Throughout your time here at LSE, you’ll probably need to produce a piece of argumentative writing that holds a position on a particular topic. Whether it’s a blog, essay or dissertation, I believe there are 3 questions you can ask yourself that will improve your writing.
1. What’s my point?
In filmmaking, the principle ‘story is king’ is often used to highlight the importance of narrative. Regardless of how beautiful the scenes are and how surreal the music is, a movie crumbles without a compelling story: without a point.
The same principle applies to argumentative writing. Understanding the point – or the central argument – you are making encourages you to consider whether every aspect of your writing exists in service of that point. Everything that contradicts or doesn’t support the argument goes (counterarguments are good if they’re relevant and examined). A tip that has worked well for my first-year courses is to keep it simple; foundational modules often prescribe low word counts that require you to pick a point and address it in detail rather than broadly touching on multiple topics.
2. Am I being precise and concise?
Precision and concision sharpen the argument you make.
Precision allows you to represent your ideas as accurately as possible. When I say that ‘fast food is bad’, what do I mean by ‘bad’? Is it bad for my budget, or my health or the political economy? Using the word ‘unhealthy’ instead, is much more precise. Careful attention to what your words mean, and do not mean, is important. For me, this often involves looking up definitions of common words in the dictionary and choosing between seemingly similar words.
Concision allows you to represent your ideas as efficiently as possible. When I say that ‘my dog is cute and adorable’, the two adjectives are redundant. Not only does this take up valuable space, but it also makes your argument harder to understand. Removing redundant words, sentences and even paragraphs from your writing improves it tremendously.
3. What am I assuming (relative to my intended audience)?
The extent of detail that you use to explain concepts should be relative to the knowledge of your intended audience (i.e., the audience your writing is intended for). While you and I may know what the concept of ‘snow’ is, it might very well be foreign to a young child who has lived exclusively in a tropical climate. Equally, knowledge of concepts such as ‘loss aversion’, ‘utilitarianism’ or ‘diminishing marginal utility’ can easily be assumed when they shouldn’t be, relative to a general audience (i.e., a member of the public).
Keep in mind that your intended audience might differ from your reader – while your blog might be read and assessed by your professor, the assessment might have been designed to be intended for a general audience. As you draft and edit your writing, it may be useful to remind yourself who your intended audience is, and the assumptions you can and can’t make as a result.
If you find writing difficult, don’t worry – it’s supposed to be! Difficult writing often means meaningful thinking. Having a clear argument that is expressed precisely, concisely and in appropriate detail goes a long way.