“So What?”: Conquering Your Argument

sowhatt

Imagine your audience is an angst-ridden teenager. They like to wear black eyeliner, give you attitude and remain both cool and aloof. They read your paper and say, “So what?” (probably just to antagonize you). While they might grow-out of this phase, the “So what?” of your writing may never change.

Unless you work at it.

Profs, editors, and anyone else reviewing your writing may have mentioned this before. The all-important “So what?”. What’s the purpose? Why is this important? How does this matter?

Here are some tools I’ve accumulated to help you find that strong argumentative stance in your writing:

1.I am arguing that this and that and the other thing

Some people won’t mind and some people will, but more often than not it’s better to avoid saying “I AM GOING TO ARGUE THIS”. Although, it does make it easier to flush out your purpose or thesis. Double-check or brainstorm using this opener to find your argument.

2. “How does my argument affect how I approach the text or issue?

I came upon this question in an incredibly handy writing article (linked into the main point). This seems like a very generic question but look closely. What makes your approach to the text or issue unique? How are you using the information presented to you to create a serious discussion?

The article used this example:

“If the paper argues that alcohol abuse among students depends more on psychological factors than simply the availability of alcohol on campus, a “so what?” conclusion might tie together threads from the body of the paper to suggest that universities are not approaching alcohol education from the most effective perspective when they focus exclusively on limiting students’ access to alcohol”

Note: As you can see, this article is clearly not from McGill (see: OAP, Gerts, Blues Pub etc.)

3. Three steps forward one step back

I’ve applied this to multiple papers and use it as a tried and true method. This has actually been very helpful in regards to Shakespeare plays, but acts as a good strategy for approaching any piece of writing.

  • Step One: Read and reread and research and read some more. Make sure you have a crystal clear understanding. Don’t miss a thing.
  • Step Two: Note key phrases, arguments or aspects that draw your eye. Highlight, circle, copy, jot down words you like if that helps but figure out what attracts you. What doesn’t make sense? What seems contradictory? What’s especially interesting? What reminds you of something else that is relatable?
  • Step Three: Ask questions and break it down. Using the key phases and words that caught your attention, start asking some questions of your own. Write down the things you wonder about, the things you want to know more of, the things you want to explore.
  • Step Back: Pinpoint the source of your curiosity and go back and delve into it all over again. More often than not you’ll resurface with an argument, or at the very least a rough answer to “So what?”

I sincerely hope this addition to my myriad of writing tips aids you in your future endeavors. May a professor, classmate, editor or angst-ridden teenager never look at your papers again and ask you, “So what?”

sowhat

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