Getting Argumentative

Arguments are something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. How do you make an argument come through clearly in a piece of writing? This is something I struggle with, and I’ve been told numerous times that my writing is too “fast paced”. I don’t put in enough detail and skim over the key argument. It isn’t explicit enough. I think this could be due to a lack of confidence in some ways. I assume that because I know something, everyone else must know it too so it’s not worth explaining in detail. This is because I’m just starting out and I don’t feel like I have anything novel to say (when actually I might, and kind of have to for the sake of my thesis). I’m guessing that it isn’t just me dealing with this issue, so here are a few of the ways I’m trying to come to grips with it and make my arguments clearer.

 

This one might seem a little silly, and might not work for everyone, but I’ve found it helpful. Listen to angry music. When drafting a section I generally listen to Tool. Or when I’m really struggling I’ll put on some Pantera. Whilst your argument is not literally you yelling at someone about how right you are, if I can get that angry bit across somewhat in a draft, then finesse it out a bit when editing, it comes through a bit stronger than it would usually. After nearly three years of thinking about the same topic it becomes quite normal, blasé even. Which makes it easy to forget why I found it interesting in the first place. For me I wanted to research and write about youth justice because I thought there were problems with it that could be solved. I was curious about how it could be improved, and I was angry about how other people had been pointing out these problems for a long time and no one had really changed it. So getting amped up a bit helps me remember that and for me the easiest way to do this but still remain functional is with music. Obviously your mileage may vary with this, if you don’t like angry music at all it’s probably not going to help when you’re stressed and struggling for words, but for me, I love it and I think it makes me write better when there are loud guitars.

 

Also, talk to your supervisors. If you’re concerned about argument, they’re probably the best people to go to as they’re familiar with your work and the points you’re trying to make, but not to the same extent as you. When reading my drafts I think something makes perfect sense and expresses my point well, then my supervisors will tell me they had no idea what I was on about in that paragraph. It’s easy to make sense of your own writing, you know what you meant all along, which makes it hard to see when what you meant isn’t actually coming through on the page. So show it to others. It doesn’t have to be just your supervision team either. My partner and my Mum are often sounding boards for me (I am ever grateful; I owe them lots of wine). Whilst a thesis is an academic work, it should make sense to others. Arguments should jump out of the work and strike anyone who reads it, even if they don’t understand (or care about) all the literature or what method you used. So if I can get someone who doesn’t really care about my topic to understand what my point is, I’m happy. So share your work.

 

Another trick I’ve found quite recently, through the Thesis Whisperer blog. If you don’t read that already, please do, it is amazing. Take a section of your work, then copy and paste the first and last sentence of each paragraph into a separate word document. Read just those sentences. Do they make sense? People tend to skip over the middle parts of stuff. You remember the start and/or the end more than other bits, so put your main points there. I tried this exercise with a section of my lit review recently, and it was really interesting. Reading through this new paragraph made of first and last sentences I could see where there was a tangential section, where I needed to join parts together better and where my argument was coming through. I can now edit that section (AGAIN! I feel like that part will never be done), and make those changes so that my argument is more prominent.

 

I think putting across your argument is one of the more difficult parts of writing, so it needs more attention. Which I’m trying to give to mine through these things. If any of you have your own tips for this (or music recommendations) I’d love to hear them!

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About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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