Arguments and support

To make a point is to argue for a conclusion. To argue for a conclusion, you provide support. Paragraphs are your main units of support for your point.

Particularly in persuasive writing, everything you write should move you closer to convincing your reader that your main point is worth believing or at least worthy of consideration. When you plan out a persuasive essay, you'll know your main point to begin with -- it's your motivation to write, after all. Then you'll assemble your supporting points, which will often take the form of paraphrases of paragraphs. Here's an example:

I want to write a persuasive essay arguing that the government should increase funding for bicycle lanes. That will be my main point: "Government should increase funding for bicycle lanes." (Whether you agree or not,) how might I support this point?

I could say that travel by bicycle:

  • is good for the environment
  • is a great way to get exercise
  • doesn't impede other road traffic.

Each of these statements is, essentially, a paraphrase of a paragraph. For example:

Contrary to many opinions, travel by bicycle doesn't impede other road traffic. Since bicycles travel in the same direction and in nearly the same space as other road-users, they should be considered slow-moving vehicles rather than vehicles that slow traffic down. Impediments to the flow of traffic include pedestrian crossings, curves in the road, and traffic lights, as these either stop or slow vehicles already proceeding in one direction. If we provide facilities for slow-moving vehicles, then they feel the same effect within their specific facility. Furthermore, in heavy-use situations, bicycles often reach their destinations faster than other road users; it's not for nothing that bicycle messengers remain popular in urban environments.

This is an elaboration of the point that bicycles don't impede other road traffic. Now, of course, one can contest this point with other points, but the lesson here is that, for planning purposes, the paraphrase of the paragraph is a concise way of considering the relationship between your supporting points and your main points. Elaborating on those paraphrases is much of the work you do as a writer.

Your development as a writer includes sharpening a skill at saying just enough but not too much. As always, this is a sensitivity to context, which simply takes time and experience -- and that's why we have so many external readings and exercises in a course like this!

In the case above, most of us will generally know that governments try to fund projects that have measurable social benefits; this goes without saying. Funding a project with a positive environmental impact would count toward this goal (usually). This also goes without saying. But there might be contexts in which this needs to be said. For example, if you're writing for an audience unfamiliar with the general principles of your government -- such as young people -- then you might need to make a few remarks about the civics of the situation. On the other hand, if you're talking to a group of Green Party members, elaborating on the positive environmental impact of travelling by bicycle is probably unnecessary, and worse, could be a distraction. Avoid this.

Notice also that each of your paraphrases of a paragraph might, itself, be a main point of yet another argument. The paragraph I wrote above is, essentially, an argument in favour of the point that bicycles do not impede the flow of traffic. And each point within that paragraph might be the main point of yet another, and so on and so on. Your task as the writer is to determine when the points you express are sufficiently fundamental that they require no further elaboration.

Again, experience enriches these skills. So with that, let's move on to a reading.

Last modified: Thursday, 2 August 2018, 3:48 PM