© Damen, 2002
28. Specific Facts.
This is one of the most important aspects of the content of your paper. The facts you use must be specific! If, for instance, you say, "Using their legions, the Romans conquered many lands," you leave a great deal in question. How did their legions achieve such dominance? Whom did they defeat, and when? Were legions the sole agents responsible for Rome's triumphs, or did issues of leadership and management in the wake of conquest play a role in Rome's dominion, too? As stated above, this weak, vague generality undercuts your argument.
Instead, cite particular names, people, places and events from the past: the deft courage of early Roman generals like Cincinnatus, the cunning of Fabius who avoided battle with Hannibal, the reforms Marius instituted in recruiting legionaries which led to improvements in combat and retention, and the skill and bravery exhibited by Caesar's soldiers at the Battle of Alesia. These concrete fixtures are the common heritage shared by all who study and debate history. Any of us can utilize them to underscore and bolster our notions about the past—assuming, of course, the facts do, in fact, advance our arguments. Think of it this way. Fabius, Marius and Julius Caesar are the public property of everyone who studies classical antiquity. Anyone can and should use the particulars of history in structuring our collective understanding of the past.
Specific facts are important in another way, too. By referencing the particular data that support and comprise our common knowledge of Western civilization, you are, in effect, meeting your readers halfway, on neutral ground so to speak. That is, to begin your paper in a place to which we all have equal access makes it just that much easier for someone to walk along with you wherever you're headed, because in building your ideas on well-known, precise, mutually agreed-upon data, you start the trek toward new ideas in territory everyone's familiar with. From there, others can follow you more readily.
In sum, the specific data constituting our understanding of the past form the
basis of all historical and scientific inquiry. The bytes of information we
share in common are the elemental vocabulary of any discipline. Therefore, if
you mean to write a paper arguing for any larger trend in history and hope to
persuade sensible people to see things your way or even if you wish only to
convince others you have a handle on the past, you must use specific facts in
building your case.
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