Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Craft of Research: Chapter 10

The authors, as usual, explain qualifications better than I do, so here's an outline.

  1. Claims and evidence. Claim = concrete + debatable. Evidence = reliable + relevant. Break into sub-claims for your readers.
  2. Warrants = valid connections between claims and evidence. Test your major warrants before writing.
Qualifications - beginners are usually ignorant of nuances of argument and generally "do not recognize their own limitations." This usually leads to a boring, unintelligent argument. Realize that you can almost never "propose an argument whose truth is 100% certain 100% of the time." Why? Writers are not God. Four ways to qualify your argument:
  1. Think of possible objections, then answer them. Types of objections: (a) ones you entertained (not all blind alleys, of course, but the major ones); (b) anticipated objections of readers (think from their background); (c) other possible explanations for a phenomenon you explain in a certain way; (d) critical-reader objections (very hard to think of ahead of time, but well worth thinking about). Grounds for reader rejection of your argument: (a) wrong definitions of key terms (try to think from multiple sides); (b) cause-effect oversimplifications; (c) using too little evidence to overgeneralize (extrapolating millions of years of biological existence based on hypotheses and a few hundred years of collective experience, anyone?); (d) ignoring exceptions to the rules you lay out.
  2. Be honest and "concede what you cannot rebut." This makes you more thoughtful in the eyes of your readers.
  3. Lay out limiters - take into account the possibility of changes of circumstances that usually don't change. Example: "We can conclude the earthquake occurred in central Costa Rica, so long as the instrumentation had been accurately calibrated" (emph. orig.).
  4. Narrow the scope of your claim, but don't do it too much!
Argument building and use as a guide
  • Try rearranging claims, evidence, warrant, and qualifications to see various effects.
  • Think about the structure of the arguments of your sources. This helps your understanding and organization.
  • The three rhetorical appeals of any argument: logos (logic), pathos (inspiring feelings in your readers), and ethos (your own credibility, enhanced by the List of Four, above).

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