This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Get to the Point!" by Joel Schwartzberg. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.
Do you know how to create a strong argument? Are you prepared to support your claim?
When you’re making a bold claim in an argument, people will expect you to back it up. If you fumble or don’t have evidence, people won’t be inclined to believe you.
Continue reading to learn how to create a strong argument worth listening to.
Identify and Hone Your Point
In Get to the Point!, Joel Schwartzberg defines a “point” as an assertion that you can clearly state, explain, and support. However, he says, many people have only a vague idea of what they’re trying to communicate when they start talking, which makes it impossible to convey their message powerfully enough to accomplish anything.
Avoiding this pitfall and getting your point across requires identifying and carefully crafting your point, then effectively marketing it in a way that resonates with your audience—whether that’s a handful or a roomful of people. By learning how to create a strong argument, you can master making your point so that everyone will be willing to listen to it.
(Shortform note: Why is it so important to get to the point quickly? It’s been widely reported that people’s attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish, having declined from 12 seconds to eight between the years 2000 (the start of the “mobile revolution”) and 2015. But some contend that the goldfish comparison myth needs debunking, arguing that the concept of “average attention span” is meaningless because attention varies depending on what task you’re doing.)
Schwartzberg offers a three-pronged approach to help you 1) determine if you have a point, 2) make your point stronger, and 3) hone your point by centering on the statement, “I believe” and the questions, “So what?” and “Why?” We’ll give you a step-by-step overview of the three components of Schwartzberg’s approach and provide examples of what each looks like in action.
(Shortform note: The key to Schwartzberg’s method, as we’ll discuss, is specificity. Whether you’re speaking or writing, precision and clarity are critical to communicating your message in a way your audience can understand.)
Step 1: Determine Whether Your Point Is a Point With “I Believe”
Schwartzberg says your first goal is to figure out whether your point is actually a point. Can it be stated, explained, and supported—or is it just a vague topic? The statement “I believe” can help you.
First, think of a point you’d like to make, then fill in the blank at the end of the phrase: “I believe that [fill in the blank].” Does your sentence make sense? If it doesn’t, your point isn’t a point, and it needs to be reformulated.
“I believe that teacher shortages,” is not a point because it doesn’t make sense as a sentence.
“I believe that teacher shortages will lead to long-term problems in the public education system in the US,” is a point because it makes sense as a sentence (it’s a complete thought).
The first example simply named a topic; the second example specified what you think about that topic. Your audience can engage with the second idea, but not the first.
Step 2: Strengthen Your Point With “So What?”
After you’ve identified your point using “I believe,” Schwartzberg’s second step is to formulate it so it’s as strong and effective as possible. To do this, ask the question, “So what?” You’ll know your point is weak if you’re stating a broadly agreed-upon truth that can’t reasonably be challenged, therefore the response would be “So what?” For instance, a statement of “The sky is blue” or “Ceiling fans circulate air” would certainly receive a confused response of, “So what?” from your recipient. In contrast, you have a strong point when a reasonable argument can be made against it, and some analysis is required to defend it.
Point: “Madonna is a pop star.”
- Can a reasonable argument be made against this point? Not really. It’s a broadly agreed-upon truth, and the response would be, “So what?”
- Is analysis required to defend this broadly agreed-upon truth? No.
Stronger point: “Madonna redefined the music world by shattering traditional ideas of how women should present themselves.”
- Can a reasonable argument be made against this point? Maybe. Someone might argue that other women before Madonna redefined pop music, like Grace Jones.
- Does defending your point require analysis? Yes. You’d need to present more information to defend your argument.
(Shortform note: If you’ve ever taken an English class, you probably learned how to identify, strengthen, and hone a point, but you may have forgotten how. It’s essentially the same as writing a thesis statement: First, choose a subject you’re passionate about that has credible research to defend it. Next, write your topic as a question, then answer it to more clearly define your statement. Finally, edit and revise your statement using bold, clear, direct language.)
Step 3: Hone Your Point With “Why?”
Having strengthened your point using “So what?”, Schwartzberg’s final step in creating a strong argument is to hone your point by making it as specific as possible. He says you can sharpen your claim by asking “Why?” This question helps you clarify your argument, which in turn allows you to weed out unnecessary language that distracts from your core point.
How to use “Why?”
- Say your point out loud: “I believe that training our dog is important.”
- Ask the question, “Why?”
- Answer the question: “Because it will allow us to take him to the park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.”
- Combine your first and second sentences: “I believe that training our dog is important because it will allow us to take him to the park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.” (Your point is now stronger, but wordy.)
- Remove the fluff by eliminating the unnecessary adjective of “important”: “I believe that training our dog will allow us to take him to the dog park without worrying that he’ll bite someone.”
Use “Why?” as a Multipurpose Tool
Schwartzberg argues that asking “Why?” when creating a strong argument will help you identify and remove fluffy language that muddles your claim, but the logic linking fluffy language and asking why isn’t entirely clear. We can infer that asking “Why?” forces you to get specific in a way that clarifies your point, which then permits you to better see and remove the fluff.
But “Why?” is also a critical tool to mobilize people behind your ideas. When presenters make a call to action, many assume it’s enough to tell an audience what they want them to do and how they need to do it. But it’s the act of telling people why they should do what you’re asking that compels them to action.
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Joel Schwartzberg's "Get to the Point!" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Get to the Point! summary:
- How anyone can make a point that leads to action or change
- Steps to identify, craft, and communicate your point
- How to argue your point in different scenarios