Engineering an Argument

What did I learn?

I learned about how arguments are constructed (and deconstructed) and why it is important to make this explicit in writing. I am applying this to a smaller paper I am rewriting.  I met with a professor to get some feedback on a paper, and he suggested I read the section from Hart’s book on arguments.  (Again, projects collide.)  Part of the writers job is to make reading easier. What may be clear to the author is not so clear to the reader unless you take efforts to make it expressly clear.  I will apply this to my other writings as well.

How did I learn it?

First, I tried to learn this by doing it.  Actually, I have been doing this for a long time without really thinking about what the best way to do it is or how other people learned to do it.  Then I asked someone for help (a professor).  He recommended Hart’s book.  Then I read Chapter 4 in Chris Hart’s book about argumentation analysis (pp. 79-108). I followed his advice!

What was gleaned from Hart’s book?  Hart presents Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) model for the structure of an argument and Fisher’s (1993) method of critical reading.  Toulmin dissects an argument into four parts: claim, evidence, warrant and backing.  He illustrates how to build a coherent argument from these parts.  This is how to create your argument for your literature review.  Fisher’s method shows how to read someone else’s work and identify the elements of their argument. These two devices are useful.

How could I have learned this better?

Reading some examples and guidelines might help to start the process, but I don’t think you really learn it until you go through the process.  I think that I already was a logical thinker, but I need to also consider the reader of the work and making sure I make my logic perfectly clear to them.

How could I help someone else learn this?

They could read this blog. 🙂 Give them Hart’s book, or recommend it.   It is definitely a good starting point.


  1. I guess I need to break down and buy Hart’s book! Not that I don’t want to — I just keep forgetting about it. Well, I’m going to tie the proverbial string around my finger!

  2. Thinking about any piece of research in terms of making an argument is an important step in the writing process. (IMHO) Another good source that explains the research process in similar terms is Wayne Booth’s (and others) book The Craft of Research, now in it’s third edition. This has been used in several courses, and I’ve found it very useful with several students in organizing their dissertations. I just ordered another copy from Amazon, since my former one escaped from my library.

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