Talking with, not arguing at, readers

The CEL explains in Ch. 18 that audiences respond most favorably to writing when it is “compelling” and reveals information that audiences find exciting, interesting, or useful. The CEL goes on to point out strategies (“Rogerian Argument”, p. 544) that are explicitly aimed at defusing hostility and “building connections” between different audiences who might otherwise think differently.

You might take a moment to reflect on this idea. If you have been told that your writing should “counterargue” or “refute” other ideas, you may not have ever considered that writing can also build up and extend other writers’ perspectives.

Counterarguing, conceding, and qualifying are useful rhetorical tools in writing. But as you look for other perspectives and “opposing” viewpoints, keep in mind that you can acknowledge them and value them even as you develop your own insights.

This activity will help you understand how skilled writers take up counterargument in ways that extend and amplify existing perspectives.

book1 icon-01.png Readings:

Read the following essays online:

These two essays take very different approaches to the rhetorical tool of “counterargument.”

Robinson uses extensive personal experience to give a deeper context to critiques he anticipates NFL general managers making. His open letter does not cite any specific critiques; rather, he imagines what GMs might say and writes his essay against these imaginary responses.

Kendall by contrast writes an exploratory analysis of eating habits in Southern Black American culture. In the essay, she begins with lyrics from a popular song and ultimately uses her analysis to address misconceptions and objections of audiences. Kendall recognizes that her audience might be ignorant about the eating habits she is describing. Yet, rather than attack this ignorance or frame it as a counterargument she must address, Kendall appeals to the common ground shared by different communities:

“So too can Beyoncé’s fans find common ground in their love of her music, even though they may not share her experience or heritage. Her hot sauce might be your mustard, your salsa, your sofrito, your soy sauce, or something else entirely. Either way, hot sauce is as integral to her cultural heritage as your traditions are to yours, even if it isn’t something that you’ve had to carry with you in the same way.”

quillicon-01.png Assignment:

Write a short response (at least 200 words) comparing how Robinson and Kendall approach “counterarguing” differently. Address the following questions in your response:

  • Did you find one of the essays more effective in changing your mind about the underlying issue it was addressing?
  • How do you feel when writers use their own experiences to address potential counterarguments and differences of opinion?
  • How does this approach create conversation with readers rather than conflict?

Submit your response to this assignment. Make sure you refer specifically to passages from the readings.

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