Writing to Overcome Disagreement

WRITING TO OVERCOME DISAGREEMENT
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As you write your Position Papers, imagine that you are trying not only to help your relatives and fellow students understand your point of view, but also to influence them to believe you. You’ll need to use some techniques of persuasion in your papers. This handout will present just a few of the many persuasive techniques developed over centuries of human attempts to get things done at work and in government.
The primary aim in overcoming disagreement is usually to move your audience in some way—either to influence them to change their minds or to take some action. As you try to persuade others, you will be obliged to clarify your reasoning both for yourself and for your reader.

Critical Thinking for Persuasion
Probably, you’ve already used some techniques of persuasion in informal arguing in your everyday life. Let’s look at what might be a familiar situation and examine it for the techniques of argument.
Imagine that you have just received your meal at a fast food restaurant and notice that although you ordered your hamburger without mayonnaise, the clerk gave you one swimming in their famous sauce. You don’t want it. You decide to try to persuade the server to bring you a different sandwich. Your argument might go something like this:

You: You’ve given me a hamburger with sauce.
Server: Yes?
You: I ordered a hamburger without mayonnaise.
Server: We don’t put mayonnaise on our hamburgers.
You: I want another hamburger.
Server: I’m sorry, but we put our famous sauce on all our hamburgers; that’s what makes them so good.

Perhaps this server has never heard the slogan, “The customer is always right.” In any event, you want a different hamburger, but your assertion to that fact is getting you nowhere. What do you do? You must develop some reasons, some evidence that will change the server’s mind. Or you must discover some way to appeal to the logic, emotions or some belief of your server to move him or her to action. Imagine using the following arguments to get the server to agree that you deserve another sandwich.

You: I realize that I said “mayonnaise,” and that might not be quite accurate. What I meant was that I don’t want a hamburger with a high fat sauce. According to your advertising, your sauce has 12 grams of fat per tablespoon. My doctor has told me to cut down on my fat intake because of my heart condition. I could have a heart attack if I eat too much fat, you know. I know you can give me a low-fat hamburger because I was in here last week and the server who was on duty then made one for me. Also, I just saw one of your ads on television which stated that your national company is dedicated to the health of its customers. It just isn’t fair for you to stand there and tell me I can’t have a different sandwich.

Granted- this scenario is a little overdone, but you’ve probably encountered something similar in your everyday dealings with people. At any rate, learning the features of an effective argument will stand you in good stead in college, at work, and in daily life.

Basically, arguments have a main idea, or thesis, to put across. And to help the audience believe the thesis, the arguer gives reasons supported by evidence. In the example of the fat-garnished hamburger given above, the unhappy customer had a thesis: The restaurant should provide a different hamburger. To support that thesis, four reasons were given. Paraphrased they are: (1) The sauce will affect my health negatively; (2) The restaurant often changes its practices and can do so now; (3) The national company wants to protect the health of its customers, so you should, too; (4) It isn’t fair not to provide another sandwich. In each case the customer suggested evidence to prove those reasons. So that we can identify the kinds of reasons and supportive evidence an arguer can give, we can put labels on them.

Let’s look at each one again.

My doctor has told me to cut down on my fat intake [testimony of an authority].
According to your advertising, your sauce has 12 grams of fat per tablespoon [fact].
I could have a heart attack if I eat too much fat (if I eat your hamburger) [cause-effect].
I know you can give me a low-fat hamburger because I was in here last week and the server who was on duty then made one for me [example of precedent].
Also, I just saw one of your ads on television that stated that your national company is dedicated to the health of its customers [policy].
It just isn’t fair for you to stand there and tell me I can’t have a different sandwich [appeal to values].

Each of these techniques (testimony of authority, fact, cause-effect, example of precedent, policy, appeal to values) helps your audience think more critically about their beliefs or actions and may help move them toward your way of thinking. Ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians named these techniques logos, or the appeal to the audience’s logic or reason.

The Ancients also identified two other kinds of techniques for changing an audience’s opinions. They called these the appeal to emotions (pathos) and the appeal to credibility in the writer (ethos). In the restaurant example, in addition to appealing to the server’s logic by giving reasons, the customer appealed to the emotions by saying:

because of my heart condition [appeal to sympathy]and the customers’ own good character

or credibility by saying:
I realize that I said “mayonnaise,” and that might not be quite accurate. [willingness to acknowledge opposing views]

The customer might also have appealed to the emotion of guilt by threatening to call the manager or the head office. Or the customer might have begun yelling in order to make the server afraid. In a further appeal to credibility, the customer could have claimed to be a restaurant reviewer for a local newspaper or a friend to someone the server knew.

The techniques you choose when arguing will be determined by your analysis of your reader. After choosing what kind of evidence might be convincing to their readers, writers would need to decide how much evidence they’d need and what order would be most effective.

Although much of your college and business writing will focus on logos and ethos, in writing for non-profit organizations, you will need to pathos. In fact, non-profits (and advertising in general) often focus on emotional appeals. Watch for them in appeal letters and grant proposals.

Organizing Persuasive Writing

In addition to identifying the elements of arguments, the Greeks and Romans suggested effective arrangements for persuasive speeches. Today, we still follow them, although we have added some designs of our own. (See pages Chapter 22 in Writing Today) Aristotle’s students pestered him for an organizational format for their speeches. Exasperated, he wrote in his lesson plans, “A speech has two parts. You must state your case, and you must prove it” (Rhetoric 1414b). At another time, he wrote that a speech “has a beginning, a middle, and an end” (24).

So following Aristotle’s advice, you could outline a position paper for school or work this way:
I. Introduction stating your thesis
II. Reason one for your belief
Supportive evidence (and use of the three appeals)
III. Reason two for your belief
Supportive evidence (and use of the three appeals)
IV. Reason three for your belief
Supportive evidence (and use of the three appeals)
V. Reason four for your belief
Supportive evidence (and use of the three appeals)
VI. Conclusion

If you think a more specific pattern will help you, here’s one developed by Aristotle and amplified by rhetoricians who lived after him. It’s sometimes called the Classical Oration format. A modern-day rhetorician Edward P.J. Corbett, in his book named Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, describes the parts of the basic five-part argument structure this way:

I. Exordium (Introduction) (from the Latin for “beginning a web”): The introduction announces the topic, catches the reader’s interest, disposes the reader favorably toward the writer, and presents the thesis of the argument.

II. Narratio (Statement of Fact): This is a non-argumentative statement about the background and objective facts concerning the situation, problem, or topic. It may contain circumstances, details, summaries, and definitions. It should be neutral and matter-of-fact in tone so that the reader will trust the writer.

III. Confirmatio (Reasons to Believe Your Thesis): This is the largest chunk of the paper. In it, the writer presents the best evidence for believing the thesis.

Classical rhetoricians recommended arguing from past events or from future consequences. So, writers looking at the past could argue whether (or not) an act was committed; whether (or not) it did harm; whether the harm is more (or less) than alleged; whether a harmful act was justified. Writers arguing from the future could prove that a certain act can (or cannot) be done; it is just or unjust; it will do harm or good; it is not as important as the opposition says it is.

Classical rhetoricians suggested putting the moderately convincing piece of evidence first, the weakest evidence in the middle, and strongest evidence at the end. This way, readers see an important reason first and the best reason last. Weaker reasons are sandwiched in the middle where they won’t be remembered as well.
And in writing for non-profits, your confirmation will often use all three of the appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos as reasons and evidence.

IV. Refutatio (Refuting Opposing Arguments): The writer can refute the opponent’s arguments by denying the truth of any of the premises on which they are built or by objecting to the inferences drawn by reasonable premises. The refutatio can appeal to logic (logos), emotion (pathos), or personal appeal of the writer (ethos), or perhaps even wit. The idea here is to show that you are well-informed; you know the opposite points of view, but have excellent reasons (which you share) for not believing them.
And in writing for non-profits, your refutatio will often use all three of the appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos as reasons and evidence.

V. Peroratio (Conclusion) (From Latin peroratio for “finishing-off” the oration): Aristotle said it has four tasks: renders the audience well-disposed to the writer and ill-disposed toward the opponent; magnifies the writer’s points; puts the audience in the proper mood; and refreshes the memory by summarizing the main points. The conclusion can also call readers to engage in some action.

The parts of the Classical Oration can be sentences, paragraphs or larger “chunks,” and they don’t have to stay in this order. For example, you may choose to

briefly but fairly summarize the opposing arguments first before making your own claims, or
use a point-by-point arrangement where you describe an opposing idea, immediately refute it and move on to the next opposing idea and refute that one.

Remember also that you have options other than placing your most important argument last. You might decide to

move from simple ideas to more complex ones, or
• move from something familiar to something lesser known, or
• move from something the reader believe to lesser-believed information.

As you arrange your paper, it’s important to keep the audience in mind. Which order will best convince them of your point of view?

The main point of this handout is that to persuade readers to understand and believe your point of view, you must as Aristotle put it, “State your thesis and prove it.” You can best do this if you have reasons and evidence. And you can also use emotional and credibility appeals. Fortunately, over the thousands of years since Aristotle and the other great Rhetoricians lived, there have been many formats developed for persuasive communication. As writers, you don’t have to make up your own. As you write for school and work, try putting into practice the effective techniques used over the centuries.

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