Module 2.2: Constructing an argument

Compare the two paragraphs below. The one on the left is descriptive (it gives information), the other is arguing a position. Look for similarities and differences.

Move the mouse over the highlighted words/phrases in Text 2 to see how arguments are presented in this paragraph.

Essay question for text 1

Describe some new directions in the development of Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) in Australia.

Essay question for text 2

Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) is a low priority of the Federal, State and Local Governments in Australia. Discuss.

Text 1 (descriptive)

Due to many workplace deaths and serious workplace accidents annually in Australia, the Federal Government has recently released an updated national OH&S strategy which is aimed at reducing workplace injuries and deaths. This national OH&S strategy which covers the decade to 2012 is a significant step in cooperation between Governments, both State and Federal; private enterprise and the Unions to achieve lower morbidity and mortality rates in the workplace. The goal of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission is to reduce workplace deaths by 20% by 2012 and to reduce workplace injuries by 40%. The NSW Government is so serious about its responsibilities that it has developed its own initiatives including public information sessions and consultative workshops (Workcover NSW, 2005). These initiatives are particularly welcomed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and by workers themselves who recognise their vulnerability to accident and death on many work sites around Australia.

Text 2 (arguments are supported). Click on underlined text for explanations.

Although there may be a common perception within the community that OH&S is a low priority of all levels of Government, the reality is that the Commonwealth and the States have active programs and strategies in place to maximise health and safety in Australian workplaces. For instance, the Federal Government has recently released an updated national OH&S strategy which aims to reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths. This national OH&S strategy which covers the decade to 2012 is a significant step in cooperation between Governments; private enterprise and the Unions to achieve lower morbidity and mortality rates in the workplace. The goal of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, which is situated within the Dept of Employment and Workplace Relations, is to reduce workplace deaths by 20% by 2012 and to reduce workplace injuries by 40%. The NSW Government is so serious about its responsibilities that it has developed its own initiatives including public information sessions and consultative workshops (Workcover NSW, 2005). Workcover NSW is a statutory authority within the Minister for Commerce's portfolio. These State and Federal initiatives are particularly welcomed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and by workers themselves who recognise their vulnerability to accident and death on many work sites around Australia. If there is a low level of awareness in the community of the many ongoing OH&S programs and strategies, then this lack of knowledge may need to be addressed through advertising and other awareness raising programs.

General explanation

Basically the same content is used in each paragraph. The arrangement of the information responds to the question which each writer is addressing. The argument paragraph (Text 2) has a number of sentences beginning with the Federal Government, the State Government and Government agencies, as it is arguing against the position of the question that OH&S is a low priority of Governments. The topic sentence in Text 2 makes a strong statement about a contrary position by using 'although'. This topic sentence contains an opinion ("the reality is ... active programs ... to maximise health and society), therefore it is properly referred to as a thesis statement or claim.

Constructing your argument within a paragraph

To construct an academic argument, you can follow this three-step process:


State your position

In a sentence or two, summarise your argument (this is your thesis statement/claim).

Be sure to indicate which side of the argument you find most convincing.

Support your argument

Show why your position is the most convincing.

 

For each main point (or claim), give evidence (research, theories etc.,  from other authoritative sources, statistics and examples).

Consider the opposite position

Assume that your readers disagree with you. Consider the following questions:

 

  • What could your opponents argue?

 

  • What evidence might they have?

 

  • How could you persuade a neutral party that your case and evidence are better?

Source: Cottrel, S. (1999). The Study Skills Handbook. London: Macmillan Press

Before constructing your written argument it is important to have determined your position. When you are unsure, it is very difficult to create a persuasive and cohesive argument. A substantial part of the assignment process involves coming to a position through reading, note making and thinking.

Some people find that writing can help to clarify their thoughts, but once their thoughts are clarified it is important to create a plan before writing the assignment.

The main thread of the argument is the thesis which is often established through a series of claims supported by substantiating evidence. The claims are usually the topic sentences of the body paragraphs. 

Read the text below and identify which of the three steps described in the table above is missing.

Nanoparticles are being used in many fields including commerce and industry. Nanoparticles are revolutionising the delivery of many products and services including numerous medical applications. One such application of nanoparticular technology is to deflect destructive UV rays from surfaces whether that be skin or painted or plastic surfaces (Lucas, 2003). Another health related application is in dentistry where it is used to eliminate the pain of hypersensitive teeth. Physicists have developed specialised nanoparticles, named nanospheres (Earl, Wood & Milne, 2005) which are constructed from hydroxyapatite. The advantage of using this substance is that it is highly compatible with teeth and bone and not only reduces pain but also causes the remineralisation of the tooth and so rejuvenates the tooth surface (Reid, 2005). Additionally, specialised nanoparticles have been shown to inhibit liver cancer and these particles are also used to create post operative barriers after surgery (Zheng et al., 2005). For instance, after intestinal surgery there is a possibility of intestinal adhesions and to avoid this eventuality nanotechnology can be used to promote healing. Nanoparticles are also used for effective and targeted drug delivery especially as a part of a chemotherapy regime (Roy, 2003).

Despite these positive applications, there is much to suggest that there is a downside to nanotechnology. First, as a new technology there is much that is still unknown about the long term health effects of the ingestion of nanoparticles. Recent studies have shown that these particles can be easily absorbed through the olfactory mucosa and then travel to the brain where they remain lodged indefinitely, perhaps permanently (Walgate, 2004). The Canadian government is to hold a forum to explore issues related to the ethical, social and health implications of this emerging technology (National Research Council, Canada, 2006) and The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called for a forum to discuss the implications of nanotechnology on health for workers exposed to nanoparticles which the ACTU  describes as potentially ‘hazardous’ (Smith, 2005). These fears are confirmed in Britain by the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering which claims that nanoparticles ‘could cause health problems or pollution’  and that ‘ their release into the environment should be avoided’ (Smith, 2005, p.16).

Answer (click to show)

Reference List

Earl, J., Wood, D,. & Milne, S. J. (2005). Hydroxyapatite nanoparticle synthesis and in-vitro study of dentinal tubule occlusion.Technical Proceedings of the 2006 NSTI Nanotechnology Conference and Trade Show.1, 407-410.
Mullins, S. (2006). ACTU comment on DITR nanotechnology strategy  [press release]. Melbourne: ACTU. Retrieved from http://www.actu.org.au/Publications/Archive/default.aspx
Smith, D. (2005, July 11). Nanotechnology, our future? Sydney Morning Herald, p.16.
Walgate, R. (2004). Chemical danger. The Lancet. 364(9429), 129-130.