Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations
The Rhetorical Patterns
Exemplification and Classification
Comparison and Contrast
Cause and Effect
The Rhetorical Patterns
1) The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of
organizing information in your essays. Oftentimes, when you know who your
audience is and what your purpose is for writing (which is called your
rhetorical situation), you can begin to consider the organization of what is
going to be in your paper, how you will introduce your paper, and what to write
for your conclusion. The following rhetorical patterns will help you answer
Definition: Narratives are essentially first-person stories
involving real or imagined events, characters, and settings.
Description: An academic narrative normally has a point to
it; that is, the story carries some sort of message for the audience. This
message does not need to be a moral, in the conventional sense that you often
hear: “What’s the moral of the story?” Instead, an academic narrative can be
used to evoke in your audience a strong understanding and perhaps empathy with
the events happening to the character or characters in the story. Narratives
allow readers to see, hear, experience, and maybe even live in the story.
Conventions: Make sure that you have a complete story to
tell, so that your readers will not wonder where a character came from or what
happened to a character. These are often called “loose ends,” and they should be
avoided in academic narratives. Focus your narrative on two elements: the
character(s) and the events (or plot) that create the story. Remember to include
information about the setting, which refers to both the place and the time
period. Avoid “telling” your story; instead, “show” your readers the story by
using rich descriptions and avoiding clichés at all costs. Using dialogue is one
of the best ways of exposing a character’s traits and motivations.
Strategies: So that your narrative’s complexity and
richness are revealed fully, ask
The following questions as you begin pre-writing or
Ø What happened to make it a story?
Ø Who was involved?
Ø When did it happen and over how long of a period of time did it
Ø What locations were involved in the story?
Ø Why did this all happen and what can be learned from it?
Organization: Many readers expect the introduction to
contain some information about the characters, the setting and the point of the
narrative. You may consider organizing the paper so that each body paragraph
contains one scene or event. Or you may consider using each body paragraph for a
location or time period in the story. Using transitional expressions--like next,
later, the following day, and so on--helps your readers maintain focus on the
timeline and logical structure of your story. Finally, many readers will often
become confused if more than one person narrates the story; try to maintain a
consistent point of view.
How do I draft my introduction?
In the story you intend to tell, do your characters,
setting (date and place), and other information need some introduction before
your story begins? Think about the three main elements of the narrative
(character, setting, and plot) and use the introduction to briefly discuss each
How do I create a thesis statement?
After you have decided what you want to say, consider what
your main point is. If you are talking about a few events from your childhood
and what you learned from those events, what is the larger issue that you are
addressing? What can be learned from reading your narrative, not just about you,
but about other people like you who might or might not have gone through similar
experiences? Place your thesis statement at the end of the introduction.
How do I move my narrative smoothly from one event to
Carefully consider the words you employ as you tell your
story. Even the most exciting narrative can become monotonous when every other
sentence begins with “And then he,” “and then she,” and “and then he,” and so
on. The following are better transition words:
Ø First, second, third, fourth, next
Ø Simultaneously, now, at the same time, during the same time period
Ø Then, following, later, shortly afterwards, soon thereafter
Ø Earlier, before, meanwhile,
Ø Subsequently, consequently, because of that
You may also want to consider using dates to show how time
has passed, such as December 21, 2007 or four years later or next summer.
How do I draft my conclusion?
Since your readers will be dealing with a character
undergoing some sort of change, it is important to make sure that this change is
obvious. You may want to refer back to your main point and restate it in your
conclusion. Make sure that the importance of the narrative for your readers, in
their lives, is stated. Be consistent and make sure that the same narrator who
begins the paper is the one ending it, even if she or he has gone through a
Checklist for Peer-Review Narrative
Ø Is there a header on the top of the first page with the student’s
name, the professor’s name, the class, and the date?
Ø Is there a title for the paper? Is it properly capitalized? Is it
Ø Where is the paper’s thesis statement? Is it understandable
Ø Do the paper’s body paragraphs relate events in such a way so that
they support the paper’s thesis?
Ø Do all the body paragraphs have effective topic sentences that
introduce each paragraph’s ideas?
Ø Are there any generalizations or cliches? Can you help the paper’s
writer by underlining the generalizations and cliches, and perhaps suggesting
more effective and precise language?
Ø Does the writer use dialogue? Are there any places where dialogue
is either unnecessary or needed? Have the quotation marks and punctuation all
been used correctly?
Ø Has the narrative been “shown” to you or “told” to you?
Ø Does the story flow properly? Are the body paragraphs ordered
Ø Do the body paragraphs have transition sentences that wrap up the
Ø Does the conclusion wrap up the narrative? By the time you read
the conclusion, are all of your questions answered?
Ø What was learned from this story? Is this essentially the same
thing as the thesis?
Ø Is there any information that you thought could have been left
out? Was there any information that needed more explanation?
Ø Are there any sentences that seem difficult to understand?
Ø Are all the paragraphs indented? Is the font type the assigned
size? Is it too small or too large? Are the margins all one inch all around?
(Many readers report that reading is much easier when the “right justification”
for the right margin is turned off, giving the paper a “ragged right” margin. Is
the right margin ragged or justified?)
Definition: A description paper provides either objective
or subjective information (or a combination of both) about something so that the
reader has a full understanding of the thing based on the information.
Description: When you want to describe something to someone
and you want to avoid using emotions or bias, use an objective description. For
an objective description, you want to use language in such a way to show
tangible things (like a dormitory room, for instance) in a way so that anyone
can understand its arrangement and function. Many people write objective
descriptions of their automobile accidents so that the insurance companies can
understand what happened. A subjective description, on the other hand, normally
uses the physical senses to illustrate the thing. For subjective feelings, do
not avoid your emotions and your biases; use them to convey the thing’s dominant
Conventions: A primary concern should be with the purpose
and the audience of the description: should you use objective, subjective, or a
combination of both to fulfill your goals and meet your readers’ needs? Remember
that your readers will get confused if you say that the painting you are
objectively describing is pretty, since pretty is not only a matter of personal
taste but a superficial generalization.
An objective description normally answers the following
Ø What is this thing?
Ø What does it do? How does it work/function?
Ø What does it look like? (Size, color, shape, and so on)
Ø Does it have major and minor parts? Can you divide it into
(Describe each major part and
its minor parts.)
A subjective description usually answers the following
Ø What does this thing look like to you?
Ø How does it make you feel?
Ø Does this thing effect or act within its environment?
Ø What is this thing’s dominant impression to you?
Organization: In the introduction, many readers will expect
to find a definition or brief overview of the thing being described. For a
subjective description, use the introduction to tell your readers what the
dominant impression is. A thesis statement normally provides your readers with
the cues that will organize your description. For instance, if you are
describing your home, you might write, “My home has two floors with six rooms
and two bathrooms”; this will cue your readers to your body paragraph
organization, which will likely describe one floor fully and then proceed to the
next floor. For this type of example, you might dedicate one room to each body
paragraph, or economize when rooms are similar and put them both into the same
paragraph. Remember to use transitional words so that your readers will
understand that you are moving from one spot to the next. Another organization
system would have you divide something into major parts, dedicating a paragraph
to each, and if necessary, using either the same paragraph or subsequent
paragraphs to describe minor parts. Insure that you use concrete language and
precise details (for instance, use “ten pounds” instead of “big and heavy”). A
conclusion for a subjective description normally shifts the focus back to the
person experiencing and describing the thing; whereas, an objective description
will provide an overview of (the parts of) the thing that was described.
Writers use descriptions in two rhetorical
Objectively, to provide as much information
without feeling or judgment so that virtually every reader can agree with all
the elements of your description. For instance, a police officer might use an
objective description to relate the events occurring in a traffic accident, when
the officer is describing the event for a court of insurance company to figure
out who was to blame.
Subjectively, to give as close as possible an
account of what being with something or near something or within a situation is
like for you. Your personal feelings and emotions are crucial for readers to
understand what the experience means. Let’s continue with the car accident
scenario from above. If a person involved in the accident was in court, the
person might explain to the judge or jury what being in the accident did to the
person, which might involve explaining the trauma and horror of the accident and
the psychological effects of the accident. Explaining psychological and
emotional experiences involves giving a dominant impression so that the feelings
and senses have a common thread.
What is the difference between an objective and a
There are two different kinds of description: Subjective
and Objective. Both kinds involve looking for and creating a dominant
impression. A subjective description involves your reactions, and an objective
description involves reactions and perceptions that virtually everyone would
agree upon. For instance, you might have had a bad experience with a dentist
when you were younger; let us say the dentist drilled and drilled without giving
you any Novocain. Close your eyes, walk into his office, and let’s examine it
according to an objective description.
An objective description can be called a
technical description because it is like the descriptions you can find in
business manuals and government publications. Normally, an objective description
uses fact-based language (i.e., it was 75 degrees in the room) and avoids
emotional, judgmental, and imaginative language (i.e., it was too hot in the
An objective description of a
dentist’s office would show you the dentist’s chair with that spit sink thing
hanging off it, a stainless steel tray with several instruments on it, and a
counter along the back wall, with a glass jar with cotton gauze in it. No matter
how your readers feel about the dentist, they can all agree that this is a
dentist’s office and these are the medical tools that one finds in this kind of
A subjective description can be called a
personal description because it grows out of the writer's perspective and
experiences. Subjective descriptions help describe things while at the same time
allowing readers to perceive what the writer is feeling while making the
description. This essential feeling that gives rise to the entire description is
called the dominant impression. Normally, a subjective description
uses detailed language (i.e., the green wallpaper looked like leaves in the
summer sun) and does not shy away from emotional and personal language (i.e.,
the wallpaper reminded me of childhood days reading by the lake). Subjective
descriptions bring your readers into your imagination so that they can see,
hear, feel, taste, and smell your subject.
A subjective description of the
dentist’s office would show the dentist’s chair propped up in the middle of the
room with a bright, interrogation light over it. Hanging off the chair, like a
threatening animal, is the filthy spit sink, which makes a hateful gurgling
noise. On the other arm of the chair is a cold metallic tray with what looks
like dozens of sharp surgical instruments gleaming under the light, and along
the back wall runs a counter covered with frightening tools gleaming in the
bright fluorescent lights.
You can sense by the way this description is written that
the dominant impression is that this is a dangerous, threatening place that the
writer does not want to be within a mile of.
How do I develop a dominant impression?
What is the dominant impression you are trying to convey?
This can be answered for an objective description by determining what the
thing’s primary function or primary quality is. For a subjective description,
this can be answered by determining how the thing makes you feel.
What kind of organization can I use for my body
Once you have determined how you will describe the thing,
consider the organization of your description. Sometimes you may want to
describe something spatially, chronologically, or logically.
Below are the most common organizations for your body
1. Spatial Organization
Ø From left to right
Ø From top to bottom
Ø From outside to inside
Ø From north to south, east to west
Ø From largest to smallest, bigger to smaller
Ø From one room to another room
Ø From nearest to farthest or vice versa
How do I begin my introduction and develop my main
point or thesis?
After you have answered the above questions and begun your
draft of the body paragraphs, consider what it is that your readers need to know
before you begin describing. Should you provide an overview or should you talk
about the reasons for writing a description? Remember the age-old advice:
Consider your purpose and what your audience already
In your introduction, make it clear what is being
described, why it is being described, and, perhaps, what is not being described.
Your main point or thesis sentence for your description should concisely convey
your dominant impression. If you are writing a technical/objective description
of a car accident, your thesis might read like this:
One life was lost in a
Clearly, the most important element—the dominant impression
readers take away from the objective description--will be the tragedy that led
to one person’s loss of life.
For a subjective description of a dentist’s office, you
Danger seems to pulsate off of
everything in the dentist’s office.
How can I write a strong conclusion?
Your conclusion certainly should sum up the major elements
or aspects of the thing that you described. Make sure that you include all the
major things and that you put them in the same order that you wrote them in the
body paragraphs. While many people say they want to see the thesis statement
expressed once again in the conclusion, simply cutting and pasting it exactly
certainly makes this a boring convention. Many novice writers wonder what to do
in the conclusion after they have restated the thesis. If your dominant
impression has been made clear, and the thing you are describing is obvious,
then there is no reason to repeat yourself, especially since your readers may
get turned off by such an obvious repetition. Instead, your readers would rather
hear about other, tangential things (but without you bringing up anything
substantial that should have been included in the essay’s body), such as:
What might happen in the future
What this all means to the rest
What another person might think
Where you see yourself in the
future with this thing you described, and so on.
A little analysis or speculation in a conclusion enlivens
this “farewell” paragraph much better than cutting and pasting your thesis
Revision Checklist for Description Essays
1) Which best serves your purpose, your assignment, and your readers’ needs,
emphasizing your feelings and reactions or describing in a detached, unemotional
way? Which should you use, a subjective or an objective description?
2) What is the dominant impression you have from the thing you are
describing? What have you included to convey this dominant impression to your
readers? Do the details in your description support the dominant impression?
3) What is your main point or thesis statement? Have you provided this in
4) How have you organized the body of your paper? Is this organization clear
at all times?
5) Have you given all the needed details? Have you given any unneeded
information you can delete?
6) Are there any clichés or generalizations in your description? Do you use
concrete language as the foundation for your description? Do you use other kinds
of language to evoke reactions in your readers (subjective)?
Definition: A process is an action that proceeds through a
series of steps and achieves a desired goal. Primarily, process analysis
explains how something happened or happens. A process analysis either analyzes
the procedures for a completed act or explains the procedure for an upcoming
act. A process paper, for instance, can explain the route you took from your
home to your friend’s new apartment or it can literally be the directions to set
the clock on your DVD player.
Description: A process analysis often closely resembles
A process analysis will answer
the following questions:
Ø What is to be done?
Ø How long will it take? What will be needed?
Ø Where should it happen and when should it happen?
Ø What are the steps needed to complete the action?
Ø Are any parts of the process overly dangerous, very complicated,
or overly easy?
A process analysis often includes the sequence, the
instructions, and any procedures along the way.
Conventions: Recall a time you followed directions and did
not complete what you wanted to do. It quite likely was the fault of the
directions. Oftentimes, readers skim over important parts of a process when
those important parts are not placed in noticeable places. It is better to be
overcautious and to belabor a description of a step than it is to not pay
sufficient attention to it. Readers often appreciate a description after each
step is given. This seems normal when you consider good directions: take a left
(the step) and you will notice a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on your right (the
description). The description helps your readers insure that they are following
the steps correctly. One thing that many readers of directions look for is the
use of the second person; using the word “you” often helps readers comprehend an
action. For instance, writing “the oven must not preheat” is less effective than
writing, “you should not preheat the oven.” Also, make sure that you discuss all
the things that are needed for the entire process, from start to finish, before
you start describing the process. Maintain an interesting and engaging but
consistent tone throughout the essay.
Strategies: Consider whether you are giving
steps/directions or providing information about something that has already
happened. For the first, employ a direct tone with your readers: you can grow
mammoth sunflowers using these four steps. For the second, carefully consider
how you will present your process: there were several steps involved in
President Obama being elected president in 2008. For either method of process,
consider the whole operation from one end to the other, or from start to finish.
How long will it take? How long is the distance? What must be endured? Try to
divide the entire operation into separate sequences. Ask yourself how this thing
happened or happens.
Organization: Thoughtful consideration of how to best
describe the entire operation to your readers should guide the organization of
your process essay. Readers will need several things in a process essay, and
they will need them at specific places in the essay. For instance, an overview
of the entire process should be in the introduction, along with the any needed
items, and, normally, a one sentence description of the entire operation as a
thesis statement. Each major step is usually given an entire body paragraph,
and, when necessary, a series of smaller steps can be combined and included in
one body paragraph. Do not forget to forewarn your readers of any possible
dangers or cautions during the operation. Normally, the conclusion describes the
results of the operation.
Strategies: Consider the level of skills your readers bring
to the operation. If they know quite a bit about the operation, then don’t bore
them with unnecessary details. However, if you are uncertain about your readers
and their experiences, then make sure that you provide sufficient details for
them to safely and satisfactorily complete the entire operation. Arrange the
operation chronologically, if possible. Divide the operation into steps and
carefully consider all the information that must be given for each step’s
completion. Organize these major steps into paragraphs. Read over the entire
operation after you have written it with an eye tuned for anything that you may
What should I put in my introduction?
Tell your readers exactly
what they will need to do the job. Suppose you were carefully following
directions while you assembled a television stand or a book shelf. Let’s say
that you had most of the job done, when around step #18, the directions told
you: “Use your Allen wrench to cinch the bolts tightly.” “Allen wrench?” you
might yell because you did not know you needed one and did not own one. Because
of that omission, the entire process would come to a halt. That said, you should
always provide three elements of the process in your introduction, or before you
begin providing the process:
1) A quick overview of the entire job explaining briefly
what will be accomplished
2) An exhaustive list of all of the items needed to
complete the process
3) An indication of the average time to complete the entire
The introduction might also contain analogies about the
process. For instance, writing a college paper (the process) might be analogous
to building a sandcastle (the analogy). Getting a promotion at work (the
process) might be analogous to succeeding in a college course (the analogy).
Oftentimes, analogies help readers see an overview of something else, which
helps them to clarify what they are about to do.
What is a process thesis statement?
The thesis statement, which normally is at the end of the
introduction, usually expresses in a sentence the overview of the process:
Following these directions,
you can create the perfect holiday dinner.
How can I organize the body paragraphs?
most common convention of step-by-step directions is to organize the process
according to the steps undertaken to complete the process. Consider the
One step, one paragraph
Each of the body
paragraphs should treat a major step involved in the process.
Related steps can be grouped into one
What should I put in my paper’s
Since the process paper is functional and practical, the
conclusion, like the introduction, has some conventions that readers will look
for and appreciate finding. The conclusion is a good place in your paper to go
over the major steps once again, just to insure that your readers have done them
all. With some jobs, like changing a tire, missing a step will be quite clear,
because the job will not get finished.
Process Revision Checklist
Ø Have you written what was assigned, an analysis/explanation or a
set of directions/”how to” paper?
Ø Does your introduction give your readers an overview of the
process, what they will need, and how much time the project will take?
Ø Does your thesis statement sum up the paper’s goal?
Ø Are your steps in the correct order? Could they be better
Ø Do you provide the right balance of information and
instructions/directions in your paper? Is anything missing?
Ø Does your tone or style intrude into the actual act of performing
Ø Is your paper perfectly comprehensible?
Ø Have you used transition words—like next, after that, and
notice--to indicate that steps are finished and new steps are beginning?
Ø Did you sum up all the steps in your conclusion?
Have you carefully revised your paper for
grammatical/mechanical correctness? Have you asked a peer-reviewer to read the
paper for organization, content, and sentence construction?
Definition: Exemplification provides readers with examples
that illustrate a larger point.
Description: Many of your readers may be hesitant to accept
your assertions without the use of examples that illustrate the validity of your
points. Examples are especially useful when you need to explain complicated,
abstract, or new ideas. Examples can be quotations, facts, narratives,
statistics, details, analogies, opinions, and observations, and examples provide
your writing with a firm foundation. Examples can help you avoid generalizations
about your subject, and they tend to remove the ambiguity from your writing.
Conventions: Since some of the most effective examples can
originate in your own experience or in the experiences of people you know, you
must decide if your readers will accept examples presented in the first person.
Some readers expect an academic exemplification essay to be written primarily,
if not almost entirely, in the third person. Consider your audience and your
purpose before you generate and organize examples. Readers will also expect that
the examples you present will not distract them from your main point, so make
certain that there is a clear relationship between your main point and your
examples. Effective topic and transition sentences in your body paragraphs can
help you keep this relationship intact for your readers.
Strategies: In order to come up with effective examples,
consider your rhetorical situation. Ask yourself several questions designed to
help you understand the needs of your audience and your purpose:
Ø Do these examples support my thesis? Are they relevant, adequate,
and fair examples?
Ø Are they the most convincing examples I could use? Are there any
others I should use
Ø Are these examples going to intrigue my readers? How can I keep
the interest of my readers?
Ø Will these examples clarify the subject and also focus my main
Organization: Normally, writers use at least a few examples
to support their main point, unless they are using one extended example, which
might function similar to an analogy. Examples are usually presented in body
paragraphs according to their chronology, their spatial relationship, or their
emphatic order (which means that you will use your most powerful examples at the
end of your essay, after your reader has already accepted other, less-intense
examples. Your conclusion should reinforce your main idea, since your reader has
just finished reading examples, and your examples, rather than your main idea,
might not be the first thing in your reader’s mind. Finally, your conclusion
might provide implications and solutions and summarize your essay's main point.
How do I write my exemplification
Consider the point of your essay. What is your main point,
or your thesis? As you draft your introduction, remember your purpose for using
examples. Put your thesis at the end of the introduction. This is where many
readers expect it. What is your thesis statement? Let’s say, for example, that
your thesis statement was, “If you are working the evening shift at MacDonald’s,
you are likely to see some of the worst behavior in customers.”
Use effective examples
Maybe you have noticed that writers and speakers can
persuade, interest, and entertain others the most effectively by using
well-chosen examples. Specific examples help readers understand larger theories
How can I organize my examples?
There are several ways of organizing your examples.
Consider the following:
Ø Chronologically. Maybe the incidents you are using for
examples all happened in one especially lousy day. Maybe they all happened
during one week or month or season. Maybe it was snowing for some and raining
for others. Consider how time relates to your placement of the examples in the
Ø Logically. Were there any connections between the examples?
Let’s say you are writing about a summer job at a fast food restaurant. Did, for
instance, some of the examples involve, let’s say, relationships between
coworkers, between workers and supervisors, between customers and workers, or
between customers waiting for food or waiting to order? How could you categorize
Ø Spatially. Let’s continue with the fast food scenario from
above. Did some of the examples happen at the drive through window? Did they
happen at the counter or in the parking lot? Can you organize your examples
according to where they happened?
Ø For Effect. Are some of the examples really shocking (like
loud voices, yelling, and anger) while others are simply a mundane kind of bad
behavior (like not washing hands after using the bathroom)? Can you organize
your examples so that they “lead” to your conclusion? Can you put one of the
more common kinds of bad behavior in the introduction, so that you can use it as
a template for the rest of the examples of bad behavior in the paper?
How do I draft my conclusion?
What is important to remember as you draft your conclusion
is your purpose for writing. Ask yourself questions about what you hoped to
accomplish by using examples? Were you trying to get your readers to reconsider
an opinion or belief? Were you trying to get your readers to change their
actions? Return to your primary purpose and find a way to restate it in an
interesting manner so that your readers will understand, when they finish
reading the last of your examples, exactly what is expected of them. It tends to
violate academic conventions to bring up any new examples or information in the
conclusion (because it causes your readers to wonder if it really is the
conclusion or if you should have reorganized your paper in light of the new
Exemplification Revision Checklist
What connects the examples together? What is the main point
found in using these examples? What are you trying to say with the examples?
Is this message developed into a simple thesis sentence?
What is it? Can you write it out below:
Do the topic sentences reinforce the thesis statement by
saying something about the main point? Do the topic sentences also summarize
each paragraph? Write each of the topic sentences below. If your topic sentences
are vague, write new topic sentences below.
Does each body paragraph:
Ø Provide one clear example? If not, correct on paper.
Ø Contain generalizations or clichés?
Ø Give sufficient information about the example?
Ø Have a transition sentence that sums up the paragraph? If not,
write one for each paragraph on the paper.
Does the introduction:
Ø Have an interesting and engaging first sentence? If not, write one
on the paper?
Ø Is the introduction developed sufficiently? Does it jump too
quickly into the paper?
Does the conclusion:
Ø Explain the implications of the presentation of the examples? Does
it sum up the paper’s main idea? (Make sure that the conclusion does not bring
up any new ideas that might confuse the reader.)
Ø Is the conclusion developed sufficiently? Is it too brief?
Ø Check on the use of punctuation: comma, period, semicolon, colon,
other. Are there any problems with subject verb agreement, pronoun reference,
parallelism, serious syntax/sentence construction, awkward sentence
construction, choppy sentences, diction/word choice, spelling,
Ø Are there any places in the paper that seem superficial? Are there
any generalizations, clichés, or factual errors? Is the paper off topic, not an
exemplification essay, hurried/lacking anything?
Definition: Classification/Division, essentially, is a
system of exclusive organization using categorized examples.
Description: when you consider which examples to use in a
classification/division essay, you should begin both grouping (or classifying)
your examples together according to their similarities and excluding (or
dividing) them apart based on their differences.
Classification helps your readers completely understand the
subject of your paper because you have organized the things you are considering
according to a logical method.
Through classification and division, readers can understand
what might appear to them to be unassociated ideas because your logical method
has identified relationships between them all. In many rhetorical situations,
classification/division brings a sense of order to what your readers might have
perceived as a chaotic scenario. Although, both classification and division are
two separate steps, they must occur together in the same paper.
Conventions: Most readers of classification essays will
want a detailed understanding about your principle of classification, which you
will recall is how you divided and organized your paper’s things or examples.
Readers may want you to announce in the first person that you are creating a
class (i.e., “These things can be divided into four categories, of which I will
exclude the first three. These categories are…”). On the other hand, your
readers will probably become distracted if larger, first person elements of
narration intrude and interrupt your discussion of your classification
principle. Most classification/division essays are written in the present tense,
unless, that is, the principle of classification deals with historical analysis.
Finally, the internal logic most readers expect from a classification/division
essay results from adherence to three ideas: The principle of classification
will produce all the classes and categories; all of the sub-categories and
sub-classes are equal in value; and, that you will consider all objects and
examples within the category or class that you analyze.
Strategies: When you begin to classify, consider your
individual things or examples and sort and parse them into classes or
categories. Many of these things will have several different elements and
characteristics, so realize that they can be classified in many different ways.
Then divide these groups further, so that you can isolate a certain class. While
you are performing these operations, you should consider what particular
principle helped you to assign specific things to one category or to another.
Then analyze, and perhaps use as the basis of an argument, the examples or
things in the class you have developed.
Organization: The principle of classification you choose
would depend on how you wished to approach the members of this large and diverse
group. This principle should be specifically articulated in detail in your
introduction. Once a class has been identified and assigned, and its principle
is known to your readers, they will generally prefer to have a body paragraph
devoted to each of the objects in the class or to each of the attributes of the
one exemplary object in the class. Since classification/division lends itself so
well to social science papers, most readers will want to know any implications
or ramifications of your analysis in the conclusion.
What is division?
Division is the separation of the things into groups and
classes. Normally, readers expect that you will divide things into large groups,
and then smaller and smaller groups, based on the similarities of the things in
each class. Consistent or mutually-exclusive categories are what you are aiming
for. You want each of your classes or categories to have things in it that would
not belong to other classes or categories.
What is classification?
Classification is the system that you use to get from all
the things to a certain number of categories of things. Complete or exhaustive
classes are what you are aiming for. You want all of your items or things to fit
into one of your classes. Each classification system can differ depending on
what you are classifying; there are certain classification words that are
conventional. Some of these are:
Develop your classification system logically and according
to your purposes.
How do I draft my introduction?
Your readers will almost certainly look for a description
of the entire population you will divide and classify and your principle of
division and classification in your introduction.
How do I focus my main point or thesis?
Some readers and writers prefer the multipart thesis, which
provides the categories in their order and use the categories as cue words for
the body paragraph topic sentences.
Students who succeed at college
normally fall into the categories of academics, athletes, and socializers.
How do I draft my body paragraphs and focus on my
principle of classification?
Your body paragraphs should deal with each category,
probably in the same order that you developed them as you presented your
principle of classification, methodically and comprehensively. The aim of the
body paragraphs is two-fold: develop your analysis and reinforce your principle
How can I draft my conclusion?
There are other techniques for wrapping up your paper. You
might return to the technique that you used to open your introduction and
further develop it. Or you might do one of the following:
Ø Give your interpretation of what has happened.
Ø Make a prediction about the future.
Ø Provide a solution to a problem raised in your paper.
Ø Offer a suggestion or advice to people dealing with problems
raised in your paper.
Ø Formulate new questions that might be asked given your analysis of
the situation. Where can further research go?
Peer-Review Worksheet for Classification:
What is the total population of the things that you can
divide and classify?
(Have these things already been divided and classified in a
way that you can use, modify, or suggest an alternative to?)
What is your purpose for dividing and classifying?
Who is your primary audience? Does your audience already
know something about your paper’s subject? If so, what kinds of things does your
How will you divide your total population? Into what groups
Are there any “problems” for your principle of
classification? Would some readers think that certain groups might contain
elements from other groups? Explain how you will deal with this problem.
What is the thesis statement?
What are your topic sentences?
What will you do in your conclusion?
Definition: Comparison/contrast normally analyzes two or
more things, using an established logical system.
Description: Comparing things is examining them for their
similarities; whereas contrasting them is looking for their differences. When
you want to persuade your readers that a difference exists between what they
believe and what you want them to believe, a comparison/contrast is an effective
system of organization for illustrating those differences.
Conventions: When a writing prompt includes the word
“compare,” then you should consider showing both the differences and
similarities, as the term “compare” often connotes both functions. Readers
normally expect that the criteria for selecting the two things you are comparing
will be fair and valid for the comparison. It would strike most readers as
inappropriate to compare President Bush with Mickey Mouse; whereas, a comparison
between Bush and Clinton would be fair and valid. Because you want your reader
to follow your comparison, you might want to minimize or avoid using the first
person, so that the two things and the comparison take center stage throughout
Strategies: First, consider what your audience already
knows about the things that you plan to compare/contrast. If, for instance, they
are knowledgeable about the things you are comparing, then you can explore the
reasons behind your comparison. If your readers are familiar with one or two of
the several things you plan to compare, then consider beginning your comparison
with the known entities and moving into the unknown ones. Use balance between
the two elements. Just because an ostrich and a hummingbird have wings does not
mean that balance exists between the two different wings; such a comparison
would be lopsided and ineffective.
Organization: After introducing and explaining the reasons
for the comparison of the two things, most readers will expect a thesis
statement that sums up the motivations behind the comparison. If you are
comparing two baseball teams, The Yankees and the Red Sox, explain your
preference for one in your thesis statement. Your body paragraphs will carry
most of the weight for the structure of this kind of system of organization.
Decide whether you are going to use a subject-by-subject or a point-by-point
system for the body paragraphs.
A subject-by-subject organization
devotes one full body paragraph to examining each of the major things being
compared. Use the same order as you write your body paragraphs. For instance, in
a subject-by-subject comparison of the two baseball teams, one body paragraph
might examine how Roger Clemens played when he was with the Red Sox and then in
the following paragraph how he played when he was with the Yankees. Use this
system when you have much to say about each of the things you are comparing.
If Clemens was only a small part
of your comparison, and you had several other small elements (like uniforms,
other players, fans, and so on), then you could use a point-by-point system of
organizing your body paragraphs. For this, you would talk about how Clemens
played for both teams in the same body paragraph, and then move into another
element to be compared in the next paragraph. Find some kind of priority/order
for examining the things (in a subject-by-subject) or the elements of the two
things (in a point-by-point), so that you don’t jump from one insignificant
comparison to a major comparison to a smaller element.
If you must use both systems in a
paper, use the subject-by-subject system first. Explain exactly what will be
compared in your topic sentences, and your transitions are equally important
because they alert your readers to the fact that you are finished comparing one
thing or element and are moving on. Because the topic sentences are so vitally
important to this kind of paper, your thesis might simply mention the two things
being compared and pronounce a judgment; a thesis statement that mentioned all
of the things/elements being compared could be lengthy and confusing to your
readers. Conclusions are an excellent place for restating your judgment and
summarizing the comparisons that led you to that judgment. You might also use
the conclusion to discuss ramifications of your comparison. Most readers will
become confused if you continue to compare new things/elements in the
How do I decide between using a subject-by-subject or
After you have decided how you will approach your
comparison, consider the two organizational structures for the comparison paper:
Ø The first way is the subject-by-subject comparison, which
uses a full body paragraph for each separate comparison: Ford Taurus in one
paragraph and the Honda Accord in the next paragraph.
Ø The other way is the point-by-point comparison, which does
the comparison of both subjects in each body paragraph: Gas mileage for the Ford
Taurus and then for the Honda Accord in the same paragraph.
For instance, if you are comparing the Honda Accord and the
Ford Taurus, the two autos would be your two subjects. You need to decide if you
want to spend an entire paragraph for each subject while discussing your points,
which would be the things you use to compare and contrast.
For points, you could use, gas mileage, reliability,
sticker price, customer satisfaction, and resale value.
How do I combine points into one
Another method would be to see which of the points could be
combined with another point (or maybe even combine three points) so that you
could maintain a subject-by-subject structure. To do this, you might say that
sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value are all brief amounts of
number-based information that could be combined together. You would be combining
these three points (sticker price, gas mileage, and resale value) for each
subject (the Honda and the Ford), and you would write all three points in a
separate body paragraph. So, to do this, you would have:
Ø A body paragraph discuss the Honda’s sticker price, gas mileage,
and resale value, and
Ø The next body paragraph discuss the Ford’s sticker price, gas
mileage, and resale value
What about the order of the subjects?
If you compare the ford and Honda, stick with that order:
you always maintain the same order. This means analyzing one thing and then the
other and holding to that pattern. For instance, if you noticed, in the Honda
versus Ford comparison, the comparison always began with the Accord and ended
with the Taurus.
How do I write a thesis statement for all the
information I am going to compare?
Many comparison papers end up dealing with too many points
for all of them to go into the thesis statement. For instance, in the
Accord/Taurus comparison, you dealt with several points to show how both cars
were similar and yet different. If you were to write all of those points into
the thesis statement, the sentence might run two or three lines long, making it
a confusing sentence. Remember that a thesis statement should be clear more than
anything else. If you are comparing two things and you think that one is
superior, then two elements are crucial and should be in the thesis statement:
1) The two things being compared
2) The judgment you will arrive at after comparing them.
For instance, a thesis statement for our car comparison
paper might look like this:
A comparison of the similarities
and differences between the Honda Accord and the Ford Taurus shows that the
Accord is a superior car.
Many instructors like to see the thesis statement
de-emphasized as a place for listing all of the things that will happen in the
SUBJECTS OF COMPARISON: Honda Accord Versus Ford
POINTS TO USE FOR THE COMPARISON:
Ø Gas Mileage
Ø Sticker Price
Ø Customer Satisfaction
Ø Resale Value
What should I put into a comparison introduction?
Consider your audience while drafting your introduction.
Since you will cover much ground, so to speak, while comparing two things, your
readers will likely not want to read an introduction that summarizes each of the
points that you will compare. This kind of “previewing” can quickly bore your
readers. Rather, for your introduction, you might want to explain why each of
the things you are comparing are important to you. Similarly, you might want to
provide enough of a description or give enough background on each thing so that
when you begin comparing them, you do not need to lose your focus and explain
some detail that should have been provided earlier.
How do I draft my comparison paper’s conclusion?
When you arrive at your conclusion, you may well want to
return to your thesis statement in the sense that you want to overtly and
obviously give your judgment, which was the reason for your comparison in the
first place. For instance, you may think that Nas is a flash in the pan, so to
speak, and his career, while exciting now, will be nonexistent in a few years,
whereas Jay-Z, on the other hand, has remarkable talent and will be famous and
critically important for years to come. For the sake of your readers, it may
very well be necessary to return to your thesis statement and restate it, and
then provide a quick overview of the reasons (from your body paragraphs) why you
think one thing might be superior to another thing.
Cause and Effect: FAQs
Definition: Cause and effect is a logical system that
organizes evidence to show how something happened.
Description: A cause and effect paper answers the question,
“How did this happen?” Effective cause and effect analyses can be written on
personal topics, perhaps by asking yourself why you happened to do something.
Although many undergraduate cause and effect papers may examine larger topics
and subjects, be cautious about addressing causes and effects that are global
and historical; rather, work toward a logical and coherent analysis of a more
manageable subject. To discover all of the causes and all of the effects forma
large topic might require much more time than a single semester and much more
room than five or six paragraphs.
Conventions: Although your writing might stem from a hunch
about what caused something to happen, definitely avoid presenting your analysis
as a hunch. Your readers will probably look for certain problems of logic in
your writing. These problems are called logical fallacies, and most academic
readers are well aware of them, and might primarily be looking for them.
Your readers will also wonder about whether you have
explained your causes sufficiently and whether you included all of the important
causes. Remember that some causes are things out in the future, promises that
someone will do something for now. For example, the primary cause for robbing a
bank, said famed bank robber Willie Sutton, was because that was where the money
was. Make sure that you present a lucid and cogent pattern of evidence to
support your causal chain. For the benefit of your readers, make sure that you
provide a clear thesis in the introduction and make certain that your paper
works to support the thesis.
Strategies: Your first thought should be whether your ideas
about cause and effect are compatible with your assignment. Have you selected a
manageable subject? Be wary of complex problems because it is often very
difficult to find their causes. Many things happen for more than one reason.
However, when you have selected your subject, thin first about the chronology:
what happened before the effect that might have caused it? If you can think of
more than one cause, then write them down and assign them values: which one was
more of a cause than the other? Noted philosopher Kenneth Burke provides us with
a system of five questions that help us determine the causality of events and
things. You might begin the process of finding causes by posing certain
1) What kind of thing am I trying to explain here?
2) What type of person would do such a thing? Would a rational or an
irrational person do it?
3) Where and when did this thing take place, and did the location and time
have anything to do with the thing happening?
4) Was anything needed in order to accomplish the thing?
5) What would be someone’s motivations to do this thing?
Use these heuristics in order to help you find causes as
you initially consider your subject. Finally, if you can find an answer to each
of the five questions, then you probably will be able to find a logical
explanation that helps you to avoid logical fallacies.
Organization: In your introduction, provide the assertion
(the statement that your paper will prove). For instance, “My hometown wasted
its tax money when it built that exercise trail two years ago.” Then, in the
subsequent body paragraphs, provide topic sentences that summarize the logical
step that each paragraph will make. “There was a gym that nobody used already.”
Then, after each topic sentence, fill the paragraph with detailed, specific, and
relevant facts that prove each paragraph’s claim. Give the reasoning in each of
the paragraphs, and if you can think of any reasons why your readers would think
otherwise, deal with those reasons by refuting them or making clear the logical
superiority of your reasoning. Use signal words or transitions to connect
sentences in the body paragraphs and to connect together the paragraphs.
Finally, when you have reached the conclusion and you have proved your thesis,
summarize the major points that support your assertion.
What are logical fallacies?
Fallacies are problems within logic. For instance, if you
thought that driving a car would always be difficult because the first time you
drove a car it was extremely difficult, you would have made a logical fallacy,
that of considering that all future events would be similar to one primary
event. The following are several of the major categories of fallacies:
1) Just because the cause came before the effect does
not mean that it caused the effect, otherwise known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter
This may sound really obvious to you; but there are often
hidden causes, some of them that precede causes, for certain effects. Make sure
that you can say that your cause came before your effect. For example, let’s say
that one night there was a tremendous thunder storm with high winds, and the
next morning, you walked over to your neighbor’s house and saw that her roof had
a large hole in it with a tree over the hole. It seems that there is a
relationship between the awful windy thunderstorm and the hole in the roof of
your neighbor’s house; however, you might not be aware that a storm, which
happened a week ago, knocked the tree down, which caused the hole in the roof.
There may have also been some construction work and an accident happened during
the construction work; the tree’s falling might just be a fluke accident that
happened after the damage had already been done. Even if the tree fell and
caused the hole, the real cause of the fall might have been the tree’s rotted
trunk. Be aware that sometimes what we see as obvious logical cause and effect
might have earlier or other factors that might explain the effect more
logically. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a difficult fallacy to spot sometimes.
2) Just because there seems to be a logical
relationship does not mean that the one thing is the cause of an effect.
If something happens, and you can find a cause, is the
cause related to the effect? In order to test this condition, interrogate the
cause and effect relationship backwards and forwards. Let’s say that Paula works
for a large retail chain, Walmart, and she sleeps in late almost every morning,
causing her to arrive at work late by a few minutes virtually every day.
Finally, one day, her supervisor, Jillian, takes her aside and explains to Paula
that because of her lateness, she is being fired. Paula rushes to the store
manager’s office and explains that Jillian is firing her not because Paula came
in late but because Jillian hates her. Paula has failed to achieve precondition
#2, the store manager tells her, because Jillian has not fired several employees
that she hates. The manager tells Paula that there must be another cause for her
termination. You see, even though Jillian might hate Paula, Jillian may hate
many other employees, and if she has not fired them also, the logical
relationship that Paula is trying to establish is possible but not credible
enough to be logical.
#3) Lack of a plausible explanation or questionable
This fallacy is guided by the idea that just because you
see something and see something else that must be the cause, you may just not be
able to see the true cause of the effect. There might be events and effects
that seem to have a cause; however, that cause may only be something that is
another effect of something causing both things to happen. Similarly, if you see
a dog run out to greet you every morning that it is sunny, you might want to
ascribe the dog’s presence to the weather; however, the sunny weather might
actually cause the dog’s owner to awake earlier than normal, and she might let
the dog out earlier than normal. You see, the sun does have some possible
relationship with the dog’s presence, but the actual cause is getting up earlier
than normal, which is the direct cause.
4) Begging the question.
This fallacy revolves around the logical inferences that
could be made about the logical relationship but are not. Begging the question
fallacies often involve bringing up information and not acting on its possible
ramifications to the logical relationship. For instance, recently, a political
candidate said that people putting their money into Social Security should be
allowed to direct their money into other investments and earn ten percent
returns a year in the stock market. The promise was that people could earn a
much better return in the stock market than they could by having the government
hold their retirement money for them. For some people, it would seem obvious
that not everyone putting money into the stock market will earn profits,
especially exceptional return rates of ten percent a year. This statement “begs
the question” of what will happen if the stock market collapses, the stock
market gives less than ten percent, or if people lose all their retirement
5) Ignoring the question.
This fallacy is similar to begging the question in the
sense that once information that tends to contradict the logical relationship is
brought into the logic, the information is simply ignored. Normally, ignoring
the question fallacies are much easier to detect than begging the questions
fallacies because the contradiction created by some information supporting the
logical relationship is usually made obvious by the person establishing the
logical relationship. We can use the social security scenario from above for
this fallacy. If the candidate had stated that the stock market was always
liable to be a place where investments were lost, and he still advocated putting
social security funds into the stock market, he would have ignored the question
of what would be done for retirees when their social security accounts were
diminished or wiped out by stock market losses.
6) Circular logic.
Circular logic involves using the effect’s presence simply
to justify the cause’s existence. If someone says that the reason you should
give me money is because you have money and I need money, you can see that there
is no other justification for the cause (my needing your money) except that the
effect is present (i.e., you have money). Circular logic has what can be called
perfect internal logic: everything makes sense because it is involved in the
logical relationship. When you look for reasons to support the logic from
outside the logical relationship, the relationship normally disintegrates and
How do I begin drafting my introduction?
When you introduce your cause and effect paper, you will
want to fully understand what your primary audience will need to know about your
subject before you begin discussing the causes for your effect. Consider the
following questions when you begin developing the content of your introduction:
Ø Will your audience need to know the history, background, or
context for the effect?
Ø Are there people involved with the cause and/or effect that should
Ø What is your position to discuss this topic?
Ø What kind of statement can you make, information you can provide,
or rhetorical question you can ask to begin your introduction so that your
audience will be both interested and willing to read about your ideas about the
cause or causes for the effect?
Your first sentence is often the most crucial sentence when
you are writing for an audience already inclined toward a belief or opinion
about your subject, especially a belief or an opinion that is different from
what you are going to propose.
What about my thesis statement?
Your thesis statement should end your introduction. You
could also, if space permits, indicate and note some of those causes; however,
like the comparison and contrast pattern, cause and effect thesis readers will
rely on topic sentences and transition sentences heavily, and there is where you
might consider placing the detail that you might place in, for example, an
exemplification paper’s thesis statement. Knowing what your thesis statement is
(in a simple, short sentence) will greatly assist them as they read. For
instance, “The real estate crisis was mainly caused by Alan Greenspan’s reckless
policies” is superior to a lengthy thesis statement that explained all the minor
causes for the real estate crisis.
How do I draft my conclusion?
As you have gauged your audience’s needs, you will probably
have a good idea about how to rephrase your main point and offer a brief
overview of your evidence and causal chain. You may also want to consider the
Ø Future implications for the cause and effect.
Ø Analysis of what the effect means to your readers.
Of course, there are many other ideas that you can develop
in your conclusion.
One convention that almost all readers will look for in
your cause and effect paper is that your conclusion is not the place in your
paper to continue bringing up causes for the effect you have analyzed.
Persuasion and Argument: FAQs
What is persuasion and argument?
Traditionally, people have called argument any attempt that
uses logic to incite a person to take action or to change an opinion or belief.
Persuasion is considered to be the same call to action or to change an opinion
or belief; but persuasion is a call to action that is based on appealing to
emotion and feeling. So the difference between argument and persuasion is the
difference between using logic and using emotion. Since most debates involve
subjects that are conducive to logic and emotion, most real-life debates contain
elements of both logic and emotion.
How do I consider problems with logic?
Some people use faulty logic when they argue. Others will
use fairly effective logic, but will ignore the implications of their logic, or
they will exclude from consideration certain logical conclusions. Other people
may create arguments that seem almost perfect. No matter how an argument is
constructed logically or illogically, by understanding the following problems
with logic, which are called fallacies, you often will be able to see how people
arrive at their proposition, which is the logical conclusion of their argument.
Before we consider the terms of a debate, let’s consider
the logical problems, or fallacies, that might be involved in an argument.
Ad hominem: “To the person”: this means that
someone ignores the argument itself and verbally attacks the person personally
who is making the argument. For example, if someone disagreed with the
president’s decision to raise tuition because of a state budget cut, and said,
“She’s only raising tuition because she is not smart enough to think of an
alternative,” then that person is using an ad hominem attack. Many politicians
and commentators on politics favor this kind of fallacy, because it is easier to
attack a persona’s credibility than to contend with a person’s ideas.
Ad misericordiam: This fallacy means that
someone makes an argument that offers two scenarios, and one of them is
inconceivably bad. For example, if someone said that, “Everyone should agree
with the idea of war because otherwise this country will fall apart,” then that
person is offering a proposition that seems to have as its opposite something
that almost everyone would want to avoid. But the idea of the country falling
apart is only one alternative to disagreeing with going to war. Weak arguments
often use ad misericordiam fallacies because the arguments are hastily
constructed of conceived of with an excess of emotions.
Ad populem: This fallacy assumes that if you
like a person you will agree with the person’s logic. For example, if someone
told you that he had always been a good friend and that was why you should lend
him your new car for the weekend, then this person is relying on the
relationship, rather than the logic, for you to offer him your car. If he said
that he had always taken good care of your car before and you should lend it to
him now, he would not be making an ad populem fallacy, though. This fallacy is
also closely related to the often-heard parents’ cliché: “Just because everyone
jumped off a cliff, you would too, right?”
Argument of the beard: This fallacy is used
when a division between two conditions can be ignored or a division between two
states is difficult to establish. It’s called the argument of the beard because
you could conceivably pluck one hair after another from a beard and never arrive
at a specific, perfect point when the beard stopped being a beard, by
definition. For example, if someone told you that since even one glass of beer
will impair your thinking, you might as well drink a case, then the person would
be making an argument of the beard. Since there is no exact point for every
single person being impaired by alcohol, and since we have not defined
impairment, per se, the point of impairment could be one beer or it could be
three beers or it could be a case of beer. The fallacy is here because clearly a
case of beer would cause impairment, no matter how it was defined.
Begging the question: This fallacy occurs
when evidence supporting the logic of the argument or the proposition creates
alternatives to the proposition. For example, if someone tells you that she has
a great deal for you, which could make you a two hundred percent return on your
investment, and that because the return on your investment is so high you should
not even question making the investment, she would be begging the question what
risks there were to your investment. Just because the deal she is offering
sounds so good, this does not mean that your decision to participate in the deal
should be based on the possible two hundred percent return. What she is asking
you to do and why she is saying that you should do it are literally begging the
question of why you should go along with her. The proposition (that you should
go along with her) is not premised on how safe the investment is or how many
times she has returned a two hundred percent return to investors; instead the
proposition (that you should invest) is premised on what might happen.
A similar fallacy is called ignoring the question,
which is slightly different from begging the question by the degree of
information offered. If a person tells you that you should make an investment
that will probably return two hundred percent profit, then the person is
ignoring the question of what other kinds of returns on the investment (or
profits) other investments have made, and the person is ignoring what other
kinds of profit or loss scenarios exist in the deal.
Circular argument: This fallacy happens when
the proposition is based on the premise and/or vice versa. For example, if you
are told that the Toyota Corolla is the most popular car in America because so
many Americans drive it, then you are not being given any reason or evidence,
aside from the proposition (that the Corolla is popular because people drive it)
that goes along with the proposition. This fallacy is often easy to locate
because everything seems logical enough, but there is no relationship to any
Generalizations: This fallacy happens often
enough because the evidence for an element of the argument is vague, weak, or
superficial. For example, the proposition that “It’s a well known fact that
democrats cannot be trusted,” is not based on any more evidence than “the well
known fact.” Similarly, “He won’t eat it because he hates everything” is a
proposition (i.e., he won’t eat it) premised on a vague assertion (i.e., just
because he hates everything), which is as likely to be true as it is likely to
New things are always better: This fallacy
happens when someone says that something should be done differently because a
new idea exists. For example, if a person tells you that he has found a new
short cut and you should commute to school by way of his new short cut, then he
is making this fallacy. Just because it is a new short-cut does not mean that it
is faster than the old short-cut. There is no logical reason or other evidence
offered that makes the fact that it is new any reason to change what you are
already doing. If the person says that his new short-cut is two miles less than
the old short-cut, then he is not making the fallacy. You can spot these
fallacies fairly easily (but not all the time: sometimes the new idea seems
seductive) because the evidence to do something is because the something is new.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc (After something,
because of something): This fallacy confuses the actual cause or causes for
something in favor of a cause or causes that are more readily visible or
evident. For example, suppose you came home one evening to find that your
apartment or dorm room had been vandalized and you saw your neighbor outside
your door holding one of your possessions. Your neighbor may have well just come
along after the vandalism and seen something of yours dropped on the floor
outside your doorway and then walked over and found your apartment or dormitory
door broken open. Just because something has happened does not mean that
something that happened before it caused it, or is even related to it.
Reduce to a binary: This fallacy happens when
an argument is offered and there are many options and alternatives available,
but the argument is framed as having the proposition and one alternative,
generally a really bad alternative. For example, if you say that marijuana
should be legalized and your friend Paula counters by saying, “If you legalize
marijuana, you might as well legalize heroin and crack,” then Paula is framing
the argument as only having two alternatives: leave the law alone or risk chaos
by going along with your alternative. When you can counter the alternative with
something, generally more moderate, then you have spotted this fallacy.
Weak analogy: This fallacy happens when two
things are said to be similar enough to merit their comparison; but the two
things are not similar enough for the comparison. For example, if Will tells you
that the cafeteria food is garbage, Will’s analogy, no matter how much you both
might want to agree, is faulty: food becomes garbage when it is discarded. Food
cannot be garbage, by definition. Even if Will says that the cafeteria food
smells like garbage, Will is using a weak analogy: anyone who has been close to
garbage knows that it smells a lot worse than virtually any cafeteria food.
Saying that the cafeteria food smells like garbage, on the other hand, is
logical, if the food smells like garbage.
What are some language problems when using arguments
The following problems with words language may help you to
identify some kinds of language use in arguments:
Abstractions are words or terms that have
meanings that are created by multiple concepts. For example, the word “honor” is
an abstraction created by other words like respect, loyal, devotion,
moral/ethical and, depending on its use, other words and terms. When an argument
is premised on an abstraction, the argument is built on a term that carries too
many possible meanings. Nice, polite, support the troops, protect the family,
cut taxes, appeasers, and so on are all abstractions; they carry multiple
meanings. Unless abstractions are firmly and clearly defined, their use
supporting evidence or the logic of an argument is questionable.
Biased language consists of words or terms
that are used to invalidate another person’s position, proposition, identity, or
argument. For example, if someone tells you that young people who hang around
somewhere in a group belong to a “gang,” then the biased language (i.e., gang)
is likely to cause you to think pejoratively of the young people. Similarly, if
someone tells you that students are “kids,” then the biased language reveals the
speaker’s belief that students are not really adults, but are closer to
children, since “kid” is a term used to indicate an age range between infancy
and adulthood. Biased language is often used in conjunction with faulty logic,
so as to cover the weaknesses of the logic. Biased language is also very much
like ad hominem, ad misericordiam, and ad populem logical problems. All four
ignore the argument’s proposition or logic and focus on attacking or weakening
an element through dismissal, scorn, or elitism.
Terms of art are phrases and words that have
been used in so many different contexts that their core meanings have been
shattered and the phrase or word means essentially whatever the speaker or
writer wants it to mean. Listeners and readers, however, may interpret the term
of art by the use of the term in their familiar context. Viable is a word that
means many different things in different rhetorical environments—a fetus can be
viable, a candidate can have a viable chance to win, and cable is a viable
option to satellite television. Similarly, terms of art have similar problems as
generalizations, except that terms of art actually have very precise meanings;
it’s just that there are too many competing meanings.
Opinions are fairly easy for most people to
define. An opinion is an interpretation that can be rendered by an individual or
a group. The problem for opinions in arguments is that occasionally opinions are
presented as facts. Opinions sometimes arrive cloaked in certainties. For
example, someone can say, “Everyone knows that killing is wrong,” when, in fact,
killing during wartime is widely regarded as an essential component of warfare
and is not considered to be wrong. Be cautious of truths and facts if they
arrive with statements like, “Everyone knows…,” “It is an established fact…,”
“Nobody would argue with the fact…” There are appropriate places for opinions in
arguments; but only when they are presented as opinions or conjecture.
Terms with no opposites or undesirable opposites are often common words, like patriotism, community, family, democracy. These
words do not normally operate within a system of binaries. These words and terms
tend to exclude opposing voices from the debate. Were you to propose that
“Family values” creates “community,” you would be invoking two terms that are
difficult to oppose. If someone were so inclined, that person could ask the
question about people opposed to your proposition: “What kind of person is
against family values and communities?” The implication that you could make (by
using words that have no opposites or have undesirable opposites) is that this
kind of person is immoral, monstrous, and barbaric. Terms such as democracy,
freedom, rights, liberty, security are terms without any legitimate opposites or
with opposites that are difficult to defend. Clearly, using terms like these as
a basis for any argument is using language to exploit weak argument logic.
Conflations of truths are uses of language
that take liberties with the language. While you may think that someone who gave
you the wrong change at a restaurant made a mistake, it would be a conflation of
the truth to claim that the person who gave me the wrong change was the most
ignorant person to ever breathe air. Although most conflations of the truth will
be made with far less bombast than my example, be cautious of comparisons that
cite everyday trivia and banality and compare them with outrageous events and
Scientific facts would seem to be a safe use
of language, one removed from the possible problems of language. However, there
are many scientific facts that are contested, even when they seem to be
obviously true. Scientists have used different models to predict what would
happen in the event of a nuclear tragedy. One model definitively states that the
survivors would have to contend with global warming on a massive scale; while
another model just as equally proves that survivors would live in a frigid
nuclear winter, which would span several decades. Without all the pertinent
data, some scientific facts are simply assertions presented as science.
How do I develop a working thesis?
As you consider your argument so far, insure that you keep your focus on the rhetorical situation
A problematic working thesis normally does not take into
account either of the previous elements. For example, let’s speculate that you
were considering a call for lower tuition. A weak working thesis might look like
College tuition just doesn’t
seem to get cheaper.
This working thesis does not contain the call to action,
and its language is so imprecise and vague that decisions about what kinds of
evidence to use will be difficult to make.
A more focused working thesis might look like this:
Although a college education
is a valuable commodity in our society, rising costs are making it difficult for
some families to afford to send their kids to college.
This working thesis would allow you to consider both how a
college education is valuable (for example, gathering evidence of what it allows
someone to do that another person without a college education might not be able
to do), while you focus on the effects of rising tuition for working class
and/or middle class families, who can be most effected by rising costs.
How do I narrow my working thesis?
Once you have gathered evidence and support for your
working thesis and you have made decisions about how you will present the
evidence and support for your intended audience, you will want to sharpen the
focus of your working thesis, so that you have a specific thesis or clear main
How do I draft an argument thesis?
Remember that you are presenting your subject, your
position, and what you want you audience to do in your thesis. While you
probably will not articulate each of these three elements in detail, you will
certainly want to provide an overview for each of these, since these are the
major considerations of your argument.
What kinds of problems are there with an argument
Insure that your thesis does not:
Ø Just presents facts and/or analysis
Ø Neglects to get involved in the debate or argument
Ø Forgets to cause some explicit action
For example, an ineffective thesis would sound like this:
A college education is one of
the most valuable commodities in our society, and, unfortunately, the costs of
college keep rising and this harms some families.
This is a not an argument thesis statement, but is rather
an expository thesis statement. A better thesis would sound like this:
Since a college education is a
valuable commodity in our society and rising costs are making it difficult for
some families to afford to send their kids to college, college tuition should be
a deductible expense for working and middle class families.
This thesis now presents two premises—the value of college
in society and the risks for society presented by the rising tuition
prices—plus, the thesis ends with a call for action (make college tuition a
deductible expense for certain taxpayer groups).
How do I organize my evidence and support?
This is a good opportunity to write down the actual steps,
or the logic of your argument, so that you can literally see where you are
starting your argument and where you are taking your readers. Show how one point
leads to the next point. By seeing the logic of the argument, you can also
anticipate problems with the logic (see fallacies) and problems with the
language (see language problems). Are there implications that you have not
considered or terms that need clarification?
Persuasion/Argument Structures: Induction, Deduction,
What is an induction argument?
Induction offers information and evidence in such a way
that your audience is drawn almost “naturally” and logically” to your
proposition. Vital to the success of the induction argument is the strength of
the logical connections between the points and premises and between the points
and premises and the proposition. Normally an induction pattern uses the
Ø An introduction that provides enough information about the subject
so that the audience understands where the debate is currently at
Ø A presentation of evidence that begins with the most easily
understood and/or least objectionable points and moves toward the more
contentious points and premises, conceding and refuting as necessary
Ø A conclusion that is the inevitable conclusion given your points
and premises (Often the argument thesis, or proposition, is stated for the first
time in the conclusion.)
What is a deduction argument?
Deduction relies on a logical statement, called a
syllogism, to form its organization. A syllogism is a three-part statement that
begins with a generalization, qualifies that generalization for a specific
purpose, and reaches a conclusion by comparing the information given in the
first two parts. Essentially, a syllogism uses valid statements from one
scenario and uses them in other cases. An example of a syllogism would be:
Generalization: Friends should not gossip about each
Qualifier: You are my friend.
Conclusion: Therefore, you should not
gossip about me.
While the names of the three parts of the syllogism, and
the word syllogism itself, may seem foreign to you; the use of syllogism to make
decisions and arrive at conclusions is an everyday practice. You might say, I
don’t like bananas, and that yogurt has bananas in it; therefore, I won’t like
that yogurt. The main weakness of syllogisms can be found in the generalization.
Let’s say that you actually tasted the banana yogurt and found that you enjoyed
it. The problem with the syllogism, then, would be the problem with your not
liking bananas. Because you are enjoying banana yogurt, you do, in fact, like
bananas to a certain extent, and you cannot say definitively that you do not
like bananas. Now this is a rather banal and mundane syllogism; but it can be
made much more political and socially-relevant.
Normally, a deduction argument uses the elements of the
syllogism to form an extended thesis statement at the end of the conclusion, and
each of the three elements of the syllogism are then used as the paper’s topic
sentences . Many writers return to the syllogism in the conclusion to emphasize
its logic and relevance for the context and conditions of the writer’s argument.
What is a Toulmin argument?
The philosopher Stephen Toulmin invented an organizational
system for using what he called informal or casual logic. Toulmin’s system
relies on the normal uses of dialogue to create an effective argument. Toulmin’s
argument structure considers what an audience is likely to accept, what emotions
and feelings do to effect the argument, what that audience is likely to do if it
accepts the premises and propositions of the argument, and what potential and
chance and probability, as opposed to firm truth, will do to cause an audience
to accept your proposition.
Normally, a Toulmin argument uses the following
1) A Claim for a proposition that is discussed as your belief.
You will then explain why your belief is important for the particular audience
2) Supporting evidence for your claim
3) Warrants or reasons why your audience should accept the
supporting evidence, which are normally a part of each presentation of
supporting evidence (i.e., the warrants are usually written after the supporting
evidence is offered in the body paragraphs)
4) Polite concessions and/or civil refutations that
acknowledge other arguments but insist on the claim for your argument
What is a Rogerian argument?
You may have encountered debates that pit one side against
another side, with little to no ground for any other position. For instance, the
death penalty and abortion both have debates that are either/or debates. Other
debates, such as Affirmative Action, which has many differing and conflicting
aspects, values, facets, and definitions is clearly not an either/or debate. In
either/or debates, resolution, victory, or progress often seem to be slowed by
the fact that both sides are unwilling to yield any ground in the debate. Both
sides have much at stake, whether it is social, financial, or moral, in
achieving total victory. One of the problems with trying to join into these
either/or debates is the lack of civility and, in some cases, humanity, that
either sides practices within the debate. Sometimes the rudeness, hatefulness,
and incivility problems involve debates that are not either/or debates.
Psychologist Carl Rogers created a system for joining these
either/or debates, so that you can emphasize resolution, agreement, and
civility. Rogers hoped that all the participants in debates could respect one
another, agree on some basic issues, and all work productively toward a peaceful
and harmonious resolution. Rogers was no blind optimist, though; he understood
that some debates would never be solved or won, and he hoped that the two sides
could live peaceably even though they fundamentally disagreed.
A Rogerian argument uses empathetic listening, which has
listeners repeat back to the speakers what they just heard. Instead of
disagreeing or agreeing with points or premises, the listener gets involved in a
process of negotiation that searches for points and premises of agreement and
disagreement; but a system of negotiation that causes no hurt feelings and no
uncivil tones and attitudes. A Rogerian argument often has no obvious winner or
loser in a debate. By searching for the disagreements and agreements, both
parties usually gain an understanding of each other that enables them to
appreciate the other party and, Rogers hoped, to negotiate a middle ground or
moderate position that would be acceptable to both. At the least, Rogers hoped
that even if nobody won, lost, or even negotiated a settlement in the debate,
the participants would learn to value the people involved in the debate as equal
human beings with the same core values of compassion and understanding.
A Rogerian argument is normally organized much like a
Toulmin argument, except that when the Toulmin argument would anticipate and
then concede and/or refute an opposing perspective, a Rogerian argument would
acknowledge and make accommodations for these points and premises. A Rogerian
argument normally is organized like this:
1) A Claim, which is often articulated as your belief but is
qualified as being a claim that many other people might not agree with. Any
shared points and premises are normally articulated so that your readers will
accept you as someone who will respect their opinions and propositions within
the debate. As you discuss other opinions and propositions within the debate, be
as honest, respectful, and objective as possible, using neutral and
non-emotional language. (See the Problems with Language above for further
guidance in what to avoid.)
2) Supporting evidence for your claim that is presented in
ways that avoid language problems. If needed, explain the context or background
for your claim.
3) Civil concessions for the existence and value of other
points and premises that do not subordinate these points and premises.
4) Concluding remarks that discuss in honest and respectful
ways other propositions and conclusions. You must strive to make your audience
feel as if their argument has a valid right to exist, even if you disagree with
it. These remarks should also validate the presence of other people in the
debate, no matter your difference with their opinions and feelings.