Episode 23: A Fistful of Fallacies


If you have a pulse, you have used a logic fallacy in your writing. Although I would much prefer to say that my writing is 100% certified with no logic issues, I cannot. Human writers take shortcuts, use what’s convenient, and occasionally leave holes big enough to swallow whole paragraphs, pages, sections, and books. This isn’t to say that fallacies are good, per se, but it does mean that you’d be hard pressed to patch up every slip in your writing—thus leaving wiggle room for someone to mercilessly mock you.

However, what you can do is get to know some of the major logical conundrums and do your best to plug the leaks. If you focus on the following ones, you should eliminate 95% of the problems that can creep up in your arguments, proofs, and theses.

Hasty generalization: Everyone loves Raymond, right? While the assumption may be justified, there can be logical issues when a writer makes broad, sweeping statements as fact based on a limited reference frame. We all do this from time to time (yes, that is an example right there) because some things seem to be “common knowledge,” but some hasty generalizations sneak in without justification. See if you notice it in this sentence:

After reviewing the survey hosted on our site, the committee has decided that our new logo connects with the average consumer.

While the survey may indeed point to people liking the logo, the sample is skewed because it is on the company’s website, which would likely include only those with an interest in coming to the site in the first place.

Confusing Cause and Effect: When I tap my showerhead, water comes out. Therefore, tapping the showerhead makes water. This is, of course, a silly cause-and-effect relationship, but this is actually a fairly common logical error. Two events having a connection does not mean that one causes the other.

The market is growing for Internet browsers. Just this year Chrome has gained a significant number of new users.

While Chrome may be growing in market share, this does not prove that the market itself is growing. After all, Chrome users may be moving from another browser.

Either-or Fallacy (False Dilemma): Either I’m right, or you’re wrong. If those options don’t sound satisfactory, then you’ll be glad to know that this, too, is a common error in argument. While there may only seem to be two (or more) options in a given issue, forcing a choice can ignore some novel approach that you may not have considered.

With the current market conditions, we must decide which of the research programs that we should eliminate.

Or perhaps there is another option for reducing overhead while keeping all the research going.

There are many more fallacies where those came from (in fact, there’s a whole encyclopedia of them), but the ones I’ve listed will get you started. Just keep in mind that all writers write either because the day is 24 hours or because the cheesecake is delicious.

Use the comments to list some of your favorite (or not-so-favorite) fallacies.

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4 thoughts on “Episode 23: A Fistful of Fallacies

  1. Pingback: Episode 40: A Flock of Fallacies « More Novel by the Week

  2. Pingback: Episode 50: That Which Kills Good Writing « More Novel by the Week

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