If writing influenced your education, you probably took a lot of grammar and literature classes. You’ve may have read lots of the classics. You may even actually know who John Ridd is. They make up what you know, your proverbial scaffolding of knowledge.
However, you may have neglected another equally important part of your writer’s education–how to argue properly. I don’t mean how to trade insults and barbs. Rather, it means how you phrase and form the premises that lead to the conclusions you draw in your work.
Are Your Arguments Valid?
Writing doesn’t only include using syntax and semantics properly. Your writing undoubtedly involves a lot of convincing. You may feel passionate about a cause and want to rally the troops, as it were. You may want to convince readers to buy–or not buy–certain products. It could be as simple as a cool anecdote you want to share.
A key to building credibility rests with the validity of your arguments or the points you’re trying to get across. Logic tells us that an argument is valid if and only if whenever the premises are true, then the conclusion is must also be true. It cannot be false. An invalid argument goes something like this:
If Mary drives Lamborghini, she is rich.
Mary is rich.
Therefore, Mary drives a Lamborghini.
Mary may want to drive a Lamborghini, but that doesn’t mean she does. Maybe Mary doesn’t drive. Or maybe she prefers driving a Jaguar or a beater. The point is that the conclusion can be false.
Avoiding Logical Pitfalls
Knowing how to reason right helps you avoid the pitfalls of common language, the so-called fallacies and biases. We all commit these logical error on occasion, sometimes, intentionally. They fall into that pit called humanness.
You probably know some of the more common ones, like the naturalistic fallacy which says that anything natural must be good. Well, tsunamis, death cap mushrooms and arsenic are all natural, but no one is touting their virtues.
Other fallacies have a darker and oftentimes nastier side. Take the Ad hominem fallacy; if you can’t argue properly, tear the other guy to shreds. Or how about the gambler’s fallacy? This slot machine will give me a winner next time. I’m sure of it!
The Fallacies That Writers Must Not Make
Any fallacy will weaken your writing; it exposes your flaws in logic. That’s a bad thing if you’re trying to build authority. There are two fallacies that swirl around the Internet so much that they can become hard to spot. That’s what makes them so insidious. They have succeeded in misleading people and creating false arguments.
First, we have the fallacy, appeal to motive. I see this a lot with bloggers writing anti-GMO posts and with others writing about other controversial issues. The post typically takes a form of questioning science, the scientific community or some other authority by questioning their motives.
They often target corporations that fund research papers. Never mind the fact that the burden of proof of safety falls on the shoulders of the manufacturer to get FDA approval. The corporation supported the research, therefore, any findings are suspect–especially if they disprove the writer’s point. Nonsense. The only truth exposed here is the writer’s lack of knowledge of how the scientific method and the research process work.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
The Internet and email bear the blame for the prevalence of the bandwagon fallacy. This fallacy looks to the popularity of ideas as proof of their truth. If only it were that easy.
Add a bit of scraping, and the same false story gets thrown around enough, gains enough steam and what do you know? Yes, the PH Diet works. Yes, there is Silly Putty in your chicken nuggets. And yes, the CIA with help from the mob and aliens assassinated JFK.
Well, you get it. To be credible as a writer, you need to write effectively and logically. Read up on the different types of fallacies and see how many you recognize during your daily reading.
Dowden, B. (n.d.). Fallacies. Retrieved April 9, 2014, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/
Gómez-Torrente, M. (2006, May 30). Logical Truth. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logical-truth/
List of fallacies. (2014, June 04). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies
Logical Fallacies. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/bandwagon/
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