What is the Toulmin Method?
The Toulmin Method of Argumentation is a complex argumentation structure that allows you to establish your argument while considering your opponents’ points of view. While this method is intended for giving complex and well-supported arguments that are mindful of what opponents will say in response to your claims, the Toulmin Method is a one-sided argument that does not attempt to build common ground, as the Rogerian Method does.
The goal of the Toulmin Method is to persuade the reader that your argument is reasonable and effective based on thorough research and organization.
When Do I Use the Toulmin Method?
You will find the Toulmin Method most useful to write theoretical essays or academic papers. The Toulmin Method is effective in presenting thorough support for your argument. Thus, it is ideal for arguments in which there will be much dissent or controversy surrounding the argument. It is also useful for making complex arguments.
How Does the Toulmin Method Work?
When you write using the Toulmin Method, you need to be prepared to know and explain every facet of your argument. The goal is to be as detailed and persuasive about your argument as possible, countering opposing views etc.
The main elements that are typically included in the Toulmin Method are as follows:
- Claim: A claim is the main argument that you are trying to express. In terms of the 5-Paragraph Essay, it’s the thesis statement.
- Grounds: The grounds are what the claim is based on. It is the supporting evidence that is needed to understand and accept the claim.
- Warrant: The warrant is the piece that connects the grounds to the claim. It explains how you got from the information in the grounds to the claim. It may include legal principles, ethical principles, and laws of nature, etc.
- Backing: This is the support and justification for the warrant.
- Qualifiers: Qualifiers limit your claim by placing conditions on the arguments that do not fully support the claim. These are the “usually,” “will likely,” and “possibly” claims that are not certain.
- Rebuttal: The rebuttal is where you identify opposing arguments to your claim. Any argument will have rebuttals, so this is where you would identify them, to present that you have acknowledged that they exist and can give your evidence to counter these claims.
The Toulmin Method may not convince an opposing party that you are right, but it shows that you have solid evidence and reasoning behind your argument, regardless of what they may think of the argument itself.
The image below shows how the parts of the Toulmin Method are all connected to one another and perhaps don’t necessarily follow a linear format as the steps listed above suggest. The steps only show one possible way of organizing the Toulmin Method. The image shows that there may be a need to go back and re-visit different steps in order to fully support all areas of the argument.
Example of the Toulmin Method
Imagine that you want to present an argument stating that smoking tobacco should be banned on all college campuses. This would be your claim.
The grounds on which you would base this claim would possibly note the health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
The warrant may present the idea that the health risks of secondhand smoke hinder learning, which may be warranted by a study that shows the effects of secondhand smoke on learning.
It may be appropriate to indicate that the health risks will “possibly” hinder learning, or that the hindrance occurs only in at risk groups such as those with asthma to qualify the argument.
A rebuttal to the argument could be that smoking tobacco is a way that some students relax in between classes or that it is only harmful if extremely high levels of secondary smoke are ingested.
Toulmin, Stephen, et al. An Introduction to Reasoning. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979.
Organizing Your Argument
Once you have established a working thesis, it’s time to think about how you’ll organize your argument. While it’s important to note that you should continue in your quest for resources and support throughout this process, even as you locate source material, you can begin to think about how you plan to bring your ideas and your sources together into a clear, organized manner.
As is the case with all types of writing, there is no one right way to organize or structure an argument. However, there are some basic structures and formats that can help you get an idea of how you want to organize your work and, at the very least, provide you with a baseline structure for your argument.
In the pages that follow, you’ll explore different types and structures of arguments and will consider the pros and cons of each one. The important thing to remember is that you want to choose an argument structure that works well for your situation, meeting the needs of your audience as well as your goals as a writer. It’s also good to remember that even the structures you see here are not “set in stone,” and there is room for flexibility within these structures.