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What Is an Argument in Writing? Anatomy of Logic and Argumentation

What Is an Argument in Writing? Anatomy of Logic and Argumentation

Whether you're writing about current fashion trends or why every company needs to develop cross-functional capabilities, every article exists to put across a certain point. In other words, a good piece of content always makes an argument.
“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Do you ever start your article with a clear thesis statement that summarises the main argument you intend to focus on in your content? An article without a thesis doesn't have a purpose. Often such articles are just a bunch of vaguely related ideas or facts without a central argument. When an author doesn't know what they actually want to say, their content doesn't say anything. So why does it exist in the first place? 

Good writing is persuasive. It persuades the reader that your approach works, your solution is what they need, and your position on the topic beats other opinions. If you want readers to support your position, you should be able to back up your claims with evidence and logic. In other words, you need to get good at building strong arguments.

A good argument consists of the following components: 

  • Claim
  • Evidence
  • Reasoning
  • Counterclaims

Let's discuss all of these components in detail.

Claim

The claim is your thesis. It's a central argument that you will be trying to persuade your audience to believe in your article.

Let me show you an example:

Putin attacked Ukraine because he wants to expand Russia's borders.

This is a statement that makes a claim. But it doesn't give us any reasons to believe that the claim is true. For this statement to become an argument, we need to back it up with evidence that supports the idea. For example:

Vladimir Putin dreams about replacing the United States as the world superpower and getting into the book of history as a state leader who took back Russian lands. He invades neighboring countries because he thinks it is a good way to achieve both. Because Ukraine is bordering Russia and was part of the Russian Empire and later, part of the Soviet Union, Putin decided to attack Ukraine to expand Russia's borders.

Now we have more reasons to believe that the claim is true. And this moves us to the next component of an argument:

Evidence

A logical argument consists of the main idea or claim backed up with evidence that supports it. Statements containing evidence are called "premises." They offer reasons to believe or accept the main idea.

Going back to our example:

The sentence "Putin attacked Ukraine because he wants to expand Russia's borders" is the main idea that we want to put across.

This claim is supported by the following premises:

  • Putin dreams about replacing the United States.
  • Putin wants to get into the book of history as a state leader who took back Russian lands.
  • Putin invades neighboring countries.
  • Ukraine is bordering Russia.
  • Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and later, part of the Soviet Union.

Now, when we've figured out the two components of an argument – claim and evidence –  we can move on to the next component – reasoning. 

But…wait a sec…

Can any claim be considered an argument?

Not really. A claim that can't be proven right or wrong cannot be considered a logical argument. For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov often makes empty claims, such as this:

Let me simplify it for you. He says that there are no alternatives to a world where Russia is a superpower which he calls an "objective historical process." You can't possibly prove that this claim may be true or false; it's an empty political speech that lacks substance and meaning. 

Russian claim that Ukraine is a Nazi state, on the other hand, can easily be proved false by showing that political parties supported by the ultra-nationalists failed to get into parliament in the 2019 elections.

To prove an argument right or wrong, you need to answer the question "Why?" In other words, you need to provide some reasoning.

Reasoning

"​​The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Remember Sherlock Holmes? He is famous for using deduction to solve crimes. But if we look at his arguments, we can notice that he actually drew his conclusions from observations. And that's inductive reasoning. 

For example, here is how he reasoned that Watson must be inside the hut on the moors:

“I could not undertake to recognize your footprint amid all the footprints in the world. If you seriously desire to deceive me you must change your tobacconist; for when I see the stub of a cigarette marked Bradley, Oxford Street, I know that my friend Watson is in the neighborhood.”

Do you know who else uses inductive reasoning a lot? Lawyers! They draw a believable conclusion from a chain of facts and observations for which they have some evidence.

In fact, we all use inductive logic to reason about things that surround us, things that we've seen, experienced, and known. But if the evidence we use to point to truth is based only on a single person's observations, the conclusion that we yield from this evidence is not always valid even when the premises are true.

Let's look at this argument: “All the bears I have seen are brown; therefore, all bears are probably brown.” The premise “All the bears I have seen are brown" is true. But the conclusion is not true. Bears can also be white, black, and black and white at the same time.

Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, is a more "scientific" method to reach conclusions believed to be true. Deduction starts with a broad truth, such as "All mammals produce milk." This truth is followed by the minor premise, a more specific statement, such as "Whales produce milk." A conclusion follows: "Whales are mammals." If the premises are true, then the conclusion cannot be false. 

Deductive reasoning is more precise because it's based on facts and not just observations, that's why scientists often use it to support their hypotheses. 

Both writers and researchers, often start with inductive reasoning to develop a claim. And then, they use deductive reasoning to confirm their conclusions. For example:

The internet is full of fake news, particularly on social media. Whenever I go on Twitter, there’s some influencer spreading some Russian propaganda, filled with misinformation. And what's particularly disturbing is that these tweets get lots of likes and shares!

This part of the argument starts with some inductive reasoning based on personal observations to develop the following claim:

Fake news is effective because people lack critical thinking. If that wasn't true, we would do a much better job at identifying misinformation. In fact, the studies noted that critical thinking is an essential skill for identifying fake news. When we think critically, we are able to examine which is fact and which is merely opinion. Developing critical thinking is a good way to protect against fake news.

In the end, we switch to deductive reasoning to put across the main point: people should learn critical thinking.

To sum up:

Inductive reasoning:

  • Based on observations, personal experience, or opinions of other people 
  • Starts with some evidence and works toward a broader theory
  • Premises can all be true, but the conclusion doesn't have to be true

Deductive reasoning:

  • Based on facts 
  • Starts with a broader theory and works toward a narrow conclusion
  • If the premises are true, the conclusion has to be true

Counterclaims

The strongest arguments are those challenged with counterarguments and still standing. In other words, to persuade people that your opinion is true, you need to dive into the world of opposing viewpoints. 

Karl Popper who proposed The Falsification Principle believed that the job of scientists isn't to continually support their theoretical hypotheses but to try to disprove their theories. His principle suggests that to be considered scientific, a theory must be capable of being verified and plausibly proven false. You can move closer to the truth by seeking evidence to the contrary. 

Let’s say we want to argue that the earth is round. But we know that some people think it's flat. To follow Popper’s Falsification Principle, we should be able to explain why it looks flat.

To make your writing more persuasive, you don't only need to search for arguments for, but also for arguments against. Seek the opinions of people you don't know, experts in a field, and skeptics. You can check out StackExchange's Skeptics board or the Skeptic Subreddit to engage others and find opposing views on your topic.

Bringing up counterclaims will make your writing more credible – your readers will think  that you are being upfront with them about all sides of the issue and not trying to hide anything. 

There is a method for bringing up counterclaims. It's called dialectic.

How to use dialectic to make your writing more persuasive

In dialectic, your main idea (thesis) is systematically contested with an opposing idea (antithesis). Incorporating the antithesis into the thesis creates a new idea (synthesis). The thesis approaches the truth with every antithesis. Here is how it works:

  1. Propose a currently held belief (thesis).
  2. Try to confirm it.
  3. Try to disprove it.
  4. Share a new point of view that solves the doubts and reaches a valid conclusion.

For example:

Thesis:

Pacifists are against war.

Antithesis:

While wars involve violence, some wars may be necessary if they have to be waged to defend against systems that result in repression, abuses of human rights, cultural cleansing, and environmental destruction. 

Synthesis:

Laying down arms and letting these systems prevail and spread is even worse than a war. In the face of extreme evil, pacifism has no place.

The last sentence is the main claim in this argument. We arrived here following the three-act dialectic process: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

Read also: What Is a Logical Fallacy? How to Avoid Making Bad Arguments

To sum up

The most effective arguments use logic and reason to ensure that conclusions follow from the premises. They also seek to address counterarguments or reasons for doubt about their claims.

Here is how to build arguments in writing:

  • Start with a thesis statement.
  • Develop a body of evidence to support your thesis.
  • Include counterarguments and opposing views.
  • End with a concluding paragraph to restate your thesis and summarize your argument.

Every time you want to make an argument, imagine yourself as an advocate in court. Your job is about convincing your audience. To do that, you need to practice argumentation until it becomes second nature.

Watch it instead:

If you have any questions about argumentation, or you want to see more content like this, just post a comment underneath my video on YouTube. And you should definitely subscribe to my channel for more useful stuff about copywriting and content marketing. 

I also have daily writing tips on Instagram, so make sure you follow me there too.

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