for itself.” The smaller text below
mentions other luxury items consumers may covet: designer aviators,
for example, that don’t “come cheap.” Then the logical shift: if you
want luxury things you would do well to save money. And how to save
money? “So switch to GEICO and save money for the things you
love.” There’s an implied syllogism here:

You need to save money so you can afford the things you love.

GEICO will help you save money.


GEICO will help you afford the things you love.

But a little critical thinking can lead you to question each of these
implied premises. Is the reason to save money really to buy luxury
items? Just exactly how will GEICO help you save money? How much
is your current insurance and how does that compare to the cost of
GEICO? Maybe GEICO does offer a very good deal on insurance, but
you’ll need to do some more research to assure yourself of that fact.
(For more on analyzing visual images, see Chapter 14.)

Some print 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
following 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 raising housing prices, pushing out old-time
residents and diminishing the African American character of Fort
Greene. McWhorter, an African American like Lee, sees matters

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


See another argument on race by John McWhorter, this time on
what it means when we say someone “sounds black” or “sounds

LINK TO McWhorter, “Thick of Tongue,” in Chapter 25

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, expanding 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.

An anti-fur protestor in London makes a rather specific claim.

Indeed, every paragraph in an argument may develop a specific and
related idea. In a rhetorical analysis, you need to identify all these
separate propositions and examine the relationships among them: Are
they solidly linked? Are there inconsistencies that the writer should
acknowledge? Does the end of the piece support what the writer said
(and promised) at the beginning?

You’ll also need to examine the quality of the information presented in
an argument, assessing how accurately such information is reported,
how conveniently it’s displayed (in charts or graphs, for example), and


Historian Catherine Nolan-Ferrell asks us to confront the value of
logos when she asks, “How do we navigate a world where many in
society have lost trust in shared data?”

LINK TO Nolan-Ferrell, “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free
Speech,” in Chapter 27

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
reference 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 documented sources and those that don’t meet such
standards. (For using and documenting sources, see Chapters 19, 20,
and 22.)


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:


You could do worse, in examining an argument, than to make sure that
every claim a writer makes is backed by sufficient evidence. Some
arguments 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 immediately; others may lead you carefully through a chain of
claims toward a conclusion. Writers may even interrupt their
arguments to offer background 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 set 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


argument. 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 feasibility 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 argument’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
essay have more power if it included more illustrations — graphs,
maps, photographs, and so on? Or do these images distract from a
written argument’s substance?

Finally, be open to the possibility of new or nontraditional structures of
arguments. The visual arguments that you analyze may defy
conventional principles of logic or arrangement — for example,
making juxtapositions rather than logical transitions between elements
or using quick cuts, fades, or other devices to link ideas. Quite often,
these nontraditional 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 “Portraits” Jeep 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


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
credibility 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 Chapter 13). In fact, today rhetoricians and media critics alike point
out the crucial importance of style in getting and holding attention in a
time when readers are drowning in an overload of information.

Consider how these simple, blunt sentences from the opening of an
argument for gun control shape your image of the author and probably
determine whether you’re willing to continue to read the whole piece:

Six minutes and about twenty seconds. In a little over six
minutes, seventeen of our friends were taken from us. Fifteen
were injured, and everyone — absolutely everyone — in [our]
community was forever altered. Everyone who was there
understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip
of gun violence understands.

— Emma Gonzalez, speech delivered at March for Our Lives
on March 24, 2018

The strong, straightforward tone, the drum-beat use of repetition, and
the stark evocation of just how little time it took to take the lives of
seventeen high school students and staff set the style for this speech,
which led to six minutes of silence and then to prolonged, and loud,
applause and cheers.


Now consider the brutally sarcastic tone of Nathaniel Stein’s hilarious
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
indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its
choice of paper 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
paragraph length can give sentences remarkable power. Consider this
brief announcement by Jason Collins, who played for the Washington

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a
major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to
start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom
raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way,
someone else would have already done this. Nobody has,
which is why I’m raising my hand.

— Jason Collins, Sports Illustrated, May 6, 2013

In this passage, Collins opens with three very short, very direct, and
roughly parallel sentences. He also uses repetition of first-person
pronouns to hammer home that he is claiming his own identity with
this statement. Doing so invites readers and listeners to listen to his
experience and to walk in his shoes, even for a brief time.


Jason Collins

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 pronouns, bring readers close to a writer, or do technical
words and an impersonal voice signal that an argument is for experts

To describe the stylistic effects of visual arguments, you may use a
different vocabulary and talk about colors, camera angles, editing,
balance, 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 rhetorical analysis, you can’t ignore style.

Here’s an award-winning poster for Beauty and the Beast, praised by critics for
its stylistic elegance. As a commentator for DigitalSpy put it, “So chic. So stylish.
So yellow.”

A rhetorical analysis would note that the bright yellow dress and title
evoke the sun as the image of Beauty dominates the middle of the
image, while the beast’s profile is superimposed on a full moon. Here
the simplicity, vivid color, and careful juxtaposition suggest that these
two are made for each other. (For more on analyzing visual images, see
Chapter 14.)

Find a recent example of a visual argument, either in print or on the


Internet. 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



Examining a Rhetorical
On the following pages, well-known New York Times columnist
Nicholas Kristof reports on his family’s annual vacation, when they
“run away to the mountains.” He argues that we are plagued by “nature
deficit disorder,” that we have lost our connection with the wilderness,
with the land that supports us, and that we must do our best to preserve
and protect the “natural splendor that no billionaire is allowed to fence
off.” Responding to Kristof’s argument with a careful critical reading
and detailed rhetorical analysis is Cameron Hauer, a student at Portland
State University.

Fleeing to the Mountains


OF TRUCKEE, Calif. —

This will make me sound grouchy and misanthropic,
but I sometimes wonder if what makes America great
isn’t so much its people as its trees and mountains.

In contrast to many advanced countries, we have a vast
and spectacular publicly owned wilderness, mostly free and available
to all. In an age of inequality, the affluent have gated neighborhoods,
private schools, backup generators and greater influence on elected
officials. But our most awe-inspiring wild places have remained largely


a public good to be shared by all, a bastion of equality.

My family and I have been backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail
through the Sierras north of Donner Pass, enjoying magnificent
splendor that no billionaire is allowed to fence off. We all have equal
access, at no charge: If you can hold your own against mosquitoes and
bears, the spot is yours for the night.

Yet these public lands are at risk today. More on that in a moment, but
first let me tell you about the Kristofs’ grand vacation. As we do each
summer, we ran away from home to the mountains. We escaped the
tether of email and cellphones, the tyranny of the inbox, and fled with
everything we needed on our backs.

We’re yanked back to a simple life. We sleep under the stars rather
than in a tent; if it rains we pull out a tarp to keep dry. Dawn wakes us
up, we roll up our sleeping bags and plastic ground sheet, wolf down
trail mix or granola bars and start down the path. We fill our water
bottles at passing streams, stop for rest and meals wherever we fancy,
chat as we walk, and when dusk comes we look for a flat spot, kick
aside any rocks and branches and unroll our ground sheet and sleeping
bags again.

Granted, we also moan about blisters. And marauding mosquitoes. And
the heat — or, sometimes, the cold. We whine a lot, but that builds
family solidarity.

This is also a spiritual experience: It’s a chance to share a reverence for
the ethereal scenery of America’s wild places. The wilderness is


nature’s cathedral, and it’s a thrill to worship here.

The march of civilization has been about distancing ourselves from the
raw power of nature. At home, we move the thermostat up or down by
a degree, and we absorb the idea that we are lords of the universe. On
the trail, we are either sweating or freezing, and it always feels as if the
path is mainly uphill. Nature mocks us, usefully reminding us who’s

If your kids are suffering from what the writer Richard Louv calls
nature-deficit disorder, I recommend that you all run away from home
together. Flee to the mountains. It’s heaven with blisters.

There are often charges to enter much-trafficked spots like
Yellowstone or Yosemite, but the wilderness is mostly free to hikers.

This is our collective patrimony, a tribute to the wisdom of Theodore


Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and other visionaries who preserved our
wild places for the future. Thank God for them. Otherwise, these lands
might have been carved up and sold off as ranches for the rich.

Because of the foresight of past generations, the federal government
owns one million square miles, an area three times the size of
California, Oregon and Washington combined. Much of this is
unspoiled, our inheritance and our shared playground.

Yet today, President Trump sees this heritage as an opportunity for
development. More aggressively than past administrations, Trump’s is
systematically handing over America’s public lands for private
exploitation in ways that will scar the land forever.

The Trump administration lifted a moratorium on new coal mining
leases on public land, it is drawing up plans to reduce wilderness
protected as national monuments and it is rapidly opening up additional
public lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

A second challenge comes from our paralysis in the face of climate
change, compounded by the Trump administration, and the risks this
creates to our wilderness. A warmer climate has led to droughts and to
the 20-year spread of the mountain pine beetle, and a result is the death
of vast swaths of Western forests. Last year, 62 million trees died in
California alone, the Forest Service says, and in Oregon and
Washington I’ve watched forests turn brown and sickly. In parts of
Wyoming and Colorado, the pine beetle has killed almost all the
mature lodgepole pine trees, and it’s arguably even worse in British


The third risk is from gradual degradation and chronic underfunding.
Even before Trump took office, wilderness trails and campgrounds
were in embarrassing disrepair. How is it that we could afford to
construct these trails 80 years ago in the Great Depression but cannot
manage even to maintain them today?

When public lands are lost — or mined in ways that scar the landscape
— something has been lost forever on our watch. A public good has
been privatized, and our descendants have been robbed.

To promote an understanding of what is being lost, I encourage
everyone to run away from home as well. Flee to the mountains,
deserts and babbling brooks to get in touch with wild spaces, to find
perspective and humility. The wilderness nourishes our souls, if we let

Appeal, Audience, and Narrative in Kristof’s Wilderness








Cameron Hauer is a student at Portland State University, where he is majoring in
Applied Linguistics, having returned to school after a decade spent cooking in fine
dining establishments in the Pacific Northwest.

GUIDE to writing a rhetorical analysis


Finding a Topic

A rhetorical analysis is usually assigned: you’re asked to show how an
argument works and to assess its effectiveness. When you can choose
your own subject for analysis, look for one or more of the following

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
newspaper, 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 statements 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 typically publishes
what the leanings or biases of the author and publisher might be,
where they are coming from in the argument, and what influences
may have led them to make the argument
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:

What is the major claim of the argument? What evidence is
presented in support of it?
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 rhetorical appeals does the argument make use of and
which will likely influence readers most: ethos of the author?
emotional appeals? logical progression? style, use of images or
other illustrations? What aspects of the argument work better
than others?
How do the rhetorical elements of ethos, pathos, and logos

Here’s the hardest part for most writers of rhetorical analyses: whether
you agree or disagree with an argument should not keep you from
careful, meticulous analysis: you need 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 plain talking of Donald
Trump; others are put off by his lack of information, his tendency
to stretch or ignore the truth, and his noisy bluster. A close look at
several of his tweets 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
surfaces and evocative spire, made a stronger argument about
American values than its replacement, a fortress-like skyscraper
stripped of imagination and unable to make any statement except
“I’m 1,776 feet tall.”
The controversy over speech on campuses has reached a fever
pitch, with some arguing that those who spout hate and bigotry
and prejudice should be barred from speaking.

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.
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 possibility in your proposal.
Indicate background information you intend to research about
the author, institution, and contexts (political, economic, social,
and religious) of the argument.
Define the audience you’d like to reach. If you’re responding to an


assignment, 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
Conclude by briefly discussing the key challenges you anticipate
in preparing a rhetorical analysis.

Considering Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre and/or
medium. If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good

What genre is most appropriate for your rhetorical analysis? Does
it call for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a poster,
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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with
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 analysis.

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.
Evidence that you have read the argument carefully and critically,
that you have listened closely to and understand the points it is
making, and that you have been open and fair in your assessment.
Contexts for the argument: readers need to know where the text is
coming 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
original 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 point made in your analysis.
An assessment of alternative views and counterarguments to your
own analysis.

Getting and Giving Response: Questions for Peer Response

If you have access to a writing center, discuss the text that you intend
to analyze with a writing consultant before you write the analysis. 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

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?
Does the claim indicate important relationships between various
rhetorical components?
Would the claim be one that the creator of the piece would regard
as serious 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 significance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed
discussion needed?
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 evidence?
What kinds of sources might you use to explain the context of the
argument? Do you need to use sources to check factual claims
made in the argument?
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
organization? 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 improved?
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 combined, or should any long ones be separated
into two or more sentences?
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
powerful? 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 punctuation.
Check the title of the text you’re analyzing so you’re sure to get it
Look for any errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and
the like.
Check the format of your assignment and make sure it matches
instructions given on your original assignment.


Find an argument on the editorial page or op-ed page in a recent

newspaper. Read it carefully and critically, taking time to make sure

you understand the claims it is making and the evidence that backs

up the claim. 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 readers 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 publication

information about it (its author, place of publication, and



PART 2 WRITING arguments


CHAPTER 7 Structuring Arguments

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 premise 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 Using Reason and Common Sense in Chapter 4 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
reasoning. You will also need to make claims, explain the contexts in
which you are offering them, defend the assumptions on which they are
based, offer convincing evidence, appeal to specific audiences,
consider counterarguments fairly and carefully, and more. And you
will have to do so using a coherent 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!


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

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

This structure is powerful because it covers all the bases: readers or


listeners 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
indicates 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
relevant to your argument

Lines of Argument

present good reasons, including logical and emotional appeals, in
support of your claim

Alternative Arguments

carefully consider different points of view and opposing
note the advantages and disadvantages of these views
explain 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
elements in successful arguments if you pay attention to their design.
Here are the words of the 1776 Declaration of Independence:


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.

Notice that John Hancock’s defiant signature on the Declaration of
Independence is still readable in this much reduced image of the original


Rogerian and Invitational
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
disputes should not respond to each other until they could fully, fairly,
and even sympathetically state the other person’s position. Scholars of
rhetoric Richard E. Young, Alton L. Becker, and Kenneth L. Pike
developed a four-part structure that is now known as Rogerian

1. Introduction: You describe an issue, a problem, or a conflict in
terms rich enough to show that you fully understand and respect
any alternative 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
benefit 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,
emphasizing 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 rhetorician Krista Ratcliffe calls
“rhetorical listening,” as we saw in Chapter 1 — listening that 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; it strives for connection, collaboration, and the mutually
informed creation 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 collaboration to get things done. In college, you may have
opportunities to practice 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
benefit 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
praising 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 “glorious 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,


Frederick Douglass

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 independence only reveals the immeasurable
distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day,
rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of
justice, liberty, 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

Although his speech is in some ways confrontational, Douglass is also
inviting his audience to see a version of reality that they could have
discovered on their own had they dared to imagine the lives of African
Americans living in the shadows of American 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 invitation was a long time
in coming.

More recently, in the aftermath of Donald J. Trump’s unexpected
victory in the 2016 presidential election, pundits on the political left
reconsidered strategies that may have distanced many working-class
voters from any appeal Hillary Clinton might have made. Kevin Drum
in Mother Jones offers what amounts to a Rogerian analysis of how
liberal Democrats (like himself) might recapture middle-American
voters who swung to Trump by accepting, not denigrating, their
political values, such as being pro-life or owning a gun for self-

In the same way that right-wing Republicans need to learn
how to talk about women’s issues, Democrats need to learn


how to talk about middle America. No more deplorables. No
more clinging to guns and religion. Less swarming over every
tin-eared comment on race.

—Kevin Drum, “Less Liberal Contempt, Please,” May 31,

In finding validity in views held by some of middle America’s
working-class voters, Drum urges his fellow liberals to take the high
road of respect and learn to talk with those with whom they might
share common interests.

The use of invitational argument like this in contemporary political life
may seem rare, but in spite of much evidence to the contrary (think of
brutal clashes on Twitter and cable news shows), the public claims to
prefer nonpartisan and invitational rhetoric to one-on-one, winner-take-
all battles. The lesson to take from Rogerian or invitational argument
may be that it makes good sense to learn opposing positions well
enough to state them accurately 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.

Dividing into groups, 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?


Toulmin Argument
In The Uses of Argument (1958), British philosopher Stephen Toulmin
presented structures to describe the way that ordinary people make
reasonable 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
introduction to Chapter 7 and Using Reason and Common Sense in
Chapter 4). But for that reason, Toulmin logic has become a powerful
and, for the most part, practical tool for understanding 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

Reason(s)/Evidence support for your claim

Warrants underlying assumptions that support your claim

Backing evidence for warrant

If you wanted to state the relationship among them in a sentence, you
might say:

My claim is true, to a qualified degree, because of the
following reasons, 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.

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
citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

It’s time to treat the opioid addiction in the United States as a
medical crisis.

NASA should affirm its commitment to a human expedition to


Veganism is the most responsible choice of diet.

Military insurance should not cover the cost of sex
reassignment surgery for service men and women.

Good claims often spring from personal experiences. You may have
relevant 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.


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.

In class and working in a group, collect a sample of four to six brief

argumentative postings from political blogs or editorial postings

(from news sites). Read each item, and then try to identify every

claim that the writer makes. When you’ve compiled a 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

terms or phrases that signal an impending claim? Which of these

seem most effective? Which ones seem least effective? Why?

Offering Evidence and Good


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 all their claims are well

LINK TO Burgess et al., “Playing with Prejudice,” in Chapter 23

You can begin developing a claim by drawing up a list of reasons to
support it or finding evidence that backs up the point.

One student writer wanted to gather good reasons in support of an
assertion that his college campus needed more official spaces for
parking 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 further, 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 many states, has proven 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 monitored by the industry, the government, and parents
because such games cause addiction and even psychological
harm to players.


As you can see, attaching a reason to a claim often spells out the major
terms of an argument.

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 reasons
and evidence that you’re offering actually 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 reliability of your evidence. The connection
between claim and reason(s) is a concern at the next level in Toulmin

Anticipate challenges to your claims.


Briahna Joy Gray argues that charges of cultural appropriation
imply ownership of culture, as represented by music, costume,
food, etc. What warrants lie behind this claim?

LINK TO Gray, “The Question of Cultural Appropriation,” in
Chapter 24

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

The warrant tells readers what your (often unstated) assumptions are —
for example, that any major medical problem should be a concern of
the government. If readers accept your warrant, you can then present
specific evidence to develop your claim. But if readers dispute your
warrant, you’ll have to defend it before you can move on to the claim



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
connecting them. The warrant is the assumption that makes the claim
seem believable. It’s often a value or principle that you share with your
readers. 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:


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 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 from
experience that the car will go another fifty miles even though the fuel
gauge reads empty. But in most cases, readers would accept the


A simple icon — a skull and crossbones — can make a visual argument that
implies a claim, a reason, and a 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 taxpayers in the same way.

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 some 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

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

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
fundamental reservations about your position. Or you might even
decide to shift your entire argument to an alternative rationale for flat

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

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 warrant
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.



At their simplest, warrants can be stated as “X is good” or “X is bad.”

Return to the editorials or blog posts that you analyzed in the

exercise on p. 144, 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


The list of warrants you generate will likely come from these


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, especially in tough economic times:

NASA should affirm its commitment to 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 following 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

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

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


In the past, government investments such as the Hoover Dam
and the Apollo moon program enhanced economic progress
for many — though not all — Americans. (Logical appeal as

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, ethnicity, 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 an admirable scientific
project for the nation to pursue. (Appeal to values as

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.)

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



it is possible


it seems


it may be


more or less

in some cases






one might argue



under these conditions


for the most part

if it were so

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



People who don’t go to college earn less than those who do.


Statistics show that in most cases, people who don’t go to
college earn less than those who do.

Understanding Conditions of
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
saying, “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 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
obligated 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
benefits 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
challenge others; links on Web sites form networks that are infinitely
variable and open. In cyberspace, conditions of rebuttal are as close as
your screen.

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 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 conditions 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

different ways and suggest revisions that may not have occurred to


Outline of a Toulmin Argument
Consider the claim that was mentioned on p. 150:

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 bubblegum and cotton

Warrants The Constitution promises to “promote the general welfare.”

Citizens are entitled to protection from harmful actions by

Backing The United States is based on a political system that is supposed
to serve the basic needs of its people, including their health.

Evidence Analysis of advertising campaigns that reveal direct appeals to

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


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.

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 column
from Bloomberg Opinion (June 19, 2017), Stephen L. Carter explains
why he supports a unanimous Supreme Court decision protecting
offensive speech. Carter, a professor of law at Yale, novelist, and
essayist, begins by offering background information on a trademark
case brought before the Supreme Court by a band called The Slants.
Carter signals quite clearly (in what amounts to his core claim) that the
Court was right to strike down restrictions on potentially offensive
trademarks set in place during World War II. To justify his support for
the new ruling, Carter helps readers understand the Constitutional
rationale for defending forms of speech that some people might regard
as offensive, derogatory, or racist. Carter even draws upon the remarks
of two Supreme Court justices who reach the same conclusion about
the unconstitutionality of the so-called “disparagement clause” through
very different approaches. As you will see below, many elements of
Toulmin argument are in play throughout Carter’s essay, even if they
don’t follow a predictable sequence from claim to reason to evidence
to conditions of rebuttal to response pattern.


The Slants chose their band’s name to reappropriate the offensive slur. Anthony
Pidgeon/Getty Images







What Toulmin Teaches
As Carter’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.
Remember 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 state the values that underlie our arguments
— something many would rather not do. Toulmin also prompts us
to consider how our assumptions 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 complex views
that don’t insist on absolute or unqualified positions.

It takes considerable experience to write arguments that meet all these
conditions. Using Toulmin’s framework brings them into play
automatically. If you learn it well enough, constructing good
arguments can become a habit.


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
organizational 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,
leaving 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
understand what’s being said. Consequently, the preferred structure of
arguments (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 naive, childish, or even rude.

When arguing across cultures, look for cues to determine how to
structure your presentations effectively. Here are several points to

Do members of your audience tend to be very direct, saying
explicitly what they mean? Or are they more restrained? 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.


CHAPTER 8 Arguments of Fact

Some people believe that extensive use of smartphones and

social media is especially harmful to children and young adults,

and recent research provides disturbing evidence that they may

be right.

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.


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 historical legend true? Has a crime

occurred? or Are the claims of a scientific study replicable? 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 measures

5,280 feet). Reporting facts, you might think, should be free of

the friction of argument.

But the authority of “facts” has been routinely challenged. With

a full generation of contemporary philosophers insisting that

reality is just a creation of language, perhaps it’s not surprising

that politicians and pundits now find themselves arguing over

“fake news,” “known facts,” and “alternative facts.”

Yet facts do still become arguments whenever they’re

controversial on their own or challenge people’s conventional

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

interpretations then determine what we feed children, where

we can build a dam, or how we heat our homes. In other words,

serious factual arguments 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 well-reasoned 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 information. We sometimes need help, too,

noticing change that is occurring all around us. So 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, still 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 alcohol. That’s a fact. As a result,

fifteen states (and counting) have banned the use of handheld

phones while driving—and almost all now ban texting while


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 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 Americans 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, misinformation, 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.


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 at Yellowstone National Park are increasing in

number and intensity.

Many people die annually of heart disease.

The planet would benefit enormously if more people learned to

eat insects.

Japan might have come to terms more readily in 1945 if the

Allies in World War II hadn’t demanded unconditional


Boys would do better in school if there were more men

teaching in elementary and secondary classrooms.


The benefits of increasing oil and natural gas production via

fracking more than outweigh the environmental downsides of

the process.

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.


Characterizing Factual
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? Does it matter economically that so

many young people today think of themselves as foodies?

Researchers may notice a pattern that leads them to look more

closely at some phenomenon 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. Perhaps people at different

educational levels define happiness differently? Maybe being a

little overweight isn’t as bad for people as we’ve been told?

Maybe self-identifying as a “foodie” is really a marker of class

and social aspirations? 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.


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 op-ed

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 twenty-four months,

those in car seats were statistically safer than those without any

protection but weren’t safer than those confined by ordinary

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 factual 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
Entire Web sites are dedicated to finding and posting errors

from news and political sources. Some, like Media Matters for

America and Accuracy in Media, take overtly partisan stands.

Here’s a one-day sampling of headlines from Media Matters:

After NASA Announces It Found Water on Mars, Rush

Limbaugh Says It’s Part of a Climate Change Conspiracy

Trump administration met with a GOP donor and a Fox

contributor about a fake story meant to distract from

Russia probe

Fox hosts can’t keep their facts straight while praising

Trump’s immigration cuts

And here’s a listing from Accuracy in Media from the same day:

Major Newspapers Just Pretend to Have Conservative

Columnists Left Claims Hitler-Style “Indoctrination” in

Trump’s Boy Scouts Speech Washington Post Reluctantly

Admits Stock Market Gains Linked to Trump

It would be hard to miss the blatant political agendas at work on

these sites.

Other fact-checking organizations have better reputations when


it comes to assessing the truths behind political claims and

media presentations. Although both are also routinely charged

with bias, Pulitzer Prize–winning PolitiFact.com and

FactCheck.org at least make an effort to seem fair-minded

across a broader political spectrum. FactCheck.org, 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 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.


PolitiFact uses a meter to rate political claims from “True” to “Pants on Fire.”

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.org 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

In their report about food insecurity on college campuses,
researchers James Dubick, Brandon Mathews, and Clare Cady
offer an argument of fact based on more than 3,700 surveys of
students on 34 college campuses.

LINK TO Dubick et al., “Hunger on Campus,” in Chapter 24

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

novel or 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 male students majoring in the

humanities at your school. Or you might give a local spin to

factual questions that other people have already formulated on

a national level. Are more of your friends considering technical

apprenticeships (rather than expensive academic programs),

delaying any plans they might have for marriage or families, or

buying entirely online instead of at brick and mortar stores?

You will likely write a better paper if you take on a factual

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 matters 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 well-being.

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 arguments often provoke other types of

analysis. In developing this claim, you’d need to explain what

“good for your health” means, potentially an argument of

definition. You’d also likely find yourself researching 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

lede to a 2011 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 regular walks, but new

research shows that dog walkers are more active overall

than people who don’t have dogs.


—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.

A Harvard source for your paper on dogs and health?



Read C. Richard King’s excerpt from Redskins: Insult and Brand in
Chapter 23. What kind of research does King use to support his

LINK TO King, “Redskins: Insult and Brand,” in Chapter 23

Working with a group of colleagues, generate a list of a dozen

“mysteries” regularly explored on TV shows, in blogs, or in tabloid

newspapers. Here are three to get you started—the alien crash

landing at Roswell, the existence of Atlantis, and the uses of Area 51

in Nevada. 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

primary sources whenever you can. For example, when

gathering a comment 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

pronounced 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,

especially when your subject is local and you have the resources

to do it. Consider conducting a competent survey of campus

opinions and attitudes, for example, or study budget documents

(often public) to determine trends in faculty salaries, tuition,

student fees, and so on. Primary research of this sort can be

challenging because even the simplest surveys 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.

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 hypotheses will grow increasingly complex and

specific. Following are three versions 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
filmed on deserts in the American Southwest as part of a
massive propaganda fraud.


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 reasonable 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. 153 in Chapter 7 for more on qualifiers.)

Sometimes it will be important to contextualize a factual claim

for others who may find it hard to accept. Of course, you could

just present the hard numbers, but research suggests that many

people double down on their positions when offered contrary

facts. What to do? Michael Shermer, writing in Scientific

American, suggests these common sense strategies:

[W]hat can we do to convince people of the error of their

beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the

exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no

ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the

other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5.

acknowledge that you understand why someone might

hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts

does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These

strategies may not always work to change people’s

minds, but now that the nation has just been put through

a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce

unnecessary divisiveness.

—Michael Shermer, “How to Convince Someone When

Facts Fail”


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 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,

institutions, 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

following experts on Twitter, and so on. Very often, you will

assemble your arguments from material found in credible,

though not always concurring, 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 much cited article

from the Atlantic (August 5, 2017) in which author Jean M.


Twenge reviews evidence that suggests that adolescents who

spend more and more time on their cellphones are increasingly

unhappy—to the detriment of their emotional health. Here’s an
important moment in her lengthy argument:

You might expect that teens spend so much time in these

new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data

suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future

survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse

and designed to be nationally representative, has asked

12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since

1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991.

The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how

much of their leisure time they spend on various

activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-

person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent

years, screen activities such as using social media,

texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be

clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on

screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those

who spend more time than average on nonscreen

activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are

linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are

linked to more happiness.

—Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a



Reading such dire news (and the article reports even more

frightening increases in suicide), may raise new questions for

you: Are there contrary studies? Is it conceivable that time spent

online has benefits? Twenge herself notes, for example, that

teen pregnancies have dropped dramatically in recent years.

Perhaps, too, adolescents so inwardly directed by screen use

might develop into more sensitive and less violent adults? Such

considerations might lead you to look for research that

complicates the earlier work by bringing fresh facts or

perspectives to the table.

Often, though, you may have only a limited number of words or

pages in which to make an academic argument. What do you do

then? You present your best evidence as powerfully as possible:

you can make a persuasive factual case with just a few examples

—three or four often suffice to make a point. Indeed, going on

too long or presenting even good data in uninteresting ways can

undermine a claim.

Presenting Your Evidence
In Hard Times (1854), British author Charles Dickens poked fun

at a pedagogue 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:

“Bitzer,” said Thomas Gradgrind. “Your definition of a



“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)


“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, meant for just two or three

readers evaluating the competence of your work. But to earn

the attention of readers in more public forums, you may need to

work harder, affirming your expertise by offering engaging and

authoritative sources, presenting your argument with grace and

clarity, including tables, graphs, photographs and other visual

evidence when appropriate, and documenting all your claims.


For an example of how to use design effectively in a factual
argument, see “How Do Your Eating Habits Differ from Your
Grandparents’?” in Chapter 24. Compare the chart to the table
that accompanies it. How does design impact the success of the
factual argument?

LINK TO United States Department of Agriculture, “How Do Your
Eating Habits Differ from Your Grandparents’?” in Chapter 24

Such moves will establish the ethos of your work, making it

seem serious, credible, well-conceived, and worth reading.

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 otherwise) 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. Below, for example, are three of the six

tables that accompanied Jean M. Twenge’s essay on

smartphones, all dramatically illustrating a decline in various

adolescent behaviors following the introduction of the iPhone

in 2007. And if there’s a more dramatic medium for your factual

argument—a Prezi slide show, a multimedia mashup, a


documentary video posted via a social network—experiment

with it, checking to be sure it would satisfy the assignment.



Jean M. Twenge uses graphs to support her claims about the impact of
smartphones on teenagers.

Images and photos—from technical illustrations to imaginative

re-creations—have the power to document what readers might

otherwise have to imagine, whether actual conditions of

drought, poverty, or a disaster like Hurricane Harvey that

dropped 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana in

2017, or the dimensions of the Roman forum as it existed in the

time of Julius Caesar. Readers today expect the arguments they

read to include visual elements, and there’s little reason not to

offer this assistance if you have the technical skills to create


Consider also the rapid development of the genre known as

infographics—basically data presented in bold visual form.

These items can be humorous and creative, but many, such as

“Learning Out of Poverty” on the following page, make

powerful factual arguments even when they leave it to viewers

to draw their own conclusions. Just search “infographics” on

the Web to find many examples.



“Learning Out of Poverty.” Infographics like this one turn facts and data into

GUIDE to writing an argument of fact

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

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

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


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 authoritative and credible.

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 okay 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 first-year students from small, rural high
Hypothesis: Higher admissions standards at BSU are reducing the
number of students admitted from rural high schools, which tend
to be smaller and less well-funded 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 music.
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 see different


threats in 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 curriculum lacks depth.
Evidence suggests that the European conquest of the Americas
may have had more to do with infectious diseases than any
superiority in technology or weaponry.
In the long run, dieting may be more harmful than moderate

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, making 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 project? 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 Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre and/or
medium. If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good

What genre is most appropriate for your argument of fact? 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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with
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 provides 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 Introduction, 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 subject and then to conclude with
your strongest evidence. Pay particular attention to transitions
between key points.

If you are defending a specific claim, anticipate the ways people with
different 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 refutations, 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

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 readers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following
questions to evaluate a colleague’s draft. Since specific comments help
more than general observations, be sure to illustrate your comments
with examples. Some of the questions below assume a conventional,
thesis-driven project, but more exploratory or invitational arguments
of fact also need to be clearly phrased, organized, and supported with

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 evidence 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 adequately? Are alternative positions understood
thoroughly and presented fairly?
What kinds of sources are cited? How credible and persuasive will
they be to readers? What other kinds of sources might work
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
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 improved?
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 improved?
Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or
inappropriate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are
technical or unfamiliar 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
parenthetical 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?


1. Turn a database of information you find in the library or online
into a traditional argument or, alternatively, into a multimodal
project such as an infographic that offers various ways to
present a claim. FedStats, a government Web site, provides
endless data, but so can the sports or financial sections of a
newspaper. 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 infographic, you’ll find good
examples online at VizWorld or Cool Infographics. Software
tools you can use to create infographics include Piktochart and
Google Public Data Explorer. Have fun.

2. Write an argument about a 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
sometimes undermine cultural myths. With your classmates,
generate a list of common beliefs about education,
employment, family life, marriage, 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 working 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 technologies 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 panel discussion. Then offer a
factual argument based on what you uncover, reflecting the
range of perspectives and opinions you have encountered.

Two Sample Factual Arguments









Don’t Believe Facebook: The Demise of the Written Word Is Very Far


June 17, 2016

Facebook executive Nicola Mendelsohn shook up the online-o-

sphere earlier this week with one of those offhand declarations

that sound superficially profound for a moment or two but are

vacuous at their core. In five years, she told a Fortune

conference in London, her platform will probably be “all

video,” and the written word will be essentially dead.


“I just think if we look already, we’re seeing a year-on-year

decline on text,” she said. “If I was having a bet, I would say:

video, video, video.” That’s because “the best way to tell stories

in this world, where so much information is coming at us,

actually is video. It conveys so much more information in a

much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest

much more information.”

This is, of course, exactly wrong. We don’t mean her prediction

about Facebook; in that respect she’s talking her own book,

since Facebook has made a big commercial bet on video. It’s

her assertion that video conveys more information—and faster

—than text that’s upside-down.

We’ll outsource the initial pushback to Kevin Drum of Mother

Jones, who observes, “Video has many benefits, but

information density generally isn’t one of them. . . . I can read

the transcript of a one-hour speech in about five or 10 minutes

and easily pick out precisely what’s interesting and what’s not.

With video, I have to slog through the full hour.” That’s why his

policy is never to click a link that goes to video.

Drum’s most salient point applies to the definition of the

“information” people are seeking when they’re accessing video

or text. “I read/view stuff on the Web in order to gather actual

information that I can comment on,” he writes. Plainly, video is

hopelessly overmatched by text in conveying hard information

—facts, figures, data. A given video may arguably convey more


“information” in bulk, but most of that is self-reinforcing

context—color, motion, sound. The underlying factual

information is relatively meager, in the same sense that the

energy capacity of an electric-car battery can’t match that of an

average gasoline fuel tank (the range of a fully charged Tesla

Model S is about 250 miles, while that of a typical gasoline-

fueled sedan can exceed 400).

Then there’s the challenge of extracting usable information

from video vs. text. Video is a linear medium: You have to allow

it to unspool frame by frame to glean what it’s saying. Text can

be absorbed in blocks; the eye searches for keywords or names

or other pointers such as quotation marks. Text is generally

searchable online. Some programs can convert some videos to

searchable form, but more often, the search is done via a

transcript keyed to points in the video. Here, for example, is the

full transcript of “Meet the Press” for May 29. Below is the video

of the entire show. If your task was to find the moment when

Chuck Todd first mentioned Trump University, which would

you use to find it? (We’re not even counting the five commercial

breaks.) [A video appears here in Hiltzik’s original text.]

Give up? It’s at about the 24:43 mark.

The demise of text is often predicted, but the horizon seems to

perpetually recede. Tech writer Tim Carmody puts his finger on

the reasons why “text is surprisingly resilient” in an essay at

Kottket.org: “It’s cheap, it’s flexible, it’s discreet. Human brains


process it absurdly well considering there’s nothing really built-

in for it. Plenty of people can deal with text better than they can

spoken language, whether as a matter of preference or

necessity. And it’s endlessly computable—you can search it,

code it. . . . In short, all of the same technological advances that

enable more and more video, audio, and immersive VR

entertainment also enable more and more text. We will see

more of all of them as the technological bottlenecks open up.”

He concludes that “nothing has proved as invincible as writing

and literacy. Because text is just so malleable. Because it fits

into any container we put it in. Because our world is

supersaturated in it, indoors and out. Because we have so much

invested in it. . . . Unless our civilization fundamentally

collapses, we will never give up writing and reading.”

In predicting a world overtaken by video, Mendelsohn seems to

be making a category error; she’s conflating visual with video.

Facebook and other online platforms understand that their

users are accessing their sites for their visual offerings, but

that’s not the same as saying they’re doing nothing but watching


That notion is contradicted by the findings of Oxford

University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in its

just-released Digital News Report for 2016.

The study found that most consumers of online news (59%) still

gravitate to news articles—that is, text; only 24% said they


accessed news video in the week before they were polled. “One

surprise in this year’s data,” the report’s authors found, “is that

online news video appears to be growing more slowly than

might be expected.” The 24% figure “represents surprisingly

weak growth given the explosive growth and prominence on the

supply side.” In other words, there’s more video than ever

before, but it’s not attracting a commensurately large audience.

Why not? For the same reasons Drum mentioned:

They take too long to load and unspool, and extracting the

sought-after information is slower and more inconvenient than

reading the written word. The number-two complaint—“Pre-roll

ads put me off”—is another artifact of the linear nature of video,

compounded by the cleverness of video providers in forcing you

to watch through an entire ad, or three, before the clip even


The secret underlying Mendelsohn’s claim is that there is

something at which video is better than text: marketing.

The goal of advertising is not to impart information, but to keep

it from the audience—to distract viewers from thinking too hard

or asking questions. Video is ideal for that because that color,

movement, noise, and light is all distraction. Video is

entertainment, often of the empty-calorie variety. People love

circuses, but they don’t normally go there to study zoology.

Indeed, it seems that most of the articles (yes, articles) written


about the coming dominance of video look at the phenomenon

from the marketer’s standpoint: “A recent campaign from

Volkswagen,” the Guardian reported last year, “saw a trio of its

videos viewed a combined 155 million times.” Here’s a safe bet:

those videos weren’t produced to explain why the car company

had been faking emissions data, but to entice viewers to buy

their cars. Mendelsohn, by the way, came to Facebook from the

advertising industry.

Certainly text and the written word will change to meet the

demands of the new technologies through which we do our

reading. That’s always been the case. Novels tended to be

structured as a series of cliffhangers when they were read in

monthly installments in a popular magazine; and in a different

narrative form when they began to be printed in books sized to

fit conveniently in a saddlebag, or valise, or before the

fireplace. The length of news articles began to shrink when the

reading audience began to migrate from newspapers that

arrived on the stoop in the morning and were kept around to be

perused at leisure, and toward smartphones and pads to be read

between elevator stops.

That’s a testament to the infinite malleability of text. Text can

conform to the relentless shrinkage of people’s attention spans;

video can’t. Who will have time in the future to watch even a

five-minute video, when they can learn so much more by

scanning five paragraphs of text? “Bet for better video, bet for

better speech, bet for better things we can’t imagine,” Carmody


writes, “but if you bet against text, you will lose.”

Michael Hiltzik’s argument originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, where he is a
columnist who ordinarily writes about financial issues. You’ll see that orientation in
his reflections on why the written word will likely thrive in the digital era. The piece
includes no endnotes, but we’ve underlined where the online text provides links to
source materials.


CHAPTER 9 Arguments of Definition

Everyone seems convinced that products like Amazon’s Alexa

and Apple’s Homekit are redefining the way people live in and

control their homes. But what exactly do these products do?

What defines them?

A panel of judges must decide whether computer-enhanced

images must be identified as such in a contest for landscape

photography. At what point is an electronically manipulated

image no longer a photograph—or does it even matter?

A conservative student group accuses the student government

on campus of sponsoring a lecture series featuring a

disproportionate number of “social justice warrior types.” A

spokesperson for the student government defends its program

by questioning whether the term actually means anything.


Understanding Arguments
of Definition
Definitions matter. Just ask scientists, mathematicians,

engineers, judges—or people who want to use restrooms

consistent with their gender identification. Looking back, 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 challenged 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

differentiate between a “marriage” of heterosexuals and one of


homosexuals. Debates over laws that involve definitions of

marriage and, more recently, gender are still ongoing, and you

might want to check the status of such controversies in your

own state.

Cases like these demonstrate that arguments of definition aren’t

abstract academic exercises: they often have important

consequences for ordinary people—that’s why farmers,

landowners, Congress, and the Environmental Protection

Agency have battled for decades over how that agency defines

“wetlands,” which Congress long ago gave it power to regulate.

And why it was so controversial when in Citizens United v.

Federal Election Commission (2010) the Supreme Court decided

that individuals in association—such as unions or corporations

—are equivalent to individual citizens when it comes to the

exercise of free speech rights and thus have no limit on their

spending in election campaigns. Opponents of the decision

argue that it enhances the power of monied interests in

American politics; others see it as affirming free speech in the

face of increasing government censorship.

Arguments about definition even sometimes decide 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 arguments, however, is to think of what falls


between is and is not in a definitional 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 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 incorporate all these perspectives—and maybe more.

The fact is that crucial political, social, and scientific terms—

such as intelligence, justice, free speech, or gender—are

reargued, reshaped, and updated for the times.

Why not just consult a dictionary when the meanings of terms

are disputed? It doesn’t work that way, no matter how up to date

or authoritative a dictionary might be. In fact, dictionaries

(almost by definition!) inevitably reflect the way individual

groups of people use words at a specified time and place. And

like any form of writing, these reference books mirror the

interests and prejudices of their makers—as shown, perhaps

most famously, in the entries of lexicographer Samuel Johnson

(1709–1784), who gave the English language its first great

dictionary. No friend of the Scots, Johnson 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!

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 can be serious literature.

Burning a nation’s flag is a hate crime.


Neither Matt Drudge nor Rachel Maddow is a journalist.

College sports programs have become big businesses.

Plagiarism can be an act of civil disobedience.

The menus at Taco Bell and Panda Express illustrate cultural

Satanism is a religion properly protected by the First

The District of Columbia should not have all the privileges of an
American state.

Polyamorists should have the option of marriage.


Kinds of Definition
Because there are various 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 meaning 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 an example will help you see the

principle. To define electric car, for example, you might first

place it in a general class—passenger vehicles. Then you define

its species. Here’s how the U.S. Department of Energy does that,

explaining specific differences between cars powered by

electricity (EVs):

Just as there are a variety of technologies available in

conventional vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles (also

known as electric cars or EVs) have different capabilities

that can accommodate different drivers’ needs. A major

feature of EVs is that drivers can plug them in to charge

from an off-board electric power source. This

distinguishes them from hybrid electric vehicles, which

supplement an internal combustion engine with battery


power but cannot be plugged in.

Got that? It gets even more complicated (or precise) as the

government goes on to distinguish among plug-in hybrid

electric vehicles (PHEVs), all-electric vehicles (AEVs), battery

electric vehicles (BEVs), and even fuel cell electric vehicles


But all these definitional distinctions can actually make matters

clearer. For instance, suppose that you are considering a new

car and prefer an electric one this time. Quickly, the

definitional question becomes—what kind? A Toyota Prius, or

maybe a Tesla Model 3? How do they differ? Both are clearly

passenger cars—one might even add four-door sedans, so the

genus raises no question. But the Prius is an electrically assisted

version of a regular gasoline car while the Tesla is fully electric

—just battery and motor, no engine. That’s the species

difference, which obviously has consequences for consumers

concerned, let’s say, either about range or about CO emissions.

(Or maybe it just comes down to good looks?)


Consider how Ben Schwartz defines funny in his response to claims
of a “humor crisis” in America.

LINK TO Schwartz, “Shutting Up,” in Chapter 27

Tesla Model 3

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 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 individual acts of racism?
Can people paid for their community service still be called
Does academic dishonesty occur if a student accepts
wording suggested by a writing center tutor?

Questions Related to Fulfillment of

Has an institution supported traditions or policies that have
led to widespread racial inequities?
Was the compensation given to volunteers really “pay” or
simply “reimbursement” for expenses?
Did the student actually copy down what the tutor said with
the intention of using it?


Prince Charming considers whether an action would fulfill the conditions for an
operational definition.

This chapter opens with three rhetorical situations that center on

definitional issues: What is Alexa? What is a photograph? What

defines a social justice warrior (SJW)? Select one of these situations,


and then address it, using the strategies either of formal definitions

or of operational ones. For example, might a formal definition help

to explain what products like Alexa or Homekit are? (You may have

to do some quick research.) Would an operational definition work to

explain or defend what SJWs allegedly do or don’t do?

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 things have in common than to explain

each one in precise detail. For example, one might define the

broad category of virtual reality products by listing the major

examples of these items or define Libertarian Democrat by

naming politicians or thinkers associated with that title.


An app like Discovr Music defines musical styles by example when it connects
specific artists or groups to others who make similar sounds.

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, acts of terror. 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.)

Negative Definitions
Definitional arguments sometimes involve explaining what a

person, thing, or concept is by defining what it is not or

explaining with what it should be contrasted. Such strategies of

definition play a substantial role in politics today, as individuals

or political groups craft public images that show them in the

best light—as not radicals, not fascists, not Alt-Right, not Antifa,

not coastal elitists, not one-percenters, and so on. But this

strategy of argument has other uses as well, especially when a

writer wants to counter stereotypes or change expectations. For


a thoughtful—and particularly apropos—example, see Rob

Jenkins’s “Defining the Relationship” at the end of this chapter.


Legal scholar John Palfrey’s discussion of free speech on college
campuses depends on the definition and limits of free expression.

LINK TO Palfrey, “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces,” in Chapter 27

Developing a Definitional

Definitional arguments don’t just appear out of the blue; they

often evolve from daily life. You might get into an argument

over the definition 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 workplace: you have to define the job position in a way

that doesn’t step on anyone else’s turf. Or maybe employees at

your school 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 fake woke and you’re unsure how to read

the term. In a dozen ways every day, you encounter situations

that are questions of definition. They’re so inevitable 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.

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.

Climate change is not the same thing as global warming.

Political bias has been routinely practiced by some media


Theatergoers shouldn’t confuse musicals with operas.

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 reasons, 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 . . .

Climate change is . . . but global warming is . . .

Political bias is . . .

A musical is . . . but an opera is . . .

Now consider how the following claims might be expanded with

a general definition to become full-fledged definitional


Arguments of Definition

Someone paid to do public service is not a volunteer

because volunteers are people who . . .

Institutional racism can exist even in the absence of overt

violations of civil rights because, by definition,

institutional racism is . . .

Climate change differs from global warming because . . .

Political bias in media outlets is evident whenever . . .

Musicals focus on words first while operas . . .

Notice, too, that some of the issues can involve comparisons

between things—such as operas and musicals.


Crafting Definitions
Imagine that you decide to tackle the concept of paid volunteer

in the following way:

Participants in the federal AmeriCorps program are not

really volunteers 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,

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 comprehensive 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 commissions 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.

As you can see, you can’t just offer up a definition as part of an

argument 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, especially genuine 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 racism, 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 subject 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.


This explains why for centuries opera-goers have revered

works written in languages they do not speak.

Tommasini’s claim of definition (or of difference) makes sense

because it clarifies aspects of the two genres.

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 indeed. 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 created 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

below 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 could

demonstrate that the conditions for a definition have been met

—for example, a widely circulated photograph of children in

Flint, Michigan, carrying bottled water (see p. 210) might define

crisis or civic collapse. 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.”)

GUIDE to writing an argument of definition

● Finding a Topic

You’re entering an argument of definition when you:

formulate a controversial or provocative definition: Cultural
appropriation is the disrespectful borrowing of the ideas, history,
cultural achievements, dress, music, traditions, foods, or any other
cultural artifacts of an exploited or marginalized group by a more
powerful one.


challenge a definition: For many Americans today, cultural
appropriation is an idea that runs counter to the melting-pot ideal
of American assimilation.
try to determine whether something fits an existing definition:
Dining at Taco Bell or Panda Express is (or is not) an act of cultural
seek to broaden an existing definition or create a new definition to
accommodate wider or differing perspectives: In a world where
cultural information is shared so fluidly via social media, it may be
time to explore alternative representations of cultural

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 visually represent social issues that
concern you, and so on. Be especially alert to definitional arguments
that arise when you or others deploy adjectives such as true, real,
actual, or genuine: a true patriot, real reform, authentic Kombucha tea.

● 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 dictionaries
your textbooks (check their glossaries)
Web articles and blogs that focus on particular topics, especially
political ones
community or advocacy groups focused on legal or social issues
social media postings by experts you respect

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

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
questions related to fulfillment of conditions: Has our college kept
in place traditions or policies that might embody forms of racial
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

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
tentative, an initial thesis (if you have one) may simply describe
problems in formulating 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 constitutes 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
considered murder when the motive for the act is to ease a
person’s suffering and not to benefit from the death.
Although somewhat addictive, marijuana should not be classified
as a dangerous drug because it damages individuals and society
less than heroin 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
Attempts to define the concept of free speech need to take into
account the way the term is 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
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: Social media?
Databases? Dictionaries? Encyclopedias? Periodicals?
Determine what visuals to include in your definitional

● Considering Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre. 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, report, infographic, poster, 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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with


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

An argument of definition is likely to include some of the following

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 appropriate
a careful consideration of alternative views and
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.

● 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 readers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following
questions to evaluate a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your
comments with examples; specific comments help more than general


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 significance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed
discussion needed?
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 represented 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
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 or presented? Is this
organization effective?
Will readers understand the relationships among the claims,


supporting reasons, warrants, and evidence? If not, how might
those connections be clearer? Does every visual serve a clear
purpose? Are more transitions (verbal or visual) needed? Would
headings 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 improved?
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? If your argument of
definition is an academic essay, 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 improved?
Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or
inappropriate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are
technical or unfamiliar 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
Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it
appropriately designed and attractively presented?



1. Write an argument of definition about a term such as fake news
or intersectionality 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 appropriateness, offensiveness, accuracy,
and so on. Consider words or expressions such as Antifa, big
data, deep state, disruptive technology, Islamophobia, machine
learning, marginalization, white nationalist, 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 apparent to people
unfamiliar with how the terms are used in specific
communities. Consider terms such as liberal/progressive,
classy/cool, lead soprano/prima donna, student athlete/jock,
highbrow/intellectual, manual laborer/blue collar worker,
babysitter/nanny, 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 carefully, respond
to Rodriguez’s argument in an argument of definition of your
own—either an academic essay or a multimodal presentation,
combining various media such as audio, video, posters, etc.
Alternatively, explore a concept similar to “underprivileged”


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
consequences, 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.

Two Sample Definitional Arguments





Defining the Relationship


August 9, 2016

Dear Students: I think it’s time we had the talk. You know, the

one couples who’ve been together for a while sometimes have

to review boundaries and expectations? Your generation calls

this “DTR”—short for “defining the relationship.”

We definitely need to define our relationship because, first of

all, it is a long-term relationship—maybe not between you and

me, specifically, but between people like you (students) and

people like me (professors). And, second, it appears to need

some defining, or redefining. I used to think the boundaries and

expectations were clear on both sides, but that no longer seems

to be the case.

The truth is, I wonder if college students today truly understand

the nature of their relationship to professors. Perhaps their

experiences with other authority figures—high-school teachers,

parents, and bosses—have led them to make assumptions that

aren’t quite accurate. Or perhaps students are just not too

thrilled with authority figures in general. That’s always been the

case, to some extent. But it seems to me, after 31 years of

college teaching, that the lines have grown blurrier, the

misconceptions more profound.

So I’d like to take a few moments to define the professor-student


relationship. And if no one has ever put it to you quite this way

before—well, that just highlights the need for a DTR.

And by the way, please keep in mind that I’m not trying to

offend you or tick you off. I actually like you quite a bit, or I

wouldn’t even bother having this discussion.

I don’t work for you. Students (or their parents), when they’re

unhappy with something I’ve said or done, occasionally try

throwing this line in my face: “You work for me.” They mean

that by paying tuition and taxes, they pay my salary and I

should, therefore, be responsive in the way they desire.

Let’s dismiss that old canard right off the bat. Yes, as a

professor at a state institution, I am a public employee. But

that’s precisely the point: I’m employed by the college and by

the public, not by any particular member of the public. My duty

—to the institution and to the people of this state—is to ensure

that students in my courses meet the standards set by the

college’s faculty and are well-prepared for further study and for


You’re not a customer, and I’m not a clerk. Unfortunately, too

many students have been told for too long that they are

“customers” of the institution—which means, of course, that

they’re always right. Right?

Wrong. This is not Wal-Mart. You are not a customer, and I

don’t even own a blue smock. Our relationship is much more


like that of doctor and patient. My only obligation: to tell you

what you need to hear (not what you want to hear) and to do

what I think is best (not what you think is best).

I’m not a cable network or streaming site. What you get out of

this relationship is that you’ll be better equipped to succeed in

this and other college courses, and life in general. What I get is

a great deal of professional and personal satisfaction.

Natives of today’s social-media-fueled digital universe have

come to expect that everything they want will be available

whenever they want it, on demand. That includes, or ought to

include, their professors. I mean, we have email, don’t we? And


Consider this official notice that I have opted out of the on-

demand world. My office hours are listed on my syllabus. If for

some reason I can’t be in my office during those hours, I’ll let

you know beforehand if possible or post a note on my door. But

I’m usually there.

As for email, yes, I have it and I check it often, but not

constantly. I do have a life outside this classroom—a wife, kids,

hobbies, other professional obligations. That’s why I don’t give

out my private cell number. If you need me after hours, email

me and I’ll probably see it and respond within 24 to 48 hours.

I’m not a high-school teacher. A common refrain among first-

year college students is, “But my high-school teacher said. . . .”


Those teachers did their best to prepare you for college and tell

you what to expect. Unfortunately, some of their information

was outdated or just plain wrong. For example, not every essay

has exactly five paragraphs, and it’s OK, in certain situations, to

begin a sentence with “because.” One of the main differences

between them and me is that I’m not telling you how you’re

going to do things “once you get to college.” This is college, and

this is how we do things.

Plus, because of something called “academic freedom,” which

most college professors enjoy but most high-school teachers

don’t, I’m not nearly as easy to intimidate when you think you

deserved an A. I’m sure you (or your parents) would never

dream of trying anything like that, but I thought I’d go ahead

and mention it, just in case.

I’m not your boss. Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t take a

“my way or the highway” approach to teaching. In my view,

that’s not what education, and certainly not higher education, is

all about. I’m here to help you learn. Whether you choose to

accept that help—ultimately, whether you choose to learn

anything—is up to you.

My role is not to tell you what to do, like your shift manager at

the fast-food restaurant. Rather, I will provide information,

explain how to do certain things, and give you regular

assignments and assessments designed to help you internalize

that knowledge and master those skills. Internalizing and


mastering are your responsibility. I can’t “fire” you, any more

than you can get me fired. But I can and will evaluate the quality

and timeliness of your work, and that evaluation will be

reflected in your final grade.

I’m not your parent. Some of my colleagues (especially among

the administration) believe the institution should act “in loco

parentis,” which means “in the place of a parent.” In other

words, when you’re away from your parents, we become your


I’ve never really subscribed to that theory, at least not in the

classroom. I suppose there are certain areas of the college, like

student services, that have some parental-like obligation to

students. But as a professor, I don’t. And what that means, more

than anything else, is that I’m not going to treat you like a child.

I’m not your BFF. When I first started teaching, I was only a few

years older than many of my students. It was tempting, at times,

to want to be friends with some of them. I occasionally

struggled to maintain an appropriate professional distance.

Not anymore. I’ve been doing this for a while now—over 30

years—and I’m no longer young. (Sadly, I’m no longer mistaken

for a student, either.) I try to be friendly and approachable, but

if by “friendly” you think I mean “someone to hang out with,” I

don’t. I regret that we cannot actually be friends.

That applies to virtual friendship, too. Even if you happen to


track me down on Facebook, I will not accept your friend

request. You’re welcome to follow me on Twitter, if you like, but

I won’t follow you back. And I don’t do Instagram or Snapchat

or, um, whatever else there is.

I’m not your adversary. Just because we’re not best buds,

please don’t think I’m your enemy. Nothing could be further

from the truth. In fact, if by “friend” you mean someone who

cares about your well-being and success, then I guess I am a

friend after all.

Yet there is always a degree of tension in the student-professor

relationship. You may at times feel that I am behaving in an

adversarial manner—questioning the quality and relevance of

your work, making judgments that you perceive as negative.

Understand that is only because I do want you to succeed. It’s

not personal, on my end, and you must learn not to take it


I’d like to be your partner. More than anything, I’d like for us to

form a mutually beneficial alliance in this endeavor we call


I pledge to do my part. I will:

Stay abreast of the latest ideas in my field.
Teach you what I believe you need to know, with all the
enthusiasm I possess.
Invite your comments and questions and respond


Make myself available to you outside of class (within
Evaluate your work carefully and return it promptly with
Be as fair, respectful, and understanding as I can humanly
If you need help beyond the scope of this course, I will do
my best to provide it or see that you get it.

In return, I expect you to:

Show up for class each day or let me know (preferably in
advance) if you have some good reason to be absent.
Do your reading and other assignments outside of class and
be prepared for each class meeting.
Focus during class on the work we’re doing and not on
extraneous matters (like whoever or whatever is on your
phone at the moment).
Participate in class discussions.
Be respectful of your fellow students and their points of
In short, I expect you to devote as much effort to learning
as I devote to teaching.

What you get out of this relationship is that you’ll be better

equipped to succeed in this and other college courses, work-

related assignments, and life in general. What I get is a great

deal of professional and personal satisfaction. Because I do

really like you guys and want the best for you.


All in all, that’s not a bad deal. It’s a shame more relationships

aren’t like ours.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia State University–
Perimeter College and a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education,
where this argument was published.


CHAPTER 10 Evaluations

“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


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


Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane is playing at the

Student Union for only one more night, but the new Marvel

Avengers epic is featured across the street in 3-D. Guess which

movie your roomie wants to see? You intend to set her straight.


Evaluations are everyday arguments. By the time you leave

home in the morning, you’ve likely made a dozen informal

evaluations: You’ve selected neat but informal clothes because

you have a job interview with a manufacturing company

looking for machinists. 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, evidence, 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 (mostly) blame are a significant part

of American life. Adults who would choke at the notion of

debating causal or definitional claims will happily spend hours

appraising the Oakland Raiders, Boston Red Sox, or Pittsburgh

Penguins. Other evaluative spectacles in our culture include


awards shows, late-night comedy shows, most-valuable-player

presentations, lists of best-dressed or worst-dressed celebrities,

literary prizes, consumer product magazines, and—the ultimate

formal public gesture of evaluation—elections. Indeed, making

evaluations is a form of entertainment in America and

generates big audiences (think of The Voice) and revenues.

Arguments about sports are usually evaluations of some kind.

The last ten years have seen a proliferation of “reality” talent shows

around the world—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 judging anything—whether a political candidate,

consumer product, work of art, or career strategy—are called

criteria of evaluation. Sometimes criteria are self-evident: a

truck that gets nine 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 constitutes a

fair wage? What are the qualities of a classic song? What makes

an event worthy of news coverage? Struggling to identify such

amorphous 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

evaluation seem effortless? Because we should be suspicious of

opinions we offer too casually. Spontaneous quips and snap

judgments can’t carry the same weight as well-informed and

well-argued opinions. Serious evaluations 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 question the practice of grading.
You argue passionately that a Democratic Congress is better
for America than a Republican one, but you fail to consider


why voters get only two choices.
You argue that news coverage is biased, but it doesn’t occur
to you to ask what makes an event worthy of news

Push an argument of evaluation hard enough and even simple

judgments 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 well, readers ought to learn something

from your argument. So you need to formulate and then justify

the criteria for your opinions, 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. Moreover it wouldn’t be enough

merely to assert that a proper one should be juicy or tasty—such

observations are trite, uninteresting, and obvious. The

following criteria offered on the Cook’s Illustrated Web site

show what happens when experts give the matter their at-


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?

Criteria of evaluation aren’t static, either. They may evolve over

time depending upon audience. Much market research, for

example, is designed to find out what particular consumers

want now or may want in the future—what their criteria are for

choosing a product or service. In good economic times, people

may demand homes with soaring entryways, lots of space, and

premium appliances. In tougher times, they may care more

about quality insulation and energy-efficient stoves and


dishwashers. Shifts in values, attitudes, and criteria happen all

the time.

Criteria can also reveal biases we hardly notice. In a Current

Affairs column (July 28, 2017), Nathan J. Robinson, citing a 2007

study featured on the Our World In Data Web site, argues that

we are blind to an especially insidious omission in mainstream

American news coverage—the unspoken and often racially

motivated criteria networks use to decide what merits public

attention at all. Robinson contends that only “the purest kind of

subconscious prejudice” is at work in determining whose death

is worth reporting. Looking closely at 700,000 major network

news stories, the researchers found that

the loss of 1 European life was equivalent to the loss of 45

African lives, in terms of the amount of coverage

generated. Deaths in Europe and the Americas were

given tens of times more weight than Asian, African, and

Pacific lives.

Robinson is clearly asking news providers and consumers alike

to reconsider how they evaluate newsworthiness.


A graph from the Our World In Data Web site shows significant disparities in
news coverage given to loss of life in different parts of the world.

Choose one item from the following list that you understand well

enough to evaluate (or choose a category of your own). 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.


NFL quarterbacks

social media sites

TV journalists


video games

virtual reality products

Navajo rugs

U.S. vice presidents

organic vegetables

electric cars

spoken word poetry

specialty coffee

country music bands

superhero 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 of evaluation employ criteria that can

be measured, counted, or demonstrated 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, alluding to 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 oldest or

loudest person in your class? If your classmates allow

themselves to be measured, you could find out easily enough,

using the right equipment and internationally sanctioned

standards of measurement—the meter, the calendar, or the


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. As you might guess, quantitative measures of

evaluation have limits. Devised to measure only certain criteria

and ignore others, they have an inevitably limited perspective.

And yet quantitative evaluations may still be full of insight. For

example, even if you are not concerned with finding a mate at

this point, you might be interested to know what people are

looking for in a potential partner. Good looks? Of course—

according to a Business Wire story, 51 percent of the people on


online dating services value attractiveness in a potential mate.

Others look for modesty (39 percent), ambition (50 percent),

and a sense of humor (67 percent). But what trumps all these

qualities is something you might not have thought much about

at this point: your credit rating. Fully 69 percent of those

surveyed thought a good credit score was important or very

important in considering whom they might date. An odd

criterion? Not at all. Dr. Helen Fischer, chief scientific advisor

for Match.com, explains why:

When it comes to dating, a good credit score ups your

mate value, helping you win a responsible, long-term

partner, more so than some other qualities that online

daters might highlight on their profile. Money talks, but

your credit score can speak more about who you are as a

person, and singles agree that those with good credit

tend to be conscientious and reliable.

—“Online Daters Say a Good Credit Score Is More

Attractive Than a Fancy Car,” Business Wire, August 21,


Something to remember when your next credit card bill comes


Qualitative Evaluations
Many issues of evaluation that are closest to people’s hearts

aren’t subject to quantification. What makes a movie great or


significant? If you suggested a quantitative 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 measure—be the

“best pictures”? That select group would include movies such as

Star Wars, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Titanic,

Avatar, and E.T. An interesting group of films—but the best?

To define the criteria for “significant 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 or identified with some precision but not

actually measured or counted. You’d also have to make your

case rhetorically, convincing the audience to accept the

benchmarks of quality you are offering and yet appreciating

that they might not.

Indeed, a movie reviewer (or anyone else) making strong

qualitative judgments might spend as much time defending

criteria of evaluation as providing evidence that these standards

are present in a particular film. And putting those standards

into action can be what makes a review attention getting or,

even better, worth reading. Here’s a paragraph from Mehera

Bonner, an entertainment editor for Marie Claire who is not shy

about applying a feminist perspective to Christopher Nolan’s

World War II epic Dunkirk (2017), depicting the evacuation of


more than 300,000 allied soldiers trapped by German forces on

the coast of France at the outset of the conflict:

[M]y main issue with Dunkirk is that it’s so clearly

designed for men to man-out over. And look, it’s not like I

need every movie to have “strong female leads.” Wonder

Woman can probably tide me over for at least a year, and

I understand that this war was dominated by brave male

soldiers. I get that. But the packaging of the film, the

general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it

just screams “men-only”—and specifically seems to cater

to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love

nothing more than to explain to me why I’m wrong about

not liking it. . . . [T]o me, Dunkirk felt like an excuse for

men to celebrate maleness.

—Mehera Bonner, “I Think Dunkirk Was Mediocre at

Best, and It’s Not Because I’m Some Naïve Woman Who

Doesn’t Get It”


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?

For examples of powerful evaluation arguments, search the Web 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 criteria of evaluation hold the obituary or eulogy together?

Why should we respect or admire the person?


Developing an Evaluative
Developing an argument of evaluation can seem like a simple

process, especially if you already know what your claim is likely

to be. To continue the movie theme for one more example:

Citizen Kane is likely 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 American 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.

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 important 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.


What criteria does Deanna Hartley use in evaluating what makes
some candidates more successful than others in how they use
social media during a job search?

LINK TO Hartley, “Creative Ways to Get Noticed by Employers on
Social Media,” in Chapter 26

Formulating Criteria

Although even casual evaluations (This band sucks!) might be

traced to reasonable criteria, most people don’t defend their

positions until they are challenged (Oh yeah?). Writers who

address readers with whom they share core values rarely

discuss their criteria in great detail. Similarly, critics with

established reputations in their fields aren’t expected to restate

all their principles every time they write reviews. They assume

audiences will—over time—come to appreciate their standards.

Indeed, the expertise they command becomes a part of their

persuasive ethos (see Chapter 3). Still, criteria can make or

break a piece.

So spend time developing your criteria of evaluation. What

exactly makes a shortstop an all-star? What marks a

standardized test as an unreliable measure of intelligence?

What distinguishes an inspired rapper from a run-of-the-mill

one? In cases like these, list the possibilities and then pare them

down to the essential qualities. If you propose vague, dull, or

unsupportable principles, expect to be challenged.


You’re most likely to be vague about your beliefs when you

haven’t thought, read, or experienced enough about your

subject. Push yourself at least as far as you imagine readers will.

Anticipate readers looking over your shoulder, 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 Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro

because it does so many amazing things. But what does that

mean exactly? What makes the device “amazing”? Is it that it

offers the flexibility of a touch screen, boasts an astonishing

high-resolution screen, and gives artists the ability to draw with

a stylus? These are particular features of the device. But can you

identify a more fundamental quality to explain the product’s

appeal, such as a Surface user’s experience, enjoyment, or

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


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.


Food blogger Jess Kapadia makes a strong evaluative claim when
she asserts that, for example, the best Indian food she ever ate
was not in India but in Singapore.

LINK TO Kapadia, “I Still Don’t Understand the Cultural
Appropriation of Food,” in Chapter 24

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 dentist.” 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 five categories for evaluation.

For each category, list the evaluative criteria that you would use to

make your judgment. Next, consider that because your criteria are

warrants, 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 categories, 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 and specific

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:

J. R. R. Tolkien is the best writer of fantasy ever.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a better fantasy

series than J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, even for


For most readers, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the

King offers, arguably, a more profound examination of

evil than J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly


Here’s a second set of examples demonstrating the same

principle, that knowledgeable qualifications generally make a

claim of evaluation easier to deal with and smarter:

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent suggestion for a

new graduation requirement for high school seniors in

his city sure is dumb!

A proposal by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago that

students in his city’s schools not receive high school

diplomas unless they’ve been admitted to college, joined

the military, or are already employed, might do more


harm than good.

While praiseworthy in its goal to make high school

seniors think about their futures, Mayor Emanuel’s

proposed graduation requirement might force many

working-class students into making the wrong choices—

going to trade school, joining the military, enrolling in

second-rate online schools—just to claim a high school

diploma they’ve already earned.

The point of qualifying theses like these 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 an assertion he makes in its


Structurally, dubstep is a simple musical form, with

formulaic progressions 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 dubstep 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 a subtle or

sophisticated musical form, nor does he expect his argument to

win over traditionally minded critics. Yet he still makes a claim

worth considering.

Dubstep band Dope D.O.D. performing live in Moscow in 2015

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, classmates, or tutors

at the writing center, asking them to identify places where your

ideas need additional support, 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 strongest points. In most cases, that best

material will be evidence that’s specific, detailed, memorable,

and derived from credible sources. The following example

comes from a celebratory defense of art and artists by musician,

songwriter, and producer T Bone Burnett, delivered at the 2016

AmericanaFest music festival in Nashville. The energy of his

language and the memorable examples likely solidify the case

that music is foundational to the American mythology:

This is the story of the United States: a kid walks out of

his home with a song and nothing else, and conquers the

world. We have replicated that phenomenon over and


over: Elvis Presley, … Rosetta Tharpe, Johnny Cash,

Howlin Wolf, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane,

Billie Holiday.

—T Bone Burnett, Nashville, TN, September 22, 2016

T Bone Burnett gave the keynote speech at the AmericanaFest (Americana Music
Festival & Conference) in Nashville.

In evaluation arguments, don’t be afraid to concede a point

when evidence 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”

Considering Design and Visuals
Visual components play a significant role in many kinds of

evaluation arguments, especially during political campaigns—as

the image on the following page suggests. But they can also be

important in more technical arguments as well (see the graph

from Our World in Data earlier in this chapter). As soon as

numbers are involved in supporting your claim, think about

ways to arrange quantitative information in tables, charts,

graphs, or infographics to make the information more

accessible to readers. Visual elements are especially helpful

when comparing items. The facts can seem to speak for

themselves if they are presented with care and deliberation.

But don’t ignore other basic design features of a text—such as

headings for the different criteria you’re using or, in online

evaluations, links to material related to your subject.



Vote Hillary by Deborah Kass

Take a close look at what artist Deborah Kass described in July 2016

as her “official fundraising screen print” for the presidential

campaign of Hillary Clinton. In what ways did it make an argument

of evaluation designed to make Americans consider voting for the

Democratic candidate rather than for Republican Donald Trump?

Would any elements in it make some voters perhaps less likely to

support Clinton? Explain your assessment of the image.

GUIDE to writing an evaluation

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 critics.
construct a ranking or comparison: Citizen Kane is a more
intellectually challenging movie than Casablanca.
explore criteria that might be used in making critical judgments:
Criteria 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 or images 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 something 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
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

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 country? 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 critically assessed 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 or viewers 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

For a conventional evaluation, such as a book or restaurant review,
your thesis should be a complete statement. In one sentence, make a
claim of evaluation and state the reasons that support 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 persuade readers.

Examples of Evaluative Claims

Though they may never receive Oscars for their work, Tom Cruise
and Angela Bassett deserve credit as actors who have succeeded
in a wider range of film roles than most of their contemporaries.
The much-vaunted population shift back to urban areas in the
United States has really been mostly among rich, educated, and
childless people who can afford the high costs of living there.
The most remarkable aspect of Elon Musk as an entrepreneur is
the way he blatantly uses public money to build his companies—
from Tesla to SpaceX.
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
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 question 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?

Considering Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre and/or
medium. If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good

What genre is most appropriate for your argument of evaluation?
Does it call for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a
video, 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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with
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 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 criteria
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
paragraph 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 readers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following
questions to evaluate a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your
comments with examples; specific comments help more than general

The Claim

Is the claim an argument of evaluation? Does it make a critical
judgment about something?
Does the claim establish clearly what’s being evaluated?


Is the claim too sweeping or too narrow? Does it need to be
qualified or expanded?
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 controversial? 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
Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are
its significance and appropriateness analyzed? Is more detailed
discussion needed?
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
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? Does every visual serve a clear
purpose? 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 improved?
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 improved?
Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or
inappropriate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are
technical or unfamiliar 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
Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it well
designed and attractively presented?


1. What kinds of reviews or evaluations do you read or consult
most often—those of TV shows, sports teams, video games,
fashions, 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 interest or special knowledge. Let
the project demonstrate an expertise you have gained. If it
helps, model your evaluation upon the work of a reviewer or
expert you particularly respect and choose the medium that
you think works best.

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 overrated or that people who criticize a
particular social media platform really don’t understand it.
Explain why the subject of your evaluation needs to be
reconsidered and provide reasons, evidence, and, if necessary,
different criteria of evaluation for doing so. For an example of
this type of (re)evaluation, see Becca Stanek’s “I took vitamins
every day for a decade. Then I found out they’re useless.”

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, public officials, artists, legislators,
editorial cartoonists, fashion designers, programmers, athletes,
faculty at your school, or employees where you work. While
your first instinct might be to rank these individuals and pick a
“winner,” you could also aim to help readers appreciate the
different paths by which your subjects have achieved

4. Within this chapter, the authors claim that criteria of evaluation
can change depending on times and circumstances: “In good
economic times, people may demand homes with soaring


entryways, lots of space, and premium appliances. In tougher
times, they may care more about 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 growing
resistance worldwide to immigration or open borders affect
political alliances or cultural diversity? If people across the
globe continue to put on weight, how might standards of
personal beauty or fashion alter? If media and news outlets
continue to fall in public esteem, how might we change the way
we make political decisions? 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.

Two Sample Evaluations







I took vitamins every day for a decade. Then I found out they’re



March 22, 2017

Save for a few lapses in my irresponsible college days, I’ve

popped a multivitamin every single day since middle school.

First it was the chalky multivitamins that left a lump in my

throat for minutes after I’d gulped one down. Then it was the

slightly grainy, massive pills that my mom bought in bulk at

Costco. (They were technically for post-menopausal women,

but my mother assured me they would be just fine for my 17-

year-old self.) Then last year, tired of big, bad-tasting pills, I

bought gummy vitamins. Who doesn’t like noshing on some

candy that holds the promise of great health?

Well, last week I threw my vitamins away. I’ll miss that sugary,

fruity taste—but, according to my doctor, that’s about all I’ll be


At my appointment last Wednesday, my doctor bluntly

informed me that my multivitamins weren’t doing a darn thing

for me. Though the idea of getting just a little bit more of all the

most important vitamins may seem like a foolproof idea, she

informed me that more isn’t necessarily better. Few people

have vitamin deficiencies. Moreover, for those who do have a

deficiency in, say, Vitamin D or Vitamin B12, those little grape-

shaped gummies—or any multivitamin, for that matter—don’t

pack anywhere near enough of any one vitamin to correct that

deficiency, she explained.


That could be passed off as just one doctor’s opinion . . . except

there are a plethora of studies out there that back up her

argument. A much buzzed-about study published in Annals of

Internal Medicine in 2013, for instance, came to this clear-cut

conclusion after reviewing three trials of multivitamin

supplements and 24 trials of “single or paired vitamins that

randomly assigned more than 40,000 participants”:

Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine

supplementation, and we should translate null and

negative findings into action. The message is simple: Most

supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their

use is not justified, and they should be avoided. This

message is especially true for the general population with

no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who

represent most supplement users in the United States and

in other countries. [Annals of Internal Medicine]

Specifically, the study found vitamins to be ineffective when it

comes to reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, declines in

cognitive ability, and premature death. And, Quartz noted,

some vitamins can even be “harmful in high enough


Our bodies can easily get rid of excess vitamins that

dissolve in water, like vitamin C, all the B vitamins, and

folate, but they hold onto the ones that are fat soluble.

Buildup of vitamin A, K, E, or D—all of which are necessary

in low levels—can cause problems with your heart and


kidneys, and can even be fatal in some cases. [Quartz]

Though the FDA says on its vitamins information page that

there “are many good reasons to consider taking supplements,”

it indicates vitamins only “may be useful when they fill a

specific identified nutrient gap that cannot or is not otherwise

being met by the individuals’ intake of food.” The CDC

estimated in 2014 that “nine out of 10 people in the U.S. are

indeed getting enough of some important vitamins and


So why are so many Americans still taking multivitamins?

Steven Salzberg, a medicine professor at Johns Hopkins, told

NPR multivitamins are “a great example of how our intuition

leads us astray.” “It seems reasonable that if a little bit of

something is good for you, then more should be better for you.

It’s not true,” Salzberg said. “Supplementation with extra

vitamins or micronutrients doesn’t really benefit you if you

don’t have a deficiency.”

Americans’ abysmally bad diets also give vitamin companies

some marketing ammunition. When the average American is

eating just one or two servings of fruits and veggies a day

(experts recommend as many as 10 servings of fruits and

veggies a day for maximum benefits), a little boost of vitamins

might seem like a good idea. But popping a pill isn’t going to

make up for all those lost servings. “Food contains thousands of

phyto-chemicals, fiber, and more that work together to promote


good health that cannot be duplicated with a pill,” said

nutritionist Karen Ansel.

And if it’s those tasty gummy vitamins we’re falling back on,

there’s an even better chance we’re not offsetting our sugar-and

fat-laden diets. The women’s gummy multivitamins I was taking

pack three grams of sugar per gummy. A serving size is two

gummies. Even before breakfast, I was consuming six grams of

sugar—almost a quarter of the American Heart Association’s

recommended maximum sugar intake for women.

So why, if there are so many signs pointing to no on

multivitamins, had I never really heard any of them until that

fateful visit to the doctor? Pediatrician Paul Offit explained in a

2013 New York Times opinion article that it might have

something to do with a bill introduced in the 1970s:

In December 1972, concerned that people were consuming

larger and larger quantities of vitamins, the FDA

announced a plan to regulate vitamin supplements

containing more than 150 percent of the recommended

daily allowance. Vitamin makers would now have to prove

that these “megavitamins” were safe before selling them.

Not surprisingly, the vitamin industry saw this as a threat,

and set out to destroy the bill. In the end, it did far more

than that.

Industry executives recruited William Proxmire, a

Democratic senator from Wisconsin, to introduce a bill


preventing the FDA from regulating megavitamins. [Paul

Offit, via the New York Times]

That bill became law in 1976. Some 30 years later, almost a third

of Americans were still taking a daily multivitamin. But count

this gal out.

Becca Stanek, a writer for TheWeek.com, explains exactly why she gave up a habit
common to many Americans—taking multivitamins. Citing ample research, she
argues that most people don’t need them and people with genuine vitamin
deficiencies need something more potent than an over-the-counter pill. We’ve
underlined the hyperlinked words and phrases to give you an idea of how a
professional writer backs up important claims in an evaluative argument. You can
find the piece online at http://theweek.com/articles/687917/took-multivitamins-


CHAPTER 11 Causal Arguments

Although they have thrived for over fifty million years, several

decades 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 fertilizers to using synthetic fertilizers. Or has the

decline been triggered by viruses transmitted by the varroa

mite, which infested the United States beginning in the mid-

1980s? Scientists believe a combination of these factors

accounts for a continuing decline in bees.

Somewhat unexpectedly, marijuana prices have declined

sharply in locales that have recently legalized pot. As a result,

state governments have not enjoyed the tax bonanzas they

anticipated, but at least they’ve enjoyed a reduction in law

enforcement costs.

Despite attempts to raise oil prices by cutting production, OPEC

(Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has discovered

that fracking techniques pioneered in the United States — which


will likely spread around the world — have broken the power

the cartel once held over petroleum markets.


Understanding Causal
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 the combination of unhealthy foods

and a sedentary lifestyle. Berl quotes Harvard nutrition

professor Walter Willett, who notes that individuals with lower

income and lower education are more likely to buy inexpensive

foods high in refined sugar and starch:

“There is no single, simple answer to explain the obesity

patterns” in America, says Willett. . . . “More deeply,

[obesity] also reflects lower public investment in

education, public transportation, and recreational

facilities,” he says. The bottom line: cheap, unhealthy

foods mixed with a sedentary lifestyle have made obesity

the new normal in America.

— 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.

Scientists, social critics, and health gurus offer many

explanations, and some are challenged or refuted. But figuring

out exactly what’s going on is a national concern — and an

important example of cause-and-effect argument.

Causal arguments — from the causes of an opioid addiction

crisis in many American 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 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 illness of your hamster, 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

identifying 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 Faulty

Causality in Chapter 5) and propose that your failure to

complete the project is due more to procrastination than to the

reasons you offer — a causal analysis of her own.

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
What would happen if Congress ever 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 consequences of this “cause”

would have to be examined in detail and argued intensely. In

fact, groups on all sides of this hot-button issue have been doing

so for decades now, and they generally posit different

outcomes. In this debate, you’d be successful if you could

convincingly describe the consequences of such a change and

make people see them as beneficial. Alternatively, you could

challenge the causal explanations made by groups you don’t

agree with. But, either way, speculation about causes and

effects can be dicey simply because life is complicated.

Consider the following passage from an essay in the Chronicle

of Higher Education by political scientist and self-identifying

liberal Mark Lilla, in which he describes the effects that he

believes follow from focusing too single-mindedly on “identity

politics,” especially in higher education:

Identity politics on the left was at first about large classes

of people — African-Americans, women, gays — seeking

to redress major historical wrongs by mobilizing and

then working through our political institutions to secure

their rights. But by the 1980s it had given way to a


pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow

and exclusionary self-definition that is now cultivated in

our colleges and universities. The main result has been to

turn young people back onto themselves, rather than

turning them outward toward the wider world they share

with others. It has left them unprepared to think about

the common good in non-identity terms and what must

be done practically to secure it — especially the hard and

unglamorous task of persuading people very different

from themselves to join a common effort. Every advance

of liberal identity consciousness has marked a retreat of

effective liberal political consciousness.

— Mark Lilla, “How Colleges Are Strangling Liberalism”

Predictably, Professor Lilla’s causal analysis received much

attention and criticism, but he raised issues and described

consequences that merit serious discussion.

Arguments That State an Effect
and Then Trace the Effect Back
to Its Causes
This type of argument might begin with a specific effect (an

unprecedented drop in sales of traditional four-door sedans)

and then trace it to its most likely causes (the popularity of

crossover SUVs, availability of all-wheel drive SUVs, cheaper

gas). Or you might examine the reasons auto manufacturers


offer for the sales decline of their once most popular models —

Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys — and decide whether their

causal explanations pass muster.

Like other types of causal arguments, those tracing effects to a

cause can offer provocative insights. You can see that in a 2017

Atlantic article by Jean M. Twenge, already excerpted in

Chapter 8. In the piece, Twenge, a professor at San Diego State

University, examines research that documents disturbing

behaviors she’d been noticing in post-millennial children and

adolescents. She begins the piece describing those effects

(generally) before going on to propose a not entirely surprising


I’ve been researching generational differences for 25

years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student

in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to

define a generation appear gradually, and along a

continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already

rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance,

are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism

had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on,

tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to

line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and

valleys. Then I began studying [the current] generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors

and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs

became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of


the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial

generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of

generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I

had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends

persisted, across several years and a series of national

surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind.

The biggest difference between the Millennials and their

predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens

today differ from the Millennials not just in their views

but in how they spend their time. The experiences they

have every day are radically different from those of the

generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in

behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which

officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect

on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering

economy. But it was exactly the moment when the

proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone

surpassed 50 percent.

— Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a


Twenge goes on to connect the iPhone (and its clones) to a host

of specific effects, some positive, but most negative: fewer auto

accidents; less drinking; higher rates of depression and suicide;


declines in dating and sexual activity; avoidance of adult

responsibilities. Needless to say, her analysis caused a stir,

likely because many readers found the evidence she cited


Arguments That Move through a
Series of Links: A Causes B,
Which Leads to C and Perhaps to
As you might guess, entire arguments can be structured around

a series of linked causal connections. But you can see that

structure within individual paragraphs too when writers want to

draw out the consequences of their cause/effect studies. Here

are two such paragraphs near the end of Twenge’s essay

(described above) on how smartphones have damaged a whole


generation of children; note how she uses the causal links to

emphasize the consequences over time of that addiction:

The correlations between depression and smartphone

use are strong enough to suggest that more parents

should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As

the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a

policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve

Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into

the world.

What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience

adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is

likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people

who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become

depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time

for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with

their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities

to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more

adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but

not the right facial expression.

What is happening now, Twenge argues, has predictable

implications for the future.

The causes 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 these events or

phenomena. Which explanations are relatively clear, and which

seem more open to debate?


swelling caused by a bee sting

sharp rises in reported cases of autism or asthma

fake news

climate change

popularity of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why

increasing post-graduation debt for college students

outcome of the 2016 presidential election

controversies in schools and online over free speech



Characterizing Causal
Causal arguments tend to share several characteristics.

They Are Often Part of Other
Many stand-alone causal arguments address questions that are

fundamental to our well-being: What accounts for the rise of

violent extremist political groups — left and right — in the

United States? What will happen as space travel moves into the

private sector, thanks to companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin,

and Virgin Galactic? How will the American middle class adjust

to its diminishing status? What will happen to Europe or Japan

if birthrates there continue to decline?

But causal analyses often work to support other types of

arguments — especially proposals. For example, a proposal to

limit the time that people spend on social media (see Two

Sample Proposals in Chapter 12) might begin with evidence

establishing that too much time on Facebook and Instagram can

have dire psychological consequences. This initial causal

analysis then provides a rationale for the proposal argument

that follows.

They Are Almost Always Complex


C. Richard King examines the complex network of cause and effect
surrounding the racial slur and professional football team name
“redskin,” wondering if the slur is the result of racism or its cause
— or both.

LINK TO King, “Redskins: Insult and Brand,” in Chapter 23

The complexity of most causal relationships makes it difficult to

establish causes and effects. For example, in 2011 researchers at

Northwestern University reported a startling correlation: youths

who participated in church activities were far more likely to

grow into obese adults than 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 regular

social engagement? Perhaps.

Or consider the complexity of analyzing cause and effect when

it relates to consuming specific foods. In Chapter 4 we

mentioned a Wall Street Journal article by economist Emily

Oster examining the research behind many of the dietary

prohibitions pregnant women routinely face. When she took

the time to read the actual research behind the advice, Oster

made interesting discoveries. Some of the causal connections

stood up to scrutiny, but other claims were more ambiguous.

The claim that light drinking could cause behavior problems in

children was complicated by the fact that 45 percent of the

women in the study who had one drink a day also used cocaine.


As Oster wryly observed, “Perhaps the problem is that cocaine,

not the occasional glass of Chardonnay, makes your child more

likely to have behavior problems.”

With all its careful details and qualifications, what Oster’s

article illustrates — and it’s worth reading in its entirety — is

that causal claims, even those you have heard routinely, are

rarely simple or beyond scrutiny.

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 dropouts is rising and that this rise has caused an

increase in youth unemployment. 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 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.


Causal arguments can also be confusing.

They Usually Yield Probable
Rather Than Absolute
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 campus. 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.


In her essay “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” Roxane
Gay looks closely at the cultural and linguistic causes and effects
of “rape culture” — the way male violence toward women has
become expected and even accepted.

LINK TO Gay, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” in
Chapter 25

Developing Causal
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 and university tuition costs so greatly
outstrip the rate of inflation?
Why are almost all the mothers in animated movies either
dead to begin with or quickly killed off?
Why have American schools largely abandoned technical
training programs that, in the past, led to successful blue-
collar careers?
Why do so few younger Americans vote, even in major


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:

What effect is fracking having on the development of
alternative energy sources?
What consequences will follow from the politicization of
traditional news organizations?
What will be the consequences if more liberal (or
conservative) judges are appointed to the U.S. Supreme
What will happen as China and India become dominant
industrialized 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


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.

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 no longer care about getting driver’s licenses?

— do babies cry?


— do politicians, celebrities, or journalists take risks on social

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
In developing a causal claim, examine the various types of

causes and effects in play in a given argument and define their

relationship. Begin by listing all the plausible causes or effects

you need to consider. 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.

Type of

What It Is or Does What It Looks Like



Enough for
something to
occur on its own

Lack of oxygen is sufficient to cause
Cheating on an exam is sufficient to
fail a course


Required for
something to
occur (but in
with other

Fuel is necessary for fire
Capital is necessary for economic


Brings on a

Protest march ignites a strike by
Plane flies into strong thunderstorms


present or visible
cause of action

Strike causes company to declare
Powerful wind shear causes plane to


Indirect or
explanation for

Company was losing money on bad
designs and inept manufacturing
Wind shear warning failed to sound
in cockpit


One factor leads
to a second,
which reinforces
the first, creating
a cycle

Lack of good schools in a
neighborhood leads to poverty,
which further weakens education,
which leads to even fewer
opportunities . . .

Even the most everyday causal analysis can draw on such

distinctions among reasons and causes. What factors might

persuade a student in choosing a post-secondary school?

Proximate reasons might be the location of the school or its

excellent track record of graduate employment. 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


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.

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.

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 Miata, 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


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
Assess any links between causal relationships (what leads
to or follows from what).
Show that your explanations of any causal chains are
accurate, or identify where links in a causal chain break
Show that plausible cause-and-effect explanations haven’t
been ignored or that the possibility of multiple causes or
effects has been considered.

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 and

measurable (as they would be with diseases or climate

conditions), you can usually offer and test hypotheses, or

theories about possible causes. That means exploring such

topics thoroughly to draw upon authorities and research

articles for your explanations and evidence. (See Chapter 17,

“Academic Arguments,” 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.

But not all the evidence in compelling causal arguments needs

to be strictly scientific or scholarly. Many causal arguments rely

on ethnographic 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

displacements 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 someone


who’s physically stronger or higher in status). Doubtless you’ve

read of other such studies, perhaps in psychology or sociology

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 conclusions 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 ordinarily be

universalized, they can still argue eloquently for causal

relationships. Listen to Sara Barbour, writing in 2011 as a

student at Columbia University and drawing 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 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 themselves. 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 evidence, and offering personal experience — can

help you support a causal argument or undermine a causal

claim you regard as faulty.

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 arguments 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: Isn’t it more likely that

rising sea levels, usually attributed to global warming, are due to the

water displaced by ever larger ocean-going cargo vessels and by

more numerous cruise ships filled with much heavier passengers?

Then spend a page or two spinning out an imaginative argument to

defend the claim. It’s OK to have fun with this assignment exercise,

but see how convincing you can be at generating plausibly

implausible arguments.

A graph can provide visual evidence for a causal claim—in this case, the link
between opioid prescriptions and opioid deaths.


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 suggesting a

connection between the rise in opioid prescriptions and the rise

in opioid deaths. The report accompanying the graph,

published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

sets out guidelines for prescribing opioids to relieve chronic

pain without increasing the likelihood of addiction and


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 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 vegetarian diets by

depicting the practices of the agriculture industry as cruel. But

in this item, they make a very different causal argument,

connect eating meat to . . . well, you’ll see if you check the fine



“Meat interrupts your sex life.” This PETA ad campaign makes a causal argument
that’s hard to ignore.

GUIDE to writing a causal argument

Finding a Topic


You’re entering a causal argument when you:

state a cause and then examine its effects: An enduring economic
downturn in many blue-collar areas of the country changed the
political landscape in 2016.
describe an effect and trace it back to its causes: There has been a
recent decline in migration to the U.S., likely due to questions about
what immigration policies will look like in the immediate future.
trace a string of causes to figure out why something happened:
The housing 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

It’s fair game, too, to question the accuracy or adequacy of existing
arguments about causality. You can write a strong paper by raising
doubts about the facts or assumptions that others have made and
perhaps offering a better causal explanation on your own.

Researching Your Topic

Causal arguments will lead you to many different resources:


current news media — especially magazines, newspapers (online
or in print), and news networks
online databases and search engines
scholarly journals
books written on your subject (here you can do a keyword search,
either in your library or online)
social media

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 Understanding Causal Arguments 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 argument 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 violent
crime in states that have approved such legislation.
Sophisticated use of social media like Twitter is now a must for
any political candidate who hopes to win.
Grade inflation is lowering the value of a college education.
The proliferation of images in film, television, and education is
changing the way we read and use information.
The disappearance of rewarding blue-collar jobs and careers will
likely further polarize the country between haves and have-nots.

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 Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre and/or
medium. If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good

What genre is most appropriate for your causal argument? Does it
call for an academic essay, a report, an infographic, a video, 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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with
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



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 readers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following
questions to evaluate a colleague’s draft. Be sure to illustrate your
comments with examples; specific comments help more than general

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

Evidence for the Claim


What’s the strongest evidence offered for the claim? What, if any,
evidence 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 evidence 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 needed?
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? Does every visual serve a clear
purpose? 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 effective? If not, how could
they be improved?
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 improved?
Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or
inappropriate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are
technical or unfamiliar 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
Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format? Is it
appropriately designed and attractively presented?


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

The implications of fracking in the United States on the

global oil market

Increasing numbers of obese children and/or adults

Ramifications of identity politics on efforts to build



Long-term consequences of food or healthcare choices

Psychological influences of smartphones on people who

have grown up with them

How career patterns affect professional achievement and


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 superhero movie franchises or
series on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu? What are the
likely consequences of students living more of their lives via
social media? How are video games changing the way students
you know learn or interact? 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. In “Forever Alone (and Perfectly Fine)” (see p. 280), Laura
Tarrant argues that remaining single is a valid option many
people choose for many different reasons. In a project of your
own, describe and analyze causally the trends in personal
relationships that you have experienced or seen among your
family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors, including such choices
as remaining single, living with a significant other, getting
married, remaining childless by choice, choosing to have
children, etc. Why are people making these decisions? Clearly,
Tarrant is comfortable being single, but you or those around


you may feel differently about your own relationship or family

4. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s essay “America’s Birthrate Is Now a
National Emergency” explores some of the consequences for
societies that produce fewer children. After reading the Gobry
piece, list any comparable situations you know of where a
largely unnoticed change may have long-term consequences.
The changes you list need not be as consequential as the one
Gobry has identified. Choose your most intriguing situation, do
the necessary research, and write or present a causal argument
about it, using whatever media work best to make your point.

Two Sample Causal Arguments







America’s Birthrate Is Now a National Emergency


August 12, 2016

The new birth rate numbers are out, and they’re a disaster.

There are now only 59.6 births per 1,000 women, the lowest rate

ever recorded in the United States. Some of the decrease is due


to good news, which is the continuing decline of teen

pregnancies, but most of it is due to people getting married later

and choosing to have fewer children. And the worst part is,

everyone is treating this news with a shrug.

It wasn’t always this way. It used to be taken for granted that the

best indicator of a nation’s health was its citizens’ desire and

capacity to reproduce. And it should still seem self-evident that

people’s willingness to have children is not only a sign of

confidence in the future, but a sign of cultural health. It’s a

signal that people are willing to commit to the most enduring

responsibility on Earth, which is raising a child.

But reproduction is also a sign of national health in a more

dollars-and-cents way. The more productive people you have in

your society, the healthier your country’s economy. It’s an idea

that was obvious back in the 17th century, when economist Jean

Bodin wrote “the only wealth is people.”

Today we see the problems wrought by the decline in

productive populations all over the industrialized world, where

polities are ripping each other to shreds over how to pay for

various forms of entitlements, especially for old people. The

debates play out in different ways in different countries, but in

other ways they are exactly the same. That’s because they are

ruled by the same ruthless math: The fewer young, productive

people you have to pay for entitlements for old, unproductive

people, the steeper the bill for the entire society becomes. This


basic problem is strangling Europe’s economies. And while the

United States is among the least bad of the bunch, it is still

headed in the wrong direction.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While the evidence for

government programs that encourage people to have more

children is mixed, the fact of the matter is that in contemporary

America, 40 percent of women have fewer children than they

want to.

And there are plenty of policies that could help close that gap,

whether from the left or from the right. Not just pro-maternity

policies, but also policies that encourage healthy child-rearing,

like child tax credits, family savings accounts, and tax-free

children savings accounts. Or education reforms that would

make fewer parents feel that they have to pony up for private

school to give their kids a decent shot at life. Perhaps one of the

biggest things we could do is to reduce the countless state and

local regulations that make housing expensive.

But put policy aside for a second. The United States literally

exports more oil than Saudi Arabia and has the world’s top

expertise in both renewable and traditional energy forms. It is

the world’s biggest food producer and a gargantuan country

with very little density. There is no reason for the United States

to have a weak birth rate — and it is a national emergency that it


Yet no one seems worried. And that might be the biggest worry


of all.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, who has written for Forbes, the Atlantic, Commentary, and
the National Review, among other publications, is a fellow at the Ethics and Public
Policy Center.


CHAPTER 12 Proposals

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.

Members of a business club at a community college talk about

their common need to create informative, appealing,

interactive résumés. After much discussion, three members

suggest that the club develop a résumé app designed especially

for students 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 university library into a digital learning center.


Understanding and
Categorizing Proposals
We live in an era of big proposals—complex schemes for

reforming health care, bold dreams to privatize space

exploration, multibillion-dollar prototypes for hyperloop

transport systems, serious calls for free post-secondary

education, and so many other such ideas usually shot down to

earth by budget realities. 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 compelling reasons for

supporting or sometimes 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 to address problems and offer solutions? A neighbor

might suggest that you volunteer to help revitalize a neglected

city park; a campus group might demand more reasonably

priced student/staff parking; a supervisor might ask for

employee suggestions to improve customer satisfaction at a

restaurant; or you might propose to a friend that you both

invest in a vinyl record outlet. In each case, the proposal

implies that there are good reasons for new action or that

you’ve found a solution to a problem.


In their simplest form, proposal arguments look something like


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.
Conventional businesses should learn to compete with
nontraditional competitors like Airbnb and Uber within the
sharing economy.
College athletes should be paid for the entertainment they

Proposals about Policies
The college should guarantee that in any disciplinary
hearings students charged with serious misconduct be


assured of regular due-process protections.
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.

People write proposal arguments to address 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 issues people face at your school (some of which

you may not even have thought of as problems), divide into groups

and brainstorm about things that annoy you about your institution,

including things such as complex or restrictive registration

procedures, poor scheduling of lab courses, and convoluted

paperwork for student aid applications. Ask each group to aim for at

least a half dozen gripes. Then choose three problems and, as a

group, discuss how you’d prepare a proposal to deal with them.


Characterizing Proposals
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 something done—or sometimes at preventing something

from being done. Proposals marshal evidence and arguments to

persuade people to choose a course of action: Let’s make the

campus safer for people taking night courses. Let’s create an

organization for first-generation or working-class students.

Let’s ban drones from local airspace, especially at sporting and

entertainment venues. Let’s investigate incentives for

supporting small business start-ups in our community. 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 in 2010 expressing

their dismay at his administration’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.

But even their considerable ethos was not enough to carry the

day with the space agency or the man who made the decision.

Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have since acted

on their own to privatize (at least partially) what had been a

government monopoly, offering new proposals for innovative

rockets and spacecraft.


Who thought this crazy idea could work? A fourteen-story tall SpaceX first-stage
booster rocket successfully lands on a barge at sea after helping to launch a
supply mission to the International Space Station (April 8, 2016).

Yet, as the photo demonstrates, proposal arguments inevitably

focus on the future—what individuals, institutions, or entire

governments should do over the upcoming weeks, months, or

even 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 can achieve what they


Proposals must also be tailored to reach and convince

audiences to support, possibly approve, and quite often pay for

them. Not surprisingly, politicians making public policy

proposals not infrequently exaggerate the benefits and

minimize the costs or disadvantages.


It makes sense that proposals aimed at general audiences make

straightforward and relatively simple points, avoid technical

language, and use visuals like charts, graphs, and tables to

make supporting data comprehensible. You can find such

arguments, for example, in newspaper editorials, letters to the

editor, and actual proposal documents. Such appeals to broad

groups make sense when a project—say, to finance new toll

roads or build a sports arena—must surf on waves of

community support.

But just as often, proposals need to win support from specific

groups or individuals (such as bankers, developers, public

officials, and legislators) who have power to make change

actually happen. Arguments to them will usually be far more

technical, detailed, and comprehensive than those aimed at the

general public because such people likely know the subject

already and they may be responsible eventually for

implementing or financing the proposal. You can expect these

experts or professionals—engineers, designers, administrators,

bureaucrats—to have specific questions and, possibly,

formidable objections.

So identifying your potential and most powerful 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 and provost, members of the faculty

council, and admissions officers.


An effective proposal also has to be compatible with the values

of the audience. Some ideas sound appealing, but cannot be

enacted immediately—as California legislators discovered when

in 2017 they first tried to implement single-payer, universal

health care for that state. Citizens favored the idea, but

legislators blanched at the considerable costs. Or consider a less

complicated matter: many American towns and suburbs have a

significant problem with expanding 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).

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 academic classes.)

Once you have settled on these issues, then use various resources—

social media, 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




In compiling their report “Hunger on Campus: The Challenge of
Food Insecurity for College Students,” the researchers used
surveys at thirty-four colleges and universities to identify the
problem of food insecurity. Their study found that 48 percent of
students surveyed were food insecure in the previous month.

LINK TO Dubick et al., “Hunger on Campus,” in Chapter 24

Developing Proposals
In developing a proposal, you will have to do some or all of the


Define a problem that lacks a good solution or describe a
need that is not currently addressed—and convince
audiences the matter deserves attention.
Make a strong claim that addresses the problem or need.
Your solution should be an action directed at the future.
Show why your proposal will fix the problem or address the
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 that attempts to solve it. 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 for students walking (or biking!)

across college property. Why? Because we’ve become

dangerous zombies. The few students not browsing the

Web or chatting have to dodge their clueless and self-

absorbed colleagues. Worse, no one speaks to or even

acknowledges the people they pass on campus. We are

no longer a functional community.

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
Explain why previous attempts to address the issue may
have failed.

For example, were you to propose 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 a younger generation that is self-

absorbed, demands instant gratification, 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

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 unrepresentative sample of the American

population. 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

willing to hear your proposal.

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 history 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 think

twice before proposing any new attempt to change 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 flowing into the system. “Enough is

enough” can be a potent argument when faced with such a


If you review “My Free-Range Kids Manifesto” at the end of this


chapter (p. 313), a proposal by blogger and columnist Lenore

Skenazy, you’ll see that she spends quite a bit of time arguing that

American children had more fun and learned more life skills in the

past, when parents were (in general) less protective than she

believes they are today. Chances are, you grew up in the highly

protective environment she describes. If so, do you relate to the

problem she defines in her manifesto? Or does the piece fail to

engage your interest? If so, why?

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), followed by the reason(s) that X or Y should act and

the effects of adopting the proposal:

Claim Americans should encourage and support more scientists running
for political office.

Reason Scientists are trained to think more systematically and globally and
may have greater respect for facts than the lifelong politicians who
currently dominate American government.

Effects Scientists will move our governments at all levels (local, state,
federal) to make decisions based on facts and evidence rather than
on emotions or the politics of the moment.

In “The Power of Words,” the Japanese American Citizens League
advocates using precise, clear terms instead of euphemisms to
describe the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Instead of “relocation,” for instance, they recommend “forced


LINK TO Japanese American Citizens League, “The Power of
Words,” in Chapter 25

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. At least four
other states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized
physician-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 objective. Your actual argument would develop

each point in detail.


For each problem and solution below, make a list of readers’ likely

objections to the solution offered. Then propose a solution of your

own, and explain why you think it’s more workable than the



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

Problem Increase in sexual assaults on and around campus

Solution Establish a 10:00 p.m. curfew on weekends.


A proposal argument in four panels

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 situation. Sometimes an

emotional appeal is fair play, too. Here, for example, is a

paragraph from a group called YesCalifornia backing a

referendum for that state to secede from the United States, a

proposal that gained traction after the 2016 presidential

election. The group explains what type of government

California might expect after it leaves the United States:

[O]ur referendum is a way to gauge the sense of the

people on whether we Californians prefer the status quo

of statehood, or if we want to see a change towards

nationhood. Voting yes on the referendum is essentially

voting yes to reform our system of government as well as

our political and elections process to guarantee a more

responsible and responsive government; move away

from a two-party system; reduce the influence of big

money in elections; restore the principle of one person,

one vote; establish a system of proportional

representation; and, engage disenfranchised voters.

These are goals Californians and others are currently

fighting for, yet under the corrupt U.S. political system,

they are unlikely to be achieved.


The advocacy group seems to be claiming that an independent

California would guarantee a more responsive government and

a more engaged citizenry no longer swayed by big-money

elections and two-party politics. Wishful thinking perhaps, but

powerful rationale for change?

Alternatively, when 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. Perhaps you are skeptical about a

proposal mentioned earlier in this chapter to reinstate a

military draft in the United States. You might ask for proof that

forced military conscription would, in fact, improve the moral

fiber of young Americans. Or you might raise doubts about

whether any new draft could operate without loopholes for

well-connected or favored groups. Or, like Doug Bandow

writing for Forbes, you might focus on the monetary and social

costs of a restored draft: “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. . . . It

would be a bad bargain by any measure.”

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.

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?
Will your experience be appropriate and speak
convincingly to the audience? Will the audience
immediately understand its significance, or will it require
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

interests, you won’t get far.

Showing That the Proposal Is
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 others 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


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 video, a prospectus, or even

an editorial cartoon (see Andy Singer’s “No Exit” item). Each

form has different design requirements. Indeed, the form of a

proposal may determine its effectiveness.

For example, formal reports on paper or slides typically use

straightforward headings to identify the stages of the

presentation, terms such as Introduction, Nature of the

Problem, Current Approaches or Previous Solutions,

Proposal/Recommendations, Advantages, Counterarguments,

Feasibility, Implementation, and so on. Important data may be

arrayed in tables and charts, all of them clearly labeled.

Infographics making proposals will be more visually intense,

with their claims and data presented in ways designed to grab

readers and then hold their attention as they move through

panels or pages. So before you produce a final copy of any

proposal, be sure its overall design complements and enhances

its messages.

Proposal arguments, especially those aimed at wide audiences,

may rely on a wide range of graphic materials that to convey


information—photographs, pie charts, scatter charts, timelines,

maps, artist’s renderings, and so on. Such items help readers

visualize problems and then (if need be) imagine solutions. Any

such items you find or create should be carefully designed,

incorporated, and credited when you borrow them: they will

contribute to your ethos.

Images also make proposals more interesting. Architects,

engineers, and government agencies know this. For example,

the rendering below helped viewers imagine what a future

National Museum of African American History & Culture might

look like on the Mall in Washington, D.C.—its structure

suggesting the shape of African baskets. This winning proposal

was offered in 2009 by designer David Adjaye, architect Philip

Freelon, and the Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group.

The proposed design of the National Museum of African American History &


But the building did evolve, gaining a third terrace and a bronze

color to suggest other themes. Here’s how the Smithsonian Web

site describes the ideas evoked by the finished structure, which

opened on September 24, 2016:

From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows

classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft,

topped by a capital or corona. For our Museum, the

corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in

Yoruban art from West Africa. Moreover, the building’s

main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has

architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African

Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean.

Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental

bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye pays homage to the

intricate ironwork crafted by enslaved African

Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.


The completed version

GUIDE to writing a proposal

● 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, especially 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 surest 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 technologies 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 with
practical topics related to your life, education, major, or job. Or make
an informal list of proposals 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 media
experts in the field, some of whom might be right on your campus

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
credibility 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
circumstance (see, for instance, the last bullet in the following section).
In that case, a set of open-ended questions might be a more productive
starting point than a focused thesis, suggesting, for instance, what
goals any plausible proposal might have to meet.

● Examples of Proposal Claims

Because the one-time costs for a host city/nation staging the
Olympics have become staggering, the International Olympics
Committee should consider moving the summer games to a
permanent site—in Athens, Greece.
Every home should be equipped with a well-stocked emergency
kit that can sustain inhabitants for at least three days in a natural
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 the soon-to-be significant number of
people driving electric cars, manufacturers should quickly settle
upon a universal charging system that all e-cars can share rather


than the individual systems now in place.
People from different economic classes, age groups, political
philosophies, and power groups (government, Main Street, Wall
Street, blue collar labor, immigrants) 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 (see Chapter 7
for more on the Toulmin approach):




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 individuals 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 Genre and Media

Your instructor may specify that you use a particular genre and/or
medium. If not, ask yourself these questions to help you make a good

What genre is most appropriate for your proposal? Does the
problem 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 podcast? Presented in print only or in print with
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

Proposals can take many different forms but generally include the
following elements:

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
a demonstration of ways in which the proposal addresses the


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 readers or consultants at a writing center. Use the following
questions to evaluate a colleague’s draft or project. Since specific
comments help more than general observations, be sure to illustrate
your comments with examples. Some of the questions below assume a
conventional, thesis-driven project, but more exploratory, open-ended
proposal arguments in various media also need to be clearly
presented, 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,
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 evidence provided seem inappropriate or otherwise
ineffective? Why?
Is the evidence in support of the claim simply announced, or are
its significance and appropriateness analyzed? Is a more detailed
discussion needed?
Are objections that readers might have to the claim or evidence
adequately 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
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
or design effective?
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
Are the transitions or links from point to point, sentence to
sentence, and paragraph to paragraph clear and effective? Are
transitions evident and helpful in oral presentations or speeches,
videos, infographics, or other media? 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?
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 or sections? Too short or too
long? How can they be improved?
Which words or phrases seem effective? Do any seem vague or
inappropriate for the audience or the writer’s purpose? Are
technical or unfamiliar 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
Does the paper or project follow an appropriate format or design?
Is it appropriately formatted and attractively presented?


1. Identify a proposal currently in the news or one advocated
unrelentingly by the media that you really don’t like. It may be
a political initiative, 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. As should be evident from readings throughout this book, 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 technological tools and
devices that are changing (ruining? improving?) our lives. You
might want to explain how to bring traditional instructors into
the digital age, or establish etiquette for people installing
surveillance equipment in and around their homes, or make
suggestions for people discovering the self-driving features in
their new cars. Or maybe you want to keep parents off social
networks. Or maybe you have a great idea for separating
professional and private lives online. Make your proposal in
some pertinent medium: print op-ed, cartoon, photo essay,
infographic, set of PowerPoint or Prezi slides, TED talk.

3. Write a proposal to yourself diagnosing some minor issue you
would like to address, odd personal 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 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 persuading nations to cut down on their CO
emissions to figuring out how to keep tuition or textbook costs
in check. After some discussion, focus on just one or two of
these matters and then discuss not the issues themselves but
the general reasons that the problems have proven intractable.
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 uncomfortable? 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.

Two Sample Proposals










My Free-Range Parenting Manifesto


July 22, 2015

Back in 2009, the parenting site Babble listed the top 50 “mom”

blogs in America—funniest, most fashionable, etc., and “most


That would be my blog, Free-Range Kids. Then it was voted

most controversial again, a year later.

What crazy idea was I pushing? Don’t vaccinate your kids?

Clobber them when they cry? Teach them to play piano by

threatening to burn their stuffed animals? Actually, my message

was—and is—this: Our kids are just as safe and smart as we were

when we were young. There’s no reason to suddenly be afraid of

everything they do, see, eat, wear, hear, touch, read, watch,

lick, play or hug.

That idea runs smack up against the big, basic belief of our era:

That our kids are in constant danger. It’s an erroneous idea that

is crippling our children and enslaving us parents.

Luckily, there’s new pushback in the Capitol. Last week, Sen.

Mike Lee introduced the first federal legislation in support of

free-range parenting.

* * *


You’ve heard of me. I’m the New York City mom who let her 9-

year-old ride the subway alone back in 2008. I wrote a column

about it and two days later ended up on The Today Show,

MSNBC, Fox News and (for contrast) NPR, defending myself as

NOT “America’s Worst Mom.” But if you search that phrase

you’ll find me there for 77 Google pages.

I started my blog the weekend after the column ran to explain

that I love safety—helmets, carseats, seatbelts—I just don’t

believe kids need a security detail every time they leave the

house. As people found the site, I started hearing just how little

we let kids do at all.

For instance, thanks to a mistaken belief that “We can’t let our

kids play outside like we did because times have changed!” only

13 percent of kids walk to school. One study found that in a

typical week, only 6 percent of kids 9–13 play outside

unsupervised. And Foreign Policy recently ran a piece about

how army recruits are showing up for basic training not

knowing to skip or do a somersault. It’s like they totally missed

the physical, frolicking part of childhood—along with its

lessons. How are they going to roll away from an explosion, or

skip over a landmine? And then of course there’s the rise in

childhood obesity, diabetes and depression.

That rise does not strike me as a coincidence. But here’s the

killer irony: The crime rate today is actually lower than it was

when we were growing up. (And it’s not lower because of


helicopter parenting. We don’t helicopter adults and yet crimes

against them—murder, rape, assault—are all down.) We’re back

to the crime rate of 1963. So if it wasn’t crazy for our parents to

let us play outside, it is even less crazy today. But gripped by the

fear of extremely rare and random tragedies hammered home

by a hyperventilating news cycle, we are actually putting our

kids at risk for increasingly common health risks.

Beyond those, however, there is something even sadder

happening to the kids we keep indoors, or in adult-run activities

“for their safety.” By having their every moment supervised,

kids don’t get a chance to play the way we did—free play,

without a coach or trophy or parents screaming from the


This is catastrophic. Free play turns out to be one of the most

important things a kid can do to develop into the kind of adult

who’s resilient, entrepreneurial—and a pleasure to be around.

You see, when kids play on their own, they first of all have to

come up with something to do. That’s called problem solving:

“We don’t have a ball, so what can we play?” They take matters

into their own hands. Then, if they don’t all agree, they have to

learn to compromise—another good skill to have.

If there are a bunch of kids, someone has to make the teams.

Leadership! If there’s a little kid, the big kids have to throw the

ball more gently. Empathy! For their part, the little kids want to

earn the big kids’ respect. So they act more mature, which is


how they become more mature. They rise to the occasion.


And here’s the most important lesson that kids who are “just”

playing learn. How to lose. Say a kid strikes out. Now he has a

choice. He can throw a tantrum—and look like a baby. He can

storm off—and not get to play anymore. Or he can hold it

together, however hard that is, and go to the back of the line.

Because play is so fun, a kid will usually choose the latter. And

in doing that difficult deed—taking his lumps—the child is

learning to control himself even when things are not going his

way. The term for this is “executive function.”

It’s the crucial skill all parents want their kids to learn, and the

easiest way to learn it is through play. In fact, Penny Wilson, a

thought leader on play in Britain, calls fun the “orgasm” of play.

Kids play because it’s fun—not realizing that really they are

actually ensuring the success of the species by learning how to

function as a society.

Unfortunately, thanks to the belief that kids are in danger any

second we’re not watching them, this kind of play has all but

evaporated. Walk to your local park the next sunny Saturday

and take a look: Is there any child there who isn’t a toddler with

a caregiver, or a kid in uniform with a team?

Instead of letting our kids make their own fun, we enroll them

in programs (fearful they’d otherwise “waste” some teachable


time), or we keep them inside (fearful they’d otherwise be

kidnapped). And if we do boldly say, “Go out and play!” often

there’s no one else out there for them to play with.

Can you imagine a country full of people who have been

listening to Mozart since they were in the womb, but have no

idea how to organize a neighborhood ballgame? My friend was

recently telling a high school-age cousin about how he used to

play pick-up basketball in the park, and the cousin couldn’t

understand how this was possible without supervision. “What

happened if someone decided to cheat and fouled all the time?”

the kid asked. “We just wouldn’t play with him anymore,” my

friend replied. Said the cousin: “That’s exclusion!” and that, he

added, was a “form of” bullying.

Agghh! We are crippling kids by convincing them they can’t

solve any issues on their own. And as depressing as all this is,

now there’s another barrier to free play: The government.

You’ve all heard the story of the Alexander and Danielle Meitiv,

the parents investigated by child protective services not once

but twice for letting their kids walk home from the playground

in Silver Spring, Maryland. While they were eventually found

not guilty on both accounts, it seemed to require massive public

outrage before the authorities let them go. Maryland has since

“clarified” its CPS policy, which now states, “It is not the

department’s role to pick and choose among child-rearing

philosophies and practices.”


It sure isn’t. But the authorities have a habit of doing just that. A

mom in Austin was visited by the cops for letting her 6-year-old

play within sight of the house. A mom in Chicago is on the child

abuse registry for letting her children 11, 9 and 5 play in the

park literally across the street from her house—even though she

peeked out at them every 10 minutes. And I’ve heard from

parents investigated for letting their kids walk to the library, the

post office and the pizza shop.

Want more tales from the annals of government

overprotection? Last year, four Rhode Island legislators

proposed a bill that would make it illegal for a school bus to let

off any children under 7th grade—that’s age 11—unless there

was an adult waiting there to walk them home from the bus

stop. Naturally this was presented as just another new measure

to keep kids safe. Fortunately—and perhaps just a bit due to

agitation by the “most controversial” blog in America—the bill

ended up shelved.

Another triumph: A library in Boulder, Colorado, had actually

prohibited anyone under age 12 to be there without a guardian,

because, “Children may encounter hazards such as stairs,

elevators, doors, furniture, electrical equipment, or, other

library patrons.” Ah, yes, kids and furniture. What a recipe for


But that library regulation was beaten back, too.

The biggest ray of hope to date? Republican Sen. Mike Lee from


Utah just added a groundbreaking “Free-Range” provision to the

Every Child Achieves Act. It would permit kids to walk or ride

their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate,

without the threat of criminal or civil action—provided this

doesn’t pre-empt state or local laws. “‘Helicopter parents’

should be free to hover over their own kids, but more ‘Free-

Range’ parents have the exact same rights,” the senator told me.

“And government at all levels should trust loving moms and

dads to make those decisions for their own families.”

The Act, including Lee’s amendment, passed the Senate on

Thursday (although in the end Lee could not support the final

version of the bill) and now must be reconciled with the House


Support for Lee’s provision was bi-partisan. So if Free-Range

was once “controversial,” now it is the people’s will. We are sick

of seeing childhood through the kaleidoscope of doom. Sick of

thinking, “A stranger near the school? Abduction!” “A child

waiting in the car while mom returns a book? Instant death!” “A

non-organic grape? That kid’s a goner!”

Enough! It is time to stop making ourselves crazy with fear. All

we need to do is adopt a new skepticism whenever we hear the

words “for the safety of our precious children.”

Those words precede grandstanding and bad laws. They

precede sanctimony and scapegoating. They turn rational

parents into outlaws and exuberant children into gelatinous


lumps on the couch.

The way to keep kids safe is not by forbidding them to go

outside. It’s by giving them the freedom we loved when we were

kids, to play, explore, goof up, run around, take responsibility

and get lost in every sense of the expression. Here, then, is The

Free-Range Kids’ and Parents’ Bill of Rights:

“Our kids have the right to some unsupervised time (with our

permission) and parents have the right to give it to them

without getting arrested.”

Take this bill to your local legislators, or Congress, or the

president (or his “Let’s Move!” wife), and remind them: This is

how we grew up. Why are we denying our kids a healthy, all-

American upbringing?

It’s time to save childhood—and the country. How can we be the

home of the brave when we’re too scared to let our kids go out

and become smart, successful, resilient, resourceful and

independent by doing what we all did at their age?


Lenore Skenazy offers a proposal argument with passion, humor, and what used to
be called common sense. Blogger, writer, and columnist, Skenazy became famous in
2008 when she allowed her nine-year-old son to ride by himself in a New York City
subway. He survived.




CHAPTER 13 Style in Arguments

The images above all reflect the notable styles of musicians

from different times and musical traditions: Yo-Yo Ma, Count

Basie, Kiss, and Beyoncé. 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. Weird!

Writers, too, create styles that express their ethos and life

experiences. But in persuasive situations, style is also a matter

of the specific choices they make—strategically and self-

consciously—to influence audiences. And today, style is

arguably more important than ever before in getting messages

across. In a time when we are overcome with a veritable fire-

hose of information 24 hours a day, getting and holding an

audience’s attention is often difficult. So what can do the job for

writers today? STYLE.

It’s not surprising, then, that writers take questions of style very


seriously, that they adapt their voices to a range of rhetorical

situations, from very formal to very casual. At the formal and

professional end of the scale, consider the opening paragraph

of a dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to a Supreme Court

decision affecting affirmative action in Michigan public

universities. Writing doesn’t get much 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 preserves all other


—Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting opinion, April 22, 2014

Contrast this formal style with the far more casual style in a

blog item by Huffington Post book editor Claire Fallon, arguing

(tongue-in-cheek) that Shakespeare’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 (Beyoncé-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? . . . [Romeo] 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! . . . Romeo’s apparent penchant for wallowing in

the romantic misery of unrequited love finds a new target

in naive Juliet, who then dies for a guy who probably

would have forgotten about her as soon as their

honeymoon ended.

—Claire Fallon, “11 Unlikeable Classical Book Characters

We Love to Hate”

These examples use different styles but are written in standard

English, with a bit of slang mixed into the blog post. In the

multilingual, polyglot world we live in today, however, writers

are also mixing languages (as Gloria Anzaldúa does when she

shifts from English to Spanish to Spanglish in her book

Borderlands: La Frontera) as well as mixing dialects and

languages. This translingual turn recognizes that English itself

exists in many forms (Singaporean English, Canadian English,

New Zealand English, and so on), that many writers of English

speak and write a variety of other languages, and that many if

not most writers “code mesh,” a term scholar Suresh


Canagarajah defines as “a strategy for merging local varieties

with standard written Englishes in a move toward more

gradually pluralizing academic writing and developing

multilingual competence for transnational relationships” (“The

Place of World Englishes in Composition,” CCC, June 2006).

Here is an example of code-meshing in an article by Professor

Donald McCrary:

Like my students, I know the value of my native

language, black English, and the significance it has

played in both my public and private life. However, many

would challenge my claim that black English is both a

public and private language. For example, in “Aria: A

Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood,” Richard Rodriguez

argues for the separation of home and school languages

because he believes the former is private while the latter

is public. . . . I, however, view black English as a public

language because it is the language with which I learned

about the world, including the perils of racism, the

importance of education, and the consequences of

improper conduct. When Moms told me, “Don’t go

showin’ your ass when I take you in this store,” I knew

she was telling me to behave respectfully, and I knew

what would happen if I didn’t. The black English I

learned at home is the same black English I used outside

the home. It got black people through slavery, and it

saved my black behind a thousand times.


Hold up. I know what you gonna say. Talkin’ that black

English is okay at home and with your friends, but don’t

be speakin’ that foolishness in school or at the j-o-b. And

don’t be tellin’ no students they can speak that mess

either. You want people (read: white) to think they

ignorant? Right.

Right. I hear you. I hear you. But let’s be real. America

loves itself some black English. Half the announcers on

ESPN speak it, and I’m talking about the white dudes, too.

Americans know more black English than they like to

admit. Black English is intelligible and intelligent, and

just because somebody tells you different, don’t

necessarily make it so. And that’s what I want the

academy to understand. My students don’t speak no

broken English. They speak a legitimate dialect that

conveys legitimate meanings.

—Donald McCrary, “Represent, Representin’,

Representation: The Efficacy of Hybrid Texts in the

Writing Classroom”

McCrary, who teaches at Long Island University, “meshes”

elements of African American language with “standard” written

English to create a style that speaks to both academic and

nonacademic audiences. His use of colloquialisms (“I hear

you”), features of spoken English (“at the j-o-b”), and what he

refers to as “black English” establish a connection between


speaker and listener (“But let’s be real”) as he argues for a more

pluralistic and inclusive “translingual approach” to language.

Write a paragraph or two (or three!) about your own use of

languages and dialects. In what ways do you ordinarily “mesh”

features of different dialects and/or languages? What languages did

you grow up speaking and hearing and how do those languages

enter into your writing today? How would you describe your own

style of writing (and speaking)?

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.


In her essay about the language we use to describe sexual
violence, Roxane Gay presents a compelling example of the impact
of subtle stylistic choices.

LINK TO Gay, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” in
Chapter 25

Style and Word Choice

Words matter—and those you choose will define the style of

your arguments.

In spite of the extensive work on translingualism and code

meshing, many academic arguments today still call for a formal

or professional style using standard written English. Such

language can sound weighty, and it usually is. It often uses

technical terms and conventional vocabulary because that’s

what readers of academic journals or serious magazines and

newspapers generally expect. Formal writing also typically

avoids contractions, phrases that mimic speech, and sometimes

even the pronoun I. (For information about the use of pronouns

in contemporary writing, see the Cultural Contexts for

Argument box in this chapter.) 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 paragraph from

Annette Vee’s Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming Is

Changing Writing, published by MIT Press in 2017:


[T]he concept of coding literacy helps to expand access,

or to support “transformative access” to programming in

the words of rhetorician Adam Banks. For Banks,

transformative access allows people “to both change the

interfaces of that system and fundamentally change the

codes that determine how the system works.” Changing

the “interface” of programming might entail more

widespread education on programming. But changing

“how the system works” would move beyond material

access to education and into a critical examination of the

values and ideologies embedded in that education.

Programming as defined by computer science or

software engineering is bound to echo the values of those

contexts. But a concept of coding literacy suggests

programming is a literacy practice with many

applications beyond a profession defined by a limited set

of values. The webmaster, game maker, tinkerer,

scientist, and citizen activist can benefit from coding as a

means to achieve their goals. As I argue in this book, we

must think of programming more broadly—as coding

literacy—if the ability to program is to become

distributed more broadly. Thinking this way can help

change “how the system works.”

In this passage, Vee uses conventional standard written English,

fairly complex syntax, and abstract terms (transformative

access, interfaces, coding literacy) that she expects her readers

will make sense of, though she draws the line at employing




highly technical terms that only computer scientists would be

familiar with. Also note the two footnote markers that identify

her sources, also a staple of formal academic discourse. The

tone is efficient and cool, the style academic and somewhat


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, readers 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. Writing for the music Web site

Pitchfork, Meaghan Garvey has this to say about Spanish R&B

singer Bad Gyal’s 2018 release:

On “Blink,” slow-winding dancehall rhythms with pulsing

bass and staccato hand-claps climax in thumping

reggaeton with hypnotic synth washes. Bad Gyal’s voice

stutters and chops along with the dembow drum loops,

her melodies evoking an R-rated lullaby as she sings

sweetly about grinding the club (“Me gusta el perreo”).

—Meaghan Garvey, “Bad Gyal, ‘Blink’”


Huh? we say. But you probably get it.


A Note on Pronoun Preference
Conventions about personal pronouns are in flux right now, and
particularly traditional third-person singular pronouns. You may have
been asked what pronouns you prefer, since many people identify with
neither of the traditional personal pronouns, namely he and she. For
this reason, writers and speakers are sensitive to members of their
audiences, realizing that some may prefer the use of singular they as in
“Jamie called me and I called them back.” Others prefer to use an
alternate gender-neutral pronoun such as ze or zir. Linguist Peter
Smagorinsky notes that it was only several decades ago that women,
tired of having to be either Mrs. or Miss, coined the title Ms. It took some
time, but eventually caught on:

It may well be that “ze” and “zir” will replace current pronouns
over time. For those who reject “they” as grammatically improper
while also recognizing that “he” and “she” are inadequate, it may
become a reasonable development.

And of course, still others are just fine with the traditional he or she.
The important point for writers and speakers is to be sensitive to these
differences and to choose terms appropriately.

You will want to be careful, as Annette Vee is, with 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



Another verbal key to an argument’s style is its control of

connotation, 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 scandalously 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 negative 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.


Watch how Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA star (see

image here), uses the connotations of a common sports term to

explain why he decided to come out:

Now I’m a free agent, literally and figuratively. I’ve

reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty

much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play

basketball. . . . At the same time, I want to be genuine and

authentic and truthful.

Collins plays on the professional and figurative meanings of

“free agent” to illustrate his desire to be honest about his sexual


Exercise your critical reading muscles by reviewing 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
Writers of effective arguments know that “variety is the spice of

life” when it comes to stylish sentences. A strategy as simple as

varying sentence length can keep readers attentive and

interested. For instance, the paragraph from Coding Literacy in

the preceding section (pp. 324–25) has sentences as short as ten

words and as lengthy as twenty-seven. Now the author almost

certainly didn’t pause as she wrote and think, hmm, I need a

little variation here. Instead, as an experienced writer, she

simply made sure that her sentences complemented the flow of

her 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 sentences can be:

Hold up. I know what you gonna say.

—Donald McCrary

Longer sentences can explain ideas, build drama, or sweep

readers along:

I, however, view black English as a public language

because it is the language with which I learned about the


world, including the perils of racism, the importance of

education, and the consequences of improper conduct.

—Donald McCrary

Bad Gyal’s voice stutters and chops along with the

dembow drum loops, her melodies evoking an R-rated

lullaby as she sings sweetly about grinding the club (“Me

gusta el perreo”).

—Meaghan Garvey, “Bad Gyal, ‘Blink’”

Meanwhile, sentences of medium length handle just about any

task assigned without a fuss. They are whatever you need them

to be: serviceable, 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

Balanced or parallel sentences, in which clauses or phrases are

deliberately matched, as highlighted in the following example,

draw attention to ideas and relationships:

Ulysses can be finished . The Internet is never

finished .


—Alexis C. Madrigal

And sentences that alternate sentence length can work

especially well in much writing. For example, after one or more

long sentences, the punch of a short sentence can be dramatic:

Previously, Ms. Collins was the first woman at The Times

to hold the post of editorial page editor. The author of six

books, she took time off in 2007—between the editorial

page editor job and her column—and returned to write

about the 2008 presidential election. She’s been at it ever


—Susan Lehman, The New York Times, March 22, 2016

Sentences with complicated structures or interruptions make

you pay attention to their motions and, therefore, their ideas:

As other voting requirements were gradually stripped

away—location of birth, property ownership, race, and

later sex—literacy and education began to stand in for

those qualities in defining what it meant to be an

American citizen.

—Annette Vee

Even sentence fragments—which don’t meet all the

requirements for full sentence status—have their place when

used for a specific effect:


Right. Right. —Donald McCrary

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 and sound right.

Working with a classmate, first find a paragraph you both admire,

perhaps in one of the selections in Part 2 of this book, and read it

carefully and critically, making sure you understand its structure,

syntax, and word choice. 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
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 arguments, you consider punctuation


“You can show a lot with a look. . . . It’s punctuation.”

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 exclamations 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 University (see

pp. 114–15)? 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”

In many situations, however, semicolons, with their emphasis

on symmetry 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 demonstrates 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

And Paul Krugman of the New York Times shows how to use a

colon to catch a reader’s attention:

Recently two research teams, working independently

and using different 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 additional details. But they have even greater

flexibility since they can be used singly or in pairs. Alone,

dashes function much like colons to add information. Here’s the

Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson 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 opening 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.

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 hesitation, in this case one that builds


Then the voice, husky and familiar, came to wash over us

—“The winnah, and still heavyweight champeen of the

world . . . Joe Louis.”

—Maya Angelou, “Champion of the World”

It’s probably worth mentioning that today we are seeing an

upsurge in the use of ellipses on social media—a virtual

onslaught of these little dots. Of course, in the very informal

style of many texts and tweets, writers may be likely to omit end

punctuation entirely. The use of ellipsis dots can signal a

trailing off of a thought, leave open the possibility of further

communication, or mimic conversational-style pauses. But they

can also be a sign of laziness, as Matthew J. X. Malady points

out in “Why Everyone and Your Mother Started Using Ellipses . .

. Everywhere”:

Ellipses, then, . . . can help carefully structure a bit of

written communication so that it mimics some of the

more subtle, meaningful elements of face-to-face

conversation. But when we want to be lazy, they also

allow us to avoid thinking too much while crafting a



First, read several movie reviews carefully and critically. Then try

writing a brief movie review for your campus newspaper,

experimenting with punctuation as one way to create an effective

style. See if using a series of questions might have a strong effect,

whether exclamation 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
You don’t have to look hard to find examples of figurative

language adding 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 metaphor) 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


—Michael Gerson, “An Arrogant and Lawless IRS”


The three witches from Macbeth, at their cauldron

Figurative language like this—indispensable to our ability to

communicate effectively—dramatizes ideas, either by clarifying

or enhancing the thoughts themselves or by framing them in

language that makes them stand out. As a result, figurative

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 paragraphs of evidence. Figurative

language is not the icing on the cake: it’s the cake itself!

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

relationship 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 significance. 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. Earlier in this section 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.

Analogies compare two things, often point by point, either to

show similarity 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 discipline: 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

success, as Woody Allen once said, comes from just

showing up.

—Rachel Toor, “What Writing and Running Have in



This cartoon creates an analogy in the way it depicts the relationship between
North Korea and the United States.

To be effective, an analogy has to make a good point and hold

up to scrutiny. If it doesn’t, it can be criticized as a faulty

analogy, a fallacy of argument (see Faulty Analogy in Chapter


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”; Cleveland Cavaliers star


LeBron James is “the King”; 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 racist put-down

(Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas”). As you well know if you

have one, nicknames can pack potent arguments into just one


Hyperbole is the use of overstatement for special effect, a kind

of fireworks 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 this excerpt from a list of the worst movies of

2017, which ranks Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No

Tales as one of the most boring and worst films of that year:

The (sigh) fifth movie in Disney’s deathless series finds

Johnny Depp and co. dead in the water. Remember when

we loved the star’s loose-and-boozy portrayal of Capt.

Jack Sparrow, so fresh and charismatic 14 years ago? He

was a joy. Now, you just want to smack the tri-cornered

hat off his head and see him stranded on a godforsaken


rock somewhere near the Marianas Trench.

—John Serba, mlive.com

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 condemnation 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

meaning of the term.

In popular culture, irony often takes a humorous bent in

publications such as the Onion and the appropriately named

Ironic Times. Yet even serious critics of society and politics use

satiric devices to undercut celebrities and politicians,

particularly when such public figures ignore the irony in their

own positions.


Louise Linton, the Scottish actress, made news on

Monday when she posted a photo to her Instagram

account showing her and her husband [Secretary of the

Treasury Steven Mnuchin] deplaning on an official trip to

Kentucky. In her white wide-legged trousers and slim

blouse, handbag held as though being presented in the

crook of her arm, she looked every bit the jet-setting

style-grammer. As any aspiring social media celebrity

would, she took the opportunity to let her followers know

not only what she thought of the bluegrass state, but also

who she was wearing.


—Tony Bravo, “Louise Linton’s Fashion Instagram Post

Reveals Her Entitlement”

The ironically negative responses to Linton came instantly:

“Glad we could pay for your little getaway,” Instagram user

@jennimiller29 replied to Linton, ending with the hashtag

“#deplorable.” “Please don’t tag your Hermes scarf,”

@emily.e.dickey responded, calling the hashtagging


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 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 an 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 .

And here is Kurt Andersen in the Atlantic writing about what he

calls America’s “lurch toward fantasy”:

For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the

1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that

those years had also been the big-bang moment for

truthiness . And if the ’60s amounted to a national

nervous breakdown , we are probably mistaken to

consider ourselves over it.

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 and

investment system, while all the offices and officials of the U.S.

military become the Pentagon. You can quickly think of dozens

of expressions that represent larger, more complex concepts:

Nashville, Hollywood, Big Pharma, the Press, the Oval Office,

even perhaps the electorate.

It’s not just a street; it’s a metonym!

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 difference 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 rhetorical 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 African 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.

“Why not, for God’s sake?”

“He’s dead,” Coffin Ed said.


“Lincoln,” Grave Digger said.

“He hadn’t ought to have freed us if he didn’t want to

make provisions 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 surprising 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.

A simile uses like or as to compare two things. Here’s a simile


from an essay about visiting Montana in the August 2017

Hemispheres Magazine:

By now we’ve driven the cows to an open pasture. The

wranglers teach me how to cut a cow from the herd, as

real cowboys do. I find it’s a lot like parallel parking ,

except the curb keeps moving to join the other curbs, and

my car has lost respect for me.

—Jacob Baynham, “Three Perfect Days: Montana”

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


—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


Understatement uses a quiet message to make its point. In her

memoir, Rosa Parks—the civil rights activist who made history

in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger

—uses understatement 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 “carrying 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

terrorist named Rambo blames all the world’s problems on

Jews, and then, following an evocative dash, she makes a quiet


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.

Use online sources (such as American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches

at americanrhetoric.com/top100speechesall.html) to find the
text of an essay or a speech by someone who uses figures of speech

liberally. Pick a paragraph that is rich in figures and read it carefully

and critically. Then 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

effects, adding stylistic 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

argument, bringing the point home. Sometimes an anaphora

can be quite obvious, especially when the repeated expressions


occur at the beginning 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 Constitution 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.

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 repetition to link Chicago to innovation and


[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


Into this grey lake plopped the thought, I know this man,

don’t I?

—Doris Lessing

Hard to see, the dark side is.


Parallelism involves the use of grammatically similar phrases

or clauses for special effect. Among the most common of

rhetorical effects, parallelism can be used to underscore the


relationships between ideas in phrases, clauses, complete
sentences, or even paragraphs. You probably 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 consider 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


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)

“Taste the Feeling” (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)


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., etc.).
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, if your audience might not
understand them.

When arguing across cultures or languages, another stylistic issue
might be clarity. When communicating with people whose native
languages 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


CHAPTER 14 Visual Rhetoric

During the summer of 2017, protesters and counterprotesters

and counter-counterprotesters gathered across the United

States in attempts to “unite the right,” to “say no to white

supremacy,” to “make fascists afraid again,” to rally for “blood

and soil,” to claim that “you will not replace us.” Often the

protesters carried symbols or flags, including the three depicted

above: the American flag, the Confederate flag, and the flag of

Nazi Germany (others carried a wide range of flags or banners,

from Black Lives Matter and the Anti-Defamation League’s “No

Place for Hate” to the National Socialist Movement flag, the

Southern Nationalist Flag, and the Identity Evropa flag, all three

associated with white nationalism).

These banners and flags are powerful examples of visual

rhetoric and the arguments such images can make. Even so

small a sampling of visual rhetoric underscores what you

doubtless already know: images grab and hold our attention,

stir our emotions, tease our imaginations, provoke intense

responses, and make arguments. In short, they have clout.


Choose a flag or banner that speaks strongly to you and then study

it carefully and critically. What arguments—implicit and explicit—

does the banner or flag make? What are its appeals and who does it

seem to address? How do you respond to the image or symbol, and

why? Are your responses based primarily on emotion, on logic and

reason, on ethical considerations? Then write a paragraph in which

you analyze your connection to this imagery.


Artist Sonny Assu uses the seemingly lighthearted medium and
familiar iconography of breakfast cereals to make a serious claim
about the victimization of Native Americans.

LINK TO Assu, “Breakfast Series,” in Chapter 23

The Power of Visual

Even in everyday situations, images—from T-shirts to billboards

to animated 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 empowered 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.

Still, the ease with which all of us make and share images is

unprecedented: people are uploading three billion shots a day

to Snapchat. And most of us have easily adjusted to

instantaneous multichannel, multimedia 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.”

McLuhan was certainly prescient, as legendary filmmaker

Werner Herzog makes clear in his 2016 documentary, Lo and

Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Herzog conducted

interviews with a range of people— from computer scientists at

UCLA and Carnegie Mellon to Silicon Valley denizens like Elon

Musk and Sebastian Thrun to ordinary citizens caught up in

use, abuse, and overuse—associated with the Internet. Herzog’s

instantly recognizable voice-over narrates the film’s ten

sections: as a reviewer for the New Yorker puts it, “It should be

impossible to sound simultaneously droning and clipped, but

somehow Herzog manages it, and it’s delicious to watch the

expressions on the faces of neuroscientists as he inquires,

‘Could it be that the Internet starts to dream of itself?’”

The poster below aims to capture the complexity of “the

connected world” as well as to suggest that we may well have

lost our minds in the enormously complex, hugely wired world

that now seems to “work us over” perhaps more than even

McLuhan imagined. Take a close look at the poster and do some

critical thinking about it and its effects. Note the four stars at

the top under the heading, the figure dominating the poster

(which appears to be a male wearing a suit and tie), the use of

color to highlight the scramble in our Internet-filled heads, the

change in font in the title, and the bottom caption “The human

side of the digital revolution.” How do image and text work


together to create an argument and how would you express that

argument? Certainly the poster intends to entice viewers to take

in Herzog’s film, but what other arguments can you detect

there? Look back to Chapter 6 for more information on

analyzing texts and images.

“Herzog weaves a fantastical tale. For those looking for a ride through our
modern technological world, or indeed a preview of what is to come, this is it.”

Find an advertisement, poster, or flyer—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 multimodal texts offered in

Analyzing Multimodal Arguments in Chapter 16.) 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
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 projects for their courses to be posted to the Web,

where digital photos, videos, and design elements are native.

Other instructors invite or even require students to do

multimedia reports or to use videos, photo collages, cartoons,

or other media to make arguments. Using visual media in your

academic writing can have all the reach and versatility of more

conventional 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

emotions. You can’t flip through a magazine, watch a video, or

browse the 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


Consider the design choices made by the creators of the
information security posters in Chapter 26. Which ones are most

LINK TO McKenzie, “Getting Personal about Cybersecurity,” in
Chapter 26

head, you could document 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


Yet just because images are powerful doesn’t mean they always

work. When you compose visually, you have to be certain to

generate impressions that support your arguments, not weigh

against them.

Shape Visuals to Convey Appropriate

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” photograph of our planet hanging above

the horizon of the moon. You could 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.

Still striking almost fifty years later, this 1968 Apollo 8 photograph of the earth
shining over the moon can support many kinds of arguments.

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 cultural 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,

backgrounds, screens, banners, and so on. And remember that

a black-and-white image can also be a memorable design


Here’s an image of the box cover for one of the iconic Zelda

games for Nintendo. Note its simplicity and the use of vivid

color: red dominates, signaling strength and adventure; the

gold background and the gold-emblazoned shield and sword

suggest fantasy. This particular game (A Link to the Past) was

released in the United States in 1992.


Compare the 1992 box cover art with the most recent Zelda

game, Breath of the Wild (2017). Here the cooler green and blue

colors speak of the natural world and the adventures Link will

encounter there.

When you think about using images like these in your writing,

do some critical analysis of the image before you definitely

decide on it. How does the image, and its use of color, help to

support the argument you are making? Is it a good fit?

If you are creating images of your own, 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 background

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—either ones you’ve created or those you

have taken from other sources—in your college projects, test

them on prospective 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.

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?

Using Images to Establish Ethos
If you are on Instagram, Twitter, 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 personal pages or in your college work,

it pays to attend to how they construct 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 perhaps the school you

attend, such groups use carefully crafted images to signal their

authority and trustworthiness. An emblem or a logo can also

carry a wealth of cultural and historical implications. That’s

why university 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.

What do the following posters, which circulated during the 2016

presidential election, suggest about each candidate’s ethos?

Based on these images, how would you describe each candidate

as a politician?


Posters from the 2016 election

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 interview 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 there present you favorably. Be

just as careful in a classroom that any handouts or slides you

use for an oral report demonstrate your competence. 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.

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?

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 unembellished. Visually, they reinforce the

professional ethos of scientific work. The same is true of a

college research paper. So whether you’re composing an essay,

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
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 corner, 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 representing a club

or campus organization) or dressing up for an oral presentation

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 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:


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 illustrations and photographs themselves. Images

communicate your preferences, 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



In March 2017, journalist Tim Murphy asked, “Who’s missing from this photo of
politicians deciding the future of women’s health?” Notice anyone other than
white men here?

Choose a project or an essay you have written recently and read it

critically 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.

Using Visual Images to Support
To celebrate the Fourth of July in 2017, ancestry.com, the online

company that helps people identify their ancestors through

DNA, aired a commercial called “Declaration Descendants.” A

still from one of the frames appears below.


In the commercial, people from a wide range of ethnicities

recite parts of the American Declaration of Independence. At

the conclusion, viewers learn that each of those readers is a

descendent of someone who signed the Declaration. As the CEO

of ancestry.com Vineet Mehra said about the advertisement,

“We’re all much more similar than you think. And we’re using

facts and data to prove it. This is not fluffy marketing. These are

facts.” Thus an online ancestry service uses images, facts, and

data to support its major claim.

As this example shows, we get information from visual images

of all kinds, including commercials we see on television and

online every day. Today, much information comes to us in

graphic presentations that use images along with words. Such

images work well to gather information efficiently and

persuasively. In fact, readers now expect evidence to be

presented graphically, and we are learning to read such graphic

representations more and more critically.

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 example of such an intuitive design is a

seat adjuster invented many years ago by Mercedes-Benz (see

image). 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.


Mercedes-Benz’s seat adjuster

Good visual design can work the same way in an argument by

conveying evidence, data, and other information without

elaborate instructions. Titles, headings, subheadings, enlarged

quotations, running heads, and boxes are some common visual


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 surrounded by restful white space.

But some electronic texts thrive on visual clutter, packing a grab

bag of data into a limited space (see the “Infographic of

Infographics” below). Look closely, though, and you’ll probably

find the logic in these designs.


An infographic

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 argument, 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 information memorably.

A graph is an efficient device for comparing items over time or

according 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 below.

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.


A bar graph

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 shown below. 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.


A map

Timelines allow you to represent the passage of time

graphically, and online tools like Sutori or Our Story or Office

Timeline can help you create them for insertion into your

documents. Similarly, Web pages can make for valuable

illustrations. Programs like ShrinkTheWeb’s Snapito 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 free software such as

Canva Infographic Maker, Google Charts, Easel.ly, Venngage,

or Pictochart.


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 professional 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, Sixth Edition, or the MLA Handbook,

Eighth Edition, describes these rules in detail. See also Chapter

15, “Presenting Arguments.”

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 borrowed 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 without

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 property and fair use.)


CHAPTER 15 Presenting Arguments

For some arguments you make in college, the format you’ve

used since middle 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 conventional

arguments—whether presented 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.

Increasingly, you’ll need to make a case orally, drawing on the

visual or multimedia strategies discussed in previous chapters.

Like Clint Smith, author of How to Raise a Black Son in

America, delivering a TED talk, you might need illustrations or

slides to back up a lecture; or, like Ambassador Nikki Haley,

speaking on North Korea at the United Nations, you may find


yourself engaged in serious discussions; or, maybe like college

sophomore Michael Bereket, you might receive an award for

original research presented orally. Knowing how to speak

eloquently to a point is a basic rhetorical skill.


In “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free Speech,” historian
Catherine Nolan-Ferrell describes the heated political discussions
that her students engage in, both in and out of the classroom.

LINK TO Nolan-Ferrell, “Balancing Classroom Civility and Free
Speech,” in Chapter 27

Class and Public

No doubt you find yourself arguing all the time at school, maybe

over a piece of code with a classmate in a computer science

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

administration’s latest policy on “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:

indeed, the National Institute of Mental Health finds that

Americans dread public speaking more than almost anything



National Public Radio reporter Jorge Encinas sheds light on how
Spanish-speaking baseball players are often depicted negatively
in the press because of their lack of native English skills.

LINK TO Encinas, “How Latino Players Are Helping Major League
Baseball Learn Spanish,” in Chapter 25

Even if you are a little shy about jumping into a discussion or

being part of a spirited 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

successful 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. We know you can do better

than that!

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, something 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 talking about. That alone will give you a leg up in
most groups.
Listen carefully, purposefully, and respectfully, 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.


Speaking Up in Class
Speaking up in class is viewed as inappropriate or even rude in some
cultures. In North America, however, doing so is expected and
encouraged. Some instructors even assign credit for such class

Reconsidering Confrontation
Be aware that while North Americans often like to get straight to the
point, even if it means being confrontational, a number of cultures find
such tactics aggressive, rude, and ineffective. East Asians, for example,
generally prefer working behind the scenes to reach accord, if possible.
Rather than employing direct confrontation with such an audience,


experts on cross-cultural communication suggest drawing attention to
issues or concerns through the use of stories, analogies, or metaphors.


Preparing a Presentation
You’ve probably already been asked to deliver a presentation in

one or more of your college classes. That’s partly because the

ability to explain material clearly to an audience is a skill much

admired by potential employers and partly because so much

information today is shared orally, online or off. Unfortunately,

instructors sometimes give little practical advice about how to

hone that talent, which is not a natural gift for most of us. While

it’s hard to generalize 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
They use language, patterns, gestures, eye contact, and
style to 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 presentation, fashion a script or plan, choose

media to fit your subject, and then deliver a good show.


Rob Greenfield pays careful attention to the different audiences of
his blog post, “An Argument against Veganism … from a Vegan,”
addressing the needs and values of both vegans and meat eaters.

LINK TO Greenfield, “An Argument against Veganism . . . from a
Vegan,” in Chapter 24

Assess the Rhetorical Situation
Whether asked to make a formal oral report in class, to speak to

the general 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 assignment or situation. Is

it to inform and enlighten your audience? To convince 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


Assessing the Audience

Determine who will be listening to your talk. Just an instructor

and classmates? Interested observers at a public meeting?

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 and

religious 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 specific

argument drawn from a research assignment? Are you expected

to argue facts, definitions, causes and effects? Will you be

offering an evaluation or perhaps a proposal? What degree of

detail is necessary, and how much evidence should you provide

for your claims?

Choosing Structure and Style
Nancy Duarte, who consults with and coaches speakers, did an

extensive study of great presentations—hundreds and hundreds

of them. After analyzing their structures, she found that most of

the very successful presenters used a basic two-part structure,

beginning with describing the current problem or situation (the

status quo), and then moving to what the solution(s) might be,

going back and forth between the status quo and what could

and should be the case. She also found that successful speakers

embedded this structure in a story or stories and that they

concluded with a call to action. You might keep these findings

in mind, especially if your instructor does not specify a

particular structure or type of presentation. Or perhaps your


instructor will tell you that your talk should include an

introduction, background information, thesis, evidence,

refutation, discussion, conclusion. If so, look for other

presentations you have heard or public events you have

attended to look for models. What tone will your audience

expect? Serious? Friendly and colloquial? Perhaps even funny?

And finally, what are the standards by which your presentation

will be evaluated?

Here are students who are attending a House of Representatives session of the
Mississippi State legislature and who look pretty darned bored: what might
some of the speakers do to re-engage them?

Following are three excerpts from a detailed, three-page outline

that sophomore George Chidiac worked up to prepare for a

fifteen-minute oral presentation 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 presentation 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 Presentation Outline

Requirements: 15 minutes; share what I’ve

learned in my research; help colleagues

appreciate the research I’ve done

Introduction: Introduce myself and my agenda;

define free speech: the right to express any

opinions without censorship or restraint

Set the stage: From history of free speech,

we are going to micro-focus: Renaissance >

16th-century England > April 18, 1523, in

the House of Commons

Present a 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


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: (before he became Speaker →

Chancellor of England, friend of King Henry

VIII, theologian, poet, father)

Henry VIII

William Roper (minor role—son-in-law and

chief biographer)



Why was More’s Petition “successful”? Why did

Henry VIII accept the petition?

Henry VIII’s character as a humanist; spirit

of amicitia—friendship with counsel

Parliamentary expectations; relationship

between king and Parliament; by accepting

the petition, Henry acknowledged that while

not all parliamentary speech should be

permitted, not all speech critical of

monarchy is slanderous


What do I want my colleagues to take away from


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 presentation, 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 a laptop and


“clicker” to move between slides, an overhead projector, a flip

chart, a whiteboard? Decide whether presentation software,

such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, will help you make a

stronger presentation. Then figure out where to acquire the

equipment as well as the expertise to use it. If you run into

problems, especially with classroom presentations, ask your

instructor and fellow students for help. If possible, check out

where your presentation will take place. In a classroom with

fixed chairs? A lecture or assembly hall? An informal sitting

area? Will you have a lectern? Other equipment? Will you sit or

stand (research shows that standing makes for a stronger

performance)? 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 figure out who speaks when, who handles the

equipment, who takes the questions, 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 feature a

strong introduction and conclusion, an unambiguous structure

with helpful transitions and signposts, concrete diction, and

straightforward syntax.

Strong Introductions and Conclusions
Like readers, listeners remember beginnings and endings best.

Work hard, therefore, to make these elements 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.

Meet Juliana Chang, who provides a strong opening to her

research-based presentation. She opens her talk with a slide

announcing the title and occasion, then plunges into her topic

with a vivid second slide showing a photo of her mother holding



The title slide of Juliana’s presentation

Baby Juliana and her mother

This is a photo of my mother and me at our very first

home in America. My family immigrated to the U.S. when

I was six months old. My mother was 36. Even though she

spoke no English when she first arrived, she dedicated

the next two decades of her life to raising my brother and

me as Americans. Although Mandarin was my first


language growing up, by the time I got to high school, I

had forgotten almost everything. My mother and I could

still communicate, but it was on a basic level. I could tell

her what I wanted for dinner but not what I wanted to do

with my life. She could tell me how messy my room was

but not how devastated she felt after the 2016 election. I

had lost my language and in turn lost an invaluable part

of our relationship.

My name is Juliana Chang and today I’d like to talk with

you about Heritage Language Loss in Second Generation

East Asian Americans.

Speaking to a group of instructors and peers, Juliana begins

with a vivid photo and a personal anecdote that aims to pull the

audience into her talk and keep their attention. Note that she

uses straightforward vocabulary, simple syntax, and concrete

examples to lead up to her title and suggest her (at this point

implied) thesis: East Asian Americans should do everything

they can to hold onto their heritage language while also

becoming totally fluent in English.

Like Juliana, be sure that your introduction clearly explains

what your presentation will cover, what your focus will be, and

perhaps even how the presentation will be arranged. Give

listeners a mental map of where you are taking them. If you are

using presentation software, a bare-bones outline sometimes

makes sense, especially when the argument is a straightforward


Juliana ends her presentation with a treasured photo.

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?

In her conclusion,

Juliana Chang says

she wants to “close

the way I opened,

with a story,” and

shows another

photo of her as an

infant, this time

with her beloved

grandmother in


She then recites a poem written for the occasion, called “This is

What Language Loss Looks Like,” part of which says

How could I have known what I was giving up? She holds

my hand and asks me a question I can no longer

understand. When I shake my head and offer her a blank

smile, she falters. Here is the part when I wish I knew


how to say I’m sorry. Remember the street with the Taro

and thick, thick rain? Remember how we got lost?

Remember how I talked all the way home?

The body of Juliana’s presentation was full of evidence drawn

from her extensive research—lots of logical proof in the form of

facts and figures—all of which contributes to and supports her

thesis. But for her opening and closing, she leans in on pathos

and emotional appeals, painting a picture of her young self with

her mother and grandmother—and what losing her first

language has meant. The contrast she paints with the words of

her conclusion, of her recently standing mute by her

grandmother’s side but of her “talking all the way home” as a

child tells us “what language loss looks like.”

Juliana’s presentation ends with her cited sources.

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 movement 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 concepts 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
Avoid long, complicated sentences in an oral presentation and

use straightforward syntax (subject-verb-object, for instance,

rather than an inversion of that order). Remember, 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



Print Version

The Simpson family has occasionally been described as a

nuclear family, 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

“dysfunctional,” when applied to the Simpsons, suddenly

takes on new 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 dictionary meaning—a family unit

consisting of two parents and some children. The second

meaning, however, packs more of a punch. You 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


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 household events.


Homer Simpson in a typical pose

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.


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.

The Power of Silence


Emma Gonzalez’s moment of silence at March of Our Lives made a powerful

As you work on your delivery, consider the role that pauses, or

silences, may play in helping to get your point across. In her

oral presentation on language loss, Juliana Chang paused

dramatically during her conclusion, marking off the closing

questions with a pause before each one. These silent moments

held her audience’s attention and created anticipation for what

was coming next. During the March for Our Lives in the spring

of 2018, following the killing of seventeen Florida high school

students and staff members, high school senior Emma Gonzalez

stood before the huge rally in Washington, D.C., called out the

names of the seventeen who died, and then stood, in silence, for

the length of time it had taken the shooter to take those lives.

Broadcast on national television, it was a riveting, moving, and

silent call to action.


Repetition, Parallelism, and Climactic Order
Whether they’re used alone or in combination, repetition,

parallelism, and climactic order are especially 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 Washington, 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


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 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


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


You don’t have to be as highly skilled and as eloquent 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 Juliana Chang does at the end of her

presentation when she repeats “remember”), 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

presentations. 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.)

Use appropriate software to furnish an overview for a

presentation or lecture 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—and we’ve all

heard those jokes about “death by PowerPoint.” 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 multimodal 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 accompanying media tools can help

make your presentation accessible but that some members of

your audience may not be able to see your presentation or may

have trouble seeing or hearing them. Here are a few key rules to


Use words to describe projected images. Something as
simple as “That’s Eleanor Roosevelt in 1944” can help
audience members who have impaired vision appreciate
what’s on a screen.


Use large print on slides so that people in the last row will
be able to read it.
Try to determine whether anyone in your audience will
need some accommodation, such as an interpreter who can
sign for people who are hearing impaired or who can
describe visuals to anyone who can’t see them.
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
When asked to identify the most important part of rhetoric, the

ancient Greek orator Demosthenes replied that there are three

most important parts: “Delivery, delivery, and delivery.” This

insight is as appropriate today as it was in the fourth century

BCE—perhaps even more so. Experienced speakers have

strategies for making sure they deliver a good show, starting

with very careful preparation and lots of practice. (They also

note that a little nervousness can be a good thing by keeping

you on your toes.)

The most effective strategy, however, seems to be simply

knowing your topic and material thoroughly. The more


confident you are in your own knowledge, the more easily and

naturally you will speak. And eloquence can be developed, and

practice can make perfect. 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 presentation. 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 go
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
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 comfortable,
allow easy movement, and aren’t overly casual or overly
dressy: moderation is the key here. Looking your best
indicates that you take pride in your appearance, have
confidence in your argument, and respect your audience.
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
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.
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 presentations 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 attendees who might be

anywhere in the world. In another type of Webcast, participants

can see only your slides or the software that you’re

demonstrating, 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

presentations with an in-house audience will continue to serve

in Webcast environments. But there are some significant


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, perhaps 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 speaking or
asking a question.

Attend a presentation on your campus, and observe the speaker’s

delivery. Note the strategies that the speaker uses to capture and

hold your attention (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.


CHAPTER 16 Multimodal Arguments

The very first paragraph in this edition of Everything’s an

Argument features a tweet by actor and activist Alyssa Milano

focusing on sexual harassment and assault. And throughout this

book we draw on examples from a wide range of media and

genres, including online news sources, blog posts and

comments, cartoons, ads, maps, memes, posters, comics, video

games, infographics, bumper stickers, even a selfie—of the

pope, no less. In one way or another, all of these items illustrate

principles of persuasion. And while this book is also about more

conventional forms of argument—essays, extended articles, and

academic papers—the fact is that many arguments are now

shaped, distributed, and connected in ways that no one

imagined a generation ago. In fact, we know that many college-

age students today prefer visual communication and are on

their smartphones a great deal of the time: 82 percent of these

writers use Facebook (Twitter, at about 32 percent, seems to be

waning); Snapchat users view over 7 million videos every single

day; and savvy college-age entrepreneurs are vlogging, starting

their own YouTube channels—and making money in the



These social networks, and many others, have virtually

redefined the nature of influence and persuasion. The cascade

of information, the 24-hour news cycle, the incessant

connectivity of screens—all are now the new normal. More to

the point for the purposes of this book: all this online and

onscreen activity is deeply 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, especially 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,

photographs. 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

professional (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 “remediated”

them, to use a term coined by media scholars Jay Bolter and

Richard Grusin—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.


When NBA star Kevin Durant decided to move from the Oklahoma Thunder to
the Golden State Warriors in 2016, he published a brief personal essay titled “My
Next Chapter” online and in print in the Players’ Tribune, hoping to reach the
widest possible audience as he explained his decision.

The bigger point is that the serious, attentive, and carefully

researched arguments that represent the best of old media are

still 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, the full-bodied arguments, research

studies, and no-nonsense science propping 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.


Studies on reading continue to confirm that when the stakes are high—
when you really need to comprehend something difficult—reading in
print is still the way to go. As researchers note, reading print text tends
to help us slow down and take in what we are reading, and it’s a snap
to make notes, highlight, and use other techniques to reinforce our
memories. Online readers are still very easily distracted (“oh, look at
that irresistible link!”). Yet these same studies all acknowledge that
readers are changing and adapting: perhaps in another decade we will
be able to exercise more self-discipline and read as efficiently and
effectively online as in print. But for now, if the information is very
important to you, or if your grade depends on your thorough


understanding of an argument, you may be wise to stick to print.


New Content in New
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, movement, and sounds.

Perhaps the first Web capability that writers and 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 sites 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, Jezebel). 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 arguments. 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


Enter social media and the wildly diverse worlds they now

represent. Consider the vast difference among platforms and

environments such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr,

Instagram Stories, WhatsApp, Yelp, and Twitter. Reviews on

Yelp are by nature evaluative arguments, and many Facebook

postings have a persuasive bent, though they may not go much

beyond observations, claims, or complaints supported by links

or images. 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 pictures, funny people

and pets, outrageous videos, trendy performers, and, yes, lots of

links to serious talk about politics, culture, and social issues.


“Like” is easy; contributing is hard. (See Chapter 1 on the difference between
convincing and persuading.)

Re-tweeting and forwarding is easy, but ensuring the accuracy

of what you are sending on is hard. You know that there are

trolls out there harassing, bullying, and pouring out

misinformation: it’s one of the responsibilities of a critical user

of media not only to acknowledge this fact but to actively work

to delegitimize such harmful and dishonest actions and to

support the truth.


Amanda Hess analyzes how the digital age has ushered in a loss of
privacy—for all but the very wealthy.

LINK TO Hess, “How Privacy Became a Commodity for the Rich
and Powerful,” in Chapter 26

New Audiences in New

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. 26), 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 gather around sites that

represent their perspectives on politics or mirror their social

conditions and interests.


Here’s what Twitter’s audience looked like when the government of Turkey tried
to ban the service in 2014.

It seems natural. Democrats engage with different Web sites

than do Republicans or Libertarians; champions (and foes) of

immigration or gun rights 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

contribute 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. All this talking and arguing can be

generative and exciting—or begin to sound like an echo

chamber. And today, this echo chamber effect seems

particularly pronounced, as lots of people don’t even want to


talk with someone who disagrees with their points of view and

instead band together in online niches—sometimes in secret

groups not visible to the public—where participants simply

reinforce each other’s biases. Doing so is not good for rhetorical

argumentation, which depends on listening carefully to others,

really hearing them, and then presenting alternate ideas in

clear, logical, and respectful ways. Rhetorical argumentation

and persuasion aren’t about shouting and screaming and

pushing, but about listening and reasoning and searching for

common ground that can help move ideas forward.

The ubiquitous hashtag is liable to turn up anywhere.

Still, social media platforms like Twitter allow writers and

speakers to reach enormous audiences. Celebrities and political


figures alike, for a wide variety of reasons, attract “followers”

cued into their 140- (or 280-) character musings (as of March

2018 President Trump’s main Twitter handle listed 48.8 million

followers; Pope Francis: 40 million; Taylor Swift: 85 million). In

some respects, “following” is simply a popularity contest or a

bandwagon (see Bandwagon Appeals in Chapter 5) that pulls

people in by the millions. And, as a 2018 New York Times

investigation found, some of those “followers” are actually fake

accounts, known as bots. But the number of followers can also

be a measure of ethos, the trust and connection people have in

the person offering a point of view (see Chapter 3). Sometimes

that ethos is largely just about media fame, narcissism, and self-

aggrandizement, one reason some pundits refer to President

Trump as the “Tweeter-in-Chief,” but in other cases it may

measure genuine influence that public figures have earned by

virtue of their serious ideas or opinions. 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 (signaled by

the prefix #) come in, allowing people to identify a topic and

place around which an audience may gather. You’re probably

using hashtags to gather information and to post your own

messages. The swift rise of the #metoo hashtag (see Chapter 1,

Understanding Arguments and Reading Them Critically) shows

how Hollywood actors, directors, and writers used their ethos to

attract an even larger audience to the issue of sexual

harassment. At the end of 2016, Twitter announced the most

often used hashtags of that year: #Rio2016; #Election 2016;


#Pokemongo; #Oscars; #Brexit; #BlackLivesMatter. In all these

cases, the audience for these topics showed its power in the

sheer number of people weighing in on the topic, expressing

their sentiments succinctly, but also accumulating a sense of

direction, solidarity, and gravity—or engaging in attacks and

counterattacks. 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.

Do social media platforms help inform—or merely distract—us?



Analyzing Multimodal
As the previous section suggests, a multimodal 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 understand the rhetorical strategies in

arguments and interactions you encounter in social media or on

blogs, vlogs, Web sites, podcasts, 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 multimodal text? Experts? Bots?
Trolls? Did someone else distribute, 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: serious, 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 environment where the text appears suggest a
metaphor: photo album, pin-up board, message board, chat
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 on the site? Do they
make arguments? 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?
Do claims or arguments play an explicit role in the
medium? How are they presented, clarified, reinforced,
connected, constrained, or commented 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


Jess Kapadia’s Web article on cultural appropriation of food was
first published on Medium.com, an online publishing platform.
Had she chosen to create a video or podcast about this topic, how

How does the audience participate in the site or platform?
Does the audience respond to content, create it, or
something else? What audience interactions or connections
occur there? Can participants interact 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 multimodal text achieve? What is it
designed to convey?
What social, cultural, or political values does the text or site
support? Cultural interaction? Power? Resistance?
Does the text, alone or in reaction to others, reinforce these
values or question them? Does the text constitute an
argument in itself or contribute to another claim in some
way—as an illustration, example, exception, metaphor,
What emotions does the multimodal site or text evoke? Are
these the emotions that it intends to raise? How does it do

Questions about Design


might the content of her essay differed?

LINK TO Kapadia, “I Still Don’t Understand the Cultural
Appropriation of Food,” in Chapter 24

How does the site present itself? What draws you to it? How
easy is the environment to learn, use, or subscribe to?
How is the multimodal 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 multimodal text or environment? How
are ideas identified? How are these ideas 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 anything downplayed, ambiguous,
confusing, distracting, or obviously omitted? Why?
What, if anything, is surprising about the design of the text
or environment? What do you think is the purpose of that
How are you directed to move within the text or site? Are
you encouraged to read further? Click on links? Contribute
links and information?

Using the discussion of multimodal arguments in this chapter and

the questions about multimodal texts and platforms above, find a

multimodal text that makes an intriguing argument or a social


media platform where you sometimes encounter debates about

political and social issues. Then read carefully and critically in order

to 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. (See Chapter 6 for more on rhetorical analysis.)

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 42 million articles in 295 languages (5.5 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?


Making Multimodal
Though it may feel like you have been active in new media

platforms forever—browsing Web sites, checking Facebook,

sending text messages, 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 organization to which you belong. In planning any Web site,

pay careful attention 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 navigation 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

important 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 environment. 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.

The homepage for Vermont’s Middlebury College Web site

appears below. Designed by White Whale Web Services, it

features a line of colorful vertical bars: when you hover the

mouse over a bar, you can see where it will take you—to “faculty

stories,” for example, or “service learning in Japan,” or

“homecoming highlights”—an intuitive and efficient navigation

system. The page also highlights a photo you can click on to see

various stories about current events and programs at the

college. And below the bars and photo are key links: to

admissions, academics, student life, and so forth. Finally, note

the simple, uncluttered, clean design, which is easy on the eyes

and welcoming.


The articles by Lauren Salm and Deanna Hartley on employers’ use
of social media are featured on the job searching site
Careerbuilder, making it easy for them to reach their intended

LINK TO Salm, “70% of Employers Are Snooping Candidates’
Social Media Profiles,” and Hartley, “Creative Ways to Get Noticed
by Employers on Social Media,” in Chapter 26

An interactive and appealing design encourages users to explore a Web site.

Here are some additional tips that may help you design your


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 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 area for every page,
including links to the key sections of the site and to the
homepage. Easy navigation is one key to a successful Web
Either choose a design template that is provided by Web-
building tools (such as SquareSpace or Wix) 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.

Videos and Video Essays
Given the ease with which competent digital films can be

produced, a video may be the best medium for delivering your

message. Videos are ubiquitous, 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


You can, of course, shoot a video with your smartphone. But

more sophisticated software might be needed to edit your film


A video essay analyzing a Beatles’ album cover

and get it ready for prime time: iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Movie

Maker, Blender (for animation), or Animoto, Camtasia, and

Soundslides (for combining media such as digital video, photos,

music, and text).

The Nerdwriter, aka Evan Puschak, is very well known for his

remarkable video essays, including one tracing the evolution of

music album covers. Entitled How the Beatles Changed Album

Covers, it includes several images from what Puschak calls “the

holy grail of album covers”—Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts

Club Band—and discusses its power. After surveying the

evolution of Beatles album covers, the essay focuses on how this

particular cover invites viewers to ask questions, to try to figure

out who all these people are, and to highlight the mixing of high


culture (Marx, Dylan Thomas) with low (Marilyn Monroe,

Johnny Weissmueller [Tarzan]), something the Beatles

perfected in their own art. For the full video essay, see


If you decide on a video or video essay for your argument, these

tips may be of help:

Present most of the evidence in support of your argument
visually, using voiceover to link the images together.
Choose color palettes carefully to match the tone you want
to create.
Make a scratch outline or storyboard to map out your video
Draft a script for words that are spoken or used as
Experiment with camera angles and camera movement—
and get feedback from your classmates or friends.
List credits at the end, just as you would add a bibliography
to a written text or a list of sources to a final slide in an oral

To make working on group projects easier, many classes use

wikis—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 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 evidence for subsequent projects.

If asked to participate in a wiki, make sure you know 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 observations, 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


Make sure that your contributions are based on reliable and
credible sources: no fake news here, please!
Listen to (or read) what others contribute very carefully,
making sure you understand them and that you are being
fair and respectful at all times, especially when editing
what others have contributed.
Think about how your contributions can move the project
forward: suggest links, references, and sources you think
will be helpful and credible.
Remember to explain any technical terms that might be
unfamiliar or confusing to a broad audience.

Perhaps no Web texts have been more instrumental in


advancing political, social, and cultural issues than blogs, which

are now too numerous to count. Blogs open an ideal space for

building interactive communities, 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 functionality of blogs or

sponsor blogs themselves as part of their electronic versions.

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 keep your critical reading hat on at all times,

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 mainstream 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 comments 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. The following tips may be of help as you get


Aim for an eye-catching title for your blog post, one that
includes key words that will help readers find you. And


keep the title brief. In an article on Hubspot, writer Corey
Wainwright gives an example of a blog post in its original
and revised state:

Before: Think Social Media Is Just for Kids? Here Are

10 Statistics Guaranteed to Prove You Wrong

After: 10 Stats That Prove Social Media Isn’t Just for


Choose easy-to-use blogging software, such as Blogger,
Tumblr, and WordPress.
Keep your posts fairly brief and to the point since most
readers come to blogs looking for information, not long-
winded musings. Keep the point you want to make (your
argument!) in the front of your mind as you write.
Consider using headings and subheadings or other
elements to help orient and guide your readers.
Embed audio and video clips and visual images that will
help make your point clear and compelling for all kinds of

Social Media
You are no doubt already a practiced user of social media and

understand the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons, of

platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr,

and more. Many arguments mounted on social media today

come in the form of memes, a term coined by evolutionary

biologist Richard Dawkins. Once thought of as a source of jokes


and cute cats (Nyan cat was around forever!), memes can offer

serious commentary via an image and short text. With a Twitter

account and a hashtag, they seem to circle the globe in an

instant. According to journalists Angela Watercutter and Emma

Grey Ellis, memes today are used to declare and argue for

political positions, cultural identities, and so on:

The success of memes like the alt-right’s Pepe the Frog . .

. points to political memes’ probable future function:

spreading propaganda. . . . That space between truth and

truthiness is where both memes and propaganda live. (If

you’re thinking that you’d never share propaganda,

remember this: thanks to Russia, you probably already


—“The Wired Guide to Memes,” April 1, 2018

Creating and responding to memes, not to mention the

networks that distribute them, takes up a lot of metaphorical

and literal space and time. As a result, many people benefit

from “unplugging” every once in a while to make sure they are

still in touch with real people in the real world. But everyone

needs to be especially aware of how these networks influence

our views on everything from what to eat to where (or if) to

worship to who to vote for. That’s because the Internet is

pulsing with arguments being presented to us twenty-four

hours a day, yet many of these arguments have nothing more

than an uninformed opinion to back them up. So take a break

from the social media scene and think carefully and critically


about how the arguments we encounter online are supported—

or not. Think about how these arguments draw us in and shape

our thinking, even our beliefs. And make sure you are a critical

as well as an ethical user of social media and that the causes you

follow or champion are worthy of you.

And remember that in with the trash and the junk on social

media, you can find serious and credible information,

information you may well use in your academic work. Social

media can lead you, for instance, to experts across a range of

fields, who can help you gather reliable information on almost

any topic or in any field. So social media provide powerful tools

for expanding your knowledge base and your experience, if you

approach information on such networks very carefully.

Perhaps you’ve been asked to make a poster presentation in one

of your classes, or maybe you have created a poster for an

organization you belong to. Poster sessions are increasingly

popular at conferences, and a number of universities award

prizes for the best and most informative poster presentations.

Above, you can see an award-winning poster made for a public

policy class. It was created by Anna Shickele and demonstrates

how much useful information can be conveyed in this format.

Note the simple, uncluttered arrangement of this poster, from

the title that runs in a banner across the top; to the three text

columns that provide background information, state the


research question, and describe methods; to the maps and

photographs, including the photo of the author at the research


A well-designed poster presentation can pack an awful lot of information into a
limited space.

If you are making a poster, remember this example that is easy

to look at and to take in at a glance. In addition:

Do some brainstorming about how best to grab and hold
your audience’s attention: A central photo? A jaw-dropping
question in bold font? Try these ideas out on classmates or
Make sure you understand the requirements for the poster:


Is it to be of a certain size? Using certain materials? How
will it be displayed?
Lay out your poster either in a word processing document
or with pencil and paper. Allot the most space to the most
important information and do not crowd text or images.
Choose colors that will be easy to see: dark colors with text
in them won’t be readable, for example, so choose white or
light colors as background for text and primary colors for
Finally, if you will be speaking to people who are looking at
your poster, write out and practice a brief introduction to
the project, telling viewers what your assignment was and
what argument you are making in the poster. And be
prepared to answer questions! (See Chapter 15 for more on
giving presentations.)

Judging by the immense popularity of Comic Cons (in 2017,

scores of them were scheduled from Seattle, Portland, San

Francisco, and Los Angeles to all points east—Minneapolis, Salt

Lake City, Santa Fe, Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Durham, Atlanta,

Baltimore, and New York—and lots of spots in between), comics

are experiencing a renaissance. Besides appearing in print,

comics have found new life on television, on the big screen,

even on the Broadway stage. Comics artist and speaker Lynda

Barry believes that there is an artist lurking in every single one

of us, as her standing-room-only workshops attest. On college

campuses, comics are also finding a place in the curriculum: at


Stanford University, for instance, the Graphic Novel Project is a

twenty-week course in which undergraduate students do

research in order to propose real-life stories that might be told

in graphic form. The goal of the course is to “teach nonfiction

research, visual storytelling, and long-form narrative structure .

. . through the collaborative production of a graphic novel.”

Students direct every part of the project, from choosing the

topic to conducting all of the research, and carrying out the

storyboarding and drawing, the lettering and inking, and the

full preparation of the text for the printer. In 2017, the student

group published their seventh collaborative graphic novel,

Luisa, about early twentieth-century Puerto Rican feminist and

labor organizer Luisa Capetillo, known for her toughness, her

perseverance—and her wearing of suits and ties.

Here’s the cover of the comic and its first page. Note the simple,


clean design and bright colors of the cover, which draws our

eyes to the central figure of Luisa (in one of her signature white

suits) standing in front of Spanish-style buildings, with

mountains in the background. The lower right box announces

the authorship of the book. The panels on the first page are

likewise simple: two page-wide rectangles stacked one above

the other, with a smaller rectangle and a square at the bottom of

the page. The words in a small banner at the top left (where a

reader would first look) set the scene: Havana, Cuba, 1914. We

see Luisa walking toward a building in the top panel, passing by

a horse and vegetable/fruit cart in the second, and then

approaching two officers of some kind in the third and fourth

panels. These four panels plunge us into the story and invite us

to read further. These artists and writers could have written a

research essay about Luisa Capetillo, but their decision to

render her story in graphic form makes for a much more

memorable presentation.

Luisa is a major research project, one that took a whole group

twenty weeks to put together. But you don’t have to take a full

course to use comics in your academic writing. Henry Tsai did

just that in a history research project he conducted about a

group of Vietnamese Americans who were triply displaced—

first from their homeland after the Vietnam War, then from

their arrival cities in the U.S. to New Orleans, and then from

there to Houston during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Based

on extensive interviews with a dozen people, Tsai used their

stories to illustrate his history project, drawing panels that


brought them and their experiences to life. You can do the same

kind of thing in your own academic writing.

If you do, a few tips may come in handy in getting started.

Choose the topic of your comic or panels carefully, making
sure it lends itself to visual depiction. The more action-
filled and concrete the better.
Decide what layout you will use: square panels,
rectangular, triangular? Simpler will be better, especially
for an early attempt. Pay attention to where the space
between panels (the gutters) will be: they guide readers and
give them a visual pause as they move from panel to panel.
Remember that English speakers will expect to read these
panels left to right, top to bottom.
Check out free software for creating comics (such as
EasyComic for PCs or ComicLife for Macs).
Remember that comics panels could help you illustrate a
research essay, such as one focusing on the events of
Hurricane Harvey: in this case a picture you draw might be
worth more than a thousand words.
Don’t forget to check out comics that you find particularly
compelling: put your critical reading and viewing skills to
work in analyzing what makes the panels in these comics so
effective. See if you can learn how to emulate them.
Create a series of actions you want to include—a verbal
script for your panel(s).
Rough out a storyboard, turning words into pictures—stick
figures at this point will be fine.
Put in the speech bubbles and work to make them succinct


and to the point.
For a final product, you’ll have to carry out many additional
steps, including the final drawing, lettering, and inking. But
the steps in this list can help you get started.

A Final Note on Time
The projects illustrated in this chapter—from blog posts and

Web sites to presentation posters and comics—are all time-

consuming endeavors. Keep this in mind when you take on a

multimodal project and manage your time and effort and

resources accordingly.

Go to a blog or a video essay that you admire and read/view it

carefully and critically, taking note of what makes it especially

effective and what appeals it uses to engage you. Then answer the

following questions:

Why is the blog—a digital presentation—or the video essay the

best way to present this material?

What advantages over a print text or a live oral and multimodal

presentation does the blog or video essay have?

How could you “translate” the argument(s) of this blog or video

essay into print format, oral format, or social media platform?

What might be gained or lost in the process?




CHAPTER 17 Academic Arguments

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 academic 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
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
It is documented, using some professional citation style.

Academic writing is serious work, the kind you are expected to

do whenever you are assigned an essay, research paper, or

capstone project. You will find two examples of such work at


the end of this chapter.


Understanding What
Academic Argument Is
Academic argument covers a wide range of writing, but its

hallmarks are an appeal to reason and a reliance on 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 conscientious

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 evidence in arguing (in 2014) 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


Note, too, that these writers draw their material from research

and polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, a well-known

and respected organization. Chances are you immediately

recognize that this paragraph is an example of a research-based

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 sensitivity to light, sound and

head movement. There is a clear familial tendency to

migraine, which has been well defined in a rare

autosomal dominant form of familial hemiplegic

migraine (FHM). FHM mutations so far identified include

those in CACNA1A (P/Q voltage-gated Ca(2+) channel),

ATP1A2 (N(+)-K(+)-ATPase) and SCN1A (Na(+) channel)

genes. Physiological studies in humans and studies of the

experimental 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)


“Playing with Prejudice: The Prevalence and Consequences of
Racial Prejudice in Video Games” meets the criteria described here
for academic argument. It begins with an abstract that
summarizes the research performed and its findings.

LINK TO Burgess et al., “Playing with Prejudice,” in Chapter 23

Yet this very article might later provide data for a more

accessible argument 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 below):

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, antiepileptic 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 of thought that cortical spreading

depression contributes to both kinds of attacks. Using

this observation as a starting point, investigators 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 junctions, 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 comprehensible information to any reader seriously

interested in the subject and the latest research on it.


Infographic: The Root of Migraine Pain

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 straightforward, 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 technologists and other knowledge workers

have trekked out into a barren stretch of alkali desert and

built a temporary city devoted to art, technology, 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 building 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.


A scene from Burning Man

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 intriguing ideas.

You can see these moves in just one paragraph from a heavily

documented student essay examining the comedy of Chris


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 political” (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 conference 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, 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 medicine to

communicate effectively with other medical personnel.

Professional journals now sometimes feature serious scholarly

work in new formats—such as comics (as in legal scholar Jamie

Boyle’s work on intellectual property, or Nick Sousanis’s

Columbia University PhD dissertation, which is entirely in

comic form). And student writers are increasingly producing

serious academic arguments using a wide variety of modalities,

including sound, still and moving images, and more. Obviously,

the “research paper” need not be a paper at all: most academic

research these days is available online—though, because of pay

walls, not everyone can access it.


Developing an Academic
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 argument by following some time-

tested techniques.

Choose a topic you want to explore in depth
Even if you are assigned a topic, look for an issue 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 media 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
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 especially with the controversies

that currently surround it. Where do scholars agree, and where

do they disagree? What key issues seem to be at stake? You can

start by exploring online, 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 versions 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, take

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 helpful. Instructors on your campus may have

the knowledge you need or be able to point you in the right

direction, 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


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 evidence and good reasons (see Chapter 20). Here,

for example, is the claim that student Charlotte Geaghan-

Breiner makes after observing the alienation 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, academic, and social benefits of

interacting with the natural world. She includes images

illustrating the contrast between traditional schoolyards and

“biophilic” (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 conversation 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.
You may prefer the role of an advocate: you present
research that strongly supports a particular view on your

Whatever your perspective, remember that in academic

arguments you want to come across as fair and evenhanded,

especially when you play the advocate. For instance, in her

essay about the effects of the phrase “thank you for your

service” (or TYFYS) on veterans, sociology doctoral student

Sidra Montgomery takes care to consider the feelings of both

the civilians expressing gratitude and the veterans who receive

it (see Montgomery, “The Emotion Work of ‘Thank You for Your

Service’” in Chapter 17. Your stance, of course, 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 pay close attention to the assignment and, if

possible, set up a conference to nail down your teacher’s

expectations: 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


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



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 subject

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.

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 earlier?

Keep yourself open to discovery and change. (See Chapter 19,

“Evaluating Sources,” and Chapter 20, “Using Sources.”)

Give visual materials and other media the same scrutiny you

would to print sources, since you will likely be gathering or

creating such materials in many academic disciplines.

Remember that representing data visually always involves

interpreting that material: numbers can lie and pictures distort.

(For more information on evaluating and creating visuals, see

Chapter 14.) In addition, infographics today often make


complex academic arguments in a visual form. (See p. 179 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 all sources, whether print or digital, 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 an

e-book, note the format (Nook, Kindle, etc.) or the URL where

you accessed it. For each newspaper, magazine, or journal

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. If you accessed the article online,

include the name of the Web site or database where you found

the source, the full URL, the date it was published on the Web

or most recently updated, and the date you accessed and

examined it. Include any other information you may later need

in preparing a works cited list or references list. 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

understand and respect the conventions of your field or major,

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 features you find in professional research:

Does the article open with an abstract, summarizing its
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 reviewing 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 introduction, 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 shouldn’t overpower the structure

of your argument itself. Finally, remember that your

organization needs to take into account the placement of visuals

—charts, tables, photographs, and so on. (For specific advice on

structuring arguments, review the “Thinking about

Organization” sections in the “Guides to Writing” for Chapters


Consider style and tone
Most academic argument adopts the voice of a reasonable, fair-


Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces by John Palfrey exemplifies a clear and
direct academic style. Even though the author makes a complex
argument, addressing a broad and difficult set of issues, his
writing remains straightforward and readable.

LINK TO Palfrey, “Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces,” in Chapter 27

minded, and careful thinker who is interested in coming as

close to the truth about a topic as possible. An essay that

achieves that tone may have some of the following features:

It strives for clarity and directness, though it may use
jargon appropriate to a particular field.
It favors denotative rather than connotative language.
It is usually impersonal, using first person (I) sparingly.
In some fields, such as the sciences, it may use the passive
voice routinely.
It uses technical language, symbols, and abbreviations for
It avoids colloquialisms, slang, and sometimes even

The examples at the end of this chapter demonstrate traditional

academic 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

digital documents that integrate a variety of media and array

data in strikingly 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 consult 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 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 information from a source (the results, say,

of a Gallup poll), you must cite the source of the data. If you use

a photograph you took yourself, cite it as a personal



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.

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 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, what feels unconvincing, 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,

quotation 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 (and don’t

rely solely on them to spot errors, since such automated tools

are not perfectly accurate).

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 establishes its credibility.



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

rediscovered until the Athenian Golden Age; and a bestiary

of such vitality and finesse that, by the flicker of torchlight,

the animals seem to surge 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 principles of stenciling

and Pointillism; powdered colors, brushes, and stumping

cloths; and, more to the point of Picasso’s insight, the very

concept of an image. A true artist reimagines that concept


with every blank canvas—but not from a void.

—Judith Thurman, “First Impressions,” 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 degradation

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). Anthropogenic 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

unsurprisingly, 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 possess

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 recognize, or just react to the

world with a set of glorified reflexes?

—Jason Castro, “Do Bees Have Feelings?” Scientific


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?”


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. If possible, examine at
least one from an online academic database so you can see
what features periodical articles tend to offer. Then spend time
looking at them closely. Do they exemplify the key features of
academic arguments discussed 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 paragraphs about one writer’s experience
with anorexia, taken from a recent memoir, and then list
changes that the writer might make to convert them into an
argument for an academic journal, considering everything from
tone and style to paragraphing and format.

It began when I was at the start of my sophomore year in

college, sleeping on my lofted bed and rising before dawn.

Initially I was not focused on losing weight; I simply

became . . . obsessed with asceticism and determined to


get by on less. I mused on the phonetic similarity between

“ascetic” and “aesthetic,” believing that through self-

denial I could achieve a sort of delicate beauty. Even

words like “svelte” and “petite” began to assume, in my

mind, a positive valence. Soon I would begin to think of

anorexia in this way as well, conjuring a snow-white

princess who glided along in a winter fairyland, leaving no


Although I never stopped eating three meals a day, I

severely restricted my diet and the range of foods I would

eat. As the number of calories I consumed decreased with

each passing week, food assumed more and more a

central role in my life. I drove myself to extremes of hunger

so that during class I’d be fantasizing about a green apple

in my backpack, counting down the minutes until the

lecture would end and I would savor that first juicy bite.

—Ilana Kurshan, If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir

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?

Two Sample Academic Arguments



















The Emotion Work of “Thank You for Your Service”


In the post-9/11 era, “thank you for your service” (TYFYS) has

become the new mantra of public support bestowed upon the

veteran community. In the early 2000s, as the wars in

Afghanistan and Iraq began escalating, “Support Our Troops”

car magnets increasingly appeared on the trunks of cars across

America. After well over 15 years of war, public gratitude is now

most commonly expressed in small interactions between

veterans and the public they’ve served—with strangers saying

TYFYS or offering to pay for a coffee or meal. If you ask any

recent servicemember or veteran how they feel when someone

says TYFYS, you’ll probably hear them express a strong opinion

about the phrase. While some view it positively and enjoy these

interactions, most find it awkward, uncomfortable or irritating.

The message of support and gratitude that well-meaning


Americans are attempting to express is often lost in translation

with veterans.

A collection of op-ed pieces have addressed why

servicemembers find TYFYS to be a point of disconnection

rather than connection. James Kelly, an active-duty Marine,

says that he hears the phrase so often it has become an “empty

platitude,” something people say only because it is “politically

correct.” Matt Richtel, a New York Times reporter, highlights

how veterans feel the phrase can be self-serving; civilians get to

pat themselves on the back because they are doing something

for veterans, alleviating any sense of guilt in the era of an all-

volunteer service. Another common complaint is that TYFYS

doesn’t start the conversation between veterans and civilians—it

stunts it—leaving veterans feeling more isolated and less

connected to the America they served. Veterans commonly

remark that civilians don’t even know what they are saying

“thank you” for. Elizabeth Samet, a professor at West Point,

argues that we’ve come to the other “unthinking extreme” with

TYFYS as an attempt for atonement after the poor treatment of

Vietnam veterans.

While many have tried to explain why veterans find TYFYS to be

lacking, few have examined how these interactions affect

veterans. Having interviewed servicemembers and veterans for

the past 3 years in my professional life, and being a military

spouse for the past 5 years, I have always been intrigued by how

veterans handle these moments and interactions. I watch the


discomfort when strangers approach my interview subjects or

friends and say TYFYS—it becomes an awkward stumble for the

veteran to find a way to muster their appreciation for a gesture

that doesn’t necessarily square with its intent.

As I analyzed the data I collected for my dissertation, a total of

39 interviews with wounded, injured, and ill post–9/11 veterans,

I realized these interactions require veterans to engage in

emotion work, a sociological concept defined by Arlie

Hochschild. Emotion work is defined by Hochschild as “trying

to change, in degree or quality, an emotion or feeling”

(1979:561). It is an active attempt to shape and direct one’s

feelings to match the appropriate emotions for a given

situation. For example, when someone thanks you for

something you’ve done, you’re supposed to feel good, right?

Gratitude should give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This

is called “feeling rules”; it’s how we know what we should be

feeling in any given moment. . . .

For veterans who genuinely appreciate and enjoy hearing

TYFYS and other acts of gratitude, there is no “work” necessary

because their feelings are appropriate given the situation. For

Alex, a wounded Marine veteran, TYFYS makes him feel as

though he is “seen” and that his service is validated:

I like it. I really like it when people acknowledge my

service. I’m not out there trying to get someone to do it, but


when someone takes time out of their day to shake my

hand and say, “Thank you for your service.” It’s like, “Wow.

You know this country—it was worth it. You know it’s—

proud of your service to the country”. . . That’s something


Alex’s emotions are in line with what we expect to feel when

someone says thank you and acknowledges something that we

have done. He doesn’t have to control or wrangle his emotions

because they already align with the socially prescribed “feeling

rules” and expectations.

My dissertation data suggests that 15 to 20% of veterans share

Alex’s feelings; they enjoy and appreciate when people thank

them for their service or demonstrate their gratitude through

other acts and gestures. Personally and anecdotally, I’ve found

about the same split: 10–20% find TYFYS gratifying and

associate it with positive feelings, and 80–90% of

servicemembers and veterans feel uncomfortable or upset

about the phrase.

For the majority of wounded veterans I interviewed, who don’t

have positive associations with TYFYS, these interactions

necessitate emotion work. As they go about their day-to-day life,

they are thrust into situations where they must acknowledge

and negotiate the gratitude of total strangers through their own

emotional response: emotions that do not match their true

feelings in the situation. Luis, a young Marine Corps veteran


with visible injuries, describes how he wrestles with having to

do emotion work in these interactions:

When people say thank you for your service, thank you for

what you did . . . it’s kind of lost its shock value or

something. I’ve heard it so much that I’m embarrassed that

I can’t give them . . . like that first time when someone said

thank you for your service . . . I feel like I don’t give them

enough sincerity, I feel bad . . . I feel embarrassed for

myself because I can’t do that, you know? . . . I just hear it

sooooo much.

Luis wants to give others a genuine emotional reaction each

time they thank him for his service, but he feels he can’t

because of the overwhelming number of times this happens to

him. From this quote it’s clear he is blaming himself for even

having to perform emotion work in the first place. Connor, an

Army veteran with invisible injuries, discusses how he handles


I give the standard, thanks, appreciate it or happy to do it.

Or I don’t get into it. Even if I know it’s totally fake I’m like,

yeah, appreciate it. And I’ll give just a fake answer. As fake

as I got [from them], that’s how much I’ll give back . . . It’ll

be like . . . “oh, thanks” with the plastic smile. You know

what I mean?

Connor attempts to mirror the level of sincerity in the

interaction, aligning his own response with it. His comment


about how he puts on a “plastic smile” describes how he

engages in surface acting: a way to present the necessary

emotion to others even though his own feelings haven’t


Another common strategy for veterans, especially wounded

veterans who are frequently thanked for their service, is the use

of predetermined responses. Having a rolodex of appropriate

responses minimizes impromptu emotion work. Jackson, a

Marine Corps veteran who has visible injuries, says that hearing

TYFYS “just gets old” because he hears it so much. When I

asked him how he usually responds, he said:

[I will say] “. . . no, thank you.” Another one is like some

people [say] “thank you guys for what you do . . . you guys

made coming home so much easier and so much more

worth it.” So make them feel just as adequate in a way.

Jackson reveals the set of responses that he (and others)

normally give. These prepackaged responses increase the

efficiency of Jackson’s emotion work by creating sentiments

that acknowledge and reciprocate the gratitude—an intentional

move on Jackson’s part.

Several years after her Marine Corps service, Susan, an invisibly

injured veteran, has gained a new perspective on the TYFYS

issue. She is now able to see it from another point of view:

You get to finally a point—I finally went, you know, these


people are very sincere, and you’ve got to let them just say

the thing. Because they generally want to thank you. And

this is so not your experience. You don’t have to have it

with them. And then it became okay going, you know what,

they’re really caring, lovely people most of the time . . .

Susan describes taking away her own investment in these

interactions as a way to distance herself from constantly

engaging in emotion work whenever someone says “thank you.”

She understands the moment to be more about the other person

than herself. She also describes her engagement with deep

acting: working to change the way she truly feels about these

interactions; trying to bring her own emotions in line with

what’s expected.

For current servicemembers, veterans, and invisibly injured

veterans, these moments of invited gratitude from strangers

happen occasionally or in concentrated environments where

they know they may be thanked or approached. For visibly

injured veterans, these interactions happen every day. Visibly

injured veterans are disproportionately burdened with doing

the emotional work surrounding public gratitude because their

status as wounded veterans can’t be hidden or “taken off” like a

uniform. And their visible injury only amplifies feelings of

gratitude among the public, causing them to experience more

of these moments and interactions.


Thomas, an Army veteran with visible injuries, describes:

[Civilians] . . . they just all want to do the right things. And I

mean, to that person they have one chance to make a

difference to one person. But if it’s you, they’re the 100th

person today to say “thank you for your service.”

The cumulative effect of these interactions wears on Thomas

and other visibly injured veterans:

And what if everybody did that to me? Like, everywhere I

went, what if every single person thought they were doing

me a favor and said “thank you for your service.” I would

spend my whole life giving to other people. I could literally

go every five feet and just be doling out good feelings to

everybody. And I’m sorry, I’m an emotional bank account,

we’re all just emotional bank accounts.

Thomas’s comments clearly reveal how visibly injured veterans

can quickly become exhausted from the emotion work of

receiving TYFYS and other gestures of gratitude. What seems

like a small interaction in the moment is continually repeated

for wounded veterans like Thomas.

The treatment of U.S. veterans has significantly changed over

time, from the prosperous return of World War II veterans to

the protests and mistreatment of Vietnam veterans to the new

era of the all-volunteer force. It is important that as a nation, we

engage in a constant reflection process of how we treat our


veterans, from the largest of government programs to the

smallest interpersonal interactions. The well-meaning intent

behind TYFYS isn’t always received by post–9/11 veterans in the

same way.

Inevitably, after presenting these issues with TYFYS I get asked:

“well, what should we be doing?” This is both a prudent and

complicated question, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

We all have our own personal preferences of what is

meaningful to us based on our personality, life experiences, and

our thoughts. I’m not here to say that I have the answer, but I

have a couple suggestions based on my work with veterans:

1. Judge whether the military member or veteran seems
open to conversation with a stranger. You know how you
can tell whether the person next to you on a plane wants to
talk or wants to be left alone? The same should go for your
interactions with veterans, servicemembers, and wounded
veterans. Do they appear willing to engage with others (i.e.,
making eye contact or already engaging in a friendly
conversation with you), or do they look like they just want
to grab their coffee and go about their day? If the latter—let
them go about their day and reflect privately on your
gratitude for their willingness to lay their life on the line for
our freedom.

2. If you want to show your support for veterans, find a local
organization that helps veterans in your community. Do


your research, find out what organizations are doing to
serve veterans and improve their lives. Give your financial
support or your time (through volunteering).

3. Go beyond “thank you for your service.” Ask them why
they served, ask them when and where they served, ask
them what they most enjoyed about their service. Dig
deeper; cultivate gratitude for their service by learning
more about it.

Sidra Montgomery received her PhD in sociology in 2017 from the University of
Maryland–College Park. Her work focuses specifically on the military and veterans.
The piece appeared on March 21, 2017, on the Veterans Scholars Web site.


CHAPTER 18 Finding Evidence

In making and supporting claims for academic arguments,

writers use all kinds of evidence: data from journal articles;

scholarly books; historical 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. For example, arguing that government

officials in the twenty-first century 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 evidence 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 urban


College writers also need to consider the fields that they’re

working in. In disciplines such as experimental psychology or

economics, quantitative data—the sort that can be observed,

collected and counted—may be the best evidence. In many

historical, literary, or philosophical studies, however, the same

kind of data may be less appropriate or persuasive, or even

impossible to come by. As you become more familiar with a

discipline, you’ll gain a sense of what it takes to support a claim.

The following questions will help you understand the rhetorical

situation of a particular field:


In “Getting Personal about Cybersecurity,” Lindsay McKenzie cites
research from surveys as well as quotations by experts to
establish the difficulties of cybersecurity education on campus.

LINK TO McKenzie, “Getting Personal about Cybersecurity,” in
Chapter 26

What kinds of data are preferred as evidence? How are such
data gathered, tabulated, and verified?
How are definitions, causal analyses, evaluations,
analogies, and examples used as evidence?
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 credentials of authorities established? How are research
publications reviewed and research journals refereed?
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? Are other kinds of
media commonly used to present evidence?

As these questions suggest, evidence may not always travel well

from one field to another. Nor does it always travel easily from


culture to culture. Differing notions of evidence can lead to

arguments that go nowhere fast. For instance, when Italian

journalist Oriana Fallaci interviewed Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s

supreme leader, in 1979, she argued in a way that’s common in

North American and Western European cultures: 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



The need for evidence depends a lot on the rhetorical situation.


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 cultural
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).


Searching Effectively
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. In this chapter, we aim to point you

in the right direction for successful academic research.

Explore library resources: printed works and
Your college library has printed materials (books, periodicals,

reference works) as well as computers that provide access to its

electronic catalogs, other libraries’ catalogs, 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

materials, 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 a research 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; biographical resources;

almanacs, yearbooks, and atlases; book and periodical indexes;

specialized indexes and abstracts; the circulation computer or

library catalog; special collections; audio, video, and art

collections; and the interlibrary loan office, for requesting

materials not available at your own library.

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 particular

types or a specific number 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 newspapers and magazines: access to

them might require time and ingenuity. If you need to locate

other nonprint sources (such as audiotapes, videotapes,

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 understand the distinction between library

databases and the 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 may be your library’s catalog of its own

holdings (mostly books). But college libraries also pay to

subscribe to scholarly databases that you can use for free by

logging in through your school library—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 various compilations of statistics.

Though many of these Web and database resources may be

searchable through your own computer, consider exploring

them initially at your college library. That’s because these

professional databases aren’t always easy to use or intuitive: you

may need to learn to focus and narrow your searches (by date,

field, types of material, and so on) so that your results are

manageable and full of relevant items. That’s when librarians or

your instructor can help, so ask them for assistance. They

expect your questions.

Librarians may, for example, draw your attention to the

distinction between subject headings and keywords. The

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are standardized

words and phrases that are used to classify the subject matter of

books and articles. Library catalogs and databases routinely use

these subject headings to index their contents by author, title,

publication date, and subject headings. When you do a subject

search of the library’s catalog, you need to use the exact

wording of the subject 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 still 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 coverage with more

context and background information, look for reference

materials or 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 examine 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 site such as Wikipedia, the

free encyclopedia 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, particularly since anyone can edit and change the

content on a Wikipedia page. 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 of all of your sources! If you intend to

support a serious academic argument, remember to approach

the Web carefully and professionally.

Web search engines such as Google or Bing make searching for

material seem very easy—perhaps too easy. For an argument

about the fate of the antihero in contemporary films, for

example, typing in film and antihero produces far too many

possible matches, or hits. Some of those hits might be generic

and geared to current moviegoers rather than someone

thinking about an analytical essay. You could further narrow

the search by adding a third or fourth keyword—say, French or

current—or you could simply type in a specific question. Google

will always offer pages of links. But you need to be a critical

user too, pushing yourself well beyond any initial items you

turn up or using those sources to find more authoritative,

diverse, or academic materials.

Google does have resources to help you refine your results or

direct you to works better suited to academic research. When

you search for any term, you can click “Help” at the bottom of

the results page, which takes you to the Google Help Center.


Click on “Filter and refine your results” and then “Advanced

search,” which will bring more options to narrow your focus 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 direct you to

the type and quality of materials (scholarly journal articles,

academic books) that you probably need for a term paper or

professional project. And Google offers multimodal options as

well: it can help you find images, photographs, videos, blogs,

and so on. The lesson is simple. If your current Web searches

typically don’t go much beyond the first items a search engine

offers, you aren’t close to using all the power available to you.

Explore the search tools you routinely use and learn what they

can really do.

You should work just as deliberately with the academic

databases you may have access to in a library or online—such as

Academic Search Complete or Business Source Complete,

among many others. As noted earlier, searching these

professional tools often requires more deliberate choices and

specific combinations of search terms and keywords. In doing

such searches, you’ll need to observe the search logic followed

by the particular database—usually explained on a search page.

For example, using Boolean operators such as and between

keywords (movies and heroes) may indicate 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).

Most search engines offer many kinds of research tools like this “Advanced
Search” page from Google.


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


Understand the differences between academic and popular
Admit when you don’t know how to find material—you won’t be
Routinely ask for help from librarians and instructors.


Collecting Data on Your
Not all your supporting materials for an academic argument

must come from print or online sources. You can present

research that you have carried out yourself or been closely

involved with, often called field research; such research usually

requires that you collect and examine data. Here, we discuss the

kinds of firsthand research that student writers do most often.

Perform experiments
Academic arguments can be supported by evidence you gather

through experiments. In the sciences, data from experiments

conducted under rigorously controlled conditions is highly

valued. In other fields, more informal experiments may be

acceptable, especially if they’re intended to provide only part of

the support 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 convince or impress

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

contradictory, 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 student registration, which you

expect to argue is far too complicated. Or maybe you are

motivated to examine the interactions of a notoriously

contentious political group. Once you have a clear sense of what

you’ll analyze and what questions you’ll try to answer through

the observation, use the following guidelines to achieve the best



Make sure that the observation relates directly to your
Brainstorm about what you’re looking for, but don’t be
rigidly bound to your expectations.
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 how 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
If the location you want to focus on is not a public one (for
instance, an elementary school playground), ask for
permission to conduct your observation.

You may be asked to prepare systematic observations in various

science 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 or audio/video clips, for

example, might serve as academic arguments in some


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


Determine the exact purpose of the interview, and be sure
it’s directly related to your claim.
Set up the interview well in advance—preferably by a
written communication. (An email is more polite than a
text message.) Explain who you are, the purpose of the
interview, and what you expect to cover. Specify, too, how
much time it will 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. (Brainstorming 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 promising, 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.

Use questionnaires to conduct surveys
Surveys usually require the use of questionnaires distributed to

a number of people. Questions should be clear, easy to

understand, and designed so that respondents’ answers can be

easily analyzed. Questions 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 particularly 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, especially


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
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
demographics of your sample should be (for example, men
in their twenties 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. Avoid
open-ended questions, whose responses will be harder to
Think about possible ways that respondents could
misunderstand you or your questions, and revise with these
points in mind.
Test the questions in advance 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.
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.

Draw upon personal experience
Personal experience can serve as powerful 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 suffice 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


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 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 nervous 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, Atlantic, July/August 2014, p. 36

Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson, film’s primary advocate of Twee


1. The following general topic ideas once appeared on Yahoo!
Groups’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 books, journal articles,
encyclopedias, magazine pieces, and/or informational Web
sites. Be prepared to explain how the particular research
resources influenced your choice of a more specific subject


within the general subject area. Also consider what you might
have to do to turn your specific subject into a full-blown topic
proposal for a research paper assignment.

Abortion debate

Affirmative action

Civil rights

Community service and volunteerism

Confederate flag debate

Current events

Drunk driving


Food safety

Gender wars


Human rights

Immigration reform

Media ethics and accountability



Peace and nonviolence



Race relations


Road rage

Voluntary simplicity
2. Go to your school or local library’s online catalog page and

locate its list of research databases. You may find them
presented in various ways: by subject, by field, by academic
major, by type—even alphabetically. Try to identify three or
four databases that might be helpful to you either generally in
college or when working on a specific project, perhaps one you
identified in the previous exercise. Then explore the library
catalog to see how much you can learn about each of these
resources: What fields do they report on? What kinds of data do
they offer (newspaper articles, journal articles, historical
records)? How do they present the content of their materials
(by abstract, by full text)? What years do they cover? What
search strategies do they support (keyword, advanced search)?
To find such information, you might look for a help menu or an
“About” link on the catalog or database homepages. Write a
one-paragraph description of each database you explore and, if
possible, share your findings via a class discussion board or

3. What counts as evidence depends in large part on the
rhetorical situation. One audience might find personal
testimony compelling in a given case, whereas another might
require data that only experimental studies can provide.
Imagine that you want to argue that advertisements should not
include demeaning representations of chimpanzees and that
the use of primates in advertising should be banned. You’re


encouraged to find out that a number of companies such as
Honda and Puma have already agreed to such a ban, so you
decide to present your argument to other companies’ CEOs and
advertising officials. What kind of evidence would be most
compelling to this group? How would you rethink your use of
evidence if you were writing for the campus newspaper, for
middle-schoolers, or for animal-rights group members? What
can you learn about what sort of evidence each of these groups
might value—and why?

4. Finding evidence for an argument is often a discovery process.
Sometimes you’re concerned not only with digging up support
for an already established claim but also with creating and
revising tentative claims. Surveys and interviews can help you
figure out what to argue, as well as provide evidence for a

Interview a classmate with the goal of writing a brief proposal
argument about the career that he/she should pursue. The
claim should be something like My classmate should be doing X
five years from now. Limit yourself to ten questions. Write them
ahead of time, and don’t deviate from them. Record the results
of the interview (written notes are fine; you don’t need to tape
the interview). Then interview another classmate with the same
goal in mind. Ask the same first question, but this time let the
answer dictate the next nine questions. You still get only ten

Which interview gave you more information? Which one helped
you learn more about your classmate’s goals? Which one better
helped you develop claims about his/her future?


CHAPTER 19 Evaluating Sources

All the attention paid to “fake news” in our current political

culture only underscores the point of this chapter: the

effectiveness of an argument often depends on the quality of

the sources that support or prove it. It goes without saying then,

that you’ll need to carefully evaluate and assess all the sources

you use in your academic or professional work, including those

that you gather in libraries, from other print sources, in online

searches, or in your own field research.

Remember that different sources can contribute in different

ways to your work. In most cases, you’ll be looking for reliable

sources that provide accurate information or that clearly and

persuasively express opinions that might serve as evidence for a

case you’re making. At other times, you may be seeking

material that expresses ideas or attitudes—how people are

thinking and feeling at a given time. You might need to use a

graphic image, a sample of avant-garde music, or a

controversial YouTube clip that doesn’t fit neatly into categories


such as “reliable” or “accurate” yet is central to your argument.

With any and all such sources and evidence, your goals are to

be as knowledgeable about them and as responsible in their use

as you can be and to share honestly what you learn about them

with readers.

No writer wants to be naïve in the use of source material,

especially since most of the evidence that is used in arguments

on public issues—even material from influential and well-

known sources—comes with considerable baggage. Scientists

and humanists alike have axes to grind, corporations have

products to sell, politicians have issues to promote, journalists

have reputations to make, publishers and media companies

have readers, listeners, viewers, and advertisers to attract and

to avoid offending. All of these groups produce and use

information to their own benefit, and it’s not (usually) a bad


thing that they do so. You just have to be aware that when you

take information from a given source, it will almost inevitably

carry with it at least some of the preferences, assumptions, and

biases—conscious or not—of the people who produce and

disseminate it. Teachers and librarians are not exempted from

this caution: even when we make every effort to be clear and

comprehensive in reporting information, we cannot possibly

see that information from every angle. So even the most honest

and open observer can deliver only a partial account of an


It’s worth noting, however, that some sources—especially those

you might encounter on social media—have no other motive but

to deceive readers or to garner clicks that generate revenue.

Material this deliberately deceptive has no place in academic

work, unless you are looking for examples of manipulation,

deception, or exploitation. If you cite such materials, even

unwittingly, your research will be undermined and may be

discredited. (See the section on “crap detection” later in this


To correct for biases, draw on as many reliable sources as you

can handle when you’re preparing to write. Don’t assume that

all arguments are equally good or that all the sides in a

controversy can be supported by the same weight of evidence

and good reasons. But you want to avoid choosing sources so

selectively that you miss essential issues and perspectives.

That’s easy to do when you read only sources that agree with


you or when the sources that you read all seem to carry the

same message. In addition, make sure that you read each

source thoroughly enough that you understand its overall

points: national research conducted for the Citation Project

indicates that student writers often draw from the first

paragraph or page of a source and then simply drop it, without

seeing what the rest of the source has to say about the topic at

hand. Doing so could leave you with an incomplete or

inaccurate sense of what the source is saying.

Consider that sources may sometimes have motives for slanting or selecting the


Assessing Print Sources
Since you want information to be reliable and persuasive, it

pays to evaluate each potential source thoroughly. The

following principles can help you evaluate print materials:

Relevance. Begin by asking what a particular source will
add to your argument and how closely the source is related
to your argumentative claim. For a book, the table of
contents and the index may help you decide. For an article,
look for an abstract that summarizes its content. If you
can’t identify what the source will add to your research, set
it aside. You can almost certainly find something better.
Credentials of the author. Sometimes the author’s
credentials are set forth in an article, in a book, or on a Web
site, so be sure to look for them. Is the author an expert on
the topic? To find out, you can gather information about the
person on the Web easily enough—although you should
check and cross-check what you discover. Another way to
learn about the credibility of an author is to search Google
Groups for postings that mention the author or to check a
Citation Index to find out how other writers refer to this
author. (If necessary, ask a librarian for assistance.) If you
see your source mentioned by other sources you’re using,
look at how they cite it and what they say about it, which
could provide clues to the author’s credibility.
Stance of the author. What’s the author’s position on the
issue(s) involved, and how does this stance influence the
information in the source? Does the author’s stance support
or challenge your own views?


What stance does the Japanese American Citizens League
take on the issue of what terminology to use in describing the
experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II?

LINK TO Japanese American Citizens League, “The Power of
Words,” in Chapter 25

Credentials of the publisher or sponsor. If your source is
from a newspaper, is it a major one (such as the Wall Street
Journal or the Washington Post) that has historical
credentials in reporting, or is it a tabloid? Is it a popular
magazine like O: The Oprah Magazine or a journal
sponsored by a professional group, such as the Journal of
the American Medical Association? If your source is a book,
is the publisher one you recognize or that has its own Web
site? When you don’t know the reputation of a source, ask
several people with more expertise: a librarian, an
instructor, or a professional in the field.
Stance of the publisher or sponsor. Sometimes this stance
will be obvious: a magazine called Save the Planet! will take
a pro-environmental position, whereas one called America
First! will probably take a populist stance. But other times,
you need to read carefully between the lines to identify
particular positions and see how the stance affects the
message the source presents. Start by asking what the
source’s goals are: what does the publisher or sponsoring
group want to make happen?
Currency. Check the date of publication of every book and
article. Recent sources are often more useful than older


ones, particularly in the sciences. However, in some fields
(such as history and literature), the most authoritative
works may well be the older ones.
Accuracy. Check to see whether the author cites any
sources for the information or opinions in the article and, if
so, how credible and current they are.
Level of specialization. General sources can be helpful as
you begin your research, but later in the project you may
need the authority or currency of more focused sources.
Keep in mind that highly specialized works on your topic
may be difficult for your audience to understand.
Documentation. Purely academic sources, such as
scholarly journal articles, will contain thorough citations,
but you should also check that more popular sources you
use routinely identify their sources or provide verifiable
evidence for claims they make. In many Web sources,
documentation takes the form of links to the evidence
Audience. Was the source written for a general readership?
For specialists? For advocates or opponents?
Length. Is the source long enough to provide adequate
details in support of your claim?
Availability. Do you have access to the source? If it isn’t
readily accessible, your time might be better spent looking
Omissions. What’s missing or omitted from the source?
Might such exclusions affect whether or how you can use
the source as evidence?


Note the differences between the covers of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology,
an academic journal, and The How of Happiness, a book about psychology.


Assessing Electronic
You’ll probably find working with digital sources both exciting

and frustrating, for even though these tools (the Web, social

networks, Twitter, and so on) are enormously useful, they offer

information of widely varying quality—and mountains and

mountains of it. Yet there is no question that, for example,

Twitter feeds from our era will be the subject of future scholarly

analysis. Because Web sources are mostly open and

unregulated, careful researchers look for corroboration before

accepting factual claims they find online, especially if it comes

from a site whose sponsor’s identity is unclear.


Practicing Crap Detection
In online environments, you must be the judge of the accuracy

and trustworthiness of the electronic sources you encounter.

This is a problem all researchers face, and one that led media

critic Howard Rheingold to develop a system for detecting

“crap,” that is, “information tainted by ignorance, inept

communication, or deliberate deception.” To avoid such “crap,”

Rheingold recommends a method of triangulation, which

means finding three separate credible online sources that

corroborate the point you want to make. But how do you ensure

that these sources are credible? One tip Rheingold gives is to

use sites like FactCheck.org to verify information, or to use the

search term “whois” to find out about the author or sponsor of a



Consider the publisher’s credentials by comparing Deanna
Hartley’s article about employers looking at social media profiles,

Every man [and woman] should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating
inside him. —Ernest Hemingway, during a 1954 interview with Robert Manning

In making judgments about online sources, then, you need to

be especially mindful and to rely on the same criteria and

careful thinking that you use to assess print sources. You may

find the following additional questions helpful in evaluating

online sources:


published on Careerbuilder.com, with Scott O. Lilienfeld’s article
on the shortcomings of microaggressions, published in Aeon.com,
a not-for-profit registered charity.

LINK TO Hartley, “Creative Ways to Get Noticed by Employers on
Social Media,” in Chapter 26 and Lilienfeld, “Why a Moratorium on
Microaggressions Is Needed,” in Chapter 27

Who has posted the document or message or created the
site/medium? An individual? An interest group? A
company? A government agency? For Web sites, does the
URL offer any clues? Note especially the final suffix in a
domain name—.com (commercial), .org (nonprofit
organization), .edu (educational institution), .gov
(government agency), .mil (military), or .net (network).
Also note the geographical domains that indicate country of
origin—as in .ca (Canada), .ar (Argentina), or .ru (Russia).
Click on some links of a Web site to see if they lead to
legitimate and helpful sources or organizations.
What can you determine about the credibility of the author
or sponsor? Can the information in the document or site be
verified in other sources? How accurate and complete is it?
On a blog, for example, look for a link that identifies the
creator of the site (some blogs are managed by multiple
Who is accountable for the information in the document or
site? How thoroughly does it credit its sources? On a wiki,
for example, check its editorial policies: who can add to or
edit its materials?
How current is the document or site? Be especially cautious


of undated materials. Most reliable sites are refreshed or
edited regularly and should list the date.
What perspectives are represented? If only one perspective
is represented, how can you balance or expand this point of
view? Is it a straightforward presentation, or could it be a
parody or satire?


What are the kinds and levels of information available on these Web sites—a
commercial site about the TV show The Deadliest Catch (top) and an Alaska
Department of Fish and Game site on king crab (bottom)?


Assessing Field Research
If you’ve conducted experiments, surveys, interviews,

observations, or any other field research in developing and

supporting an argument, make sure to review your results with

a critical eye. The following questions can help you evaluate

your own field research:

Have you rechecked all data and all conclusions to make
sure they’re accurate and warranted?
Have you identified the exact time, place, and participants
in all your field research?
Have you made clear what part you played in the research
and how, if at all, your role could have influenced the
results or findings?
If your research involved other people, have you gotten
their permission to use their words or other materials in
your argument? Have you asked whether you can use their
names or whether the names should be kept confidential?
If your research involved interviews, have you thanked the
person or persons you interviewed and asked them to verify
the words you have attributed to them?


1. The chapter claims that “most of the evidence that is used in
arguments on public issues . . . comes with considerable
baggage.” Find an article in a journal, newspaper, or magazine
that uses evidence to support a claim of some public interest. It
might be a piece about new treatments for malaria, Internet


privacy, dietary recommendations for schoolchildren,
proposals for air-quality regulation, the rise in numbers of
campus sexual assaults, and so on. Identify several specific
pieces of evidence, information, or data presented in the article
and then evaluate the degree to which you would accept, trust,
or believe those statements. Be prepared to explain specifically
why you would be inclined to trust or mistrust any claims
based on the data.

2. Check out Goodreads (you can set up an account for free) and
see what people there are recommending—or search for
“common reading programs” or “common reading lists.” Then
choose one of the recommended books, preferably a work of
nonfiction, and analyze it by using as many of the principles of
evaluation for printed books listed in this chapter as you can
without actually reading the book: Who is the author, and what
are his/her credentials? Who is the publisher, and what is its
reputation? What can you find out about the book’s relevance
and popularity: Why might the book be on the list? Who is the
primary audience for the book? How lengthy is it? How
difficult? Finally, consider how likely it is that the book you
have selected would be used in an academic paper. If you do
choose a work of fiction, might the work be studied in a
literature course?

3. Choose a news or information Web site that you visit routinely.
Then, using the guidelines discussed in this chapter, spend
some time evaluating its credibility. You might begin by
comparing it with Google News or Arts & Letters Daily, two sites
that have a reputation for being reliable—though not
necessarily unbiased.

4. On Web sites or social media, find several items that purport to
offer information or news, but lead readers into a tangle of ads,


photos, commentary, and other clickbait. You’ve seen the
teases: Most Unfriendly Cities in the US! The video Hillary
Clinton doesn’t want you to watch! Is this the smartest kitten
ever? Analyze the strategies items like these use to attract
readers and the quality of information they offer. Are such
items merely irksome or do they seriously diminish online
communication and social media?


CHAPTER 20 Using Sources

You may gather an impressive amount of evidence on your

topic—from firsthand interviews, from careful observations,

and from intensive library and online research. But until that

evidence is thoroughly understood and then woven into the

fabric of your own argument, it’s just a stack of details. You still

have to turn that data into credible information that will be

persuasive to your intended audiences.


Practicing Infotention
Today it’s a truism to say that we are all drowning in

information, that it is dousing us like water from a fire hose.

Such a situation has advantages: it’s never been easier to locate

information on any imaginable topic. But it also has distinct

disadvantages: how do you identify useful and credible sources

among the millions available to you, and how do you use them

well once you’ve found them? We addressed the first of these

questions in Chapter 18, “Finding Evidence.” But finding

trustworthy sources is only the first step. Experts on technology

and information like professors Richard Lanham and Howard

Rheingold point to the next challenge: managing attention.

Lanham points out that our age of information calls on us to

resist the allure of every single thing vying for our attention and

to discriminate among what deserves notice and what doesn’t.

Building on this insight, Rheingold has coined the term “

infotention,” which he says “is a word I came up with to

describe a mind-machine combination of brain-powered

attention skills and computer-powered information filters”

(Howard Rheingold, “Infotention,” http://www.rheingold.com).

Practicing infotention calls for synthesizing and thinking

critically about the enormous amount of information available

to us from the “collective intelligence” of the Web. And while

some of us can learn to be mindful while multitasking (a fighter

pilot is an example Rheingold gives of those who must learn to

do so), most of us are not good at it and need to train ourselves,


literally, to pay attention to attention (and intention as well), to

be aware of what we are doing and thinking, to take a deep

breath and notice where we are directing our focus. In short,

writers today need to learn to focus their attention, especially

online, and learn to avoid distractions. So just how do you put

all these skills together to practice infotention?


Building a Critical Mass
Throughout the chapters in Part 4, “Research and Arguments,”

we’ve stressed the need to discover as much evidence as

possible in support of your claim and to read and understand it

as thoroughly as you can. If you can find only one or two pieces

of evidence—only one or two reasons or illustrations to back up

your thesis—then you may be on unsteady ground. Although

there’s no definite way of saying just how much evidence is

enough, you should build toward a critical mass by having

several pieces of evidence all pulling in the direction of your

claim. Begin by putting Rheingold’s triangulation into practice:

find at least three credible sources that support your point.

And remember that circumstantial evidence (that is, indirect

evidence that suggests that something occurred but doesn’t

prove it directly) may not be enough if it is the only evidence

that you have. In the infamous case of Jack the Ripper, the

murderer who plagued London’s East End in 1888, nothing but

circumstantial evidence ever surfaced and hence no one was

charged with or convicted of the crimes. In 2007, however,

amateur detective Russell Edwards bought a shawl at auction—a

shawl found at one of the murder sites. After consulting with a

number of scientific experts and using DNA evidence, Edwards

identified Jack the Ripper as Aaron Kosminski, who eventually

died in an asylum.

If your support for a claim relies solely on circumstantial


evidence, on personal experience, or on one major example,

you should extend your search for additional sources and good

reasons to back up your claim—or modify the argument. Your

initial position may simply have been wrong.


Synthesizing Information
As you gather information, you must find a way to make all the

facts, ideas, points of view, and quotations you have

encountered work with and for you. The process involves not

only reading information and recording data carefully (paying

“infotention”), but also pondering and synthesizing it—that is,

figuring out how the sources you’ve examined come together to

support your specific claims. Synthesis, a form of critical

thinking highly valued by academia, business, industry, and

other institutions—especially those that reward innovation and

creative thinking—is hard work. It almost always involves

immersing yourself in your information or data until it feels

familiar and natural to you.

At that point, you can begin to look for patterns, themes, and

commonalities or striking differences among your sources.

Many students use highlighters to help with this process: mark

in blue all the parts of sources that mention point A; mark in

green those that have to do with issue B; and so on. You are

looking for connections among your sources, bringing together

what they have to say about your topic in ways you can organize

to help support the claim you are making.

You typically begin this process by paraphrasing or

summarizing sources so that you understand exactly what they

offer and which ideas are essential to your project. You also

decide which, if any, sources offer materials you want to quote


directly or reproduce (such as an important graph or table).

Then you work to introduce such borrowed materials so that

readers grasp their significance, and organize them to highlight

important relationships. Throughout this review process, use

“infotention” strategies by asking questions such as the


Which sources help to set the context for your argument? In
particular, which items present new information or give
audiences an incentive for reading your work?
Which items provide background information that is
essential for anyone trying to understand your argument?
Which items help to define, clarify, or explain key concepts
of your case? How can these sources be presented or
sequenced so that readers appreciate your claims as valid
or, at a minimum, reasonable?
Which of your sources might be used to illustrate technical
or difficult aspects of your subject? Would it be best to
summarize such technical information to make it more
accessible, or would direct quotations be more
authoritative and convincing?
Which sources (or passages within sources) furnish the best
support or evidence for each claim or sub-claim within
your argument? Now is the time to group these together so
you can decide how to arrange them most effectively.
Which materials do the best job outlining conflicts or
offering counterarguments to claims within a project?
Which sources might help you address any important
objections or rebuttals?


D.K., the author of “Shooting Guns: It’s Rather Fun, Actually,”
presents a strong narrative explaining the appeal of shooting,
while at the same time synthesizing information on gun fatalities
and the financial influence of the National Rifle Association.

LINK TO D.K., “Shooting Guns: It’s Rather Fun, Actually,” in
Chapter 23

Remember that yours should be the dominant and controlling

voice in an argument. You are like the conductor of an

orchestra, calling upon separate instruments to work together

to create a rich and coherent sound. The least effective

academic papers are those that mechanically walk through a

string of sources—often just one item per paragraph—without

ever getting all these authorities to talk to each other or with the

author. Such papers go through the motions but don’t get

anywhere. You can do better.

Paraphrasing Sources You Will
Use Extensively
In a paraphrase, you put an author’s ideas—including major

and minor points—into your own words and sentence

structures, following the order the author has given them in the

original piece. You usually paraphrase sources that you expect

to use heavily in a project. But if you compose your notes well,

you may be able to use much of the paraphrased material

directly in your paper (with proper citation) because all of the


language is your own. A competent paraphrase proves you have

read material or data carefully: you demonstrate not only that

you know what a source contains but also that you appreciate

what it means. There’s an important difference.

Backing up your claims with well-chosen sources makes almost any argument
more credible.

Here are guidelines to help you paraphrase accurately and

effectively in an academic argument:

Identify the source of the paraphrase, and comment on its
significance or the authority of its author.
Respect your sources. When paraphrasing an entire work


or any lengthy section of it, cover all its main points and
any essential details, following the same order the author
uses. If you distort the shape of the material, your notes will
be less valuable, especially if you return to them later, and
you may end up misconstruing what the source is saying.
If you’re paraphrasing material that extends over more
than one page in the original source, note the placement of
page breaks since it is highly likely that you will use only
part of the paraphrase in your argument. For a print
source, you will need the page number to cite the specific
page of material you want to use.
Make sure that the paraphrase is in your own words and
sentence structures. If you want to include especially
memorable or powerful language from the original source,
enclose it in quotation marks. See Using Quotations
Selectively and Strategically in Chapter 20.
Keep your own comments, elaborations, or reactions
separate from the paraphrase itself. Your report on the
source should be clear, objective, and free of connotative
Collect all the information necessary to create an in-text
citation as well as an item in your works cited list or
references list. For online materials, be sure to record the
URL so you know how to recover the source later.
Label the paraphrase with a note suggesting where and how
you intend to use it in your argument.
Recheck to make sure that the words and sentence
structures are your own and that they express the author’s
meaning accurately.


Here is a passage from linguist David Crystal’s book Language

Play, followed by a student’s paraphrase of the passage.

Language play, the arguments suggest, will help the

development of pronunciation ability through its focus

on the properties of sounds and sound contrasts, such as

rhyming. Playing with word endings and decoding the

syntax of riddles will help the acquisition of grammar.

Readiness to play with words and names, to exchange

puns and to engage in nonsense talk, promotes links with

semantic development. The kinds of dialogue interaction

illustrated above are likely to have consequences for the

development of conversational skills. And language play,

by its nature, also contributes greatly to what in recent

years has been called metalinguistic awareness, which is

turning out to be of critical importance to the

development of language skills in general and literacy

skills in particular (180).

Paraphrase of the Passage from
Crystal’s Book

In Language Play, David Crystal argues that

playing with language—creating rhymes,

figuring out riddles, making puns, playing

with names, using inverted words, and so on—

helps children figure out a great deal, from

the basics of pronunciation and grammar to


In her article about how one evangelical church is embracing gay
rights, Nicole Pasulka summarizes the recent evolution of legal,
political, and social perspectives on gay marriage.

LINK TO Pasulka, “How a Bible-Belt Evangelical Church Embraced
Gay Rights,” in Chapter 23

how to carry on a conversation. This kind of

play allows children to understand the

overall concept of how language works, a

concept that is key to learning to use—and

read—language effectively (180).

Note how the student clearly identifies the title and author of

the source in the opening line of her paraphrase, and how she

restates the passage’s main ideas without copying the exact

words or phrasing of the original passage.

Summarizing Sources

Unlike a paraphrase, a summary records just the gist of a

source or a key idea—that is, only enough information to

identify a point you want to emphasize. Once again, this much-

shortened version of a source puts any borrowed ideas into your

own words. At the research stage, summaries help you identify

key points you want to make or key points your sources are

making that you want to refute and, just as important, provide a

record of what you have read. In a project itself, a summary


helps readers understand the sources you are using.

Here are some guidelines to help you prepare accurate and

helpful summaries:

Identify the thesis or main point in a source and make it the
heart of your summary. In a few detailed phrases or
sentences, explain to yourself (and readers) what the
source accomplishes.
When using a summary in an argument, identify the
source, state its point, and add your own comments about
why the material is significant for the argument that you’re
Include just enough information to recount the main points
you want to cite. A summary is usually much shorter than
the original. When you need more information or specific
details, you can return to the source itself or prepare a
Use your own words in a summary and keep the language
objective and denotative. If you include any language from
the original source, enclose it in quotation marks.
Collect all the information necessary to create an in-text
citation as well as an item in your works cited list or
references list. For online sources without page numbers,
record the paragraph, screen, or section number(s) if
Label the summary with a note that suggests where and
how you intend to use it in your argument. If your summary
includes a comment on the source (as it might in the
summaries used for annotated bibliographies), be sure that


you won’t later confuse your comments with what the
source itself asserts.
Recheck the summary to make sure that you’ve captured
the author’s meaning accurately and that the wording is
entirely your own.

Following is a summary of the David Crystal passage on page


In Language Play, David Crystal argues that

playing with language helps children figure

out how language works, a concept that is

key to learning to use—and read—language

effectively (180).

Notice that the summary is shorter and—relatedly—less detailed

than the paraphrase shown in the section Paraphrasing Sources

You Will Use Extensively. The paraphrase gives several

examples to explain what “language play” is, while the

summary sticks to the main point of the passage.

Using Quotations Selectively and
To support your argumentative claims, you’ll want to quote

(that is, to reproduce an author’s precise words) in at least three

kinds of situations:

1. when the wording expresses a point so well that you cannot
improve it or shorten it without weakening it,


2. when the author is a respected authority whose opinion
supports your own ideas powerfully, and/or

3. when an author or authority challenges or seriously
disagrees with others in the field.

Consider, too, that charts, graphs, and images may also

function like direct quotations, providing convincing visual

evidence for your academic argument.

In an argument, quotations from respected authorities will

establish your ethos as someone who has sought out experts in

the field. Just as important sometimes, direct quotations (such

as a memorable phrase in your introduction or a detailed

eyewitness account) may capture your readers’ attention.

Finally, carefully chosen quotations can broaden the appeal of

your argument by drawing on emotion as well as logic,

appealing to the reader’s mind and heart. A student who is

writing on the ethical issues of bullfighting, for example, might

introduce an argument that bullfighting is not a sport by

quoting Ernest Hemingway’s comment that “the formal bull-

fight is a tragedy, not a sport, and the bull is certain to be killed”

and then accompany the quotation with an image such as the

one above.


A tragedy, not a sport?

The following guidelines can help you quote sources accurately

and effectively:

Quote or reproduce materials that readers will find
especially convincing, purposeful, and interesting. You
should have a specific reason for every quotation.
Don’t forget the double quotation marks [“ ”] that must
surround a direct quotation in American usage. If there’s a
quote within a quote, it is surrounded by a pair of single
quotation marks [‘ ’]. British usage does just the opposite,


and foreign languages often handle direct quotations much
When using a quotation in your argument, introduce its
author(s) and follow the quotation with commentary of
your own that points out its significance.
Keep quoted material relatively brief. Quote only as much
of a passage as is necessary to make your point while still
accurately representing what the source actually said.
If the quotation extends over more than one page in the
original source, note the placement of page breaks in case
you decide to use only part of the quotation in your
In your notes, label a quotation you intend to use with a
note that tells you where you think you’ll use it.
Make sure you have all the information necessary to create
an in-text citation as well as an item in your works cited list
or references list.
Copy quotations carefully, reproducing the punctuation,
capitalization, and spelling exactly as they are in the
original. If possible, copy the quotation from a reliable text
and paste it directly into your project.
Make sure that quoted phrases, sentences, or passages fit
smoothly into your own language. Consider where to begin
the quotation to make it work effectively within its
surroundings or modify the words you write to work with
the quoted material.
Use square brackets if you introduce words of your own
into the quotation or make changes to it (“And [more] brain
research isn’t going to define further the matter of ‘mind’”).
Use ellipsis marks if you omit material (“And brain


research isn’t going to define . . . the matter of ‘mind’”).
If you’re quoting a short passage (four lines or fewer in
MLA style; forty words or fewer in APA style), it should be
worked into your text, enclosed by quotation marks. Longer
quotations should be set off from the regular text. Begin
such a quotation on a new line, indenting every line a half
inch or five to seven spaces. Set-off quotations do not need
to be enclosed in quotation marks.
Never distort your sources or present them out of context
when you quote from them. Misusing sources is a major
offense in academic arguments.

Framing Materials You Borrow
with Signal Words and
Because source materials are crucial to the success of


arguments, you need to introduce borrowed words and ideas

carefully to your readers. Doing so usually calls for using a

signal phrase of some kind in the sentence to introduce or

frame the source. Often, a signal phrase will precede a

quotation. But you need such a marker whenever you introduce

borrowed material, as in the following examples:

According to noted primatologist Jane

Goodall , the more we learn about the nature

of nonhuman animals, the more ethical

questions we face about their use in the

service of humans.

The more we learn about the nature of

nonhuman animals, the more ethical questions

we face about their use in the service of

humans, according to noted primatologist

Jane Goodall.

The more we learn about the nature of

nonhuman animals, according to noted

primatologist Jane Goodall , the more ethical

questions we face about their use in the

service of humans.

In each of these sentences, the signal phrase tells readers that

you’re drawing on the work of a person named Jane Goodall and

that this person is a “noted primatologist.”


Now look at an example that uses a quotation from a source in

more than one sentence:

In Job Shift, consultant William Bridges

worries about “dejobbing and about what a

future shaped by it is going to be like.”

Even more worrisome, Bridges argues , is the

possibility that “the sense of craft and of

professional vocation . . . will break down

under the need to earn a fee” (228).

The signal verbs worries and argues add a sense of urgency to

the message Bridges offers. They also suggest that the writer

either agrees with—or is neutral about—Bridges’s points. Other

signal verbs can have a more negative slant, indicating that the

point being introduced by the quotation is open to debate and

that others (including the writer) might disagree with it. If the

writer of the passage above had said, for instance, that Bridges

unreasonably contends or that he fantasizes, these signal verbs

would carry quite different connotations from those associated

with argues.

In some cases, a signal verb may require more complex

phrasing to get the writer’s full meaning across:

Bridges recognizes the dangers of changes in

work yet refuses to be overcome by them :

“The real issue is not how to stop the

change but how to provide the necessary


knowledge and skills to equip people to

operate successfully in this New World”


As these examples illustrate, the signal verb is important

because it allows you to characterize the author’s or source’s

viewpoint as well as your own—so choose these verbs with care.

Some Frequently Used Signal Verbs
acknowledges claims emphasizes remarks

admits concludes expresses replies

advises concurs hypothesizes reports

agrees confirms interprets responds

allows criticizes lists reveals

argues declares objects states

asserts disagrees observes suggests

believes discusses offers thinks

charges disputes opposes writes

Note that in APA style, these signal verbs should be in a past

tense: Blau (1992) claimed; Clark (2018) has concluded.

Using Sources to Clarify and
Support Your Own Argument
The best academic arguments often have the flavor of a hearty

but focused intellectual conversation. Scholars and scientists

create this impression by handling research materials

strategically and selectively. Here’s how some college writers


use sources to achieve their own specific goals within an

academic argument.

Establish context
Michael Hiltzik, whose article “Don’t Believe Facebook: The

Demise of the Written Word Is Very Far Off” appears in Chapter

8, sets the context for his argument when, at the end of his first

paragraph, he paraphrases the claim of Facebook executive

Nicola Mendelsohn: “In five years, she told a Fortune

conference in London, her platform will probably be ‘all video,’

and the written word will be essentially dead.” Then he uses a

second paragraph to go into greater detail because

Mendelsohn’s view represents precisely the notion he intends

to contest:

“I just think if we look already, we’re

seeing a year-on-year decline on text,” she

said. “If I was having a bet, I would say:

video, video, video.” That’s because “the

best way to tell stories in this world,

where so much information is coming at us,

actually is video. It conveys so much more

information in a much quicker period. So

actually the trend helps us to digest much

more information.”

Only then does Hiltzik present his thesis—and it is short and

sweet: “This is, of course, exactly wrong.” As they say, game on.


Readers clearly know what’s at stake in the article and perhaps

what evidence to expect from the paragraphs to follow (see

Don’t Believe Facebook: The Demise of the Written Word Is

Very Far Off in Chapter 8.)

When using Web sources such as blogs, take special care to check authors’
backgrounds and credentials.

Review the literature on a subject
You will often need to tell readers what authorities have already

written about your topic, thus connecting them to your own

argument. So, in a paper on the effectiveness of peer editing,

Susan Wilcox does a very brief “review of the literature” on her

subject, pointing to three authorities who support using the

method in writing courses. She quotes from the authors and


also puts some of their ideas in her own words:

Bostock cites one advantage of peer review

as “giving a sense of ownership of the

assessment process” (1). Topping expands

this view, stating that “peer assessment

also involves increased time on task:

thinking, comparing, contrasting, and

communicating” (254). The extra time spent

thinking over the assignment, especially in

terms of helping someone else, can draw in

the reviewer and lend greater importance to

taking the process seriously, especially

since the reviewer knows that the classmate

is relying on his advice. This also adds an

extra layer of accountability for the

student; his hard work—or lack thereof—will

be seen by peers, not just the instructor.

Cassidy notes , “[S]tudents work harder with

the knowledge that they will be assessed by

their peers” (509): perhaps the knowledge

that peer review is coming leads to a

better-quality draft to begin with.

The paragraph is straightforward and useful, giving readers an

efficient overview of the subject. If they want more

information, they can find it by consulting Wilcox’s works cited



Introduce a term or define a concept
Quite often in an academic argument, you may need to define a

term or explain a concept. Relying on a source may make your

job easier and enhance your credibility. That is what Laura

Pena achieves in the following paragraph, drawing upon two

authorities to explain what teachers mean by a “rubric” when it

comes to grading student work:

To understand the controversy surrounding

rubrics, it is best to know what a rubric

is. According to Heidi Andrade, a professor

at SUNY-Albany , a rubric can be defined as

“a document that lists criteria and

describes varying levels of quality, from

excellent to poor, for a specific

assignment” (“Self-Assessment” 61).

Traditionally, rubrics have been used

primarily as grading and evaluation tools

(Kohn 12) , meaning that a rubric was not

used until after students handed their

papers in to their teacher. The teacher

would then use a rubric to evaluate the

students’ papers according to the criteria

listed on the rubric.

Note that the first source provides the core definition while

information from the second offers a detail important to

understanding when and how rubrics are used—a major issue in


Pena’s paper. Her selection of sources here serves her thesis

while also providing readers with necessary information.

Present technical material
Sources can be especially helpful, too, when material becomes

technical or difficult to understand. Writing on your own, you

might lack the confidence to handle the complexities of some

subjects. While you should challenge yourself to learn a subject

well enough to explain it in your own words, there will be times

when a quotation from an expert serves both you and your

readers. Here is Natalie San Luis dealing with some of the

technical differences between mainstream and Black English:

The grammatical rules of mainstream English

are more concrete than those of Black

English; high school students can’t check

out an MLA handbook on Ebonics from their

school library. As with all dialects,

though, there are certain characteristics of

the language that most Black English

scholars agree upon. According to Samy Alim,

author of Roc the Mic Right, these

characteristics are the “[h]abitual be

[which] indicates actions that are

continuing or ongoing. . . . Copula absence.

. . . Stressed been. . . . Gon [indicating]

the future tense. . . . They for possessive.

. . . Postvocalic r. . . . [and] Ank and ang


for ‘ink’ and ‘ing’” (115). Other scholars

have identified “[a]bsence of third-person

singular present-tense s. . . . Absence of

possessive ’s,” repetition of pronouns, and

double negatives (Rickford 111-24).

Note that using ellipses enables San Luis to cover a great deal of

ground. Readers not familiar with linguistic terms may have

trouble following the quotation, but remember that academic

arguments often address audiences comfortable with some

degree of complexity.

Develop or support a claim
Even academic audiences expect to be convinced, and one of

the most important strategies for a writer is to use sources to

amplify or support a claim.

Here is Manasi Deshpande in a student essay making a specific

claim about disability accommodations on her campus:

“Although the University has made a concerted and continuing

effort to improve access, students and faculty with physical

disabilities still suffer from discriminatory hardship, unequal

opportunity to succeed, and lack of independence.” Now watch

how she weaves sources together in the following paragraph to

help support that claim:

The current state of campus accessibility

leaves substantial 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 comply 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.”

Highlight differences or counterarguments
The sources you encounter in developing a project won’t always

agree with each other or you. In academic arguments, you don’t

want to hide such differences, but instead point them out

honestly and let readers make judgments based upon actual

claims. Here is a paragraph in which Laura Pena again presents

two views on the use of rubrics as grading tools:

Some naysayers, such as Alfie Kohn , assert

that “any form of assessment that encourages

students to keep asking, ‘How am I doing?’

is likely to change how they look at

themselves and what they’re learning,

usually for the worse.” Kohn cites a study

that found that students who pay too much

attention to the quality of their

performance are more likely to chalk up the

outcome of an assignment to factors beyond


their control, such as innate ability, and

are also more likely to give up quickly in

the face of a difficult task (14). However,

Ross and Rolheiser have found that when

students are taught how to properly

implement self-assessment tools in the

writing process, they are more likely to put

more effort and persistence into completing

a difficult assignment and may develop

higher self-confidence in their writing

ability (sec. 2). Building self-confidence

in elementary-age writers can be extremely

helpful when they tackle more complicated

writing endeavors in the future.

In describing Kohn as a “naysayer,” Pena may tip her hand and

lose some degree of objectivity. But her thesis has already

signaled her support for rubrics as a grading tool, so academic

readers will probably not find the connotations of the term


These examples suggest only a few of the ways that sources,

either summarized or quoted directly, can be incorporated into

an academic argument to support or enhance a writer’s goals.

Like these writers, you should think of sources as your partners

in developing and expressing ideas. But you are still in charge.

Avoiding “Patchwriting”

When using sources in an argument, writers—and especially

those new to research-based writing—may be tempted to do

what Professor Rebecca Moore Howard terms “ patchwriting”:

stitching together material from Web or other sources without

properly paraphrasing or summarizing and with little or no

documentation. Here, for example, is a patchwork paragraph

about the dangers wind turbines pose to wildlife:

Scientists are discovering that technology

with low carbon impact does not mean low

environmental or social impacts. That is the

case especially with wind turbines, whose

long, massive fiberglass blades have been

chopping up tens of thousands of birds that

fly into them, including golden eagles, red-

tailed hawks, burrowing owls, and other

raptors in California. Turbines are also

killing bats in great numbers. The 420 wind

turbines now in use across Pennsylvania

killed more than 10,000 bats last year—

mostly in the late summer months, according

to the State Game Commission. That’s an

average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and

the Nature Conservancy predicts as many as

2,900 turbines will be set up across the

state by 2030. It’s not the spinning blades

that kill the bats; instead, their lungs

effectively blow up from the rapid pressure


drop that occurs as air flows over the

turbine blades. But there’s hope we may

figure out solutions to these problems

because, since we haven’t had too many wind

turbines heretofore in the country, we are

learning how to manage this new technology

as we go.

The paragraph reads well and is full of details. But it would be

considered plagiarized (see Chapter 21) because it fails to

identify its sources and because most of the material has simply

been lifted directly from the Web. How much is actually copied?

We’ve highlighted the borrowed material:

Scientists are discovering that technology

with low carbon impact does not mean low

environmental or social impacts . That is the

case especially with wind turbines, whose

long, massive fiberglass blades have been

chopping up tens of thousands of birds that

fly into them, including golden eagles, red-

tailed hawks, burrowing owls, and other

raptors in California . Turbines are also

killing bats in great numbers. The 420 wind

turbines now in use across Pennsylvania

killed more than 10,000 bats last year—

mostly in the late summer months, according

to the State Game Commission. That’s an


average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and

the Nature Conservancy predicts as many as

2,900 turbines will be set up across the

state by 2030. It’s not the spinning blades

that kill the bats; instead, their lungs

effectively blow up from the rapid pressure

drop that occurs as air flows over the

turbine blades. But there’s hope we may

figure out solutions to these problems

because, since we haven’t had too many wind

turbines heretofore in the country, we are

learning how to manage this new technology

as we go .

But here’s the point: an academic writer who has gone to the

trouble of finding so much information will gain more credit

and credibility just by properly identifying, paraphrasing, and

quoting the sources used. The resulting paragraph is actually

more impressive because it demonstrates how much reading

and synthesizing the writer has actually done:

Scientists like George Ledec of the World

Bank are discovering that technology with

low carbon impact “does not mean low

environmental or social impacts” (Tracy) .

That is the case especially with wind

turbines. Their massive blades spinning to

create pollution-free electricity are also


killing thousands of valuable birds of prey,

including eagles, hawks, and owls in

California (Rittier) . Turbines are also

killing bats in great numbers (Thibodeaux) .

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that

10,000 bats a year are killed by the 420

turbines currently in Pennsylvania.

According to the state game commissioner,

“That’s an average of 25 bats per turbine

per year, and the Nature Conservancy

predicts as many as 2,900 turbines will be

set up across the state by 2030”

(Schwartzel) . It’s not the spinning blades

that kill the animals; instead, Discovery

News explains, “the bats’ lungs effectively

blow up from the rapid pressure drop that

occurs as air flows over the turbine blades”

(Marshall) . But there’s hope that

scientists can develop turbines less

dangerous to animals of all kinds. “We

haven’t had too many wind turbines

heretofore in the country,” David

Cottingham of the Fish and Wildlife Service

points out, “so we are learning about it as

we go” (Tracy) .

Works Cited

Marshall, Jessica. “Wind Turbines Kill Bats without


Impact.” Discovery News, 25 Aug. 2008,

Rittier, John. “Wind Turbines Taking Toll on Birds of
Prey.” USA Today, 4 Jan. 2005,

Schwartzel, Erich. “Pa. Wind Turbines Deadly to Bats,
Costly to Farmers.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 17
July 2011, www.post-

Thibodeaux, Julie. “Collateral Damage: Bats Getting
Caught in Texas Wind Turbines.” GreenSourceDFW, 31
Oct. 2011,

Tracy, Ryan. “Wildlife Slows Wind Power.” The Wall
Street Journal, 10 Dec. 2011,


1. Select one of the essays from Chapters 8–12 or 17. Following
the guidelines in this chapter, write a paraphrase of the essay
that you might use subsequently in an academic argument. Be
careful to describe the essay accurately and to note on what
pages specific ideas or claims are located. The language of the
paraphrase should be entirely your own—though you may
include direct quotations of phrases, sentences, or longer


passages you would likely use in a paper. Be sure these
quotations are introduced and cited in your paraphrase: Hiltzik
leaves no doubt that he rejects Mendelsohn’s claim: “This is, of
course, exactly wrong” (193). When you are done, trade your
paraphrase with a partner to get feedback on its clarity and

2. Summarize three readings or fairly lengthy passages from Parts
1–3 of this book, following the guidelines in this chapter. Open
the item with a correct MLA or APA citation for the piece (see
Chapter 22). Then provide the summary itself. Follow up with a
one- or two-sentence evaluation of the work describing its
potential value as a source in an academic argument. In effect,
you will be preparing three items that might appear in an
annotated bibliography. Here’s an example:

Hiltzik, Michael. “Don’t Believe

Facebook: The Demise of the Written

Word Is Very Far Off.” Everything’s an

Argument, by Andrea A. Lunsford and

John J. Ruszkiewicz, 8th ed., Bedford,

2019, pp. 193–96. Argues that those

who believe that video will soon

supplant print as the primary vehicle

for news are primarily marketers who

underestimate the efficiency and

precision of print. The journalistic

piece cites studies and provides

arguments that suggest print is far

from dead.


3. Working with a partner, agree upon an essay that you will both
read from Chapters 8–12 or 17, examining it as a potential
source for a research argument. As you read it, choose about a
half-dozen words, phrases, or short passages that you would
likely quote if you used the essay in a paper and attach a frame
or signal phrase to each quotation. Then compare the passages
you selected to quote with those your partner culled from the
same essay. How do your choices of quoted material create an
image or ethos for the original author that differs from the one
your partner has created? How do the signal phrases shape a
reader’s sense of the author’s position? Which set of quotations
best represents the author’s argument? Why?

4. Select one of the essays from Chapters 8–12 or 17 to examine
the different ways an author uses source materials to support
claims. Begin by highlighting the signal phrases you find
attached to borrowed ideas or direct quotations. How well do
they introduce or frame this material? Then categorize the
various ways the author actually uses particular sources. For
example, look for sources that provide context for the topic,
review the scholarly literature, define key concepts or terms,
explain technical details, furnish evidence, or lay out contrary
opinions. When you are done, write a paragraph assessing the
author’s handling of sources in the piece. Are the borrowed
materials integrated well with the author’s own thoughts? Do
the sources represent an effective synthesis of ideas?


CHAPTER 21 Plagiarism and Academic

In many ways, “nothing new under the sun” is more than just a

cliché. Most of what you think or write is built on what you’ve

previously read or experienced or learned from others. Luckily,

you’ll seldom be called on to list every influence on your life.

But you do have responsibilities in school and professional

situations to acknowledge any intellectual property you’ve made

use of when you create arguments of your own. If you don’t,

you may be accused of plagiarism—claiming as your own the

words, research, or creative work of others.

What is intellectual property? It’s complicated. But, for

academic arguments in Western culture, it is the expression of

ideas you find in works produced by others that you then use to

advance and support your own claims. You have to document

not only when you use or reproduce someone’s exact words,

images, music, or other creations (in whole or in part), but also

when you borrow the framework others use to put ideas


together in original or creative ways. Needless to say,

intellectual property rights have always been contentious, but

never more so than today, when digital media make it

remarkably easy to duplicate and distribute all sorts of

materials. Accustomed to uploading and downloading files,

cutting and pasting passages, you may be comfortable working

with texts day-to-day in ways that are considered inappropriate,

or even dishonest, in school. You may, for example, have

patched together sources without putting them in your own

words or documenting them fully, practices that will often be

seen as plagiarism (see Avoiding “Patchwriting” in Chapter 20).

So it is essential that you read and understand any policies on

academic integrity that your school has set down. In particular,

pay attention to how those policies define, prosecute, and

punish cheating, plagiarism, and collusion. Some institutions


recognize a difference between intentional and unintentional

plagiarism, but you don’t want the honesty of anything you

write to be questioned. You need to learn the rules and

understand that the penalties for plagiarism are severe not only

for students but for professional writers as well.

But don’t panic! Many student writers today are so confused or

worried about plagiarism that they shy away from using sources

—or end up with a citation for almost every sentence in an

essay. There’s no reason to go to such extremes. As a

conscientious researcher and writer, you simply need to give

your best effort in letting readers know what sources you have

used. Being careful in such matters will have a big payoff: when

you give full credit to your sources, you enhance your ethos in

academic arguments—which is why “Academic Integrity”

appears in this chapter’s title. Audiences will applaud you for

saying thanks to those who’ve helped you. Crediting your

sources also proves that you have done your homework: you

demonstrate that you understand what others have written

about the topic and encourage others to join the intellectual

conversation. Finally, citing sources reminds you to think

critically about how to use the evidence you’ve collected. Is it

timely and reliable? Have you referenced authorities in a biased

or overly selective way? Have you double-checked all quotations

and paraphrases? Thinking through such questions helps to

guarantee the integrity of your academic work.


Proper acknowledgment of sources is crucial in academic writing.
Check out C. Richard King’s extensive references for an example of
how to do it right.

LINK TO King, “Redskins: Insult and Brand,” in Chapter 23

Giving Credit

The basic principles for documenting materials are relatively

simple. Give credit to all source materials you borrow by

following these three steps: (1) placing quotation marks around

any words you quote directly, (2) citing your sources according

to the documentation style you’re using, and (3) identifying all

the sources you have cited in a list of references or works cited.

Materials to be cited in an academic argument include all of the


direct quotations
facts that are not widely known
arguable statements
judgments, opinions, and claims that have been made by
images, statistics, charts, tables, graphs, or other
illustrations that appear in any source
collaboration—that is, the help provided by friends,
colleagues, instructors, supervisors, or others

However, three important types of evidence or source material


do not need to be acknowledged or documented. They are the


1. Common knowledge, which is a specific piece of
information most readers in your intended audience will
know (that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential
election in the Electoral College, for instance).

2. Facts available from a wide variety of sources (that humans
walked on the Moon for the first time on July 20, 1969, for
example). If, for instance, you search for a piece of
information and find the same information on dozens of
different reputable Web sites, you can be pretty sure it is
common knowledge.

3. Your own findings from field research (observations,
interviews, experiments, or surveys you have conducted),
which should be clearly presented as your own

For the actual forms to use when documenting sources, see

Chapter 22.

Of course, the devil is in the details. For instance, you may be

accused of plagiarism in situations like the following:

if you don’t indicate clearly the source of an idea you
obviously didn’t come up with on your own
if you use a paraphrase that’s too close to the original
wording or sentence structure of your source material
(even if you cite the source)
if you leave out the parenthetical in-text reference for a
quotation (even if you include the quotation marks



And the accusation can be made even if you didn’t intend to


But what about all the sampling and mashups you see all the

time in popular culture and social media? And don’t some

artistic and scholarly works come close to being “mashups”?

Yes and no. It’s certainly fair to say, for example, that

Shakespeare’s plays “mash up” a lot of material from

Holinshed’s Chronicles, which he used without

acknowledgment. But it’s also true that Shakespeare’s works are

“transformative”—that is, they are made new by Shakespeare’s

art. Current copyright law protects such works that qualify as

transformative and exempts them from copyright violations.

But the issues swirling around sampling, mashups, and other

creative uses of prior materials (print and online) are far from

clear, and far from over. Perhaps Jeff Shaw (in a posting that

asks, “Is Mashup Music Protected by Fair Use?”) sums up the

current situation best:

Lest we forget, the purpose of copyright law is to help

content creators and to enhance creative expression. Fair

use is an important step toward those ends, and further

legislative work could solidify the step forward that fair

use represents.

—Jeff Shaw, “Is Mashup Music Protected by Fair Use?”


An infographic from groups supporting “Fair Use Week” defends the importance
of the fair use principle.


The “Fair Use Week” infographic, continued.


Getting Permission for
and Using Copyrighted
Internet Sources
When you gather information from Internet sources and use it

in your own work, it’s subject to the same rules that govern

information gathered from other types of sources.

A growing number of online works, including books,

photographs, music, and video, are published under the

Creative Commons license, which often eliminates the need to

request permission. These works—marked with a Creative

Commons license—are made available to the public under this

alternative to copyright, which grants permission to reuse or

remix work under certain terms if credit is given to the work’s


Even if the material does not include a copyright notice or

symbol (“© 2019 by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J.

Ruszkiewicz,” for example), it’s likely to be protected by

copyright laws, and you may need to request permission to use

part or all of it. “Fair use” legal precedents allow writers to

quote brief passages from published works without permission

from the copyright holder if the use is for educational or

personal, noncommercial reasons and if full credit is given to

the source. For blog postings or any serious professional uses


(especially online), however, you should ask permission of the

copyright holder before you include any of his/her ideas, text,

or images in your own argument.

If you do need to make a request for permission, here is an


From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

CC: [email protected]

Subject: Request for permission

Dear Professor Litman:

I am writing to request permission to quote from your

essay “Copyright, Owners’ Rights and Users’ Privileges on

the Internet: Implied Licenses, Caching, Linking, Fair

Use, and Sign-on Licenses.” I want to quote some of your

work as part of an article I am writing for the Stanford

Daily to explain the complex debates over ownership on

the Internet and to argue that students at my school

should be participating in these debates. I will give full

credit to you and will cite the URL where I first found

your work (msen.com/~litman/dayton.htm).

Thank you very much for considering my request.


Raul Sanchez


Acknowledging Your
Sources Accurately and
While artists, lawyers, and institutions like the film and music

industries sort out fair use laws, the bottom line in your

academic work is clear: document sources accurately and fully

and do not be careless about this very important procedure.

Here, for example, is the first paragraph from a print essay by

Russell Platt published in the Nation:

Classical music in America, we are frequently told, is in

its death throes: its orchestras bled dry by expensive

guest soloists and greedy musicians’ unions, its media

presence shrinking, its prestige diminished, its

educational role ignored, its big record labels dying out

or merging into faceless corporate entities. We seem to

have too many well-trained musicians in need of work,

too many good composers going without commissions,

too many concerts to offer an already satiated public.

—Russell Platt, “New World Symphony”

To cite this passage correctly in MLA documentation style, you

could quote directly from it, using both quotation marks and

some form of note identifying the author or source. Either of


the following versions would be acceptable:

Russell Platt has doubts about claims that

classical music is “in its death throes: its

orchestras bled dry by expensive guest

soloists and greedy musicians unions” (“New


But is classical music in the United States

really “in its death throes,” as some

critics of the music scene suggest (Platt)?

You might also paraphrase Platt’s paragraph, putting his ideas

entirely in your own words but still giving him due credit by

ending your remarks with a simple in-text note:

A familiar story told by critics is that

classical music faces a bleak future in the

United States, with grasping soloists and

unions bankrupting orchestras and classical

works vanishing from radio and television,

school curricula, and the labels of

recording conglomerates. The public may not

be willing to support all the talented

musicians and composers we have today


All of these sentences with citations would be keyed to a works

cited entry at the end of the paper that would look like the


following in MLA style:

Platt, Russell. “New World Symphony.” The
Nation, 15 Sept. 2005,

How might a citation go wrong? As we indicated, omitting either

the quotation marks around a borrowed passage or an

acknowledgment of the source is grounds for complaint.

Neither of the following sentences provides enough

information for a correct citation:

But is classical music in the United States

really in its death throes, as some critics

of the music scene suggest, with its

prestige diminished, its educational role

ignored, and its big record labels dying


But is classical music in the United States

really in “its death throes,” as some

critics of the music scene suggest, with

“its prestige diminished, its educational

role ignored, [and] its big record labels


Just as faulty is a paraphrase such as the following, which

borrows the words or ideas of the source too closely. It


represents plagiarism, despite the fact that it identifies the

source from which almost all the ideas—and a good many words

—are borrowed:

In “New World Symphony,” Russell Platt

observes that classical music is thought by

many to be in bad shape in America. Its

orchestras are being sucked dry by costly

guest artists and insatiable unionized

musicians, while its place on TV and radio

is shrinking. The problem may be that we

have too many well-trained musicians who

need employment, too many good composers

going without jobs, too many concerts for a

public that prefers The Real Housewives of


Even the fresh idea not taken from Platt at the end of the

paragraph doesn’t alter the fact that the paraphrase is mostly a

mix of Platt’s original words, lightly stirred.


Writers generally acknowledge all participants in collaborative

projects at the beginning of the presentation, report, or essay.

In print texts, the acknowledgment is often placed in a footnote

or brief prefatory note.

The eighth edition of the MLA Handbook (2016) calls attention

to the shifting landscape of collaborative work, noting that

Today academic work can take many forms other than

the research paper. Scholars produce presentations,

videos, and interactive Web projects, among other kinds

of work . . . but the aims will remain the same: providing

the information that enables a curious reader, viewer, or

other user to track down your sources and giving credit

to those whose work influenced yours.


1. Define plagiarism in your own terms, making your definition as
clear and explicit as possible. Then compare your definition
with those of two or three other classmates, and write a brief
report on the similarities and differences you noted in the
definitions. You might research terms such as plagiarism,
academic honesty, and academic integrity on the Web. Also be
certain to check how your own school defines the words.


2. Spend fifteen or twenty minutes jotting down your ideas about
intellectual property and plagiarism. File sharing of music and
illegally downloading movies used to be a big deal. Is it
simpler/better now just to subscribe to Netflix and Apple
Music? Do you agree that forms of intellectual property—like
music and films—need to be protected under copyright law?
How do you define your own intellectual property, and in what
ways and under what conditions are you willing to share it?

3. Come up with your own definition of academic integrity, based
on what you have observed yourself and other students doing
in high school, in college, and, perhaps, on the job. Think about
the consequences, for example, of borrowing materials and
ideas from each other in a study group or while working on a
collaborative project.

4. Not everyone agrees that intellectual material is property that
should be protected. The slogan “information wants to be free”
has been showing up in popular magazines and on the Internet
for a long time, often with a call to readers to take action
against protection such as data encryption and further
extension of copyright.
Using a Web search engine, look for pages where the phrase

“information wants to be free” or “free information” appears.

Find several sites that make arguments in favor of free

information, and analyze them in terms of their rhetorical

appeals. What claims do the authors make? How do they

appeal to their audience? What’s the site’s ethos, and how is it

created? After you’ve read some arguments in favor of free

information, return to this chapter’s arguments about

intellectual property. Which arguments do you find most

persuasive? Why?


5. Although this book is concerned principally with ideas and their
written expression, other forms of intellectual property are also
legally protected. For example, scientific and technological
developments are protectable under patent law, which differs
in some significant ways from copyright law (see the “Fair Use
Fundamentals” infographic in this chapter).
Find the standards for protection under U.S. copyright law and

U.S. patent law. You might begin by visiting the U.S. copyright

Web site (copyright.gov). Then imagine that you’re the

president of a small high-tech corporation and are trying to

inform your employees of the legal protections available to

them and their work. Write a paragraph or two explaining the

differences between copyright and patent, and suggest a policy

that balances employees’ rights to intellectual property with

the business’s needs to develop new products.


CHAPTER 22 Documenting Sources

What does documenting sources have to do with argument?

First, the sources that a writer chooses become part of any

argument, showing that he/she has done some research, knows

what others have said about the topic, and understands how to

use these items as support for a claim. Similarly, the list of

works cited or references makes a statement, saying, “Look at

how thoroughly this essay has been researched” or “Note how

up-to-date I am!”

Writers working in digital spaces sometimes simply add

hotlinks so that their readers can find their sources. If you are

writing a multimodal essay that will appear on the Web, such

links will be appreciated. But for now, college assignments

generally call for full documentation rather than simply a link.

You’ll find the information you need to create in-text citations

and works cited/references lists in this chapter.

Documentation styles vary from discipline to discipline, with

one format favored in the social sciences and another in the


natural sciences, for example. Your instructor will probably

assign a documentation style for you to follow. If not, you can

use one of the two covered in this chapter. But note that even

the choice of documentation style makes an argument in a

subtle way. You’ll note in the instructions that follow, for

example, that the Modern Language Association (MLA) style

requires putting the date of publication of a print source at or

near the end of a works cited list entry, whereas the American

Psychological Association (APA) style places that date near the

beginning of a references list citation. Such positioning suggests

that in MLA style, the author and title are of greater importance

than the date for humanities scholars, while APA puts a priority

on the date—and timeliness—of sources. Pay attention to such

fine points of documentation style, always asking what these

choices suggest about the values of scholars and researchers

who use a particular system of documentation.


MLA Style
Widely used in the humanities, the latest version of MLA style—

described in the MLA Handbook (8th edition, 2016)—has been

revised significantly “for the digital age.” If you have used MLA

style in the past, you’ll want to check the models here closely

and note the differences. Below, we provide guidelines drawn

from the MLA Handbook for in-text citations, notes, and entries

in the list of works cited.

In-Text Citations
MLA style calls for in-text citations in the body of an argument

to document sources of quotations, paraphrases, summaries,

and so on. For in-text citations, use a signal phrase to introduce

the material, often with the author’s name (As Geneva

Smitherman explains, . . .). Keep an in-text citation short, but

include enough information for readers to locate the source in

the list of works cited. Place the parenthetical citation as near to

the relevant material as possible without disrupting the flow of

the sentence, as in the following examples.

1. Author Named in a Signal Phrase
Ordinarily, use the author’s name in a signal phrase to

introduce the material, and cite the page number(s) in


Ravitch chronicles how the focus in

education reform has shifted toward


privatizing school management rather than

toward improving curriculum, teacher

training, or funding (36).

2. Author Named in Parentheses
When you don’t mention the author in a signal phrase, include

the author’s last name before the page number(s) in the

parentheses. The name and page number are not separated by a


Oil from shale in the western states, if it

could be extracted, would be equivalent to

six hundred billion barrels, more than all

the crude so far produced in the world

(McPhee 413).

3. Two Authors
Use both authors’ last names.

Gortner and Nicolson maintain that “opinion

leaders” influence other people in an

organization because they are respected, not

because they hold high positions (175).

4. Three or More Authors
When there are three or more authors, brevity (and the MLA)

suggests you use the first author’s name with et al. (in regular

type, not italicized).


Similarly, as Goldberger et al. note, their

new book builds on their collaborative

experiences to inform their description of

how women develop cognitively (xii).

5. Organization as Author
Give the full name of a corporate author if it’s brief or a

shortened form if it’s long.

Many global economists assert that the term

“developing countries” is no longer a useful

designation, as it ignores such countries’

rapid economic growth (Gates Foundation


6. Unknown Author
Use the complete title of the work if it’s brief or a shortened

form if it’s long.

“Hype,” by one analysis, is “an artificially

engendered atmosphere of hysteria” (“Today’s

Marketplace” 51).

7. Author of Two or More Works
When you use two or more works by the same author, include

the title of the work or a shortened version of it in the citation.

Gardner presents readers with their own

silliness through his description of a


“pointless, ridiculous monster, crouched in

the shadows, stinking of dead men, murdered

children, and martyred cows” (Grendel 2).

8. Authors with the Same Last Name
When you use works by two or more authors with the same last

name, include each author’s first initial in the in-text citation.

Public health officials agree that the

potential environmental risk caused by

indoor residual spraying is far lower than

the potential risk of death caused by

malaria-carrying mosquitoes (S. Dillon 76).

9. Multivolume Work
Note the volume number first and then the page number(s),

with a colon and one space between them.

Aristotle’s “On Plants” is now available in

a new translation edited by Barnes (2:


10. Literary Work
Because literary works are often available in many different

editions, you need to include enough information for readers to

locate the passage in any edition. For a prose work such as a

novel or play, first cite the page number from the edition you

used, followed by a semicolon; then indicate the part or chapter

number (114; ch. 3) or act or scene in a play (42; sc. 2).


In Ben Jonson’s Volpone, the miserly title

character addresses his treasure as “dear

saint” and “the best of things” (1447; act


For a poem, cite the stanza and line numbers. If the poem has

only line numbers, use the word line(s) in the first reference

(lines 33–34) and the number(s) alone in subsequent references.

On dying, Whitman speculates, “All that goes

onward and outward, nothing collapses, / And

to die is different from what any one

supposed, and luckier” (6.129-30).

For a verse play, omit the page number, and give only the act,

scene, and line numbers, separated by periods.

Before he takes his own life, Othello says

he is “one that loved not wisely but too

well” (5.2.348).

As Macbeth begins, the witches greet Banquo

as “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater”


11. Works in an Anthology
For an essay, short story, or other short work within an

anthology, use the name of the author of the work, not the

editor of the anthology; but use the page number(s) from the



In the end, if the black artist accepts any

duties at all, that duty is to express the

beauty of blackness (Hughes 1271).

12. Sacred Text
To cite a sacred text, such as the Qur’an or the Bible, give the

title of the edition you used, the book, and the chapter and verse

(or their equivalent), separated by a period. In your text, spell

out the names of books. In a parenthetical reference, use an

abbreviation for books with names of five or more letters (for

example, Gen. for Genesis).

He ignored the admonition “Pride goes before

destruction, and a haughty spirit before a

fall” (New Oxford Annotated Bible, Prov.


13. Indirect Source
Use the abbreviation qtd. in to indicate that what you’re quoting

or paraphrasing is quoted (as part of a conversation, interview,

letter, or excerpt) in the source you’re using.

As Catherine Belsey states, “to speak is to

have access to the language which defines,

delimits and locates power” (qtd. in Bartels



14. Two or More Sources in the Same
Separate the information for each source with a semicolon.

Adefunmi was able to patch up the subsequent

holes left in worship by substituting

various Yoruba, Dahomean, or Fon customs

made available to him through research

(Brandon 115-17; Hunt 27).

15. Entire Work or One-Page Article
Include the citation in the text without any page numbers or


Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel Never Let

Me Go explores questions of identity and


16. Nonprint or Electronic Source
Give enough information in a signal phrase or parenthetical

citation for readers to locate the source in the list of works

cited. Usually give the author or title under which you list the

source. If the work isn’t numbered by page but has numbered

sections, parts, or paragraphs, include the name and number(s)

of the section(s) you’re citing. (For paragraphs, use the

abbreviation par. or pars.; for section, use sec.; for part, use pt.)

In his film version of Hamlet, Zeffirelli

highlights the sexual tension between the


prince and his mother.

Zora Neale Hurston is one of the great

anthropologists of the twentieth century,

according to Kip Hinton (par. 2).

Describing children’s language acquisition,

Pinker explains that “what’s innate about

language is just a way of paying attention

to parental speech” (qtd. in Johnson, sec.


17. Visual Included in the Text
Number all figures (photos, drawings, cartoons, maps, graphs,

and charts) and tables separately.

This trend is illustrated in a chart

distributed by the College Board as part of

its 2014 analysis of aggregate SAT data (see

fig. 1).

Include a caption with enough information about the source to

direct readers to the works cited entry. (For an example of an

image that a student created, see the Sample First Page from an

Essay in MLA Format in this chapter.)

Explanatory and Bibliographic


We recommend using explanatory notes for information or

commentary that doesn’t readily fit into your text but is needed

for clarification, further explanation, or justification. In

addition, bibliographic notes will allow you to cite several

sources for one point and to offer thanks to, information about,

or evaluation of a source. Use a superscript number in your text

at the end of a sentence to refer readers to the notes, which

usually appear as endnotes (with the heading Notes, not

underlined or italicized) on a separate page before the list of

works cited. Indent the first line of each note five spaces, and

double-space all entries.

Text with Superscript Indicating a Note

Stewart emphasizes the existence of social

contacts in Hawthorne’s life so that the

audience will accept a different Hawthorne,

one more attuned to modern times than the

figure in Woodberry.


Woodberry does, however, show that

Hawthorne was often unsociable. He

emphasizes the seclusion of Hawthorne’s

mother, who separated herself from her

family after the death of her husband, often

even taking meals alone (28). Woodberry

seems to imply that Mrs. Hawthorne’s




isolation rubbed off on her son.

List of Works Cited
A list of works cited is an alphabetical listing of the sources you

cite in your essay. The list appears on a separate page at the end

of your argument, after any notes, with the heading Works

Cited centered an inch from the top of the page; don’t underline

or italicize it or enclose it in quotation marks. Double-space

between the heading and the first entry, and double-space the

entire list. (If you’re asked to list everything you’ve read as

background—not just the sources you cite—call the list Works

Consulted.) The first line of each entry should align on the left;

subsequent lines indent one-half inch or five spaces. See

Sample List of Works Cited for an Essay in MLA Format.

Print Books
The basic information for a book includes three elements, each

followed by a period:

the author’s name, last name first (for a book with multiple
authors, only the first author’s name is inverted)
the title and subtitle, italicized
the publication information, including the publisher’s
name (such as Harvard UP) followed by a comma, and the
publication date

1. One Author

Larsen, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of


the Lusitania. Crown Publishers, 2015.

2. Two or More Authors

Jacobson, Sid, and Ernie Colón. The 9/11
Report: A Graphic Adaptation. Farrar, Straus,
and Giroux, 2006.

3. Organization as Author

American Horticultural Society. The Fully
Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual of
Practical Techniques. DK, 1999.

4. Unknown Author

National Geographic Atlas of the World.
National Geographic, 2004.

5. Two or More Books by the Same Author
List the works alphabetically by title. Use three hyphens for the

author’s name for the second and subsequent works by that


Lorde, Audre. A Burst of Light. Firebrand
Books, 1988.

—. Sister Outsider. Crossings Press, 1984.

6. Editor


Rorty, Amelie Oksenberg, editor. Essays on
Aristotle’s Poetics. Princeton UP, 1992.

7. Author and Editor

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Edited by
Frank Kermode, Routledge, 1994.

8. Selection in an Anthology or Chapter in an Edited
List the author(s) of the selection or chapter; its title; the title of

the book in which the selection or chapter appears; edited by

and the name(s) of the editor(s); the publication information;

and the inclusive page numbers of the selection or chapter.

Brown, Paul. “‘This thing of darkness I
acknowledge mine’: The Tempest and the
Discourse of Colonialism.” Political
Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism,
edited by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan
Sinfield, Cornell UP, 1985, pp. 48