Making an argument in an essay, term paper, blog post or other college writing task is like laying out a case in court. Just as there are conventions that attorneys must adhere to as they make their arguments in court, there are conventions in arguments made in research assignments. Among those conventions is to use the components of an argument.
This section on making an argument was developed with the help of “Making Good Arguments” in The Craft of Research, by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, University of Chicago Press, 2003.
The arguments you’re used to hearing or participating in with friends about something that is uncertain or that needs to be decided contain the same components as the ones you’ll need to use in academic writing. Arguments contain those components because those are the ones that work—used together, they stand the best chance of persuading others that you are correct.
For instance, the question gets things started off. The claim, or thesis, tells people what you consider a true way of describing a thing, situation, relationship, or phenomenon or what action you think should be taken. The reservations, alternatives, and objections that someone else brings up in your sources (or that you imagine your readers logically might have) allow you to demonstrate how your reasons and evidence (maybe) overcome that kind of thinking—and (you hope) your claim/thesis comes out stronger for having withstood that test.
Activity: Labeled Components
Read the short dialog on pages 114 and 115 in the ebook The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. The components of an argument are labeled for you.
Example: Argument as a Dialog
Here’s a dialog of an argument, with the most important components labeled.
Jerald: Where should we have my parents take us for dinner when they’re here on Sunday? [He asks the question about something that’s unsettled.]
Cathy: We should go to The Cascades! [She makes her main claim to answer the question.] It’s the nicest place around. [Another claim, which functions as a reason for the main claim.]
Jerald: How so? [He asks for a reason to believe her claims.]
Cathy: White table cloths. [She gives a reason.]
Jerald: What’s that have to do with how good the food is? [He doesn’t see how her reason is relevant to the claim.]
Cathy: Table cloths make restaurants seem upscale. [She relates her reason for the claims.] And I’ve read a survey in Columbus Metro that says the Cascades is one of the most popular restaurants in town. [She offers evidence.]
Jerald: I never read the Metro. And Dino’s has table cloths. [He offers a point that contradicts her reason.]
Cathy: I know, but those are checkered! I’m talking about heavy white ones. [She acknowledges his point and responds to it.]
Jerald: My dad loves Italian food. I guess he’s kind of a checkered-table-cloth kind of guy? [He raises another reservation or objection.]
Cathy: Yeah, but? Well, I know The Cascades has some Italian things on the menu. I mean, it’s not known for its Italian food but you can order it there. Given how nice the place is, it will probably be gourmet Italian food. [She acknowledges his point and responds to it. There’s another claim in there.]
Jerald: Ha! My dad, the gourmet? Hey, maybe this place is too expensive. [He raises another reservation.]
Cathy: More than someplace like Dino’s. [She concedes his point.]
Jerald: Yeah. [He agrees.]
Cathy: But everybody eats at The Cascades with their parents while they’re students here, so it can’t be outlandishly expensive. [She now puts limits on how much she’s conceding.]