I often proofread dissertations where the author has thought deeply about their subject but has failed to think about the logical structure of their argument. This is a real shame and could cost them marks. So what could you do to make sure your argument is as strong as possible?
Make Sure it Flows Logically
An argument should be made up of logical steps. Imagine that I am trying to convince you that bananas are made of cheese. I would plan out the steps of my argument as follows:
- 1000 studies of randomly selected bananas were tested to see if they tasted similar to cream cheese.
- The chemical make-up of these bananas and cream cheese was proven in scientific labs to be identical.
- The methods used in this study were scientifically accurate (you’d have to give detail here).
- Smith, Jones, and Harrison (1999, 2004, 2010) have all independently come to the same conclusion.
- Therefore, we can suggest that at least some bananas are actually made of cream cheese.
So here, I have mentioned the results of my studies, backed it up with secondary research and used these to suggest a conclusion. I haven’t claimed in my conclusion that all bananas are made of cheese- I have simply claimed that some are.
Don’t Make Straw Men
If you make a ‘straw man’ you make someone else’s argument look poorly constructed in order to knock it down. People often think this makes their own argument look better by comparison but you won’t fool a professor that easily!
Imagine I am describing Peterson’s argument, which suggests that no bananas are made of cream cheese. I might say that his account is not to be trusted as he has made other scientific claims which have been proven to be untrue. This is a ‘straw man’ as it is not objective. I am not looking at the results and conditions of this particular study on bananas. To be more objective, I could say that his study was incomplete as he only studied 100 bananas from Venezuela.
What you Should Do
When speaking about someone else’s argument you should:
- Show how it is different from/similar to your view
- Show that you understand the strengths of the other’s view
- Suggest a re-working of the argument which strengthens it
- State clearly whether you agree or disagree with the argument
- Disregard it only if you can prove it is irrelevant or incomplete
When constructing your own argument, you should:
- Check the logical steps
- Check that each step builds on the last
- Show that your methodology is accurate and leaves minimal room for error
- Acknowledge any weak points in your study
- Show why your methods are the best way to approach the study
- Clearly present your results.