Learning Module 1: Argument and Reasoning

June 16 – June 20

Writing assignments due this week

Reading assignments due this week

Participation due this week

  • June 18 — Comment on at least two blog posts from other students.  You are welcome and encouraged to comment on more.
  • June 19 — email the professor (richard.colby@du.edu) with one question about the class or an assignment.


Welcome to WRIT 1122 Rhetoric and Academic Writing.  This first week is an introduction to argument, claims, evidence, and reasoning.

An argument is an assertion supported by a collection of relevant claims and evidence.  In the reading for the week, you will learn that there are some variations to this as well as some pitfalls to avoid, but basically put, when you state a position on a matter, whether it is the best movie of 2013, a review for that new pair of headphones you purchased, whether students should take a gap year between high school and college, or how best to get people to recycle, these are all arguments.  You might think that some of those are just “opinion,” but that’s not necessarily the case.  All arguments start as an opinion.  But not all opinions are arguments.  What makes an opinion an argument is when it is supported by audience appropriate, relevant, and verifiable evidence.

Let’s look at those three conditions briefly.

Audience appropriateness.  Next week, you will be working through the learning module on Rhetoric and Public Arguments, but in the meantime, part of rhetoric is understanding audience.  Think of the evidence to use to make the claim about the best movie of 2013.  If my argument is that Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the best movie, I might use the evidence that it grossed the most money ($424b).  This would appeal to some audiences, but maybe not others.  After all, it didn’t win a single Academy Award.  Gravity, on the other hand, won seven Academy Awards.  Selecting the evidence for my case would depend on audience, just as the granting of dollars at the box office or awards at the podium means that different parts of a movie appeal to different audiences.

Relevance.  In assembling evidence for an argument, you can use almost anything.  Let’s return to Catching Fire:  Jennifer Lawrence had the most social mentions on Twitter/Facebook, almost a third of movie was shot on IMAX cameras, the marketing people for the movie created websites for each district, or it is one of the last movies Philip Seymour Hoffman was in.  Deciding on relevant evidence is motivated by audience but it also is motivated by recognizing that not every detail is useful.

Verifiability.  Part of evidence is relaying it to the audience as something that supports the argument.  You can argue that Catching fire made you cry as evidence, but it isn’t really verifiable.  In personal writing, making non-verifiable evidence appropriate usually involves vivid description.  It’s not enough to say that the movie made you cry—but telling the story about why it made you cry is reasoned evidence that can contribute to the argument.

Learning Objectives

  • Differentiate audiences by analyzing how their values shape what evidence they might best respond to.
  • Reflect on how writing matters to you individually and to society.