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Miniblog #158: Seeking Some Critical Feedback on My Rhetorical Strategy

by Carson T. Clark on December 10, 2012

Setting aside those who are arrogant, contentious, or dumb, quite often readers who I trust and respect will reply to my Facebook statuses or blog posts by referencing my argument.1 This word choice suggests premises, logical development, persuasive intention, etc. Quite often in such cases, however, I didn’t think I was crafting an argument as such.1.For example, “Where I didn’t think your argument held up was…” or “It seems to me the strength of your argument lies in…” My intention was to state what I believe, not why I believe it.2 I’m then puzzled because they assert that my position’s justification was weak or my methodology wasn’t rigorous. ‘Trust me,’ I keep thinking, ‘You’d know if I were making an argument.’2.Yesterday’s post about women’s ordination was such a case. It escapes my recollection whether the author was Philip Yancey, C.S. Lewis, or someone else, but I’m reminded of the quote that “[i]t’s little wonder we miss so badly that for which we do not aim.” To be clear, I’m not raising this issue to publicly gripe or belittle anyone.33.I’m more than open to the possibility that the majority of the fault falls on my shoulders. What I’m earnestly reflecting on is my rhetorical strategy. Is it more a case of their misinterpreting the genre–projecting their perspective and rhetorical strategy onto the text–or is it more that there’s something about how I’m framing the discussion that needs to be rectified?44.Obviously there’s going to be some fuzzy overlap here. I could be wrong, but my sense is that people read my musings on various controversial subjects and, largely because of their societally-imbued capitalistic and democratic impulses, often presume I must be seeking to convince others to hold the same belief, opinions, and perspectives.55.That is, to have them agree rather than merely to have them understand. In this way, it seems to me they’re not perceiving the important difference between explanation and persuasion as genres in relation to contested matters. Or, perhaps, that they’re seeing the criticisms embedded within the explanation of what I’m thinking and then suppose an argument must also be present.66.Sort of like where there’s smoke there must be fire. I want to be a better writer, though. So I’m leave the door open for critical feedback that a significant part of the problem lies in my rhetorical strategy. Thoughts or suggestions?

  • Lawrence Garcia

    I’m not exactly sure where to begin, except perhaps, to nod to your suggested delineation between assertion and argumentation leading to persuasion, which as I’ve learned over the years is never entirely enough for persons to be persuaded past their predetermined commitments. These sorts I’ve come to learn don’t read to understand or even sympathize momentarily, but read with an over-dissecting eye that unless a logically infallable argument is present (rarely this is accomplished) then it surely must be wrong at worst, entertaining at best. This is not to say we shouldn’t aim at a more logically sound argumentation when putting forth a position, surely we should, but I am not convinced that the persuasiveness of a argument should rest wholly there. Much theory actually begins with a hunch, an imaginative embracing explaination of something, and then followed by an examination and moment of testing leading to a confirmation of, exapanding of, or a elimanation of a position; perhaps what you believe abd therefore write about should be tested in this manner rather the former. Just musing…

  • Morgan Guyton

    I suspect that I myself fit the profile of what Larry describes. Particularly in cyberspace, I often think of myself as being in battle with modernity, fundamentalism, or another bogeyman. If I consider myself to be “in battle” with an ideology that you seem to be espousing (which I can’t remember being the case), I may be nit-picky for my own reasons which are entirely independent of how you’re presenting yourself. I share that because I wonder if other people are seeking to sharpen their own arguments by interacting with your thoughts as a representation of “the other side” of whichever issue and not thinking about whether they are engaging you in a way that is charitable or edifying. It’s easier to remember to be charitable when you’re talking with someone in person. In cyberspace, it’s so easy to blast out a very quick, careless response to someone’s writing that reacts to a trigger word or two rather than engaging the whole piece.

    • Derek Rishmawy

      I think I do the same thing as Morgan (often-times to Morgan).

  • Dan Martin

    I think maybe the answer lies in first asking why you post an opinion or musing in the first place, Carson. Is it not because you’re floating it out there for those who wish, to engage you on that thought? Perhaps to begin to *construct* an argument you don’t already have, or to deconstruct one you did have but which no longer satisfies you? If either of these is true, then whether or not the first responses properly address you have said and not what you haven’t, engagement has taken place. I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape over the semantic question of whether your interlocutors call it an “argument” or not.

    If, on the other hand, you just want to give vent to your feelings and have people either agree or ignore you, then this sloppier form of engagement is undesirable. But I think I know you better than that. So I suggest that when you float something that isn’t yet fully formed (a perfectly valid thing to do IMO), don’t be too worried if the answers you get–particularly the first round of answers–aren’t too well-shaped either.

    So bringing it back to your own question: what *is* your rhetorical strategy? Clearly understanding this may clarify how you post your thoughts, as well as how your receive responses.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Honestly, what the rest of the guys have said. I will say, when you post something out there more than about 2 sentences on a subject giving a reason for thinking the way you do, it looks like you’re making an argument or putting forth an opinion to be engaged. I don’t know if that should be changed, but maybe your expectation that somebody will engage you ought to. Or maybe you think why you’re posting the extended thought out there in the first place. Are you looking for feedback?

  • Ian Sansot

    I see your point, but where I don’t think your argument held up was the fact that whenever you (you being anyone) make an affirmative statement, it is always, in essence, an argument. Even if you’re trying to simply convey where you stand on something, it’s still subject to scrutiny. However, the strength of your argument lies in the fact that this blog, as a whole, is simply your musings. Your various thoughts on various topics. Obviously subject to change.

    • Ian Sansot

      Come on, stop making it too easy for me to be a smart ass.

  • Evelyn

    I think you’re over-thinking this. In normal human communication we say whatwe think, and usually provide some explanation as to why that is our opinion. There’s an implied invitation to respond – with agreement, partial agreement or disagreement. Again, in the normal course of human communication some explanation is usually furnished. Some people’s styles are more argumentative sounding and others not so much. Online, tone is harder to read.

    If we don’t do it that way, conversations are like this:

    “I hate McDonalds”


    The End.

    If you want to muse without engagement, don’t post on a public blog. If you’re happy for people to engage, then accept the fact that they might not communicate the way you do, or the way you wish they would. You don’t get to post about anything – but esp. contentious issues (thinking of yesterday’s post) – and then hide behind “I’m only musing” when you get push-back.

    “I could be wrong, but my sense is that people read my musings on various controversial subjects and, largely because of their societally-imbued capitalistic and democratic impulses, often presume I must be seeking to convince others to hold the same belief, opinions, and perspectives.”

    That is arrogant and presumptuous. But I don’t need to explain why, obviously 😉

    • Carson T. Clark

      I believe in neither over-thinking things nor normal human communication.

    • Evelyn

      Tee hee hee. Thank you for making me smile on a hard day :-)

    • Carson T. Clark


  • sabrina reyes

    i agree with ian, and probably everybody else. i’ve noticed that most statements are always considered an “argument”, and always up for debating, no matter how one states them; this is especially true on the interwebs, because all the readers can see are the words, and not the non-verbal aspects of communication that help to make a point and set the tone. if someone makes a statement, that is considered to be a conclusion based on a certain thought process (logical algorithms? :)). so i don’t think the problem necessarily lies with you, carson. i think it lies with the perception that most people have of definitive/affirmative statements.

    • Carson T. Clark


      Yeah, that’s the conclusion I’ve been coming to as well. Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

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