Working from first thoughts

Making an argument means, at some point, and in some way, you have something to say that you want to put over to your reader. You arrive at the position of taking your own stance and putting forward your point of view about a subject. In academic writing this is normally based on evidence or reasoning, including your own use of relevant and appropriate sources. This is something we discuss in the next chapter. Often issues are not clear-cut and you will have to acknowledge this. However, most academic work does end up by making a claim even though this might emerge slowly as you develop your case.

Very often a student essay has to answer a question. At first glance this can draw an immediate response, either positive or negative. For example, keeping within the theme of the family, the response to the question 'Does marriage encourage family stability?' might be either: 'Marriage encourages family stability' or 'Marriage does not encourage family stability'. Obviously, these are very strong assertions that you would rarely expect to find in academic writing, which would be more circumspect; for example, 'A recent study suggests that families with married parents are more stable than those of unmarried parents'. This less dogmatic statement is also open to questioning since different types of research could probably be found to support or oppose it. The question of marriage and family stability does not have definitive answers. It also illustrates tensions between everyday understandings about 'the family' in contrast to more specific, academic meanings. It raises issues such as:

• What sort of information - facts - are you drawing on here? This would come from your reading (or if you were a researcher from your research). Individual experience might also be brought to bear on the question. For example, if you were brought up by a single parent you would have own views that might influence your initial response.

• How do we define 'family stability'? Before we address that question, we might want to think about: How do we define a 'family'? (For examples, look back at our ideas about how different disciplines define 'family' in Chapter 2.)

• Underlying these sorts of rational or logical questions are other questions to do with individual and society's values: for example, marriage has specific value from a religious point of view.

• Finally, once these kinds of questions have been thought through, there could be further questions about any actions that might be appropriate in thinking about this issue - e.g. on how to support families, married or not.

So there are different kinds of possible perspectives, to do with facts, definitions, values, action - all of which need to be taken into account when preparing to write about a topic. The particular course you are doing will guide your approach to these.

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