Skills Hub

Evaluating arguments

This section gives you guidance on how to evaluate an argument in a text or in your own essay. Check the following aspects:

References to other academics

Always consider academic writing in the context of the academic field - what do other writers say about the subject?

• Does the writer consider different points of view fairly?
• Has the author failed to refer to another writer whose argument could be used to support or undermine their argument?

For your own assignments, make sure you research what has already been written on the subject.

Appropriate evidence

Arguments need to be supported by evidence to be effective. Types of evidence include other authors' ideas, statistics and surveys. When evaluating an argument, think about whether the appropriate type of evidence has been used to support it.

• Is there enough evidence?
• Is the evidence biased?
• If a poll/survey has been done, is the sample representative?
• Is the evidence used up to date/relevant?

When doing research for your own writing, assess the credibility of the sources you read. This may be especially important when using websites. For tips, see Evaluating web pages.

Style

In everyday life, we often try to persuade people by using emotive language (by using words such as ‘great', ‘fantastic'). Emotive language may make an argument appear stronger than it really is, and it is inappropriate in academic writing. As a reader you need to examine the author's argument to make sure it is justified.

• Does the argument use emotional appeal rather than relying on the force of reason?
• Is the author's ‘voice' conveyed through unsubstantiated personal opinion rather than through engaging with the argument?

Logic

In logic an argument can be valid or invalid. In a valid argument the conclusion follows on from the premises (propositions, statements or assumptions upon which the argument is based). If all the premises in an argument can be proved to be true and the conclusion can be shown to follow on from the premises, then the conclusion will necessarily be true. In examining an argument consider whether the premises (or steps) in an argument follow on from one another, and whether the premises are true.

  • Are the prepositions, assumptions or statements upon which the argument is based true?
  • Does the conclusion necessarily follow from the premises?

For more information see our Examples of logic and How not to construct arguments.

Important implications

Think about the implications of the argument and the author's suggestions. Would implementing the author's suggestions have results that they have not written about, either positive or negative?

• Are there any worthwhile implications, e.g. for policy recommendations or action?
• Are there any undesirable or dangerous implications?

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