How to Argue Better: The Toulmin Model
The art of effective arguing is lost on most people these days, but you don’t have to be one of them wandering in the dark. Luckily, our friend Mr Toulmin has put together a little model to help us craft coherent arguments. And to help you write better essays.
One mistake many writers make when writing an essay is not knowing how to put together an argument. Novices tend to take a freestyle approach that jumps around all over the place and leaves readers confused and unconvinced. A structured and coherent argument is much more effective.
And that’s were the Toulmin Model comes in.
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.
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. Usually this is an opinion. For example:
Professor Snape was a hero.
But then you 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.
But now the warrant is what you use to show how the evidence supports the claim. Your claim and your evidence may make perfect sense to you, but you 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.
This is not only a good way to make sure your arguments are logical and persuasive. It’s also a great way to craft each of your paragraphs in an essay. You can begin your paragraph with a claim. Provide evidence to support that claim. Then explain how the evidence relates to the claim with a warrant. And don’t end your paragraph until you’ve provided that warrant!
So for example:
Hamburgers are delicious [claim], because they are a perfect balance of sweet buns, savory cheese, juicy burger, sweet tomato, and spicy mustard [evidence]. This balance of flavors makes for a fulfilling and satisfying meal [warrant].
Sometimes your warrant may require evidence to support it as well. Maybe your audience doesn’t accept that a “balance of flavors” necessarily makes for a delicious meal. Well, then you can start the whole process all over again. Your warrant becomes a claim, and now you’ve got a new paragraph.