11 I f you like to argue, you will enjoy writing position papers and argument essays. Thepurpose of a position paper or argument essay is to explain both sides of a contro- versy and then argue for one side over the other. This two-sided approach is what makes position papers and argument essays different from commentaries (Chapter 10). A commentary usually only expresses the author’s personal opinion about a current issue or event. A position paper or argument essay explains both sides and discusses why one is stronger or better than the other.
Your goal is to fairly explain your side and your opponents’ side of the issue, while highlighting the differences between these opposing views. You need to use solid rea- soning and factual evidence to persuade your readers that your view is more valid or advantageous than your opponents’ view.
In college, your professors will ask you to write position papers and argument essays to show that you understand both sides of an issue and can support one side or the other. In the workplace, corporate position papers are used to argue for or against business strategies or alternatives. The ability to argue effectively is a useful skill that will help you throughout your life.
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Summary of opponents’ position
Limitations of opponents’ position
Your understanding of the issue
Reasons why your understanding is better
than your opponents’ understanding
Major point of difference Opponents’ position Your position
Major point of difference Opponents’ position Your position
Reasons why your understanding is better than your opponents’
• • •
Position Papers This diagram shows two basic organizations for a position paper, but other arrangements of these sections will work too. In the pattern on the left, the opponents’ position is described up front with its limitations; then your own position is explained with its strengths. In the pattern on the right, you make a point-by-point comparison, explaining why your position is better than your opponents’. You should alter this organization to fit your topic, angle, purpose, readers, and context.
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Overview Arguing is fun, but you need to argue fairly and reasonably if you want to win over your readers. The strongest position papers and argument essays present both sides of an issue as objectively as possible and then persuade readers that one side is supe- rior to the other. They tend to have the following features:
• An introduction that states the issue being debated, identifies the issue’s two or more sides, and usually makes an explicit claim (thesis) that the position paper or argument essay will support.
• An objective summary of your opponents’ understanding of the issue. • A point-by-point discussion of the limitations of your opponents’ understanding. • A summary of your side’s understanding of the issue. • A point-by-point discussion of why your side’s understanding is superior to your
• A conclusion that drives home your main point and looks to the future.
This genre tends to be organized two ways, as shown on page 222. With some topics, you may need to show that there are more than two sides to the argument. In these cases, the pattern on the left can be expanded to include summaries and limita- tions of these other positions. It is best, though, to try to boil the issue down to two major sides. Otherwise, your readers will find it difficult to keep the sides of the argu- ment straight.
ONE STUDENT’S WORK
Allowing Guns on Campus Will Prevent Shootings, Rape
A graduate student leaving an evening class walks along the poorly lit sidewalk to the parking lot—it is a long, cold walk in the pitch-black night, and the student grows wary as shadows begin lurking in the distance. Suddenly, someone jumps out in front of the student, immediately threatening her with force. Before the student can react, she is raped and robbed. This is a very
The writer sets the scene to grab readers.
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224 CHAPTER 11 Position Papers
scary scenario, and one that happens on the SCSU campus every year. It seems like every week we get an e-mail citing another attack on students somewhere on or near campus. However, all of these attacks could be prevented if we allow students to carry guns as a means of self-defense.
Although safety is my biggest concern, there are other arguments that point to this solution as well.
First, it is our Second Amendment right to bear arms. Although debates have gone on about how it should be interpreted, I believe it means that if law abiding, trained and eligible citizens would like to carry a gun with them in self-defense, they should be able to. Right now, that does not include campus. “The law, as it stands now, does not prohibit carry on campus,” said Terence McCloskey, SCSU campus leader for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC). “It allows universities to establish rules restricting carry on campus by students and staff.” According to the March 2007 Safety and Security bulletin in section 2.1, “Alcoholic beverages, non-regulated drugs, explosives, guns and ammunition are not permitted on SCSU property.” This rule, I believe, is a violation of my Second Amendment rights.
The second reason guns should be allowed is because it will give students, such as the one in the scenario, a sense of security and comfort when they are in a normally uncomfortable situation or area. The opposition would say that although the person with the gun is comfortable, it makes others around that person uncomfortable or afraid to speak up in class. Well, let me ask you this: How often do you feel uncomfortable or scared about someone near you having a gun when you go to a movie theater? Probably not too often. However, McCloskey said that 1 percent of Minnesotans have a permit to carry guns. “That means that every time they go to a movie theater with around 200 people inside, they are sitting with two people that are carrying a gun,” McCloskey said. There are people all around us that have guns, and it seems to be handled just fine. After all, the 1 percent that do carry guns have to meet certain requirements—guns are not handed out to just anyone.
Minnesota law requires everyone to have a permit in order to own a handgun, and to obtain one you must be 21 years of age, be a U.S. citizen, have training in the safe use of a pistol, not be a felon, not have a domestic violence offense in the last 10 years, not be a person convicted of stalking, as well as many other restrictions. You can find these laws on the State of Minnesota Web site.
The final reason that guns should be allowed to be carried by students who obtain a permit is that it could prevent a tragic shooting like the one at Virginia Tech a couple of years ago. “Our best and our brightest are in an
Here is his main point.
Point-by-point comparison of two positions.
Opponents’ views are presented fairly.
Opponents’ views are presented fairly.
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Inventing Your Position Paper’s Content When writing a position paper or argument essay, you should try to summarize both sides of the issue as fairly as possible. If readers sense that you are distorting your op- ponents’ view, they might doubt whether your views are trustworthy. So let your facts and reasoning do the talking for you. If your position is truly stronger, you should be able to explain both sides fairly and then demonstrate to readers why your side is the stronger one.
Inquiring: Identifying Points of Contention To begin generating content for your position paper, first identify the major points on which you and your opponents disagree. A brainstorming list like the one shown in Figure 11.1 on page 226 is often the best way to identify these major points.
Use two columns. In the left column, write “My position” and list all the argu- ments you can think of to support your case. In the right column, write “My oppo- nents’ position” and list your opponents’ best arguments for their side of the case. When listing your opponents’ ideas, you should do so from their perspective. What are their strongest arguments? What would they likely say to defend their position?
When you have filled out your brainstorming lists, put checkmarks next to the two to five most important points on which you and your opponents seem to dis- agree. These are called “points of contention” between your side and your oppo- nents’ side of the argument.
Researching: Finding Out What Others Know Now it is time to do some research. You can use your two-column brainstorming list as a guide to doing research on your topic. Collect sources that support both sides of the argument. You should look for a variety of online, print, and empirical sources.
Inventing Your Position Paper’s Content 225
unprotected environment and are essentially being led to the slaughter,” said Keith Moum in an article in the Missourian. “It’s not as graphic as that, but it clearly shows that there is an element out there that has targeted college students, and campus policy has left them with no way to defend themselves.” If guns had been allowed on that campus, that tragedy may have been either averted or at least minimized.
So, in order to make the SCSU campus and other campuses nationwide a safe, comfortable environment for everyone, we need to allow the ability to carry a gun on campus. Not only will it make a student carrying a gun feel safe, it can prevent a tragic shooting, a robbery, or a rape. It is our right. Let us exercise it.
The main point is driven home.
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226 CHAPTER 11 Position Papers
Students, faculty, and staff will feel less safe on campus if guns are allowed.
Alcohol could cause a lapse in judgment.
Campus police don’t want guns on campus.
Universities may be liable if an accident happens.
In a shooting incident, police cannot tell the criminals from the people defending themselves with guns.
Bullets from a defender’s gun may strike innocent people in a classroom.
Students are less mature and may use their guns to threaten others or play games.
Some students will carry guns without a concealed- carry permit.
Guns on campus will cause parents to fear sending their students to our university.
Guns locked in cars won’t be any use in a shooting.
Less stable students are the ones most interested in carrying guns.
We can strengthen security if campus is thought to be unsafe.
Accidents do happen, and the university will be liable.
More shootings on college campuses have happened recently.
Gun-free campuses disarm citizens who could end campus shootings.
Violent people would think twice about shooting at a campus.
More mentally ill students are going to college these days.
Universities would not be such easy targets for shooters.
A shooting could be ended quickly.
It may take minutes for security to arrive at the scene of a shooting.
Gun accidents are very rare.
Gun ownership is a constitutional right.
People with guns would need to be licensed and weapons concealed.
People will carry guns anyway, so it’s best to have it regulated.
Only way to stop someone with a gun is to use a gun.
Guns on campus could be left in car.
People will feel more confident and less scared on campus.
People will be able to be on campus at night.
My position: Concealed weapons on campus are a greater risk than no handguns on campus.
My opponents’ position: Students, faculty, and staff should be able to carry concealed handguns on campus.
FIGURE 11.1 Brainstorming to Identify Major Points of Contention When brainstorming about your topic, just write down anything about your topic that comes to mind.
Again, put yourself in your opponents’ place as you research their side of the issue. If you were your opponent, how would you build your argument? What would be your best points? What kinds of sources would you use to support your points? After all, if you only look for sources that support your side of the argument, there is a good chance you will miss your opponents’ best reasons for holding their opinion. Then it would be easy for your opponents to undermine your argument by showing that you have not considered one or more important ideas.
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Online Sources. The Internet can be helpful for generating content, but you need to be especially careful about your sources when you are preparing to write a position paper or argument essay. Countless people will offer their opinions on blogs and Web sites, but these sources are often heavily biased and may provide little support to back up their opinions. When researching, you should look for factual sources on the In- ternet and avoid sources that are too biased. Also, keep an eye out for credible televi- sion documentaries and radio broadcasts on your subject, because they will often address both sides of the issue in a journalistic way.
Print Sources. Print documents will likely be your most reliable sources of factual information. Look for magazines, academic journals, and books, because these sources tend to be more careful about their facts and have less bias. Through your library’s Web site, try using the Readers’ Guide to find magazine articles and periodical indexes to find academic articles. Your library’s online catalog is a good place to search for books.
Empirical Sources. Facts you generate yourself will be very useful for backing up your claims about your topic. Set up an interview with an expert on your topic, or cre- ate a survey that will generate some data. Do some field observations. If you really want to dig up some interesting information, set up an interview with an expert who holds an opposing view to your own. This kind of interview will help you understand both sides of the issue much better.
Remember, you are looking for information that is credible and not too biased. It is fine to use sources that make a strong argument for one side or the other, but you need to make sure these sources are backed up with facts, data, and solid sources.
Organizing and Drafting Your Position Paper The key to organizing a position paper or argument essay is to remember that you need to tell both sides of the story. As you are drafting your argument, it might help to imagine yourself in a debate with another person (Figure 11.2, page 228). If you were in a public debate, how would you express your best points and win over the audience? Meanwhile, try to anticipate your opponents’ best arguments for their position.
The Introduction Identify your topic and offer some background information to help your readers un- derstand what you are writing about. State your purpose clearly by telling readers that you are going to explain both sides of the issue and then demonstrate why yours is stronger. You might offer your main point (thesis) here in the introduction, or you can save it for the conclusion, especially if you think readers might resist your argu- ment. Look for a good grabber to catch readers’ attention at the beginning of your introduction.
Organizing and Drafting Your Position Paper 227
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228 CHAPTER 11 Position Papers
Summary and Limitations of Your Opponents’ Position Here is the tough part. Try to explain your opponents’ side of the issue in a straightforward way. You do not need to argue for their side, but you should explain their side in a way that your readers would consider fair and reasonable. Where pos- sible, use quotes from your opponents’ arguments to explain their side of the issue. Paraphrasing or summarizing their ar- gument is fine too, as long as you do it fairly.
As straightforwardly as possible, explain the limitations of your opponents’ position. What exactly are they missing? What have they neglected to consider? What are they ignor- ing in their argument? Again, you want to highlight these lim- itations as objectively as possible. This is not the place to be sarcastic or dismissive. You want to fairly point out the weak- nesses in your opponents’ argument.
Your Understanding of the Issue Then it’s your turn. Explain your side of the argument by tak- ing your readers through the two to five points of contention,
showing them why your side of the argument is stronger. Here is where you need to use your sources to back up your argument. You need to use good reasoning, exam- ples, facts, and data to show readers why your opinion is more credible.
Reasons Why Your Understanding Is Stronger. Before moving to your conclu- sion, you might spend a little time comparing and contrasting your opponents’ views with your own. Briefly, go head to head with your opponents, showing read- ers why your view is stronger. At this point, it is all right to concede some points to your opponents. Your goal is to show readers that your view is stronger on balance. In other words, both sides probably have their strengths and weaknesses. You want to show that your side has more strengths and fewer weaknesses than your oppo- nents’ side.
Conclusion Bring your argument to a close by stating or restating your thesis and looking to the future. Here is where you want to drive your main point (thesis) home by telling your readers exactly what you believe. Then show how your position leads to a better fu- ture than your opponents’ position. Overall, your conclusion should be brief (a para- graph in most position papers).
The diagram on page 222 shows two possible patterns for organizing your posi- tion paper or argument essay. As you draft your position paper, you might come up with a better pattern that fits your topic. No matter how you organize your position paper, the key is to tell both sides of the issue as fairly as possible.
FIGURE 11.2 Imagining a Debate with Your Opponents When drafting a position paper or argument essay, sometimes it helps to imagine yourself debating an opponent. How would you win over the audience? What might your opponent say, and how would you counter?
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Choosing an Appropriate Style The style of your position paper will help you distinguish your side from your oppo- nents’ side. Even though your goal is to be factually fair to your opponents, there is nothing wrong with using style to make your side sound more appealing and ex- citing.
Use Plain Style to Describe Your Opponents’ Position You should not be sarcastic or dismissive of your opponents’ side of the argument. Instead, describe the other side’s argument as plainly as possible. In Chapter 16, “Choosing a Style,” you will find helpful strategies for writing plainly, like putting the subjects of your sentences up front and using active verbs. You will also find tech- niques for writing better paragraphs that use clear topic sentences. If you use these plain style techniques to describe your opponents’ side of the argument, it will sound like you are fairly and objectively summarizing their views.
Use Similes, Metaphors, and Analogies When Describing Your Position When you are describing your side of the argument, you want to present your case as visually as possible. Similes, metaphors, and analogies are a great way to help your readers visualize your argument.
A simile compares something unfamiliar to something familiar:
Simile (X Is Like Y)
A college campus in which students are armed would be like a tense Old West frontier town.
Sharing music is like lending a good book to a friend, not pirating a ship on the high seas.
Metaphor (X Is Y)
If a shooting incident did occur, the classroom would turn into a shooting gallery, with armed students and police firing away at anyone with a gun in his or her hand. No one would be able to tell the difference between the orig- inal shooter and students with their weapons drawn.
The purpose of the music industry’s lawsuits is to throw a few unfortunate college students to the lions. That way, they can hold up a few bloody car- casses to scare the rest of us.
Analogy (X Is to Y Like A Is to B)
For some people, a gun has the same comforting effect as a safety blanket to a baby. Neither a gun nor a blanket will protect you from those imaginary monsters, but both can give you a make-believe feeling of security.
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The music industry’s lawsuits are like your old Aunt Martha defending her tin of chocolate chip cookies at the church potluck. The industry offers a plate of delicious songs, but only the “right people” are allowed to enjoy them. College students aren’t the right people because we don’t have enough money.
Try some of these “persuasive style” techniques to enhance the power of your ar- gument. Similes, metaphors, and analogies will make your writing more visual and colorful, and they will also help you come up with new ways to think and talk about your topic. You can learn more about persuasive style in Chapter 16, “Choosing a Style.”
Use Top-Down Paragraphs Your argument needs to sound confident, and your readers should be able to find your major points easily. So, in your paragraphs, put each major point in the first or second sentence. Don’t put your major points in the middle of your paragraphs or at the end because your readers won’t find them easily. A top-down style will make you sound more confident, because you are stating your major claims and then proving them.
Define Unfamiliar Terms Your readers may or may not be familiar with the topic of your argument. So if you use any specialized or technical terms, you should provide quick parenthetical or sen- tence definitions to explain them.
A conceal-carry permit is the legal authorization that allows private citizens to carry a handgun or other weapon on their person or in a secure place nearby.
Peer-to-peer file sharing involves using a network of computers to store and share files without charge.
Colleges have traditionally invoked an “opt-out” statute, a law that allows the ban of weapons where posted, to keep concealed handguns off their cam- puses.
Music sharing should become illegal when a person burns the songs (i.e., puts them on a CD) and sells them to someone else.
Designing Your Position Paper Position papers and argument essays tend to be written for college courses, so the design expectations are not high. More and more, though, you will find that your professors appreciate the addition of helpful visuals and the use of good page de-
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sign. If your work looks professional, they will likely have a more favorable impres- sion of it.
Use Descriptive Headings. Each of the major sections in your position paper should start with a clear heading that identifies what the section is about. For exam- ple, you could use headings like these:
The Case for Allowing Concealed Guns on Campus
The Limitations of Allowing Guns on Campus
Why Concealed Guns on Campus Are Dangerous
Conclusion: Why the Risks of Concealed Weapons Aren’t Worth It
You might use bold type to help your headings stand out, and you might use a larger font size where appropriate. Make sure your headings are formatted consistently.
Add Photographs and Illustrations. If you are writing about a local issue or an issue with a local angle, you might grab a digital camera and take a few pictures to use in your paper. The Internet might also be a good place to download a few pictures and illustrations to add a visual element to your text.
In your document, make sure you label your visuals with a number and title, and include a caption to explain them. If you download a photograph or other illustration from the Internet, you will need to cite your source in the caption and in your bibliog- raphy. If you want to put your position paper on the Internet, you will need to ask per- mission from the owners of the photograph to use it on your Web site.
Include Helpful Graphs, Diagrams, and Charts. Position papers often discuss trends in our society, so you might look for ways to use graphs that illustrate those trends. If you collected data or found data on the Internet, you might create a graph or chart to present that data visually. Or, if you found a helpful graph on the Internet, you could use it in your own document, as long as you cite it properly. Graphs and charts should have a title, and you should use numbers in your written text to refer readers to the visual (e.g., “In Figure 2, the graph shows . . .”).
Design the Page to Make It More Readable and Attractive. Let’s be honest. A double-spaced, 1-inch margin essay just looks boring. Your professors might appreci- ate your efforts to design a document that is more readable and more attractive (Figure 11.3, page 232). A header or footer would be nice. Maybe you could use two columns instead of one. Your headings could be bolder and more colorful. Of course, if your professor asks for something specific like “Your essay must use 12-point Times, be double-spaced, and use 1-inch margins,” then you will need to format it that way. But if there are no guidelines, you might ask whether designing the document is acceptable.
Number the Pages. Page numbers might seem like a simple thing, but they are helpful when discussing a position paper with other students or with your professor. Your word processor can add them automatically to the top or bottom of each page.
Designing Your Position Paper 231
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232 CHAPTER 11 Position Papers
Revising and Editing Your Position Paper As you draft your position paper or argument essay, your ideas will evolve. Some shift in your opinion is natural because writing about something gives you the opportunity to think about it in greater depth and consider other viewpoints. Drafting your argu- ment will also force you to back up your claims, which may cause you to rethink your position a little.
Now that you are finished drafting, you need to spend time revising and “re- visioning” your argument to make sure the whole paper holds together. In other
FIGURE 11.3 Designing a Position Paper or Argument Essay Your position paper doesn’t need to look boring and hard to read. The designers of this paper on campus violence use headings, bullets, indentation, and columns to make the text look more accessible.
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words, you don’t want to argue one thing at the beginning of the position paper and then argue something a little different at the end. The whole argument needs to work together to prove your main point or thesis.
Remove Any Digressions. When arguing, you might find yourself temporarily drifting off topic. These moments are called digressions, and you should remove them from the final version of your paper. Check each paragraph to make sure you are dis- cussing your topic and not going off in a direction that expands or sidetracks your argument.
Back-Check the Evidence for Your Claims. Make sure your claims are backed up with solid support. If you make a claim about your position or your opponents’, that statement should be followed up with facts, data, examples, reasoning, or quotations. Short paragraphs are usually a signal that you are not backing up your claims, be- cause such paragraphs typically include only a claim with minimal support.
Improve the Flow of Your Sentences. Try reading your draft out loud to yourself or someone else. Mark any places where you stumble or hear something that doesn’t sound right. Then use the “plain style” methods discussed in Chapter 16, “Choosing a Style,” to make your sentences flow better.
Make Your Writing More Visual. Look for places where you can use more detail and color to bring your writing to life. Describe things and people. Look for places where you can use similes and metaphors to add a visual component to your writing.
Ask a friend or roommate to read through your position paper to highlight places where you could revise. Also, your university may have a Writing Lab where you can get help with locating places in your essay that need revision.
Revising and editing are critical to developing solid position papers and argu- ment essays because your readers (i.e., your professors or supervisors) place a high value on clear, thoughtful writing. If they sense that you did not revise and edit your work, they will rate your work lower.
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A rebuttal counters or refutes an argument. Rebuttals often appear as letters to the editor. They are also used in the workplace to argue against potentially damaging reviews, evaluations, position papers, and reports. Knowing how to write a rebuttal is an important part of defending your beliefs, projects, and research.
The main difference between a rebuttal and a position paper is that a rebuttal responds directly to the points made in the original argument. After responding to your opponent’s argument point by point, you then offer a better counterargument. Here are some strategies for writing a successful rebuttal:
Review your opponent’s argument briefly. Objectively summarize the original argument’s main point and its major claims.
Challenge any hidden assumptions behind your opponent’s claims. Look for unstated assumptions in each major claim of your opponent’s argument. These are weak points that you can challenge.
Challenge the facts. If the author cites any facts, locate the original source to see if any data or details are outdated, inaccurate, exaggerated, or taken out of context. If the author has no supporting facts, then you can point that out in your rebuttal.
Challenge the authority of the sources. If possible, question whether the author’s sources are truly authoritative on the issue. Unless a source is rock solid, you can question the reliability of the information taken from it.
Look for logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are forms of weak reasoning that you can use to challenge your opponents’ ideas. You can learn more about logical fallacies in Chapter 22, “Using Argumentative Strategies.”
Offer a solid counterargument. Offer a different understanding of the issue supported by authoritative research.
your own rebuttal. Find a position paper in a newspaper or on a Web site that you disagree with. Write a two-page rebuttal in which you refute the
original argument and offer a counterargument. Your goal is to win readers over to your side.
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Politico did a disservice to its readers in publishing the Nov. 25 story, “Scientists urge caution on global warming.” It reports that “climate change skeptics”—the too-charitable name given those who deny the existence of climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence and the testimony of every reputable scientific organization—are watching “a growing accumulation of global cooling science and other findings that could signal that the science behind global warming may still be too shaky to warrant cap-and-trade legislation.”
While reasonable people may debate the value of cap-and-trade legislation, and it is certainly worth reporting on how its congressional opponents are strategizing to block it, it is simply false to point to a “growing accumulation” of evidence rendering basic climate science “shaky.” There is no such accumulation; there is no such science. If there were, perhaps the author would have cited some of it—it is telling that she did not.
Instead, she relies on the work of Joseph D’Aleo, a meteorologist (meteorology is the study of weather, not climate). D’Aleo’s lack of qualifications in climate science would be less relevant if he had published his work on “global cooling” in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Instead, it appears in the Farmers’ Almanac.
Incidentally, D’Aleo’s professional association, the American Meteorological Association, is one of dozens of leading national and international scientific groups to endorse the broad consensus on anthropogenic climate change. For some reason, the author did not reference or quote a single one of the hundreds if not thousands of scientists who might have vouchsafed that consensus (inexplicably, the one countervailing quote is given to Al Gore’s spokeswoman). If she had spoken with mainstream climate scientists, she would have discovered that they are not “urging caution” on global warming—they are running around, to paraphrase ex-CIA chief George Tenet, with their hair on fire, increasingly radicalized by the ignorance and delay of the world’s governments in the face of the crisis.
Also glossed over is the fact that the organizations backing D’Aleo’s work—National Consumer Coalition, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Center for Policy Analysis and Citizens for a Sound Economy— are (for better or worse) conservative interest groups, not science
Letter to the Editor on Climate Story Russ Walker and David Roberts
Opponent’s position is reviewed.
Challenges authority of sources.
Points out that the original article missed key sources of information.
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organizations. Similarly, the “Global Warming Petition Project” the author cites is one of the oldest, most discredited hoaxes in the “skeptic” handbook. It first emerged in 1998, when it was promptly disavowed and disowned by the Academy of Sciences. The petition is deceptive: Only a handful of signatories come from relevant scientific disciplines, it is open to signature by anyone willing to fill out an online form and there is no clear way to document the scientific credentials of those who have signed. (One clever blogger signed up his dog.) The petition is rereleased every few years and debunked all over again, inevitably after snookering a few journalists.
Meanwhile, respected and nonpolitical scientific bodies are firmly united when it comes to climate change—humanity’s reliance on carbon- based fuels is pumping dangerous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, leading to a steady rise in average global temperature and attendant ill effects including droughts, the spread of infectious diseases, and sea level rise. This basic consensus is as well-established in mainstream science as any finding in biology or chemistry, endorsed with a greater than 90 percent degree of confidence by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Journalists working on climate issues will recognize the bogus evidence and outlier scientists featured in Politico’s piece; they are regularly highlighted by the office of Sen. James Inhofe. Though Inhofe’s long campaign of disinformation on climate science is eagerly consumed and propagated by political allies dead set on opposing any government action on global warming, mainstream science and climate journalists have long since learned to disregard it. There’s a reason Inhofe’s campaign is waged via press conferences and online petitions rather than peer- reviewed science.
Climate change is an incredibly complex topic; the policy prescriptions for addressing it are wide open for debate; the maneuverings of various industries and interest groups are well worth documenting. But the basic science is quite clear, and Politico should take the subject seriously enough not to equate the views of a small group of ideological deniers with a consensus reached over decades of intense data collection, study, and peer review.
Letter to the Editor on Climate Story (continued)
Offers a counter- argument.
Here is the main point with an end- ing that snaps.
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Here are some quick steps for writing a position paper or argument essay.
RESEARCH Both Sides of the Topic Do not collect only materials that support your side, because you want to discover your opponents’ best reasons for supporting their side. You can authoritatively counter their position as you support your own.
CHOOSE Your Style When explaining your opponents’ position, use a “plain style” with simple sentences and paragraphs. When you explain your own position, add energy to your argument using similes, metaphors, and analogies.
IDENTIFY the Points Separating Your Views from Opponents’ Views Using brainstorming or another prewriting tool, put down everything you know about your topic. Then write down everything your opponents believe about this issue. When you are finished, put stars or checkmarks next to the issues on which you and your opponents disagree.
ORGANIZE Your Materials and Draft Your Argument Position papers are organized to explain both sides of the issue. Be sure you give fair and adequate space to explaining as well as refuting your opponents’ argument.
DESIGN the Document Position papers tend to be rather plain in design. However, you might look for opportunities to add visuals to support your argument. Consider using columns, headings, and other elements to make the document more attractive.
IDENTIFY a Debatable Topic A debatable topic has at least two sides. Choose the side that you agree with. Then narrow your topic to something suitable for a position paper. Think about what is new or has changed about your topic recently.
REVISE and Edit As you draft your argument, your position may evolve, so give yourself time to modify your argument and refine your points. Proofreading is critical as readers will see errors as evidence that your argument has not been fully thought through.
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Imagine that a known terrorist has planted a bomb in the heart of a nearby city. He now sits in your custody. Rather than conceal his guilt, he gloats about the forthcoming explosion and the magnitude of human suffering it will cause. Given this state of affairs—in particular, given that there is still time to prevent an im- minent atrocity—it seems that subjecting this unpleasant fellow to torture may be justifiable. For those who make it their business to debate the ethics of torture this is known as the “tick- ing-bomb” case.
While the most realistic version of the ticking bomb case may not persuade every- one that torture is ethically acceptable, add- ing further embellishments seems to awaken the Grand Inquisitor in most of us. If a con- ventional explosion doesn’t move you, con- sider a nuclear bomb hidden in midtown Manhattan. If bombs seem too impersonal an evil, picture your seven-year-old daughter being slowly asphyxiated in a warehouse just five minutes away, while the man in your cus- tody holds the keys to her release. If your daughter won’t tip the scales, then add the daughters of every couple for a thousand miles—millions of little girls have, by some perverse negligence on the part of our gov- ernment, come under the control of an evil genius who now sits before you in shackles. Clearly, the consequences of one person’s uncooperativeness can be made so grave, and his malevolence and culpability so trans-
parent, as to stir even a self-hating moral rel- ativist from his dogmatic slumbers.
I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror. In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, this is not a com- fortable position to have publicly adopted. There is no question that Abu Ghraib was a travesty, and there is no question that it has done our country lasting harm. Indeed, the Abu Ghraib scandal may be one of the costli- est foreign policy blunders to occur in the last century, given the degree to which it simul- taneously inflamed the Muslim world and eroded the sympathies of our democratic al- lies. While we hold the moral high ground in our war on terror, we appear to hold it less and less. Our casual abuse of ordinary pris- oners is largely responsible for this. Docu- mented abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere have now inspired legis- lation prohibiting “cruel, inhuman or degrad- ing” treatment of military prisoners. And yet, these developments do not shed much light on the ethics of torturing people like Osama bin Laden when we get them in custody.
I will now present an argument for the use of torture in rare circumstances. While many people have objected, on emotional grounds, to my defense of torture, no one has pointed out a flaw in my argument. I hope my case for torture is wrong, as I would be much happier standing side by side with all the good people
In Defense of Torture SAM HARRIS This position paper, written by Sam Harris, who is best known for his book The End of Faith, makes an argument that “torture may be an ethical necessity.” Harris uses a combination of emotional and logical appeals to persuade his readers. Notice how he concedes points to his opponents in strategic ways, which allows him to bring forward his own arguments for torture.
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who oppose torture categorically. I invite any reader who discovers a problem with my argu- ment to point it out to me in the comment sec- tion of this blog. I would be sincerely grateful to have my mind changed on this subject.
Most readers will undoubtedly feel at this point that torture is evil and that we are wise not to practice it. Even if we can’t quite muster a retort to the ticking bomb case, most of us take refuge in the fact that the paradigmatic case will almost never arise. It seems, how- ever, that this position is impossible to square with our willingness to wage modern war in the first place.
In modern warfare, “collateral damage”— the maiming and killing of innocent noncom- batants—is unavoidable. And it will remain un- avoidable for the foreseeable future. Collateral damage would be a problem even if our bombs were far “smarter” than they are now. It would also be a problem even if we resolved to fight only defensive wars. There is no escaping the fact that whenever we drop bombs, we drop them with the knowledge that some number of children will be blinded, disemboweled, para- lyzed, orphaned, and killed by them.
The only way to rule out collateral dam- age would be to refuse to fight wars under any circumstances. As a foreign policy, this would leave us with something like the absolute paci- fism of Gandhi. While pacifism in this form can constitute a direct confrontation with in- justice (and requires considerable bravery), it is only applicable to a limited range of human conflicts. Where it is not applicable, it seems flagrantly immoral. We would do well to reflect on Gandhi’s remedy for the Holocaust: he believed that the Jews should have commit- ted mass suicide, because this “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” We might wonder what a world full of pacifists would have done once it had grown “aroused”—commit suicide as well? There seems no question that if all the good people in the world adopted Gandhi’s ethics, the thugs would inherit the earth.
So we can now ask, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent chil- dren, why spare the rod with known terrorists? I find it genuinely bizarre that while the torture of Osama bin Laden himself could be expected to provoke convulsions of conscience among our leaders, the perfectly foreseeable (and therefore accepted) slaughter of children does not. What is the difference between pursuing a course of action where we run the risk of inad- vertently subjecting some innocent men to tor- ture, and pursuing one in which we will inad- vertently kill far greater numbers of innocent men, women, and children? Rather, it seems obvious that the misapplication of torture should be far less troubling to us than collateral damage: there are, after all, no infants interned at Guantanamo Bay. Torture need not even impose a significant risk of death or permanent injury on its victims; while the collaterally damaged are, almost by definition, crippled or killed. The ethical divide that seems to be opening up here suggests that those who are willing to drop bombs might want to abduct the nearest and dearest of suspected terrorists —their wives, mothers, and daughters—and torture them as well, assuming anything prof- itable to our side might come of it. Admittedly, this would be a ghastly result to have reached by logical argument, and we will want to find some way of escaping it. But there seems no question that accidentally torturing an inno- cent man is better than accidentally blowing him and his children to bits.
In this context, we should note that many variables influence our feelings about an act of physical violence. The philosopher Jonathan Glover points out that “in modern war, what is most shocking is a poor guide to what is most harmful.” To learn that one’s grandfather flew a bombing mission over Dresden in the Sec- ond World War is one thing; to hear that he killed five little girls and their mother with a shovel is another. We can be sure that he would have killed many more women and
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girls by dropping bombs from pristine heights, and they are likely to have died equally horri- ble deaths, but his culpability would not ap- pear the same. There is much to be said about the disparity here, but the relevance to the ethics of torture should be obvious. If you think that the equivalence between torture and col- lateral damage does not hold, because torture is up close and personal while stray bombs aren’t, you stand convicted of a failure of imag- ination on at least two counts: first, a moment’s reflection on the horrors that must have been visited upon innocent Afghanis and Iraqis by our bombs will reveal that they are on par with those of any dungeon. If our intuition about the wrongness of torture is born of an aversion to how people generally behave while being tortured, we should note that this particular in- felicity could be circumvented pharmacologi- cally, because paralytic drugs make it unneces- sary for screaming ever to be heard or writhing seen. We could easily devise methods of tor- ture that would render a torturer as blind to the plight of his victims as a bomber pilot is at thirty thousand feet. Consequently, our natural aversion to the sights and sounds of the dun- geon provide no foothold for those who would argue against the use of torture.
To demonstrate just how abstract the torments of the tortured can be made to seem, we need only imagine an ideal “tor- ture pill”—a drug that would deliver both the instruments of torture and the instru- ment of their concealment. The action of the pill would be to produce transitory paralysis and transitory misery of a kind that no hu- man being would willingly submit to a sec- ond time. Imagine how we torturers would feel if, after giving this pill to captive terror- ists, each lay down for what appeared to be an hour’s nap only to arise and immediately confess everything he knows about the work- ings of his organization. Might we not be tempted to call it a “truth pill” in the end? No, there is no ethical difference to be found in how the suffering of the tortured or the collat- erally damaged appears.
Opponents of torture will be quick to ar- gue that confessions elicited by torture are notoriously unreliable. Given the foregoing, however, this objection seems to lack its usual force. Make these confessions as unreliable as you like—the chance that our interests will be advanced in any instance of torture need only equal the chance of such occasioned by the dropping of a single bomb. What was the chance that the dropping of bomb number 117 on Kandahar would effect the demise of Al Qaeda? It had to be pretty slim. Enter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: our most valu- able capture in our war on terror. Here is a character who actually seems to have stepped out of a philosopher’s thought experiment. U.S. officials now believe that his was the hand that decapitated the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Whether or not this is true, his membership in Al Qaeda more or less rules out his “innocence” in any impor- tant sense, and his rank in the organization suggests that his knowledge of planned atroc- ities must be extensive. The bomb has been ticking ever since September 11th, 2001. Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further disman- tling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talk- ing. (In fact, the New York Times has reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured in a procedure known as “water-boarding,” despite our official disavowal of this practice.)
Which way should the balance swing? As- suming that we want to maintain a coherent ethical position on these matters, this appears to be a circumstance of forced choice: if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.
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1. Harris uses several hypothetical situations to ar- gue that torture may be needed in some special cases. What are these hypothetical situations, and do you find them persuasive in convincing you to accept torture as an option?
2. Find two places where Harris concedes a point to his opponents about torture. How does he make a concession without undermining his own argu- ment? Do these concessions make his argument stronger or weaker?
3. Harris’s final sentence says, “if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.” He comes to this conclusion by comparing the deaths of innocent people (i.e., collateral dam- age) with the treatment of terrorists. Do you find his comparison between innocent people and ter- rorists effective or not?
A CLOSER LOOK AT
In Defense of Torture
1. This position paper was published in 2005. Now we know much more about the Bush administra- tion’s use of torture before and during the Iraq war. Write a briefing in which you objectively de- scribe how torture was used during the Iraq war.
2. Write a rebuttal to Harris’s argument. Where are the weak points in his argument? Can you see any ways to use his own arguments against him? What does he seem to be missing and what kinds of questionable claims does he make?
Friends with Benefits: Do Facebook Friends Provide the Same Support as Those in Real Life? KATE DAILEY Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have challenged our ideas about what it means to be a “friend.” Today, people can keep in touch with others who might otherwise have faded into the past. Also, we can be “friends” with people we barely know who share common interests or backgrounds. In this position paper, pay attention to how Dailey builds her argument and notice where she summarizes the other side of the debate.
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I have a friend named Sue. Actually, “Sue” isn’t her real name, and she isn’t really a friend: she’s something akin to a lost sorority sister— we went to the same college, participated in the same activities and had a lot of mutual re- spect and admiration for one another. But since graduation, we’ve fallen out of touch, and the only way I know about Sue, her life and her family is through her Facebook up- dates. That’s why I felt almost like a voyeur when Sue announced, via Facebook, the death of her young son. I was surprised she had cho- sen to share something so personal online— and then ashamed, because since when did I become the arbiter of what’s appropriate for that kind of grief?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized Facebook might be the perfect venue for tragic news: it’s the fastest way to dissemi- nate important information to the group without having to deal with painful phone calls; it allowed well-meaning friends and ac- quaintances to instantly pass on condo- lences, which the family could read at their leisure, and it eliminated the possibility that were I to run into Sue in the supermarket, I’d ask unknowingly about her son and force her to replay the story over again.
Numerous studies have shown that a strong network of friends can be crucial to getting through a crisis, and can help you be healthier in general. But could virtual friends, like the group of online buddies that reached out to Sue, be just as helpful as the flesh-and- blood versions? In other words, do Facebook friends—and the support we get from them— count? These questions are all the more in- triguing as the number of online social-net- work users increases. Facebook attracted 67.5 million visitors in the U.S. in April (according to ComScore Inc.), and the fastest-growing demographic is people over 35. It’s clear that connecting to friends, both close and distant, via the computer will become more the norm than novelty.
Researchers have yet to significantly study the social implications of Facebook, so
what we do know is gleaned from general studies about friendship, and some of the emerging studies about online networking. First, a definition of “friend”: In research cir- cles, experts define a friend as a close, equal, voluntary partnership—though Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the Uni- versity of North Carolina, Greensboro, says that in reality, “friendships don’t have to be equal or close, and we know from research that friendships aren’t as voluntary as they seem,” because they’re often constricted by education, age and background. Friends on Facebook seem to mimic, if not replicate, this trend—there are people online that you are more likely to chat with every day, while oth- ers only make an appearance once or twice a year, content to spend the rest of the time re- siding silently in your friend queue. (Though the Facebook friends with whom you have frequent social interaction might not be peo- ple you interact with often in “real life.”)
In life, having 700 people in your circle of friends could get overwhelming, but that’s less of an issue online. “Research suggests that people are only intermittently in touch with many of their online ‘friends’ but corre- spond regularly with only a few good friends,” says Shelley E. Taylor, professor of psychol- ogy at The University of California, Los Ange- les. “That said, creating networks to ease the transition to new places can be hugely help- ful to people, offsetting loneliness until new friends are made.”
In other words, Facebook may not re- place the full benefits of real friendship, but it definitely beats the alternative. I con- ducted a very informal poll via my Facebook status update, asking if Facebook makes us better friends. A high-school pal, with whom I haven’t spoken in about 10 years, confessed that since she had her baby, corresponding via Facebook has been a lifeline—and even if she wasn’t actively commenting, it was nice to know what people were up to. “Any electronic communication where you don’t have to be in the same physical space is go-
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ing to decrease feelings of isolation,” says Dr. Adams.
Several people in my online network ad- mit that Facebook doesn’t make them a better friend, but a better acquaintance, more likely to dash off a quick happy birthday e-mail, or to comment on the photo of a new puppy. But that’s not a bad thing. Having a large group of “friends” eager to comment on your daily life could be good for your self-esteem. When you get a new job, a celebratory lunch with your best friends will make you feel good and make for a fantastic memory. But the boost you get from the 15 Facebook friends who left encouraging comments can also make you happy.
“The way to think of this is before the In- ternet, we wouldn’t see our acquaintances very often: every once in a while, we might show up at a wedding and suddenly have 100 of our closest friends around,” says James Fowler, associate professor of political sci- ence at the University of California, San Diego. “With Facebook, it’s like every day is a wedding.” And just like leaving a wedding may leave you feeling energized and inspired by reconnecting to old pals, so can spending time on Facebook, says Fowler.
While Fowler’s research also shows that bad habits like smoking and weight gain can be contagious among close friends, emotions like happiness and sadness are easily trans- ferable through acquaintances. The good news? “Because happiness spreads more eas- ily then unhappiness, getting positive com- ments from your Facebook friends is more likely to make you happy than sad,” he says.
Shy people who may not always be able to engage friends in the real world are finding solace in the structure of Facebook. Though people who identify as shy have a smaller cir- cle of Facebook friends than those who don’t, they are better able to engage with the online friends they do have. “Because people don’t have to interact face-to-face, that’s why we’re seeing them having relationships: they can think more about what they have to say and
how they want to say it,” says Craig Ross, a graduate student in psychology at the Uni- versity of Windsor who studies online social networks.
And what of my “friend” “Sue”? Can the support she received from Facebook friends upon learning about the death of her son replicate the support that would come from friends stopping by the house? It’s impossible to replace the warm feelings—or brain-boost- ing endorphins—that come from human-on- human contact, and you can’t send someone a casserole through Facebook. But grieving online can have powerful and productive benefits. Diana Nash, professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College, who has studied how college students use MySpace to deal with grief, notes that, “One of the primary desires that we all have is for someone to really listen to us in a deep kind of way. They want to be listened to,” she says. Her research shows that by sharing their grief on MySpace, her subjects felt more listened to and more visible, and doing so helped them heal.
Posting personal experiences, no matter how painful, also allows acquaintances who have lived through similar experiences to reach out, either with information about sup- port groups or just an empathetic ear. “The idea of sharing a commonality helps make it a little more bearable. You’re not alone, and there are others going through what you went through,” says Nash. “It doesn’t take away the pain, but it can lessen the pain and make you feel not so alone.”
The majority of times we reach out on Facebook, however, it’s not about a tragedy, but a smaller problem for which we need ad- vice: good movers in the San Francisco area, a copy of yesterday’s newspaper, answers to a question about taxes. This is another place where the large Facebook networks come in handy. In real life, people tend to befriend people who think thoughts and live very simi- lar lives to their own, but because on Facebook people often “friend” classmates, people met at parties, and friends-of-friends, the networks
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include individuals who wouldn’t make the “real friend” cut. Having that diversity of opin- ion and experience available online increases the diversity of responses received when post- ing a question, which allows you to make a better-informed decision.
Still, there are experts who worry that too much time online keeps us from living satis- fying lives in the real world. “It’s great to have a lot of Facebook friends, but how many of those will friends will show when you’re re- ally in trouble?” asks Michael J. Bugeja, a pro- fessor of communications at Iowa State Uni- versity of Science and Technology and author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Com- munity in a Technological Age. He notes the
world of difference between someone typing a frowny emoticon upon hearing that you’ve been in a car crash and showing up to help you get home. He also says that Facebook, with its focus on existing relationships—and its ability to codify and categorize those rela- tionships—in some ways belies the promise of the Internet. “Rather than opening us up to a global community, it is putting us into groups,” he says.
That’s why Facebook works best as an amplification of a “real life” social life, not a replacement—even as time and technology progress and the lines between online inter- actions and real-world experiences continue to blur.
1. In this position paper, the definition of the word “friend” seems open for debate. Dailey offers a couple of different definitions of a friend, a tradi- tional definition and a social-networking site defi- nition. How are these two types of friends similar, and how are they different?
2. This position paper talks about how habits can be contagious among friends, like smoking and weight gain. Bailey, however, sees this kind of con-
tagiousness as a good thing because of Facebook. Why?
3. A good position paper fairly describes the other side of the debate, usually early in the argument. However, in this position paper, Dailey waits until the end to clearly state her oppositions’ argument. What do these people find wrong with calling peo- ple on Facebook “friends”?
A CLOSER LOOK AT
Friends with Benefits
1. Write a three-page commentary in which you dis- cuss the future of friendships in an electronically networked world. Do you think people will lose touch with each other, because they are mostly in- teracting through texting, social networking sites, or e-mail? Or do you think electronic networking is actually making relationships stronger? What are some of the benefits of friendships through electronic networking? What are some of the down- sides?
2. Find one of your childhood friends on Facebook, MySpace, or another social networking site. Write a two-page profile of your friend using only evi- dence drawn from his or her page. On his or her page, your friend has tried to project a particular image. What is that image? How is that image sim- ilar to or different from the person you know or knew personally?
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1. With a small group, make a list of some challenging issues facing our society to- day. Pick an issue and explore both sides. What are the two to five major points of contention between the two sides of the issue? What are the strengths of each side? What are the limitations of each side?
2. With your class, list ten effective and ineffective ways to argue. What is the best way to get your point across to someone else? What are your most effective strate- gies? Then list some of the worst ways to argue. What are some of the annoying ways in which other people have tried to persuade you? How did you react to some of these less effective methods?
3. Think about arguments you have had with friends, family members, and other people you care about. With a small group, discuss why these arguments are sometimes more difficult than arguments with people who are not so close to you. Do you have any strategies for arguing effectively with people you care strongly about? Do you avoid these kinds of arguments? If so, why?
Talk About This
Try This Out
1. Look at the opinions section of your local newspaper. Pick one of the issues that is being discussed in the editorials, commentaries, or letters to the editor. On your screen or a piece of paper, list the positions and the kinds of support offered by one of the writers. Then list the points the opponents might make to counter these positions and support their own opinions. In a memo to your professor, explain both sides of the argument as fairly as possible. Then show why you think one side or the other has the stronger argument.
2. Find a position paper or argument essay on the Internet. You might look for these arguments in the online versions of newspapers or magazines. In a two-page memo to your professor, analyze the argument and explain whether you think the author is arguing effectively or not. Did the author fairly represent both sides of the issue? Is the author too biased, or does he or she neglect any strengths of the opponents’ position or the limitations of his or her own position?
3. Pick a topic that you feel strongly about. Create a two-column brainstorming list that explores the issues involved with this topic. Then identify the two to five main points of contention that separate you from someone who disagrees with you about this topic. In a one-page memo to your professor, discuss the strengths and limitations of your side of the issue and your opponents’. Explain what kinds of in- formation you would need to collect to support your best arguments and high- light the limitations of your opponents’ views.
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1. Take a stand. Write a five-page position paper in which you explore both sides of a contentious local issue. Pick an issue that affects you directly and try to fairly rep- resent both sides of the issue. Explain your opponents’ side of the issue as clearly and fairly as possible. Then point out the limitations of their side. Explain your side of the issue and concede any limitations of your side. Then, persuade your readers that your understanding of the issue is stronger and more reasonable than your opponents’ understanding.
2. Create a multimedia presentation. Illegal downloading of music has been an im- portant issue on college campuses recently. Some students are being sued by the music industry, and they are being forced to pay thousands of dollars in damages and fines. Create a ten-slide presentation in which you state your opinion about downloading music “illegally” off the Internet. Explain your opponents’ under- standing of the issue. Then explain your side and show why you think your under- standing is stronger than your opponents’. Your presentation could be made with PowerPoint, Keynote, or any other presentation software. Try adding photo- graphs, charts, video, and audio, where appropriate.
3. Argue that something bad for people is really good for them. In a five-page posi- tion paper, argue that something people traditionally assume is “bad” (e.g., play- ing video games, being overweight, seeing violence in movies, watching televi- sion, cramming for an exam) is actually good. Summarize the conventional assumptions about why something is bad. Then use research to show that it is ac- tually good for people.
For additional writing, grammar, and research resources, go to www.MyCompLab.com and choose Johnson-Sheehan/Paine’s Writing Today.
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