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One of the primary purposes of oral communication is to persuade someone regarding a particular belief or position. At the calmest, most openly communicative level, this is accomplished through dialogue in which each party takes turns speaking and listening with an open mind. When the stakes are high, however, a dialogue quickly becomes a debate, and a debate quickly turns into a heated argument. When an argument becomes strident, and screaming replaces forceful but controlled exchanges, all hope of gentle persuasion has been lost, and a shouting match has ensued.
Anyone who has been involved with another human being understands the nature of argument. Employees disagree with employers, friends are appalled at one another’s positions on controversial subjects, and spouses occasionally, or more frequently, verbally spar. Even toddlers stand firm on their wobbly, young legs and protest when something doesn’t work the way they think it should. Argument is both natural, and essential; a person who has never raised a voice to question an idea or protest a decision has an extremely unhealthy ego.
Argument is so central to the human condition that the Greeks looked upon it as a science and studied it to determine the rules that govern successful argumentative discourse. Politicians and others embroiled in debate still study those rules. Rhetorical devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, and even repetition can help an orator score a point or undercut an opponent’s position. Those employing rhetoric scientifically know that the worst way to win an argument is by getting involved in a shouting match.
College students and professionals who publish papers in scholarly journals often address an idea that is new, radical, unconventional, or even unpopular. This type of essay is called an argument, but it’s a different type of argument than a parent will have with a teenager who wants the car keys. Like orators involved in a debate, someone who is addressing an issue in writing also uses rhetorical devices and avoids insult, vagaries, melodrama, and anything that could translate into a shouting match on paper.
Anyone who has ever been involved in a shouting match probably understands intellectually that it generally doesn't truly resolve an issue. The individual who "wins" a shouting match is invariably the one who entered it with the most power to begin with. After a shouting match, the teenager will only get the car keys if the parent is easily and habitually manipulated, and the employee just might be out of a job.
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