Rhetoric – For Arguments Sake

I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent with this post as there is something in social media land that has been bothering me for a long time.  Recent local events have seen a lot of people voicing their opinions on certain topics.  This is a good thing.  Debate of subjects that affect the greater population is always a welcome thing, and indeed the cornerstone of our society.  The problem comes when the debate is not some much well thought out and reasoned arguments, but more like a pack of angry baboons mashing on the keyboard.  The more I see, the more I realize there is a need for rhetoric to be taught as part of the English curriculum.  For the purpose of this post, let us define rhetoric as:

The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques

There is a trend at the moment, that when one is angry and passionate about a subject or event, to immediately go on social media and slap down the first thing that comes into your head.  If you wish to change peoples hearts and minds, then this approach will definitely be counter productive.  A careful and considered argument will get you further than stringing a load of words together in a jumbled rant.  And by jumbled I mean a complete lack of punctuation.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen a full paragraph of words without so much as a full stop to be found.  The worrying side of this is that people don’t seem to see the importance of using things like commas or full stops or even correct spelling.  But I ask you this: How are people supposed to hear your argument if they are unable to read and make sense of it?

That was a rhetorical question by the way.

So what can you do to make get your point across? Well I’m not about to teach a full on class but I will offer these few pointers:

  1. Consider your audience: Who are you trying to convince? Do they already share your views?
  2. Consider counter points: You are going to have people who disagree with you.  Try and consider beforehand what they think and why they may hold those opinions.
  3. Don’t rant: This is a very easy trap to fall into and one we all suffer from at some point.  Avoid name calling and try to be civil at all times.  This can be one of the most difficult parts of a debate.
  4. Spelling and Grammar: This might seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how often I see posts on important subjects that lose all credibility and coherence because of bad spelling or a lack of proper punctuation (or any punctuation).
  5. Proof read:  Before hitting the post button, read it back.  Does it make sense?  If possible, have someone else give it a look over for you.

Of course these are just guidelines and certainly not set in stone.  At the end of the day, you have to decide how important it is to you that your message gets across to people.  If you are just having a moan about how bad the traffic was on the way home today, then this is probably a bit much.  But if you are looking to affect actual change, then please consider the above.  Taking a little bit of extra time can make all the difference.

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