5.3 Styles of Argument

[1]According to the famous satirist Jonathan Swift, “Argument is the worst sort of conversation.” You may be inclined to agree. When people argue, they are engaged in conflict, and it’s usually not pretty. It sometimes appears that way because people resort to fallacious arguments (see 3.4 “Rhetorical Fallacies) or false statements, or they simply do not treat each other with respect. They get defensive, try to prove their own points, and fail to listen to each other.

However, as discussed in 5.2 “Argument in Writing”, this should not be what happens in a written argument. Instead, when you make an argument in your writing, you will want to present your position with logical points, supporting each point with appropriate sources. You will want to give your audience every reason to perceive you as ethical and trustworthy. Your audience will expect you to treat them with respect, and to present your argument in a way that does not make them defensive. Contribute to your credibility by building sound arguments and using strategic arguments with skill and planning.

In this section, we will discuss the classic form of an argument as well as provide brief explanations about other common types of arguments.

Classical Rhetorical Strategy

 This strategy asks the rhetorician, speaker, or author to frame arguments in the following steps:

Table 5.3.1 Classical Rhetorical Strategy


1. Exordium


Prepares the audience to consider your argument

2. Narration Provides the audience with the necessary background or context for your argument
3. Proposition Introduces your claim being argued in the document
4. Confirmation Offers the audience evidence to support your argument
5. Refutation Introduces to the audience and then discounts or refutes the counterarguments or objections
6. Peroration The conclusion of your argument

This is a standard pattern in rhetoric, and you will probably see it in both speech and English courses. The pattern is useful to guide you in preparing your document and can serve as a valuable checklist to ensure you are prepared to create a fully developed argument. While this formal pattern has distinct advantages, you may not see it used exactly as indicated here as it often serves as the foundation for other styles of argumentation.

[2]Toulmin Model of Argumentation

What may be more familiar to you is Stephen Toulmin’s rhetorical strategy, which focuses on three main elements.

Stephen Toulmin

Stephen Toulmin was a British philosopher, author, and educator. Influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Toulmin devoted his works to the analysis of moral reasoning. Throughout his writings, he sought to develop practical arguments which can be used effectively in evaluating the ethics behind moral issues. His works were later found useful in the field of rhetoric for analyzing arguments. The Toulmin Model of Argumentation, a diagram containing six interrelated components used for analyzing arguments, was considered his most influential work, particularly in the field of rhetoric and communication, and computer science.

The Toulmin Model

  • Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
  • Grounds/Data: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
  • Warrant: the principle, provision, or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim.
  • Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
  • Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
  • Qualification: specification of limits to the claim, warrant, and backing. The degree of conditionality asserted


A claim is a statement that you are asking the other person to accept. This includes information you are asking them to accept as true or actions you want them to accept and enact.

The six most common types of claims are fact, definition, value, cause, comparison, and policy.

  • claim of fact takes a position on questions like: What happened? Is it true? Does it exist? Example: “Though student demonstrations may be less evident than they were in the 1960s, students are more politically active than ever.”
  • claim of definition takes a position on questions like: What is it? How should it be classified or interpreted? How does its usual meaning change in a particular context? Example: “By examining what it means to ‘network,’ it’s clear that social networking sites encourage not networking but something else entirely.”
  • claim of value takes a position on questions like: Is it good or bad? Of what worth is it? Is it moral or immoral? Who thinks so? What do those people value? What values or criteria should I use to determine how good or bad? Example: “Video games are a valuable addition to modern education.”
  • claim of cause takes a position on questions like: What caused it? Why did it happen? Where did it come from? What are the effects? What probably will be the results on a short-term and long-term basis? Example: “By seeking to replicate the experience of reading physical books, new hardware and software actually will lead to an appreciation of printed and bound texts for years to come.”
  • claim of comparison takes a position on questions like: What can be learned by comparing one subject to another? What is the worth of one thing compared to another? How can we better understand one thing by looking at another? Example: “The varied policies of the US and British education systems reveal a difference in values.”
  • claim of policy takes a position on questions like: What should we do? How should we act? What should be future policy? How can we solve this problem? What course of action should we pursue? Example: “Sex education should be part of the public school curriculum.”[3]

Many people start with a claim, but then find that it is challenged. If you just ask me to do something, I will not simply agree with what you want. I will ask why I should agree with you. I will ask you to prove your claim. This is where grounds become important.


The grounds (or data) is the basis of real persuasion and is made up of data and hard facts, plus the reasoning behind the claim. It is the ‘truth’ on which the claim is based. Grounds may also include proof of expertise and the basic premises on which the rest of the argument is built.

A flow chart demonstrates the organization of a Toulmin structure. The central piece is "Warrant." Connected to that at the top are "Claim" and "Data", which are also connected to one another. Beneath "Warrant" are "Backing" and "Rebuttal," which are attached to each other as well as Warrant. To the left is "Qualifier," which only attaches to Warrant.

The actual truth of the data may be less than 100%, as much data are ultimately based on perception. We assume what we measure is true, but there may be problems in this measurement, ranging from a faulty measurement instrument to biased sampling.

It is critical to the argument that the grounds are not challenged because, if they are, they may become a claim, which you will need to prove with even deeper information and further argument.

Information is usually a very powerful element of persuasion, although it does affect people differently. Those who are dogmatic, logical, or rational are more likely to be persuaded by factual data. Those who argue emotionally and who are highly invested in their own position will challenge it or otherwise try to ignore it. It is often a useful test to give something factual to the other person that disproves their argument and watch how they handle it. Some will accept it without question. Some will dismiss it out of hand. Others will dig deeper, requiring more explanation. This is where the warrant comes into its own.


A warrant links data and other grounds to a claim, legitimizing the claim by showing the grounds to be relevant. The warrant may be explicit or unspoken and implicit. It answers the question ‘Why does that data mean your claim is true?’

The warrant may be simple and it may also be a longer argument, with additional sub-elements including those described below.

Warrants may be based on logosethos or pathos, or values that are assumed to be shared with the listener.

In many arguments, warrants are often implicit and hence unstated. This gives space for the other person to question and expose the warrant, perhaps to show it is weak or unfounded.


The backing (or support) for an argument gives additional support to the warrant by answering different questions.


The qualifier (or modal qualifier) indicates the strength of the leap from the data to the warrant and may limit how universally the claim applies. They include words such as ‘most’, ‘usually’, ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’. Arguments may hence range from strong assertions to generally quite floppy with vague and often rather uncertain kinds of statements.

Another variant is the reservation, which may give the possibility of the claim being incorrect.

Qualifiers and reservations are used heavily by advertisers who are constrained not to lie. Thus they slip ‘usually’, ‘virtually’, ‘unless’, and so on into their claims.


Despite the careful construction of the argument, there may still be counter-arguments that can be used. These may be rebutted either through continued dialogue or by pre-empting the counter-argument by giving the rebuttal during the initial presentation of the argument.

Any rebuttal is an argument in itself and thus may include a claim, warrant, backing, and so on. It also, of course, can have a rebuttal. Thus if you are presenting an argument, you can seek to understand both possible rebuttals and also rebuttals to the rebuttals.


Example 1: Suppose you see a commercial for a product that promises to give you whiter teeth. Here are the basic parts of the argument behind the commercial:

  1. Claim: You should buy our tooth-whitening product.
  2. Data: Studies show that teeth are 50% whiter after using the product for a specified time.
  3. Warrant: People want whiter teeth.
  4. Backing: Celebrities want whiter teeth.
  5. Rebuttal: Commercial says “unless you don’t want to attract guys.”
  6. Qualifier: Fine print says “product must be used six weeks for results.”

Notice that those commercials don’t usually bother trying to convince you that you want whiter teeth; instead, they assume that you have bought into the value our culture places on whiter teeth. When an assumption–a warrant in Toulmin’s terms–is unstated, it’s called an implicit warrant. Sometimes, however, the warrant may need to be stated because it is a powerful part of the argument. When the warrant is stated, it’s called an explicit warrant.[5]

Example 2:

  1. Claim: People should probably own a gun.
  2. Data: Studies show that people who own a gun are less likely to be mugged.
  3. Warrant: People want to be safe.
  4. Backing: May not be necessary. In this case, it is common sense that peoplewant to be safe.
  5. Rebuttal: Not everyone should own a gun. Children and those will mentaldisorders/problems should not own a gun.
  6. Qualifier: The word “probably” in the claim.

Example 3:

  1. Claim: Flag burning should be unconstitutional in most cases.
  2. Data: A national poll says that 60% of Americans want flag burningunconstitutional
  3. Warrant: People want to respect the flag.
  4. Backing: Official government procedures for the disposal of flags.
  5. Rebuttal: Not everyone in the U.S. respects the flag.
  6. Qualifier: The phrase “in most cases”

Toulmin says that the weakest part of any argument is its weakest warrant. Remember that the warrant is the link between the data and the claim. If the warrant isn’t valid, the argument collapses.[6]

[7]Rogerian Argument

The Rogerian argument, inspired by the influential psychologist Carl Rogers, aims to find compromise on a controversial issue.

If you are using the Rogerian approach your introduction to the argument should accomplish three objectives:

  1. Introduce the controversy in a neutral voice
  2. State the middle ground you are seeking to find by understanding both sides

Once you have written your introduction, you must now show the two sides to the debate you are addressing. Though there are always more than two sides to a debate, Rogerian arguments put two in stark opposition to one another. Summarize each side, then provide a middle path. Use quotations from outside sources to effectively illustrate the position of each side.

An outline for a Rogerian argument might look like this:

  • Introduction
  • Side A
  • Side B
  • Claim or middle path
  • Conclusion
The Claim or Middle Path

Since the goal of Rogerian argument is to find a common ground between two opposing positions, you must identify the shared beliefs or assumptions of each side. Using the issue of racial profiling in the United States, a solid Rogerian argument acknowledges the desires of each side and tries to accommodate both. Building on that example, both sides desire a safer society, perhaps a better solution would focus on more objective measures than race; an effective start would be to use more screening technology on public transportation. Once you have a claim that disarms the central dispute, you should support the claim with evidence, and quotations when appropriate.[8]

Effective Argumentation Strategies: GASCAP

Here is a useful way of organizing and remembering seven key argumentative strategies:

  1. Argument by Generalization
  2. Argument by Analogy
  3. Argument by Sign
  4. Argument by Consequence
  5. Argument by Authority
  6. Argument by Principle

Richard Fulkerson notes that a single strategy is sufficient to make an argument some of the time, but it is often better to combine several strategies to make an effective argument.[9] He organized the argumentative strategies in this way to compare the differences, highlight the similarities, and allow for discussion. This model, often called by its acronym GASCAP, is a useful strategy to summarize six key arguments and is easy to remember. Table 5.3.3 presents each argument and provides a definition of the strategy, an example, and an examination of the ways to evaluate each approach.

Table 5.3.3 GASCAP Strategies
Argument by Claim Example Evaluation
G Generalization Whatever is true of a good example or sample will be true of everything like it or the population it came from. If you can vote, drive, and die for your country, you should also be allowed to buy alcohol. STAR System: For it to be reliable, we need a (S) sufficient number of (T) typical, (A) accurate, and (R) reliable examples.
A Analogy Two situations, things, or ideas are alike in observable ways and will tend to be alike in many other ways Alcohol is a drug. So is tobacco. They alter perceptions, have an impact physiological and psychological systems, and are federally regulated substances. Watch for adverbs that end in “ly,” as they qualify, or lessen the relationship between the examples. Words like “probably,” “maybe,” “could, “may,” or “usually” all weaken the relationship.
S Sign Statistics, facts, or cases indicate meaning, much like a stop sign means “stop.” Motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol occur at significant rates among adults of all ages in the United States. Evaluate the relationship between the sign and look for correlation, where the presenter says what the facts “mean.” Does the sign say that? Does it say more? What is not said? Is it relevant?
C Cause If two conditions always appear together, they are causally related. The U.S. insurance industry has been significantly involved in state and national legislation requiring proof of insurance, changes in graduated driver’s licenses, and the national change in the drinking age from age 18 to age 21. Watch out for “after the fact, therefore because of the fact” (post hoc, ergo propter hoc) thinking. There might not be a clear connection, and it might not be the whole picture. Mothers Against Drunk Driving might have also been involved with each example of legislation.
A Authority What a credible source indicates is probably true. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, older drivers are increasingly involved in motor vehicle accidents. Is the source legitimate and is their information trustworthy? Institutes, boards, and people often have agendas and distinct points of view.
P Principle An accepted or proper truth The change in the drinking age was never put to a vote. It’s not about alcohol, it’s about our freedom of speech in a democratic society. Is the principle being invoked generally accepted? Is the claim, data or warrant actually related to the principle stated? Are there common exceptions to the principle? What are the practical consequences of following the principle in this case?


Now that we’ve outlined several argument strategies, how do you support your position with evidence or warrants? If your premise or the background from which you start is valid, and your claim is clear and clearly related, the audience will naturally turn their attention to “prove it.” This is where the relevance of evidence becomes particularly important. Before we look at the intricacies of sources in 5.5 and 5.6, here are three guidelines to consider as well as ethical considerations to make sure that you are crafting a fully developed and academic argument.

In order to ensure your evidence passes the “so what?” test of relevance in relation to your claim. Make sure your evidence has the following traits:

  1. Supportive. Examples are clearly representative, statistics are accurate, testimony is authoritative, and information is reliable.
  2. Relevant. Examples clearly relate to the claim or topic, and you are not comparing “apples to oranges.”
  3. Effective. Examples are clearly the best available to support the claim, quality is preferred to quantity, and there are only a few well-chosen statistics, facts, or data.

Ethical Considerations in Persuasion

In his book Ethics in Human Communication, Richard Johannesen offers eleven points to consider when communicating. Although they are related to public speaking, they are also useful in academic writing. You may note that many of his cautions are clearly related to the fallacies we discussed in 3.4 “Rhetorical Fallacies.” His main points reiterate many of the points across this chapter and should be kept in mind as you prepare, and present, your message.[10]

Do not

  • use false, fabricated, misrepresented, distorted, or irrelevant evidence to support arguments or claims;
  • intentionally use unsupported, misleading, or illogical reasoning;
  • represent yourself as informed or an “expert” on a subject when you are not;
  • use irrelevant appeals to divert attention from the issue at hand;
  • ask your audience to link your idea or proposal to emotion-laden values, motives, or goals to which it is actually not related;
  • deceive your audience by concealing your real purpose, your self-interest, the group you represent, or your position as an advocate of a viewpoint;
  • distort, hide, or misrepresent the number, scope, intensity, or undesirable features of consequences or effects;
  • use emotional appeals that lack a supporting basis of evidence or reasoning;
  • oversimplify complex, gradation-laden situations into simplistic, two-valued, either-or, polar views or choices;
  • pretend certainty where tentativeness and degrees of probability would be more accurate;
  • advocate something that you yourself do not believe in.

In your message to persuade, consider honesty and integrity as you assemble your arguments. Your audience will appreciate your thoughtful consideration of more than one view and your understanding of the complexity of the issue, thus building your ethos, or credibility, as you present your document. Be careful not to stretch the facts, or assemble them only to prove your point; instead, prove the argument on its own merits. Deception, coercion, intentional bias, manipulation, and bribery should have no place in your message to persuade.


  1. Select a piece of persuasive writing such as a newspaper, op-ed essay, a magazine article, or a blog post. Examine the argument, the main points, and how the writer supports them. Which strategies from this section does the writer use? Does the writer use any fallacies or violate any ethical principles? Discuss your results with your classmates.
  2. Find one slogan or logo that you perceive as persuasive and share it with your classmates.


  1. 5.3 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
  2. "The Toulmin Model of Argumentation" was pulled with minor edits and additions from 2 sources: Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich and "Toulmin's Argument Model" provided by Metapatterns and retrieved from http://www.designmethodsandprocesses.co.uk/2011/03/toulmins-argument-model/ which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  3. The types of claims section was pulled from "Teaching Argumentation" written by Paul Barron and Jennifer Metsker and available under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike via Sweetland Center for Writing
  4. These examples were provided by: Utah State University OpenCourseWare. Retrieved from: http://ocw.usu.edu/english/intermediate-writing/english-2010/-2010/toulmins-schema.html. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  5. From LeTourneau University: http://owlet.letu.edu/contenthtml/research/toulmin.html
  6. From LeTourneau University: http://owlet.letu.edu/contenthtml/research/toulmin.html
  7. "Rogerian Argument" (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Academic Writing I by Lumen Learning which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
  8. Sources listed in Academic Writing I: Permission granted from Michael Franco at Writing Essay 4: Rogerian Argument
  9. Fulkerson, R. (1996). The Toulmin model of argument and the teaching of composition. In E. Barbara, P. Resch, & D. Tenney (Eds.), Argument revisited: argument redefined: negotiating meaning the composition classroom (pp. 45–72). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  10. Johannesen, R. (1996). Ethics in human communication (4th ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.


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