Like other types of writing, arguments respond to specific situations: a need is not being met, a person is being treated unfairly, an important concept is misunderstood, an outdated policy needs to be reexamined. Strong arguments respond effectively to such writing contexts.
A situation statement helps bring the writing context into focus early.
Focus on the interplay of writer, reader, and purpose. A situation statement needn't be complicated. Instead, keep it simple and concise. Focus on the interplay of writer, reader, and purpose. Notice how the following situation statement clarifies the writer's objectives as it identifies key issues and concerns:
Purpose: I work as a medical transcriptionist (typist), and some of the people in my office can type quite a bit more than some of the other people. Since we all get paid the same, some employees won't work at full capacity. We feel that we should be paid more for typing more. And since we don't get paid more, we don't push ourselves to type more. This is a big problem with a couple of employees. It has been going on for about two years. I want to argue in favor of setting up an incentive program to reward transcriptionists who type over nine hundred lines a day.
Writer: I know quite a bit about the problem since I am involved. I am one of the employees who won't work as hard as I can. My stake in the outcome would be that I could make more money.
Reader: My reader is my boss at work. She is director of the Medical Records department. She is forty-three years of age and has had at least two years of college to get her Accredited Records Technician (A.R.T.) degree. She was once a sergeant in the Marine Corps, so sometimes she is rough. She is a very moody person. I have worked for Pat for four years. She sees me as dependable and hard working. Pat's stake in the issue would possibly be to find a better or fairer way to pay her employees.
This isn't thorough or exhaustive. Since it precedes the first draft, the writer doesn't yet know what the paper will turn into. Still, the very act of writing a situation statement helps her envision the task ahead.
8.1 Think about situations in your own life that could give rise to an argumentative essay. You may find it helpful to write freely while you think. In any case, your goal is to discover three actual situations in your life that could serve as the basis for an argumentative paper. For each situation, write a brief paragraph like the one below, telling what point you want to make and for whom you are writing.
Now that I'm going to school full time, I don't always have time to cook fancy meals, keep my family's clothes washed and ironed, or take care of household expenses as I used to. This bothers my husband and son. They think I should cut back on school. I want to convince them that they should take on more household responsibilities so that I can continue my education.
8.2 Write a Situation Statement for each argumentative context you discovered in Activity 8.1. The following questions may help you think of what to say. Don't answer questions that aren't relevant to the situation, but do supply any relevant information you think of, even if it isn't covered by one of the questions.
Purpose: What do I hope to accomplish? Why is it important? What benefits would be realized? What problems would be elimi nated? What questions would be answered? How would other people be affected? What obstacles must be overcome?
Writer: What are my qualifications for discussing this issue? What is my knowledge of the subject? What are the limits of my knowl edge? How can I learn more? What is my personal stake in the argument's outcome? What is my relationship to the reader?
Reader: How well do my reader and I know each other? What is my reader's age, educational background, occupation, marital sta tus, political preference? Why have I chosen to address my argu ment to this particular person or group? What stake does my reader have in the argument's outcome? What might the reader stand to gain or lose? What is the reader's impression of me, espe cially of my integrity, knowledge, and reliability? How well does the reader understand the situation?