Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Standpoint Explicitness and Persuasive Effect: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Varying Conclusion Articulation in Persuasive Messages

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Standpoint Explicitness and Persuasive Effect: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Varying Conclusion Articulation in Persuasive Messages

Article excerpt

Argumentative explicitness is widely acknowledged as a normative ideal in the practice of argument. Advocates might resist such explicitness, though, fearing that it will compromise persuasive effectiveness. But it is an empirical question whether argumentative explicitness inevitably sacrifices instrumental success. This article addresses one facet of this question, by offering a meta-analytic review of the persuasive effects associated with the degree of articulation given to the advocate's overall conclusion.


Explicitness as a Normative Procedural Obligation

Addressing the empirical relationship between normatively good argument and persuasive outcomes requires some independently-motivated normative account (O'Keefe & Jackson, 1995). Among various ways of conceiving of the normative worth of arguments, the idea of focussing on advocates' conduct (rather than some disembodied abstract representation of argument) has attracted recent attention. For example, the pragma-dialectical approach (van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1984) identifies rules of conduct appropriate for (different stages of) argumentative discussions. From this perspective, normative standards for argument consist of procedural obligations for advocates. Thus normatively good argumentation will be understood not as a matter of (e.g.) true premises and valid form, but as a matter of argumentative practice that satisfies specified procedural standards.

Obviously, developing a full-fledged description and defense of a set of procedural obligations for normatively good argumentation is a substantial undertaking. However, even without a finished analysis of all the procedural obligations associated with normatively good argumentation, one might nevertheless say with some confidence that one normative good in the conduct of advocates is (in some way or other) argumentative explicitness. That is, it is normatively desirable for advocates to explicitly state their viewpoints, without concealing relevant aspects of their views or reasoning. "Evasion, concealment, and artful dodging. . . are and should be excluded from an ideal model of critical discussion" (van Eemeren, Grootendorst, Jackson, & Jacobs, 1993, p. 173). Argumentation that is more explicit is better (normatively speaking) than argumentation that is less explicit, precisely because greater explicitness opens the advocated view for critical scrutiny.

Understood as a procedural obligation, explicitness in argumentation naturally takes a diversity of concrete instantiating forms. That is to say, a normative directive to "be explicit" can naturally be realized in different ways. The focus of the present report is the explicitness of the message's overall advocated position (that is, the degree of articulation of the message's overall conclusion, recommendation, standpoint).(1)

Explicitness as Threatening Persuasive Effectiveness

Advocates might understandably fear that standpoint explicitness can threaten persuasive effectiveness. Such fears have warrant. Most generally, explicitness enlarges the "disagreement space," in the sense that it puts more claims on the table for discussion - claims to which objections might be raised (for discussion of the idea of disagreement space, see van Eemeren et al., 1993, esp. pp. 95-96;Jackson &Jacobs, 1980). Each further articulation of an advocate's viewpoint invites closer scrutiny, counterargument, objection, rejection. Failing to be fully explicit might minimize the space for disagreement and thereby enhance persuasion.

Advocates might also fear that explicitness could produce "boomerang" persuasive effects (in which the audience changes in ways opposite to those sought by the advocate). Being too explicit might insult the audience (because the message would state the obvious) or anger it (because the message would seem too aggressive, too insistent, too directive), and perhaps induce reactance, a motivational state aimed at reestablishing threatened freedom of action (Brehm & Brehm, 1981). …

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