What Students Know (or Don't Know) about Argument
Professors teaching first-year writing classes often note that their students don't understand the terms of academic argument. Indeed, our students have several misconceptions about argument:
- Students sometimes confuse argument with debate, taking a strong, oppositional position on a topic and then trying to "win" points.
- Students sometimes conceptualize an argument as a fight: they spar with a text without taking the time to understand it.
- Students sometimes think in black and white, neglecting the nuances of an argument.
- Students sometimes jump on the first bandwagon they find, citing an authority with almost blind reverence and ignoring all other points of view.
- Students can mistake argument for opinion, writing papers that are subjective and self-gratifying rather than objective and reader-based.
- Students sometimes construct a weakly supported or poorly reasoned argument because it is, after all, their opinion, and they have a right to it.
- Students can find themselves overwhelmed by the complexity of an intellectual problem, unable to take a stand.
- Students too often rely on structures that they learned in high school (for instance, the five-paragraph theme), thereby crippling their arguments from the get-go.