The Quick and Easy Guide to the Argument
What is an Argument?
At its simplest, an argument is a form of communication, or text,
that expresses a point of view supported by evidence. An argument may take
the form of writing, speech or other presentation. An argument is meant
to convince readers of the validity of a point of view. It may
also aim to persuade readers to change their own point of view and/or
to take action.
Central to an argument is its claim, or thesis. This is a statement
that asserts a belief or truth. It is always debatable. The claim is supported
by evidence, which may take many forms. Statements of evidence should not
be debatable. In other words, an argument should have only one claim.
Examples of Claims: Taxes are too high; children need to be
protected from pornography on the internet; William Smith is the best candidate
for governor; Evolution is a hoax; men and women aren't that different;
English is a difficult language to learn.
What Works as Evidence?
A claim is only as good as the evidence that supports it. If the evidence
is believable and well understood by the audience, a claim will likely
be convincing (although it may or may not be persuasive.) If the evidence
is unbelievable, hard to understand or just not presented clearly, the
audience is likely to reject a claim.
There are many different types of evidence, although most fit
into two main catagories:
Examples of Evidence:
First-Hand Evidence (Narratives & Reports): Observations, Interviews/Surveys,
Experiments/Findings, Personal Experience.
Second-Hand Evidence (Quotes & Summaries): Printed Sources,
A recent study shows that over 70% of Americans are addicted to some
kind of drug. While many addicts struggle with illegal substances, the
majority are addicted to legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco and
caffeine (Amado, 27).
I have seen the effects of drug addiction in my own family. My father
faced major health problems, mood swings and frequent bouts of depression
due to a drinking problem. My mother tried for years to stop smoking. She
was unable to do so, and in the end, died of lung cancer. This exposure
to the tragic effects of drug addiction did not stop me from drinking as
Many addicts believe that they cannot overcome their reliance on
their drug of choice. Often attempts to stop using are only temporarily
effective. But John Smith was able to overcome his addiction to alcohol
via therapy and the support of a group called AA. Smith now understands
both the need to stop using and the reason for constant vigilance against
the urge to drink again (Amado, 4).
Many people share this understanding. I spoke with noted actor and
spokesperson, Morris Phillips during a recent phone interview. "AA saved
my life," he reported. "Without this support group, my second family, I
would not be able to stay sober by myself" (Phillips Interview).
Lines of Argument
Of course, the writer must do more than just present a claim and evidence.
These pieces must be put together into a meaningful presentation to the
audience. There are four main ways to organize an argument. These are called
or lines of argument.
The key to writing an effective argument is to choose the appeal or appeals
that best fit the audience. Most arguments combine more than one form of
Emotion: This aims to generate feelings/reactions in the audience.
Although this is the weakest form of logical argument, it can be used very
effectively if presented well. This is sometimes referred to as "Pathos".
Values: This aims to generate feelings/reactions/action based on
a set of values common to the audience. It says, " If you believe this,
you should ...." This is a very effective appeal if targeted to the audience.
Character: This aims to generate acceptance based on the source
of the claim and evidence. This is very effective if the source is considered
an expert or is well respected. This is sometimes referred to as "Ethos".
Facts & Reason: This aims to convince via logical argument.
It relies heavily on "objective" data and interpretation. It is considered
the strongest form of argument. This is sometimes referred to as "Logos".
Fallacies, or Flawed Lines of Argument
A fallacy is a flawed argument. However, this does not mean the claim is
inherently "wrong". Rather, the structure of the argument is faulty. Writers
avoid fallacies to keep their claims well supported. Audiences watch for
fallacies to better judge a claim. A "good" claim may look "bad" under
a faulty argument
Kinds of Fallacies:
Ad Hominem/Straw Man: "To the Man", a claim based on irrelevant
attacks on a source's character
Bandwagon Appeals: "Everyone else is doing it"
Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning: A claim based on the same
grounds that are debated
Biased Language: Reliance on words/phrases with strong positive/negative
Dogmatism: A claim based on expected acceptance within a given community
Either/Or Choices: Reducing an argument to only two choices, oversimplification
Equivocation: A false claim misrepresented in deceptive language,
False Authority: A claim based on an unqualified expert
Faulty Analogy: Reliance on innaccurate/inconsequential comparison
of objects or concepts
Faulty Causality :Unwarranted assumption that because one event
follow another, the first caused the second, superstition
Generalization: A claim based on an inference drawn from insufficient
Moral Equivalence: Failure to distinguish between serious issues/problems
and less important issues/problems
Non-Sequitur: Illogical connections between claims and reasons,
one point does not follow another
Red Herring: An argument that brings in irrelevant issues as evidence
Scare Tactics: Reliance on exaggerated threats or dangers
Sentimentality: Reliance on excessive emotion
Slippery Slope: An argument that suggests a relatively unimportant
action will have serious adverse consequences in the future
Written By: George Knox © 1999