Argument Analysis

Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education.

—Harold Macmillan, Former British Prime Minister


Using our class readings and discussions as your guide and following the outline presented below, write a 2500- to 3000-word essay that assesses the strengths and weaknesses of an argument.

Choose one of the following arguments as the subject of your analysis:

It’s not important whether you agree with the writer’s conclusion or not—your personal opinion about the issue is not the focus of this assignment. Instead, your challenge is to evaluate objectively whether and in what ways the argument is strong or weak, is convincing or not convincing. An analysis is not a chance to indiscriminately poke holes, and it doesn’t mean you only point out what’s wrong with something. Rather, an analysis gives credit where credit is due and calls into question things that ought to be questioned.


The following is the exact outline your paper should follow. Your paper should have every one of these sections, in this order, and it doesn’t need anything extra that you don’t see here.

Part I: Reading With the Grain


Write a 250-word formal summary of the argument you have chosen to critique. The Formal Summary assignment includes pointers on how to get it right.


Identify the primary audience of the argument (and possibly a secondary one if its important to your analysis) and justify your identification with evidence from within and without the text. Define the audience in these terms, if applicable:

  • By Demographics: age, gender, nationality, race, ethnicity, employment, education level, social/economic status, sexual orientation, etc.
  • By Position: Is the audience likely hostile, neutral, or favorable toward the author's claim?

Part II: Reading Against the Grain

For each section below you should follow the pattern that we discussed in class. This means you must

  • Identify examples of the element in question,
  • Discuss how the audience is likely to respond to the use of that element, and
  • Determine the impact of the audience's response on the effectiveness of the argument.

Failing to hit all three points of the pattern for each section below will result in an inadequate analysis. Here are the sections:


Analyze and evaluate the use of ethos in the argument, answering the following questions:

  • How does the author establish or fail to establish an effective ethos?
  • What probable effect does the author's ethos have on the audience, and does that make the audience more or less likely to accept the argument as a whole?


Analyze and evaluate the use of pathos in the argument, answering the following questions:

  • How does the author appeal or fail to appeal effectively to the reader's emotions?
  • What probable effect does the author's use of pathos have on the audience, and does that make the audience more or less likely to accept the argument as a whole?

Key Terms and Concepts

Analyze the clarity of definitions in the argument, focusing on key terms and concepts and answering these questions:

  • Are the key terms and concepts defined clearly and consistently, or are some important terms and concepts potentially ambiguous?
  • How does the presence or absence of ambiguity strengthen or weaken the argument, especially in light of who you identified the audience to be?

Value Assumptions

Analyze the use of value (prescriptive) assumptions in the argument, answering these questions:

  • What value assumptions exist in the argument?
  • Are these assumptions safe, given the audience of the argument, or is the argument weakened by their presence?
  • What does the author do to mitigate the impact of these assumptions, and to what degree are these efforts successful?


Analyze the use of evidence given to support the argument, answering these questions:

  • What evidence is given to back the reasons and claim in the argument?
  • Does the evidence pass the scrutiny of careful reasoning? Are there descriptive assumptions that undermine the reasoning?
  • Are any statistics used in a deceptive or inaccurate way?
  • Does the type of evidence used and the way it is employed make the audience more or less likely to accept the reasons and claims the evidence supports? In what ways?


Analyze the logic of the argument, answering the following questions:

  • Are there any logical fallacies? How do these impact the argument?
  • Are there rival causes? How do these impact the argument?
  • What other conclusions are possible? How do these impact the argument?

Part III: Final Assessment

In a final section, state your overall conclusion about the argument you’ve analyzed and summarize your reasoning, considering the following questions:

  • Overall, and in terms of the audience identified, is the argument strong or weak, convincing or not convincing, or some mixture of these qualities? Is the audience likely to accept the argument, unlikely to accept it, or likely only to accept part of it?
  • What general criticisms do you have of the argument?
  • What general praises do you have for the argument?

Sample Papers

Several sample Argument Analysis papers have been posted for your use, including an analysis of Bazelon's "Hitting Bottom" by Bro. G himself.

Turn It In

A complete draft of your paper will need to be written by Friday, May 24 for an in-class peer review.

For instructions about turning in the final draft of your paper, which is due at or before 9:00pm on Friday, May 31, consult this page about the Argument Analysis Grading Conference.

Revise Your Work

If you choose, you can revise your paper after it's been graded and turn it in again for a higher grade. Follow the instructions on the Revise the Argument Analysis page.