Argument Analysis Assignment
- What is an argument analysis?
- What tasks do I perform that will help me begin an argument analysis?
- What is the place of evaluation in an argument analysis?
- What type of writing is used for argument analysis?
- What should I include in a critique of an argument?
An argument analysis looks at what makes an argument ‘work’. What makes an argument valid and sound and acceptable to its audience? The answer to this question is that a number of aspects contribute to making an argument work.
One aspect—suggested by the phrase “acceptable to its audience”—is to consider the ways in which the argument is tailored for particular listeners or readers, for a particular purpose, and within a particular context. Another aspect—suggested by the phrase “valid and sound”—is to consider the extent to which the argument follows the laws of logic and avoids fallacies in its reasoning.
Your instructor may refer to the first aspect—with its focus on audience, purpose, and context—as rhetorical and the second aspect—with its focus on reasoning—as logical. However, logos has long been considered an element of rhetoric, so do not be surprised if the logical and the rhetorical overlap.
At the outset of an argument analysis, it is important to recognize that the speaker or writer is trying to persuade an audience of something. One task, then, is to identify the conclusion—the overall position that the speaker or writer is supporting. The word conclusion here is not being used to refer to the ending or final paragraph of the essay or speech. Instead, it is being used to refer to the outcome of a chain of reasoning.
Another task is to pinpoint the argument’s premises—the statements that the speaker or writer brings forward to create the chain of reasoning that supports the conclusion. By performing these tasks, you bring into focus the logical structure of the argument.
One specific technique for describing an argument’s logical structure is to create a ‘map’ or diagram. Another useful move is to determine whether the argument is deductive or inductive (or a mix of both).
A complete analysis of an argument requires more than charting its logical structure and determining the role of deduction and induction within that structure. The point of identifying the main parts of an argument—its premises and its conclusion—is to enable you to evaluate it.
In evaluating arguments ask questions such as these:
- Should I accept the argument?
- If not, what prevents the argument from being compelling?
- Are the supporting claims true or reasonable?
- Is any of the reasoning fallacious, illogical, or otherwise questionable?
We often look for ways to respond to what we have read or heard, and one way to do so is to write a critique. In a critique, we systematically examine and evaluate a piece of writing or a speech. We may want to analyze a writer’s or speaker’s logic. We may want to identify and assess his persuasive or rhetorical strategies. A critique can allow us to do either or both. One way to approach the Argument Analysis, then, is to think of it as a critique. Your Argument Analysis essay will systematically examine and evaluate the rhetoric and logic of a speech or a piece of writing.
In a critique, you want to carefully consider whether an author has achieved her goal and what part language and other choices play in the success or failure of the argument. Ask yourself questions like the following:
- Has the text been organized effectively?
- Are the examples or arguments relevant or familiar to the audience? Are they suitable for the context?
- Is the vocabulary relevant or familiar to the audience? Is it suitable for the context?
- Are the dialect, tone, usage, and style appropriate for audience and context?
- If the argument is delivered as a speech, is the delivery effective? Has the delivery been tailored to its audience?
- Has the writer or speaker made choices that would encourage trust in her ethos?
- Has she made choices that create effective appeals to pathos?
- Has she made choices that create effective appeals to logos?
In the critique, be certain to keep the focus on the text being examined and evaluated rather than on your own personal response to the argument. To avoid inserting your personal response into the critique, avoid phrases such as “I think,” “I feel” or “I believe,” as well as related phrases such as “It seems to me” or “It appears to me.”
Also be careful not to be sidetracked into summarizing the argument instead of analyzing it. You may need to include some brief summary in a critique, but only in order to bring up points that you then evaluate for their success in advancing the author’s position.