It’s difficult to build a strong argument.
That’s because there is a gap between having a thought or opinion about a topic, and conveying that argument strongly. You need to state your claim, then prove it logically and meticulously with examples, points, and possibly more arguments.
I’ll share with you my own process for building arguments. I found that if I deviate from this process, the argument either gets lost, or loses its strength.
Before we start, there’s one crucial point I want to make about the general process of making a strong argument. The key differentiator for succeeding in this effort will be to write down everything you come up with. When you set it down on paper (or Gdoc), it’s as if you are a sculptor starting to work on your clay. Once you have the argument and points on paper, you can edit them, change their order, remove what’s not relevant. This is similar to the sculptor continuing to work on her art.
1. Formulate the argument as clearly as possible.
You do not start the journey of looking to validate your argument until you write it down. It’s so easy to deviate from the main topic, and our defense against that happening is to formulate what we want to prove in a clear and concise statement.
Let’s say your argument is about the importance of cleaning your house once a week.
If you just keep this argument as an internal thought, it can change over time without you noticing it.
For example, it can go from:
“Cleaning your house every week should be your top priority if you want a good life.”
“Cleaning your house every week is a pleasant hobby.”
Similar points, but very different meaning.
When you write your main argument or hypothesis down, make sure to formulate it as specific and clear as possible. Here’s the argument I want to make: “Even busy people should spend at least two hours a week cleaning their house.”
2. Try to collect, instead of conjuring up supporting points for your argument
The problem with conjuring supporting points is that your mind will likely go to the obvious supporting facts or ideas, and those are usually not the most convincing ones.
Instead, a creative approach is much more likely to persuade readers, since it will have the element of surprise. It’s also much more likely to find points that are “show” instead of “tell”, since you collect them from outside.
The question: “where can I collect my supporting points?” should be top of mind at this stage.
Here are some “places” you can look to potentially collect points:
- Use your own experience. For example, could your own experience serve as a case study for someone who did or did not clean their house every week? Relying on your own experience is always excellent practice, and proves you stand behind what you write. You can use it to endorse your writing.
- Ask your friends.
- Who comes to mind when I think of this argument? For example, thinking of cleaning your house reminds me of Jordan Peterson and his “clean your room” rule. It also reminds me of Marie Condo and her philosophy around keeping your house tidy.
- Google search. It is not the actual search that is problematic, but the reliance on Google search. As long as you keep it to a minimum, searching Google can help you pick and choose more supporting points. Let’s be clear on this – searching Google is pretty risky, and will likely lead you to some mediocre points. The only way you can avoid this happening is to actively try to think of reasons why the points you find on Google are incorrect.
- Look for research.
- Look for authors who have written about this.
- Search for videos on YouTube.
How many points do you need?
While you are practicing the skill of building a strong argument, I would focus on collecting three points for your argument. In order to strengthen the persuasion muscle, three points is the minimum. On the one hand, it will give you a way to explore three different points, keeping your perspective broad. At the same time, it will let you explore each point in depth, without wasting too much time on the whole project. By limiting yourself to three arguments, you will be forced to prioritize the points and only use the strongest ones.
Why I do not recommend writing down all the points
For my “importance of cleaning your house” argument, I can easily come up with dozens of points:
- Clean room = clean thoughts
- Better air quality
- Better sleep
- Small accomplishments that will lead to big accomplishments
- By cleaning your house you take responsibility for your world.
You are NOT making a list
Most persuasive essays and articles I read make the same mistake – they make a list of points, instead of having points that build on top of each other. Start with a small point, then move on. If that is true, what else is true? All points should somehow connect to each other, so the whole argument is holistic, cohesive and strong.
3. Imagine yourself talking to someone who holds a different opinion
As if making a strong argument and finding supporting points is not difficult enough, you also need to think of points that will support the opposing argument.
A helpful way to both strengthen supporting points and refute points is to think of a situation where you are in a room with a person who holds the opposite view, and imagine the dialogue you would have with that person.
4. Focus on each point, as if it was the entire text you were writing
I think one of the key skills of persuasion is the ability to focus. Let’s say that the first point I want to make is:
“If you imagine the extreme opposite of cleaning your house, it’s clear that on an emotional and functional level this is a negative state.”
Now, I take this point and expand it as if it were my one and only point.
It would go something like this:
“Imagine you haven’t cleaned your house for a year. You go into your home, and immediately step on garbage. The whole place stinks to the high heavens. Moreover, there is no room to walk. You will likely agree that this sorry state will have major impacts on your feelings and behavior:
– On the feeling level, you will feel lousy. Just think of how uncomfortable it would feel to stay for just five minutes in this stinky, messy house.
– On the functional level, think about how challenging it would be to do any work in that house. You wouldn’t be able to concentrate.
In other words, not only will you feel depressed there, you won’t even be productive. What is the use of saving time if you won’t be able to get anything done?”
5. Reading everything through, and writing the conclusion
By now you have written your main argument and three supporting points. Now is the time to bring it all together in the conclusion, summarizing the main points and driving the argument home.
How long should the whole piece be?
I feel the minimum length of a persuasive essay should be 700 words long. That’s enough to state the main argument clearly, and provide three strong supporting points.