The Science Of Scientific Writing    Set 4     Set 4-Locating arguments in proseExample Exercise 1Exercise 2Exercise 3Exercise 4Final page Set 4.

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences...

SET 1: The Parts of Arguments

SET 2: Indicator Words

SET 3: Refining Claims

SET 4: Locating Arguments in Prose

SET 5: Rationale's Essay Planner

SET 6: Assessing

SET 7 : More on Assessing

Set 4- Locating arguments in prose

As mentioned previously, the emphases of this course are

1. How to distil your thoughts into a well-constructed argument map.

2. How to use such a map as the basis of a well-written argument.

As is often the case in understanding a process, many useful insights into argumentation can be gained by considering the above sequence in reverse, i.e. how do we go about extracting argument maps from written arguments? That is the focus of this Set.

If you were to start analysing a scientific paper, to pull out its underlying argument, in many cases you would probably be in for a bit of shock. Many papers present their arguments in a highly incoherent form. Why is this the case? There are many, many reasons, let's look at three important ones.

A. Ignorance of topic

The authors might not understand their own topic sufficiently to present a coherent argument about the impact of their own results. Reviewers may feel nevertheless that the results are important, and will accept the paper, thus allowing the community at large to draw their own conclusions.

B. Poor argument

More commonly, the authors do understand their argument, but in writing it up they have left out important elements that would allow others to follow the argument, or they may have arranged all the right elements in the wrong way. These are very common generic problems of human communication. From our personal lives, I'm sure we can all recall many long, frustrating arguments that end with some version of this exchange:

"Why didn't you mention that in the first place?"

"It was so obvious"

"Not to me!"

It's a fine line: some people, will feel insulted, patronised if you mention the "obvious"!

C. Implied argumentation

Sometimes an argument is highly convincing, and "feels" perfectly structured, but it is still difficult to map. This is because in higher-level writing much of the argumentation is "implied". By implied I mean that the writer is using subtle methods to achieve the navigational assistance normally carried out by explicit "indicator" words (because, therefore etc.), and other metadiscourse.

Compare these two versions of the same argument, in which all the metadiscourse is shown in bold:

"I believe that cats are far better pets than dogs. First, they cost less to keep, on account of the fact that they eat less than dogs and their accessories are smaller and cheaper. Second, cats require less time to maintain than dogs, because they don't need to be walked every day, and they wash themselves."

"Cats are far better pets than dogs. Over and above everything else they don't take so much time to look after. Wonder of wonders, they wash themselves! Not having to walk them helps with this too, and their tiny appetites and bargain accessories make them cheap to keep."

The second argument flows as smoothly as the first, in spite of the reduced amount of explicit metadiscourse. But most people, if asked to map both arguments, would probably have less trouble with the first.


In scenarios A and B above, the authors of a paper would benefit from first constructing their Discussion as an argument map. They would be much more likely to see the flaws in their own understanding or presentation. In scenario C, the authors have nothing to do: it is for us to learn how they do what they do so well!

Today you will be mapping more-or-less explicit written arguments; in later weeks we will consider analysing and writing implied ones.

You've got all the basic skills you need to map an argument.  Let's take off the training wheels and get you mapping whole arguments from samples of text, without any hints from us about structure.

Skills and key concepts





Content of this page drawn in whole or part from the Austhink Rationale Exercises with permission from Austhink.