Proposition/Support Outlines

Proposition/Support Outlines work in a variety of writing contexts, but are especially effective for position papers—essays that clearly present, support, call attention to a specific opinion, viewpoint, or idea. Position papers are widely used examples of persuasive writing, and commonly appear on final exams and standardized tests where students are directed to respond to a scientific hypothesis or literary prompt. To begin, start with a statement of fact. For example, “The amount of fish in the ocean is being depleted.” A fact can be proven or disproven, while an opinion (“I believe that…”) cannot. Now, make this statement of fact into a proposition by introducing an opinion or follow-up statement that requires argument supported by facts. Our proposition is now “The amount of fish in the ocean is being depleted because current fishing methods are unsustainable.” The outline below illustrates five methods of support for this proposition—facts, statistics, examples, expert authority, and logic/reasoning. An example of each is provided using information from Overfishing.org:

Like Dialogical Writing/Reading, this exercise can be done in reverse by having students deconstruct a piece of writing to identify the author’s point of view and the methods used for supporting it.

I like Proposition/Support Outlines because it forces students to think critically about how they approach reading and writing. This exercise should encourage questioning like “What is the author trying to say?” “How well-founded are the author’s arguments?” “Does the reasoning match the facts?” and “What are whole in the logic of the arguments?” This sort of critical examination of pieces of writing will allow students to better state and defend their own opinions, while discerning the supported from the unfounded in the over-abundance of propositions made in the Information Age.

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