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The Imaginative Argument:
A Practical Manifesto for Writers
Frank L. Cioffi

Paperback | 2005 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691122908
256 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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More than merely a writing text, The Imaginative Argument offers writers instruction on how to use their imaginations to improve their prose. Cioffi shows writers how they can enliven argument--the organizing rubric of all persuasive writing--by drawing on emotion, soul, and creativity, the wellsprings of imagination. While Cioffi suggests that argument should become a natural habit of mind for writers, he goes still further, inspiring writers to adopt as their gold standard the imaginative argument: the surprising yet strikingly apt insight that organizes disparate noises into music, that makes out of chaos, chaos theory.

Rather than offering a model of writing based on established formulas or templates, Cioffi urges writers to envision argument as an active parsing of experience that imaginatively reinvents the world. Cioffi's manifesto asserts that successful argument also requires writers to explore their own deep-seated feelings, to exploit the fuzzy but often profoundly insightful logic of the imagination.

But expression is not all that matters: Cioffi's work anchors itself in the actual. Drawing on Louis Kahn's notion that a good architect never has all the answers to a building's problems before its physical construction, Cioffi maintains that in argument, too, answers must be forged along the way, as the writer inventively deals with emergent problems and unforeseen complexities. Indeed, discovery, imagination, and invention suffuse all stages of the process.

The Imaginative Argument offers all the intellectual kindling that writers need to ignite this creativity, from insights on developing ideas to avoiding bland assertions or logical leaps. It cites exemplary nonfiction prose stylists, including William James, Ruth Benedict, and Erving Goffman, as well as literary sources to demonstrate the dynamic of persuasive writing. Provocative and lively, it will prove not only essential reading but also inspiration for all those interested in arguing more imaginatively more successfully.


"The Imaginative Argument is the culmination of many years of thought and practice, the summing up of a lifetime dedicated to reading, writing, teaching composition, and, above all, thinking about writing and its connection to the imagination. Anyone interested in the process of writing will learn a great deal from this book. Anyone who teaches writing will learn even more--new and useful techniques for their classroom. And, most important of all, students will learn bold and efficient ways to master college writing."--Murray Sperber, Professor Emeritus of English, Indiana University, Bloomington

"Frank Cioffi's manifesto is intellectually rigorous, but it is also passionate, stylish, meticulous, idiosyncratic, and unique among college writing texts. Its insistence on wholly original writing--hence, wholly original thinking--is heartening. Indeed, The Imaginative Argument is a model of the kind of writing college students should be producing."--Valerie Sayers, author of Due East and Brain Fever, and Professor of Creative Writing, University of Notre Dame

"Would that I had read this book or taken Frank Cioffi's class fifty years ago. Better yet, I wish the contents of this book resided in the minds of all of us who produce soporific sentences in the name of 'technical' or 'professional' writing. If it did, we would all benefit. God knows I would read more technical papers. And kudos to the author for nicely making the point that creative writing is not solely the property of those who write fiction."--James L. Adams, Stanford University, author of Conceptual Blockbusting

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Table of Contents:

Preface xi
Acknowledgments xxi
Chapter 1: An Introduction to the Writing of Essays 1
Chapter 2: Audience, or For Whom Are You Writing? 12
Chapter 3: Prewriting and the Writing Process 31
Chapter 4: The Thesis 43
Chapter 5: Saying Something New: Ways toward Creativity 61
Chapter 6: Paragraph Design 72
Chapter 7: Developing an Argument 85
Chapter 8: Different Structures, Novel Organizational Principles 104
Chapter 9: The Imaginative Research Paper 116
Chapter 10: Figures and Fallacies, or Being Forceful but Not Cheating at Argument 135
Chapter 11: The Argument of Style 149
Chapter 12: Concluding a Manifesto: The Future of Writing 172
Appendix I. Sample Essays 183
Appendix II. Writing Prompts 202
Works Cited 209
Index 215

This book has been translated into:

  • German

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Frank L. Cioffi:

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