First-Year Preceptorial

Toulmin Argument Analysis Handout

Critical Reading Handouts

Mary Mar, 2006

Toulmin Argumentation Model
See Assignment

Academic writing typically presents claims and arguments about knowledge.  Readers of academic writing need to learn to look for a writer’s claims, arguments, reasoning, evidence, etc.  Stephen Toulmin, a historian and philosopher, developed a model for analyzing arguments based on the way lawyers argue cases in court (The Uses of Argument, 1958).  Toulmin’s model for argument is also a generally accepted standard for the logical, objective examination of claims in science.  

An argument must have

  1. argument form:  a claim + support with at least one reason/evidence
  2. intention:  relation of reader and writer (implied or explicit)

A good argument must be sound and fair (not one-sided).  Propaganda and coercion are not arguments. Stories are not always arguments, but they can be.  Stories persuade through feelings, narrative of events, etc., rather than reasoning.  Stories also tend to rely on readers to suspend disbelief while reading.  Yet stories can be evidence to support a reason or claim with great power.

How to approach a text when analyzing its argument: 

            Skim for the framework.

            What question/problem is the writer addressing? 

            What answer/solution is the author offering?

             What reasons support the author’s claim?

            What evidence supports the author’s claim?

Look at the introduction.  It usually identifies the problem, question, possibly the main point or answer (usually at the very end of the introduction).

Look at conclusion.  Find the main point.

Look through body of article for headings that reveal the organization/sequence.

Skim the first paragraph of each section.

 Toulmin’s argument analysis:

Claim…because of…Reason based on Evidence

            (Reasons we think up.    Evidence we don’t.  It’s facts already out there.) 

Warrant: Principle that connects a reason to a claim (premise, assumption)

            Warrant shows the relevance of the evidence to the claim--that it counts. 

                        Principle of the reasoning—a generalization or rule

EXAMPLE:  Harry was born in Bermuda  -----------à  So Harry is a British subject

                         Since a man born in Bermuda will be a British subject (warrant)

 Core Elements

Claim:  What is the writer’s thesis, charge, or main assertion?

             What conclusion does the writer want the reader to come to after considering all

                        of the evidence?

 Reasons / Evidence:  What reasons support the claim?

                                    What evidence supports the claim (and the reasons)?

                                    How reliable is the evidence?

 Warrant:         What connection is there between the data and the claim?

                        What assumed principles does the writer base the argument on?

Other elements:  

Backing:       Does the writer present any evidence to back the warrant?  If so, what kind?

Rebuttal:        Does the writer present any counterarguments to the claim?

                        Does the writer describe any situations where the claim may not be true?

                        If so, does the writer refute these counterarguments?

 Qualifier:        Does the writer modify the strength or certainty of the claim with words

                                     like sometimesoften, usually, generally, or except?

Toulmin Schema:          E/R à C since W unless Q

      Evidence/Reason ------------àClaim (or conclusion)        [or can be reversed C<---E]

                        Reason…therefore Claim        OR      Claim…because of Reason

                Since W (warrant)  possibly with backing B

                Unless (Q qualifier)

            Harry was born in Bermuda  -----------à  So Harry is a British subject

                         Since (W) a man born in Bermuda will be a British subject

                                                [Backing (B):  the legal provisions for this] 

                        Unless (Q) both his parents were aliens

Warrants are sometimes difficult to detect but they are very important.   One of the best ways to critique an argument is through invalid warrants.   

EXAMPLES:  What is the claim?  What is the evidence?  What are the warrants? 

            A.  Dogs are more intelligent than cats because dogs can do tricks.

            B.  Bill is going to be a really good teacher.  He really loves kids. 

            C.     Alien abduction is a real phenomenon.  Many people who have been

      hypnotized recall alien abduction scenarios.