The Basics of Formulating an Argument

Simplified Toulmin Method

When writing it is best to think of everything as an argument.  Even if you are writing a history paper or a science report – it might feel like you are just restating facts, but you still want to include evidence and support and make a point, just like an argument. Let’s start with some vocabulary:

  • Claim: something you want to prove or impress upon your audience
  • Support: evidence, quotes, statistics, data, etc. that supports your claim
  • Warrant: explain HOW that support connects to and backs up your claim
  • Counterclaim: Addressing an argument your opponent or audience might be thinking about.

In short, you state your point (claim), then back it up with some evidence (support), and add some commentary on that support (warrant).  Let me show you with a test case:

You had a claim, extended curfew, but got sidetracked by argumentative fallacies and lost focus.

Let’s try it again using the Toulmin method.  First, list some of your supporting arguments and how that support connects back to your claim (warrant).

  • Other kids my age get to stay out later. Psychologists and smart people say being able to socially develop at the same pace as my friends is really important.
  • I’ve had the same curfew for two years.
  • I don’t usually get in trouble. Shouldn’t I get credit for good behavior or time served or something?  Well, there was that one time that . . . oh, and the time that. . . . And then she’s gonna want to know if Marcus is going to be there because you know he’s going to be into something.  You know what, maybe let’s not use this one.

Add a counterclaim:  Hmm, what is Mom going to say that I can refute before she even says it?  Maybe I can come up with something that makes me sound smart, too  . . .

  • So, I know you’re going to say that high risk behavior and car accidents with teens increase with every hour later we’re out, but those are statistics, not individuals and those statistics drastically decrease with involved parenting. You’ve taught me well and helped me to understand the consequences of my actions.  #flatterygetsyoueverywhere
  • I’ll be careful; I’ll call if I need you; and this’ll help teach me how to be responsible. (Know your audience; If you want to beat a grown up, sound like a grown up.)

Let’s try again:

“For the Win” created at

The same concepts can be applied to other modes of writing such as expository writing (really just a fancy word for explaining).  If you are doing a history report, for example, you should still have a point – like maybe that George Washington didn’t really say “I cannot tell a lie” or that a contributing factor to the Civil War was the instability of the young American government after overextending itself in the Mexican-American War.

Or in science class your lab write-ups talk about how an experiment supported or refuted a hypothesis (claim).  You do that with data (support) and explain HOW that data supports or refutes your hypothesis (warrant).  You might even address other possible variables on the success or failure of the experiment (counterclaim).

While writing certainly requires a lot of code switching, the basics are all the same: treat everything as an argument.

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