When you are looking to persuade others, you may have to rely on the quality of your written arguments in the form of an argumentative essay. Now, if you’re a student, this is probably something you’re seasoned to, however, even if you are not in an academic setting, opportunities like researching and writing reports are places for you to practice and excel at this skill.
I’ve put together a list of 5 tips you should consider when looking to write argumentative essays to help you make both robust but also respectful arguments.
Many of these points were inspired by “A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston” so make sure to read the full version of that book. I’ve wrote a snappy “A Rulebook for Arguments: Summary” if you want to get a quick overview of it!
1. Jump right in!
Don’t beat around the bush when trying to make your points. Make it clear what you are going to talk about and lay out your arguments as simply as they will allow. As they say, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
Take these examples:
“For centuries, people have searched far and wide, turned over every stone, and engaged on deep thought to understand what makes one most happy”
“In this essay, I am going to show you how the best things in life are free”
The first example isn’t entirely clear when reading it what it is about. Most people will be skimming anyway, you need to make it clear what you are talking about so the key points don’t go over others heads.
It’s important to remember, however, that this shouldn’t be used in all types of writing. If the purpose of your writing is to entertain with creative flair, then the first example is much more suitable. But, if you are looking to persuade others, you first need to attract their attention and short but impactful sentences will do just that.
2. Avoid being too vague
A degree of specificity is important when looking to influence others and change their ways of thinking.
Look at these examples:
The roads feel way to dangerous, something needs to be done!
The roads feel way to dangerous, too many people are injured by people on their phones, I suggest that cell phones are banned whilst driving and this is how we can do it…
The first example – whilst a perfectly reasonable statement to be made if you are concerned – isn’t enough to be persuasive. The term “something needs to be done” will go amiss by most people. By offering specific demands you can give other people something to debate, and even if your option isn’t selected, it should have hopefully pushed you closer to the correct ideas.
3. Detail any possible objections and meet them
You should try to identify any possible objections which may arise and then rework them into your argument. This will make your essay more persuasive and attest that you have not only thought deeply about your side of the argument, but other opposing sides too.
Be careful not to playdown the other objections and to make them feel insignificant. If you have read my 10 Debating Fallacies You Need to Avoid and How to Avoid them article, you would understand the concept of “straw manning” and the damage it can cause to others arguments. Avoid doing this, instead present the opposing argument in the best possible light.
Take these examples:
Someone might object to my free school equipment programme. The problem isn’t my programme but them, they are uninformed and just don’t understand the complexity of the problem!
Some may object to free school equipment. I believe the concern partly lies in the fact that indeed the high levels of expenditure required could be used for more pressing matters – we are in-fact running very close to a deficit. However, this scheme can solve both problems. It won’t only enable other students to have access to equipment to help their learning but it is also expected to reduce the number of failed exams they take – something which costs us lots of money!
The first example not only undermines the argument, but also the person making the argument. It drags down discourse and instead of making others more willing to listen, it does the opposite.
The second example takes a more appropriate approach and presents presents the opposing argument in a respectful light. It aims to find common ground and then explains how adopting the new approach won’t only solve the problem the individual wants to solve, but how it can solve the problems everybody else faces too.
4. Seek feedback constantly
Although your arguments may seem obvious to you, other readers like your audience may not fully understand what you are talking about.
Writers at all levels need feedback. Through the eyes of others you will be able to see where your points are hasty, unclear, or unfair.
Ask for feedback, get others to read it and ask them to give you their honest opinions. This feedback won’t only let you improve the clarity of your arguments, but it will also improve its substance too. Through testing your arguments early on, you can improve your logic and ensure that the points are valid. Objections will make you think about and rework areas you may have thought are obvious.
5. Modesty is important
Even if you have the most convincing and obvious argument, try to exercise modesty. Don’t be condescending and make others feel bad – after all, you are writing to convince others, not punish them. Build your audience up instead of breaking them down and feel insignificant.
You need to remember that not everybody may have had the opportunity or access to the education or knowledge you have gained. Guide your audience through your argument slowly – whilst a smart person might make you feel stupid, a genius will teach you whilst making you feel smart at the same time.
If you liked the points made here, make sure to check out my “A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston: Summary” to see why debating is important, and how to do it properly – I’d also recommend purchasing the book too!