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17.6 From Personal to Public Writing: A Controversial Stand

Arguments often help to clarify issues. Taking a stand in a controversy forces you to give evidence to prove a point.

  1. Think of some issues that people are arguing about these days. They can be national controversies (such as whether or not to declare English the only official language of the United States), or local questions (such as whether or not students should be allowed to park in the staff parking lot). With other students, compile a list of controversial topics. Write them as statements including the word should, for example: "Tobacco taxes should be raised" or "Teachers should give extra credit for public service work."

  2. Pick a topic that interests you and form a team with other students who want to discuss that topic. Look for areas of disagreement among your group and form two sub-groups: Pro and Con. Argue, making notes to help you remember the main points people are making both Pro and Con.

  3. Write an essay in which you introduce the issue, discuss the two sides of the argument, and take a firm stand on one side. In this essay, don't conclude that both sides are right; come down clearly on one side and give reasons to explain why you take that stand.

    Here is an outline to help you organize your points:
    Paragraph #1 Introduction of the issue: who cares about this matter and why? Give your opinion on this issue and one strong reason for that opinion. End the paragraph with a clear statement of your thesis.

    Paragraph #2 The opposing view: what do the people on the other side say? Give two or three of their points and their reasons for them.

    Paragraph #3 Refute the opposing view: argue against the people on the other side. Give your answer to each of their points, offering facts, examples, explanations, and other evidence.

    Paragraph #4 Other points that prove your case: your remaining ideas and reasons for supporting this position. Draw a conclusion stating the thesis in a new way.

  4. Read the essays of your opponents. Write down their best points in your own words. Don't argue; take the points seriously and restate them respectfully. Check to see if your opponents agree that you've understood what they're saying.

  5. With your allies, discuss your opponents' points and look for weaknesses in their arguments. Help each other to clarify your strongest points, to avoid your weakest ones, and to focus sharply on good answers to your opponents' most damaging claims.

  6. Revise your essay and get a reader to respond to it before writing your final draft.

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