Tag Archives: writing

The fundamentals of persuasion surely date back in their most rudimentary forms to our prehistoric ancestors. The capacity for speech introduced, of course, certain necessary refinements. Yet, argumentation wasn’t universally recognized as an art until the philosophers got ahold of it. Aristotle astutely classified three modes of persuasion in his classic text, On Rhetoric; his classical analysis corresponds surprisingly well with our modern models of argumentation. In other words, we can find ethos, pathos, and logos used in both evidence and warrants to support claims.   ETHOS Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds… Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech was so spoken as to make us think him credible… Ethos describes an appeal to authority or credibility. The authority of the presenter obviously lends to the persuasive power of his or her argument, but ethos can also…

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As Monty Python cleverly conveyed, an argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition. The Toulmin Model of Argumentation refers to that proposition as a claim. Some of the subsequent statements are, of course, evidence meant to prove the claim. However, other statements are required to interpret the evidence and show how it supports the claim. These statements are called warrants. Warrants, also called bridges, are essential yet often overlooked elements of effective arguments. Without warrants, the links between evidence and claims may appear tenuous at best: CLAIM: The New York Yankees are the best baseball team ever. EVIDENCE: The Yankees have won 27 World Series. This example of a classic sports argument highlights how even solid statistical evidence lacks persuasive power without a clear bridge between data and claim: WARRANT: 27 World Series wins are far more than any other team in baseball history…

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No matter what your parents thought, “Because I said so,” doesn’t make for a valid argument, though it may be a persuasive one. A claim, no matter how forcefully asserted, demands evidence. In fact, the more absolute the claim, the more compelling the evidence must be. Otherwise, all you have is an assertion. Evidence, often referred to as grounds or data, turns an unsupported assertion into a persuasive argument. Evidence makes a claim true or valid. Fortunately for those of us who like to make grand claims, evidence can be found everywhere.   FACTUAL Facts are certainly persuasive… who can argue with hard data or cold reality? All of history, science, and art lie waiting to support the right claims. Quantitative data can be especially compelling, as well as malleable. But avoid depending entirely on factual evidence; a truly effective argument appeals not only to the head but also to…

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The classic argument—meaning the persuasive framework of statements and evidence as opposed to the kind where you argue with some jerk in the street over a parking spot that was clearly yours—often comes across as a tangle of premises and conclusions, syllogisms and fallacies. These rhetorical constructs often obscure the fundamentals of just getting a point across. Fortunately, British philosopher and educator Stephen Edelston Toulmin offered a simple way to describe the elements of arguments. Touliman’s model distills a practical argument down to three essentials: claims, evidence, and warrants. Every argument must start with a claim. Call it a proposition, position, or hypothesis, but the claim is a definitive statement that underlies the thesis of the argument and demands support.   “Summer is the best season of the year.”   This claim, free of qualifiers or exceptions, stakes a strong but surely disputable position. This is important, because any claim…

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Almost a decade ago, the creators of both the SAT and ACT introduced essays to their previously pristine multiple-choice exams. Each organization charted a different course, differing in what the essays are written on, how long students have to write, and, perhaps most importantly, whether students are even required to write the essay. Considering that the College Board is moving towards a longer optional essay, it’s fair to say the ACT model won that particular competition. That said, one more aspect of the ACT essay infrastructure deserves recognition and further consideration from that other testing authority. While both organizations assign students 2-12 essay scores through a similar grading process, ACT provides additional context for performance in the form of stock essay comments. These essay comments, derived from the ACT scoring rubric, are selected by one of the two essay readers for inclusion on the student score report. Code numbers corresponding…

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