Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.
What Is the Toulmin Method?
Philosopher Stephan Toulmin developed a method of looking at arguments which focused on examining bias, support, and assumptions. His method works best when writing about controversial subjects.
This kind of analysis and writing helps you to find places of agreement with your audience so that you are more convincing. Here are the basic steps:
- Think About Your Audience: This technique asks you to think carefully about your audience and what they believe so that you can argue more effectively.
- Consider Assumptions: In addition, you will have to provide strong backing for your ideas and consider your assumptions and those of your audience.
- Be Willing to Change: You might also state whether you might be willing to change your position, or else qualify your argument to say when and where it applies.
This Article Covers
- Types of argument claims.
- How to use the method in writing.
- How to evaluate your audience.
- How to read using the method.
- Biography of Toulmin
5 Types of Argument Claims
Your first job is choosing a topic. Look at some of my articles for topic ideas if you need help. Next, you will turn your topic idea into a claim statement, which means the actual idea you want to argue for.
As you answer these questions, you will be able to identify what sort of argument you are making. It is important to identify what kind of a claim you are making, to be sure that you don't try to say too much:
- Fact: What happened? Is it true? Does it exist? Is it a fact?
- Definition: What is it? How do we classify it? How should we define it?
- Cause: What caused it? What are the effects? Why did it happen? What will be the results on a short and/or long-term basis?
- Value: Is it good or bad? Effective or ineffective? Moral or immoral? Who thinks so? What criteria shall we use to decide?
- Policy: What should we do? How shall we solve this problem? Who can solve it? Do we need changes in laws, education, institutions, or people?
4 Ways Toulmin Method Backs Up Arguments
In a Classical argument, the facts and the conclusions are stated without the assumptions and bias being discussed. The assumption is that the audience and the author have the same bias and assumptions, but that is not always the case, especially when controversial topics are discussed.
However, the Toulmin Method offers not just reasons, data, and evidence to support an argument but also:
- Warrants: to show how the data is logically connected to the data.
- Backing: to show that the logic of the warrants is realistic and believable.
- Counter-arguments: to admit the other sides of the question.
- Rebuttal: to explain why the counter-arguments are wrong, or to limit or qualify the argument so that the counter-arguments are minimized.
Classical vs. Toulmin
Classical arguments are usually structured as:
- Claim statement
- Reasons and support
- Objections and rebuttal.
Toulmin's arguments assume that your audience is not going to be easily convinced only by your reasons. To get them to agree with you, you need to:
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- Explain the background values that make you believe this.
- Explain how the values that you and your audience share (common ground).
- Connect the reasons you believe with those values.
- State and answer objections.
- Show how you are willing to limit or qualify your argument (optional).
How to Develop a Toulmin Argument
Here is the structure along with questions you can ask to help you develop those parts of your argument:
- Claim: I want the audience to believe _________________ (this is your thesis).
- Support/sub-claims: They should believe this because (list reasons).
- Warrant: What values do I hold which make me believe this claim? Are these the same as my audience? How can I create common ground?
- Backing: Who is my audience? Do they have the same warrants that I have? What warrants do my audience and I have in common? What evidence or reasons can I give to make my audience believe we have common ground?
- Rebuttal: What are the other positions on this issue? Which ones do I need to discuss in my paper? How can I show that my position is better?
- Qualifier: Should I state my argument in absolute terms (always, never, the best, the worst) or add some probable terms (sometimes, probably, if, or possibly)?
Writing effective arguments starts with carefully choosing and evaluating your audience.
Choosing an Audience
While there are times when you want to write towards an audience that already agrees with your position to "rally the troops" to action, usually you should aim for an audience that is either neutral about your claim or disagrees with it. That means your paper has a purpose. Here are some questions to help you choose an audience:
- What are the different groups who are interested in this issue?
- What do the different groups believe?
- Which group has the most power in this issue?
- Which groups could I convince?
- What beliefs or constraints might cause my audience to not believe my claim?
- What background information do I need to provide to help my audience understand my claim?
Finding Common Ground
In order to formulate an effective argument, you need to find areas where you do agree with your audience, even though you might have lots of other areas where you disagree strongly. Finding areas where you agree can provide unity and consensus that makes you appear more reasonable, and makes your audience consider your side more carefully. Consider the following:
- What do you want your audience to believe/do after reading your paper?
- What are the warrants (values or strong beliefs) your audience holds about this type of subject?
- How are your warrants (values or strong beliefs) different or the same as those of your audience?
- Where do you and your audience have common ground? What basic needs, values, and beliefs do you share?
Values and Needs
To help you decide what sorts of values and needs your paper topic is addressing, look at the "Chart of Basic Needs" below, then answer the following about your paper topic:
- Which of these needs and values would be most effective for this audience?
- Which of these motivations are most appropriate for my claim?
Chart of Basic Needs and Values
|Need||Example||Sample Claim Idea|
Food, clothing and shelter
Policy: How can we ensure that all people have access to clean water?
Financial Well Being
Job security and ability to move up in job.
Policy: What should be the minimum wage?
Affection and Friendship
Feel needed by others and cared for.
Definition: What is bullying?
Respect and Esteem of others
Able to lead or join in a cause.
Cause: What causes low self esteem?
Travel and try new hobbies.
Fact: What is ecotourism?
Ability to get an education.
Value: How important is a college education?
No long lines or shortages.
Policy: Should you stop eating all fast food?
Access to doctors and health care.
Cause: What causes most people to not take all their prescription medicine?
Won't be robbed or harmed.
Cause: Does gun control cause less violent crime?
Laws that are fair and courts to carry out justice.
Definition: Does the sex offender registry system violate rights?
Ability to have children and spend time with relatives.
Value: How important is having children?
Organization of Argument
Analyzing Arguments Using Toulmin Method
The Toulmin model can also be used when you read an argument essay and can help you better analyze the author's writing, especially regarding their assumptions and how they are trying to convince you. Here are questions you can ask as you are reading:
- Claim: The author wants me to believe ___________.
- Support and sub claims: I should believe this because___________.
- Warrants: Why is this claim important to the author? (assumptions and/or values the author holds)
- Backing for Warrants: What evidence does the author give to remind me of warrants and make me want to accept them?
- Rebuttal: Are other positions shown? Are they refuted or discussed?
- Qualifier: Is there anything that suggests the claim might be limited (sometimes, probably, possibly, if)?
About Stephan Toulmin
Stephan Toulmin (1922-2009) earned his degree in mathematics and physics and wrote on a variety of topics, including international relations, medical ethics, and the history of science. However, he is most widely known for The Uses of Argument (1958).
His argument: In this book, he argued that the absolutism of Plato's idealized formal logic is not adequate for all fields of discussion. Instead, he suggested that the way a person argues depends on the contest. Instead of the classical 3-part argument, he proposed 6 parts although saying that how many of the parts applied depending on the context of the actual argument and audience. Moreover, he suggested that questions of science, logic, and ethics need to be looked at inside of real-world situations, not imaginary, impossible ones made up by philosophers.
How his work was received: In fact, the book was not very well reviewed in England, where it was derided as his "anti-logic book"; however, Americans, especially communications scholars eagerly took up his ideas of how to better analyze and write effectively.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 02, 2017:
Yes, Robert, this is the technique developed by Stephen Toulmin. I find that most people just want the basic facts of how to use the techniques but you bring up a very good point. I will research to add in some background knowledge for those interested. My understanding is that Toulmin's ideas were not really well received in philosophical circles but that people who were in communications and speaking realized these ideas would help them craft more effective arguments. Later, writing teachers adopted the techniques as helpful for teaching students how to write more persuasively.
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on March 02, 2017:
Is this the argument technique developed by the philosopher Stephen Toulmin? I would have been interested in some brief background information about him and how/why he developed this technique; I only know about him and the Toulmin model because they were mentioned in a reference book on writing.
That one person on March 05, 2014:
Thanks! This was both helpful and entertaining. Love that you connected it with pop culture via the u-tube videos
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on March 16, 2012:
I am so glad to hear this helped you!
A on March 15, 2012:
I used this website for my Toulmin model essay for my eng. college class really clarified a lot of info for me!!