General Guidelines for Advancing Arguments

These general guidelines are equally important across all types of argument, from fact to value to policy. They deal generally with style and presentation—in other words, they impact the communicative nature of argumentation.

Strive for clarity. Above all, the key to effective argumentation is clarity in thought and form. Listeners who cannot understand the argument are unlikely to be persuaded.

Emphasize strongest points first and last. The first and last argument are crucial points of emphasis; the first and last points are memorable because of their placement in the speech. The middle of the speech, or argument, is more often forgotten.

Make explicit the support and inferences. Revealing as much as possible about the methods for generating the support, or data, and inferences or assumptions present in argument allows the audience to understand more of the content as well as establishes credibility.

Consider opposing arguments fairly. Presentation of a speaker’s own arguments as well as balanced representation and response to opposing arguments enhances speaker credibility and develops the position of the speaker.

Start from places of agreement. Arguers are more effective if they start from common ground, and then allow their arguments to branch out from agreed upon definitions, facts, values, or policy. Introducing arguments that are totally alien to an audience’s background or expectations generally results in their dismissal of the argument. This is particularly field dependent, as an arguer would not want to introduce personal issues at a technical conference or explain highly technical concepts to a general public.

Establish and evaluate presumption. Presumption is a concept that enables arguers to establish a contingent truth—“the sun will rise in the morning,” “killing is generally undesirable,” and “students should attend first grade before second grade” are all presumptions that are agreeable until good reasons to believe otherwise have been presented.

Establish and evaluate probabilities. Arguers are rarely 100% sure about the truth of their arguments. As such, they should explicitly assess the certainty with which they make conclusions based on facts. Overstating one’s case can diminish credibility, whereas realistically assessing propensity can enhance ethos.