The Great Debate

What Exactly IS an Argument?

An Argument Is NOT...

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  • A shouting match
  • Factual statements that aren't debatable
  • An opinionated dispute of ideas without any real evidence to support the ideas
  • Ideas that are illogical
  • Information that is completely one-sided and that ignores real evidence

An Argument Is...

  • An author's feelings about a topic (claim)
  • Supported by evidence
  • Often (but not always) includes a counterclaim
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Claims of fact or definition

  • What is it?
  • What is it like?
  • How should it be classified or organized?
  • How should it be interpreted?
  • How does its usual meaning change when the context changes?
  • Did it happen?
  • Is it true?
  • How do we know this?

Claims about cause or effect

  • What caused it?
  • Where did it come from?
  • What are the effects?
  • What probably will be the results on a short or long term basis?

Claims of value

  • How bad is it? How good is it?
  • Is it moral? Is it immoral?
  • What is it worth?
  • Who says so?
  • What do these people value?
  • Is it more important than something else? Is it less important than something else?

Claims about problem or solution

  • What should we do about...?
  • How should we act?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What course of action should we pursue?
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Statistical evidence

Every time you use numbers to prove a point, you are using statistics:

  • "4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum"
  • "Over 1 billion served"

Testimonial evidence

Every time you use an expert to prove a point, you are using testimony:

  • An eyewitness to a crime
  • A doctor to describe side effects of a medication

Anecdotal evidence

Every time you use a personal account or story to prove a point, you are using anecdotes:

  • An athlete's story of staying in school instead of dropping out
  • A child's struggle with asthma to discuss the effects of smoking

Analogical evidence

Every time you compare your claim to another similar claim, you are using analogies:

  • The benefits of a football team studying its plays compared to math students studying formulas
  • Predicting the possible sale price of a house based on the sale price of similar houses in the area

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Counterclaims (or counterarguments) are not always included in every written argument; but they are very powerful:

  • They demonstrate the the author has considered the opposing side
  • They can be used to show that one claim does not have to be WRONG to be worse
  • They can be used to stop the reader from disagreeing without finishing reading