(Adapted from Nancy Huddleston Packer and John Timpane, 1986 Writing Worth Reading: A Practical Guide, St. Martin's Press: New York)
A good way to learn about persuasive writing/evidence is to critically evaluate while you read. Starr is making an argument that medicine in America has developed in certain ways, with specific outcomes. Along the way, he makes subarguments and presents evidence to support his ideas. You should evaluate whether you think his arguments are solid or not. As you gain skills in assessing other's writing, you will become a better writer yourself.
An argument has several components. Right now, most of you have only chosen a subject, but as you commence your research, you will find answers to the questions you are posing. Your job in the term paper is to persuade the reader that your position is better than the alternative. The answer(s) you find are the claim.
|For example, in your reading by "The Cost of Prevention, Don't expect a Free Lunch", Sisk claims that the clinical researchers should not promise cost savings for all preventive measures.|
Evidence is support for your claim, and the best way to make your argument persuasive is to find evidence and present it in appropriate ways.
|As one piece of evidence evidence, Sisk cites studies that find many preventive measures do not save costs.|
Within your claim, you may need to present subpoints and subarguments.
|One of her subpoints is that promising cost savings for an intervention when it cannot deliver them may backfire. Her subargument is that while these interventions may have health benefits, if the cost savings do not materialize, clinicians might not use the intervention. It would be a stronger argument if she had information (evidence) on whether providers actually stop using preventive measures.|
Finally, you will need to connect your evidence to the arguments. Essentially, you should elaborate on how the evidence supports your argument.
No argument has only one side to it. In order to write a truly great persuasive paper, you should acknowledge the opposition; there are two ways to talk about the opposition, depending on the evidence available.
The opposition will have arguments of its own. If you have good evidence that weakens the opposing argument, you should use it to rebut their position.
Sometimes, the opposition will have a point that you cannot refute, and you may have to concede this point. In economics, this acknowledgment might be as simple as conceding and enumerating the costs of your policy (which there will always be). You can still make arguments in favor of your policy by showing that the benefits are greater than the costs.
There are many different types of evidence that you can use in writing a persuasive or informational paper.
If you have incomplete information in support of your claim, you should tell the reader. The "perfect" data is rarely available, so researchers often make do with the imperfect information that is available.
However, careful researchers will admit that their conclusions rely on imperfection and may turn out to be false when better data becomes available.
You will probably run across studies conducted by clinicians, economists, or other types of researchers. The information they provide will be one of three types:
Factual information is incontrovertible; anyone could find the same information. See the section on statistics below for some warnings about facts.
Informed opinions and speculation will be the interpretation that the researcher applies to the information. For instance, a researcher might conclude that treatment Y is cost-effective, based on a cost-effectiveness ratio of $50,000 per quality of life year saved. Another researcher might think that an appropriate cut-off for "cost-effectiveness" is $10,000 per QUALY, and would disagree. The conclusion that the treatment is cost-effective is an informed opinion.
Speculation is another form of interpretation. Often, the answers many economists get are based on information from a select sample of individuals, let's say middle-age women. Applying these results to another group of the population, for example, elderly women, would call for "out-of-sample" predictions, and these are really just speculation. Another potential problem is that predictions might be based on a particular statistical technique and using a different method might give one different predictions. I don't expect you to know all of these nuances in statistics, but be aware that the conclusions you read in others' research are not hard-and-fast rules.
The first thing to do is to check the credentials of the expert. Check for possible conflicts of interest (did a pharmaceutical company fund the research?) If you find many different researchers coming to the same opinion, that lends greater weight to the evidence.
You already have some basic definitions of statistics. The choice of statistic that you might use is very important, and the main way that statistics can be misused. For instance, if you say that Z people are uninsured in the U.S. and this is the largest number of uninsured in history, this is a statistic. However, if the population has grown, a smaller percentage of people might be uninsured than at any other time, so your previous statistic was misleading.
Sometimes making an argument can be strengthened by being specific. If I tell you in class that not having insurance is a problem, this is a claim, but does not have any evidence supporting it. I may then go on and describe that people without insurance often delay going to the doctor, go to emergency rooms for routine care instead of to clinics or doctors' offices, or go without care at all. These last points are examples. The examples could further be strengthened by statistics on how often uninsured people delay care, go to the emergency room, or go without care. The information could be strengthened yet further by comparing these statistics to similar statistics on people who have insurance. And so on...
We have talked about the dangers of relying on anecdotal experience, but there are appropriate ways to use this type of evidence. It may focus an argument, provide an example, ore illuminate. It may make the reading more interesting. Just don't rely on this type of information only.
Analogies may be a writing tool to make your points clear and interesting, but you may also use analogies as evidence. For instance, if you are studying a relatively new government policy or a new trend in health care markets, you may need to speculate on the benefits/costs of the policy based on results from similar policies that have been instituted in the past or in trends from other markets that are similar. You will need to use reasoning and logic to make the connections. You should also describe the possible differences between past policies and today or non-health markets and healthcare markets, etc... and how these differences might affect your conclusions, but this type of evidence can be very persuasive.
Last, some tips on what makes up solid evidence:
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