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.

Writing to Persuade: Proven Techniques That Convince Others To Listen To You, Take You Seriously, And Change Their Minds

Making Aristotle and Plato palatable!

My book about how to argue effectively is now available on! I am in the process of getting them to ‘unlock’ it so that the reader can look inside it.

Writing to Persuade: Proven Techniques That Convince Others To Listen To You, Take You Seriously, And Change Their Minds is intended to be a guide for those who need to construct an effective argument.

These days, argumentation can include anything from writing political blogs, to letters to the editor of your local newspaper, to convincing your partner to buy something they don’t want to spend money on, to convincing a wide audience that their perspective is limited by a lack of information. What connects all of these writing situations is the need to persuade the listener or reader of your way of seeing something.

The goal with persuasion is not, in and of itself, to be proven ‘right.’ Being right is often attained at the expense of furthering the conversation, and will also usually lose your audience. Your audience isn’t as concerned with who is right or wrong as they are with results. Effective argumentation shows you how to see an issue comprehensively, holistically, so that instead of focusing on ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ you become aware of the issues at stake.

An effective argument is usually an impassioned argument that contains enough believability and factual evidence, that it impresses your listener with the power of your position. To persuade is not to cajole, manipulate, or ‘sell’ someone on an idea. Instead, a truly persuasive argument educates. You broaden your audience’s awareness of a subject, with the goal of helping them understand the subject, and see it from your perspective.

To argue effectively is to gain the respect of your listener, no matter how opposed s/he is to your position. Anything less is not oratory or rhetoric in the traditional sense; it’s mud-slinging and manipulation, neither of which I believe in. If the goal of argumentation is to educate and enlighten, nothing comes of ad hominem attacks, or any of the many tactics used against one’s opponent.

That’s why I wrote this book: to provide an easy-to-read, quick, and accessible view of argumentation, and to show that it’s actually quite simple to persuade others when you have the goal of understanding each other in mind, rather than ‘winning’. This book is not about winning an argument, being right, or appearing smarter than your opponent; it’s about approaching the person you disagree with, with respect, realising that they have a right to their position.

And yet you will show them how your position is ultimately the better, more reasonable, sensible approach. That’s the essence of effective argumentation, just as it is in creative writing: show, don’t tell.