STEP EIGHT: Assessing Completeness
Many documents present only one point of view, and perhaps acknowledge an opposing viewpoint only long enough to reject it. But most important issues have more than two sides: they are not like simple straight lines demanding a choice between black and white, but rather like irregular polyhedrons with many different sides, some more important and complicated than others.
Deciding which side of an issue to take and which aspects to leave out is a judgement, and in that simple choice lies much of a documentʹs meaning. A merchant recalling a trip might include many details about goods and prices while a scientist traveling beside him mainly describes the plants and animals they encountered. What is omitted tells us about the creator’s priorities and values.
In a document thatʹs meant to persuade, completeness is reflected in the argumentʹs depth and breadth. By depth we mean how well it addresses the complexities of the topic. By breadth we mean how well it addresses other perspectives or approaches to the topic.
To assess the completeness of any document, you need to rely on your own knowledge and understanding of the subject as well as your creativity and imagination. Locate a short essay such as an encyclopedia article on the topic that your document is about. If it is about Wisconsin history, youʹll find reliable short summaries of all important events at www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints. Your U.S. history textbook may also have a few pages or paragraphs about the events that produced the document. Read these, then review the documentʹs main points and the audience and point of view you identified. Look at the lists of premises and conclusions you compiled. Then answer the following questions about the documentʹs completeness:
1. Omissions: What has been left out by the author that is mentioned in the encyclopedia articles or textbook? How important is this missing information? If it had been included, how would the argument be different? Would its premises or conclusion change?
2. Depth: Does the author take into account all the complexities of the main issue, or simplify it? How important are the omissions to an understanding of the issue? Are there important related questions that the author doesnʹt talk about at all?
3. Breadth: Does the author take into account other points of view? Are there alternative ways to understand the problem, or to try to solve it? If the author does talk about such alternatives, are they treated clearly, carefully, and in depth? What point of view or conclusion would directly oppose the authorʹs? Does he or she specifically talk about that viewpoint and explain to your satisfaction why it has been rejected?