Argument promotes one point of view, so it is seldom objective. However, college writing requires that you stay within the bounds of fairness and avoid bias. To be sure that the support for your argument is not misleading or distorted, you should take the following steps.
Avoid Distorting Evidence. You distort evidence when you misrepresent it. Writers sometimes intentionally misrepresent their opponents’ views by exaggerating them and then attacking this extreme position. For example, a senator of a northeastern state proposed requiring unmarried mothers receiving welfare to identify their children’s fathers and to supply information about them. Instead of challenging this proposal directly, a critic distorted the senator’s position and attacked it unfairly.
What is the senator’s next idea in his headlong rush to embrace the extreme right-wing position? A program of tattoos for welfare mothers? A badge sewn on to their clothing identifying them as welfare recipients? Creation of colonies in which welfare recipients would be forced to live like lepers? How about an involuntary relocation program into concentration camps?
Avoid Quoting Out of Context. A writer or speaker quotes out of context by taking someone’s words from their original setting and using them in another. When you select certain statements and ignore others, you can change the meaning of what someone has said or suggested.
Mr. N, Township Resident: I don’t know why you are opposing the new highway. According to your own statements, the highway will increase land values and bring more business into the area.
Ms. L, Township Supervisor: I think you should look at my statements more carefully. I have a copy of the paper that printed my interview, and what I said was [reading]: “The highway will increase land values a bit and bring some business to the area. But at what cost? One hundred and fifty families will be displaced, and the highway will divide our township in half.” My comments were not meant to support the new highway but to underscore the problems that its construction will cause.
Avoid Slanting. You slant information when you select only information that supports your case and ignore information that does not. Slanting also occurs when you use inflammatory language to create bias. For example, a national magazine slanted its information when it described a person accused of a crime as “a hulk of a man who looks as if he could burn out somebody’s eyes with a propane torch.” Although one-sided presentations frequently appear in tabloids and some popular magazines, you should avoid such distortions in your argumentative essays.
Avoid Using Unfair Appeals. Traditionally, writers of arguments use three kinds of appeals to influence readers: logical appeals address an audience’s sense of reason; emotional appeals play on the emotions of a reader; and ethical appeals call the reader’s attention to the credibility of the writer.
Problems arise when these appeals are used unfairly. For example, writers can use fallacies to fool readers into thinking that a conclusion is logical when it is not. Writers can also employ inappropriate emotional appeals—to prejudice or fear, for example—to influence readers. And finally, writers can unfairly use their credentials in one area of expertise to bolster their stature in another area that they are not qualified to discuss.