The “reason” aspect of determining whether some passage is or contains an argument is crucial. For example, pick up any newspaper or online news source that has an op-ed section. If you peruse through the articles you might at first think that every article contains an argument, or is an argument. However, when you carefully apply the two steps on the previous page, you should begin to realize that sometimes the opinion is simply an unsupported fast-thinking opinion and sometimes it’s a full-on rant. The author makes a statement that seems like a conclusion (i.e., they take a stance on something), but fails to provide any support or reasoning as to why they have that opinion or thought. Again, ask yourself, “Are there any reasons given as to why they think this way?”

There are two other common cases that at first appear to be arguments, but in fact, are not considered “original” arguments:

Reported arguments are statements which say that so-and-so argued in a certain way. These kinds of arguments are simply a report (like a book report) of someone else’s argument. It could be analyzed as an argument, but it is possible something was omitted or added by the person who did the reporting.

Explanations can be hard to distinguish from arguments because they attempt to show why or how something happens (or has happened). Put more succinctly, an explanation is a statement or statements offered in answer to the question “why did that event occur?” Explanations can be in the form of cause/effect relationships, natural laws, functions or underlying mechanisms (from Stephen Carey’s Beginners Guide to the Scientific Method). These are not arguments in the sense we are using the word because there is little if any reason to doubt the truth of the conclusion. With this in mind, the vast majority of reports about scientific studies or discoveries are simply descriptions of the findings. There may be a latent argument about how the study or discovery could be applied to society or the world, but this is usually at the end of the report.

Reported Argument, Explanation, or Original Argument?

Review each statement and determine if it’s a reported argument, explanation, or original argument.

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Critical Thinking in Academic Research by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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