The Art Of Argument: Convince Them!

The Art of Argument

The art of argument is a set of skills you need to be able to master. Whether you’re a writer or a speaker, in a business or personal context, you’ll find it to be invaluable.

An argument is not a quarrel with someone; it is the presentation of ideas and opinions, supported by reason or discussion, with the aim of influencing or convincing the audience to accept, or at least consider, a particular point of view.

Some techniques work better than others; some should be used sparingly, if at all.

If you are familiar with these techniques and understand how (and whether) to use them, you will be better equipped to write (and speak) persuasively.

The art of argument lies in persuasive techniques

You can build up an argument by using a number of these techniques within a text (an article or a speech).

Include intellectual appeal

When constructing an argument, a great deal of what you write or say will appeal to the intellect (the mind or the ‘head’).

Typical intellectual appeals involve statements of fact, reason, logic and statistics.

e.g. Following the investigation, it was made clear – and cannot be disputed – that in each of these five documented cases, the cause of the fire was faulty electrical connections.

Use emotional appeal

Successful arguments often make appeals to the emotions (the feelings or the ‘heart’).

Emotional appeals often rely on emotive language, which means you choose words that will have the desired effect on your readers or audience and urge them to ‘feel’ something, usually at a personal level.

e.g. Experimentation on animals is wrong and cruel. Imagine your pet enduring such treatment.

Combine the two, and then…

The best arguments use intellectual and emotional appeals.

For added power, include a motivational push (an appeal to action or ‘the hands’). It will involve your audience more deeply with your argument.

Some people are swayed or influenced more by one type of appeal.

Remember: By making appeals to ‘head’, ‘heart’ and ‘hands’, you engage the whole person and include everyone in your audience, regardless of how individuals are primarily influenced.

Start with a clear statement

Make a clear statement of your view, claim or opinion at the beginning of the text. Outline your main point clearly and simply in a topic sentence, using fact and/or opinion. The rest of the text should be a development of this point.

Present a range of reasons

Why are you arguing this point?

The answer will vary, but often you can choose reasons from among these areas: social, historical, scientific/factual, cultural, economic or personal.

Pose a counter argument

This is an aspect of the art of argument you should be aware of. It’s a two-step technique.

First, you state a view or mention a claim that is the opposite of (or ‘counter to’) the one you are presenting.

Second, you demonstrate, with facts or reasoning, how this counter argument is limited or faulty.

e.g. Many believe that if people wish to smoke themselves to death, then they should be allowed to do it (opposite opinion). Recent evidence, however, shows that smokers not only damage their own health, they also damage the health of those around them (shows fault, using facts).

My book, Public Speaking … Who, Me? has a lot more detail on the art of argument.
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Present relevant facts

Use facts to support a particular point of view or show the fault in an opposing argument.

e.g. The rising cost of living and the halt in wage rises and tax concessions makes total nonsense of the government’s claim that households are better off than they were five years ago.

Offer examples

You can use examples to support or validate a fact or an opinion.

e.g. Children are being exploited in Australian workplaces. For example, just last month, girls as young as eight years old were found operating heavy industrial sewing machines in nine locations close to the city.

Quote statistics

Use statistics to reinforce statements, opinions or examples and make them more convincing.

Don’t overwhelm your audience, however, with too many statistics.

e.g. Child ‘slave labour’ has not been eliminated (statement). Throughout the country, an estimated 70,000 children aged 12 and under are working 20 hours or more per week in the clothing industry (supporting statistics).

Give your opinion

You can express an opinion, then use facts (or statistics) to gain support for it.

e.g. Young children should not be allowed to have unlimited use of mobile phones (opinion). Studies show that this exposes the young to unacceptable levels of risk and injury (fact).

Use authority and expert statements

When you use phrases such as ‘Studies show ….’, ‘Specialists agree ….’, or ‘Research has proved ….’, you are calling upon authority figures or experts to give further weight to your argument. If you can name the expert or the research institute, even better!

Make sure you use accurate results. Fudging the evidence will get you no respect.

Apply logic

Using logic means you build up an argument in stages. One method is to use the ‘if x, then y’ format)

e.g. If we want to reduce the number of road accidents, then we should ban unsafe vehicles, focus on better training for drivers and improve road surfaces.

This could be supported by relevant statistics – for example, a reduced number of road accidents in places where one or more of these measures was put in place.

Ask rhetorical questions

A rhetorical question is one that requires no answer. The writer (speaker) assumes that the reader (audience) agrees and often chooses words that would make it difficult to disagree.

e.g. Would any rational person even consider supporting such an ill-advised suggestion?

Relate personal experience or anecdote

Beware. If this is limited (just about you), it can be unconvincing as evidence for a wider claim.

e.g. Cycling has become a very hazardous pursuit. My journey to work every day is beset with dangers. Only this morning I was nearly knocked off my bike by a passing lorry ….

This technique can be useful in your opening statement. A simple anecdote often gets an audience on your side.

Finish with a re-statement

A strongly worded repetition of a key idea leaves a lasting impression, especially at the end of the argument.

e.g. Therefore, for all these reasons, we need to act now, and eliminate these risks to our children’s health and safety.

The art of argument is, in fact, both an art and a skill. Use some of these techniques consciously to build and maintain your audience appeal.

See more of my Writing Tips.

Contact me for DIY presentations to help you improve Business Communication in your organisation.

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