Entering Public Debate
While our previous essay focused on the construction of a good, well-
constructed argument, we will end the course analyzing some of the
more cringeworthy. One could argue that familiarizing ourselves
with logical fallacies is more important than ever; between Covid
misinformation, confrontation over social distancing and masks,
filmed evidence of racist behavior, conflict in the streets and in the comments section, and less than 100 days until
the presidential election—people are arguing a lot. It is easy to become overwhelmed and disengage, or, if you jump
into the fray, feel helpless to counter vitriolic or uninformed opponents.
This project will provide practice for entering into realistic public debate, and an opportunity to counter arguments
with cool logic, factual information, and sound counterargument. 5
Step 1: Find a recent artifact (within the past three months) highlighting a bad, illogical, and/or
emotional argument. While these can come from credible sources, your best bet will probably be social media—
think Youtube rants, particularly volatile Facebook/Twitter threads, mainstream news segments, “Karen” videos
(they inspired this prompt!), etc.
Step 2: Analyze your artifact. You will want to first identify the main arguments the rhetor attempts to convey.
Then, using your notes from our four Logical Fallacy lecture episodes (Week 15), identify the problem with the
delivery/logic of each argument (note: if a video, tone of voice and body language might be important, too!)
Step 3: Use your own rhetorical skills to counter the rhetor. How would you respond to each argument?
How will you point out the fallacies, missing evidence, problematic assumptions?
Step 3: Find at least four credible, external sources to help aid your counterargument. For example, if
racist Karen is caught interrogating a Black family walking their dog in a middle-class community (with the
assumption they could not possibly live there), I could use lots of different kinds of sources to help my argument:
– Historical. This works well when the rhetor relies on stereotypes—where did that stereotype come from?
Look for the origin of the horrible assumption that Black families do not possess wealth, or are
homeowners? Hint: a lot of this came from redlining housing districts and banks denying Black families
– Psychological: If you loved Blindspot, you may choose to explore why this woman felt confident
confronting this family, and perceived them as a threat, through a sociological/psychological lens (you may
use Blindspot for one of the three sources)
– Data-based: Check the numbers. Census and demographic data showing the rate of Black homeownership
in the U.S. might help me. If you choose an artifact related to Coronavirus, you’re for sure going to bring in
actual medical information!
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Contextualizing Introduction (1-2 paragraphs)
– Give the details—the who, what, when, where of your artifact.
– Give an overview/summary of what went down (this does not need to be super in depth; your body
paragraphs will go into much more detail)
– Finishes with an argumentative thesis, answering the research question: How does this author attempt to
persuade their audience? Is this an effective or ineffective method of persuasion? Why or why not?
Context Paragraph (1-2 paragraphs)
– Explains author’s positionality/subjectivity—how are they connected with their argument? How might this
influence their perspective?
– Discusses potential audience, and how author attempts to cater to this audience (hint: check out where
this was initially published—what kinds of articles do they publish? What kind of demographic might read
this? How does this article cater to that specific audience?
– Examines publication date—based on when this was written, what contextual/social events or argument
might this author be trying to address? This may require a bit of Googling, or following some of the links
within the article.
Argumentative/Analytical Paragraphs (4-7 paragraphs)
Each paragraph contains a complete, mini-argument, providing a “reason” to support the thesis. These should
cover some of the rhetorical terminology discussed in class, such as use of logos, pathos, and ethos (Note: DO
NOT mention these appeals by name! How is this appealing to pathos? What emotion? What common human
experience?), connotation/juxtaposition of language, and/or rhetorical strategies.
Each paragraph needs:
– Claim: A summarizing topic sentence, stating a specific claim (this should “answer” the research question
– Evidence: At least one (preferably more) pieces of quoted, cited evidence
– Contextual understanding of the quote (so we know what happened surrounding this quote)
– Reasoning: Explanation of how the quote(s) help prove your claim
Conclusion (1 paragraph)
Answers the question, “Overall, was this an effective argument? Why or why not?” Remember, liking or not liking
an argument is different from effectiveness. Consider their rhetorical choices and audience. Do not just repeat
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