Clarity and Argument
Whether students are beginning with their own reflections on a topic or with research in the library or online or field research with people or in a lab, their work will not ultimately be a simple record of facts, but will be arguing for a way of looking at the world. The structure of this argument is only slightly less important than the quality of ideas found and expressed. In the process of presenting an argument, students need to exercise care in presenting sufficient relevant argumentation and evidence for the claims they are making. This criterion evaluates how clear the argument is and how well supported each claim being made is. Additionally, it evaluates how strong the evidence presented is and how relevant the evidence is to the case being made. Finally, this part of the evaluation considers whether the argument presented shows unreasonable bias. There are five main factors that display an argument force or quality; these are the thesis, the originality of reasoning, the coherence of discussion, the strength of the evidence, and the fairness of the presentation of the argument.
The central thesis (or final conclusion) should be very easy to find and understand in the best written arguments. If the entire work were considered as a single sentence, the thesis would be that single sentence. Such an important idea in an argument should never be left implicit in the discussion. Furthermore, any restatements of the thesis should provide additional clarity, rather than confusion, to the discussion. Adequate work on the thesis should provide reasonable clarity, but restatements may either not be in evidence or may introduce vagueness or ambiguities into the discussion. Inadequate work on the thesis will lead to confusion over the main point being made.
The single most important factor in consideration of an essay’s clarity and argument is whether the thesis is easily discernible and whether restatements introduce vagueness or ambiguities. The next factor in importance is that of originality of argument.
It is not enough for a writer to write an argument that is clear and easily understood by readers; it is also required that writers communicate more than just the thinking of others in their work. The best essay writers are concerned to provide work that is original within the academic community. As a result, their work will represent an original combination of ideas from various sources, rather than merely the progression of thought from a single source or very few sources. Adequate work in this area may follow an accepted line of thinking, when it is in evidence in the majority of widely varied sources. Thus, the discussion will draw upon several sources, but with less of an original contribution to the field of discourse. Inadequate work on this element of writing will lead to dependence upon a single or restricted range of discussion, while ignoring the valuable contributions of those who have different opinions than the one being argued.
The first two factors in considering the clarity and argument of an essay have been the clarity of the thesis and the original thinking of the writer. The next factor in this part of the evaluation concerns the coherence of the argument.
All of the sentences of an essay should be presented in such a way that readers can easily see what part each sentence plays in the overall discussion and can understand that each sentence is vital in providing either a clear statement of the conclusion being argued or some supporting reason for the conclusion. This quality is called the coherence of an argument. In the best essays, every single sentence has its relevance and place contributing to the rationale of the argument. Essays that are merely adequate in this area have a few sentences that are irrelevant to the reasonable force of the argument. Inadequate essays argue largely using irrelevancies and more sinister forms of non-rational persuasion.
Some of the main features of an arguments clarity and force are evident in the thesis, the originality, and the coherence of the argument. Another important factor to be considered is that of the strength of the evidence found in the argument.
There are many reasons why an argument might be persuasive to many people. However, the most excellent arguments are those that provide reasonable support for the conclusion, and not merely clever ways of saying things that may persuade people by other than rational means. In excellent reasonable arguments, the evidence presented is uncontroversial to a majority of people within the discussion, even though the ultimate conclusions of the argument may be quite controversial. The evidence should be strongly based in a body of accepted facts, if possible, and great likelihood, if not. Adequate work in this area will be based somewhat on accepted facts but with some sources providing biased information that is not widely accepted. Unacceptable work in providing evidence considers only sources that agree with the position taken in the discussion, and may represent sources that have other agendas than mere agreement with the position taken, such as finances or ideology. Evidence that is not commonly accepted by all parties in a discussion, and especially evidence provided by biased sources, weaken the support that a reasonable argument has.
The first four factors in an argument’s clarity and force deal with presentation of the discussion that advocates the conclusion being presented in the essay. The last factor in this area concerns how contrary evidence and opinions are presented.
When an argument is presented to readers for rational consideration, one important factor is the fairness of the presentation of the issue, the range of discussion, and the various positions that have been taken on the issue at hand. The most excellent arguments treat contrasting stances with fairness. Even though arguments will ultimately favour one position over competitors, the best arguments will do so in a way that fully acknowledges the strengths and values of positions not advocated. When bias creeps into an argument or an issue is presented as if there were only one possible rational choice or course of action, the argument loses excellence and becomes merely adequate. When the argument clearly displays bias in the issue considered or openly despises other reasonable choices without presenting the basis for a rejection of the argument, or when the essay even refuses to consider a known opposing view, the argument becomes thoroughly unsatisfactory.
Essays must display a broad range of research and reflection on an issue and discussion that is clear and careful to consider all reasonable information that is relevant to the issue being examined. These are the most weighty criteria that affect the mark an essay receives. The next two criteria are of must lesser importance, but still have a great affect upon the final mark an essay receives.