17 Toulmin Argument

In simplified terms this is the argument of “I am right and you are wrong.” In this form of argument the arguer moves forward with their claim, also referred to as a thesis, of what they are trying to accomplish. The Toulmin argument adds additional detail and some new concepts to the basic argument such as warrants, backing, and rebuttal.



The claim or thesis must be very clear and concise because it sets up the entire paper. Questions that a good claim might answer are:
  • What issue/topic are you writing about?
  • Why are you writing about it? What has happened or needs to happen?
  • How will you write about the issue? What will the major points of your paper be?
  • Why should we care about this argument? How will you get the attention of the average person? This is often referred to as the greater purpose or warrant in that in takes the argument and broadens its appeal to readers by generalizing it.
  • Other points that might be included:
  • Who is being addressed if relevant?
  • When or time period if relevant to issue?
  • Where if the location is relevant to issue?

So now that we know what the parts are we can practice building a thesis. Here is a way to get started:

  • What issue: Social Media
  • Why write about it: Dangers to Young Adults
  • How will I write about it:  Provide evidence that shows the dangers of social media by examining the time young adults spend on social media, cyber bullying and teen suicide.
  • Why should we care about this argument: it is the responsibility of adults to ensure that young adults are kept safe and out of harms way.

So the basic starting thesis would look something like this:

Social media has become a serious danger to young adults which can be seen through an examination of the amount of time spent on social media sites, the occurrences of cyber bullying and the increase of teen suicides leading to younger generations being sacrificed to technology.  
This is your starting thesis so nothing is set into concrete yet…and its okay to modify it as you conduct your research or find better points to use to proves your claim.
The claim or thesis is found in the introduction section or the first paragraph of the essay. Other items that may be included in this paragraph may include a grabber to capture the reader and make them want to read on. Also background information for the reader on the issue. Not everyone has the same understanding of a term so it may need to be explained. In our example of Social Media, this term may mean different things to different people so that should be explained in the introduction. This will also help in the presentation of the claim/thesis.
** For more help, here is a PowerPoint Presentation on Thesis Building that takes you through the process step by step :  Writing a Thesis Statement


The next part of our argument and the most in depth is the evidence that supports our claim. We are basically saying in our argument that the reader should agree with us because of XYZ where XYZ is the evidence. It is often said that the heart of any argument is the evidence. The key is to use evidence that is accurate, current, fair or unbiased which makes it credible to support the claim.  Also, the evidence has to be presented accurately because the reader is simply not going to believe you unless you are some form of subject matter expert, which you probably are not, so we need to have the experts speak for you.
Here is an example for you to judge which sounds more credible:
(A) As to the dangers of the flu, Dr. Jones, a specialist in contagious diseases from the University of XYZ states that, “10 out of 15 people have the potential for catching the flu and 2 out of 15 can potentially have a life threatening reaction.”
(B) As to the dangers of the flu, I read where a lot of people have the potential to catch the flu and some might even die.
So which would you pick? Well (A) of course…I hope. Remember that Logos-Ethos-Pathos discussion earlier? The Logos is the numbers or percentages. Ethos is established by the medical degree and position of the source provider. Pathos or emotional aspect deals with life and death or the safety and well being of individuals. You take this evidence and incorporate it within your body paragraphs and include an introductory sentence which usually ties back to the claim and a concluding sentence which ties back to that greater purpose or warrant we discussed. If you do this you will have a great evidence paragraph.
Often times it is asked how many evidence paragraphs should one have? The usual answer is as many as you need to prove your claim. However in Composition you will be limited to a certain number of pages or word count for the entire paper so you will have to choose the best or strongest evidence possible that you can fit within these confines.


Another part of this basic argument is called a rebuttal. IT USUALLY CONTAINS two PARTS: (1) addresses the main opposing point of view to the writer’s position. This demonstrates that you understand what that position is and helps develop your own credibility as the writer. (2) After you discuss the opposing view, next you provide evidence that casts doubt on that view suggesting that the other position might not be correct. The evidence does not have to prove that the other side is completely wrong; it only needs to suggest that there may be some doubt with the point of view based upon the evidence offered.
Rebuttal Example: (Part 1) Many individuals believe that social media has improved communications skills through the abundance of methods to communicate such as instant messages, texting and chat rooms. (Part 2) Although part of this may be correct, Dr. Jones from Independent University department of on line studies states that, “Increasing ways to communicate as also brought more ways to bully or ridicule as well. Overall there has been a 15% increase in the number of reported bullying type incidents.”


As with any other essay, there will be a conclusion that reminds the reader what the point of the paper was, summarizes your essay and clearly shows how you proved your claim. Critical thinking should also be demonstrated by showing how your topic is connected to other issues or has deeper underlying causes that should be explored. For example, let’s say your essay was about the obesity epidemic. One way to critically look at this might be to link the unhealthy eating habits to a society that requires you to work more in order to be successful to societal norms and therefore is forcing the way of life and therefore contributing to the epidemic.
Other areas that may be required in the Toulmin argument are up to the instructor’s discretion. Some of these areas might be:


Warrant: is the basic/common or underlying principle that your essay can be linked to. It usually ties back to the WHY CARE aspect in the thesis or claim. For example, let’s say that your essay was about the dangers of social media use by young adults. So everyone may not care about social media use, but most people would care about keeping young adults safe and away from danger because that is a natural instinct embedded in the human psyche. You may also want to look at the Maslow’s basic needs (things we ALL need) to get a better understanding as well. See below.
Image result for maslow triangle
Citation: McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
So safety and security becomes the main principle of the essay so that we can keep audience size as large as possible. You want this concept or “need” to resonate throughout the essay. The reader should always feel its presence even when not mentioned directly. There will never be a way to get EVERYONE to agree or care about the issue you are writing about; however, a well established warrant WILL increase the size of your audience in most cases.


The Backing is simply evidence that supports the warrant and only the warrant. So in the example just given it would support the fact that we should do everything in our power to keep young adults safe, but not address the social media issue. Remember that not everyone may care about social media but they will probably care about the safety and security issue.
An example of backing in this case might look like:
It is an inherent nature to want to protect fellow human beings from harm or danger. Oftentimes people will subject themselves to danger in order to protect their family or younger people in general. In a PEW study conducted in 2015, it showed a “10% increase in injuries to older people in the act of protecting another family member and a 7% increase in protecting a non family member.”
Remember to support your warrant and not the idea of the essay. In argument there are very few certainties but MANY possibilities.  Explore them to find the idea or concept that will really resonate for your audience.


Qualifiers is referring to primary language and its use in making statement. They are words used to soften your position to make the proposed fix more acceptable. It suggests that the writer knows that there are other possibilities or contingencies rather than discussing them with certainty.
Suppose your initial claim suggested that we remove ALL of X from XYZ. Your qualifier may be that we remove only certain forms of X rather than all of them depending on the conditions present.
So for example let’s take a statement: All job searchers that take the most time to prepare for an interview always get the job.
Can this really be said with certainty? Probably not because there will be exceptions. So words like All, most time and always need to changed to some or a few, or other words that would acknowledge the fact there will be other exceptions.
Remember to check the assignment sheet for exactly what your instructor wants in your Toulmin argument!


Example Paper: (may vary by instructor)

John Doe

Instructor: Jane Smith

English 102 Section # XXXXX

Essay Type: Toulmin Argument

28 September, 201X

Far Better or Maybe for the Worse?

Introduction: (GRABBER) Once upon a time and happily thereafter are terms that we are all familiar with and have even grown accustomed to.  Likewise many people imagine their future marriage that will allow them to spend the rest of their life with their soul mate. (BACKGROUND) However, almost all people in this day know of at least one marriage that has failed due to various circumstances. In  2014 divorce has become such a frequent result of marriages that people should be wondering why marriages are failing in the first place. Divorce is not always simply the result of failed  love. (THESIS) Divorce tends to be the result of high assumptions of economic provision, lack of expected health quality, or infertility within marriages that couples may seek standards that are unreachable for even the strongest loves and dissolve the bedrock of modern day society .

Evidence 1: (TOPIC SENTENCE TIES TO THESIS POINT)  Upon entering a marriage, the newlyweds each have their own beliefs that their personal economic and education standards will be met. (INTRODUCE SOURCE) People say that money is not  everything when it comes to love, but statistics from  research by scholars Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt of Metero University report that harder economic times have had an impact. The percentage of a lasting first marriage differs among education levels with those “highly educated”, or obtaining at minimum a bachelor’s degree, with 56% intact, those “moderately educated”, or those with a high school diploma, with 45%, and “least educated”, or those who did not complete high school, with 39% (Wilcox and Marquardt). The chance of divorce also changes among these standards as “highly educated” having an 11% chance of divorce within 10 years, “moderately educated” with a 37% chance and “least educated” with a 36% chance (Wilcox and Marquardt ). (TIEBACK TO THESIS POINT) Clearly depicted through the documented studies, the education status correlates directly with income conditions .  (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN FOR PAPER)This imbalance shows staggering evidence of a marital divide that also affecting marriage and the very fabric of that binds our society together.

Evidence 2: (TOPIC SENTENCE TIES TO THESIS POINT) Although many wedding vows include the promise that the couple will be there in sickness and in health, this pledge to one another can be tested if a spouse is later diagnosed with a chronic illness that puts a strain on the ideal relationship . (INTRODUCE SOURCE) Research specialist and Social Family Advocate Recipient, Alexnadra Sifferlin, reviewed a 2010 study from the University of Michigan of 2,717 couples and found that “31% of marriages involving at least one sick partner end in divorce” (Sifferlin). (TIEBACK TO THESIS POINT)Although this percentage seems low, taken in a different angle, this means that a little over 3 out of every 10 marriages facing medical issues ends in divorce . With emerging diseases yearly, the category of couples with health problems will only increase, therefore this statistic will apply to more of the population . (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN FOR PAPER)Once embedded onto a host, this terminal illness will eat away at the foundation of family and society.

Evidence 3: (TOPIC SENTENCE TIES TO THESIS POINT) A common goal of many marriages is to produce children to fulfill an idea of a family; but what if this dream cannot be fulfilled due to infertility? (INTRODUCE SOURCE) Erica Berman, a doctor in psychology with over thirty-five years experience, states infertility can “create a substantial financial burden for people; it can destroy a couple’s intimacy; it can cause serious significant emotional distress and interfere with everyday functioning”  (Berman). (TIEBACK TO THESIS POINT)The emotional effects of this incapability to provide what was expected can become a divide in marriages with blame felt on either side of the situation. (GREATER PURPOSE OR LARGER CONCERN FOR PAPER) If the relationship is built on the foundation to reproduce as an outpouring symbol of their love, couples can feel as if they have lost their identity as a pair and the definition of a family when this is not a possibility and therefore feeling left out and potentially withdrawing from society.

Rebuttal: (THE OTHER POINT OF VIEW) There are circumstances during which divorces are solely the result of lack of intimacy, passion or commitment. Perhaps a wrong choice is made at too young of an age or in a moment of idealistic passion . (THE WEAKNESS OF THE OTHER POINT OF VIEW) However, the absence of these sentimental connections can be “rooted within the broader emotion of resentment that has underlying causes which are greater than a sudden change of heart” (Pilossoph).  Even marriages that have intentions to endlessly love one another can be damaged by societal demands of a basic standard of living and initial dreams that are broken by unforeseen situations.

Warrant/Backing: (DISCUSSES THE WARRANT–NOT THE TOPIC OF THE PAPER) People with long-term commitment to others provide communities with healthier and more productive individuals that contribute to society positively . Those that have made the continuous responsibility to one another “are 1.3 times more likely to participate in volunteer opportunities to promote the welfare of others” (Keyes).  Further Cohen reports that people who make an abiding promise to stand by another person through any circumstance “tend to report higher life satisfaction and lower psychological distress than single people.”  Clearly the suggestion of higher life satisfaction can make a stronger bedrock of society.

Conclusion: (RESTATE FOCUS-THESIS) With marriages lacking commitment to promises made during wedding ceremonies to take their partner for life, society needs to begin to set the example for future marriages that divorce should not be the easy outcome when the future does not unfold as planned. (SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE) Social classes have been placed at odds in yet another dimension with dramatic differences in the expectancy of success in marriage. As health conditions impact adults of various ages, these medical concerns become weights on the potential for a long-term marriage. The expectation of children to create a family has left infertile spouses to create a break in a relationship due to feelings of inadequacy . (CRITICAL THINKING) Since divorce is a high trend in recent years, couples considering marriage should evaluate mistakes of past marriages in order to prevent unreachable standards and prepare to stick with the vows made to be together “for better or worse” in order to create a future with higher standards of commitment so that society has the chance to live happily thereafter.


(Don’t forget your works cited list!)




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book