Working scientifically and generating knowledge is very much about convincing other people that your claim is valid or ‘correct’. Do this by arguing academically.
When you, as a student, make a claim – either orally or in writing – you must be able to provide an academically acceptable basis for your claim. An academically acceptable basis can be subject-specific theory or an empirical study, for example.
Argumentation will be at several levels within your assignment; at sentence level, section level and overall level. This page has inspiration on how to present your argument continuously through your assignment and how to use a common thread to structure an assignment around a single argument.
It can be helpful to use Toulmin’s model (illustrated below) as the basis for building your argument. Toulmin’s model is a style of argumentation that can help you structure individual arguments within your assignment or structure all your arguments to be part of a single overall argument.
The Toulmin model consists of three fundamental parts: the claim, the grounds and the warrant. These three parts together make up the argument. There are three optional additional elements: the qualifier, backing and the rebuttal.
It’s usually also a good idea to give the argument some context. It’s important that the reader knows why the argument is relevant, how it contributes, what others have argued in relation to your argument, etc. This applies to your arguments at sentence level, but particularly in relation to the assignment as a whole.
You can support your argumentation linguistically by using so-called argumentation words: because, that is, therefore, so, namely, in order to, for that reason, as, given that, is the reason, consequently, in consequence, hence, nevertheless, however, on the other hand.
|The assertion that you would like to prove to your reader.|
|Your claim is ‘correct’ because your analysis shows it. This means that the analysis supports the claim.|
|In order for the reader to accept your analysis as legitimate grounds for the claim, the warrant must be accepted. The warrant is therefore a justification for the legitimacy of the analysis; the analysis has been completed in a way (methodology) and by using some tools (theory) that are accepted within the academic field.|
|Backing refers to any form of additional support for the warrant. By incorporating grounds for your method and theory, e.g. by elaborating on the underlying philosophy of science and by referring to valid literature about your applied method, you will further strengthen your warrant.|
|If you point out any weaknesses in your argument, it will be more difficult for the reader to challenge the overall argument. In other words, the argument works better if you can criticise the grounds you use (point out the uncertainties and results of the analysis), your warrant (critique of method and theory) or your backing (criticism of the theoretical foundation). However, the rebuttal should not undermine your argument, so remember to also point out why your claim is ‘correct’ despite the criticism.|
|The qualifier indicates the strength of your claim and thereby also affects whether your reader will be persuaded by your argument. If you have analysed one case, you may not be able to convince your reader that you "with 100% certainty have demonstrated that the following always applies..." The qualifier indicates the degree of certainty, scope or frequency of your conclusion and must be consistent with the analysis you have conducted.|
Argumentation takes place at many levels within your assignment and should permeate your writing at sentence level, section level and overall level. The overall level is the assignment’s overall argumentation.
If you use Toulmin’s model to organise your assignment around a single argument, then the model can also be used to structure the assignment itself.
Create a common thread throughout your assignment by organising it around a single argument. This structure will mean all sections of the paper are part of the overall argumentation and all sections point toward the conclusion. Doing this makes it easier for your reader to see how you reach your conclusions and creates transparency, which is an important academic code of practice.
The different sub-elements of the argumentation appear in different sections of an academic assignment. Below is a standard outline for academic assignments, showing which parts of the argument belong in which sections.
Remember that this is a template. In some assignments, it will make more sense to present the elements of the argument differently. For example, the rebuttal and backing can be presented and discussed on an ongoing basis rather than in a single section. Please note that some courses have their own requirements for the structure of assignments. However, the structure alone does not make an assignment academic. The argumentation does.
Introduction (including problem statement), motivation, objective, research overview, delimitation and short presentation of theory, method and approach.
The context of the argument
Brief presentation of the claim.
|Presentation of theory||Warrant & any backing|
|Methods and philosophy of science||Warrant & backing|
|Analysis incl. presentation of empirical data and results||Grounds|
|Assessment & discussion||Rebuttal & backing|
|Conclusion||Claim incl. qualifier. The claim is discussed in relation to the grounds, warrant, backing and rebuttal|
|Perspectives||The context of the argument|
Using the model to structure your argumentation, will help you keep track of your argumentation and spot any gaps in your argumentation. The model can also help give the assignment focus and the infamous common thread.
Fill out the handout based on the Toulmin model:
Here you can see some examples of assignments that are structured as one argument. The examples are from linguistics and Science & Technology, and they show how the parts of the Toulmin model are used in an academic assignment and in a scientific article.
You can also use the Toulmin model to analyse the argumentation in other people's texts, e.g. when you need to compare or evaluate scientific articles and surveys in connection with an assignment or a presentation, or if you need to provide feedback on other students' assignments or presentations.