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 these questions.


Narration: FAQs


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 drafting:

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 happen?

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 of them.


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 another?

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 large ordeal.


Checklist for Peer-Review Narrative Revision


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 centered?


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 effectively?


Ø      Do the body paragraphs have transition sentences that wrap up the paragraphs?


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?)



Description: FAQs 


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 impression.


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 questions: 

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 sections?

(Describe each major part and its minor parts.)


A subjective description usually answers the following questions:

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 situations:


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 subjective description?

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 room).


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 office.


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 paragraphs?


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 paragraphs:


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 knows.

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 four-car accident.


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 might write:


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 of us

What another person might think or describe

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 statement.


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 one sentence?


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)?

Process: FAQs


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 step-by-step instructions.  

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 have forgotten.


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 process


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?

The most common convention of step-by-step directions is to organize the process according to the steps undertaken to complete the process. Consider the following ideas:
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 body paragraph
What should I put in my paper’s conclusion?

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 organized?

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 the steps?

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?

Exemplification: FAQs

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 point?


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 thesis?

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 and generalizations.


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 paper.


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 your examples?


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 ideas/examples).



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?



Surface features:

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, spelling/homonyms?



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?



Classification/Division: FAQs


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.



Text Box: Web Classification Case Study:
Web Resource:
Visit the following Web site and read the page and take the online one-question quiz:
What are the main classes of human race or ethnicity?
Divide one of those classes further, providing national or regional identifiers, For instance, Hispanic could be one major class, with Central American, Puerto Rican, or Guatemalan serving as three possible examples of different regional/national Hispanic identities. 
Which of the major human races can be divided furthest into the richest series of classes and sub-classes? Why do you think this is?
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:


Ø      Type

Ø      Kind

Ø      Sort

Ø      Category 

Ø      Group


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 of classification.


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 audience know?



How will you divide your total population? Into what groups and classes?










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?


Comparison/Contrast: FAQs


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 your paper.


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 conclusion.



How do I decide between using a subject-by-subject or point-by-point organization?

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.



Text Box: SUBJECTS OF COMPARISON: Honda Accord Versus Ford Taurus
Ø      Gas Mileage
Ø      Reliability
Ø      Sticker Price
Ø      Customer Satisfaction
Ø      Resale Value
How do I combine points into one paragraph?

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 body paragraphs.


SUBJECTS OF COMPARISON: Honda Accord Versus Ford Taurus



Ø      Gas Mileage

Ø      Reliability

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 questions:

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.



Text Box: Case Study #2: The Recent Increase in School and/or Workplace Violence
Working as a group, determine how many individual cases of school and/or workplace violence you can recall or locate using a Web search. Then either work individually or in smaller groups, after dividing up the list of school/workplace shooting tragedies. Research online to determine what kinds of causes have been theorized for each tragedy. Each school/work incident should have its own fishbone diagram or responses to Burke’s Pentad. Finally, return to the larger initial group and try to create a generic causal chain that will illustrate some of the common causes of recent school/workplace violence. This project might be completed as a PowerPoint presentation.
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 Hoc.

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 cause.

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 money.


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 becomes illogical.


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 be discussed?

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.  


Text Box: What kinds of terms will help my audience understand the effect?
When you are bringing your readers to a point where you want them to understand that what you are proposing is a process that leads to a certain effect, then you need to be very careful about your use of language. Since you are probably directing your readers from one cause to another cause, which may cause other things and also cause your effect, the logic of what you are explaining must be obvious and should serve as a “handrail” of sorts to guide your readers along as they make their way through your paper. Precise language is of a great assistance as this metaphoric handrail; but certain words also can help your readers to see a transition or to see that you are proposing another cause. Consider using terms such as these:
First, second, third; primary, secondary, tertiary
Then, therefore, thus
Afterward, before, initially, in the end, as a result
Outcome, end, goal, effect 
Process, means, method, reason, route, causes, stages

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 following:


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 external factors.


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 be false.


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 and persuasion?


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 things.


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 this:


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 point.


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 thesis?

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, Toulmin, Rogerian


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 following organization:


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 other.

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 organization:


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 to consider

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.