Organizing Your Argument
These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.
Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2017-06-19 09:33:00
How can I effectively present my argument?
Use an organizational structure that arranges the argument in a way that will make sense to the reader. The Toulmin Method of logic is a common and easy to use formula for organizing an argument.
The basic format for the Toulmin Method is as follows.
Claim: The overall thesis the writer will argue for.
Data: Evidence gathered to support the claim.
Warrant (also referred to as a bridge): Explanation of why or how the data supports the claim, the underlying assumption that connects your data to your claim.
Backing (also referred to as the foundation): Additional logic or reasoning that may be necessary to support the warrant.
Counterclaim: A claim that negates or disagrees with the thesis/claim.
Rebuttal: Evidence that negates or disagrees with the counterclaim.
Including a well-thought-out warrant or bridge is essential to writing a good argumentative essay or paper. If you present data to your audience without explaining how it supports your thesis your readers may not make a connection between the two or they may draw different conclusions.
Don't avoid the opposing side of an argument. Instead, include the opposing side as a counterclaim. Find out what the other side is saying and respond to it within your own argument. This is important so that the audience is not swayed by weak, but unrefuted, arguments. Including counterclaims allows you to find common ground with more of your readers. It also makes you look more credible because you appear to be knowledgeable about the entirety of the debate rather than just being biased or uninformed. You may want to include several counterclaims to show that you have thoroughly researched the topic.
Claim: Hybrid cars are an effective strategy to fight pollution.
Data1: Driving a private car is a typical citizen's most air polluting activity.
Warrant 1: Because cars are the largest source of private, as opposed to industry produced, air pollution, switching to hybrid cars should have an impact on fighting pollution.
Data 2: Each vehicle produced is going to stay on the road for roughly 12 to 15 years.
Warrant 2: Cars generally have a long lifespan, meaning that a decision to switch to a hybrid car will make a long-term impact on pollution levels.
Data 3: Hybrid cars combine a gasoline engine with a battery-powered electric motor.
Warrant 3: This combination of technologies means that less pollution is produced. According to ineedtoknow.org "the hybrid engine of the Prius, made by Toyota, produces 90 percent fewer harmful emissions than a comparable gasoline engine."
Counterclaim: Instead of focusing on cars, which still encourages a culture of driving even if it cuts down on pollution, the nation should focus on building and encouraging use of mass transit systems.
Rebuttal: While mass transit is an environmentally sound idea that should be encouraged, it is not feasible in many rural and suburban areas, or for people who must commute to work; thus hybrid cars are a better solution for much of the nation's population.
We can also identify three other important parts of an argument
Assumptions Counter-examples Implications
The Toulmin Model
- Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
- Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
- Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim.
- Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
- Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
- Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing. The degree of conditionality asserted.
Warrants/General Strategies of Argument
Warrants are chains of reasoning that connect the claim and evidence/reason. A warrant is the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim. Warrants operate at a higher level of generality than a claim or reason, and they are not normally explicit.
Example: “Needle exchange programs should be abolished [claim] because they only cause more people to use drugs.” [reason]
The unstated warrant is: “when you make risky behavior safer you encourage more people to engage in it.”
There are six main argumentative strategies via which the relationship between evidence and claim are often established. They have the acronym “GASCAP.”
These strategies are used at various different levels of generality within an argument, and rarely come in neat packages - typically they are interconnected and work in combination.
1. Argument based on Generalization
A very common form of reasoning. It assumes that what is true of a well chosen sample is likely to hold for a larger group or population, or that certain things consistent with the sample can be inferred of the group/population.
2. Argument based on Analogy
Extrapolating from one situation or event based on the nature and outcome of a similar situation or event. Has links to "case-based" and precedent-based reasoning used in legal discourse. What is important here is the extent to which relevant similarities can be established between two contexts. Are there sufficient, typical, accurate, relevant similarities?
3. Argument via Sign/Clue
The notion that certain types of evidence are symptomatic of some wider principle or outcome. For example, smoke is often considered a sign for fire. Some people think high SAT scores are a sign a person is smart and will do well in college.
4. Causal Argument
Arguing that a given occurrence or event is the result of, or is effected by, factor X. Causal reasoning is the most complex of the different forms of warrant. The big dangers with it are:
- Mixing up correlation with causation
- Falling into the post hoc, ergo propter hoc trap. Closely related to confusing correlation and causation, this involves inferring 'after the fact, therefore because of the fact').
5. Argument from Authority
Does person X or text X constitute an authoritative source on the issue in question? What political, ideological or economic interests does the authority have? Is this the sort of issue in which a significant number of authorities are likely to agree on?
6. Argument from Principle
Locating a principle that is widely regarded as valid and showing that a situation exists in which this principle applies. Evaluation: Is the principle widely accepted? Does it accurately apply to the situation in question? Are there commonly agreed on exceptions? Are there "rival" principles that lead to a different claim? Are the practical consequences of following the principle sufficiently desirable?
Rebuttals and Main/Faulty/Return Paths
Unlike many forms of writing, academic arguments will often include discussions of possible objections and counterarguments to the position being advanced. Academic arguments typically take place in disciplinary communities in which a variety of competing or divergent positions exist. When preparing to "speak" to the community by writing an argument, writers are aware of the arguments against which they must build their claims, and of the counterarguments which are likely to emerge. Dealing with counterarguments and objections is thus a key part of the process of building arguments, refining them, interpreting and analyzing them. There are several main reasons for introducing counterarguments and objections.
1. It demonstrates that the author is aware of opposing views, and is not trying to "sweep them under the table." It thus is more likely to make the writer's argument seem "balanced" or "fair" to readers, and as a consequence be persuasive.
2. It shows that the writer is thinking carefully about the responses of readers, anticipating the objections that many readers may have. Introducing the reader to some of the positions opposed to your own, and showing how you can deal with possible objections can thus work to "inoculate" the reader against counterarguments.
3. By contrasting one's position with the arguments or alternative hypotheses one is against, one clarifies the position that is being argued for.
When dealing with objections or counterarguments, authors tend to take one of three approaches.
- Strategic concession: acknowledgment of some of the merits of a different view. In some cases, this may mean accepting or incorporating some components of an authors' argument, while rejecting other parts of it.
- Refutation: this involves being able to show important weaknesses and shortcomings in an opponent's position that demonstrate that his/her argument ought to be rejected.
- Demonstration of irrelevance: showing that the issue in question is to be understood such that opposing views, while perhaps valid in certain respects, do not in fact meet the criteria of relevance that you believe define the issue.
How well authors produce rebuttals and deal with counter-arguments is an important part of how we evaluate the success of an argument.
This handout is adapted from the following: http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/rgass/toulmin2.htm.