Building Strong Arguments

For essays, speeches, debates, meetings, or intense discussions, you may need to organize your thoughts and defend them against people who might not agree with you. To do your best in these situations, follow the process outlined in the next few pages. Remember that arguments stem from a claim or position supported by compelling evidence—evidence that persuades the reader or listener to accept a point of view.

The Seven C’s of Building an Argument

When you need to build an argument, use the seven C’s to develop and support a position about a specific topic:

  1. Consider the situation. Think of all aspects of the communication situation What are the subject and purpose of your message? What medium will you use? Who is the receiver? What is the context? (See the next page.)
  2. Clarify your thinking. Think about the pros and cons of each side of the issue, and do some preliminary research so that you understand the subject well. (See the next page.)
  3. Construct a claim. Write a single statement that gives your position and the main reason that you hold that position. (See page 104.)
  4. Collect evidence. Research the issue in depth, using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Investigate to make sure your claim holds up, and change it if it doesn’t. Gather a variety of key evidence to support your claim. (See page 104.)
  5. Consider key objections. Think about other viewpoints related to the argument. What reasons could people cite to support opposing positions? What major problems could they see with your argument? Decide how you will answer those objections—by countering them (saying why they are unimportant) or by conceding them (saying they are important but can be overcome). (See page 105.)
  6. Craft your argument. Use your claim statement and the evidence you have gathered to argue persuasively for your position. Appeal to the needs of your reader, and answer any key objections. (See page 106.)
  7. Confirm your main point. Wrap up your argument by stating your claim in a new way, connecting it to real life and to the future.

Your Turn Which step in the process outlined above corresponds to the questioning phase of the inquiry process? Which steps correspond to planning? Which steps relate to research? In what ways does building an argument require the inquiry process?


1. Consider the situation.

Before you can build a strong argument, you need to analyze the communication situation. Ask yourself the following questions:

The Communication Situation (Sender, Message, Receiver, Medium, and Context)
  • As sender, what role do I have?
  • What subject is my message about?
  • What purpose do I have?
  • What medium am I using?
  • Who is the receiver? How can I convince that person?
  • What is the context? When and where will the message arrive?

Sender: I'm writing less as a high school student and more as a concerned American citizen.

Message Subject: I'm writing about the national debt.

Message Purpose: I'm calling for spending cuts and tax increases to address the debt.

Medium: This should be a letter to the editor, so it can reach a general audience.

Receiver: My audience is all Americans who are worried about federal fiscal responsibility.

Context: This message will appear in a newspaper locally, and it could be picked up by a wire service to appear in national papers.


Your Turn Think of the topics you are studying in your classes. Which topic do you feel most strongly about? What position would you most like to argue for? Analyze your communication situation by answering the questions above.


2. Clarify your thinking.

Before you can convince others, you must be clear in your own mind about your position. What are you trying to prove? Why do you feel the way you do? What kind of proof do you have? In addition, you should consider both sides of the issue. To do this, set up a pro-con chart like the one shown here:



Reducing the national debt . . .

  • is the right choice for the future.
  • requires us to live within our means.
  • improves our country's credit scores.
  • sets an example for other nations regarding fiscal responsibility.
  • creates a sustainable budget.

Reducing the national debt . . .

  • may slow the economy.
  • requires bipartisan support.
  • requires tax increases.
  • requires cuts to spending.
  • impacts those receiving entitlements.
  • impacts the military.

Your Turn Create a pro-con chart, arguing for and against your position. Thoroughly explore both pros and cons. You will need to understand all perspectives to make a convincing case.


3. Constructing a Claim

After you have thoroughly investigated an issue, you are ready to construct a claim about it. Arguments develop three types of claims:

  1. A truth claim indicates that you believe something is or is not true.

The national debt threatens the future of our nation.

  1. A value claim indicates the worth that you assign to something.

A balanced budget would be the best gift we can give our children.

  1. A policy claim says what you think should or should not be done.

The federal government must cut spending to reduce the national debt.


To formulate a claim, name your subject and express the truth, value, or policy you want to promote.


Truth, Value, or Policy

Claim (Position) Statement

The national debt

downsize post-war military spending and social programs

To reduce the national debt, the U.S. government must cut wasteful spending.


4. Collecting Evidence

After stating a claim, you must support it. Different types of details provide different types of support:

  • Facts and statistics connect your claim to specific realities.

Each taxpayer's portion of the U.S. national debt is over $140,000.

  • Reasons and results show the causes and effects of a situation.

The debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 caused the U.S. credit rating to slip.

  • Examples and anecdotes show how the claim works.

A person who makes $46,000 can’t spend $71,000—but the government does.

  • Quotations and reflections get at the feelings of the audience.

“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt,” said Thomas Jefferson.


Your Turn (1) Use the formula above to construct a truth, a value, and a policy claim about a subject you feel strongly about. (2) Choose one of your claims and research it. Write down one of each of the four types of supporting details listed in the chart above.


5. Considering Key Objections

Any debatable issue has at least two, and often many, points of view. When you build an argument, you need to consider alternate positions. Just as you have gathered support for your position, those with other perspectives will have gathered objections. Start by identifying them.

Objection 1:

The debt matches our gross domestic product, which means that the debt has not yet reached an unmanageable size.

Objection 2:

The boom of the '90s balanced the federal budget, and the next boom will balance this budget.

Objection 3:

The time to cut government spending is not during a recession but during a boom.

Your Turn Reverse your thinking. Imagine that you strongly oppose the claim you made and researched on the previous pages. List at least three serious objections to your previous position.


Answering Objections

Ignoring the objections to your argument weakens rather than strengthens it. You need to face objections head-on. The following strategies have been applied to each of the example objections above.

  • Rebut the objection.

If our gross domestic product goes down, our debt goes up as we try to stimulate the economy. Allowable debt can't be based solely on GDP.

  • Recognize part of the objection but overcome the rest.

It is true that the boom of the '90s resulted in a balanced budget, but a balanced budget fixes only that year's deficit, not the compounded national debt.

  • Concede the objection and move on.

Yes, during a recession, government spending is needed to get the economy moving again. Now that the recession is over, we need to reduce spending.

Your Turn Answer each of the objections to your own claim that you listed in the previous “Your Turn” activity. Either rebut the objection, recognize part of it but overcome the rest, or concede and move on.


6. Crafting Your Argument

How you structure your argument depends a great deal on how receptive or resistant your audience is. For a receptive audience, you can provide support up front and rebuttal of objections near the end. For opposed audiences, you may want to start with rebuttals.Argument Structure for Receptive, Skeptical, Resistant, and Opposed

Your Turn Think about the audience for the position (claim) you chose to work with on pages 103-104. How receptive or resistant are they? Which of the structures above would you use to craft your argument? Or would you use a different structure? Explain your answer.


Using Persuasive Appeals

Classical rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, prescribes three ways to appeal to your audience:

  1. Appeal to ethos—demonstrate that you are an ethical and trustworthy source.
  2. Appeal to logos—use logic to argue for your position.
  3. Appeal to pathos—move the person emotionally to connect with your position.

The most persuasive arguments may use all three types of appeals—but always responsibly. Each of these appeals can be abused, as you will see in the section on logical fallacies (pages 108–112).

Your Turn You’ve learned about using logic (logos) to connect with the reader. Now consider what your audience wants or needs in order to make an emotional connection (pathos). How does your position help them get what they need, want, or expect?


7. Confirming Your Main Point

Complete your argument by stating your main point in a new way and connecting it to the future. Leave your audience with a strong final thought.


Using Socratic Questions to Examine Arguments

You’ve learned how to build a compelling argument. There’s also a technique for examining arguments and deepening thinking.

The Greek philosopher Socrates examined arguments through questions, pushing students to use logic to deduce answers. Socratic questions are especially useful for probing the thinking of opponents in a debate.

Socratic Questions

  • Clarifying questionsask the person to restate an idea in a new way.
    • Could you please rephrase that statement?
    • How would you summarize your position?
    • Are you saying that ________________?
  • Assumption questionsexplore the person’s underlying ideas.
    • What are the assumptions underlying that statement?
    • Is that statement based on the belief that ________________?
    • Could you explain how/why ________________?
  • Reasoning questionsget at the logic the person is using.
    • Can you demonstrate how this premise is true?
    • What evidence supports this claim?
    • Are you implying/concluding that ________________?
  • Perspective questionsprompt the person to use a different point of view.
    • What analogy could you use to express that idea?
    • How would ________________ respond to that idea?
    • How do you answer the objection that ________________?
  • Consequence questionsask the person to consider what might happen.
    • What will result from that position?
    • How can we apply that idea in a broader context?
    • What is the value of that idea, and why?
  • Recursive questionsreturn to the original question.
    • Why are we asking this question?
    • How does this question connect to the situation?
    • How can we reframe this question?

Your Turn With a partner, discuss a current issue that you are studying in class. Use Socratic questions occasionally to deepen the discussion. Which questions were most helpful? Which were least helpful? Why?


Additional Resources

Newsletter Article: Making Your Claim

Web Page: Counter-Argument

Web Page: What is a counter-argument?

Web Page: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Web Page: Socrates

Web Page: Socratic Questioning