Analysis of an Argument
Ideally, the skills that you learn from this assignment will help you analyze arguments in lecture, primary texts, and secondary texts both for the rest of the year and the rest of your time at Reed. This is an essential skill, and it is worth practicing these steps outlines below until they feel comfortable and/or second nature. Some of the skills you will need for analyzing an argument are the ability to summarize an argument and evaluate it in terms of logic, rhetoric, and content.
Steps to Take When Evaluating an Argument
- Summarize the argument succinctly. For example, in question number three, you would want to clarify for yourself (and your reader) why and how Socrates draws an analogy between a city and a soul. How are they analogous? This should be brief and NOT take up the bulk of your paper.
- Evaluate the argument rhetorically. If it is a printed argument, you will want to consider how the argument uses invention, arrangement, and style (see the "classical rhetoric" page for definitions and examples of what all these entail). If it is a speech, you may also want to consider how well it was memorized and delivered--the final two aspects of classical rhetoric. Use the paper topic to help guide your response: for example, if you are asked to evaluate if the argument was persuasive, you should spend a considerable amount of time brainstorming on the subject of invention, since this covers how people are persuaded.
- Evaluate the logic of the argument. (Actually this is part of invention as well, but since it is so important, I am giving it a separate heading.) Identify the primary type of logic being used (e.g. you may have discussed causal arguments when reading Herodotus, or arguments by analogy when reading Plato). What are the usual types of weakness found in this type of argument? Are they found here? Also, are there any other logical fallacies in the argument (e.g. hasty generalizations, faulty use of authority, doubtful causes, false analogies, ad hominem, false dilemmas, slippery slopes, straw man, non sequiturs, ad populum? (See the article "Common Fallacies" by Annette Rottenberg.)
- Evaluate the subject of the argument. Is the scope reasonable (i.e. is something necessary or damaging missing)? Is it biased in any way?
Requirements: What Qualities Does a Successful Analysis of an Argument Essay Usually Have?
- A Thesis that is a debatable assertion
- Coherent and logical structure
- Persuasive substantiation of Argument
- Brief Recapitulation of Argument
- Discussion of Strengths and/or Weaknesses of the Argument
Need More Help?
Take a look at the following essays/handouts in the Writing Center:
Sylvan Barnet, "Paraphrase and Explication"
Richard Marius, "Paragraphs," A Writer's Companion
Annette Rottenberg, "Common Fallacies," The Structure of Argument
"Writing More Interesting Introductions & Conclusions"