Positive Arguments and Negative Arguments

Posted on January 3, 2013 by Jay F

Making a good argument is something that every writer needs to know how to do. Though it may not always be necessary when working as a content writer for websites, it is a skill that every writer should possess.

Virtually everyone knows how to argue. It is a part of life. Most arguments are not particularly volatile, since they tend to arise between people who are simply advocating different points of view on a subject without a definitively right or wrong answer. Think of a conversation about the best rock band. An argument will almost always ensue because people use different criteria when establishing an opinion on the matter. Some may use nothing more than the band’s technical expertise; some may use nothing more than the number of albums the band has sold; some may use a combination of criteria. When one seeks to establish such a position, one is making a positive argument.

Positive Arguments

A positive argument is one in favor of your position. Typically, an argument will consist of two people making their own positive arguments to establish their positions. One could make the following case:

1. The band who wrote the most number-one singles is the best band.

2. The Beatles wrote the most number-one singles.

C. The Beatles are the best band.

This argument states the criterion for what makes the best band: the one that wrote the most number-one singles. It also identifies the band that did this as the Beatles. The argument then correctly deduces that the Beatles are the best band.

Another person could present a different case:

1. The band with the mot top-ten albums is the best band.

2. The Rolling Stones have had the most top-ten albums.

C. The Rolling Stones are the best band.

This argument uses a different criterion for establishing what makes the best band, identifies the band to have done this, and then deduces what the best band is.

Negative Arguments

A negative argument is an argument against your opponent’s position. In the blogosphere, these usually tend to simply contradict another person’s conclusion (“The Beatles aren’t the best band because they suck”), but this is not an effective strategy. You’re not going to convince anyone that you’re right unless they already agree with you. This is because you’re not attacking the premises of the argument.

Making an effective negative argument requires that you advance a position that contradicts one of your opponent’s premises. You can do this by denying that the criterion used by your opponent is rational (“the number of top-ten albums a band has isn’t relevant when considering whether they are the best or not”) or you can state that her facts are incorrect (“the Rolling Stones did not have the most top-ten albums”).

It is important to remember that an effective negative argument will deny the soundness of their argument as opposed to just stating the opposite of their conclusion. Furthermore, when making positive arguments, it is important to have a reasonable explanation as to why you have decided upon your criteria, and even more important to make sure that what you present as fact is indeed true. If you do not, you will leave your position exposed to numerous negative arguments that can devastate your position.

Jay F is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.

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