Argumentation 101

Effective communication has always been useful.

Effective communication has always been useful.


I just found a coherent and well-written article about what’s wrong with, and what’s missing from, argumentation, particularly in the online world.

The online world, in my opinion, gives too many people who are merely—and splutteringly—angry, a venue in which to ‘express themselves.’ While I’m all for self-expression, my professional background in rhetoric and argumentation makes it impossible for me to ignore a badly-constructed, or non-existent, argument.

From my perspective, the ability to express one’s self coherently is the key to being heard, understood, and taken seriously. There are a lot of things about this world I’d like to see change; only effective argumentation skills will help change them. Readers and listeners tend to tune out raw emotion, ad hominem (personal) attacks, and unsupported opinion. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to know how to construct a good argument.

As I’ve said to students many times, you first started learning how to argue the year you turned two and began exercising your right to say “no,” but now it’s time to refine that skill. A good argument can be defined as a well-supported and fully thought-out position on one specific subject that takes your audience into account. If this sounds complicated, it isn’t; what it is, however, is more time-consuming than twittering 140 characters of muddled opinion.

Below you’ll find the link to the article I found that makes a lot of sense. If you’re interested in developing your  argumentation skills—and believe me when I tell you virtually everyone could benefit from learning the basics, rather than simply spewing their raw, unthought-out, excessively emotional opinions—here’s one source.

My book Writing to Persuade is another; but there are many available sources when you want to learn how to express yourself in such a way that others will not only pay attention, but care about what you have to say; and, further, change their minds and then their behavior.

The article begins:

How to Argue

By Barry Eisler

The strangest thing about the low quality of Internet argument is that effective argument isn’t really so difficult. Sure, not everyone can be Clarence Darrow, but anyone who wants to be at least competent at argument can do it. Here are a few guidelines.

I’ll start with a hint: note the qualifier in the preceding paragraph: “anyone who wants to be.” I have a feeling most people who suck at argument believe they’re actually good at it. They’re not, and in fact they’re not even arguing — they’re masturbating. Good argument is intended to persuade another. Masturbation is intended to pleasure the self.

It’s the people who can’t tell the difference who mistakenly think they’re good at argument. I hope this article will improve the effectiveness of people who are interested in good argument. And I hope it will help people who until now have been masturbating to recognize what they’ve been doing, and to stop doing it in public.

Read more here.

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