7 Chapter 7: Invention Strategies
There are very few “right” and “wrong” ways to start a paper. There are just ways. However, it is often useful to have both a goal in mind and a model to use as the framework for starting a paper. Most writers will get attached to one or two models, and this is frequently a mistake. Additionally, writers will sometimes copy a model and leave out the entire thought process behind the model.
An argument that the circumstances in the case or situation being considered are similar to those in another case. The implication is that if A is like B, then we can learn how to handle A by looking at what worked and what did not work with B.
Overview: Parallel case is an important concept in both its contributions and its limitations. By looking at a course of action that succeeded (or failed, really), we can sometimes learn how to handle a new situation. However, because things change over time, and from place to place, most of the time there needs to be some effort put into understanding how Case A and Case B differ. Often, acknowledging these differences are important concessions that need to be made.
Often, parallel case arguments are effective in persuading others because readers can use the ‘example’ situation as a way of understanding the more complicated (or more contentious) issue. Even when not used as a framework for a complete argument, drawing small-scale parallels can often help a writer to explain a complex subject.
Application: In college-level composition classes, parallel case arguments are often useful in comparing two different sets of circumstances and seeing what they do have in common. For example, a student arguing about the restrictions placed on certain drugs might want to draw parallels to the prohibition of alcohol, or a student wishing to suggest why a parking deck needs to built on campus might find another campus with similar problems and see whether or not a parking deck actually did or did not improve the problems.
As an invention strategy, the appeal of parallel case is that is gives student writers a place to start—making direct comparisons to another situation, perhaps one with a more readily understood or agreed upon set of facts. Students can usually develop an argument by pointing out ways in which the situations are similar or different, and thus they can create a fairly nuanced argument.
What to Avoid: Parallel case is tricky, because using it almost always risks committing the fallacy of hasty generalization or false correlation. Therefore, students attempting to build a parallel case argument need to be certain that the cases are, in fact, parallel. If something is different in one case, then the student needs to try to reason through what is the reason for the difference and how those differences might change the outcome in the new situation.
Perhaps more importantly, however, students need to be careful of sources in their research that make too many parallel case arguments, and students need to be sure to evaluate carefully whether or not what is being called a parallel is not, in fact, simply a hasty generalization.