Guidelines for Evaluating Arguments

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

When evaluating an argument, there's a lot to consider. In this lesson you'll learn some guidelines for evaluating the quality of an argument, and whether it is sound.


Arguments are an important part of everyday life. You see them all the time, ranging from a debate with a friend about coffee types, to a persuasive column in a newspaper, to a formal argument in an academic journal. With so many arguments all around, how do you know which ones to listen to, and which to dismiss? Making this judgment can sometimes be difficult, but there are some guidelines you can follow when evaluating the quality of an argument.

The Premise

The first thing you'll want to look at is the premise of the argument. This is the topic or point that the person is trying to argue. In some cases, it can be disproven easily, and so you know the argument is poor. For example, if someone is trying to argue against the law of gravity, there is so much scientific proof working against their argument that their premise simply isn't sound.

Deductive Versus Inductive Reasoning

Next, you'll want to examine their reasoning. There are two main types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning is when you start with a larger theory and apply it to smaller situations. For example, the following statement is deductive:

All men are mortal

Socrates is a man

Therefore, Socrates is mortal

Inductive reasoning is the opposite. It starts with a specific observation or occurrence, and applies it more broadly. Often, it is used to start scientific hypotheses. For example, 'This snail has a shell. Therefore, all snails might have shells' would be an example of inductive reasoning. As you can see, inductive requires a bit more explanation and evidence than deductive might. When evaluating inductive arguments, be especially careful that their premise is strong, and that they provide evidence to show that it can be broadly applied.

Logical Fallacies

When an argument has an error in reasoning, or uses false or unsupported information, then it has a logical fallacy. When evaluating an argument, logical fallacies are a critical issue to watch out for. One common example is when Person A argues that because Person B is missing information, then Person A is actually correct. This is a fallacy, because Person A and Person B could both be wrong, or both could be missing information. The claim doesn't account for other possibilities, and that is a sure sign of a fallacy.

Sometimes fallacies can be directly related to the type of reasoning. For example, when reading a deductive argument, you might see something like:

Adolf Hitler liked dogs

Adolf Hitler was evil

Therefore, liking dogs is evil

This follows the deductive reasoning pattern, but it is a fallacy because it doesn't account for other options, such as all the good people who also like dogs. When evaluating inductive reasoning, the main fallacy to watch out for is when a specific instance is broadly applied, but there isn't enough extra research or evidence to support it.


Along with logical fallacies, you also need to check arguments for consistency. Basically, you need to make sure that the evidence used in the argument doesn't contradict other evidence, or even the argument itself. This may sound obvious, but it can be difficult to see. For example, take the following argument:

'Nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded.'

This sounds like a good argument, but it's inconsistent. After all, if nobody goes there anymore, how can it still be crowded? The evidence contradicts the argument.

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