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Structuring an Argument the Toulmin Way

If you’ve ever watched the news or read one of your friend’s Facebook posts, you know the art of effective arguing is lost on most people these days. A lot of arguments take the ol’ “I’m right because I’m always right, and you’re wrong because you’re ugly” approach. But you don’t have to be one of these people wandering around in the dark. Luckily, our friend Mr. Toulmin has put together a little model to help us craft better arguments.

The Toulmin Model

The Toulmin Model is named after Stephen Toulmin, a young gun in the rhetoric game who blew up the scene in 1958 when he published his book The Uses of Argument which features what is now known as the Toulmin Model of argument. Apparently it didn’t go over so well in his native Britain, but Americans ate it right up. Probably because their country was founded by kings, and our country was founded by lawyers. Go figure.

Begin with a Claim

The Toulmin Model works like this: When you’re setting up an argument, you want to start with a claim. The claim is your idea that you feel needs to be defended. So for example:

Professor Snape was a hero.

Usually your claim is an opinion, but these days, sometimes even facts need to be defended.

Support with Evidence

After you’ve made your claim, you’ll need to support that claim with evidence. Your evidence must be either facts or other persuasive information that will help you back up your claim. This can come in the form of quotes from reliable sources, relevant examples or precedents, or even generally accepted facts:

Snape begrudgingly rejoined the Death Eaters at the end Book 4 and fulfilled Dumbledore’s task at the end of Book 6 because it was the right thing to do, even when it wasn’t easy for him. He put his role as a double agent at risk protecting people throughout the series for the greater good. And he sacrificed his life at the end of Book 7 all for his love of Lily Evans.

People throw around claims without supporting evidence all the time, so asking for evidence is a great way to annoy your friends—and to always be right. So the next time someone tells you you’re ugly, just say to them, “Am I ugly? What evidence do you have to support that claim? Can you provide a reliable source or relevant precedent to defend your claim that I am ugly?”

Bridge with a Warrant

Now that you’ve defended your claim with evidence, the warrant is what you’ll use to show how the evidence supports the claim. Your claim and your evidence may make perfect sense to you, but if you’re trying to convince someone else, you’ll still need to explain how the two relate to each other:

These qualities of doing what is right over what is easy, working for the greater good, and sacrificial love are the same qualities that Dumbledore himself commends in Harry Potter throughout the series.

The warrant is one of those things that people often miss, but it’s important to remember that what is clear in your head is not always clear in someone else’s. You need to bridge that gap to make your argument clear.

So now, after that bully finishes listing evidence to support the claim that you’re ugly—”You’re ugly, because you’re fat, dirty and you have a stupid face.”—you can then reply, “Ah well, that may very well be true, but can you prove that this evidence defines an ugly person? What warrant do you have to help prove the evidence supports the claim? Who’s to say that being fat makes one ugly? And are there not people who are both dirty and sexy?”