Recently, there has been a huge amount of discussion on social media as to what the ‘right’ thing to do is. Everything from changing your profile photo as a form of showing solidarity to explaining the real keys to stopping terrorists. ‘Bomb the shit out of them’ ‘Stop bombing the shit out of them’. It is like the gun argument in the States. ‘Stop so many people from carrying so many guns’ ‘Let people carry whatever guns they want to’. Even the refugee crisis ‘Do not let refugees into our country’ ‘Let the refugees come in’.
Now, I have strong opinions on all three matters but me expressing my opinion has no real benefit whatsoever as all it will likely do is garner likes from those who agree with me and angry, attacking comments from those who do not. So, instead, I wanted to take the time to present how people argue and, more importantly, how you can structure an argument in the most effective and persuasive way possible.
There are a number of steps I would like to outline here and there are two types of argument I will review: One-sided and Two-sided.
One sided is usually better suited when you are speaking to people who are already open to what you are saying. Two sided is better when you are dealing with people who already have an opinion which is different to yours or is particularly critical when deciding what to think about something.
- Clearly state your message. What is your argument?
- Describe the evidence you have and how it proves your argument.
- Cite the source of the evidence and argument.
- Cite the popularity of the argument.
- Defend the message against predicted challenges.
- Attack alternatives to your message.
- Repeat your message or argument.
A few notes here. First, you cite an authoritative source because often people will be more likely to believe something if it is from a credible source. Second, cite the popularity of the argument as the principle of social proof suggests that others will be more likely to believe it if they perceive ‘most people’ agree with it.
You predict the possible challenges which you expect anyone to come up with against your argument and argue against them before they are even brought up. When attacking an alternative argument, you can attack it at a source level (where it is coming from is not a credible source), an evidence level (the evidence is not solid) or a connection level (the evidence does not actually prove it at all). This is a powerful way of ensuring that your argument is presented in the strongest manner possible.
Let’s say you believe in argument one. You will use it and another argument in this system.
- Clearly state argument one.
- Describe the evidence for argument one.
- Clearly state argument two.
- Describe the evidence for argument two.
- Attack argument one.
- Attack argument two.
- Draw a conclusion from your work. (argument one is better)
In this system, it is important that you present argument one as much more certain than argument two. The evidence for it should be much more solid. The attacks on it should not penetrate the argument nearly as much. By addressing both you create the idea that you are evaluating each fairly but in reality you are stacking the decks.
I hope this has been useful and you are now in a better position to structure an argument in the most effective and persuasive way possible.
Of course, these are just two possible systems to win an argument. There are other arguments which might suggest a better approach. Let’s not argue about that now though.