WRITING ANCHOR STANDARD 1:
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
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As I’ve worked with teachers to unpack the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’ve focused (at least initially) on writing, mostly because that is where my passion lies and because writing has too long been eclipsed by the “Big 5” of the National Reading Panel Report —phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. I welcome the renewed commitment to writing promoted by the CCSS.
My colleague, Kathleen Harrington, and I decided to dig into argument writing first, based on our hunch that this particular mode of writing would likely be least familiar and most daunting to K-6 teachers.
And so began our “Adventures in Genre Study: Exploring Opinion/Argument Writing,” which we presented at VRI’s Summer Institute last year and which we continue to pursue. We wanted to share what we’ve learned from this work by presenting a series of blog posts on Opinion/Argument Writing.
In this first post, we’ll focus on persuasion vs. argument, their similarities and differences. Significantly, the CCSS Anchor Standard 1 (on Opinion/Argument Writing) makes no reference to “persuasion” or “persuasive writing,” which is what most teachers would assume is synonymous with opinion/argument writing.
It’s hardly surprising that argument and persuasion are often considered one and the same. After all, they have some obvious similarities. For one, in both kinds of writing, authors make claims of some sort. Also, the purposes for writing persuasive and argumentative texts are fairly similar, such as to convince a particular audience to change their ideas or behavior, to convince others to support a position or policy, and to convey a political or social message or view.
However, persuasive and argumentative writing are also motivated by quite different purposes and this is where we see important distinctions that have implications for our teaching. We need to remember that the purposes of persuasive writing also include selling goods and services and promoting a particular cause, view, or interest by any means (i.e., propaganda). Persuasive texts of this sort—from infomercial to billboard—do make claims, but these claims aren’t always substantiated.
In such persuasive writing, there is no burden of proof; authors advance claims without any evidence. This is where persuasive and argumentative writing diverge.
And if you look at the language used in Writing Anchor Standard 1 (see above), you’ll notice that “valid reasoning” and “sufficient evidence” are centerpieces of this standard. This is a point we need to highlight for our students, because the emphasis on reasoning and evidence is largely what distinguishes argument from persuasion.
We’ll want to help our students understand that in argument writing, the claims we make must always be substantiated with relevant and sufficient evidence. We can’t escape the burden of proof. Not only that, but the claims we make must be based on logical reasoning rather than merely emotional appeals, as well.
Below is a T-Chart that captures some of the key differences between persuasive and argument writing.
Persuasive Writing Vs.
|Claim based on Opinion
|Claim (Opinion, Position, Hypothesis, Thesis Statement, Theory)|
|Not Always Substantiated Claim
(e.g., Propaganda, Advertisements)
|Substantiated Claim (Based on Relevant & Sufficient Evidence)|
|“Pathos”—Appeal to Audience Emotion, Desires, Needs
|Some “Pathos” but emphasis is on
“Logos”—Appeal to logical reasoning and evidence (e.g., Facts, Examples, Historical and Legal Precedents)
|“Ethos”—Appeal to writer’s or speaker’s character, credentials, trustworthiness||“Ethos”—Appeal to writer’s or speaker’s credibility (more so than character); credibility is established through knowledge of subject matter and merits of reasons and factual evidence|
|Persuasive texts may make an “argument,” but they don’t always include elements of a formal argument||Include the following elements of Argument:
|Warrants (Statements about How Evidence Supports Claims)|
|Backing (Support for Warrants)|
|May not take opposing views into account||Counterclaim (Opposing Argument)|
|Rebuttals (Respond to and Try to Refute)|
|Heart of Critical Thinking|
In the next blog post, we’ll define each element of argument above and provide illustrative examples.