The Role of Persuasion in Critical Thinking
Of course, critical thinking is not a congruent style of thinking. That is, each individual has their own style of critical thinking. This is not to say that critical thinking does not follow rules or standards, but rather, that each person follows the rules and standards a little differently. This is fine, so long as the basic tenets of critical thinking, arguments, and reasoning are followed and met.
One way critical thinking differences may be apparent is when an individual in engaging in persuasion, or persuasive writing. The goal of persuasion is to convince an individual or an entity regarding and idea, concept, opinion, or perspective.
Persuasive writing is notoriously difficult; however, it is not impossible. This style of writing is a form of nonfiction that demands careful diction, the development of sound analytics throughout the writing piece, and a cohesive and integrated platform of ideas, arguments, and conclusions.
Effective persuasion requires a careful attention given to the audience and their needs. This must be done throughout the entire writing process. Following a traditional writing formula will not be sufficient; rather, audience intent and interests, as well as their individual styles and ideologies must all be taken into account. This requires forethought and a keen understanding of the audience. This demands critical thinking.
Some key areas to keep in mind when writing persuasive pieces is to always respect your audience. Do not view your audience negatively, as this will come across in your actions and/or your writing. It is important to consider the feelings and thoughts of your audience, and not take certain aspects of their patient, intelligence, or empathy for granted. Remember that they are human too, and may feel just as strongly as you do regarding what you are trying to persuade them.
The mantra here is to know your audience. Make your writing reader/audience-focused, rather than you-focused. Make sure that you focus on an argument that is best calculated to persuade your audience; your persuasive writing must be tailored to the needs and wants of your given audience. Ignore your personal preferences; appeal to the preferences of your audience instead. You may have to think long and hard about what your audience wants, whether it be efficiency, cost-effectiveness, time needed for implementation, practicality, or feasibility. Make sure you know from what standpoint your audience is coming from, and then write from that perspective.
Remember that your audience may not be persuaded immediately. Allow sufficient time for them to digest the material. If need be, continue to address your audience over time, and address specific needs or wants they bring up. Of course, you should not be pushy--you may be proactive, but never pushy.
When considering your audience, you must understand that there are three likely scenarios possible:
- You will change your audience's point of view.
- You will bring your reader's point of view closer to your own. They may not be in total agreement with you, but they may have some respect and acceptance for your view.
- You will fail to change your audience's mind, even having provided solid reasoning.
The outcome or your persuasive piece depends partly on how well you can understand and relate to your audience, and shape your material accordingly. You must make it convincing to them. Other aspects of your audience can impact your piece of their acceptance or rejection of it:
- Experience: your audience may be experienced or novice readers. An individual who knows little about the given subject will need more background information than someone who is an expert, or at least knowledgeable. The more experienced reader may need more detail, more evidence, and a more sophisticated level of analysis to be convinced.
- The type of reader: your readers may be skeptical, neutral, or convinced. If your audience does not already agree with you, or is neutral, it will be much more difficult to persuade them. You have to work to establish common ground, acknowledge opposing views, and admit the strength of those opposing views where necessary and true. If your audience already agrees with you, it is obvious that you do not have to persuade them any further. Now, however, your goal is to bring them to act or react in a certain way.
- Type of appeal: emotional versus rational. Certain audiences respond more or less to emotion versus rationality. Some more skeptical or expert audiences may require more reason, such as examples, facts, and analyses. They will respond more to factual arguments, and be less responsive to emotional appeal, and may view emotional appeal as manipulative. An audience who is familiar with a subject may respond well to emotional languages that acts as a reinforcement to their points of views. Deciding how much emotion versus reason to put into your writing depends on a critical analysis of your audience.
Force typically does not have a place in critical thinking. Rather, reason is the rule. Interpreting and analyzing information to persuade others goes beyond mere summarizing and synthesizing that information and repeating it to an audience. Good critical thinkers will take apart the information and put it back together in new combinations, looking for the necessary patterns, forging new ones where possible and viable, and presenting the relationships, all within the context of changing and audience's mind on a given topic, or at least solidifying in their minds what you believe or think. The goal is a persuasive critical thinker and writer is bring the evidence into a focal point and encourage a given audience to make a certain decision, form a specific opinion or behave in a certain way.
Before writing a persuasive piece, you must decide if a given topic is even arguable. There are a number of methods to help determine this.
Things that are arguable include:
- Matters of opinions over which people disagree
- Those things that allow for alternative possibilities, which can have cases made for them
- Those things that have sufficient evidence to support them
- Those things that may not have absolute proof to support them yet
Things that are not arguable include:
- Matters of taste or preference
- Undeniable facts
- Insufficient facts
- Matters of fact
- A priori premises: a priori means, approximately, "before examination." Therefore, an a priori premise is a statement based on things that cannot be argued upon because it is neither proved nor disproved.
When choosing a topic for an argument, think about the following:
- Does the topic involve controversy or various perspectives?
- Do the perspectives or sides of controversy have sufficient evidence?
- Can the sides of the controversy be argued from the evidence available?
- Can the controversy be defended?
Answering yes may yield a good foundation for a persuasive writing piece.
There are a number of ways to do this, using the reasoning power of critical thinking:
- Inductive reasoning is similar to if-then statements that is taught in school curriculums. If the laboratory experiment yields the same result when it is run, then… The idea is that given a set of circumstances, the if, then a conclusion or series of conclusions may be expected. When scientists test and retest a hypothesis before stating it as a general truth, they are engaging in inductive reasoning.
- Deductive reasoning holds that from a general conclusion, other facts or concepts can be deduced. That is, the validity of a certain deduction depends on the validity of the initial conclusion. For example, knowing that antibiotics help fight infections is valid, and therefore, when ill, you seek out a physician to administer the antibiotic to you.
You may utilize both induction and deduction in the same argument or persuasive piece. The conclusions from one line of reasoning may serve as the basis for the other line of reasoning.
Things that cannot be argued:
Subjective expressions, such as expressions of taste or those that cannot be rationalized, do not lend themselves to reasoning and persuasive writing. Those things that critical thinking cannot be applied to cannot be argued for, and therefore, have no place in persuasive writing.
Matters of fact are not debatable. Once a fact is established, there is no point arguing about it. Unverifiable facts also cannot be argued properly because we simply cannot know. For example, arguing about whether there is life after death is not feasible, because we simply cannot and do not know at this point whether there is or is not life after death. You may argue from theory, but not from law or established fact.
Insufficient facts also cannot be argued because insufficient facts cannot be argued with any solid conclusion; insufficient facts are inconclusive.
However, it is important to keep in mind that facts can change; they can be dynamic, rather than static, creatures, as more evidence comes into form. Things can be proven false, even if they have been accepted as verifiably accurate.
Planning your persuasive argument
You should have a working thesis early on in the writing stage that reflects the view you will argue or persuade upon. Compiling evidence to support your working thesis is key. You must also think critically about the connections and relationships between your thesis and the supporting points you wish to use. There are three elements of persuasive writing:
In a persuasive piece, it is the thesis that expression the position you are taking regarding the subject. The thesis asserts your beliefs or perspectives. The assertion, essentially, if your claim. The assertion, along with your evidence and reasons, form the core of a persuasive piece.
The reasons you present must rest on the evidence. Your persuasive piece must provide proper evidence to support your assertion, and to indicate properly that the reasons you present in your work are valid. The evidence is what an audience will look when deciding whether to accept or reject your claims without needing further proof.
There are a number of different types of supporting evidence:
- Facts: are verifiable and may be quantified and are compiled via systematic observation
- Testimony: come from reliable reports and are based on observations
- Informed opinion: the source is very knowledgeable about a given topic and tend to be authoritative
- Examples and illustrations: they provide generalizations of concepts to help a given audience understand
When planning your persuasive piece and implementing your writing, you need to think about and incorporate the type and amount of supporting evidences you need to convince your audience. You must remember, that even if a given audience will respond to emotional appeal, they still also need solid evidence to support the viewpoints. The more factual your evidence, the more likely a given audience will accept what you are saying. Without the reliable evidence, your audience will have less credibility in what you are saying and will therefore be more apt to disregard or reject your thoughts.
The evidence you present is only as meritorious as its accuracy and your audience's willingness to accept it. Therefore, persuading an audience means looking at the evidence from the audience's perspective. From there, you supply the necessary statistics, examples, testimonies and illustrations as needed.
A warrant shows the connection between the veracity of the supporting evidence and the validity of the assertion you have presented. The warrant is the because or the therefore of the core of your persuasive piece. The warrant can be implied or stated.
Further, a solid persuasive piece rests on you defining terms. You may do this by:
- Word substitution. E.g. aerobic (oxygen-requiring) organisms
- Formal definition: using the dictionary and reliable language sources
- Avoid circular definitions, where you try to define a word by using it
- Define terms in ways that are familiar to an audience and in ways they can relate to each other
- Di Carlo, Christopher, "How to become a really good pain in the ass: A critical thinker's guide to asking the right questions." 398 pages.
- Carrier, Richard, "Resources for Critical thinking in the 21st century." Retrieved from http://www.richardcarrier.info/CriticalThinking.html
- Critical thinking: Persuasion, advertising, propaganda, logic, and argumentation, retrieved from https://share.ehs.uen.org/node/542
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