Qualifiers are words like “some” or “many” or “most” or “often” etc that differentiate a fact or claim from concepts such as “all” or “always”.
To qualify a claim means to limit
Qualifiers are essential for two reasons:
a) They clarify claims to truth and make them more factually accurate. The claim “smoking causes cancer” is of course factually inaccurate compared to the claim “smoking often causes cancer.” Even more accurate would be the claim that “heavy long term smoking significantly raises the risk of developing many types of cancer.”
b) They help us persuade those who disagree with our claim. When arguing about legalizing marijuana, the claim “marijuana should be legalized” suggests that anyone should be able to smoke it anytime and anywhere, and this is a fairly radical, divisive claim. The claim that “marijuana should be treated like other recreational drugs such as alcohol” will likely prove more persuasive since it limits the context. An even easier claim to defend would be “medical marijuana should be legalized and treated similarly to other narcotics, such as opiate and cocaine-based medicines”.
In short, I do well to carefully spell out the specific context of any given claim and to carefully outline any notable exceptions: the smaller the claim, the more likely I can prove it or persuade others to believe it.
Doing so will also make me appear far less dogmatic; we tend not to trust (ethos) those entirely devoted to a single perspective in any debate where there are clearly competing perspectives. I mean, if you can’t see even part of why your opposition believes what they do, it’s highly unlikely this opposition will ever come over to your side of the argument.
Qualifiers as Concessions
We do well to realize that in most arguments persuasion has more in common with negotiation and mediation than purely factual debate: in reality, in our real lives, the point of persuasion is usually not to “win” but rather to progress and reach a mutually beneficial agreement. In our professional/occupational, personal and civic lives, we get involved in arguments not for competition but because we are constantly forced to work with people who see a given issue differently than we do, and people who constantly obsess over being “right” tend to make miserable co-workers and worse spouses.
Consider that qualifiers can actually permanently settle one or more of the explicit reasons in any given debate. If we are arguing whether or not freshman should be required to live on the UI campus, we can easily remove opposition by conceding that this rule will not fit “all” freshmen. When the opposition offers up the reason that it will violate the rights and needs of a few exceptional students, for religious or psychological reasons etc., rather than debating that point, I do well to simply concede it, qualify my claim to exempt those students, and move on with the debate.
In other words, while debate is about winning, persuasion is largely the art of removing road blocks and working toward agreement. Qualifiers will move us effectively toward that goal.
- Describe and then refute the key points of the opposing view.
- Restate and reinforce the thesis and supporting evidence.
2. Drafting the Persuasive Essay
When writing the initial draft of a persuasive essay, consider the following suggestions:
- The introductory paragraph should have a strong “hook” that grabs the reader’s attention. Open with an unusual fact or statistic, a question or quotation, or an emphatic statement. For example: “Driving while talking on a cell phone, even hands-free, is the equivalent of driving drunk.”
- The thesis statement should leave no doubts about the writer’s position.
- Each body paragraph should cover a separate point, and the sentences of each paragraph should offer strong evidence in the form of facts, statistics, quotes from experts, and real-life examples.
The Secret to Good Paragraph Writing
- Consider various ways to make the argument, including using an analogy, drawing comparisons, or illustrating with hypothetical situation (e.g., what if, suppose that…).
- Don’t assume the audience has in-depth knowledge of the issue. Define terms and give background information.
- The concluding paragraph should summarize the most important evidence and encourage the reader to adopt the position or take action. The closing sentence can be a dramatic plea, a prediction that implies urgent action is needed, a question that provokes readers to think seriously about the issue, or a recommendation that gives readers specific ideas on what they can do.
3. Revising the Persuasive Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. Keep these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay present a firm position on the issue, supported by relevant facts, statistics, quotes, and examples?
- Does the essay open with an effective “hook” that intrigues readers and keeps them reading?
- Does each paragraph offer compelling evidence focused on a single supporting point?
- Is the opposing point of view presented and convincingly refuted?
- Is the sentence structure varied? Is the word choice precise? Do the transitions between sentences and paragraphs help the reader’s understanding?
- Does the concluding paragraph convey the value of the writer’s position and urge the reader to think and act?
If the essay is still missing the mark, take another look the thesis. Does it present the strongest argument? Test it by writing a thesis statement for the opposing viewpoint. In comparison, does the original thesis need strengthening? Once the thesis presents a well-built argument with a clear adversarial viewpoint, the rest of the essay should fall into place more easily.
4. Editing the Persuasive Essay
Next, proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. Having a friend read the essay helps writers edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing the Persuasive Essay
Sharing a persuasive essay with the rest of the class or with family and friends can be both exciting and intimidating. Learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay even better.
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