Writing Center - Academic Assistance Center - University of Minnesota, Crookston
Return to: UMC Home
Academic Success Center > Writing Center > Resources > Argument


Key terms in argument include species of argument, types of proof, types of claims, audience analysis, patterns of reasoning, methods of organization, and types of support strategies.

Species of Argument

Aristotle delineated three different species of arguments or purposes for speeches that are still relevant today: judicial arguments, demonstrative arguments, and deliberative arguments. Judicial arguments are concerned with the past, as well as just or unjust actions -- statements in a court of law are examples of judicial arguments. Demonstrative arguments, sometimes called epideictic, are concerned with the present, as well as about honor and dishonor -- the eulogy at a funeral is an example of a demonstrative speech. Deliberative arguments are concerned with the future, as well as about the advantageous and harmful -- political speeches to congress are examples of deliberative arguments (On Rhetoric 47-49). The source needs to use a specific species of argument and stay consistent with the use of that species throughout the argument.

Types of Proof

Aristotle also delineated three modes of proof: ethos, pathos, and logos. According to Aristotle: “for some are in the character [ethos] of the speaker, and some in disposing the listener in some way [pathos – my addition], and some in the argument [logos] itself, by showing or seeming to show something” (On Rhetoric 37). Ethos is concerned with the aura of credibility, usually pertaining to the source of the message; pathos is concerned with values and emotion, usually pertaining to the disposition of the audience; and logos is concerned with a sense of logic, usually pertaining to the sequence of ideas and arrangement of the argument. The source needs to build credibility, arouse emotion, and use logic.

Types of Claims

The claim is the position being taken in the argument – the thesis. Three types of claims are as follows: fact, value, and policy. Claims of fact attempt to establish that something is or is not the case. Claims of value attempt to establish the overall worth, merit, or importance of something. Claims of policy attempt to establish, reinforce, or change a course of action, often found in actual policies or sets of procedures. The position being taken in the argument should be demonstrated with evidence – ethically, emotionally, and logically. The source needs to use a specific claim and stay consistent with the use of that claim throughout the argument.

Audience Analysis

Analyzing and understanding a specific audience involves demographic analysis, psychological profiling, and environmental scanning. Demographic analysis includes considering the age, gender, ethnic, socio-economic, and racial background of the audience. Psychological profiling involves considering attitudes, values, and belief systems. Environmental scanning involves considering the size of the room or the external makeup of the terrain, if speaking outside. The source needs to understand the audience to avoid their resistance and to hook into their needs and desires.

Patterns of Reasoning

The source can structure the message multiple ways -- three common ways are deductively, inductively, and analogically. Deductively: the claim is presented at the beginning of the argument, with remaining information in the form of support strategies and materials bearing out that claim. Inductively: the claim is presented at the end of the argument, with examples and other reasoning strategies from particular cases to generalized conclusions. Analogically: the claim is usually presented near the end of the argument, with information in the form of a case compared with another case before arriving at the claim and conclusion. Usually the source needs to use a deductive pattern for audiences who are for the claim and an inductive pattern for audiences who are against the claim.

Methods of Organization

The structure and form of information has as much to do with the persuasion as the details. Six common forms or “methods” of organization for persuasive writing and speaking are as follows: basic argument, comparative advantages, invitational, motivated sequence, problem-solution, and refutation (Sellnow 358-375). The source needs to use the method of organization that fits with the claim, audience disposition, and pattern of arrangement. Please find a sample of the basic argument format below:

Basic Argument


I. Good reason #1
            A. Support Strategy
            B. Support Strategy
II. Good reason #2
            A. Support Strategy
            B. Support Strategy
III. Good reason #3
            A. Support Strategy
            B. Support Strategy


Types of Support Strategies

Arguments are more interesting and more persuasive when a variety of support strategies are used. Usually the most basic arguments consist of description and explanation within a mode of report. More sophisticated speakers and writers look for more ways to use a more comprehensive repertoire of support strategies. The source needs to implement a variety of support strategies to demonstrate the claim. Here is a list of common support strategies garnered from Sellnow’s Confident Public Speaking (154-167):

1.   Facts: accurate, established information
2.   Statistics: numerical collection and arrangement
3.   Definitions: statements that clarify meaning
4.   Descriptions: moves beyond definition to create a picture
5.   Explanations: beyond definition to show how and why
6.   Examples: specific cases to illustrate
7.   Brief examples: shorter cases to illustrate
8.   Extended examples: longer cases to illustrate
9.   Hypothetical examples: imaginary cases to illustrate
10. Narratives: stories to illustrate
11. Personal narratives:  individual
12. Third-person narratives: stories about what occurred in someone else’s life
13. Testimonies: communication from another person to support
14. Expert testimonies: communication from a professional to support
15. Peer testimonies: communication from a like individual to support
16. Drawing on personal experiences: illustrations that connect with yourself
17. Research interviews: communication with an expert to gather information
18. Surveys: information from tools designed to gather information
19. Library resources: sources used to illustrate and support your point
20. Books: information that covers topics in depth
21. Reference works: sources used to cover topics periodically such as encyclopedias
22. Magazines and newspapers: sources that cover current information
23. Government documents: sources published by federal government
24. Journal articles: sources published by professional researchers, educators, scholars
25. Internet documents: sources published by anyone -- needs critical evaluation


Argument strategies can be very useful in persuasion. Aristotle identified twenty-eight of them that he called strategies or “topoi,” which Norman Clark and I made accessible for present-day audiences in our book Argument Strategies from Aristotle’s Rhetoric. We catalogued and explained the classical information in contemporary terms. Seven common argument strategies are as follows: from definition, consequences, more and less, motivation, previous judgment, turn what’s said against the one who said it, and provide an alternative plan. The source needs to understand Aristotle’s twenty-eight argument strategies to construct and critique arguments. Argument strategies are enduring in our social worlds, but not in any essential way beyond our social worlds.


Fallacies are the result of flaws in an argument. The flaws could be related to reasoning, evidence, emotions, and other dynamics. Fallacies can be found in nearly every argument at some level. Seven common fallacies are as follows: ad hominem, appeal to pity, appeal to popular beliefs, appeal to tradition, faulty analogy, faulty use of authority, and trivial objections. The faulty use of authority fallacy occurs when an expert is used outside of his or her area of expertise. For example, commercials featuring professional athletes hinge on the faulty use of authority. Professional athletes are authorities or experts in their particular areas, but may not be an expert in the area that the commercial is promoting. The source and receiver need to understand fallacies to avoid deception.


Argument is forever present. Understanding the terminology of argument is like understanding the formulas for an algebra test, understanding the playbook for a football team, or understanding the lines for a musical or play. The person who understands the terminology will be farther ahead of the person who does not. The person who does not know the terminology will be, quite frankly, confused and lost. The terminology of argument provides a bag of tools for those who use words in productive ways and a shield of protection against those who use words for self-serving and manipulative ways.


Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New
            York: Oxford Press, 1991.
Borchers, Timothy A. Rhetorical Theory: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Thomson
            Wadsworth, 2006.
Huglen, Mark E., and Norman E. Clark. Argument Strategies from Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
            Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2004.
Sellnow, Deanna. Confident Public Speaking. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth,

By Mark E. Huglen, Ph.D.
Liberal Arts and Education Department