Lesson - Tips for Analyzing an Argument
Analyzing an Argument
When you "Analyze an Argument" you evaluate someone else's argument. The task presents a brief passage in which the author makes a case for a course of action or interprets events by presenting claims and supporting evidence. Your job will be to examine the claims made and critically assess the logic of the author's position.
Points for Analysis
You will analyze the logic of the author's case by evaluating both the use of evidence and the logical connections. In reading the author's argument, consider the following:
- what evidence is given?
- what conclusions are made?
- what assumptions (likely not stated) are made?
- what ramifications (perhaps not stated) would necessarily follow from the author's argument?
Also evaluate the reasoning and structure of the argument. Look for transition words and phrases to show the author's logical connections (e.g., however, thus, therefore, evidently, hence, in conclusion ). Then evaluate the following:
- what leaps are being made from one point of logic to another?
- are classic logical flaws evident? *
* You will not need to address classic logical flaws by their Latin names, but you should be able to recognize and refute common logical errors. A review of common logical flaws will be helpful in preparation for analyzing arguments.
Although you do not need to know special analytical techniques and terminology, you should be familiar with the directions for the Argument task and with certain key concepts, including the following:
- argument -- a claim or a set of claims with reasons and evidence offered as support; a line of reasoning meant to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of something
- assumption -- a belief, often unstated or unexamined, that someone must hold in order to maintain a particular position; something that is taken for granted but that must be true in order for the conclusion to be true
- alternative explanation -- a competing version of what might have caused the events in question that undercuts or qualifies the original explanation because it too can account for the observed facts
- counterexample -- an example, real or hypothetical, that refutes or disproves a statement in the argument
- analysis -- the process of breaking something (e.g., an argument) down into its component parts in order to understand how they work together to make up the whole
- evaluation -- an assessment of the quality of evidence and reasons in an argument and of the overall merit of an argument
- conclusion -- the end point reached by a line of reasoning, valid if the reasoning is sound; the resulting assertion
What Not to Address in Your Response
An important part of performing well on the Argument task is remembering what you are not being asked to do:
- You are not being asked to discuss whether the statements in the argument are true or accurate.
- You are not being asked to agree or disagree with the position stated.
- You are not being asked to express your own views on the subject being discussed (as you were in the Issue task).
Steps for Analyzing the Argument:
1) Read the argument and instructions carefully.
2) Identify the argument's claims, conclusions and underlying assumptions. Evaluate their quality.
3) Think of as many alternative explanations and counterexamples as you can.
4) Think of what specific additional evidence might weaken or lend support to the claims.
5) Ask yourself what changes in the argument would make the reasoning more sound.
You are being assessed on your ability to evaluate the logic of another writer's argument. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, analytical abilities, and the clarity with which you present your ideas.