Defining and Evaluating Reasons

If the claim states a position or stance, then the reasons state ideas that demonstrate why that position or stance is legitimate. Positions/stances are always grounded in certain beliefs and/or experiences, so any time a claim is stated there must be reasons behind it. Reasons can take different forms depending on the rhetorical situation; in particular, the person communicating the claim must be mindful of who the intended audience is and what reasons that audience will find most compelling. Keep in mind that when you are writing an academic paper that is argument-based, it can be helpful to imagine that your audience holds a different position than you do on the topic, which places the burden on you to demonstrate why your ideas are sound. When you imagine your audience agrees with you from the start, you may be more likely to present weaker reasons (as well as evidence) to back your claim.

When evaluating others’ reasons as well as developing and evaluating your own, then, ask the following questions:

  1. Who is the intended audience, and what kinds of reasons are they most likely to be persuaded by? The ultimate purpose of the argument is to demonstrate the merits of the claim, so, without carefully considering who the audience is for the argument and what will appeal to them, that purpose is unlikely to be met.
  2. How contentious is the claim (i.e., is the claim more likely to be positively or negatively received by the intended audience), and what does that suggest in terms of not only the kinds of reasons that are needed but also the amount? If the claim reflects a highly unpopular opinion, then in order for the argument to succeed it may need not only quality reasons, but also many of them.
  3. Are the reasons clearly connected to the claim? If it is not apparent how a reason supports the claim, then further information may be needed to show the relationship between them.
  4. Which reasons are the strongest, and which are the weakest? The strength of the reasons should be an important factor when determining organization of the argument since it can impact how the audience interprets and responds to the argument.
  5. How complex are the reasons? Just as it is important to consider the strength of the reasons when determining the organization of the argument, it is also necessary to consider their complexity. Some reasons will be simpler to understand, and others will be more nuanced; what is the best ordering of the reasons to maximize each of their contributions to the argument?