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Identifying and Evaluating Arguments

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An argument differs from a description, a statement of belief or opinion, a hypothetical scenario, a command, or a mere set of facts. While each of these may have its own intents and purposes, an argument uses a series of statements to convince a listener or reader that certain facts, conditions, or positions are true.

Premises and Conclusions

An argument’s premise is an initial or foundational statement or assumption that sets forth the reason or evidence, and from which the conclusion of the argument follows. Often, the premises and the conclusions of an argument can be identified by the use of key words or phrases.

The following words and phrases might indicate a premise:

  • since
  • as
  • given that
  • in that
  • as indicated by
  • because
  • for
  • for the reason that
  • in as much as
  • owing to
  • may be inferred from
  • seeing that

The following words and phrases might indicate a conclusion :

  • therefore
  • accordingly
  • entails that
  • we may conclude
  • hence
  • thus
  • it must be that
  • it follows that
  • consequently
  • implies that
  • so
  • as a result

Useful Questions for Evaluating an Argument

1. What assumptions does the writer make?

Does the writer assume that you will come to the text with certain knowledge, or that you will share certain of his or her values?

2. Does the writer have an agenda?

If the writer has a particular political slant, for example, where does it show through in the
argument? Does it sway or influence his or her interpretations of the evidence? How?

3. How does the author use language?

What is the writer’s tone of voice? Are there specific words that you find intriguing, effective, ineffective, or downright bizarre? Are there specific rhetorical “moves” being made, effectively or ineffectively?

4. How convincing is the writer’s evidence?

Does it come from trustworthy and credible sources? Is it relevant? Does the writer interpret that evidence in a way that makes sense?

5. How convincing is the writer’s overall argument?

Do you think the writer accomplishes what she set out to accomplish? Depending on the assignment, your answer to this question may be your thesis!

Last revised: 7/2008 | Adapted for web delivery: 2/2021

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