At minimum, an argument consists of three parts:
- A claim,
- Reasons that support the claim, and
- Evidence that supports the reasons.
It is important that you understand how to identify and interpret these parts of an argument in source material you read as well as how to organize them in your own writing.
When conducting secondary research for a project, you likely will encounter a range of sources on your topic, both scholarly and non-scholarly. Some of those sources will present arguments, whereas others will not, particularly if their purpose is to inform rather than to persuade. We are focusing on recognizing argument in academic journal articles since those are required sources for the course this book is designed for, but they are also commonly required for other courses—composition and non-composition courses—as well. If you are able to identify the arguments the authors of the sources you consult are making, then you will be better able to evaluate the quality of those sources and their usefulness to your own projects. You should never integrate a source into your own writing unless you understand the claim or main point that is being made, since doing so is likely to result in misinterpretation and flawed reasoning. Further, if you understand the argument your authors are making, then you also will be able to better determine what effect the authors hope to accomplish: do they merely want you to accept their position (leading to a change in knowledge), or are they writing to enact behavioral change? Recognizing the authors’ likely purpose is an important part of reading effectively and appropriately representing source material in your own writing.
In addition, as you prepare your own argument-based writing, you need to carefully consider how to present your claim, reasons, and evidence to make your argument as successful as it can be. There is not one set formula to follow for organizing your argument; rather, you will need to make decisions based on the rhetorical situation as well as your own writing style and preferences. Further, sometimes your initial approach to organizing your argument will not be as impactful as it could and should be, regardless of how well you planned it, in which case you need to be willing to try a new way to approach the argument.