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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Be Perry Mason, in five simple steps.

The ability to effectively construct an argument is essential to many different tasks. A writer or speaker must know how to construct a sound argument in order to be successful. Customer service, teaching, sales, or even waiting on tables can all benefit from the skills of argumentation.

I was taught five steps to an effective argument. These have nothing to do with the actual delivery of an argument, such as speaking or writing the argument. These steps take the audience of your argument from one position, either support or opposition, to the opposing position. In some ways, you can effectively argue a subject before an audience that knows little of the subject matter and convince them, through your preparation and systematic approach, to support your point of view.

Houston, we have a problem.
The first step in any argument is conflict. Tastes great or less filling. Peanuts or plain. Mounds or almond joy. Conflicting ideas are essential to creating an argument. Otherwise, everyone would agree and there would be no need to argue. What fun would that be?

You should first establish that a problem exists. This is the point of your argument where definitions are presented. Let there be no ambiguity about the meaning of terms or variables. Define the terms in a manner that is supportive of your final position. Use statistics sparingly. Use the rule of three: Three facts in support of each point. Statistics should be, at most, one of the three facts to support your point.

I just cleaned up this place!
It is not enough to establish the existence of your problem. The next step of your argument is to prove that the problem will continue unabated. Who cares if there are too many unemployed computer programmers? Will it continue, or more importantly, will this problem get worse? Why would anyone be spurred to action if a problem won’t continue? Any opposition to your position will attack this portion of your argument with the tenacity of a cockroach.

I always over prepared myself with statistics and facts for this part of my argument. I would rarely use more than one or two in the initial presentation of my position. I found joy in tearing my opponent apart with fact after fact after fact when they had the gall to pick on this portion of my argument.

Of course, I have a plan. I always have a plan.
Once you have firmly established the existence of your problem and the continuity of the problem, you must now present a solution. This is the longest and most detailed part of any argument.

Each part of your plan is referred to as a plank. Think of a plank as a board in a deck. You have to have a complete plan, else there would be holes in the floor and your argument wouldn’t hold any weight. Each plank has to be supported by documentation, either examples or statistics. Remember, anybody can come up with statistics to back their argument. In fact, 67% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

Yeah, but can we get dental with that?
Here’s where you point out all of the benefits of your argument. Whether it’s decreasing global warming or reducing the number of mismatched socks, everyone needs a little bright spot in their lives. Never underestimate your argument’s contribution to society. Pick a particular plank of your plan an exhaust the possibilities of how that plank can improve the problem.

I once heard an argument that by decreasing the number of people who smoke tobacco, war could be averted. The argument followed a simple logic that went something like this: smoking causes diseases, which increase medical costs, which increases insurance costs, which increases the cost of living, which increases poverty, which increases the deficit spending, which leads to war. Avoiding war is a great reason to decrease the number of smokers. After all, who really wants war?

A similar advertisement campaign was launched after 9/11, which compared buying drugs to supporting terrorists. I believe the ad was aimed less at drug users than to convince people to inform on drug users.

Because you weren’t really paying attention . . .
The last part of any argument is the summary. Here’s were you get your chance to play a highlight reel of your best points. They’ve heard it all before, so you can skip being really detailed. If you use an outline, this would be the opportunity to reiterate your main points, without restating the supporting documentation.

When I worked for customer service, we lived by the credo of “tell them what you’re going to do, tell them what you’re doing, and tell them what you did.” Politicians call this “staying on message.” Go back to the Presidential debates in both 2000 and 2004. Count the number of times Al Gore said “risky tax scheme.” Or count the number of times in 2004 where George Bush accused John Kerry of saying, “wrong war a the wrong time.” That was the message they wanted people to hear. This is your opportunity to have people hear your message. Use it.

Make it work for you.
So there you have it, a simple look at a sound argument style. You can make this work for you in writing persuasive papers, putting together a compelling speech, or even just winning an argument with your spouse. Well, maybe it won’t work on your spouse.
Now go pick a fight,

3 Comments:

Blogger Edgy Mama said...

Yeah, Chad. Since we're so controversial right now, let's go pick some fights!

7:24 AM

 
Blogger Eddo said...

Lol! EM are you back? Yeah!

Chad - great post. I actually have some cool information to post about comma usage that the phantom prof sent me - I like this kind of stuff - it is perfect for the BP.

Keep up the great post guys!

7:37 AM

 
Blogger Ben said...

"In fact, 67% of all statistics are made up on the spot."

Chad.. you so just made that statistic up... which proves your point... K... back in a moment... I must pick back up with my reading at dental plan...

12:47 PM

 

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