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Academic reading: Analyzing arguments

Analyzing arguments

It’s important to find out if arguments made in, for example, academic texts are based on evidence or only the author’s personal viewpoints. Note that an argument does not only mean giving or exchanging an opinion, but the whole set of a statement and the reason or reasons given to support it. After you have evaluated an argument, you can make the decision to accept the argument or to reject it. To be able to do this, you need to analyze the validity of the argument, in other words whether the reasons given for a statement support it sufficiently. An argument consists of three elements:

  1. Claim: the opinion or conclusion that the author is asking their audience to accept, e.g. “Learning to read a text critically is important for university students.”
  2. Grounds: the evidence, such as data or facts, or support which explains why the claim should be accepted, e.g. “Reading a text critically allows students to assess the quality of the arguments in it and whether they should accept them as true.”
  3. Warrant: the link between claim and grounds, or the (often implicit) assumption the reader has to accept to agree that the grounds support the claim, e.g. “University students are expected to be able to assess arguments and their support in all of their coursework.”

It is often the case that an argument is less strong than it may seem at first sight because the warrant that the argument relies on is faulty or simply not true. For example, if you read that “most people know that critical reading is an important skill at university,” you must first accept that what most people know is automatically true. This is, of course, not always the case. Similarly, if you see the claim that “80% of students who learned to read critically in the first semester of their studies went on to complete their bachelor’s degree within three years”, you could wonder whether this happened because these students learned to read critically or if other factors caused or contributed to their success.  


In the following arguments, a) identify the implicit assumptions, or warrants, that the argument is based on; and b) decide if the argument is a strong or weak one.

  1. James thoroughly understands the material which is why he scored well on his exam.
  2. It should not be illegal for adults to smoke marijuana. After all, it does not harm anyone.
  3. People are not engaging with our website, so it must be because they don’t know where to find it.
  4. Richard III’s body was found under a car park in Leicester, and he fell nearby in Bosworth Field, so it is only right that he should be re-buried in Leicester.
  5. New medical studies show that if the average employee improves their physical health, then their productivity also increases significantly. Companies should therefore introduce mandatory exercise programs every morning in order to increase productivity.

  1. The warrant here is that doing well on the exam shows that you understand the materials. However, first, you could question the high grade: perhaps James would get a lower grade if it was marked by a second examiner. That said, even if James got a high mark for his exam a second time, you could still criticize the argument. Does scoring well on an exam prove that James had a good command of the material? Perhaps he simply learned the answers to the questions by heart, and he is unable to apply the material to other cases.
  2. The warrant is that people would engage with the website if they were finding it. The argument is not that strong as there may be other reasons why users are not engaging with the website. Perhaps the design of the website is flawed or people are having difficulty understanding the language on it.
  3. The warrant is that an action should be legal as long as no one is harmed by it. You could argue, however, that smoking marihuana does harm the health of the person using it and possibly that of people around him or her, as smoking does.
  4. The warrant is that the location where someone dies determines the place where they should be buried. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that there are no other important reasons for burying a person somewhere, but perhaps we should look at where they lived, where their next of kin are located or what their personal preferences were. We could also doubt the need for re-burial: why wouldn’t we cremate the remains or put them up for display in a museum?
  5. The warrant is that the mandatory exercise program will actually improve employees’ physical health. No evidence is presented here that this is actually the case. You could therefore challenge the argument that these exercise programs should be introduced.