When we disagree about an issue, care deeply about an outcome, or try to convince others of the validity of our approach, we often resort to argument. Argument as it is depicted on television and experienced in times of stress or conflict carries with it many negative connotations of anger, high emotion, and even irrationality. But each of us also makes arguments every day, and in settings that help us become more rational, better informed, and more clearly understood. Arguments help us to gather information from our own experience and that of others, to make judgments based on evidence, and to marshal information toward sound conclusions. Argument is appropriate when we seek understanding or agreement, when we want to solve a problem or answer a question, and when we want others to act or think in ways we deem beneficial, suitable, or necessary. Argument also comes in handy when we seek to convince, persuade, or produce change in our audience, and when circumstances require trust, respect, belief in our evidence or agreement with our reasoning.
Argument is everywhere—on television and radio, in politics and publications, and also in our day-to-day decisions about what to have for dinner, when to schedule the next meeting, and who should walk the family dog. As Colomb and Williams point out, the common notion that argument must be combative is built into our very language: opposing sides “attack,” “defend,” “hold off,” “triumph,” “struggle,” “crush” objections and “slaughter” competitors. On the other hand, in order to use argument as productive and collaborative communication, we must certainly find a way to transcend the vocabulary of argument-as-war. We must negotiate the audience’s needs along with the speaker’s agenda.
Argument is also about conversation. Although sometimes we forget, the best arguments are a forum for:
Productive argumentation starts with a problem. It makes us realize why we have an interest in seeing that problem solved. It also claims a solution, convincing its audience of the validity of that solution with evidence and reasons that it will accept.
The LRS focus on argumentation raises writers’ and readers’ awareness of:
Argument structure also helps writers to avoid:
To prepare to make an effective argument you must first:
Now you can begin to imagine what it will take to convince your audience. What evidence, methods, or models do they expect? What conventions must you follow to win approval?
The questions that lead to your topic, broadly conceived, also steer you toward what The Craft of Argument formalizes in the Five Parts of Argument.
We learn that, at bottom, an argument is just a claim and its support:
REASON therefore CLAIM
CLAIM because of REASON.
Your claim is your main point. It should either be clearly conceptual (seeking to change how we think) or clearly pragmatic (seeking to change how we act). Claims should, by definition, require good reasons. Audiences should be able to disagree with your claim and, by extension, to be convinced and converted by your evidence.
Most arguers know from experience that reasons and evidence help to convince audiences. In the simplest terms, reasons answer the question: “Why are you making that claim?” Evidence offers tangible support for reasons. When stating reasons, always be aware of your audience. You will need to choose the reasons that support your evidence that are also the most likely to convince your specific readers or listeners. Knowing the general values and priorities of your readers will help you to determine what they will count as compelling reasons. Knowing what kind of arguments and evidence they will expect from you will guide you in choosing reasons that meet those expectations. Tailor your appeal to the specific needs and acknowledged concerns of your reading community, because arguments are always audience specific. Evidence should be reliable and based upon authoritative and trustworthy research and sources. It should be appropriately cited, and ample enough to convince. Evidence should also be designed to appeal to your target audience’s values and priorities.
The words “reason” and “evidence” are much more familiar to most students of written and oral argument than the term “warrant.” But reasons and evidence are most powerful when they are utilized within the structure of argument we have been discussing. To be convincing, the reasons and evidence you present in support of your claim need to be connected through warrants. Warrants express a general belief or principle in a way that influences or explains our judgments in specific cases.
Take, for example, the old saying:
“Measure twice, cut once.”
Expressing as it does a general belief or principle— that when you take the time to do a thing properly, you don’t make mistakes— the saying provides a viable warrant for an argument like:
“It is never a good idea to hurry a task. [Reason] [Connected by the beliefs and assumptions expressed by the warrant to the supporting evidence that] Careless mistakes take longer to fix than it would to do things right the first time.” [Evidence]
Warrants express justifying principles, shared beliefs, or general assumptions. They are the spoken or unspoken logic that connects your reasons to your evidence. Warrants take many forms, but Williams and Colomb emphasize that they always have or imply two parts:
Warrants often take the form: Whenever X, then Y. For example, take the commonly held belief expressed by the old saying “When it rains, it pours.” The same sentiment and set of assumptions could be described by the general truism “If one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong.” Whether implied or explicit, and whether it takes the form of a general observation or a cultural belief, a warrant states a broader principle that can be applied in a particular case to justify the thinking behind an argument.
Warrants connect your Reasons to your Claim in logical ways. Whether a warrant is assumed or implied, it is still crucial that the audience be able to recognize your warrant and be able to determine that they agree with or accept your warrant.
Consider a case when an audience might not accept your argument unless it first accepts your warrant. Take, for example, the following discussion between a mother and her child.
Child (To mother): “I need new shoes.”
Mother: “But why, what are your reasons?”
Child:“Because all the other kids have them” X
Child: “Because red is “in” this season and my shoes are blue.” X
Mother: “Sorry, but I don’t accept your argument that you need new shoes.”
Above all, warrants require common ground. In the example above, the success of the child’s argument depends upon his mother’s sharing the values and assumptions upon which the argument for new shoes is based.
Productive argument will require that the child find, and address, some common belief or assumption about what constitutes “need.” While his mother might not be influenced by peer pressure or style trends, she probably does share a set of values that would ultimately lead to agreement (Common Ground).
Consider a situation in which the child’s previous reasons had not convinced his mother to accept his argument, and we can see how compelling reasons and evidence can be developed alongside shared warrants.
Child: “I need new shoes because these ones have holes in them and it’s the rainy season.” √
Mother: “Well why didn’t you say so?! I agree that you shouldn’t be walking around with wet feet!”
We are most likely to accept an argument when we share a warrant. In this case, it is unstated, but implied:
Warrant= When shoes no longer protect the feet from stones and weather, it is time to buy new ones.
There is another way to look at warrants that don’t necessarily fit a certain mold. If you believe in a general principle stated about general circumstances (for example, “People who fall asleep at work probably aren’t getting enough sleep at home.”), then you are likely to link a specific instance (of nodding off at your computer) with a specific conclusion (that you haven’t gotten adequate rest). Warrants here can be defined as general truths that lead us to accepted conclusions.
Acknowledgement and Response can be included in your argument in order to
Brainstorm useful concessions to potential dissenters by thinking about the difficulties or questions your argument is likely to produce. Within your argument, acknowledgements and responses often begin with: “To be sure,” “admittedly,” “some have claimed,” etc. Concessions allow the writer to predict problems that might weaken an argument and respond with rebuttals and reassessments. Acknowledgement and response frequently employs terms like “but,” “however,” “on the other hand,” etc.
After you have sketched out your full argument, and even after you have drafted the entire piece of writing, you should revisit your claim. Ask yourself: Does the claim still introduce and frame the discussion that follows? Are there elements of the claim that need to be revised? Built upon? Eliminated? Explained?
Consider the specific needs and perspectives of your audience and select reasons that will connect to their priorities and motivations. Make sure that you provide ample reasons for each claim or subclaim you assert. Order your reasons in a way that is logical and compelling: Depending on your argument, you may want to lead with your best reason or save your strongest reason for last. Finally, ask yourself whether any essential evidence is missing from your discussion of the problem.
If there are authorities to appeal to, experts who agree, or compelling facts that support your argument, make sure you have included them in full. Whether you are speaking from experience, research, or reading, make sure to situate yourself firmly in your field. Create confidence in your authority and establish the trustworthiness of your account.
If you can’t articulate the connection between what you claim and why you believe the audience should accept your assertion, your readers probably can’t either! Good warrants often take the form of assumptions shared by individuals, communities or organizations. They stem from a shared culture, experience, or perspective. If understanding your claim means sharing a particular set of beliefs or establishing common ground with your reader, make sure your argument takes time to do so.
Gracefully acknowledge potential objections when it can produce trust and reinforce the fairness and authority of your perspective. Try to anticipate the difficulties that different types of readers might have with your evidence or reasoning
By way of conclusion, we can revisit the issue of method. LRS encourages thinking about the parts of argument in order to produce logic that is
Argument structures comprehension by giving readers a framework within which to understand a given discussion. Argument supplies criteria for judgment, and connects reasons with claims through implicit or explicit warrants. Sometimes, crafting a good argument is as simple as asking yourself three basic questions:
When you set about answering these questions using the five parts of argument, you will hone introductions and thesis statements to make clear and precise claims, make relevant costs and benefits explicit, and connect reasons and evidence through shared and compelling warrants.
Examples taken or adapted from: