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.
The Toulmin method is an informal method of reasoning. Created by the British philosopher Stephen Toulmin it involves the grounds (data), claim, and warrant of an argument. These three parts of the argument are all necessary to support a good argument. The grounds are the evidence used to prove a claim. The warrant is the assumption or principle that connects the grounds to the claim. All three parts are critical to achieving rhetorical analysis.
For an example: "Harry was born in Bermuda, so Harry must be a British subject."
In the above sentence, the phrase "Harry was born in Bermuda" is the data. This is evidence to support the claim. The claim in the sentence above is "Harry must be a British subject." The warrant is not explicitly stated in this sentence; it is implied. The warrant is something like this, "A man born in Bermuda will be a British subject." It is not necessary to state the warrant in a sentence. Usually, one explains the warrant in following sentences. Other times, like in the sentence above, the speaker of the sentence assumes the listener already knows the fact that all people born in Bermuda are British subjects.
Another example: "Steve bought apple juice for himself, so he must like apple juice."
This argument provides the data, claim, and warrant. The data would be the fact that Steve bought apple juice for himself. The claim is that Steve must like apple juice. The warrant is that people who buy apple juice, drink it, which means that they must like it, or else they wouldn't drink it. Again, the warrant is considered background knowledge and unnecessary to repeat in the argument. If one were to expound this argument, however, it would be helpful to explain the warrant.
An author usually will not bother to explain the warrant because it is too obvious. It is usually an assumption or a generalization. However, the author must make sure the warrant is clear because the reader must understand the author's assumptions and why the author assumes these opinions. An example of an argument with an unclear warrant is like this: "Drug abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Therefore, the United States must help destroy drug production in Latin America." This may leave the reader confused. By inserting the warrant in between the data and the claim, though, would make the argument clearer. Something like, "As long as drugs are manufactured in Latin America, they will be smuggled into the United States, and drug abuse will continue." This phrase makes clear why the evidence relates to the claim. One must be cautious as to deciding whether or not to include the warrant in the argument because flaws in the argument could be obvious.
Backing, rebuttals, and qualifiers are also typical additions to this argument. The backing is added logic or reasoning that may be needed to convince the audience and further support the warrant if it is not initially accepted. Rebuttals are used as a preemptive method against any counter-arguments. These acknowledge the limits of the claim, considering certain conditions where it would not hold true. Usually following is a counter-argument or presentation of new evidence to further support the original claim. Qualifiers are words that quantify the argument. They include words such as 'most', 'usually', 'always', 'never', 'absolutely' or 'sometimes'. These can either strongly assert arguments or make them vague and uncertain.
- "Reasoning." The Bedford Reader. By X.J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Jane E. Aaron. Ed. Denise B. Wydra and Karen S. Henry. 9th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006. p. 519-522.
- The Uses of Argument. By Stephen Toulmin. Cambridge At the University Press, 1958.