Sunday, March 1, 2015

Logical Fallacies

By: Hanna Mangold

At this point in your college career, you may have heard professors talking about, and discouraging, the use of logical fallacies in argumentative papers. The term “logical fallacies” actually refers to a wide range of errors in reasoning, and it can get a little confusing. I’m going to point out several definitions and examples in order to help you make sense of the logical fallacies problem.
Although the various types of logical breakdowns have specific names (you may have heard of the “Slippery Slope” or “Straw Man” fallacies), it’s much more important to recognize that a logical fallacy has been made, than to be able to identify the specific type of fallacy.

Once you become familiar with the logical fallacy concept, I’m sure you’ll start seeing them everywhere! Politicians and advertisers are infamous abusers of logic—usually as an attempt to discredit their competition. The problem, of course, is that an invalid argument ends up making them sound desperate and deliberatively deceitful. Sometimes logical fallacies are used for humorous purposes—these examples poke fun at people who use false logic.

Have you seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? In one famous scene, a mob of medieval peasants seeks to convict a woman of witch craft (watch here: The mob’s logic (inductive and deductive reasoning) makes sense, but it is rendered completely fallacious by the false premises they set as indicators of witchcraft.
A more recent example can be found here (, in a compilation of DirectTV commercials. In this advertising campaign, DirectTV makes fun of advertisers who use faulty logic to promote their products, by using faulty logic in a humorous way.

So, onto the nitty gritty:

What is a logical fallacy?

1.     According to
The term "logical fallacy" refers to the concept of making an error in terms of reasoning. It is crucial to understand logical fallacies so that they can be identified and avoided when attempting to persuade.

2.     According to sources compiled on
An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.
“Logical fallacies are unsubstantiated assertions that are often delivered with a conviction that makes them sound as though they are proven facts" (McMullin, The New Handbook of Cognitive Therapy Techniques, 2000).
“A logical fallacy is a false statement that weakens an argument by distorting an issue, drawing false conclusions, misusing evidence, or misusing language" (Dave Kemper et al., Fusion: Integrated Reading and Writing. Cengage, 2015).

3.     According to the PurdueOWL:
 Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others. (PurdueOWL)

Why is it important to recognize these lapses in reasoning?

·       In order to identify weak arguments in source material/news articles.
·       In order to think critically about what we hear and how people are attempting to persuade us.
·       In order to avoid making weak arguments in our own writing.

"There are three good reasons to avoid logical fallacies in your writing. First, logical fallacies are wrong and, simply put, dishonest if you use them knowingly. Second, they take away from the strength of your argument. Finally, the use of logical fallacies can make your readers feel that you do not consider them to be very intelligent" (William R. Smalzer, Write to Be Read: Reading, Reflection, and Writing, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005) (from

Think about it, why would you want to avoid making a logical fallacy? What does it do to your argument? To your authority on the subject?

The following links are a few great sources for exploring logical fallacies more closely: (some good definitions and examples) (a fun interactive website and printable poster that break down types of fallacies) (good definition and breakdown of examples by type)

For fun and practice, try figuring out what’s wrong with the following statements pulled from

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at the bloody clothes, the murder weapon. Imagine the helpless screams of the victim. Such a crime deserves no verdict except guilty, guilty!

I’m not a doctor, but I play a doctor on TV, and I wouldn’t dream of using anything but Tylenol for my toughest headaches.

We should pass a constitutional amendment making it illegal to burn the American flag. Anyone who thinks otherwise just hates America.

Do most Americans believe in God? To find out, we asked over 10,000 scientists at colleges and universities throughout America. Less than 40 percent said they believed in God. The conclusion is obvious: Most Americans no longer believe in God.

The Soviet Union collapsed after taking up atheism. Therefore, we must avoid atheism for the same reasons.

You’re a vegetarian? You do realize that Hitler was a vegetarian, too?

The war in Iraq has been a complete success. After all, Saddam Hussein is dead, and the Iraqis had their first free election in years.

Most heroin users started out smoking pot. If you start smoking pot, you’ll end up a heroin user, too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thinking Before You Write

By: Kangsen Feka Wakai, a 2nd year MFA student  

At the Writing Center, part of our role is to guide writers along the way as they make the choices and moves that will lend meaning to their papers.  Part of our role is to help writers think.

Thinking about the writing process is as fundamental to the process as the writing itself; it is a way of teasing out ideas, and creating that bridge between the Professor’s expectations for an assignment, and the moves you are supposed to make to meet those expectations. 

Therefore, thinking before you write is essential because it helps to assemble your thoughts, while ridding your mind of some of the clutter that can get in the way of writing.

Imagine the mental clutter that governs the freshman college writing student’s mind as he or she juggles academic expectations, acclimatizing to a new environment, and the social pressures that come with both!

Thinking enables strategizing, which in turn provides the kind of distance that can facilitate not only a seamless entry way into an otherwise confusing assignment, but can also guide the writer as he or she engages a particular subject.

For the freshman college writing student, thinking about the assignment can make the difference between understanding and misunderstanding the task at hand.

Brainstorming, I say, is a virtue.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Subjunctive What?

By: Sarah Johnson

            One afternoon in class, youre halfway through a discussion about whether or not the book Fifty Shades of Gray could be considered literature, when suddenly your professor projects a paragraph from it onto the overhead screen.  Your professor mentions that a sentence in the projected paragraph contains a grammatical error, and she calls on you to find it!  You open your mouth, but you cant spot the problem!  You wring your hands together, wipe beads of sweat from your forehead.  After three painful minutes, your professor asks, Do you know about the subjunctive mood? If you can explain it, Ill give you extra credit.
            Unless you will say anything for extra credit or just love to study grammar, where could you learn about the subjunctive mood?  The very extensive website has your answer.  On this website, your ultimate guide to grammar and writing awaits!  Its main page features six different categories that offer drop-down menus for you to select your grammatical query. 
            So what is the subjunctive mood?  If you said, I wish I were a grammar genius, then youve just used it!  Check out the Guide to Grammar and Writings website to learn more. 
Grammatically yours,

Sarah J.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Planning Ahead to Prevent Paper-Writing Stress

By: Rachael Groat

Sometimes it feels like your professors had a super secret conference in which they maniacally planned to have multiple major writing assignments all due the same day or week.  This influx of writing assignments can be overwhelming and potentially panic-inducing depending on how soon the due dates are looming.  But instead of last minute paper writing while stress eating pints of ice cream, let's think in advance this semester.

I know when I find myself with a heavy work-load but without an assignment due right away, I typically get nothing done at all and find myself on Netflix, only making the problem worse.  But those far away due dates are deceiving, especially when it comes to multiple papers.  So here's some tips on how to stop binging on the Walking Dead and logically tackle your papers with plenty of time to spare.

Plan ahead.  Early in the semester, map out your semester schedule in a calendar or planner.  Write down all the major assignments for each class.  Highlight or star them to make them stand out. Now you have a visual feel for your semester so those due date ridden weeks can't creep up on you.

In addition to my planner of major assignments, I take 15 sheets of notebook paper, one for each week of the semester, and write down the date of each class and the readings and assignments due that day.  I typically do this in pencil so I can easily make any changes that come up.  It's satisfying to cross them off and helpful to think of the semester structured in weeks.  There are eight weeks before spring break and seven between break and finals.  What should you be doing in each?    

Now that you've been proactive and know what's coming, do something about it.  Block off time, especially in less busy weeks, to begin working on one of the assignments.  Even if you don't write a paper far in advance, you can get started on research.  I find that by committing to doing something small, even writing a single paragraph, can be less daunting and help you get started.  If your goal is too overwhelming, it's much harder to begin.  Also, the reward system works well when you're having trouble finding that motivation to start!

Notice the smaller assignments due around a particularly busy time.  I often try to get ahead in my reading or short assignments, so I can exclusively focus on the major assignments in a due date filled week. 

Take some time off while working on a project.  Spreading out your work rather than powering straight through allows you to clear your mind and return with a fresh perspective.  So take breaks by watching the Walking Dead, but try to forge a more balanced semester through organization and thinking ahead.  Spreading writing assignments through all fifteen weeks reduces stress, and you'll be grateful you planned and acted ahead when finals week comes around.

So, this semester, let's work on preventing those paper writing frenzies and instead logically plan out our work!