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Where Does Argumentation Go from Here?

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What role will argumentation play in students’ studies after they complete first-year English? What role will it play in their lives outside the classroom?  

In discussing the research assignment (see Argument and the Research Assignment), I mentioned before that I asked my students to speculate early in the research process how they could write a claim of fact, a claim of value, and a claim of policy about their topic. It is interesting to ask them as an exercise or even as part of a final exam to do the same with a topic in their major field. They may or may not have even thought about the controversies in their majors, but it is good for them to see the link to what they have been learning about argument. Having learned the concepts of claim, support, and warrant, of logical fallacies, of appeal, and of middle ground, they can apply them to essays they will have to write both in their major and in general education courses. Having learned the language of argumentation, they are ready to look at subjects in a range of content areas with a more critical eye.

In Elements of Argument and Structure of Argument, we try to keep the readings current so that students can put theory into practice as they read and write about contemporary issues. Each edition brings major updates in the readings. This blog is meant to supplement the readings by applying theory to issues that may not even have been at the forefront of national or world consciousness when the last edition went to press or that have become of increasing concern since that time. Theories of argumentation are as old as Aristotle and as new as the daily headlines.

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I've been particularly pondering the second of the two questions you ask here in your first sentence: to wit, what role will argumentation play in student lives outside the classroom?  And while the answer to your first question is pretty straightforward (i.e., students will be writing a number of argument-based papers throughout the course of their academic work), I'm not so sure about the answer to the second.  With increasing emphasis in this country being put on "work ready" higher education, the argument-based assumptions that we all make in our teaching and writing assignments may be falling out of step with the times.  Writing memos, reports, manuals, market analyses (and analyses in general), public relations texts, and whatsoever most commonly constitutes professional writing activities (including any team-written document), is not especially a matter of argumentation.  Argument can appear in such texts at times, but the focus is generally on critical thinking and, quite simply, grammar.  I'm quite interested to hear what your thoughts on this are.

About the Author
Donna Haisty Winchell directed the first-year writing program and codirected Digital Portfolio Institutes at Clemson University before her retirement in 2008. She edited several freshman writing anthologies and continues to write about argumentative writing and about fiction by African-American women. She is the author of The Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument with Annette T. Rottenberg.