The Art of Argumentative Writing
The Inductive Approach
By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)
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Where Tradition Goes Wrong:
Usually most students, teachers included, practice reading as if reading were an inductive process: they begin with words, jump up on to sentences, and catch at paragraphs, and then, with an attempt to move smoothly, tumble frequently into the passage, whereas the fact is that reading, in its inherent nature, a deductive process. On the other hand, most students, and in this case teachers too, consider argumentative writing to be a deductive process – starting with the conclusion and then moving toward a ‘proof’ or ‘show off’ of reasoning ability, whereas, in fact, it is basically and inductive process, just as scientific thinking is, where a hypothesis, or potential conclusion, only starts the thinking, and does not develop the conclusion itself. We shall look into the issues with examples.
Writing or Thinking?
Now a few questions can be asked:
The student has started the writing. And that she/he has done with the conclusion. This shows that she/he has already finished thinking. Our first question is: Should writing start after thinking has finished? The second question is: Does thinking not change its course while one is in the process of writing? And the third question is: How much time is allocated for thinking and how much for writing?
Obviously, these questions are important because they provide a motivation for considering the issue from a new angle of view, and not because they rush toward interesting answers. Where questions are important in their own rights, thinking gains a new potential.
Now suppose a student is following the deductive approach and has started presenting her/his arguments. What, then, might the reasoning look like? Here goes a dummy presentation:
² Reading the issue of whether mothers are better than kindergarten teachers as teachers to children, I have the view that mothers are better. The arguments follow.
Firstly, Mothers … On the contrary, kindergarten teachers … .
Secondly, kids spend more time with their mothers than with …
An Analysis of the Foregoing Approach:
There is another thing which is very important here. In this approach, be the conclusion presented at the beginning or at the end, the arguments never seem to be sufficient. For example, the examiner, or any reader of your piece of writing, may say that more points could be added to make the reasoning more acceptable. More importantly, this allegation can be posed even after your mentioning of ten points resulting into ten paragraphs. Volume and completeness may not mean the same thing.
To speak in a more practical way, if the ending of the piece of writing does not occur where the culmination of the argument is expected, the argument, however strong it is, will not be convincing.
The Inductive Approach:
I asked fifty students to write a brief introduction to this topic. None of them had been trained before on how to write a clear introduction but, through discussions, they were made familiar with the topic, about the necessary lines of reasoning. Here are some samples.
i. I think mothers are better as teachers to children because …
Comment: This is not an introduction. That is because an introduction cannot contain any conclusion or explanation or opinion.
ii. Teaching is an art. Mothers do not know how to teach but still children learn from her. Again, kindergarten teachers are trained in …
Comments: The focus of this introduction is on ‘teaching’, while what is required here is a comparison of the potential of a mother as a teacher of a child and that of a kindergarten teacher. Thus this is not a good introduction.
iii. I think both mothers and teachers have a lot to teach children. However, no child can receive a complete formal training without the help of a kindergarten teacher.
Comments: This is also a conclusion. Those who follow the deductive (from conclusion to proof) approach consider this a good starting paragraph, but it is obvious that this is not an introduction. Because this is not an introduction, this approach has some drawback.
The Inductive Method Described:
Some say that x, while some others say that y. We shall have a through discussion of this issue.
The wording can be in different ways. For another example:
Which point will you conclude in favour of – x or y? The deductive approach cannot simply be used without having a definite answer to this question. But in the inductive approach, this consideration simply does not come up. How can you tell that until you have completed your analysis? In fact, in this approach, reasoning itself will flow on its own right.
Here is an attractive way of developing the second paragraph.
Those who say that x have their arguments to present. They say that x because …
If it is held that x, then this view can be supported with facts. For example, …
The underlying principles are that:
² However, from other points of view, it can also be said that y. For example, …
² However, arguments can also be presented in favour of the proposition that y. For example, …
Because we have started with the positive points of both the propositions, we now need not present any ‘negative’ points by definition. What we need to do is show arguments to find the set of positive points that appear to be stronger of the two sets of positive points. And it is in this way that we will be able to reach a conclusion. Simply put, our policy is to weigh one set of positive points against the other.
The Beauty of the Inductive Approach: