Strategies for Writing Convincing Essays Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 7, 2011

If You Can't Support It, Don't Include It

Imagine you're on a jury. The prosecuting attorney turns to the jury box and says, "The defendant is clearly guilty. I just know it. "He doesn't offer any evidence to support his assertion. Absurd, of course. No legitimate lawyer working in her client's best interest would make such a claim if she weren't able to support it. The rule is if you can't support it, don't include it, and it is as important for writers as it is for attorneys.

For example, you might believe that Americans today work more hours and have less leisure time than at any other time in our history. There are probably statistics out there to support this assertion, but after a quick search on the Internet, you find nothing. Unless you're willing to put in more research time to find what you need, as strongly as you may feel about the idea, since you can't support it, you shouldn't include it.

That doesn't mean you have to scrap the idea altogether, though. If you can't find evidence for the claim that Americans in general work more and play less than ever before, you might be able to find evidence that supports the assertion on a smaller scale. For many types of essays, you don't need the kind of evidence that's only found though research. Personal examples supported with specific examples can work if your assignment isn't a formal research paper. You could rework your assertion by reducing its scope and stating the following:

These days, everyone in my family is working more than ever—both at home and at the office.

By using specific personal examples, facts, and anecdotes, this type of assertion can have a legitimate place in your essay.

Establish Credibility

Credibility is the quality of being trustworthy and believable. The more credible a person is, the more likely you are to accept his or her opinions as valid (well founded, logical). As a writer, you need to establish credibility on two levels: your own credibility and the credibility of your sources.

Credibility is built upon two factors: expertise and freedom from bias. A bias is an opinion or feeling that strongly favors one side over others. Expertise is established by education, experience, job or position, reputation, and achievements. In general, the greater the expertise and the lower the potential for bias, the greater the credibility.

The Credibility of Your Sources

When you use expert opinion or analysis to support your assertions, it's important to let readers know who your sources are and what the nature of their expertise is. Of course, you don't have room to include extensive biographies or resumes of each source, but some basic information can establish their authority. If your source is a person, include his or her title, affiliation (does he or she work for a recognized or renowned organization or institution of higher learning?), and a major achievement or two. If your source is an organization, let readers know something about its history and achievements. For example, let's look again at the expert sources used for the flat tax essay:

  • Dr. Alan Auerbach, professor of Economics at the University of California of Berkeley and former chief economist at the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates that the average family of four will have $3,000 more in income per year with a flat tax.
  • The Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax think tank, estimates that America spends $140 billion complying with the current tax code—a cost that would be reduced 94% by instituting a flat tax.

In the first example, the writer tells readers Dr. Auerbach's current and former positions, both of which demonstrate that he is an expert on the subject of taxes. In the second example, the title of the organization—The Tax Foundation—tells readers that the organization is devoted to the subject. The writer describes it as a "think tank, "which suggests that it seeks out and employs experts on the subject.

These sources then, have expertise. But that doesn't mean they're credible. Many seemingly knowledgeable and trustworthy sources are actually incorrect or biased. In order to trust the source of any information, you need to determine the agenda of the person/organization disseminating it. Are they simply trying to relay facts, or are they trying to get you to believe something, or change your mind on a subject? It can be difficult to find a direct answer to that question, but you can begin to get a clearer picture by looking into the following:

  • What are the author's credentials on this subject?
  • Is he or she qualified to write on the topic based on background or education? For some subjects, it is acceptable to use information obtained from a hobbyist, self-proclaimed expert, or enthusiast, if you can verify it elsewhere. However, you should obtain most information from a reputable source. And since you need to verify anyway, why not use information, for instance, derived from Yale University's Thomas Hardy Association, rather than from John Doe's personal website homage to his favorite writer, Hardy?

  • Does the author document sources?
  • Where do relevant facts and figures come from? If you are consulting print material, there should be footnotes and a bibliography that show the author's sources. On the Internet, you may also find such documentation, or sources may be documented by using links to other websites (see the following section on evaluating a website based on links). Even documentaries, to use a previous example, should cite sources in their credits.

  • Are the sources balanced and reputable?
  • Pages of footnotes are meaningless if they simply indicate that the author used untrustworthy sources him- or herself. Check some of the sources to verify that they are accurate and unbiased. For example, a book on gun laws that relies heavily on material published by the National Rifle Association is not as reliable a source as another book on the subject that uses a wide variety of sources representing both sides of the issue.

  • What do others say about the author (whether individual or group)?
  • A quick way to check for opinions is to "Google" the author. Simply put his or her name (or the name of the group if there is no individual author) in the search box in quotes. The results can be revealing. However, remember to read them with a critical eye. If you are searching for someone with a radical or controversial view, you'll probably find detractors. A handful shouldn't deter you, but pages of negative information might.

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