Evaluating Reasoning in an Essay or Article

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  • 0:06 Reasoning in Essays
  • 0:51 Deductive Reasoning
  • 2:07 Inductive Reasoning
  • 2:51 Evaluating Reasoning
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

Being able to effectively evaluate reasoning can be helpful to you as you develop your own deductive and inductive reasoning skills and put those skills to work in persuasive essays. This lesson sheds some light on how to evaluate reasoning.

Reasoning in Essays

You know that feeling you get when the murderer is revealed at the end of a murder mystery, and everything suddenly makes sense? It's that feeling when all the clues fit right into place, and you have that 'aha' moment.

On the other hand, have you ever read or seen a mystery where the ending seems to come out of nowhere, and it seems that the author just made up the solution at the last minute? Mystery fans may not want the clues to be overly clear and obvious, but at the same time, those fans want there to be some sense and logic to how everything is resolved.

Student essays should have the same type of sensible, logical structure. The reader should be able to track the writer's reasoning to see how the writer got from point A to point B. In this video, we'll think about deduction and induction as ways that writers can structure their reasoning in argumentative essays.

Deductive Reasoning

We often judge a persuasive essay by how effective the writer is at convincing us of his or her main argumentative point. There are a few ways that a writer can go about trying to convince his or her readers, and there are different ways that argumentative points can be ordered.

Deductive reasoning entails starting with a generalization and moving to specific details. Here's a short example of a paragraph that uses deductive reasoning:

Our state must require high school seniors to pass an exit exam before graduating. Many recent high school graduates in our state cannot land jobs because they don't have adequate reading and writing skills. A high percentage of today's high school seniors have below-grade-level math skills, which will make it difficult for them to hold many jobs or succeed in college courses.

Notice that this short paragraph starts with a general topic sentence that sets forth a broad argument, and then proceeds to specific details that offer support for the main idea. This deductive pattern is quite common, especially in student essays. Teachers often want students to start out with a clear thesis at the start of an essay and with clear topic sentences at the start of each paragraph. By following this pattern, students can show that they know how to craft a clear main idea, and then support and develop that idea.

Inductive Reasoning

The opposite of deductive reasoning is inductive reasoning, which involves starting with specific details and moving to a larger concluding point or generalization. This short paragraph provides an example of inductive reasoning:

Many college students use laptop computers during class. While some students use their computers to take notes and look up facts related to course discussions, many others use computers to compose emails that aren't related to class, play games, and surf the Internet. Laptop computers must be banned from college classrooms in order to minimize distractions for students.

The writer of the paragraph has arrived at the conclusion by working through specific details and then arriving at the main point.

Evaluating Reasoning

As I noted earlier, a deductive pattern occurs more often than an inductive pattern because deduction involves starting with a topic sentence or main idea and then providing specific support. This more closely matches the general pattern that teachers often look for in student papers.

It's still useful to be familiar with each type of pattern and to understand how main points are supported and reached. Additionally, being able to evaluate an essay for the strength of its reasoning is a good skill to have. You may sometimes be called upon to critique an essay that you've read, and being able to take apart and evaluate something you read can be helpful as you build your own writing skills, too.

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