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4. Making an Argument: Elements in an argument

Making an argument in an essay, term paper, or other college writing task is not like having a noisy, face-to-face fight. Instead, it's like laying out your case in court.

Just as there are conventions that attorneys must adhere to in court as they make their arguments, there are conventions in arguments made in essays and term papers. Among those conventions are the elements of an argument.

Luckily, the arguments you're used to hearing or participating in with friends about something that is uncertain or needs to be decided contain the same elements as the ones you'll need to use in essays and term papers.



Read the short dialog on pages 108-109 in the 2008 e-book The Craft of Research (OSU only) by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. The elements of an argument are labeled for you.



Here's another dialog of an argument, with the most important elements 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.


It's no accident that people are said to make arguments - they're all constructed and these elements are the building blocks. The elements are important because of what they contribute.

For instance, the question gets things started off. The claim or thesis tells people what you consider a true way of describing the world or what action you think should be taken. The reservations and objections that someone brings up allows you to demonstrate how your evidence (maybe) makes mincemeat of that kind of thinking - and (you hope) your claim/thesis comes out stronger for having withstood the test.



Identify the elements of an argument in the ID Elements activity.




See if you can get the elements of an argument in their correct order in the Elements Order activity.



These elements were identified by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams in The Craft of Research, University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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