As a Davidson writer, you are asked to produce a variety of documents across the College: reports, analytic essays, reasoned arguments, literature reviews, interpretive studies, proposals, policy memos, and other genres particular to the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Though these genres differ in form and purpose, the many professors who assign them share a fundamental expectation that the students who author these works are engaged thinkers who wish to add their ideas, information, and perspectives to the scholarly conversations in which each writing project is situated. In other words, we expect that you use your writing as an opportunity to support, suggest, or argue for certain ways of understanding your object of study, whether it be a philosophic treatise, an historical document, a Renaissance painting, a scientific experiment, a film, a poem, data on voting behavior, representations of trends in global warming, or whatever you are focused on.
Davidson’s Writing Program offers the advice found in these pages with the needs of its Writing 101 students chiefly in mind. But this same advice will be useful if you are a student in the Humanities Program, or a student in social sciences or humanities courses beyond the first year. The materials here may apply to some of the written work that you are asked to do in science courses, but science writing (literature reviews, laboratory reports, policy memos, and the like) depend on traditions for analysis and data display that are best grasped within particular courses, where you’ll receive special instruction in these genres. We are mindful that individual professors have their particular preferences for written work, and we urge you to familiarize yourself with these by consulting course materials, studying samples of successful student writing produced in those courses, or speaking with your instructor.
Many of the materials represented here were developed by a team of rhetoricians and linguists at the University of Chicago who invented a method for students to familiarize themselves with what college professors and other intellectual readers expect of quality academic writing. The Davidson Writing Program is indebted to Joseph Williams, Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Lawrence McEnerny, whose words and ideas we have relied upon. Their method is outlined in greater detail in Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses and Dissertations. Eighth Edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Wayne Booth et al. The Craft of Research. Third Edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); and the University of Virginia’s Grounds for Argument website, an especially rich source of information about sophisticated argument.
Davidson supports each of its student writers as careful, conscientious, and innovative thinkers. The means of persuasion outlined here are specially-tailored to help you embrace and enact those qualities.
Composing Arguments has been adapted from Joseph M. Williams’ and Lawrence McEnerney’s Writing in College, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.