Voice Argument Writing Tips from Professional Writers

 

Style (tip 4)

Already I can hear what Robert Burns called the "unco' good and the rigidly righteous" bewailing the immorality of such arrogance. I make no apologies. Nor will I claim some higher morality or justifiable excuse for this approach. Biblical prophecy notwithstanding, the meek are not going to inherit the earth, not in this generation, or at least not until the strong are through with it. Besides, sweet reasonableness, more often than not, is a clever disguise for barely concealed self-interest. Writing is a tool of survival and power. As Tom Peters, a management consultant for one of the hot software development firms in the 1980s, once told the Washington Post , "In order to do anything interesting on this planet, you've got to be insanely arrogant."

"Arrogant" is probably the right word for it, too. The literary theorists who dominate the academic world in these dark and dangerous times have concluded that everything is socially constructed, that there is no absolute truth. Their hero, Jacques Derrida, is often quoted as having said (albeit in French), "There is nothing outside the text." If this is true, then each of us is a constructed text. Each of us is an act being played upon the stage. There is no Truth outside our constructed texts. We are all faking it anyway, so why worry about sincerity, truth, and all those romantic, essentialist heresies? If the "self" is an invented construction, then your own invention is as real as the social construction you grew up with. It may seem insanely arrogant, but go ahead and choose a voice.

As long as you are being, or pretending to be, arrogant, never announce what it is you are going to do; just do it. Jump in feet first. Don't ever say, "In this paper I am going to show that George Bush is a member of the international communist conspiracy. I am going to make an argument that he did more than any other person to bring about the destruction of the United States by bankrupting the nation in the name of anticommunism. Then I will provide supporting evidence to back up my claim." Such cautious announcements of intent bespeak uncertainty. Instead, simply state your assertion boldly. Then present your argument and your facts. Long-winded introductions are tiresome. They are but doormats. I wipe my feet on them.

The key here is self-confidence, a quality that unfortunately cannot be taught. You need to liberate yourself from the fear of being wrong or the fear of flunking. Emerson in his classic essay "Self-Reliance" says that we are afraid for two reasons: We fear the ridicule of the crowd, and we are terrified we might say something today that contradicts what we said last weekend. But, he warns, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Students who write careful, cautious, timid papers in an attempt to appease the anger of the arbitrary red pen of the grader will not do as well as those who angrily or boldly or proudly or insanely throw caution to the wind, damn the torpedoes, and charge bravely ahead. We graders like to be entertained, and we like ideas, facts, thoughts. We tend to be those peculiar kinds of people who actually read books for fun, and the kinds of books we like to read are bold and imaginative and original and lively. They are books full of real voices irresistibly alive on the page, voices that teach us something or reveal a new angle.

 
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