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:

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 a teenager.

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 appeals 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 appeal.

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:

The Quick and Easy Guides for Writers

Written By: George Knox © 1999