Sidebar: Craft a Writing Persona that Will Help Your Argument

As a student in an introductory literature course, it can be hard to find a writing persona, or public image, that feels appropriate. On the one hand, you might feel nervous making bold claims about a literary text. After all, aren’t you writing for an instructor who has been studying the text longer and, you might think, already knows the “right” ways to interpret it? On the other hand, when writing a paper you can get so wrapped up in your own idea that you miss the bigger picture: your interpretation is one of many potentially defensible readings, even if not all of them are equally strong. In that case, you risk coming across as biased or even arrogant.

One way to help make sure that your paper is projecting a positive persona is by considering counter arguments to your claim. Considering these counter arguments—pieces of disconfirming evidence; interpretations of the text that call your reading into question; points raised earlier in class discussion that complicate your position—will help you narrow in on the most interesting and important themes for your claim to address. However, considering counter arguments will also help ensure that you are crafting a claim with a voice that sounds knowledgeable and confident but also sensible, in tune with the community that is writing and thinking about the literary work in question. If, for example, you are writing a paper that argues that the poems of the enslaved writer Phillis Wheatley support the dominant institution of slavery, considering counter arguments that suggest a more revolutionary message hidden within the poems will help your argument sound both stronger and more thoughtful.

In particular, considering counter arguments to your claim will show that you are:

  • An insider. You have a handle on what kinds of topics and issues readers—your classmates, at the very least—think about in relation to this literary work. You may not have been studying literature as long as your instructor, but you have a sense of what kinds of conversations readers tend to have about this text, and can therefore make an authoritative argument about an aspect of it that interests you.
  • Trustworthy. Not only are you aware of the critical conversation on this work, but you are also open-minded and believable. When you acknowledge counter arguments, your reader is more likely to feel that they can trust you to be aware of other points of view, and to treat those points of view fairly. This, in turn, makes your reader more open to the argument that you are making.