Every writer has a strain of argumentative spirit, since the very art they produce requires original and critical thinking; in other words, every writer has the potential to argue well. Personally, I’m always on the quest to learn how to write and argue better, especially since argument helps instill purpose, life and clarity of thought in my writing. Throughout my internship at “Study Breaks,” I learned a few things that improved how I argue, and I thought it would be nice to share some of them with my fellow readers and writers. Here are five of those lessons.
1. Form an opinion. Research. Re-form that opinion.
The most important part about an argumentative piece is the argument, and the argument must be precise, concise and narrow. If the thesis is too broad, then a thousand-word real estate won’t come close to doing the argument justice. And trying to fit a vast thesis into limited space will inevitably lead to lapses in logic and a forceless, formless essay or article.
In order to prevent such catastrophe, the first draft of an idea should be broad enough to allow research, and should be tailored each time you gather data. The data should always affect the thesis, not the other way around.
2. When in doubt, use facts.
As a college student, I’ve nothing to show for myself. No degrees and no expertise—like a jack of all trades, but not a good one. So, in every writing project whose scope is usually too ambitious for a typical college student to tackle, I always aim to include relevant facts, statistics and quotes, since verifiable facts are the only things protecting me against my own vulnerabilities in argument, and thus against a potential upending of my credibility as a cogent arguer.
When I choose to tackle a big issue, and to contribute, no matter how small, to a realm like politics, I never make excuses to not write a clear and evidenced-based argument, since doing so only requires effort and the right mindset, not age. Also, when I lack in facts in writing a piece that mandates high-density data, I only risk coming off as arrogant and self-entitled, and consequently could lose any good reputation I have as a writer.
3. Don’t get cocky.
I try to stay within the limits of my abilities, but at the fringes and pushing out. When I become too arrogant and overreach my limits, I become more blind to my own abilities, and the carelessness for introspection worsens the further I venture out. The scariest part about this blindness is that it hinders even my own awareness of that blindness, since I’m more likely to substitute imagination for facts in my writing, which would immediately demote any potentially good argument to the level of wishful thinking.
In such a state, I would not only be okay with writing a half-empty piece, but I would also believe the piece to be full and thorough. My readers would likely look with contempt upon this type of vapid piece, while I’d pat myself on the back for what I thought was a decent job. I don’t want to be that kind of writer.
4. Don’t wait for the Muse.
Many writers sit at their desks in wait for the Muse to visit them and instill their minds with genius. They live at Its mercy. I’ve found a different perspective more productive: The Muse is lazy. Though the Muse is a friend that likes to help me out, It isn’t obligated to do so; It isn’t my personal slave who patiently waits until I sit at my desk before showering me with unsolicited but fantastic ideas. But, if I first put in the effort, the Muse will probably come, since It doesn’t have anything else to do.
And even if It doesn’t arrive, hope isn’t all lost; my writer’s block has actually served as a natural filter to parse out the interesting bits from what I read, and helped inform my static brain on potential angles in approaching an argument. Once I realized how inspiration works and the perks of its absence, I had no more excuses to not start writing on any given project.
5. Remember, arguments are everywhere.
When I wrote my article on Gregory Smith, I had initially wanted it to flow like a journalistic piece—like a nonfiction short story. But in the process of writing it, I began to see how Smith’s story conveyed certain underlying messages, and I decided to break away from that initial plan and write the piece as if his story was the argument. I applied the same lesson to my Beyond Marijuana piece, which is laden with scientific data, by incorporating a sort of story, a theme, an argument, that integrates the essence of the piece.
I think that both pieces turned out better than they would’ve if I had been insensitive and too straightforward with the information used. So, I learned that, in a sense, arguments exist where stories are, and stories exist everywhere. Thus, it seems that arguments are everywhere.
Of course, use these tips however you’d like. If you choose to heed them, I hope they help you as much as they did me. Happy writing!