The Toulmin Method

The Claim

Think of the claim in an argument as the most general statement in that argument. It may not be a particularly general statement all by itself, and some for arguments are very narrow indeed. But the claim is like the umbrella statement that all other parts of an argument have to fall under. It is the uppermost level of our "house of cards."

After you have identified an argument's claim, it is important to determine how far the author intends to carry that claim. The next step in this process, in other words, is the identification of any qualifiers or exceptions the author makes to the argument's claim.

Identifying Qualifiers

Qualifiers are words like some, most, many, in general, usually, typically and so on--little words whose value to an argument is immeasurable.

Example of a qualified claim:

Many books by Charles Dickens are fun to read.

Example of an unqualified claim:

Books by Charles Dickens are fun to read.

Without qualifying words like some or many, a claim like this can be interpreted (by the careful analytical eye) as All books by Charles Dickens are always fun for everyone to read.

Although unqualified claims like these are not necessarily a bad argumentation strategy, they do allow ample room for challenges to be made to an argument. An appropriately qualified claim is much easier to defend.

Identifying Exceptions

Oftentimes, an author will specifically exclude from an argument certain cases or situations. Such exceptions serve to restrict a claim, so that it is understood to apply in some situations but not in others.

A claim like

Most books by Charles Dickens are fun to read.

might be limited by the following exception:

Having labored over David Copperfield in high school, I would not rank that book among them.

Exceptions like this one are important, because without them, readers who would like to challenge a claim may begin to concoct exceptions of their own.

Distinguishing Between Qualifiers and Exceptions

Qualifiers and exceptions are similar in that they both put limits on how far a claim may be carried. A qualifier, however, is merely a word (like some or usually) which serves to limit a claim, while an exception is an e xample of a case or situation in which the claim does not apply.

An example of a qualifier would be the word most in the following claim:

Most books by Charles Dickens are fun to read.

An exception would be an example, usually appearing after the claim, of a situation in which that claim would not apply:

Having labored over David Copperfield in high school, I would not rank that book among them.

 

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Introduction