Key Terms in Argumentation
As a writer in the academic world and beyond, you will be called on to write argumentative essays. Don’t confuse an
argument with a fight; they’re very different. When you write an argumentative essay, you’re trying to persuade people to
see your side of the story. Basically, you’re making a point and including reasons why people should agree with you on it.
Think of your argument as being a rhetorical triangle composed of audience, message, and the writer. If you understand
how each of these elements interact, you can create a more effective argument. For instance, who is your audience? Are
they inclined to like, dislike, or be neutral about your argument? Will they understand it? Can you appeal to their sense of
logic or emotion? What is the message? How have you developed it? Is the evidence in the right places to convince the
audience? What is your position as a writer: an authority, a concerned citizen, etc? How credible are you? Does your style
reinforce the message you are sending?
Varying combinations of these three elements may lead you to choose one or more kinds of appeals in your argument. For
instance, if you want to move the audience by appealing to their emotions, sympathies, or motivations, you will be using
pathos. If you are using your own credibility and knowledge to create a sincere impression on the audience, you are using
ethos. And if you are focusing on the content of your message–the facts, logic, and reasoning of an appeal–you are using
An argument based on logos–what we call a logical argument–can take two shapes. If you want to build a case point by
point, and come to your conclusion at the end, you will use inductive reasoning. In such an argument, you present your
evidence and arrive at a conclusion that seems likely to be true. Usually you choose such a structure if you’re not sure the
audience will agree with you and want them to see how you have gone from particular evidence to a conclusion. So,
Sergeant Joe Friday finds bullet casings, bloody footprints, and a dead body in the library; he then comes to the
conclusion that a murder has taken place. This is an inductive argument.
If, however, you think your audience is likely to agree with you, you may want to state your principles first, and then give
the reasons why you think people should agree with you. This process of moving from the general to the particular is
called deductive reasoning. In such a pattern, you use generally accepted ideas to lead to your specific argument.
This three-part structure for building a deductive argument is called a syllogism. The general ideas are called major
premises. You can condense this three-part structure even further into a two-part structure called an enthymeme, a claim
supported by a "because..." statement. (In an enthymeme, the first major premise goes unstated.) The syllogism above
would become an argumentative statement like "Julio would like ECON 378 because he likes to work until his head
This handout was developed by tutors Scott Gilbert and Meredith Reynolds.