Return to Handouts Some Notes on Toulmin Analysis

Here are a few reminders that might make the Toulmin analysis a little clearer for you:

Purposes of T.A.: Sometimes it's easiest for us to see if an argument is effective if we take it apart and examine its parts. Sometimes we can even tell where an argument is ineffective after we take it apart. When we examine other people's arguments using Toulmin, we use the "taking apart" to help us understand the argument more fully or to summarize it more accurately. But we can also use T.A. to help us revise our own arguments, and you'll use T.A. on your arguments as you prepare portfolio 2.

Claim: Think of the claim in an argument as the most general statement in the argument. It may not be a particularly general statement all by itself, and some claims for arguments are very narrow indeed. But the claim in an argument is like the umbrella statement that all other parts of an argument have to fall under. If a reason (or evidence) doesn't fall under the umbrella of the claim, then it's all wet (i.e., irrelevant).

Qualifier: We make lots of statements every day that we don't necessarily mean to apply to every human being everywhere. But in the language of logicians like Stephen Toulmin, all unqualified statements could have inserted in them the words all, every, never, none, always, and so on, without changing the statement. For example, I might say,

Books by Anthony Trollope are fun to read.

Stephen Toulmin would rewrite that sentence as

All books by Anthony Trollope are always fun for everyone to read.

I would consider defending some version of my statement, but I would never try to defend Toulmin's version of my statement. Most folks stating claims for arguments try not to get themselves into the position of defending a statement that always applies to everyone everywhere, so most claims will include qualifiers. These are often little words like some, most, many, in general, usually, typically, and so on. They may be little words, but their value to an argument is immeasurable.

Exceptions: When a writer specifically excludes certain cases or situations from the argument, those are the exceptions.

Reasons: Why does a writer believe the claim she makes? The reasons a writer gives are the first line of development of any argument. To use our umbrella image again, reasons are like the spokes that hold the umbrella open. If reasons are strong enough, the claim holds off the rain. If reasons aren't strong enough, the umbrella collapses.

How can we tell if reasons are strong? According to Toulmin, we use two main questions: is the reason relevant? is the reason good?

If a reason is relevant, it stays within the confines of the umbrella; if a reason isn't relevant, it pokes out beyond the edge of the umbrella or doesn't even fall under the cover of the umbrella.

If a reason is good, it invokes a value we can believe in or agree with. Value judgment are often the most difficult to make in arguments, so be sure to restate the value as clearly as possible in your own terms. Then you'll be able to evaluate whether or not the value is good in itself or worth pursuing.

Evidence: We'd all probably like to believe that the people we argue with will accept our claims and reasons as perfect and complete by themselves, but most readers just won't do that. They want evidence of some sort--facts, examples, statistics, expert testimony, among others--to back up our reasons. Take one more look at the umbrella. An argument without evidence is like an umbrella without a handle. It will keep the rain off your head but it sure is awkward to hold onto.

To be believable and convincing, evidence should satisfy three conditions:

• Sufficient: Is there enough evidence to convince a reasonable reader of the reason and the claim?
• Credible: Does the evidence match with the readers' experience of the world? If not, does the evidence come from a source that readers would accept as more knowledgeable than they are? Evidence needs to avoid obvious bias.
• Accurate: Does the evidence "tell the truth"? Are statistics gathered in verifiable ways from good sources? Are the quotations complete and fair (not out of context)? Are the facts verifiable from other sources?
Objections: These are not your objections to an argument you read. Toulmin analysis doesn't call for you to get involved in the argument, except to analyze it. Rather, these are objections that the writer feels opponents on the other side of the argument might make. Usually, these are included in arguments so that writers can get to rebuttal or refutation. (Gentle reminder: writers don't help their overall credibility by misstating their opponents' objections or ignoring major objections in favor of minor objections that are easier to rebut.)

Rebuttal: Once a writer identifies counter-arguments opponents might make, it would be silly to announce those counter-arguments and not argue against them. So after stating the objections of opponents, most writers will refute or rebut the objections. It's possible to construct an entire argument out of objections and rebuttal. Good rebuttal usually requires evidence, so don't forget to look for support for the rebuttal position in that part of an argument. Like all evidence, rebuttal evidence should be sufficient, accurate, and credible.

Miscellaneous points:

1. There will be a range of responses on a Toulmin analysis because readers construct their own meanings as they read texts. When in doubt, always go back to the text. Also, don't assume that your first draft of a claim or reasons will be the best representation of the text's meaning. You will almost certainly see ways to capture the text's meaning more effectively (clearly, accurately) in a second or third draft of the claim, etc.
2. Different texts encourage more or less interpretation. At one end of a spectrum, we have highly metaphorical texts, like much poetry, that demand personal interpretation. At the other end, we have informative texts that direct you to, for instance, put together a bicycle. These should be so explicit that there's little variation in how readers read and respond to them. But there's lots of room in the middle for a wide variety of texts, especially arguments. Don't be surprised when another reader doesn't construct exactly the same meaning you have after reading an argument.
So how can your teacher "grade" your Toulmin analysis? Your statement of the claim should cover all the reasons you state. Your explanation of the reasons should show how they support the claim. Your analysis of the evidence should show how sufficient, credible and accurate the evidence is for you. Teachers comment on the effectiveness of a Toulmin analysis, not on whether it's right or wrong.