Presenting your arguments clearly and convincingly
No matter how important the subject is to you and to the
readers, it is - as we all know - difficult to maintain the attention of
the readers throughout a long document that lists a long range of
arguments. "Keep it short" is the advice that we often hear as the
solution to maintain the attention of a reader, however, what if you
want to argue for or against something which is part of a complex
problem that cannot be explained in a half page document?
You can use various techniques and methods to help you to structure the
way you present your arguments in a document. A general rule is that you
must always write to the reader's mind so that it becomes easy for the
reader to follow your arguments. In order to do that there are at least
three things that you need to pay attention to and which help you to
argue clearly for your point:
Group your arguments
First things first
Answer to "why?" and "how"? in the right order
Group your arguments
When you are arguing for or against something you often have many good
and important arguments for your point of view. They all seem to be
important and you would like to present them all to the reader. The
result can be a long list of arguments and you might even be tempted to
think that the more arguments, the better.
Maybe you're right about every one of your arguments but presenting a
long list of arguments might not be the best way to persuade a reader
because by doing so you are not writing to the reader's mind.
Our mind cannot hold more than 7-8 items in its short term memory. After
having read 4-5 arguments the mind automatically starts to group these
arguments into categories sorted out by logic and importance. If you
want to convince the reader you must make sure that she/he follows your
arguments and instead of letting the reader group your arguments, you
should do the grouping and this way you will be writing to the reader's
This means that instead of presenting a list of let's say six arguments
you group these into say two groups and then you present the common
argument for each of the two groups. Only after that can you provide a
brief resume of the three arguments in each group.
First things first
The grouping of arguments doesn't stop with the two groups mentioned
above. In order to present your arguments clearly and convincingly you
continue to group and you also have to group the two groups of
In fact all arguments and all explanations in your document should
support/serve to defend one single main argument which you present right
at the beginning of your document.
This main argument will then be supported by the two groups of arguments
which are again supported by the three arguments in each group. You are
thus writing in a pyramid structure where you are always presenting the
summarizing idea before presenting the individual ideas being
So you must present the first and most important first and not in the
conclusion. It may sound obvious but a conclusion should be used to
remind the reader about your arguments, not to present them for the
Answer to "Why?" and "How?" in the right order
Controlling the sequence in which you present your ideas is the single
most important act necessary to good writing. A reader will ask
him/herself a range of questions while reading your arguments, mainly
"why?" and "how?" and you must present your ideas and arguments in a
structured way that provides answers to the reader during his/her
A question (in the mind of the reader) must always be answered on the
line below in the pyramid that you are constructing in your document.
This means that after having presented your main argument at the
beginning of the document (at the top of the pyramid) you must present
ideas/arguments that provide answers to the question "why?" or to the
question "how?". Which question should you answer first? This depends
upon which question you think the reader will raise first!
Let's construct an example:
- you write to your board members that "we should hire a full time
coach as soon as possible"
this is you main argument and you must present it at the beginning
of the document (note that if a reader agrees completely with that
argument then he/she does not have to read any further!)
some readers might however, not be convinced immediately, so you
must carefully consider whether they will in their mind ask "why should
we hire a full time coach?" or "how can it work?"
you then first present 2-3 major ideas for "how" it can work or
you present 2-3 major arguments for "why" . The order will depend upon
which question you think that the reader will raise first
you then support these major ideas or arguments with some
sub-arguments or examples
if you started by answering "how" you then in the same way provide
arguments for "why" - or vice versa
At the end of the document you can write a small conclusion. But a
conclusion is theoretically not needed when everything has been
explained in a complete pyramid in the document. You might, however,
feel a psychological need to complete a document. You could then find
some compelling words and it must be words that "produce an appropriate
emotion in the reader's mind about the words" as Aristotle formulated
In other words, you should try to provide a feeling of a need to act and
a desire to act. So let's conclude this article with these words: we
all need to present our arguments more clearly and more convincingly.
Let's do something about it!