MIT OpenCourseWare


» 進階搜尋
 課程首頁
 教學大綱
 教學時程
 作業
 研習資料
 相關資源

研習資料


本頁翻譯進度

燈號說明

審定:無
翻譯:洪久媄(簡介並寄信)
編輯:陳宇琦(簡介並寄信)

論證基本要求

論證

修辭學家Timothy W. Crusius及Carolyn E. Channell曾說「論證是一種過程,讓我們能夠清楚自身的想法,也讓別人得以了解我們的想法。透過論證,原本模糊、私人的觀點就得以轉化成能夠以演說或書寫公開辯護的清楚立場」;他們還說「就求個明白這層面來說,辯論有兩種形式或是兩種結構.。其一:某意見的敘述,其二:持該意見的原因敘述。」其三,也就是說,他們認為「辯論本身並不是溝通的結果或是目的,而是論述的工具,用來建構我們想表達的立場。」

受眾

你若與受眾不熟識,可以這樣假設:

  • 他們既善良又思緒縝密,有可能為清楚又切實的辯論所打動。
  • 他們不像你那麼熟悉該題材,所以你得闡明相關的概念及術語,說明該問題/議題為何。
  • 他們沒有讀過課堂上的東西,所以你得提供背景資訊,針對你所表達的立場,提供脈絡。
  • 他們不知道你的主要論點為何,所以你得在文章的一開頭點出主要論點,好讓他們知道該如何解讀你的文章。
  • 有些受眾可能一開始就對你的主要論點抱持著懷疑的態度。
  • 有些受眾對於該議題尚未決定該站在哪個立場。
  • 因為有些受眾與你並不熟識,你必須證明你這個人既思慮周詳又聰穎,動筆之前已就該議題做過全盤的考量了。
  • 對於對手的主要論點你必須提出說明,證明其論點是有缺點的(也就是反駁其論點)。
  • 如果對手的論點沒有缺點,你就要大方的承認,然後盡量想辦法讓該論點看起來不那麼重要。
  • 你得要尊重對手、尊重受眾,讓他們曉得,你認為他們同是善良聰慧的人。
  • 你得好好說明你的理由及證據,每次引述都要註明出處。
  • 你的受眾群裡面,至少有一位是你的教授,而他可能對於你的寫作有特定的期望,如他可能希望你能展現某題材的知識,解析詮釋該題材的能力,以及運用該題材,將其轉化成有力的論證的能力。要把這些做好,你需要闡明相關的概念,展現你的思考邏輯(你如何從觀點A一直發展到觀點R);可以把這想成是解數學題目,教授想看的是你的「作品」(解題步驟),而非只是答案的本身。

目標

你的最終目的是贏得信服,而非只是爭贏論證。所以你的論證的主要目標,是讓受眾信服你的立場是最可行的、最有邏輯的、最有良心的、也是最實在的。要達到目的有以下幾種方法:

  • 滿足你的受眾(其中總有人會抱持懷疑的態度)
  • 探討辯論主題的正反面
  • 揭露對手的假設及理由的不周之處,提出反對的證據(如證明對手的主要論點有誤。)
  • 清楚表明、好好探討你自己的假設,以及為何要採取你的立場。
  • 用清楚明白的證據來支持、證明你的理由。
  • 使用各種不同的證據,包括專家的見證、數據、邏輯推論、個人經驗、真實案例(近來的事件或是歷史事件)、書上的案例(小說、戲劇、電影、電視等等)、假設案例、法律文件/概念、及行為準則等等。
  • 使用有邏輯的、倫理的、情感的訴求。
  • 盡量使用修辭學中所有的資源。

內容

你必須選擇一個難寫的主題,一個既複雜又難解的主題。假使你看不出主題的正反兩面論證都有價值的話,就換個主題吧;又假定你對該主題並未感到兩難,選別的主題吧。撰寫這篇論文是要幫助你澄清自身的想法,了解到找到該議題的答案會有多困難。別挑選那些你自認為已經知道真理、知道答案的議題,這種論文寫出來只有高中生的程度。請提出經過深思熟慮且一針見血、鞭辟入裡的看法。

  • 你必須跟反方意見相互較勁。
  • 除了要提出主張之外,更應該做詳細的說明。
  • 你需要仔細想想,推展你的觀點背後的含意,看看能支持此觀點到什麼程度(如(當有人打你的左臉,就要)「奉上自己的右臉」這種觀念是很神聖,不過有沒有限度呢?就像是假如Q謀殺了某人,我們該「奉上另一邊臉頰」不處罰他,而將自己當作是他的下一個謀殺目標嗎?)。
  • 你該考慮到對手會如何反駁你的觀點,會提出什麼反對意見,而你該就這些反對意見提出辯駁-請把這些融入你的辯論,好讓受眾能夠跟循文章的脈絡。
  • 你必須為你的主張提出證明(如專家的見證、數據、事實、假設/真實案例、邏輯推論等等)。
  • 想滿足受眾,你需要解釋所有的相關概念(譬如說,你若提及功利主義這樣的觀念,就得擇要為受眾說明什麼是功利主義)。
  • 你的論文需要有清楚明確的主要論點(也就是針對某議題,你所採取的立場),且要能清楚顯示你非常清楚反方所持的論點。
  • 在一篇全力辯護式論文當中,你應同時探討議題的正反兩面,表明自身的立場,或是反駁、或是承認反方的主要論點,且需提供充分的理由和有力的證據。也就是說,你提出一個主張(你的立場、你的主要論點)並辯證該主張是正確的;反過來說,你是在提出好的理由,以能夠說服那些原本支持反方論點的人轉而認同你的論點。更進一步來說,你得深入了解雙方的立場,才能察覺到雙方各自的優缺點。
  • 如果這樣做有幫助的話,可以把你自己想成一位辯護律師。你和檢察官都握有相同的情報(例如證人供詞、法庭證據等等),且都知道內有矛盾(例如關於案發當時被告身處何地,有不同的供詞),但彼此都有自己的看法-即使資料相同,你們的推斷和結論就是會不一樣。
  • 你的論文必須符合邏輯,有效利用多方的證據。
  • 要好好架構你的觀點-該觀點,以及你對該觀點延伸及侷限的探討,都應有證據支持。
  • 你的論文要能夠啟發我們對該議題較先前有更深入的思考。
  • 你的論文要有趣。
  • 你的論文要考量到議題的不同細微層次,而不要只是把中學的那一套舊方法搬出來用;論文中要能展現你的批判思考及分析技巧能力。

你的立場 / 主要論點

一開始辯論的時候,我們之中的多數人其實都早有定見,早有既定的立場(說不定我們還完全支持該立場);很難避免的是,最初的立場往往植根於我們的核心信仰、植根於尚未證實的主張和假設,我們的立場太過於籠統。舉例來說,我們可能認為所有的福利制度都該立刻廢除,這樣太過於籠統了。那該怎麼做才能加以深入精鍊這個論點呢?

  • 研究的主要目的之一,就是要測試我們自身的論點是否足以應對反方的最佳論點。舉例來說,我們反對福利制度的立場,很可能是基於一個尚未得到證實的看法:接受社會救濟的人,都是不想工作的懶惰蟲。
  • 經過在圖書館研究之後,我們才發現原來有些申請社會福利救濟的人,實因其心智能力不足而無法工作;這時候,我們可能稍微改變立場:「除了救濟無人幫助的心智能力不足者,我們應廢除社會福利制度」。當然我們還需進一步界定「無人幫助」的定義-無人幫助是指無直系親屬的幫助呢?還是指無慈善團體的幫助呢?
  • 不過後來我們又發現,許多我們認定為「懶惰鬼」的人其實都有全職的工作,但仍無法養家糊口,他們因為教育程度不夠或是沒受過職業訓練,找不到高於最低薪資標準的工作。這次我們或許可以把立場修正為:「社會救濟金應該只給付給貧窮的全職勞工或是心智能力不足以工作又無人幫助的人」。
  • 然後我們又發現,原來許多的美國大企業都領有巨額的補助款,所謂的「企業救助」,這些企業會領取到這類款項基本上是因為他們夠有錢、很有政治影響力。這個新消息對我們所採取的立場會有什麼影響呢?
  • 積極深入過反方的論點之後,我們本身的立場會更精密、更有深度。此刻,我們的立場或可更動為:「能接受社會救濟的個人或企業,必須提出其迫切需要援助的證據」。而後,我們應提出可以「證明」「迫切需要」的方法。

研究

對於寫作來說,研究有三個主要的目的:提供實際資訊、為自身的立場提供論證、為反方立場提供論證。

  • 必要但也是最不重要的一點,是取得背景資訊之研究(現況、即將通過的提案或法律、建議解決方案、數據等等)。
  • 能幫你找出立場背後的邏輯及支持該立場的理由及外在證據(如證詞、數據等等)的研究是很重要的。幾乎沒有人能夠獨自想出所有支持某立場的理由,或是找出支持這些理由所有的相關證據;更是鮮少有人可以自行想出各種不同切入議題的策略,或是抨擊反方論點/立場的謀略。
  • 同樣地,探得對手的論點(如主要論點、支持該論點的道德或實際理由、證據等等),且探知對手潛藏假設之研究是必要的。
  • 你的論文必須使用適當的研究資料。你可以請教參考書閱覽室管理員,請他們幫忙尋找你需要的資源(位於海頓圖書館的二樓的人文圖書區,14S-200室)。
  • 你必須使用所有可得的資源-不單只靠外在的證據(如數據、專家的見證、法律文件/觀念等等),也需要內隱的證據(如假設的例子、歷史上的及虛構的例子、可能性、類比、格言、老生常談、邏輯論證等等)。
  • 請使用MLA的文內引註格式,並製作一張引用書目表(細節請參見寫作中心的網站)。
  • 網路資源需經慎選。有五種標準可以用來評估所有的資料來源:權威性、正確性、客觀性、資料新舊、及涵蓋範圍。

文序

論文的結構必須簡潔有力、符合邏輯。論文中應使用轉接詞、轉接詞句、以及其他的工具,以彰顯各意涵、各段落間的關係。論文之所以需要組織,乃是為了讓你的觀點能清楚有力地呈現在受眾面前。

  • 凡是學術論文的結構,都可分為開頭、本文、及結尾-不過如此的分類對於觀念的組織,幫不上什麼大忙。
  • 分章節來想就有幫助了。
  • 用古典修辭學的術語來說,你的論文應包含下面將提及的章節(在部分特殊情況下,某些章節可選擇跳過、或合併,端視主題及受眾而定)。要更動章節順序的話,除非你的理由夠充分,不然你應該要遵守由Cicero及Quintilain所發展出來的基本修辭結構(古典修辭學的結構可參閱 ‘HISTORY’一書,109頁)(編按:Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.及Marcus Fabius Quintilain, 35-39 A.D.為羅馬雄辯家及教育家,對修辭學有極大貢獻):
    • 緒言(引言):緒言的功用即為吸引受眾的注意力。現代修辭理論認為,有可能的話,引言應該能夠:
      • 架起受眾及修辭學應用者之間的橋樑(應要能以個人特質(ethos)夠誘使受眾閱讀)。
      • 喚起一種此時此地非讀不可的感覺(kairos)(緊迫感)
      • 緊抓住受眾的注意力。
      • 預告你的主題(你的論文所要回答的問題或是所要探討的議題)。
      • 揭示你探討此主題的方法。
      • 建立你的文章用語風格。
      • 論文一開頭就該非常接近你的論點(千萬別以此作為開頭:「自有歷史記載以來…」)。
      • 引言通常會建構起上位議題的本質(你的主題即為此上位議題的實例,如以墮胎這個主題來說,其上位議題可能會是「政府介入人民的自由決定可介入到什麼程度?」,或是「當多方個體互相有利益衝突時,我們如何決定誰的權利比較重要呢?」,或是「結果可以正當化手段嗎?」),你在引言中建立該議題的時候,需於文章的結尾回到此上位議題。
      • 預告本論文的組織結構為何。
  • 敘述(議題的背景介紹)本節:

    • 提供受眾相關的背景資料,好讓他們在你開始論證之前,能先對議題有初步的認識。
    • 包含最新的現況資訊(如即將通過的法律、建議解決方案等等)。
    • 界定論文中關鍵術語的意義,你的受眾有可能還不熟悉。
    • 解釋此議題為何是個問題,以及是誰會有這樣的問題,探討要了解本議題複雜性所需的重要概念、界定受眾可能不熟悉的關鍵術語。
    • 表明你的立場(論點/主張)
  • 確認(證明):本節針對敘述中的主張提出證據。
    • 述明你支持該立場的理由。
    • 為每個理由提出證據。
    • 預測對手針對你的理由可能提出的反擊,並做出回應。
  • 駁斥(反駁):本節針對反對立場提出回應
    • 針對對手所主張的立場,說明其支持該立場的主要理由和證據。
    • 反駁(有時會是承認)其理由及證據。
    • 某些現代修辭學家提倡一種頗具張力、前後交叉的正反辯論法,而不是把所有的反駁集中到最後的主要章節裡。
  • 結語(結論):本節再度「全力」展現你的辯論。現代修辭理論建議,雖然結論會觸及到你所提過的觀點,但結論決不應該只是重要觀點的摘要或重複而已。你的結論中應該顯示一種「開展」,開啟論文之外的新視野,像是:
    • 就你的立場/主要論點中,尚未於文中清楚論及但有趣的延伸思考提出解釋。
    • 暗示受眾進一步思考的方向
    • 說明若你的方案/立場一經採納的話,大概會產生什麼新議題。
    • 探索論證的推展及你在引言中提及的上位議題。

修辭

該論文必須能夠展示你對修辭學的基本觀念及應用的了解(如滿足受眾(audience accommodation)、引導問題(Stasis)、時機(Kairos)、常用論題(commonplace)、理性訴求(logos)、感性訴求(pathos)、個人特質訴求(ethos)、急迫性(urgency)及文風(style))。



文風指引

  1. 請以學術英文撰寫所有大學論文(請設想你的受眾為思慮縝密的專業人士或準)。
  2. 論文需簡明易讀(如觀念與觀念之間具有明確的關聯)。
  3. 論文需正確精準、明瞭清楚、生動有趣。
  4. 善加使用鮮明的比喻,尤其是當你想喚起受眾的同理心。
  5. 請善加變化你的句型結構、句子長短、及基本要素。
  6. 大聲朗讀你的論文來感覺其音韻節奏。
  7. 使用好記的詞句來陳述重要的概念。
  8. 善用修辭學中的文體資源,展現你的文學靈思。
  9. 正確使用文法及寫作技巧。

論文層次

以論文的層次來說,學術論文盡可能地保持客觀。譬如說,避免使用第一人稱單數:我(I)、我的受詞(me)、我的(my),以及相關的用語如:我認為、我覺得、以及我相信;此類用語鮮少有人使用,而且多數學術論文都會刻意避免此類的用語(例外:討論自身經驗以及撰寫個人說服式論文時,應該使用第一人稱單數)。

  • 使用第一人稱複數:我們、我們的、我們的受詞:比起較為正式且疏遠的第三人稱(除非教授或編輯特別指定使用,否則應該避免),第一人稱複數較受喜好。第一人稱複數至少有兩個附加的好處:你可建立與受眾之間的關係且可避免過度使用被動語氣。
  • 盡可能避免第二人稱「你」:第二人稱會把受眾拉入你的論文,卻也會將受眾推離你的想法(像是把受眾根本不相信的想法歸給受眾-「雖然你將墮胎視為謀殺,…」)。講明白點總是好的:你可以說「倡導生命保護的人視墮胎為謀殺」,或者說「反對墮胎的人視墮胎為謀殺」。

段落層次

以段落的層次來說,學術論文主張一個段落需完整發展一個觀點。此外:

  • 每一段需有一明顯的主題句(主題句百分之九十五會是每段的第一句)。然而有時候為了某些特殊的原因,可以把主題句放到段落的最後一句。
  • 要確保段落中每一個句子都是用來直接解釋、支持、證明、闡明、或是描述主題句中的觀念;該段落中沒有其他的雜訊。隨便放入不大相干的東西只會破壞段落的整體性。
  • 完整發展每個段落-好比只有二到三個句子的段落很可能就是發展不全(除非該段落的功能為銜接上下,或是用來總結先前段落所提及的觀點)。

句子層次

以句子的層次來說,學術論文的句子百分之九十八都是完整的句子。

  • 句子的長短要有變化(有些短、有些長、有些適中)。
  • 句型要有變化(該混合使用簡單句、連接複合句、從屬複合句、及連接-從屬複合句)。
  • 基本要素的使用需多加變化。

用字層次

以用字的層次來說(遣詞用字),學術論文應專業但不浮誇。

  • 請使用「隱形縮寫」(如那些與don’t及can’t不相像的縮寫)。
  • 避免其他的縮寫(譬如要使用I am、we could have,而非I’m、we could’ve)。
  • 避免使用俚語及廣告或歌曲中的流行用語。
  • 盡量避免使用專業術語(如果你的受眾群包含非專業人士,而你又非使用學科中的專業術語不可的話,請加註說明該術語的意義)。
  • 從同義詞辭典中查到的字,你若沒先用好字典來仔細確認其真正意思的話,就別使用。



Argument Requirements

Argument

According to rhetoricians Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E. Channell, "Argument is the process of making what we think clear to ourselves and to others. It takes us from a vague, private viewpoint to a clearly stated position that we can defend publicly in speech or writing." They add, "Argument in this sense of seeking clarity has a two-part form or structure: (1) the statement of an opinion and (2) the statement of one or more reasons for holding that opinion" (3). In other words, they say, "Argument is not in itself an end or purpose of communication, It is rather a means of discourse, developing what we have to say".

Audience

When you don't know your audience personally, assume that:

  • They are thoughtful people of good will who might be persuaded by clear and cogent arguments.
  • They are not as familiar with the material as you, so you will need to explain concepts and terms as well as what the problem/issue is.
  • They have not read the texts you have in class, so you need to provide background information and establish context for what you say.
  • They do not know your thesis, so you must tell them your thesis early in the essay so they will know how to interpret what you say.
  • Some of your readers are skeptical about your thesis before they read your essay.
  • Some of your readers are undecided about the issue.
  • Because some of your readers do not know you personally, you must prove to them that you are a thoughtful, intelligent person who has carefully considered all sides of the issue before writing the essay.
  • You must explain your opponents' major arguments and then demonstrate that their arguments are flawed (i.e., refute them).
  • If an opponents' point is not flawed, you must concede the point explicitly and then try, if possible, to minimize the importance of that point.
  • You must treat your opponents and readers with respect, showing that you realize that they too are intelligent people of good will.
  • You must explain your reasons and evidence fully, always giving the credentials of authorities that you quote.
  • At least one of your readers is your professor, and he/she probably has particular goals for any writing assignment-- e.g., he/she probably wants you to demonstrate knowledge of some particular material, the ability to analysis and interpret that material, the ability to manipulate that material into a convincing argument. To accomplish these tasks, you need to explain concepts and show your logical thought processes (how you got from point A to point R); think of it as analogous to doing a math problem-- the professor wants to see your "work" (the process you used to get to the answer), not simply the answer itself.

Goal

Your ultimate goal is to win belief rather than simply win the argument. So your argument's primary goal is always to persuade readers that your position is the most viable, logical, moral, and practical. This can be accomplished:

  • by accommodating your readers (some of whom are always skeptical).
  • by exploring both sides of the argument.
  • by revealing the flaws in the assumptions, reasons, and evidence of the opposition (e.g., by refuting the opposition's main points).
  • by explicitly stating and exploring your own assumptions and major reasons for adopting your position.
  • by supporting and proving your reasons with explicit evidence.
  • by using various types of evidence including expert testimony, statistics, logical demonstration, personal experiences, real life examples (from current affairs or history), fictional examples (from novels, plays, movies, TV), hypothetical examples, legal documents and concepts, codes of conduct.
  • by using logical, ethical, and emotional appeals.
  • by using all the resources of rhetoric.

Content

Your topic must be a thorny one, one that is complicated and for which there is no easy solution. If you cannot see the value of arguments on both sides of the issue, select another issue. If you are not personally conflicted about the issue, select another topic. Writing this essay should help you clarify your ideas and to recognize the difficulties of finding any answer to the issue: Do not select a topic about which you believe you already know the truth and "have the answer"- such a topic will result in a high-school-level essay. Ideas must be developed, explored, examined, analyzed, and prodded.

  • You must engage with the opposition.
  • You should "stay with" each idea beyond your mere assertion of it.
  • You need to consider and explore the implications of your idea and see at what point you might no longer support that idea (e.g., "turn the other cheek" is a saintly idea, but does it have a limit? Does it mean, for instance, that if Q murders someone, we should "turn the other cheek" and not punish him and, in fact, should offer ourselves as his next victim?).
  • You also need to consider what opponents to your thesis would say about your idea, what objections they would raise to it, and then you need to answer those objections-- do all this within your argument so your readers can follow the process.
  • You need to prove your assertions with evidence (e.g., expert testimony, statistics, facts, hypothetical and real life examples, logical demonstration).
  • Part of accommodating your audience is explaining all relevant concepts (e.g., if you invoke a concept such as utilitarianism, you must summarize explain the concept to your readers).
  • Your essay must have a clear and explicit thesis (your position on the issue) and must demonstrate a clear awareness of the opposition's counter-thesis.
  • In a full-fledged argument, your argument must explain both sides of the issue, building a case for your position by refuting and conceding the major points of the opposition as well as by giving your reasons and the evidence that supports them. In other words, you are making a claim (your position, your thesis) and arguing that it is true; conversely, you are producing reasons for the advocates of a competing claim (the counter-thesis) to abandon it in favor of yours. In yet other words, you must understand both positions well enough to appreciate the strengths and shortcomings of each.
  • If it helps, think of yourself as a defense attorney. You and the prosecutor have the same information (e.g., eyewitness accounts, forensic evidence) and know that there are conflicts (e.g., various accounts of where the accused was at the time of the crime). Yet each of you creates a different interpretation-- you draw different inferences and conclusions from the same data.
  • Your essay must be logical and must effectively use various types of evidence.
  • The ideas must be well developed- there must be evidence to support them and your exploration of the implications and limitations of your ideas.
  • Your essay should cause us to think about the issue more deeply than we ever have before.
  • Your essay must be interesting.
  • It must consider nuances of the issue, not merely trot out the same old arguments that you encountered in high school. It needs to display your critical thinking and analytical skills.

Your Position/Thesis

Most of us begin the argument process about a topic with our minds already made up, our position in mind (perhaps we are even totally committed to that position). Almost inevitably, that initial position is based on our core beliefs, upon unproven assertions and assumptions, and our position is rather general and sweeping. For example, we might feel that "all welfare should be abolished immediately." That is a very sweeping generalization. What can we do to deepen and refine that thesis?

  • One of the major purposes of doing research is to test our thesis against the best arguments of the opposition. For instance, our anti-welfare position might be based on the unproven belief that anyone receiving welfare is a lazy bum who doesn't want to work.
  • When our library research reveals evidence that some people on welfare are mentally incapable of holding a job, we might alter our position slightly to "We should abolish all welfare except that given to mentally incompetent people who have no one else to help them." Then, of course, we need to define the concept of "no one else to help them"- does that refer only to immediate family members? To charity groups?
  • But then we discover that many of the people that we assumed were "lazy bums" are actually holding full-time jobs but still cannot afford even to feed their families. They do not have the education or training to get jobs that pay above minimum wage. Perhaps our thesis is modified again to be "Welfare payments should go only to poor people who hold full-time jobs and those who are mentally incapable of working and have no one else to help them."
  • And then we learn that many of the biggest American corporations receive huge subsidies called "corporate welfare" and that the companies receive such gifts basically because they are already rich and hence have a great deal of political power. How does this new information impact on our thesis?
  • This active engagement with the opposition refines and deepens our thesis. Now our thesis might be metamorphosed into "People or companies should receive welfare payments only when they can prove serious need." And we would have to suggest ways that "serious need" could be "proven."

Research

Research has three primary purposes in writing: provide factual information, provide arguments for your position, and provide arguments against your position.

  • Crucial, but least important, is research intended to provide background information (the current situation, pending proposals or laws, suggested solutions, statistics).
  • Research that locates the logic behind your position and the reasons and extrinsic evidence (e.g., testimony, data) for your position is very important. Rarely can any one person think of all the reasons for supporting a position or find all the relevant evidence supporting those reasons. Even more rarely can only one person think of all the different strategies for approaching an issue or for attacking counter-theses and counter-positions.
  • Similarly, research is crucial that locates not only your opposition's arguments (e.g., major points, the moral and practical reasons for supporting it, evidence) but also the opposition's underlying assumptions.
  • Your essay must use appropriate research. Consult the reference librarian for help in locating sources (in the Humanities Library on the 2nd floor of Hayden Library, 14S-200).
  • Your essay must use all the resources available to you-- not only extrinsic proof (statistics, expert testimony, legal documents and concepts) but also intrinsic proof (e.g., hypothetical examples, historical and fictional examples, probabilities, analogies, maxims, commonplaces, logical demonstration).
  • Use the MLA in-text citation format and a Works Cited page (see the Writing Center's Web site for details).
  • Internet sources must be evaluated very carefully. There are 5 criteria for evaluating all sources: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage.

Arrangement

The essay must have an effective, clear, and logical structure. It must use transitional words, phrases, and devices to make explicit connections between ideas and between paragraphs. The organization exists to present your ideas in the most effective manner possible to your readers.

  • All academic essays have a beginning, middle, and end-- but that fact is not particularly useful in helping us organize our ideas.
  • It helps if we think in terms of sections.
  • In ancient rhetorical terms, your essay should have the following sections (in specific cases, some might be omitted or combined, depending upon your topic and audience). Unless you have a good reason for altering the order, however, you should probably follow this basic rhetorical structure developed by Cicero and Quintilian (the ancient rhetorical scheme is explained in HISTORY, 109):
    • Exordium (Introduction): The exordium is intended to make the audience willing to listen. Modern rhetorical theory says that, if possible, the introduction should do several things:
      • It should establish some connection between audience and rhetor (i.e., it should "predispose" audience to listen via ethos).
      • It establishes a sense of kairos for the readers (urgency).
      • It should hook the readers' attention.
      • It should announce your topic (the question your essay will answer or the issue that it will explore).
      • It should reveal what your approach to the topic will be.
      • It should establish what your primary tone will be.
      • It should usually start very close to your thesis (never start with "Since the beginning of recorded history....").
      • It often establishes the nature of the larger issue (your topic is an example of this larger issue-- e.g., the larger issue for the topic of abortion might "What are the limits of government intervention in our private decisions?" or it might be "How do we decide whose rights are more important when there is a conflict between the rights of different individuals?" or it might be "Do the ends always justify the means?"). When you establish this in the introduction, you will return to this larger issue in your conclusion.
      • It often forecasts what the organization of the essay will be.
  • Narratio (Background of the Issue)-- this section:

    • It gives your readers the relevant background information that they will need in order to understand the issue before you start the argument.
    • It includes up-to-date information about the current situation (e.g., pending legislation, proposed solutions).
    • It defines key terms that you will use and that readers might not know.
    • It explains why this situation/issue is a problem and for whom, explains any key concepts that are needed to understand the complexity of the issue, and it defines any key terms your readers might not know.
    • It states your position (thesis/claim).
  • Confirmatio (Proof)-- This section gives evidence to prove the claims made in the narratio:
    • It states your reasons for supporting your position.
    • It gives your evidence for each reason.
    • It anticipates your opponents' objections to your reasons and respond to those objections.
  • Confutatio or Refutatio (Refutation)-- This section answers the opposition's counter arguments:
    • It explains your opponents' main reasons and evidence for supporting that position.
    • It refutes (or occasionally concedes) those reasons and evidence.
    • Some modern rhetoricians advocate a dramatic, back-and-forth presentation of pros and cons rather than saving all the refutation for the last major body section.
  • Peroratio (Conclusion)-- This section demonstrates again the "full strength" of your argument. Modern rhetorical theory suggests that your conclusion should never be only a summary or repetition of your major points, although often you might touch on the major points you've made. Your conclusion should always include a "discovery," an opening up toward the world beyond the limits of your argument essay:
    • an explanation of some interesting implication of your position/thesis that you haven't yet discussed explicitly.
    • and/or an indication of what future thinking must be done.
    • and/or a suggestion of what new issues arise if your solution/position is adopted.
    • and/or an exploration of the implications of your argument and thesis for the larger issue that you mentioned in the introduction.

Rhetoric

The essay must demonstrate a grasp of the basic concepts and uses of rhetoric (e.g., audience accommodation, stasis, kairos, the commonplaces, logos, pathos, ethos, urgency, stylistic devices).



Style Guidelines

  1. Write all college papers in academic English (assume that your readers are thoughtful professionals or pre-professionals).
  2. Write reader-friendly prose (e.g., make connections between ideas explicit).
  3. Make your prose concise, precise, accurate. clear, explicit, and interesting.
  4. Use vivid and figurative language, particularly when developing pathetic proofs.
  5. Display a sense of craft by varying sentence structures, sentence lengths, and First Elements.
  6. Read your prose aloud to hear its rhythm.
  7. Use memorable phrasings to state key ideas.
  8. Use the stylistic resources of rhetoric and display a literary impulse.
  9. Use correct grammar and mechanics.

Essay Level

On the essay level, academic prose tries to remain relatively objective. For example, "Avoid the first-person singular-- I, me, my-- and related phrases-- in my opinion, I think, I believe; they are rarely used, and, in much academic prose, they are actively avoided (exception: you should use first-person singular when you are discussing an experience that happened to you or when you are writing a persuasive personal essay)

  • Use the first-person plural: we, our, us-- these words are often preferred to the more formal and more distancing third person impersonal one (which should be avoided unless a professor or journal editor specifically requests that you use it). Using first-person pronouns has at least two added benefits- it connects you and the reader and it helps you avoid excessive use of the passive voice.
  • Avoid the second person you whenever possible- it drags your readers into your essay and thus, paradoxically, often pushes them away from your idea (e.g., by assigning ideas to your readers that they really don't believe-- "Although you see abortion as murder, ..."). It is always better to be more specific: say either "Pro-life advocates see abortion as murder" or "Opponents of abortion see it as murder".

Paragraph Level

On the paragraph level, academic prose requires that each paragraph develop one idea fully. In addition,

  • Give every paragraph an explicit topic sentence (95% of the time this is the first sentence in the paragraph). At times, however, there may be reasons for making it the last sentence in your paragraph.
  • Make sure that every sentence in that paragraph directly explains, supports, proves, illustrates, or qualifies the idea in the topic sentence. Nothing else belongs in that particular paragraph. Putting tangential material in a paragraph destroys coherence.
  • Develop each paragraph fully-- i.e., a paragraph that contains only 2 or 3 sentences is probably under-developed (unless it is a transitional paragraph or is summarizing ideas that came in earlier paragraphs).

Sentence Level

On the sentence level, academic prose requires complete sentences at least 98% of the time.

  • Use variety in sentence length (some sentences should be short, some medium, some long).
  • Use variety in sentence structure (there should be a mixture of simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences).
  • Use variety in First Elements.

Word Level

On the word choice level (diction), academic prose should sound professional but not pompous.

  • Use the "invisible contractions" (e.g., those contractions that contain not such as don't and can't).
  • Avoid other contractions (e.g., use I am and we could have, not I'm or we could've).
  • Avoid slang or catch-phrases from advertisements or songs.
  • Avoid jargon whenever possible (if you must use the specialized terminology of your discipline for an audience that may include non-specialists, always define the terms).
  • Never use a word found in a thesaurus without first checking the nuances of its meanings in a good dictionary.



 
MIT Home
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Terms of Use Privacy