16 The What-Why-How of Argument

What is it?

An argument occurs when there are DIFFERING points of view on a particular issue. For example, let’s take the issue of gun control, there are many different arguments on those for gun control, those against it and those that are somewhere in the middle. Hence gun control is a controversial topic…which is key for an argument because if there is no controversy, there can be no argument. As we all know, there are many issues that have controversies associated with them. Some have been around for a very long time such as abortion, gun control, the death penalty…etc. Yet others are relatively new such as artificial intelligence, gender identification, social media…etc. The bottom line is as long as people populate the world, there will always be issues that they will not agree on.  Learning how to understand as well as write arguments is key to understanding how society works and functions.
Arguments generally take the shape of either a Toulmin argument or a Rogerian form of argument. In Toulmin you are arguing for your point of view. In Rogerian you are trying to find common ground to get the opposing sides to be able to reach some form of accommodation so that they can work together. Both concepts will be discussed more thoroughly in the next sections

Why do we do it?

Those that believe in a particular point of view on an issue will argue their position and suggest why you should agree with them or for you to take some form of action based upon the argument presented.  Let’s say you are trying to get an audience of fellow students to start a movement to change a particular course grading system.
  • First, you would put together a list of reasons on why the current system is not correct and should be changed. You then present this argument to those that need to hear it (fellow students, teachers, administrators…etc) your audience, in the hope that they will agree with your reasoning.
  • Once you have convinced them that they should agree with you then you can develop another argument as to what should be done; some suggested course of action that should be taken to fix the problem.

How do we do it?

Now comes the tough part…the art of putting together successful arguments. I mention the word “art” because writing a strong argument is almost a form of art that started way back in the era of Socrates and Plato. Anyone can argue but to write a strong argument requires work and critical thinking/reading about a lot of different aspects. In the sections that follow, you will see the structure and organization of the major forms of argument.
Refresher on the Rhetorical Appeals: Before we can argue effectively we need to refresh our thoughts about the three basic concepts associated with writing good arguments: The Rhetorical Appeals of Logos-Ethos-Pathos.
    • refers to solid reasoning which usually takes the shape or form of numerical data, statistics, logical supporting points…etc. It can also include personal experience or expert testimony.
    • refers to the credibility of your sources as well as you and the way you present the information. What makes your sources believable? Is it education, experience…etc.  Do you present the information fairly in that you consider more than just one point of view? Do you counter opposing views reasonably?

    Lastly is which is the emotional aspect of reasoning. Most arguments can be associated with the emotional desires of “want” or “need.”  Personal anecdotes are one method making emotional appeals. Emotion is a powerful tool but one must be careful not to overwhelm the reader with it.


Having all three of the appeals working for you places you in the best position of having your argument listened to. One must think of these Rhetorical Appeals as tools by which we build our argument. How well you use the appeals decides on whether or not your argument will be accepted.


Assumptions: are underlying beliefs used as reasoning in arguments.  Assumptions may be like opinions in that everyone possess different ones so finding assumptions that are universally accepted can be challenging. One might suggest that “all murder is wrong,” however others might form the assumption that some murder might be justified under certain conditions.”
Premises: are the stated assumptions used as the “reasons” in an argument.
Syllogisms: is when two premises are tied together to produce a conclusion. See example under deduction.
Deduction: a mental process that people uses to move from one statement to another. The most common example is:
  • All human beings are mortal.
  • Socrates is a human being.
  • Socrates is therefore mortal.

Induction: is the process by which we take an observation and apply it to other cases in order to reach some form of conclusion.
An example might be:

  • If we observe that the bite of a blue lizard is fatal.
  • We might infer from that observation that all blue lizards bites are fatal.
  • To go even further, one might generalize that all lizard bites may be fatal.
Next we discuss the foundation and structure of arguments.

The Basic Argument

The concept of a basic argument consists of a simple claim with reasons or evidence. As you move forward in your studies in composition and argument, you will learn about the more advanced forms of argument, the Toulmin and Rogerian, which contain additional parts and will be discussed later in this chapter.  For now let’s focus on just the basic structure of an argument of claim and evidence.


At a minimum, in order for the reader to understand what you are doing, you must provide a claim/thesis which should consist of answers to the following questions:
  1. What are you examining? (2) Why are you looking at the issue? (3) How will you show the reader what you need to?

A sample claim/thesis might look something like this: Example: (WHAT) Global warming (WHY) is creating a dangerous environment by (HOW) rising temperatures, shifting winds and higher water levels.

Once a claim has been established, the arguer now needs to add reasons why we should believe them which are the evidence portion of an argument.
** For more help, here is a PowerPoint Presentation on Thesis Building that takes you through the process step by step : Writing a Thesis Statement  
Just review the What-Why-How areas for now–the rest will be used later on.




Evidence needs to be shown (give the evidence to the reader rather than just telling them about it) that supports the HOW or the reasons section of your argument. In this case the writer needs to produce information from credible (reliable, trustworthy, unbiased…etc) sources that shows the rising temperatures, shifting winds and higher water levels. Specifically the reader needs to know WHO is saying it? WHAT exactly are they saying? HOW does it relate to the claim?
Example: Dr. Indiana Jones, Phd in environmental sciences and instructor at Hogwarts University states in his report, “The rising temperatures documented from 1910 to present show a clear pattern of consistently increasing,” leading to crop damage due to heat and drought conditions.
In the example the reader is “SHOWN” the evidence which supports the authors claim. Note the direct correlation to the claim point and how the evidence helps support it. In addition there will usually be a topic and concluding sentence included with each paragraph. The writer would continue to produce evidence for the reader for every aspect stated in the claim or thesis.


Any written work requires a conclusion and an argument is no different. The purpose in summarizing your argument by telling the reader what it was you set out to do. This is usually accomplished by restating your claim idea.  Next would be a summary of the evidence and how it works toward proving your claim.
An example: (The Idea) Test taking has long been the measure by which we judge the intelligence and capability of people. Yet the question looms as to whether or not this is the most effective way in which to measure potential achievement.  (Evidence) As shown through experience of students, the observation of researchers and other studies performed on this area, (Proved your claim) many will agree that the current system has problems in that one test does not always reflect a true measurement of ability of a person. We see much better performance when the stressful environment has been removed and student are allowed to interact and communicate freely with testers.
There may also be other required parts assigned by your instructor so make sure you check the assignment sheet.

Example Paper (may vary by instructor)

John Doe

Professor Jane Doe

English 101 Section XXXX

Basic Argument

14 July 2019

Keep the Number Away!

Introduction: (GRABBER) Many of us hate the day when we are ushered into a room and told to sit there and wait for the word: “Begin.” We look at the blank piece of paper and wish that it would fill up with the right kind of answers .  (Background) Test taking, the process by which students are given a form of measure to test their knowledge on a particular subject has long been the way by which individuals are judged to be qualified for a degree, job or some form of position. But there is much debate about the usefulness of the information obtained.  (THESIS) The dangers of test taking can be examined by looking at examples of the pressure associated with the event, changes in behavior and the negative effects we will see the potential pitfalls that can be encountered by people because of placing so much emphasis on a single number.

Evidence 1: (TOPIC SENTENCE-TIES TO THESIS POINT) Many people have been in that room and felt the pressure that test taking can place on an individual . This physical and psychological pressure results in a portrayal of knowledge that may not be an accurate indication of what a person truly knows about a subject. (SOURCE INTRODUCTION) Dr. White, from the Test Research Center at the University of Kansas with a doctorate in Education with a focus on evaluation and simulation of testing environments  states, “Stressed by time and other constraints of the testing environment, students are forced into a performance that does not accurately reflect correctly what could be produced in a non-stressed environment and therefore results in skewed and inaccurate results .”  (TIES BACK TO THESIS POINT) This statement suggests the effect that the pressure can have on an accurate test result.   (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN OF PAPER) However these results are used as a benchmark for further education and employment and can set an individual on a path that they may not be able to change.

Evidence 2: (TOPIC SENTENCE-TIES TO THESIS POINT) Behavior is often a true gauge of measurement as to effectiveness of a methodology.  (SOURCE INTRODUCTION) Researcher John Smith of Yake University, a professor of twenty years of standing, publishing credits known for unbiased and careful assertions and possessing a PhD in testing and certifications recently studied a class testing environment . It was noted by a team of researchers under his supervision that when studying the testing environment that “a student’s behavior changed significantly once they entered the testing room,” (Smith). Further, prior to entering the room and before the test began, conversation exchange was fluid and dynamic. Once inside the testing area, communication became:  “50% less as well as chaotic and random” (Smith).   (TIES BACK TO THESIS POINT) This data supports that there is some form of communicative breakdown that occurs once a student enters into the perceived testing area and contributes to lower interaction and less positive stimulation and therefore lower test scores. (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN FOR PAPER) Once again we can see how the score or assigned number can injure a person’s self-esteem when dealing with a test of knowledge leading to further damage of their psyche.

Evidence 3: (TOPIC SENTENCE-TIES TO THESIS POINT) If there was any doubt about the negative affect that test taking can have on an individual’s performance the research has shown otherwise . (SOURCE INTRODUCTION) In tests conducted by Dr. Jones, a senior member and scholar emeritus of the Holmes and Jamison Institute, a leading research facility in the United States for the past twenty-five years : “3 out of 5 students performed higher in knowledge and ability when they were in a stress free environment” (Jones). (TIES BACK TO THESIS POINT) In further studies, it was also suggested that once the parameters for the testing had been changed more students performed not only above the “anticipated range but even 25% higher” (Jones).  (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN FOR PAPER) These tests suggest that the removal of the stressful environment not only helps but also raises the level of performance and thereby giving a more accurate depiction of student knowledge and ability.

Conclusion : (RESTATE MAIN IDEA OF PAPER-THESIS) Test taking has long been the measure by which we judge the intelligence and capability of people. Yet the question looms as to whether or not this is the most effective way in which to measure potential achievement.    (SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE) As shown through experience of students, the observation of researchers and other studies performed on this area, many will agree that the current system has problems in that one test does not always reflect a true measurement of ability of a person. We see much better performance when the stressful environment has been removed and student are allowed to interact and communicate freely with testers . (CRITICAL THINKING-GREATER EFFECT) Until we remove the false parameters that testing is conducted under then we continue to live a lie and allow knowledge and talent to be disregarded and loss hopes for a prosperous future all because of a single number.

(Don’t forget your works cited list!)





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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers; Anthony Ruggiero; and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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