Opposing Viewpoints in Context and The Art of the Argument

There will never be a time in your life when you won’t have to argue, and presenting a persuasive argument often means the difference between success and struggle (ex., “I need this loan because…” or “My company is the best in the region because…”). At Scott Community College, part of our mission is to develop students’ abilities to understand and make use of the elements of argument. In fact, that we devote entire classes to advancing this skill.


Some of you may find this image disturbing. Courtesy of Book Depository

Sometimes the toughest part of developing an argument is picking a side and sticking with it. Social issues, for example, tend to be complex and controversial, leaving us not only with conflicting viewpoints but with data that can be interpreted to support multiple sides, with breaking news that may sway public opinion, and policy changes that can render an issue irrelevant.

Opposing Viewpoints in Context opposingviewpointscontext is a database that specializes in gathering information from academic journals as well as popular media sources with the purpose of supplying users with a snapshot of the most recent controversies while providing context – that is, the circumstances surrounding these controversies or arguments.

For example, if we select “Browse Issues” right below the banner search bar…


…and choose to focus on the category of “Energy and Environment”…


We see that “Water Pollution” (lower right column) is one of the most recently updated topics. Recent updates mean new information, which in turn means that people are definitely talking about this issue. Let’s see what they have to say:


First, we notice a paragraph defining “Water Pollution.” Using clearly-defined terms is a cornerstone of argument. In this case, Opposing Viewpoints in Context defines water pollution to mean “…contamination of water by chemicals, pathogens, and other elements, often tot he point that water becomes undrinkable and unusable” and recognizes that when people use the term, they are most often referring to “…any human-caused change to waterways…”

Now take a look at the first headlines under “Featured Viewpoints”:



Both from 2014, these viewpoints couldn’t be more opposed, yet each makes a strong argument with cited sources. One way we can decide between the two of them is to look at each author’s qualifications.

Hydrologist (that is, a scientist who studies water) and environmental engineer Jay Famiglietti wrote the article titled, “The Earth’s Water Supply Is In Grave Danger.” We learn this upon clicking on the headline, which takes us to an abstract that looks like this:


In addition to telling us what Famiglietti’s background is, the abstract also gives us a brief summary of his opinion. We even get some sample reading questions to help us stay on task and use our critical reading skills.

The abstract also gives us a brief summary of his opinion. We even get some sample reading questions to help us stay on task and use our critical reading skills.

The second article, titled “The Earth’s Water Supply Is Not In Danger,” comes with the following abstract:


While Lyons is clearly an experienced writer with Spiked (a Internet magazine whose predecessor, Living Marxism, often chastised popular media outlets for perpetuating what LM referred to as “Fear Culture”), he does not appear to have any special knowledge of environmental science or hydrology.

Additionally, Lyons’ argument appears to be based on a logical fallacy known as False Analogy. Oil and water are two very different substances in terms of their origins and chemical compositions. In fact, they are so different that when two people dislike each other, a common remark is, “Those two get along like oil and water.”

Though we’ve only spent about five minutes researching potential topics, we already have the beginnings of a persuasive essay, including one potential academic resource (Famiglietti) and one resource we can use to predict and refute opposing arguments within the body of our essay (that is, we can reference and dismiss Lyon’s idea that Earth’s water supply is analogous to Earth’s oil supply). Should we choose to cite either of these articles, we can scroll all the way to the bottom for correct source citation:


Our next step is to mine our article for terms we can looks up for the purposes of additional research and topic narrowing. One item Famiglietti returns to is how changes in environment require changes in policies and attitudes regarding that environment.

We can learn more about these changes from academic articles and raw data available on Opposing Viewpoints. See this side bar?


See it?

There are 80 articles from Academic Journals related to this topic, as well as 25 statistical reports. If we don’t care for Famiglietti or Lyons, we can even search for more Viewpoints (99) or Related Topics (bottom). News stories and magazine articles round out our search by giving us further details of the newest happenings and eye-witness accounts.

Use Opposing Viewpoints to learn the elements of argument, discover how to present a valid argument, and write the best persuasive essay your English instructor has ever seen. Then, take your new ability to influence others into your boss’ office and get that raise you deserve.


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