When you hear the word argument, you might envision scenes of battle: politicians trading insults like angry children or couples fighting about whose turn it is to do the dishes. But your papers will look strange if you try to battle with your readers. We make academic and professional arguments primarily to convince others to do or think as we want them to. In other words, we make arguments because we need to enlist our readers as allies—not enemies. If readers feel that your arguments are battles in which you attack other positions, shoot down their ideas, and defend your own to the death—well, you'll seem more like their enemy, not their ally.
As you can see, the language we use to talk about everyday argument often paints argument as war: there are winners and losers. But at work and in school, we need to think about argument differently. When we argue, we argue about a shared problem. All of us are—or should be—more interested in finding the right solution to that problem than in offering only our own opinion. In these settings, your arguments will work best when they collaborate with readers rather than confront them: the goal is not to have winners and losers but to find good solutions to shared problems.
When you make an academic or professional argument, remember that you need to enlist readers as allies who will help you solve your problem by doing or thinking what you ask of them. They expect you to give them good reasons to change what they think or do, because they expect to be treated as people who can think for themselves. They will be more likely to think and do things because they believe you are right, and not because they are forced, lied to, or bribed.
Since the goal of academic and professional argument is to solve a problem, you don’t always have to convince your readers completely in order to succeed. For some problems, you do need readers to fully accept your claim; that kind of full acceptance is hard to achieve, however, and for many problems you can succeed in more limited ways.
We wouldn’t get much done if we needed everyone to completely accept our arguments. But we actually improve our chances of success when we treat others as collaborators rather than enemies, treat their ideas and beliefs with respect, and recognize that we can’t achieve 100% agreement 100% of the time. If we do this, we also support other important goals: