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I. Identify an Issue To have an argument in a formal sense, you must begin with an issue, a subject about which there are at least two clearly differing opinions. For example, “drunk driving” is not an issue for debate. However, reasonable people disagree about which policies are most likely to discourage people from driving while intoxicated. Use the following questions to determine whether you have chosen an issue worth pursuing in your writing: 1. Is the issue clearly debatable?   2. Can you explore the issue with something more than pure speculation? (Claims that can’t be verified often make for interesting philosophical discussion, but they don’t lend themselves fully to argument.)   3. Is the issue more than a matter of pure taste or preference? (An author’s own values and beliefs need to be supported in argumentative writing with sound reasoning or evidence.) 4. Does the issue avoid assumptions that are so deeply or universally... read more

Working with a student taking a college level writing course, I remembered an old axiom - challenge your professor. The student, a good writer already, wanted help in direction with a persuasive paper. The topic was a current headline in science: the possible dangers of genetically altered food. She was well versed in the pros and cons of the topic, but was having difficulty choosing sides in part because her professor had expressed a definite opinion.   After discussing the parameters of the paper, she knew in a persuasive paper she had to choose a side. I challenged her to choose immediately without any more going back and forth. To my surprise, she had enough spine to go directly against her professor's stated views. We worked to make sure the position she chose had plenty of factual support and that her draft would have a good structure. Then I encouraged her to think in the extreme - what's the most dramatic outcome if you are correct?   Through the wonder... read more

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