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CHAPTER 6 Arguing a Position

For practice, go to bedfordstmartins.com /theguide/exercisecentral and click on Word Choice in the Handbook section.

A Common Problem for Multilingual Writers:

Subtle Differences in Meaning

Because the distinctions in meaning among some common conjunctive adverbs are subtle, nonnative speakers often have difficulty using them accurately. For example, the difference between however and nevertheless is small; each is used to introduce a contrasting statement. But nevertheless emphasizes the contrast, whereas however softens it. Check usage of such terms in an English dictionary rather than a bilingual one. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has special usage notes to help distinguish frequently confused words.


Three potential groups of readers

Two groups of parents

Jessica Statsky’s Response to Opposing Positions

In this section, we look at how Jessica Statsky tried to anticipate opposing positions and respond to them. To understand Statsky’s thinking about possible opposing positions, look first at the invention writing she did while analyzing her potential readers.

I think I will write mainly to parents who are considering letting their children get involved in competitive sports and to those whose children are already on teams and

who don’t know about the possible dangers. Parents who are really into competition and winning probably couldn’t be swayed by my arguments anyway. I don’t know how to reach coaches (but aren’t they also parents?) or league organizers. I’ll tell parents some horror stories and present solid evidence from psychologists that competitive sports can really harm children under the age of twelve. I think they’ll be impressed with this scientific evidence.

I share with parents one important value: the best interests of children. Competition really works against children’s best interests. Maybe parents’ magazines (don’t know of any specific ones) publish essays like mine.

Notice that Statsky lists three potential groups of readers here, but she is already leaning toward making parents her primary audience. Moreover, she divides these parents into two camps: those who are new to organized sports and unaware of the adverse effects of competition, and those who are really into winning. Statsky decides early on against trying to change the minds of parents who place great value on winning. But as you will see in the next excerpt from her invention writing, Statsky gave a lot of thought to the position these parents would likely favor.

Jessica Statsky’s Response to Opposing Positions

Listing Reasons for the Opposing Position

In continuing her invention writing, Statsky listed the following reasons she thought others might have for their position that organized competitive sports teach young children valuable skills:

--because competition teaches children how to succeed in later life --because competition--especially winning--is fun

--because competition boosts children’s self-esteem --because competition gives children an incentive to excel

This list appears to pose serious challenges to Statsky’s argument, but she benefited by considering the reasons her readers might give for opposing her position before she drafted her essay. By preparing this list, she gained insight into how she had to develop her own argument in light of these predictable arguments, and she could begin thinking about which reasons she might concede and which she had to refute. Her essay ultimately gained authority because she could demonstrate a good understanding of the opposing arguments that might be offered by her primary readers —parents who have not considered the dangers of competition for young children.









Conceding a Plausible Reason

Looking over her list of reasons, Statsky decided that she could accommodate readers by conceding that competitive sports can sometimes be fun for children — at least for those who win. Here are her invention notes:

It is true that children do sometimes enjoy getting prizes and being recognized as winners in competitions adults set up for them. I remember feeling very excited when our sixth-grade relay team won a race at our school’s sports day. And I felt really good when I would occasionally win the candy bar for being the last one standing in classroom spelling contests. But when I think about these events, it’s the activity itself I remember as the main fun, not the winning. I think I can concede that winning is exciting to sixto twelve-year-olds, while arguing that it’s not as important as adults might think. I hope this will win me some friends among readers who are undecided about my position.

We can see this concession in paragraph 5 of Statsky’s revised essay (p. 252), in which she concedes that sports should be fun but quotes an authority who argues that even fun is jeopardized when competition becomes intense.

Refuting an Implausible Reason

Statsky recognized that she had to attempt to refute the other objections in her list. She chose the first reason in her list and tried out the following refutation:

It irritates me that adults are so eager to make first and second graders go into training for getting and keeping jobs as adults. I don’t see why the pressures on adults need to be put on children. Anyway, both my parents tell me that in their jobs,

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