There are good arguments, bad arguments and arguments that aren’t arguments at all. To begin with the last category, often people will state an opinion thinking this to be an argument. For example in a debate about abortion, someone can say: “I believe abortion to be immoral” and think they are giving an argument. What they are in fact giving is a statement, or an opinion. What then makes an argument an argument? An argument is a statement that is supported by some sort of justification as to why the statement is true or valid. In the simplest form this justification takes the form of an answer to the question “why?”. So when someone gives the argument that abortion is immoral, instead of just a statement, then they have to answer the implicit question why abortion is immoral. Such an argument can look like this: Abortion is immoral as it constitutes the murder of a living being. Whether or not you agree with this argument is besides the point. The point is that this is the start of a proper argumentation, instead of merely stating an opinion.
Recipe for a solid argument
What then makes for a solid argument? Well a solid argument needs to be SEXI, which stands for:
- S: State
- EX: Explain
- I: Illustrate (Evidence)
State is the conclusion of your argument, it is that which the rest of the ingredients of the argument try to prove. Ideally, the statement is short, clear and unambiguous. The reason it needs to be short is that you will need all of your available time proving your statement and thus do not want to waste that on explaining the point you’re trying to make. Second the statement needs to be clear. Your audience needs to know exactly what your argument is. Don’t leave them guessing, therefore as a rule you mention the statement/conclusion of your argument first. Don’t bother with a separate introduction, that will be both too long and will have a big risk of making it unclear where you want to go to, or what you are trying to prove. Lastly make sure all the words in your statement are unambiguous. Make sure the terms used are clear, but also make sure the statement itself is clear. For example, is Abortion immoral or not? And if it is only immoral in certain circumstances, make those circumstances explicit from the outset. Don’t keep your audience guessing, they might misinterpret what you are trying to prove. Try to keep your statement limited to one sentence only.
Explain is, as the term suggests, the explanation why your statement/conclusion is true. This is also called your reasoning, some people call it analysis. In terms of formal logic this is where you set out the premises that necessarily lead to your statement/conclusion. The main tip here would be to be as thorough as possible given the context of your speech. Most often people skimp on this part, while it is arguably the most important part. This is the logic/reasoning supporting your argument and this should be robust, well thought through and most of all logical. The biggest mistake people make is presuming the audience already knows all the reasoning supporting the statement. They often don’t resulting in you making intellectual leaps that your audience simply cannot follow. I will go deeper into this part in my next post, but for now remember that your explanation needs to be logically valid and robust.
The last part is illustrates and that is the evidence supporting your argument or reasoning. The reason this is called ‘illustrate’ is that when speeching the use of an example supporting your argument is often the most efficient and powerful evidence that you can use. Nevertheless there are all sorts of evidence you can use to support your argument and every good argument should have some sort of evidence backing up your logical reasoning. Given that you normally have limited time, there are limits to the depth of evidencing you can give (the same goes for explaining), you need to be efficient in this. Use examples, statistics or for example analogies to quickly support your point. You are not supposed to explain the methodology behind the evidence, nor do you need to be fully scientific about it. It needs to be specific and detailed enough that people can check up on it if they so wish. Being able to check your evidence is what will make your evidence convincing instead of something you just made up. I will go further into evidencing in a future post.
Together these three ingredients will make a solid argument. This is a much used structure for argumentation and one that has proven its effectiveness. Just look at business literature or political magazines. They all use this structure. Take the example of business literature. For example they will state that by focusing on shareholder value a company will improve long term profitability. They then explain this by setting out their theory. For example that by focusing on shareholder value management is forced to focus on the bottom line, which will lead them to focus more on profitable endeavors and cost cutting, which in term drive profitability of the company. They then often end with an example of several companies that have implemented this shareholder value and were able to outperform their peers. A clear example of a SEXI argument.