Major parts of an argument

Premises:  Supporting evidence for a conclusion. The evidence will be facts or assumptions treated as facts (assumptions that the audience already takes to be true). There will often be several premises composing an argument.

Conclusion:  The main point you are arguing for (usually your thesis), supported by premises and logic.

Inference:  The logical step or reasoning process that allows you to move from premises to conclusion. To arrive at a conclusion, you make an inference. (Make sure your inference is valid. A list of fallacious inferences is available here).


1)  Either Hillary Clinton or Obama will win the Democratic nomination.

2)  Unless Hillary wins Texas and Ohio, she has little chance of winning the nomination.

3)  It is highly unlikely that Hillary will win both Texas and Ohio.

Therefore, Obama will probably win the Democratic nomination. 

Tips for making a strong argument

Use evidence. You need to back up your claims with evidence. Evidence can be parts of the text, information from secondary sources, or simply a rational argument.

 Forget your personal opinion! Sometimes a prompt seems to ask for your opinion (e.g. when it asks if you agree or disagree). Do not be misled; what it is really asking for is an argument. Regardless of how you feel about the question, you should argue for or against a position by analyzing the reasons for that position or the possible positive or negative implications of that position.

Use lots of words that indicate reasoning. (since, because, if…then, either/or, implies, entails, as a result, for this reason, therefore, consequently, etc.). Because you are creating your own argument based on your analysis of other arguments, there should be lots of reasoning in your paper. If you do not see words that indicate reasoning, then you probably haven’t done your job.

Have a “road map.” Because arguments can be quite complex, it’s a good idea to let your reader know the basic structure of your argument. Do so in the first paragraph, after you have stated your thesis:  1) “I will first show….” 2) “Based on this it will become clear that….” 3) “Taking these two points together will lead me to conclude that….”

Make a counterargument.  If you are arguing for a certain position, try to think of points that would count against your argument. Acknowledging the possible objections to your argument and responding to them thoughtfully will reinforce the strength of your position.

Be fair. If you are critiquing an argument, set up that argument in the strongest possible way before presenting your criticisms; do not set up the target of your critique to fail.


Steps for creating an argument

1.  Formulating a conclusion

Ask yourself the following types of questions:

Is this a statement that I need to argue for or is it obvious?

            Is this statement too broad to argue for effectively?

            Is this a statement for which I can provide strong evidence?

            Do the premises support my conclusion?*

 2.  Identifying and using evidence to support your conclusion

 Ask yourself the following types of questions:

            What are the main reasons for my conclusion?

            Do these reasons provide sufficient evidence for my conclusion?*

What is the logical connection between these premises?  (Answering this question will often suggest the best, most logical way to organize and present your argument.)

            Are there significant objections to my position?

            If so, how can I respond to them?

3.  Putting it all together

Ask yourself the following types of questions:

What is the most logical way to present the evidence?

What is my roadmap (basic overall structure) for my argument?

Do I need to explain how my premises imply my conclusion or is this obvious? (Note: It is better to err on the side of clarity; don’t assume that your reader will always make the same inference as you.)

How can I make my reasoning process clear to my reader?

What transition sentences, words, or phrases can I use to guide my reader through the reasoning process?

4.  Concluding your argument

Ask yourself the following types of questions:

What do I want my concluding paragraph to accomplish?

Should it simply restate the main points of the argument?

Should it present further implications of the argument?

Should it provide a final, powerful punch with persuasive prose?


* Thinking about premises and forming conclusions is often a back and forth process.