Argument, Argumentation

Argument is an iterative process that informs humankind's search for meaning. Learn about different types of argumentation (Aristotelian Argument; Rogerian Argument; Toulmin Argument) so you can identify the best way to compose an argument for an audience.
Two Women foregrounded @ Women's March 2018, CC BY-SA 2.0 by Mobilus Two Women foregrounded @ Women's March 2018, CC BY-SA 2.0 by Mobilus

What is Argument? Argumentation?

Argument is an iterative process that informs humankind’s search for meaning.

Argument vs Persuasion

The terms argument and persuasion may be used synonymously, yet subject matter experts in Writing Studies typically draw distinctions:

  • texts based on argument
    • tend to appeal more to logos than ethos and pathos
    • tend to be evidence-based rather than opinion based
    • tend to adopt information literacy practices and perspectives when searching for and weaving information (e.g., primary and secondary sources) into texts
    • tend to be concerned with knowledge-making based on evidence and research
  • texts based on persuasion
    • tend to overlook evidence and interpretations that dispute the author’s argument
    • tend to focus on sales and emotional manipulation rather than truth vetting or knowledge making.

Related Concepts: Evidence; Persuasion; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning


3 Types of Argument

Arguments come in all shapes and sizes. Hence, there’s no one way to compose an argument. Rather, you need to adjust how you shape your arguments based on your topic and rhetorical situation.

As always, you are wise to engage in rhetorical reasoning and rhetorical analysis to decide whether you should even respond to a call for an argument, much less invest the time in research your claims.

1. Aristotelian Argument (aka Classical Argument)

Aristotelian Argument works well in situation where

2. Rogerian Argument

Rogerian argument is an effective approach in rhetorical situations where

  • there’s been a breakdown in communication among stakeholders who hold disparate beliefs and values.
    • Consider, e.g., the historic tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. In that context, an Aristotelian approach to argument could alienate the stakeholders rather than move them toward consensus.

3. Toulmin Argument

Toulmin argument works well in situations where arguments are being reviewed by a third party — such as judge, an arbitrator, or evaluation committee.

Toulmin arguments looks past ethos and pathos, focusing instead on logos and the elements of argument: Claim; Data; Warrant; Backing; Counterclaim; Rebuttal.

Why Does Argument Matter?

On a daily basis, we all deal with family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers who try to persuade or even manipulate us. Buy me, trust me, believe in me—such is the chatter of routine life. According to some psychologists, we experiment with persuasion from the moment we realize as babies that people respond to us when we cry.

As a student, citizen, and professional, you’ll need to be adept at creating and critiquing arguments. Throughout your life, you will respond to arguments on a range of topics–from child-raising practices to more abstract arguments regarding our nation’s foreign and social policies. Politicians will try to convince you of the need for tougher immigration restrictions, for more money for education, for improved roads. Much of what you read in newspapers, magazines, textbooks, research reports, procedural manuals, and sales catalogs was produced to influence you to do something or believe something. You will have to evaluate all these uses of persuasion.

Sampling of Rhetorical Situations

PurposeAudiencesVoice/Tone/PersonaGenre/Media
Claims of fact  
Claims of cause-and-effect relationships
Claims about best solutions
Claims about values
Consumers
Decision makers
Clients
Friends
Family
Voters
Technicians
from formal, standard, to informal

Passionate Concerned Objective or scientific
Formal Reports to Personal Notes

Print, Websites

Interactive, Web 3.0