How to compose myself into an argument?
February 6, 2009 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for books that teach argument composition?

I'm a first year undergrad in the social sciences, and have just completed my initial round of essays and exams. While writing these I realised that I don't know how to compose proper arguments. I missed out on a lot of schooling in the past, and so didn't pick up this skill at any point. My writing is not terrible, but it's clearly failing to express what I know, what I think, and do so in any academic kind of way. I find writing essays or exam answers to be throwing enough information into the pot to reach the word count and don't know how to go beyond that.

I would like recommendations for books that will help me to compose written arguments, and preferably give some insight into how to decompose the arguments of others. I have heard of The Crafts of Research, but don't know if this would suit my needs because I'm not doing research. I'm more or less okay at doing the reading for essays, and having original ideas, I just need to know how to order that thoughtfully.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Sova to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In teaching college composition, I've used Everything's an Argument and Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. I prefer Behrens' book. It'll give you the basics of composing a thesis and all the important stuff about responding to the arguments of others--recognizing logical fallacies, etc.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:59 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and don't be afraid of books that touch on how to do research. It's something you'll need in the social sciences eventually, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2009

How to argue, by Alastair Bonnett labels different types of arguments quite well.
posted by jcwilliams at 3:08 PM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: "Everything's an Argument" works really well. Lester Faigley's book is good too for really simple explanations about how to develop argument and ways to build argument. You can get an older edition of the text inexpensively.
posted by answergrape at 4:06 PM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: The Craft of Research will teach you what you need to know -- and is totally applicable, since "writing papers" of any kind, if they're going to be any good, inevitably means doing some kind of research on the topic.

If you're having trouble getting started, it's probably because you haven't really gotten a grasp on what question you want to be asking. (spoken as a grad student, who STILL has trouble doing this in papers). "Showing what you know" is almost never as interesting or useful as "figuring out what question you want to ask," and then *answering* it, to the best of your ability. Too often overlooked, and not very frequently taught.

good luck!
posted by puckish at 6:44 PM on February 6, 2009

I picked up A Writer's Companion at the library the other day. The topics apply to any type of non-fiction writing, but it's primarily written for college students.

The quote that made me think of this book for you: "The writer argues that the facts should be understood a special way. Good writers interpret the facts, and all interpretations are arguments. Some wirters have said that all writing argues that we should do something or believe something."

Check it out. A library might be your best bet, because it's pricey for a thin book.
posted by tenaciousd at 7:21 PM on February 6, 2009

Do take a writing course if you can. I TA English and you have no idea how many English students, who should know better, are in desperate need of a writing course/composition course to teach them proper argumentation and proper grammar. The course isn't mandatory at my school but it probably should be. If you do have a writing course or centre at your school, either take a intro to writing/composition or check out their website to see if they have any recommended reading.
posted by pised at 11:39 PM on February 6, 2009

Best answer: Writing for Social Scientists by Howard Becker. It focuses on how to sit down and do direct, simple, logical writing. It will help you organise your thoughts into arguments and to present your evidence. I was thinking of it just last week and I can't find my copy... Anyway, it is concrete and very practical. Also: the best way to learn how to write persuasive arguments is to emulate the best writers in the field you are studying, so figure out who they are and read them a lot.
posted by ads at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations, I'll definitely get them have read through!
posted by Sova at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2009

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