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Stating your opinion is not enough. Here are the 3 parts to an actual argument.

You find yourself in a disagreement. The person you’re communicating with is clearly wrong about something. It may be politics, the economy, religion, music, or art. You know they’re wrong. But, how do you know? 

More often than not, you don’t. You simply feel they’re wrong. You “know” in your gut, or in your heart, but not in your brain. This is what’s called a disagreement, not an argument. 

Argumentation theory has been around a long time, well over two thousand years. And it has become littered with a lot of complex terminology: proposition, support, data, backing, inherency, causality, warrant, rebuttal, topicality, and the list goes on. 

Which is all well and good if you’re a college debater or a scholar. But what if you’re just a regular professional who wants to use solid logic to make your points? Use these three, simple elements: 




An argument is an organized contest of ideas, in which a claim is expressed, supported with evidence, and enriched with reasoning. I’ll discuss a fourth term, rebuttal, near the end of this article.   


Always begin with a clear claim. Do not be vague. Do not say,  “We need to work hard to make our neighborhood more vibrant” That statement provides nothing of substance or interest. It’s fine, however, if you follow it up with an actual claim, something that is arguable and concrete. 

Let’s say, you’re arguing with someone over whether or not a new library would help to revive your neighborhood. A solid claim might read something like this: 

In order to reverse our neighborhood’s decline, we should petition the city council for a library. 

This claim is called a policy claim because it proposes a course of action. There are other types of claims, such as fact claims and value claims. Whatever type of claim you make, just ensure it is clear and direct. 


But you’re not done. Not even close. Most amateur thinkers assume at this point that they’ve made an argument. All they’ve done is state their opinion in a direct way. You now need to support the claim with reliable evidence.

Your opponent may believe that libraries don’t help neighborhoods. They may wonder how a building with a bunch of books is going to create vibrance in the neighborhood. You might provide the following evidence: 

The American Library Association reports that 73% of public libraries assist patrons with job application and interviewing skills; many libraries also provide support to entrepreneurs looking to start a business. They help with business plans, market research, and a lot more. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, most libraries also help patrons find health insurance; some even provide fitness classes. And it’s not just library associations that are finding these benefits. These conclusions are affirmed by respected organizations like the Brookings Institution.   

If you have gotten this far, then you’re way ahead of the average person. You’ve composed a clear and concrete claim, and you’ve backed it up with evidence from respected sources. Job done, right? Not quite. You must take a final step in order to qualify your point of view as a complete argument. It’s called reasoning.


The reasoning is tricky because it seems redundant to most people. Depending on how skeptical your opponent is, you’re going to need to show them that your evidence makes sense. 

Think of reasoning as the glue that connects the evidence to the claim. It might help if you frame your thinking in these terms, “This evidence shows that . . .” 

The fancy argumentation term for this type of reasoning is warrant. That’s a word most people have heard, but they don’t quite understand what it means. They think it’s just another term for evidence. They hear the phrase, “your argument is unwarranted,” and they think the argument is not backed up with evidence. That’s not quite true. What that phrase means is that the evidence provided is not sufficient to support the claim. So, when you provide reasoning, you show that the evidence does provide sufficient support for the claim. To continue with our example: 

What this evidence shows is that libraries are not just book repositories. They are community engines. Librarians are no longer just people who lend you the latest romance or thriller. They are advocates who actually specialize in giving members of the community new tools. According to one study, every dollar invested in a library generates $4.30 in added benefits. Libraries change lives and communities.

Notice how the reasoning serves several purposes. It connects the evidence to the original claim. It also addresses potential opposing arguments by showing that the services libraries offer can actually translate into measurable benefits. The reasoning is often a place to hit home the significance of your argument. 

In fact, the reasoning section of an argument is also a good place to add a little extra evidence, as I did above with the investment numbers. Argumentation theorist Stephen Toulmin calls this type of evidence “backing,” because it provides just a little extra support to reinforce the overall argument. 

There you have it. The three elements to a full argument. But you don’t need a fully researched policy argument in order to use these three steps. They can be employed even in short arguments. For instance: 

Claim: You should invest in some communication skills training.

Evidence: A study conducted by Stanford, Harvard, and the Carnegie Foundation showed that a whopping 85% of your professional success comes from people skills. And, did you know that only 31% of employers provide training in this area?

Reasoning: If 85% of your success comes from these types of skills, but barely anyone is getting training in these areas, it seems clear that making this investment in yourself will set you apart from the competition. In fact, one MIT study found that the potential ROI on soft skills training can be as high as 250%.    

Bear in mind in this disclaimer though: argumentation is logic-based. A lot of people think that if they make a solid argument, they’re going to persuade their audience. Sadly, this is not the case. People respond far more potently to emotion and trust than they do to logic. Learning the skills of logical argumentation will help you think more effectively, and it will have some persuasive impact. But if your goal is to be moving and influential, it’s important you learn other skills as well.     

Ben Crosby is a professor of rhetoric and a communication skills consultant. He teaches courses in public speaking and presenting, argumentation and debate, technical and professional communication, persuasion and selling, and the history of rhetoric.

His work is regularly published in his field’s top academic journals and conferences. He is also the author of Presentations as Performance: A Professional’s Guide to Better Speaking.

Ben’s areas of expertise are Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Argumentation, Sales Training, and Professional Writing.

In his free time, he spends time with his wife, Rebecca, their four kids, and their cat, Arza. He is an avid Utah Jazz fan. 

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