9. THE ORDER AND STRUCTURE OF AN ARGUMENT: DESCRIPTIONS AND EXERCISE

Order

Besides being unified and coherent, an argument should also be put in the most effective order. “Most effective order” very much depends on the particular argument.

In general, judgments about effectiveness have to do with the question of which order is most persuasive and are therefore based on matters of clarity, the relative strengths of various points, and your particular audience. For instance, if I have three points or lines (a,b,c) to argue in order to prove my thesis, I should decide which order (a,b,c; a,c,b; b,a,c etc.) would best persuade my reader to accept the validity of my thesis. I might choose the “a,b,c” order because it embodies a logical development that would not be evident in any other order; or I might choose “a,c,b” because my “b” point would be clearer to the reader, and therefore more persuasive, if I’ve already argued “c”; or I might judge that “c” is the weakest of my points and should be left until the reader has been favorably disposed by the strength of my “b” and “a” points.

Whichever order makes most sense, it ought to be reflected in the order of my thesis statement. That is, if my thesis statement presents the points in the “a,b,c” order, in my argument these points are best put in an order parallel to that statement.

Structure

The final matter that we should consider is the structure or organization of argument. In a way, the discussion of order has already introduced this topic, because considerations of logic, for instance, may impose a certain structure on an argument. Indeed, the more encompassing category here is structure; one kind of structure is that based upon the most effective order. Such a structure could be represented as having the following paragraphs or, if a complicated or long argument, large units:

  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • I. Topic “a”
    • Support “a”
  • II. Topic “b”
    • Support “b”
  • III. Etc.
  • Conclusion

But for an argument that takes the form of comparison-contrast, other structures come into play. If A and B represent the things to be compared, such an argument might be structured as

  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • I. Description of A
  • II. Description of B
  • III. Comparison-contrast of A and B
  • Conclusion

Or it might have this structure:

  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • I. Comparison-contrast of A and B on point 1
  • II. Comparison-contrast of A and B on point 2
  • III. Etc.
  • Conclusion

The classical argument, in which the counterargument or refutation is important, takes the form

  • Introduction
    • Thesis statement
  • I. Narration (background information, definitions, etc. necessary to the argument)
  • II. Confirmation (proof of the thesis)
  • III. Refutation (proof against objections to the thesis)
  • Conclusion

Exercise: take the first four thesis statements in “7. The Thesis Statement” and outline by topic the most effective order and structure of the argument that would follow each thesis. Be prepared to defend your decisions.