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The Art of Argumentative Writing

The Inductive Approach

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

(Author’s e-mail: (smzhussains@gmail.com, smzhussains@yahoo.com))

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The Art of Argumentative
Writing: The Inductive Approach
By: S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh) (smzhussains@gmail.com, smzhussains@yahoo.com)
 



For IELTS, GMAT, GRE, SAT, TOEFL and other competitive exams

 



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?
If an argument is placed in the deductive way, it starts with a conclusion, which, in later sections of the writing, attempts to justify. For example, if the topic is “As teachers to children, Mothers are better than kindergarten teachers, Do you agree or disagree?” then, in the deducted approach, a student might start with a statement like this: I think mothers are better as teachers to children than the teachers of kindergartens. I shall try to present my arguments in the following paragraphs.

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 …

          Thirdly, …
          Fourthly, …
          And lostly, …   …
          …  …
          Therefore, I conclude that …

 

An Analysis of the Foregoing Approach:
The student has directly started with a conclusion, which may not agree with the conclusion of the examiner. Although the examiner may not have a bias, she at least may have an expectation, in the sense that given the conclusion, which already conflicts with her own, has the examinee produced sufficient evidence that may make her feel that the conclusion is defendable? In academic writing, students are not required to go in favour of or against something, true, but still there might be dissatisfaction on the part of the examiner simply because of the fact that the conclusion has been presented first. If it were presented at the end, then the foregoing arguments would make it more ‘desirable’.

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:
Now that we have explored the factures of the deductive approach, we should go for an analysis of the inductive approach. To continue with the same topic, what we will look at in the very beginning is the introduction. Explicitly labeled or not, an introduction is an essential part of an argumentative writing. Let us proceed with the analysis of some samples.

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:
What we have observed so far will help us perceive the importance of the method going to be described now. Let us see how to write a good argumentative essay.

Introduction :
Both the points in the topic, say x and y, must be mentioned in the introduction, which should not touch on any opinion or conclusion or explanation. Here is a dummy presentation.

Some say that x, while some others say that y. We shall have a through discussion of this issue.

NOTE:
          X = Mothers are better as teachers to children than the teachers of kindergartens.
          Y = Kindergarten teachers are better as teachers to children than mother.

The wording can be in different ways. For another example:
Paragraph-1 (= Introduction)
          From some points of view, x, while from other points of view, y. We shall dwell on this issue in order to arrive at a fair conclusion.

 

Paragraph-2:
Because the inductive approach means the scientific approach, you cannot write anything you like in this paragraph – in fact, in any other paragraph.

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 …

OR

If it is held that x, then this view can be supported with facts. For example, …
etc.

The underlying principles are that:  
– if you mention x in this paragraph, you must not touch on the point y;
– you are not saying that these are your own views. Rather, you are simply saying that if it is maintained that x, then there are reasons that can be presented as the ground; and
– these arguments do in no way give any signal that your conclusion is going to take a certain shape.

Paragraph-3
Now that the things that can be said about the positive sides of x have been said, we must go for the things that can be said about the positive sides of y. The style of presentation may be like the following:
         
          ² Those who say that y say so for various reasons. For example, …
         
          OR

          ² However, from other points of view, it can also be said that y. For example, …

          OR

          ² However, arguments can also be presented in favour of the proposition that y. For example, …

Paragraph-4
So far nothing has been said against any of the propositions. In fact, the natural flow of reasoning does not demand that you have to speak both in favour of and against the same proposition simultaneously. Rather, what you need to do is present either the positive sides first and then put them against the negative ones, or present the negative sides first and then put them against the positive ones. And more importantly, those negative and positive sides are nothing to be planned ahead with prejudice. Rather, the way of presentation should be such that the negative points will invoke their corresponding positive points naturally, and vice versa.

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.

Paragraph-5
Now what remains to be done is clearly state which proposition you are now logically support. And that you need to do in a few words.

 

The Beauty of the Inductive Approach:
We have seen that in the scheme we have followed so far, we even did not know which proposition we were going to speak in favour of, because we – the persons – did not draw the conclusion but the dynamics of argumentation did. If the article is written in this way, the examiner, or reader, will find no scope of drawing a conclusion of this own, and will simply move along the line of reasoning, hoping to ‘see’ what comes next. As a result, the examiner’s conclusion and your own conclusion will not be different, because it was not constructed, but it was simply discovered.

 

Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an