A strong argument includes a precise claim on a substantive issue, provides valid reasons and relevant evidence, and addresses opposing viewpoints. But not all arguments are effective.
Knowing how to evaluate arguments will help you assess the validity of your own thinking, as well as the reasoning of others; appreciate multiple viewpoints on an issue or problem; and formulate sound, well-informed opinions.
To evaluate an argument, it’s helpful to read through the entire text once, so you can fully understand the writer’s viewpoint. Then, reread the text, using these strategies to help you judge the effectiveness of the argument:
- Identify and analyze the claim. Often, a writer’s position, or claim, is directly stated in the first or the last paragraph. Sometimes, however, you have to infer or guess the claim by examining the reasons and evidence the writer provides. Whether the claim is directly stated or implied, ask yourself: Is the writer’s viewpoint clear and obvious?
- Evaluate the reasons. Identify the writer’s reasons, or statements that support the claim. Words and phrases like one reason, another reason, or because often signal the introduction of a reason. Are the reasons valid — do they make sense for the claim? Are there enough of them to make a convincing case?
- Critique the evidence. In an effective argument, the writer supports each reason with reliable evidence. Evidence comes in many forms, such as facts, statistics, quotations, examples, or personal stories. Each piece of evidence beyond the writer’s own experience should be from a credible source, and that source should be clearly identified in the argument. Also, be on the lookout for any unnecessary or irrelevant evidence.
- Weigh counterclaims. A strong argument acknowledges and addresses opposing viewpoints—what “the other side” might say about the writer’s position. Make sure the writer not only mentions those opposing viewpoints but includes counterclaims to refute them. Ask yourself: In describing opposing viewpoints, does the writer use an objective tone, rather than resort to emotional, dismissive language? Does counterclaim offer reasons and evidence to help me understand why the writer’s viewpoint is superior?