Discussing

To continue building on points previously made regarding the Inquiry Project, both in design and ambition, this post specifically addresses how to think about logically structuring your argument throughout the body of your work.  As we discussed last Thursday with our friends from the VCU Writing Center, crafting your Inquiry Project will require you to be jointly attuned to the structure of your argument itself and the rhetorical force you put behind it.  Simply put, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis is true.  Though, your project will (necessarily) include more than this.  It’s important to make a solid argument, but it’s equally important to situate it within a suitable framework given the purpose of the project and the audience being addressed. As mentioned, this framework is primarily established by the way you set up the problem you’re addressing, the claim you’re making, and the conversation of sources you use to inform and shape your discussion. Though, this also includes the platform you select, the media you use, and how you decide to utilize it all. Everything you include in your Inquiry Project is a rhetorical choice you make to not only effectively express to your reader why he/she needs to care about how you represent the problem you’re addressing and the argument you’re making, but to also represent yourself and establish your own character as writer and master creator of this new contribution to the field.

(Note: There are many ways to discuss ‘argument’ and various models to consider. Everything that follows is purposefully limited and primarily derivative of the work of Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams and how they discuss argumentation in The Craft of Research.  More on warrants can be found in this post.)

We can think of an argument as a conversation between author and audience, where one must necessarily include a claim he/she is trying to show is true, reasons for believing the claim is true, and evidence used to support those reasons.  To better ensure success and that the reader understands the relevance of these elements, one should clearly articulate the assumptions and principles used to show how the reasons rightly support the claim being posited.  One should also want to address the limitations of the argument and provide tenable responses to possible naysayers.

From here, we get this breakdown:

Claim: The point you’re trying to prove true
Evidence: The data you interpret to support your reasoning
Reasoning: Your explanation of how/why the evidence supports the claim
Warrant: The belief/principle/underlying assumption that connects your reasoning to your claim
Acknowledgment & Response: Alternative views and/or reasonable objections you should give credence

As mentioned, it’s not enough to just list these components and leave it at that: intentionally organizing your ideas and coherently transitioning between them goes a long, much needed way.  Nevertheless, these components are necessary when trying to structure paragraphs to support major points in your larger argument.  In a sense, you can think of the logical elements of argument as a math problem, where everything included after your thesis in your introduction adds up to equal the thesis.  As Tyler mentioned in our Writing Center hangout, to help make this work and better ensure the reader clearly understands what’s going on in the argument being made, it’s important to structure paragraphs to articulate and support specific assertions (or topic sentences) within the argument, ultimately bolstering the larger understanding of the work.

Here is an argumentative paragraph broken down to show the function of these components:

Search engines such as Google have become tools equally for exploration of internal interests and desires as for investigation of the external world: they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do anything else. [1]  As Nicholas Carr suggests in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, while we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. [2] When I type in the word ‘sonic’ in the search bar to look up where the closest Sonic restaurant is to my house, the auto-fill feature suggests the following top four searches: “Sonic Youth,” “Sonic Youth Dirty,” Sonic Youth Eternal,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”  Although not interested in finding anything about the band Sonic Youth (or the hedgehog) with my search, Google anticipates my expectations even before I can finish writing them out. [3]   As Carr explains, the frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online. [4]  Given my previous experiences with searching, Google now “knows” that I am a Sonic Youth fan and, in turn, has adapted its functions to fit my interests accordingly.  Thus, going along with Carr, though we commonly use searches to find information and answers we don’t readily possess, the information becomes more and more tailored to what we will enjoy finding. [5]

1. Claim; the main point of the paragraph
2. Warrant; a part of Carr’s argument used to shape and support my analysis
3. Evidence; the indisputable data I am interpreting
4. Warrant; More support from Carr
5. Reasoning; my explanation of why the evidence should be understood as support for [1]

It’s important to note that the paragraph here starts and ends with my own view rather than mere evidence.  This is essential when writing argumentative paragraphs because it allows you to maintain control throughout–nothing is left open for interpretation because you’re explaining how everything provided should be understood.  A key point: Data do not always speak on their own.  When writing the body paragraphs, be sure to always end them with your own reasoning, unpacking your evidence and precisely explaining why it supports your point.
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***To help ensure success in crafting such paragraphs for your project, I strongly recommend making an appointment with the Writing Center.  They are open this summer from Monday-Thursday 12-6pm and are available for both face-to-face and online consultations.***

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