Typical Stages in Critical Argument


What your academic audience is asking from the other side of the page

             While talking to a writer who confessed to being a strongly aural/oral learner, preferring composition by conversation rather than silent writing, I realized that she could invent her own mental "Arnie" with whom to talk when she was writing alone.  This also  might benefit you more visual types out there.  Academic readers bring a predictable set of responses to papers' theses and supporting evidence.  If you can ask yourselves these questions and answer them at each new stage of the paper, you'll probably anticipate  their most important concerns. 

1)  INTRODUCTION, Stage 1: What text are you working with and what do you want me to believe about this text?  (Answer: state your thesis.) 

2)  INTRODUCTION, Stage 2: Why should I believe it?  (Answer: tell me briefly where you will find your evidence in the text, itself, as well as from the author's life, the historical context, etc., as appropriate, and a review of recently published scholarly literature to lay out what other scholars have recently said about the author, text, passage(s) or even the issue you are writing about it, whether they support or oppose your position

3)  BODY, "PRO": How should I understand this evidence?   (Answer: reading the primary source evidence carefully, interpret the significance of the evidence by explaining what it implies, what its consequences or causes seem to be, or what it tells us about the author's larger, more secret intentions for the work.) 

4)  BODY, "CON": Is this the only or best way to understand this evidence?  In what contrary ways might the significance of this evidence be understood?  Is there evidence that does not fit the thesis you argue?  (Answer: present the contrary evidence or explanatory alternatives you can think of, or that other critics have proposed--other critics' opinions also can be introduced here if they've touched upon your paper's topic.)  [In rare instances, this does not need to be brought up, but please try out your argument on me first before assuming this is the case!] 

5)  BODY, REBUTTAL of "CON": Why should I prefer your interpretation of the evidence to those other ones?  How can we explain the evidence that violates the pattern you are describing?  (Answer: compare the explanations and show how the one you propose explains the evidence more accurately, explains more of the work, explains the evidence in ways that resemble more the other things the author has done, and/or requires fewer unlikely hypotheses than the explanations offered by the others.  Remember that exceptions to rules often operate according to sub-rules of their own, like when a character lies to all characters in all scenes except one.)  [Ditto above.] 

6)  CONCLUSION: Gosh, now that you've convinced me that it's true, what can I do with it?  (Answer: consider in your conclusion what further consequences might also be true as a result of the readers' acceptance of your thesis--how will reading the text this way improve the way we understand the author, the other characters, the rest of the plot, the author's other works, the genre or kind of work as practiced in other works of this era, or the genre of this kind of work written in other eras). 

7)  Brilliant!  Where do I sign?  (Answer: Just below the $$$ on the endorsement line of the check.)