Making a Good Argument in Conversations

Now that we’re equipped with more tools to identify what others say about a topic and about your topic specifically, the question is: why should you care what others have to say? Why does it matter what this or that scholar has to say about my topic? The reason it matters is that it serves to propel your own argument—and, more importantly, it’s necessary for making a good argument. As Graff et al. contend, the key to making a strong, persuasive argument is to state it as a response to what others have said—as a response to an existing conversation. So identifying and summarizing what “they say” is about more than just expanding and deepening your knowledge of your research topic. It is also about setting the context (or building the launchpad) for you to make a clear and generative argument—to distinguish what you say. At the same time, “They Say/I Say” is a fundamental move in making a good argument. When I say “good argument,” I don’t mean a thesis supported with strong evidence (which is what we are typically taught in writing classes). That’s not good enough. I mean an argument that makes clear to readers why it is relevant and one that they should actually care about. The problem with only stating a thesis and supporting it with evidence is that while your argument might be airtight and you might be absolutely right, many of your readers will not understand why you are saying it and why they even need to listen to you. In short, they won’t know why it matters. To me, our biggest worry as scholars is not that our readers will respond with “I don’t agree” (that means they are engaged), but the far more devastating, “I don’t care.” You’ll read more about this in chapter 7, “So What? Who Cares?”, which features strategies and techniques authors can use to express the relevance of their argument. The goal for this module is thus to challenge the idea that “good writing means making true or smart or logical statements about a given subject with little or no reference to what others say about it” (Graff et al, 28). In addition to reading about how to make a good argument, you’ll be asked to do it for your own project with the “My Academic Conversation” assignment.

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