Common Mistakes Made in Rhetoric
by Kelsey Shields, Writing Consultant
(printable version here)
Avoid extreme views. While the point of rhetorical writing is to persuade the reader to hold the same point of view as the author, an easy way to make one's argument weak and to turn off the reader is by using extreme language when discussing the opposing view; this gives the reader the impression that the author is attacking the other side rather than engaging in a thoughtful debate. As Jerskey and Raimes state in Keys for Writers, 6th ed., "write to convince, not to confront" (65).
Abstain from jargon and use everyday terms. Using layman's terms to discuss your argument makes your writing more accessible to your reader. Using jargon, on the other hand, can confuse your reader if they are not familiar with the vocabulary, and potentially even give the impression that you are trying to appear more educated or intellectual than the readers. To see great examples of this technique at work, click here for transcripts of presidential speeches.
Do not ignore the opposing side's argument. Discussing the opposing argument not only gives you a natural pathway into presenting your side of the argument, but it also informs your reader of what you're arguing against as well. This is especially important for topics that are not well known by the public and/or not often discussed by the media.
Steer clear of sarcasm. In a formal argument, there is no place for sarcasm. For arguments targeted are broader audiences, it even poses of the danger of falling flat or turning off potential supporters.
End your argument with a solution beneficial to everyone. There is no point in posing an argument if you have no means for its end. For example, it's fine to argue that the Keystone Pipeline is harmful and both environmentally and economically unbeneficial. But what are some alternative energy sources that will satisfy both, say, environmentalists and businesspeople?