Argument Analysis: Understanding the Argument

Yesterday we detailed the two different types of argument prompts included on the GRE test, both of which can easily be incorporated into any classroom.  However, the first step  of argument analysis is making sure the students have a deep understanding of the argument itself.  They can’t be asked to analyze the implications, evaluate the logical soundness, or propose a solution to the argument unless they have a clear and cogent and accurate comprehension of the actual argument.  As a result, we need to expose them to a variety of complex arguments (like the ones presented on the GRE test) and ask them to identify the central argument. 

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There are two easy ways to achieve argument clarity when studying GREwriting prompts:

1.)     Analyze the Argument Prompts:  Since this is more of detailed and drawn out look at an argument, begin the study by asking students to read the prompt multiple times and then summarize the actual argument in 1-2 sentences. 

2.)    Analyze the Issue Prompts: This might seem easy since the prompt is typically written into a single sentence.  However, most students misinterpret the argument.  Begin by asking them to paraphrase the statement word-for-word.  Having them share their paraphrasing will indicate gaps in understanding and generate a discussion that leads them to a class consensus of the argument itself.

After determining the actual argument, ask students identify holes in the argument.  While you could use this as an opportunity to teach various LOGICAL FALLACIES, the flaws of these arguments are usually found by examining what the argument is forgetting.  Select one of the prompts provided at the bottom of this post and ask students to conside what complicates the argument?  What is absent/missing from the issue that impacts its plausibility? 

One way to help students answer these questions is ask them to consider the veracity of the argument.  Again, provide them the below prompts and ask them the following questions:

1.)     In what ways is the argument true? Or what are some of the reasons that make the argument correct?

2.)    Likewise, in what ways is the argument false? Or what are some of the reasons that make the argument false? 

3.)    Or, depending on the type of prompt, what must be considered in making a decision.

This could be done through class discussion, assigning various lenses to examine the argument through, having them debate both sides, or describing the pros and cons of the argument.

After developing a thorough understanding of the argument, return to the flaws of the argument and ask the students to explore possible solutions to rectify the problem or issue.  This final step extends their evaluation of and solidifies their understanding of the argument.



“Analyze an Argument”

  • The following appeared in a memo from the vice president of marketing at Dura-Sock, Inc.:  “A recent study of our customers suggests that our company is wasting the money it spends on its patented Endure manufacturing process, which ensures that our socks are strong enough to last for two years. We have always advertised our use of the Endure process, but the new study shows that despite our socks’ durability, our average customer actually purchases new Dura-Socks every three months. Furthermore, our customers surveyed in our largest market, northeastern United States cities, say that they most value Dura-Socks’ stylish appearance and availability in many colors. These findings suggest that we can increase our profits by discontinuing use of the Endure manufacturing process.”
  • The vice president of human resources at Climpson Industries sent the following recommendation to the company’s president.  “A recent national survey found that the majority of workers with access to the Internet at work had used company computers for personal or recreational activities, such as banking or playing games. In an effort to improve our employees’ productivity, we should implement electronic monitoring of employees’ Internet use from their workstations. Using electronic monitoring software is the best way to reduce the number of hours Climpson employees spend on personal or recreational activities. We predict that installing software to monitor employees’ Internet use will allow us to prevent employees from wasting time, thereby increasing productivity and improving overall profits.”
  • More sample prompts


“Analyze an Issue”

  • Society should identify those children who have special talents and provide training for them at an early age to develop their talents.
  • Governments should offer a free university education to any student who has been admitted to a university but who cannot afford the tuition.
  • The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.
  • More sample prompts


  1. [...] To help students analyze the complexity of an argument consider engaging them in the following activities to evaluate the critical implications of the topic.  First, provide them with a prompt describing an issue or topic.  Of course you can write your own, but consider offering them ACT, SAT, or GRE prompts, which have been featured in the past. [...]

  2. [...] Where the Classroom Ends » Argument Analysis: Understanding the Argument [...]

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