Toulmin Argument

Stephen Toulmin's model of argumentation theorizes six rhetorical moves constitute argumentation: Evidence, Warrant, Claim, Qualifier, Rebuttal, and Backing. Learn to develop clear, persuasive arguments and to critique the arguments of others. By learning this model, you'll gain the skills to construct clearer, more persuasive arguments and critically assess the arguments presented by others, enhancing your writing and analytical abilities in academic and professional settings.

Toulmin Model Example by Chiswick Chap, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) model of argument conceptualizes argument as a series of six rhetorical moves:

  1. Backing
  2. Counterargument, Counterclaim
  3. Reservation/Rebuttal

Related Concepts

Evidence; Persuasion; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning

FAQs

Why Does Toulmin Argument Matter?

Toulmin’s model of argumentation is particularly valuable for college students because it provides a structured framework for analyzing and constructing arguments, skills that are essential across various academic disciplines and real-world situations.

By understanding Toulmin’s components—claim, evidence, warrant, backing, qualifier, and rebuttal—students can develop more coherent, persuasive arguments and critically evaluate the arguments of others. This model encourages students to think deeply about the logic and effectiveness of their argumentation, emphasizing the importance of supporting claims with solid evidence and reasoning. Additionally, familiarity with Toulmin’s model prepares students for scenarios involving critical analysis and debate, whether in writing essays, participating in discussions, or presenting research.

By mastering this model, students enhance their ability to communicate effectively, a crucial skill for academic success and professional advancement.

When should writers or speakers consider Toulmin’s model of argument?

Toulmin’s model of argument works especially well in situations where disputes are being reviewed by a third party — such as judge, an arbitrator, or evaluation committee.

Declarative knowledge of Toulmin Argument helps with

  1. inventing or developing your own arguments (even if you’re developing a Rogerian or Aristotelian argument)
  2. critiquing your arguments or the arguments of others.

Summary of Stephen Toulmin’s Model of Argument

Claim: A claim is a proposition, a thesis. It’s what you want that audience to think, feel, act, and do. For example, during the course of your day, you may make claims of fact; claims of cause-and-effect relationships; claims about best solutions; or claims about values

A claim can be made at the global or local level of a text

Example: Mashed potatoes are superior to baked potatoes.
Data:
(Facts/Evidence/Grounds)
Synonyms
Data may be called Facts, Evidence, Grounds

Data is evidence gathered to support the claim.

Example: Mashed potatoes lower the rates of heart disease.

Recommended Resources
Information Literacy
Warrant: Warrants serve as bridges between warrants and claims. Warrants clarify how the data supports the claim.

Warrants may be rules, inference-licenses, scientific laws, principles of historical interpretation, a law, a psychological generalization about human behavior, an extended scholarly conversation on a topic.

Example: You should eat mashed potatoes lower the rates of heart disease.
Backing:
When situations are especially tricky–maybe the rhetorical situation is emotionally charged or complex–additional data may be insufficient to win the argument. In those instances, writers, speakers, knowledge workers may provide backing to support the warrant.

Example: Mashed potatoes lower the rates of heart disease.
Counterargument (aka Counterclaim or RebuttalOther theories, explanations, evidence that refute a claim

Example: Many claim, however, that baked potatoes are superior to mashed due to the amount of toppings and sides available for baked potatoes.

or

Example: But isn’t there also evidence that mashed potatoes are fattening because people use alot of butter and cream cheese in their potatoes. Doesn’t obesity leads to heart disease?
Reservation/Rebuttal:Reservation refers to those elements in an argument that define the conditions in which the audience needs to reconsider whether the warrant applies to the particular subject being examined. A reservation can anticipate objections and narrow the general application of the warrant

Example: Mashed potatoes lower the rates of hear disease so long as the potatoes do not use a lot of butter and cream cheese.
Table 1

The Three Essential Components of Argument

Stephen Toulmin’s model of argument posits the three essential elements of an argument are

  1. Data (aka a Fact or Evidence)
  2. Claim
  3. Warrant (which the writer, speaker, knowledge worker . . . may imply rather than explicitly state).

Toulmin’s model presumes data, matters of fact and opinion, must be supplied as evidence to support a claim. The claim focuses the discourse by explicitly stating the desired conclusion of the argument.

In turn, a warrant, the third essential component of an argument, provides the reasoning that links the data to the claim.

Figure 1

The example in Figure 1 demonstrates the abstract, hypothetical linking between a claim and data that a warrant provides. Prior to this link–that. people born in Bermuda are British–the claim that Harry is a British subject because he was born in Bermuda is unsubstantiated.

The 6 Elements of Successful Argument

While the argument presented in Figure 1 is a simple one, life is not always simple.

In situations where people are likely to dispute the application of a warrant to data, you may need to develop backing for your warrants.

o account for the conflicting desires and assumptions of an audience, Toulmin identifies a second triad of components that may not be used:

  1. Backing
  2. Reservation
  3. Qualification.

Charles Kneupper provides us with the following diagram of these six elements (238):



*This article is adapted from Moxley, Joseph M. “Reinventing the Wheel or Teaching the Basics?: College Writers‘ Knowledge of Argumentation.” Composition. Studies 21.2 (1993): 3-15.

References

Kneupper, C. W. (1978). Teaching Argument: An Introduction to the Toulmin Model. College Composition and Communication29(3), 237–241. https://doi.org/10.2307/356935

Moxley, Joseph M. “Reinventing the Wheel or Teaching the Basics?: College Writers‘ Knowledge of Argumentation.” Composition. Studies 21.2 (1993): 3-15.

Toulmin, S. (1969). The Uses of Argument, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press

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