The Humble Argument, Chapters 9-11: Improving Your Arguments

CHAPTER 9: GOOD REASONING

Inductive reasoning: “Looks at a collection of detailed evidence and from that evidence draws a general conclusion about what it means” (Humble 189). This is a form of analysis, which you’ve been practicing all semester.

Deductive reasoning: Taking a general idea and applying it to a particular situation with your reason (189).

Most of the time in academic writing, your essays should be built on deductive reasoning; however, inductive reasoning is useful, especially if you’re asked to analyze something (e.g., an ad, movie, or public space). You should always follow a provocative idea with a logical defense (Humble 200).

A good reason – one that will support your claim – should be relevant, credible, and logical. Bad reasons, or what we call fallacies in composition studies, are often built on weak links between a claim and the relevancy, credibility, or logic of the reason that follows. As Humble states, “Sometimes a reason is bad because the relationship of claim and reason is based on some kind of emotional or symbolic association that defies any clear logical relationship” (198).

To build an argument, you need to identify your claim, your reasons that show that your claim is a good one, and the assumptions underlying your reasons. All of these should be clear. In a given essay, you should have several claims that all tie back to and support your thesis. So in a given paragraph in your essay, you should be able to identify a claim you’re making and explain why it’s important and/or relevant (reasons) to your main argument; you may also need to unpack the assumptions behind your claim, especially if your readers might not readily accept them.

More Resources

Read about how logic works in writing on the OWL.

EXERCISE

Turn to Susan Sontag’s chapter “Plato’s Cave” in your coursepack. Skim through it again and see if you can identify at least three claims that she makes. A claim should be not a fact but a smaller piece of her argument, something debatable that the author would then support.

Now choose one of those claims. How does Sontag back it up in the paragraph that follows? Can you identify her reasons, or grounds?

In short, you will be close-reading a paragraph from Sontag’s essay to better understand the purpose of each sentence within a given paragraph. This should serve as a model for your own essays, so make a note of her writerly moves.

CHAPTER 11: ARGUMENT MODELS

In the Toulmin argument model claims, reasons, and assumptions are also called claims, grounds, and warrants (pp.228-229). This argument model stresses not only logical reasoning but also real-world applicability. In addition, in this model a writer notes all the underlying ideas that must be accepted for the reasons, or grounds, to work as support for a claim.

Why warrants are tricky: most of the time, warrants aren’t directly stated; they are implicit and we must therefore deduce them through logical inference.

When you have a warrant that needs some explanation (i.e., if a reader might not readily agree with an assumption you’re making), then your warrant might need backing.

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