Below is some of the information compiled from students interviewing professionals in various fields of study. Each interviewee provided some helpful tips on what makes a strong argument in their field as well as an example of a strong argumentative paper. Listed below are the two most important pieces of advice each professional gave about writing persuasively in a given field.
Interviewee: Professor Joseph Lough
“The most important part of argument in economics is using rigorous mathematical modeling to simplify the trends of society into one equation. Combined with intermittent narrative, this technique is sure to persuade. Additionally, most new economic theories are not really new at all, but rather changes on pre-existing theories. The purpose of any economic paper is to argue against something that already exists and propose a change.”
Recommended Model: “Competition and Democracy”
Interviewee: Professor Robert Cohen
“You need to provide enough context to place your evidence. Your whole argument is based around evidence, so evidence is very important. I try to make my writing accessible, lack jargon, and be well paced. You don’t conclude the results before the experiment is finished. You need to accept the complexity of research. There are contradictions in history. You have to acknowledge them.”
Recommended Model: “There’s a Footnote to History!”
Interviewee: Professor Martha Olney
“All academic economics papers always relate to positive economics questions. This means that papers are about questions such as “what is” and “what isn’t.” You focus on the empirical data and do not insert your own bias/opinions. The latter belongs in a blog or an op-ed. Graphs make things easy(er) to see and understand. They can help get a point across and tell a story.”
Recommended Model: “Not the Power to Destroy – An Effects Theory of the Tax Power”
Interviewee: Brian Brown
“Be authentic. Be who you are…have a good product and let that do most of the talking. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I am not a technical guy. I like the business side of things. However, I have worked in tech companies and had co-founders who were much more technically skilled than I was.”
Interviewee: Tammy Lee
“I still use the five Ws (Who, what, when, where, why, and the occasional how). Though in structural outlining, I use the one of the following: inform, praise entertain, and promote to have my audience act and think as I do… Roy Peter Clark’s 50 writing tools, which comes in form of audio files and is free to use. I think it can be found at Poynter.org. Or search Purdue Owl on the Google search for more helpful information.”
“Capture your reader. The everyday consumer has information constantly thrown at them. So make it short, sweet, and easy to read. Cater to your audience. There’s an XY matrix of the type of consumers out in the market. So know each group and figure out the best way to speak to each one of them. Data dump and then explain why. Use numbers to your advantage and demonstrate how many households have gone solar and the amount of money saved. Then add the personal touch of illustrating why so many people are saying yes to solar. Be transparent. Address the issues and pitfalls of the solar industry. Consumers are going to ask and therefore you want to know what needs to be improved upon and how to do that.”
Recommended Model: “Solar Energy Revolution- A Massive Opportunity”
Field: Applied Math (Statistics)
Interviewee: Lisha Li, GSI of Stat 134
“Math is extremely interdisciplinary –it has many connections to the social sciences (such as philosophy) that many people would not think of at first glance. Since math is so logic-based, everything is an argument; for something like math, you have to prove that what you’re doing can be applied again to different situations and that the correct methodology is being used. Also, even if there currently aren’t any current real-world applications for what you’re doing, it’s almost always necessary to come up with some possible ones especially when applying for grants. When writing math papers, you have to be especially aware of the order that ideas are presented in.”
Recommended Model: “On the logarithimic calculus and Sidorenko’s conjecture”
Interviewee: Peter Eckman
Ekman’s approach to argument is to mimic the ‘rhythm of reading.’ He is humanistic in his approach and does not necessarily follow one model of argument. Using footnotes allows him to consider other ideas without distracting from the breadth of the writing.
Recommended Model: “The Beholding Eye”
Interviewee: Brad Delock
“Be thorough. Don’t make a point and not see it to its end. If you bring something up as part of your argument, make sure you explain it completely. Otherwise, you lose credibility and the point, which may be valid, is worthless. Remember that an argument is not an explanation. Students often explain their opinion like it is fact, and while it is important to explain your position, you have to remember to argue. Recognize your opposition and point out the flaws in their argument. Provide clear evidence preferably from an unbiased source to support your argument.”
Recommended Model: “FDR – Fala Speech”
Field: Political Science
Interviewee: Professor Darren Zook
“A good written argument is something that provides convincing answer to a good question. It is necessary to look for questions no one has attempted to answer. Having a definitive question and an answer to that question is the key. Writing the introduction first and using it as an outline is helpful. Introductions allow us to set the tone and they become a guideline to constantly refer back to while writing. The power of editing cannot be stressed enough, quoting the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez who said ‘what makes an author great is not what he writes but it is in knowing what to remove from what they have written so only the good stuff remains’…”
Field: African-American Studies
Interviewee: Nicole Jones
“Talking to people on the ground motivates analysis and brings your argument away from the theoretical and into the personal. The voices of those we talk about in institutions of higher education are often drowned out and ultimately completely lost. Arguments can be far more powerful when listening to people’s stories since you can begin to understand the “little things” that high level policy analysis doesn’t capture, such as the glances you get in public. These operate under the radar and can accumulate to dangerous levels.”
Recommended Model: “Stuck in Place – Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress toward Racial Equality“
Field: Asian American Studies
Interviewee: Professor Harvey Dong
“There is a need to disaggregate the statistics so you can look at the real situation for the Asian Americans because the Asian American community is so diverse, you have a very selective group of immigrants from professional groups coming from certain countries.”
Recommended Model: Takagi, Paul. “Remarks of Dr Paul Takagi.” Community Seminar: The Asian American Identity. San Francisco, California. Speech.
Field: Critical Race Theory/Public Welfare Institutions
Interviewee: Victor Sanchez
“Don’t be scared that it may be about race. Don’t rush to move away from talking about race. Talking about race can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Also, do not take color-blind approaches to AA [Affirmative Action] or diversity efforts because of tendencies to become very white”.
Recommended Model: Sanchez, Victor A. (2015). “Affirmative Action and Faculty in Higher Education,” The Vermont Connection: Vol. 36, Article 10.
Interviewee: Ben Swerdlow
“In clinical psychology, mental illness almost always controversial. Therefore, it is important to try to be careful with language. For example, a population which was once labeled as “schizophrenics” are now referred to as “people with schizophrenia.” This is an attempt to reduce stigma and communicate that mental illness is a feature, am encompassing identity.”
Recommended Model: Abravanel, B. T., & Sinha, R. (2015). Emotion dysregulation mediates the relationship between lifetime cumulative adversity and depressive symptomatology. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 61, 89-96.
Interviewee: Brandon Collins
“There is certainly a political aspect to my field. While I normally do not directly deal with matters of public policy or relations, the applied nature of the field ensures that someone must eventually contend with the public. Most of the interplay between the social and hard science aspects occur at the point when you attempt to transition between research and resource management. Many people will tend to support, or, at least, remain ambivalent towards your ideas until you try to implement them in the real world.”
“The “argument” itself arises from the interpretation of the data through different methods of analysis. The comparison of both the results of the analysis and the methods of analysis themselves is, therefore, critical when evaluating an argument in traditional scientific format.”
Recommended Model: Collins, Brandon, Jamie Lyndersen, Richard Everrett, Danny Fry, and Scott Stephens. “Novel Characterizations of Landscape-level Variability in Historical Vegetation Structure.” Ecological Applications 25.5 (2015): 1167-174. Ecological Society of America, 6 Feb. 2105. Web. 2 Feb. 2105 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/14-1797.1/abstract>.
Interviewee: Professor Edwin Lin
“So the first thing you have to do is to establish what people think they know. In other words, what do people expect? What do people think is going on? And then you have to debunk it, to prove it wrong. And you have to show that what people think is real is not really real. Then you to show what’s really going on with your findings, your data. Then you show that this is actually going on.”
Recommended Model: Davis, M., S., “That’s interesting: Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology.”
Interviewee: Professor Rebecca Herman
“In my discipline, a persuasive argument must do a couple of things: 1) Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the existing consensus on the topic that the author seeks to contribute to 2) Clearly articulate what the author’s argument will contribute to or change about the existing consensus (that is, its significance in the historiography) and 3) Offer original primary source research and conceptually sound analysis of that research in order to support the argument.”
Field: Mechanical Engineering
Interviewee: GSI Marleigh Duncan
“Don’t try to hide too much and clearly state your assumptions. This gives strength to why the model actually shows something and shows why it would be different than other models out there. I am doing computational modeling, so you are always trying to show why there are a bunch of computational models, why your model is useful in comparison to the others, and so you compare it to experimental results, you compare it to other models, and show what the strength of the model is.”
Field: East Asian Languages and Cultures
Interviewee: Dr. Brian Baumann
“Those rhetorical guides allow you to what it takes to win in your argument. So if the situation calls for you to take your opponent’s argument, ignore the sense of it, and just reduce it to obscurity, then you can beat the argument. Some ways of arguing are like that. They do not care about any kind of ultimate truth. They just want to win. But for me, it is not about winning or losing. It is about being right or being wrong, and showing something or learning something. So that is the environment for me. It is not about winning or losing; It is about teaching or learning.”
Recommended Model: Kara, G. (1992/1993). “Analysis of a Mongolian Social Democrat’s Treatise 1990.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae Vol. 46, No. 2/3 (1993/1993), pp. 283-287.
Field: Political Science
Interviewee: Professor Chris Ansell
“Are there any specific types of arguments that you find particularly convincing?”
“One type is the Disease Model, which draws an analogy of a public problem to a disease. Calling issues an “epidemic” that it is spreading implies that we should be on guard to protect to against it. Another is the Rights Based version. For example, people that are hungry and are poor might argue that having food is a right that everyone should have. Thirdly, Medicalization. It is similar to drawing an analogy to a disease, but Medicalization states that the issue is a medical problem and should be subject to medical treatment. For instance, obesity is medicalized.”
Recommended Model: Dahl, Robert A. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.