Thursday, May 12, 2005


I like tackling projects where the task is to refute another's contentions. This happened a couple of days ago.

A client asked us to compose an outline of a proof that overturns conventional wisdom on a particular topic. This is a fun assignment because one gets to turn tables, if the argument comes out right.

The first step to getting this done is to line up objections. Criticisms help one think more clearly, but they also outline the dimensions of the argument. Begin a refutation with the list of all the reasons against your position. Then, choose a central theme around which to build defenses. That isn't always easy to do. I chose the wrong theme, but a correct one emerged as I wrote. In fact, a colleague pointed out that the real theme was buried, and I needed to move it to the head of the outline. He was right.

When you are done with this kind of writing, leave it for awhile. I left it overnight. The next morning I numbered objections and checked each part of the proof to make sure I had dealt with every objection. I hadn't. There were six objections in all, and only the sixth was irrefutable. There isn't data to contradict it. Unfortunately, this led to "kludge" argument. It's weak and everyone knows it, but it still appears to counter.

I'm happy to say the client accepted the outlined argument and is writing a final text from it.

I was never a debater, but I should have been. It helps to know forms of argumentation instinctively. This is one area of writing where lawyers should outshine PR practitioners.


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