Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

Saturday School: Lesson #11 – Putting It All Together


Lesson #11 – Putting It All Together

  • Complete the reading assignment
  • Complete the writing exercise
  • Post your assignment in the comments
  • Share the lesson with a friend


Before moving on, let’s review all that we’ve learned and put it into practice.

Writing is rhetoric, and rhetoric rightly understood is the principled process of crafting a valid and compelling message.

Good persuasive writing doesn’t just tell the facts, it makes an assertion. To write a sound assertion that can be supported with proofs, we use three of the five canons of rhetoric: invention, organization, and style. Invention is the message you plan to argue. Organization is the order in which you plan to argue your message. And style is how you plan to argue your message.

As we prepare to write, we also need to consider four possible contingencies. Contingencies are the variables that your writing must anticipate if it is to succeed.  These contingencies are: genre, subject, audience, and purpose.

The genre is the kind of writing one is doing. Different genres require different resources. The subject is the particular discipline in which one is writing. Different subjects require different appeals. The audience is the person or persons to whom the compelling message is directed. Different audiences require different approaches. The purpose is the reason for the compelling message. Different purposes also require different appeals.

Once you have considered the contingencies, it’s time to write your thesis statement. The thesis is your assertion. It is, typically, a single declarative sentence offered in the introduction of your paper (sometimes called the Exordium). A good thesis will set the trajectory for your paper, and all other arguments should support this statement. Consider it the whole to which each part of your paper will be anchored.

Next, your paper will need proofs to support your thesis. These proofs will consist of deductive and inductive arguments. Deductive arguments are made up of syllogistic logic. They move from universal truths, like all men or mortal, to more particular truths, like Socrates is a man, to finally arrive at a conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

Inductive arguments are sometimes called empirical arguments because they are arguments based on certain particular examples. We can point to our understanding of scientific observation as an example of an inductive argument. Remember, acceptable proofs will adhere to the law of non-contradiction. In other words, arguments that are not consistent are not convincing.

Some good ways to find good arguments are to define your subject’s characteristics, both general and specific. Explore how they are different, and how are they alike, and to what degree? Explore the relationship between one aspect and another aspect. Investigate the circumstances of your topic: Is it impossible; is it improbable; is it probable; is it certain? Find credible testimonies that support your argument. Is there an authority, a statistic, a law, a maxim, a precedent, or an example that will support your thesis?

Finally, to develop a good argument, articulate a point that supports your thesis, quote a passage that supports the point, then relate the point and passage and explore the implications. Further, explore the inter-connectedness of previously examined passage with other passages.

Now it’s time to give it a shot.

Write a 500-1000 word essay arguing any point, and employ as many of the features above to complete your project.


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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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